Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Another fine quotation by Rev. Henry Melvill, wrongly attributed to Herman Melville

By now everybody knows Herman Melville never said this:
“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”
Well, almost everybody knows the true source of the noble and seemingly omnipresent "thousand fibers" (rather fibres, as they spell it in London) quotation is a sermon by Henry Melvill.

And look! here's another inspiring message from Henry Melvill sailing the cyberseas under the colors of Herman Melville: 
“Hope is the struggle of the soul, breaking loose from what is perishable, and attesting her eternity.”
Ah, "attesting her eternity." Beautiful! A stroll through Google Books reveals that this quotation on Hope is attributed to Rev. Henry Melvill as early as 1836, in Volume 1 of The Church of England Magazine. Clearly the quotation belongs to a longer more elaborate treatment. The full context may be found in the sermon by Henry Melvill (on Lamentations 3.26) titled The Advantages of a State of Expectation:

Hope is a beautiful meteor: but, nevertheless, this meteor, like the rainbow, is not only lovely because of its seven rich and radiant stripes; it is the memorial of a covenant between man and his Maker, telling us that we are born for immortality; destined, unless we sepulchre our greatness, to the highest honor and noblest happiness. Hope proves man deathless. It is the struggle of the soul, breaking loose from what is perishable, and attesting her eternity. And when the eye of the mind is turned upon Christ, "delivered for our offences and raised again for our justification," the unsubstantial and deceitful character is taken away from hope: hope is one of the prime pieces of that armor of proof in which the believer is arrayed; for St. Paul bids us take "for an helmet the hope of salvation." It is not good that a man hope for wealth, since "riches profit not in the day of wrath:" and it is not good that he hope for human honors, since the mean and mighty go down to the same burial: but it is good that he hope for salvation; the meteor then gathers, like a golden halo, round his head, and, as he presses forward in the battle-time, no weapon of the evil one can pierce through that helmet.  --Henry Melvill

Sermons by Henry Melvill, 3rd ed. (London, 1837) page 311.

Sermons: comprising all the discourses published by consent of the author. Henry Melvill (New York: Swords, Stanford, & Co., 1838) page 223.
Reprinted many times, including:

At this writing, 6 May 2014, some places where the line on hope from Rev. Melvill(e)'s discourse is mistakenly ascribed to Herman Melville:
Christian Science Monitor (2 of the first 4 quotations attributed to Herman Melville are really by Henry Melvill!)
 O on Twitter
Brainy Quote
&c. &c. &c.

Not only online but in print, too? 

The Heart of Virtue (Ignatius Press, 1996) by Donald DeMarco

Encouraging Thoughts for Women, (Barbour Publishing, 2013) by Marjorie Vawter

Yep, here we go again...


  1. First heard the "hope" quote in an episode of THE OUTER LIMITS --- "The Man Who Was Never Born" (1963)