Electric Communication Will Never Be a Substitute for the Face of Someone Who with Their Soul Encourages

Charles Dickens? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: In a book on corporate communications I read a quote that supposedly was said by Dickens: 1

Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.
Charles Dickens

I find this quote hard to believe. Naturally,  email and twitter did not exist in the time of Dickens, but even the telephone wasn’t deployed. Alexander Graham Bell received a patent for the telephone in 1876 and Dickens died in 1870.

Quote Investigator: Your skepticism is understandable and the quotation you provide has been modified; however, it is based on a passage in a work by Charles Dickens entitled “The Wreck of the Golden Mary”. A character in the story is commenting on communication via electric telegraph within a ship during a time of great peril and says the following. Boldface has been added: 2

O! what a thing it is, in a time of danger, and in the presence of death, the shining of a face upon a face!  I have heard it broached that orders should be given in great new ships by electric telegraph.  I admire machinery as much as any man, and am as thankful to it as any man can be for what it does for us.  But, it will never be a substitute for the face of a man, with his soul in it, encouraging another man to be brave and true.  Never try it for that.  It will break down like a straw.

This quotation has been altered to obtain the shorter version that you give. Only one sentence from the story has been extracted for the quote. The pronoun referring to the telegraph has been removed, and the generic term “electric communication” has been substituted. Also, the male referents have been changed to genderless referents.

In conclusion, substantial changes have been made to the original text to yield the widely-distributed single sentence quotation in its modern form. The dramatic life-or-death context has been excised.

Yet, it is true that the words of Dickens did reflect skepticism toward substituting the telegraph for face-to-face contact in crucial situations.

Update History: On April 8, 2014 the style of the bibliographic notes was updated to numerical form.


  1. 2007, Essentials of Corporate Communication by C. B. M. van Riel and Charles J. Fombrun, Page 181, Routledge. (Google Books limited view) link
  2. 1856 December 6, Household Words (Extra Christmas Number), The Wreck of the Golden Mary, Page 10, Column 2, Bradley and Evans. (Google Books full view) link

One thought on “Electric Communication Will Never Be a Substitute for the Face of Someone Who with Their Soul Encourages”

  1. Thank you for this! My org loves sharing quotes on our Facebook page, and as much as possible, we try to make sure they are legit and properly credited. This quote reminded me of:
    “The trouble about quotes on the internet is that you cannot confirm their validity.” — Abraham Lincoln
    Almost made me research Dicken’s timeline to see if it coincided with any ‘electric communication’. Thanks again! 🙂

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