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The Tale of the Wandering Epigraph, Part 1 of 2

What better way to signal your love of Bunyan (Bunyanphilia) than to adorn your water bottle with one of his beloved quotations from The Pilgrim's Progress?

"It is always hard to see the purpose in wilderness wanderings until after they are over."

Or you could use it to promote a movie on social media?

The phrase is quoted as an epigraph at the beginning Chapter 4 of Ruth Harris's book, Guru to the World published by Belknap Press, an imprint of Harvard University Press (p. 84):

("Epigraph" just means, according to the 3rd definition of the Oxford English Dictionary: A short quotation or pithy sentence placed at the commencement of a work, a chapter, etc. to indicate the leading idea or sentiment; a motto; (In use since 1850).)

It pops up in likelier contexts such as on the back cover of a recent 90-day devotional, drawing from PP:

It gets a shout out in Kate Bowler's Have a Beautiful, Terrible Day! Daily Meditations for the Ups, Downs & In-Betweens, p. 130:

It's used in Rachel Chou Simon's beautifully illustrated book, Pilgrim, p. 102 (not marked on page):

And it's even quoted in a chapter by academics in an International Handbook on Career Guidance, p. 430:

I first came across it as an epigraph in a searingly honest collection of poems by Anna K Ivey, entitled Wilderness, p. 1:

But the problem is that John Bunyan never wrote these words.

Not in The Pilgrim's Progress nor elsewhere.

It's not hard to find who did write them, some 330 years after PP was published. My follow up post will show how the internet can unveil truth as well as disguise and magnify error. Beware how you research your quotations and epigraphs! This will an apt lesson for my students, and stands as a warning to me as I write...

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2 comentários

Very interesting post! It reminds me of what John Bunyan once said: "You can lead a horse to water, but a pencil must be led."

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