How Can I Know What I Think Till I See What I Say?

Graham Wallas? E. M. Forster? André Gide? Anonymous Little Girl? Anonymous Old Lady? Herbert Samuel? W. H. Auden? C. S. Lewis? Arthur Koestler? Christopher Hollis?

Dear Quote Investigator: Pre-verbal and non-verbal thoughts are vitally important. Yet, there is an intimate relationship between thinking and using language especially when analysis and reflection are required. A family of comical remarks reflect this connection:

  • How can I know what I think till I see what I say?
  • How can I tell what I think till I know what I’ve said?
  • I don’t know what I think until I hear what I say.

Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in the 1926 book “The Art of Thought” by Graham Wallas who was Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of London. Wallas suggested that the processes of thinking and expressing were entangled for the poet because the precise selection of words was crucial to success. Wallas attributed the saying under examination to an anonymous young girl. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

The little girl had the making of a poet in her who, being told to be sure of her meaning before she spoke, said, “How can I know what I think till I see what I say?” A modern professed thinker must, however, sooner or later in the process of thought, make the conscious effort of expression, with all its risks.

The next match known to QI appeared in the 1927 book “Aspects Of The Novel” by the prominent literary figure E. M. Forster who discussed the recent novel “Les Faux Monnayeurs” (“The Counterfeiters”) by André Gide. Gide’s complex work employed a novel-within-a-novel framework, and its plot was presented via fragments. Forster stated that the novel was “all to pieces logically”.

In the following passage, Forster attributed the saying under examination to an old lady in an anecdote. The phrase “distinguished critic” was a humorous reference to the old lady: 2

Another distinguished critic has agreed with Gide—that old lady in the anecdote who was accused by her nieces of being illogical. For some time she could not be brought to understand what logic was, and when she grasped its true nature she was not so much angry as contemptuous. “Logic! Good gracious! What rubbish!” she exclaimed. “How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?” Her nieces, educated young women, thought that she was passée; she was really more up to date than they were.

Thus, the saying was popularized by both Graham Wallas and E. M. Forster although both disclaimed credit for authorship. Instead, the words were ascribed to two anonymous figures: a little girl and an old lady. The saying has also been attributed to Gide. The passage above is not easy to parse. But QI believes that the attribution to Gide is based on a misreading of Forster.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading How Can I Know What I Think Till I See What I Say?

Notes:

  1. 1926 Copyright, The Art of Thought by Graham Wallas (Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of London), Chapter 4: Stages of Control, Quote Page 106, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1927 Copyright, Aspects Of The Novel by E. M. Forster, Chapter 5: The Plot, Quote Page 152, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York. (Verified with scans)

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 Gray Is the Color of Truth

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)

Believe Those Who Are Seeking the Truth; Doubt Those Who Find It

Václav Havel? André Gide? François Truffaut? Marcel Proust? John Dingell Sr.? Luis Buñuel? Amanda Palmer? Voltaire? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a provocative saying about leadership, discipleship, and the search for truth that is commonly attributed to the Czech statesman Václav Havel who passed away in 2011. Here are two versions:

Follow the man who seeks the truth; run from the man who has found it.

Seek the company of those who search for truth; run from those who have found it.

Although I have connected these statements to Havel for years I recently began to doubt the ascription. I have been unable locate solid information about its provenance. Would you be willing to attempt to trace this saying?

Quote Investigator: A large and diverse set of expressions can be grouped together naturally with the two sayings presented by the questioner. Below are nine examples labeled with their years of publication. This exploration was conducted primarily using databases of English text, hence it was incomplete. Only the keystone first expression from Nobel laureate André Gide is listed here in French:

1952: Croyez ceux qui cherchent la vérité, doutez de ceux qui la trouvent.

1959: Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it.

1971: Love those who seek the truth; beware of those who find it.

1974: Love those who seek the truth; distrust those who have found it.

1980: Follow the man who seeks the truth. Shun the one who claims to have found it.

1986: Lead me to those who seek the truth, and deliver me from those who’ve found it.

2007: Follow the man who seeks the truth; run from the man who has found it.

2009: Honour those who seek the truth, but beware of those who’ve found it.

2010: I love the man who seeks the truth and hate the man who claims to have it.

In 1952 “Ainsi Soit-Il, Ou Les Jeux Sont Faits” by André Gide was released in France. The title in English was “So Be It: Or The Chips Are Down”. The following statement was included in the book: 1

Croyez ceux qui cherchent la vérité, doutez de ceux qui la trouvent; doutez de tout; mais ne doutez pas de vous-mêmes.

In 1959 a translation of Gide’s volume to English by Justin O’Brien was created. Here is an extended excerpt. Boldface has been added to the excerpts below. In this passage the boldface corresponds to the French text immediately above: 2

I resist giving advice; and in a discussion I beat a hasty retreat. But I know that today many seek their way gropingly and don’t know in whom to trust. To them I say: believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it; doubt everything, but don’t doubt of yourself. There is more light in Christ’s words than in any other human word. This is not enough, it seems, to be a Christian: in addition, one must believe. Well, I do not believe. Having said this, I am your brother.

QI hypothesizes that the other eight statements above were derived directly or indirectly from the words of Gide. The second statement labeled 1959 is simply the translation created by O’Brien.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Believe Those Who Are Seeking the Truth; Doubt Those Who Find It

Notes:

  1. 1953 October, The French Review, Volume 27, Number 1, André Gide-deux ans après sa mort, II by Lucien Wolff, Start Page 6, Quote Page 8, Published by American Association of Teachers of French. (JSTOR) link
  2. 1959 copyright (1960 edition), So Be It: Or The Chips Are Down (Ainsi Soit-Il, Ou Les Jeux Sont Faits) by André Gide, Translated from French to English by Justin O’Brien, Quote Page 146, Chatto & Windus, London. (Verified on paper)