If You Marry the Spirit of Your Own Generation You Will Be a Widow in the Next

William Ralph Inge? Fulton J. Sheen? Leonard Cohen? Charles Haddon Spurgeon? E. Luccock? Joseph R. Sizoo?

Dear Quote Investigator: Any organization that aspires to multi-generational longevity must not become enmeshed in evanescent enthusiasms and fashions. Long-term steadiness and perspective are required. Here are two pertinent sayings:

  1. If you marry the spirit of your age, you will be a widow in the next.
  2. If you marry the spirit of your generation, you will be a widower in the next.

This notion has been credited to two prominent religious figures: William Ralph Inge who was Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in London and U.S. Catholic Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen who was a popular broadcaster. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: William Ralph Inge known as Dean Inge or “The Gloomy Dean” delivered a series of lectures at Sion College in 1911 titled “Co-operation of the Church with the Spirit of the Age”. He cautioned that the church must not be caught up in transient worldly affairs: 1

. . . the Church must not be identified with any particular institution or denomination, or any tendencies which seemed to be dominant in our generation. The Church was a Divine idea which required tens of thousands of years to reach its full development. They must not secularise its message and endeavour to reach men’s souls through their stomachs.

For several decades Dean Inge kept a diary, and in 1911 he wrote a contemporaneous entry about the lecture series. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

I was moved to tell them that there are many spirits of the age, most of them evil; that we were not agreed what the Church means; and that it is not certain that religious bodies ought to co-operate with secular movements at all. Also, if you marry the Spirit of your own generation you will be a widow in the next.

This diary entry serves as evidence that Inge originated the saying under analysis; however, the entry only appeared publicly many years after its 1911 composition in the 1949 book “The Diary of a Dean”. The text above is from “The Manchester Guardian” which printed extracts from the book shortly before its publication.

Inge’s lecture series was discussed and quoted in 1911, but QI has not yet found a close match for the saying in periodicals of that period.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading If You Marry the Spirit of Your Own Generation You Will Be a Widow in the Next


  1. 1911 December 14, The Wells Journal, Christian Ministers and Politics, Quote Page 6, Column 2, County: Somerset, England. (British Newspaper Archive)
  2. 1949 December 3, The Manchester Guardian, The Diary of a Dean by the Very Rev. W. R. Inge, (Extracts from “The Diary of a Dean” which is to be published by Messrs. Hutchinson on December 8, 1949), Date of entry: November 10, 1911, Quote Page 6, Column 6 and 7, London, England. (Newspapers_com)

We Are All Broken. That’s How the Light Gets In

Ernest Hemingway? Leonard Cohen? Ralph Waldo Emerson? Benjamin Blood? Rumi? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: It is impossible to avoid all pain and suffering during a lifetime, but I believe that our setbacks have a larger meaning and purpose. The famous author Ernest Hemingway reportedly said the following:

We are all broken. That’s how the light gets in.

I would like to use this statement in an article, but I have never seen a good citation. Would you please help me?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Ernest Hemingway wrote or said this precise remark.

An interesting precursor appeared in an essay about “Compensation” in an 1841 collection by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Siegfried, in the Nibelungen, is not quite immortal, for a leaf fell on his back whilst he was bathing in the Dragon’s blood, and that spot which it covered is mortal. And so it always is. There is a crack in every thing God has made.

Another precursor appeared in an 1860 book titled “Optimism: The Lesson of Ages” by philosopher Benjamin Blood who echoed Emerson’s words and added the notion of light entering through the cracks: 2

It frequently happens that the souls of men outgrow the love of their own peculiar merits, and they long to exchange, even for merits of less worth.—“There is a crack in every thing that God has made;” but through that crevice enters the light of heaven. Every thing is blessed, but every thing is unfortunate as well.

QI conjectures that the statement under examination was constructed via an evolutionary blending of a well-known quotation from Hemingway together with a lyric from the influential singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen.

In 1929 Hemingway published a novel set during World War I titled “A Farewell to Arms”, and he discussed the universality of human pain and resilience. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 3

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure that it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.

In 1992 Leonard Cohen released the album “The Future” which included the song “Anthem” containing the following lines echoing Emerson and Blood: 4

Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack, in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.

The words of Hemingway and Cohen appear to have been merged to yield: “We are all broken. That’s how the light gets in.” As shown further below, this quotation with an ascription to Hemingway entered circulation by 2013. Breakage typically causes cracks, and light symbolically represents spiritual strength and insight.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading We Are All Broken. That’s How the Light Gets In


  1. 1841, Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essay III: Compensation, Start Page 75, Quote Page 88, James Munroe and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. 1860, Optimism: The Lesson of Ages by Benjamin Blood, Section 17: Compensation, Quote Page 91, Bela Marsh, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1929, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, Chapter 34, Quote Page 267, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. (archive.org Internet Archive) link
  4. YouTube video, Title: Leonard Cohen – Anthem, Uploaded on Jan 2, 2012, Uploaded by: Differance1’s channel, (Video for the song “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen), (Quotation starts at 1 minute 19 seconds of 6 minutes 10 seconds). (Accessed on youtube.com on November 15, 2016) link