Marcus Tullius Cicero? G. K. Chesterton? Henry Ward Beecher? Mrs. Ashton Yates? John Lubbock? William Forsyth? William Lucas Collins? Apocryphal?
Question for Quote Investigator: The most attractive room in a large house is the library. Here are three versions of a germane adage:
(1) A house without books is like a body without a soul.
(2) Without books, a house is but a body without a soul.
(3) A room without books is like a body without a soul.
This saying has been attributed to the ancient Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero and to prominent English author G. K. Chesterton. I have become skeptical because I haven’t been able to find a good citation. Would you please help me
Reply from Quote Investigator: QI has found no evidence that Cicero crafted this adage; however, he did write something pertinent in a letter to Titus Pomponius Atticus. Here is the original Latin following by a translation from Eric Otto Winstedt of Magdalen College, Oxford. Tyrannio was Cicero’s servant librarian. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:1912, Cicero: Letters to Atticus, English Translation by E. O. Winstedt (Magdalen College, Oxford), Volume 1 of 3, Letter VIII, Cicero To Atticus, Greeting, Quote Page 292 and 293, William Heinemann, … Continue reading
Postea vero quam Tyrannio mihi libros disposuit, mens addita videtur meis aedibus. Qua quidem in re mirifica opera Dionysi et Menophili tui fuit. Nihil venustius quam illa tua pegmata, postquam mi sillybis libros illustrarunt.
Since Tyrannio has arranged my books, the house seems to have acquired a soul: and your Dionysius and Menophilus were of extraordinary service. Nothing could be more charming than those bookcases of yours now that the books are adorned with title-slips.
QI conjectures that the adage and attribution to Cicero were inattentively derived from the passage above. The ascription to G. K. Chesterton appeared in the 21st century and is unsupported.
Additional detailed information is available in the full article on the Medium website which is available here.
Image Notes: Public domain image of a fresco fragment from the Palazzo Mediceo, Milan depicting young Cicero reading. Image has been cropped and resized.
Acknowledgement: Great thanks to Jane Bella whose message led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Bella helpfully pointed to an article on this topic at the IN REBVS Blog which contained the original Latin statement written by Cicero. Thanks also to the 1888 querent in “Notes and Queries” who also pointed to Cicero’s Latin statement.