Bertin is said to have remarked to Marie Antoinette in 1785, when presenting her with a remodelled dress, "Il n'y a de nouveau que ce qui est oublié" ("There is nothing new except what has been forgotten."
This association is confirmed in a varied selection of books from the 19th and 20th centuries. Conklin's Who Said That? Being the Sources of Famous Sayings by George W. Conklin, published in 1906, echoes the basic sentiment of the quote as attributed to Bertin:
"There is nothing new but that which is forgotten (Il n'y a de nouveau que ce qui est oublie).In at least one book, Famous Sayings and Their Authors by Edward Latham, Marie Antoinette was described as having "asked whether the model of a costume was quite new, for she thought she had seen a drawing of it in some old engravings."
Attributed to Mlle. Bertin, a celebrated modiste, to Marie Antoinette (1755-93), replying to the question whether the model of a costume was quite new. The motto of the Revue Retrospective (1833) was 'Il n'y a de nouveau que ce qui a vielli' ('There is nothing new but that which has become antiquated.')"
The biography 'Rose Bertin: The Creator of Fashion at the Court of Marie Antoinette" by Émile Langlade repeats the anecdote:
"Indeed, nothing is new under the sun, in fashions as in other things; it is but the turn of the wheel. 'New things are only those which have been forgotten,' as Rose Bertin said very truly one day to Marie-Antoinette."
A proverb of which no nation makes such frequent application as the French, and which, as history relates, was the favourite maxim of the most inventive and academic of dressmakers, Mademoiselle Bertin, is, 'Il n'y a de nouveau que ce qui est oublié;' and we think the history of these didactic inventions affords a striking proof of its justice.
|Classical And Foreign Quotations, Laws Terms and Maxims, Proverbs, Mmottoes, Phrases and Expressions (1899)
'Il n'y a de nouveau que ce qui est oublié'--"There is nothing new except what has been forgotten," Marie-Antoinette's modiste Rose Bertin is said to have remarked when the queen approved an old dress Rose had refashioned for her.
"The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done, is that which shall be done; and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? It hath been already of old time which was before us. There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things which are to come, with those that shall come over."
The quote, as written in the original Middle English text of A Knight's Tale:
With hym ther wenten knyghtes many on;
Som wol ben armed in an haubergeoun
And in a brestplate and a light gypoun
And som wol have a paire plates large
And som wol have a Pruce sheeld or a targe
Som wol ben armed on his legges weel
And have an ax, and som a mace of steel
Ther is no newe gyse that it nas old.
Armed were they, as I have yow told,
Everych after his opinioun.
The Harvard University Geoffrey Chaucer website provides this modern translation for the passage:
With him there went knights many a one
One of them will be armed in a coat of mail,
And in a breastplate and a light tunic
And one of them will have a set of plate armor
And one of them will have a Prussian shield or a buckler;
One of them will be well armed on his legs,
And have an axe, and one a mace of steel --
There is no new fashion that has not been old.
They were armed, as I have told you,
Every one according to his preference.
So how did we get from Ecclesiastes to Chaucer to Bertin? The presumed connection from the Bertin quote to Chaucer's quote is compactly described in the preface for Le vieux-neuf by Edouard Fournier, published in 1859:
"There is nothing new except what has become antiquated," said the old English poet Chaucer; "Nothing is new but what has been forgotten," said Marie-Antoinette's marchande de modes 500 years later, rejuvenating indescribable ancient frills. The old word of the poet, refurbished by the milliner, could serve as the epigraph to the work of M. Fournier...Here, Rose Bertin is described as using the words of Chaucer for inspiration, refurbishing them for her own needs. Once again, the context of the phrase is Rose Bertin reworking old fashion to make it new. Since the original Chaucer quote was distinctly related to fashion--more specifically, practical military attire and equipment--this may reflect an additional underlying connection between these two similar phrases that goes beyond expressing the same sentiment.
A ses côtés l'on vit maint Chevalier fidèle;
Les uns portaient plastrons, ou cuirasses de fer,
D'autres étaient munis d'une cotte de mailles,
D'écus, de boucliers, ou bien d'un tranche-entrailles,
D'une hache ou d'un gâte-chair ;
Tous instruments de mort, dont sans discourtoisie
Un Chevalier se fert felon sa fantaisie.
At his side were seen many a faithful knight;
Some wore breastplates, or iron breastplates,
Others were provided with a coat of mail,
Of shields, shields, or even a slice of entrails,
An ax or a gâte-chair
All instruments of death, with no discourtesy
A Knight is born according to his fancy.
Il n’y a point d’équipement nouveau qui n’ait été anciennement.
Ils étaient armés, comme vous ai conté,
chacun selon son idée.
There is no new equipment that was not in the past.
They were armed, as you have told,
each according to his own idea.
It is safe to say that Marie Antoinette did not say this quote. It was not associated with Marie Antoinette until the social media era of the 21st century, in which online posts made an incorrect attribution which connected Marie Antoinette, rather than Rose Bertin, with this particular phrase.
It is uncertain but unlikely that Rose Bertin said this quote. I personally believe that she did not say it based on the lack of a contemporary connection. There is no known contemporary evidence to suggest she did, such as letters or individual memoirs, anecdotal or otherwise, which claim she said it from some sort of contemporary source. All we have are third-party, later anecdotal connections between Bertin and the phrase. It was associated with her by1820 and continued to be passed on afterwards as an anecdote.
The phrase "There is nothing new except what has been forgotten" should be viewed as an anecdotal, apocryphal phrase that appears to be spun from similar sayings, such as "There is nothing new under the sun" and Chaucer's "Ther is no newe gyse that it nas old." Chaucer's words were translated into a strikingly similar phrase in both English and France during the 19th century and were frequently connected to the quote attributed to Rose Bertin during this time period.
Sources and Further Reading
- The Edinburgh Review (1820)
- The Quarterly Review, London (1835)
- The Multicultural Dictionary of Proverbs (Harold V. Cordry) (1997)
- The Edinburgh Review (1820)
- A Polyglot of Foreign Proverbs (1889)
- Conklin's Who Said That? Being the Sources of Famous Sayings (1906)
- Famous Sayings and their Authors (1906)
- Rose Bertin: The Creator of Fashion at the Court of Marie Antoinette (1913)