Saturday, 31 May 2014

You Can Never Cross the Ocean Until You Have the Courage to Lose Sight of the Shore

Back into the world of things people famously never said...

Like CS Lewis saying we don't have souls, we are souls. To which I reply, "Are souls? No, that is some kind of weird Gnostic thing. We are human beings, mind and body and spirit, in a kind of subordinate trinity, mate. And no, of course it's not CS Lewis. If CS Lewis had said something like that, during an evening in the Eagle and Child, JRR Tolkien - that fine Catholic theologian - would have suggested a quiet stroll home through the Parks. And pushed him in the Cherwell to sober him up."

But this is one that I only heard today, and again it's on posters and everything.

"You Can Never Cross the Ocean Until You Have the Courage to Lose Sight of the Shore" (Christopher Columbus) 
It has all the instant hallmarks of a spurious attribution. To wit, it's vaguely aspirational and put in the mouth of somebody it seems related to. Which is always a suspicious sign. And when you think about it - when the heck would Columbus have said such a thing? On the harbour, just as about to board the Santa Maria? If he'd said anything that trite and obvious, he'd have got a Castilian response which would roughly translate into English as something involving the proper name "Sherlock",

I've done some research (i.e. used Wikiquote) and it turns out to be in a book by somebody called André Gide. Who actually said
"One doesn't discover new lands without consenting to lose sight, for a very long time, of the shore,"
Does it sound such a good quote now it's not by Christopher Columbus? After all, you've never heard of this French geezer, have you?

I'd argue that it's actually now a better quote - after all, there's a point to discovering new lands, whereas merely crossing an ocean means you're 3,000 miles from home and drinking your own wee. Or worse, somebody else's (thank you, Blackadder, for that image).

But also, this bloke André Gide won the Nobel Prize for Literature. And campaigned for better prison conditions. Whereas Columbus was a mercenary, money-grabbing, slave-taking, murdering inciter to rape who died in obscurity.

You want to be careful where you draw your inspiration from.


  1. By coincidence, Archdruid, I have one of those inspirational Christian bookmarks (the kind that you find for sale in retreat houses) with this quotation by Gide on. Just reminds me to be a bit adventurous when I am not feeling so.

  2. I've heard of Andre Gide, probably at school, but I've know idea why. I don't recognise the name of any of his books


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