This blog goes on under a different name and new web address from January 2011. Please follow me...

Beyond the Lone Islands

Monday, 31 August 2009

Quotation of the Week (36/09)

"Men always talk about the most important things to perfect strangers. In the perfect stranger we perceive man himself; the image of a God is not disguised by resemblances to an uncle or doubts of wisdom of a mustache."
G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

Chesterton is perhaps nowadays most commonly remembered as author of the Father Brown detective stories, but was a very influential writer in his day. (Highly praised by among others my own favourite C.S. Lewis). According to the Wikipedia article he wrote around 80 books, several hundred poems, some 200 short stories, 4000 essays, and several plays. He was a literary and social critic, historian, playwright, novelist, Catholic theologian and apologist, debater, and mystery writer.


rae said...

Awesome author; awesome quote.

Dr.John said...

I loved the Father Brown detective stories.

GB said...

Do you know, DT, I'm not sure that I understand that quote. I'm ok until I get to the last 6 words and then I begin to falter.

I'm reminded of St Paul's Epistle to the Corinthians 14:9
....except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.

Or is it just me being thick?

DawnTreader said...

GB, I had this written down in my quotation notebook, in Swedish translation, from I-don't-really-know-exactly-when-or-where. Actually, I think the translator did an excellent job because I never had any trouble understanding it in Swedish... Before putting it onto my blog, I searched for the original quote on the internet, and found it to be a very famous one, quoted on all kinds of websites, without any extra explanations. However, I have to say that I too found the original wording less obvious than the translation I was used to.

This is how I would have translated it back from Swedish if I had not seen the original:

"Men always talk about the most important things to perfect strangers. The reason for this is that in the stranger, we see Man as such, the image of God not veiled by resemblance to an uncle or doubts about whether it was wise of him to grow a mustache."

Does that help?
Doing a bit extra research, I found that the quote comes from a book with the title "The Club of Queer Trades", chapter 5. The immediate context, however, does not really add much to the interpretation of the quote. As I understand it, Chesterton simply means that with people we already know, we easily get distracted by details that have nothing to do with the conversation as such. But with a perfect stranger, we don't really care whether he has a mustache or not.

I don't know if you followed the link to the Wikipedia article? If you do, you'll see that Chesterton himself wore a rather impressive mustache. You might also possibly find it quite amusing to google "Chesterton mustache" Don't do it if you're short of time, though! :§


Blog Widget by LinkWithin