I’m reading Гадкие лебеди (The Ugly Swans), by the Strugatskys (who have not let me down yet—every novel is different, but all are funny, moving, and above all adult), and I’ve come to a scene in which the protagonist, a writer named Viktor, is giving a somewhat rambling talk to a group of schoolkids who turn out to be a more demanding and difficult audience than he had expected, complaining about his unpleasant characters and what they take to be his dark worldview. He finally bursts out with a rant about how cruel they are; he tells them that their desire to build a new world on the bones of the old is hackneyed and doomed, and ends by exclaiming “Ирония и жалость, ребята! Ирония и жалость!” [Irony and pity, kids! Irony and pity!].
I was struck by the phrase and turned to all-knowing Google, which did not disappoint me. It’s from a Russian translation of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises: “Спускаясь по лестнице, я слышал, как Билл напевал: «Ирония и Жалость. Когда ты узнаешь… О, дай им Иронию и дай им Жалость. О, дай нам Иронию. Когда ты узнаешь… Немного Иронии. Немножечко Жалости…»” [“As I went downstairs I heard Bill singing, ‘Irony and Pity. When you’re feeling. . . Oh, Give them Irony and Give them Pity. Oh, give them Irony. When they’re feeling . . . Just a little irony. Just a little pity”]. (I note in passing that the Russian translator, who rendered “When you’re feeling” as “Когда ты узнаешь” [‘When you find out’], clearly did not realize Hemingway was omitting an unprintable rhyme: “When you’re feeling [shitty].”)
But that’s not the half of it. Hemingway was mocking Gilbert Seldes, who wrote in his Dial review of The Great Gatsby (after saying that Fitzgerald was “leaving even farther behind all the men of his own generation and most of his elders,” which Hem certainly would have resented): “Fitzgerald racing over the country, jotting down whatever was current in college circles, is not nearly as significant as Fitzgerald regarding a tiny section of life and reporting it with irony and pity and a consuming passion.” And the Francophile Seldes got the phrase from Anatole France, for whom the two concepts were touchstones: “L’Ironie et la Pitié sont deux bonnes conseillères: l’une, en souriant, nous rend la vie aimable; l’autre, qui pleure, nous la rend sacrée.” (“Le Jardin d’Epicure,” Revue Universitaire 1 (1906):179.) “Il était sage, celui qui a dit: ‘Donnons aux hommes pour témoins et pour juges l’Ironie et la Pitié’.” (Spoken by the character Paul Vence in France’s novel Le Lys rouge (1894), ch. IX.) Also taking it from France, I presume, was the Russian critic Georgy Adamovich, who wrote in a review of Teffi: “Но ирония и жалость – родные сестры” [But irony and pity are sisters].
But France in turn got it from Ernest Renan: “La grande ironie, mêlée de pitié, qu’inspire au penseur ce que la pauvre humanité, amoureuse de ses bourreaux, appelle la gloire…” (Histoire du peuple d’Israël (1889), Vol. III, Book VI, ch. VII); “L’impression des choses humaines n’est complète que si on fait une place à l’ironie à côté des larmes, à la pitié à côté de la colère, au sourire à côté du respect” (Preface to Drames philosophiques, 1888). If Renan got it from some earlier source, Google isn’t saying. But see Love and theft.
Update. Anatoly discusses the Russian translator’s lapse (if lapse it was, rather than deliberate misdirection), and he and his commenters come up with possible Russian equivalents omitting unprintable rhymes. (It gives me pleasure that my Russian has become good enough to supply all the missing words.)