Tag Archives: W. C. Brownell

Gray Is the Color of Truth

André Gide? Stuart Henry? McGeorge Bundy? Jacques de Biez? W. C. Brownell? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Many demand simple answers to tangled questions. Yet, some topics never yield straightforward black or white answers. The French Nobel prize winner André Gide supposedly made one of the following comments:

The color of truth is grey.
Gray is the color of truth.

I have been unable to find a solid citation for Gide. This remark has also been ascribed to the U.S. foreign-policy advisor McGeorge Bundy. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in a “Scribner’s Magazine” essay in 1889. The literary critic William Crary Brownell credited the remark to French journalist and art critic Jacques de Biez. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Gray,” says M. de Biez again, “which is the color of the sky in France, is also the color of truth itself, of that truth which tempers the impetuosity of enthusiasm and restrains the spirit within the middle spheres of precise reason.” Nothing could more accurately attest the French feeling in regard to color—the French distrust of its riotous potentialities.

QI has not yet found substantive evidence supporting the attribution to André Gide. McGeorge Bundy did use the line in a speech in 1967. The spellings “gray”, “grey”, “color”, and “colour” have all appeared over the years. This adage has been difficult to trace and the earlier citations may be discovered by future researchers.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1889 February, Scribner’s Magazine, Volume 5, Number 2, French Traits — The Art Instinct by W. C. Brownell, Start Page 241, Quote Page 245, Column 2, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. (Unz)