The nineteenth of January, 2011: Plato, and being pitiful

“Be pitiful, for every man is fighting a hard battle.”

I came across the quote today at random (in this book, as it happens). It’s widely misattributed to Plato. I like it, despite its actual origins (a Christmas homily from a Victorian Presbyterian minister).

Looking into the origins of the quote, I was mightily impressed by the detective work undertaken by The Quote Investigator, via quotations guru Fred Shapiro‘s excellent thread on the New York Times’ also really brilliant Freakonomics blog.

The QI pins the quotation on John Watson, aka Ian MacLaren, author of the pious and sentimental smash-hit Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush (1894). My favourite bit from his Oxford DNB entry:

“[H]e could not be described as a conversationalist, given that listening was not his forte and his capacity to entertain was overwhelming in its effect.”

Sounds like a man you wouldn’t want to be stuck in a lift with. Still, I’ll be pitiful, seeing as he was fighting a hard battle, just like everyone else.


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