Thomas Mann, Goethe's Career as a Man of Letters
(Goethes Laufbahn als Schriftsteller
, tr. H.T. Lowe-Porter):
"Every morning," sighs Émile Zola, "each of us has to swallow his toad."
Mann is probably quoting from memory. I think (although I cannot be sure from Google Book Search's snippet view) that Zola's sentence comes from an article first published in the newspaper Le Figaro
and reprinted in his Nouvelle campagne
(1896), p. 69:
Moi, voici trente ans que, tous les matins, avant de me mettre au travail, j'avale mon crapaud, en ouvrant les sept ou huit journaux qui m'attendent, sur ma table.
In my rough translation:
As for me, for the past thirty years, every morning, before getting to work, I swallow my toad, by opening the seven or eight newspapers that await me on my table.
Zola sounds like he's referring to a well-known expression, and in fact he is. See Sebastien-Roch Nicolas de Chamfort, Products of the Perfected Civilization. Selected Writings
, tr. W.S. Merwin (New York: Macmillan, 1969), p. 231:
M. de Lassay, a very gentle man but with a great knowledge of society, said that one must swallow a toad every morning, when one had to go out into the world, so as not to find anything more disgusting during the day.
M. de Lassay, homme très doux, mais qui avait une grande connaissance de la société, disait qu'il faudrait avaler un crapaud tous les matins, pour ne trouver plus rien de dégoûtant le reste de la journée, quand on devait la passer dans le monde.
On a related note, Reuters recently reported:
A man in southeast China says 40 years of swallowing tree frogs and rats live has helped him avoid intestinal complaints and made him strong.
Jiang Musheng, a 66-year-old resident of Jiangxi province, suffered from frequent abdominal pains and coughing from the age of 26, until an old man called Yang Dingcai suggested tree frogs as a remedy, the Beijing News said on Tuesday.
"At first, Jiang Musheng did not dare to eat a live, wriggling frog, but after seeing Yang Dingcai swallow one, he ate ... two without a thought," the paper said.
"After a month of eating live frogs, his stomach pains and coughing were completely gone."
Over the years Jiang had added live mice, baby rats and green frogs to his diet, and had once eaten 20 mice in a single day, the paper said.