Quote Origin: Sometimes Our Inner Fire Goes Out. Another Person Rekindles It and Deserves Our Deepest Gratitude

Albert Schweitzer? Jim Valvano? Erica Anderson? C. T. Campion? Apocryphal?

Picture of a fire next to a lake from Unsplash

Question for Quote Investigator: Maintaining a high level of enthusiasm and motivation is difficult. Sometimes our inner fire starts to sputter. Happily, this fire can be reignited by an experience with another person. We owe that person our deep thanks.

Apparently, Alsatian physician and humanitarian Albert Schweitzer said something like this, but I have been unable to find a citation. Would you please help?

Reply from Quote Investigator: In 1924 Albert Schweitzer published “Aus meiner Kindheit und Jugendzeit” (“Memoirs of Childhood and Youth”). The following passage translated by C. T. Campion from German to English discussed igniting and reigniting an inner fire. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:1

As a rule there are in everyone all sorts of good ideas, ready like tinder. But much of this tinder catches fire, or catches it successfully, only when it meets some flame or spark from outside, i.e. from some other person. Often, too, our own light goes out, and is rekindled by some experience we go through with a fellow-man. Thus we have each of us cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flames within us.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

The original German passage by Albert Schweitzer in “Aus meiner Kindheit und Jugendzeit” appeared as follows:2

Gewöhnlich sind in den Menschen alle guten Gedanken als Brennstoffe vorhanden. Aber vieles von diesem Brennstoff entzündet sich erst oder erst recht, wenn eine Flamme oder ein Flämmchen von draußen, von einem andern Menschen her, in ihn hineinschlägt. Manchmal auch will unser Licht erlöschen und wird durch ein Erlebnis an einem Menschen wieder neu angefacht. So hat jeder von uns in tiefem Danke derer zu gedenken, die Flammen in ihm entzündet haben.

In 1955 Erica Anderson published “The World of Albert Schweitzer: A Book of Photographs” which included a different English rendering of the quotation:3

In Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, Albert Schweitzer says, “Sometimes our light goes out but is blown again into flame by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light.”

In 1962 the Los Angeles, California periodical “New Outlook” printed an instance attributed to Schweitzer which matched the version in the 1955 citation.4

In 1965 “A Treasury of Albert Schweitzer” edited by Thomas Kiernan reprinted the passage from the 1924 translation by Campion.5

In 1989 the New York newspaper “Daily News” published a piece about U.S. basketball coach and sports commentator Jim Valvano who was experiencing scandals and negative publicity. Valvano presented a version of the quotation:6

As Valvano explained: “(Albert) Schweitzer said, ‘In everyone’s life sometimes your inner fire goes out. It burst again into flames with an encounter with another human being. We should be thankful for people who can rekindle our human spirit.’

In 1991 Jim Valvano and a coauthor published “Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead” which included another instance of the quotation:7

My favorite note came from an anonymous donor. It was a paraphrase from a speech by Albert Schweitzer: “In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”

In 2006 Tony Bushman and Bill Hamilton-Holway published “Gatherings: Small Group Ministry for Men” which included the following instance:8

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.
— Albert Schweitzer

In conclusion, Albert Schweitzer deserves credit for the words he wrote in his 1924 memoir “Aus meiner Kindheit und Jugendzeit” (“Memoirs of Childhood and Youth”). The German passage has been rendered into English in several different ways during the ensuing decades.

Image Notes: Picture of a fire next to a lake from Vadim Sadovski at Unsplash. The image has been cropped.

Acknowledgement: Great thanks to Mardy Grothe whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Quotation expert Grothe operates the fascinating website Great Opening Lines.

  1. 1924, Memoirs of Childhood and Youth by Albert Schweitzer, Translated by C. T. Campion (Oriel College, Oxford), Chapter 5: Retrospect and Reflections, Quote Page 90, George Allen & Unwin, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link ↩︎
  2. 1954 (1924 Copyright), Aus meiner Kindheit und Jugendzeit (Memoirs of childhood and youth) by Albert Schweitzer, Quote Page 54 and 55, C. H. Beck’sche, Verlagsbuchhandlung München. (Google Books Preview) ↩︎
  3. 1955 Copyright, The World of Albert Schweitzer: A Book of Photographs by Erica Anderson, Unnumbered page before acknowledgement, Harper & Brothers, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
  4. 1962 October, New Outlook, Volume 15, Number 6, Quotes of The Day, Quote Page 22, New Century Foundation, Los Angeles, California. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
  5. 1965 Copyright, A Treasury of Albert Schweitzer, Edited by Thomas Kiernan, Chapter: The Light Within Us, Quote Page 108, Distributed by the Citadel Press, New York by arrangement with Philosophical Library. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
  6. 1989 June 25, Daily News, Section: Sports, Valvano looks on the lighter side by Bob Raissman, Quote Page 59, Column 2, New York, New York. (ProQuest) ↩︎
  7. 1991, Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead by Jim Valvano and Curry Kirkpatrick, Chapter 15: Forget the Old Italian Proverb; It’s Over Before It’s Over, Quote Page 239, Pocket Books: A Division of Simon & Schuster, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
  8. 2006 Copyright, Gatherings: Small Group Ministry for Men by Tony Bushman and Bill Hamilton-Holway, Chapter: Gathering One, Getting to Know One Another: Chalice Lighting, Quote Page 1, Skinner House Books, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans) ↩︎
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