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There is a popular saying:

Everything you say should be true, but not everything true should be said.

On the internet, many pages attribute this quote to Voltaire - however, I could not find any source. Did Voltaire really say or write this?


Note: I did find two related quotes:

There are truths which are not for all men, nor for all times.

Voltaire, Letter to François-Joachim de Pierre, cardinal de Bernis (23 April 1764)

[...] und wenn alles, was man sagt, wahr sein muß, so ist darum nicht auch Pflicht, alle Wahrheit öffentlich zu sagen.".

My translation:

[...] and if everything one says must be true, this does not mean it is a duty to make all truth public.

Immanuel Kant, nachlass

Maybe one of these morphed into the one I am asking about?

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  • 2
    @Evargalo: Cool. Sounds like an answer, consider making one :-).
    – sleske
    Commented Aug 17, 2023 at 7:30
  • How is your translation not effectively the sought aphorism?
    – philipxy
    Commented Aug 18, 2023 at 19:25
  • @philipxy: Yes, it is effectively the same aphorism, but not literally. I was looking for a direct quote from Voltaire. Anyway, Evargalo's answer basically says the same thing.
    – sleske
    Commented Aug 19, 2023 at 22:51

1 Answer 1

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Partial answer

Not found in French

Looking for Voltaire's citations in French with related words ("vérité", "vrai") on various websites doesn't bring any hit that could be the source of the quote in English.

Proving a negative is difficult [citation needed] but this hints towards no.

Alexis Piron

The second part of the sentence,

"not everything true should be said"

became a proverb in French:

"Toute vérité n'est pas bonne à dire"

It is first referenced in 1725 in a comical opera by Alexis Piron, another dramatist from the early 18th century, who was not in good terms with Voltaire.

Speculation : It is quite possible that popular culture and internet switched the attribution from little-known Piron to famous Voltaire along the years.

However, the context doesn't look at all like the first part of the sentence you're quoting (Everything you say should be true) :

Si d'aventure , votre Époux
Vous juroit qu'il n'est pas jaloux ,
Et du passé vouloit s'instruire,
Jeunes Épouses , taisez-vous.
Toute vérité n'est pas bonne à dire.

Proposed translation :

If ever your husband
Swears to you he isn't jealous,
And from the past wants to learn,
Young Wives, keep silent.
Not every truth is good to say.

Your version sounds much more philosophical than this boulevard.

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