a fact is a fact, & your state of mind won't alter it by a hair's breath
September 2, 2014 12:02 AM   Subscribe

"Let's go now and have the truth at all hazards." This sentence is extremely clear in context, but knowing Peter Wimsey, it's also probably a (mis)quote. Please help me find the source so I can get a tattoo with a clear conscience.

It could of course be an original phrase, but I want to be sure because Sayers ("I always have a quotation for everything - it saves original thinking.")

I've been able to find this exact sentence in an obscure Victorian romance novel (unlikely), and more general forms of it in theological writings (much more likely), but is there some source—maybe a bible verse?—that they're drawing on?
posted by you're a kitty! to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Dost thou blame
A soul that strives but to see plain, speak true,
Truth at all hazards?
(Robert Browning, from Ferishtah's Fancies)
posted by verstegan at 1:18 AM on September 2, 2014 [6 favorites]

“Better have, in the chrurch, a peaceful error than a troublesome truth.”—Erasmus; “Peace indeed, if possible, but truth at all hazards.”—Martin Luther: (According to this).
posted by misteraitch at 1:28 AM on September 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

How fun--I don't know the lines to which you refer, but this: "If all the pens that ever poets held had had the feeling of their masters' thoughts, they could not recite as much solid fact as you can hold in a pair of callipers" is a riff on some lines from Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great.
posted by feste at 9:16 AM on September 2, 2014

It's not ringing a bell, but you're probably already aware of the Wimsey Annotations? If it's already been covered the source might be there.
posted by blnkfrnk at 9:48 AM on September 2, 2014

My friend is a Wimsey scholar (for real, she wrote her thesis on Sayers). Here's her take:
For sure it’s probably a reference to something, but from the context I’d say more like an expression than an actual quotation. I wouldn’t discount a Victorian romance, but Luther would be the most likely of those, I would say – Sayers was very interested in theology, and wrote extensively on it. She also spoke German.

That being said, the way Luther uses it, it sounds almost like a reference too – I think it may be a biblical reference that passed into the lexicon back in the day and has now disappeared from common usage – I easily found a reference to it in a newspaper article from the mid-1800s. That’s my two cents.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:33 PM on September 2, 2014

Also noted in The Life of Luther Written by Himself.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:14 PM on September 2, 2014

My first thought was Browning, because Sayers knew his poems well and often quotes them in the novels. In Murder Must Advertise, Chief-Inspector Parker 'accepted disappointment as philosophically as the gentleman in Browning's poem, who went to the trouble and expense of taking music lessons just in case his lady-love might demand a song with lute obbligato'. In Busman's Honeymoon, one of the chapter epigraphs is taken from Browning's 'In a Balcony': 'Men have died / Trying to find this place, which we have found' (introducing the, dare I say, somewhat embarrassing chapter 'Crown Matrimonial' which also references Swinburne and Matthew Arnold).

However, Sayers may also be thinking of the following passage from John Stuart Mill's Inaugural Address (1867) on the purpose of a university education:
The proper business of an University is different: not to tell us from authority what we ought to believe, and make us accept the belief as a duty, but to give us information and training, and help us to form our own belief in a manner worthy of intelligent beings, who seek for truth at all hazards, and demand to know all the difficulties, in order that they may be better qualified to find, or recognise, the most satisfactory mode of resolving them.
Gaudy Night, after all, is a novel about university education, and it's not at all unlikely that Sayers encountered this passage from Mill in the course of her background reading. The idea of 'truth at all hazards' goes to the serious heart of the novel: it's the determination to establish the truth that leads Wimsey to solve the mystery, and also forces Harriet to confront her own feelings for him. In using the phrase, Sayers is subtly echoing Mill's point, that 'truth at all hazards' is what universities exist to promote.
posted by verstegan at 2:42 AM on September 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

Wow, these are phenomenal answers, thank you all!

I'm thinking about getting the tattoo to commemorate the completion of my PhD, so it feels particularly appropriate — especially given how absolutely important and relevant Gaudy Night has been to me over these many years.
posted by you're a kitty! at 11:15 AM on September 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

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