Some time ago, a friend brought to my attention a certain inspirational quote apparently carved onto the tombstone of an unnamed 11th century Anglican bishop buried at Westminster Abbey. When I read it, I loved it and thought it worth sharing!

It went something like this—

When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits
I dreamed of changing the world.
As I grew older and wiser, I discovered the world would not change.
So I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country.
But it too seemed immovable.
As I grew into my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt
I settled for changing only family, those closest to me
But alas, they would have none of it.
And now as I lay on my deathbed, I suddenly realise :
If I had only changed myself first
Then, by example I would have changed my family.
From their inspiration and encouragement,
I would then have been able to better my country
And who knows, I may even have changed the world

It's a deeply insightful advice and one worth remembering for anyone interested in self-betterment and making a difference in the lives of others.

Alas, there is but a problem. Actually, a few (three) problems.

#1

As far as I can tell, all variations of this quote in circulation on the Internet are presented as being more-or-less exact quotes of the actual inscription on the tombstone. But any history-savvy reader will note that the language is remarkably modern for an 11th century inscription. I mean, it's easier to understand than Shakespeare and Shakespeare was born in the 16th century.

According to Wikipedia, the language used in England in the 11th century is known as Old English (AKA Anglo-Saxon) and if you want to get an idea of what that probably sounded or looked like, just check out the original Old English version of Beowulf (not the wimpy translated versions in high school English literature anthologies), which if you do you're sure to notice that it doesn't even look English.

#2

Did you say... Anglican? Again, anybody who is history-savvy will raise their eyebrows and note that Anglicanism didn't exist in the 11th century. Because for the Church of England to throw off its Papal yoke, England will first have to get to the infamous King Henry VIII (hilariously referred to by CGP Grey as the splitter of churches and ladies) who practically invented Anglicanism so he can divorce Catherine of Aragon (the Pope wouldn't let him do it) and that also didn't happened until the 16th century.

Now, officially the Church of England traces its establishment to the 6th century Gregorian mission in Kent when it was set up basically as a satellite of Rome, so technically there could've been an "Anglican" bishop in England in the 11th century. But again, after some digging around on the Internet, it appears that the quote is consistently presented as being attributed to a post-divorce Church of England bishop.

But maybe, you might say, the language is so modern-sounding because it's actually a modern translation of the original rather than the original itself. And maybe, you say, that by "Anglican" they mean simply the Church in England and not the Church of England.

Well, perhaps, but here's the proverbial nail-in-the-coffin and the third and final problem I have with this quote.

#3

It appears that some very diligent and inquisitive netizens beat me to the punch and actually bothered to go through the Westminster Abbey FAQ page. Apparently they found that the management at Westminster Abbey is aware of the said quote being attributed to somebody buried there and on their FAQ page the Abbey denies that such a tombstone exists and that they have no idea where this quote actually came from.

Disclaimer: I didn't actually check the FAQ page myself (not even sure if the Abbey has an FAQ page at all). I'm just taking Google's word for it.

Conclusion

But regardless, and this is sort of the point of this entire harangue, it brought to my mind a certain profound meme featuring the US president Abraham Lincoln with silly photoshopped spectacles and something he allegedly said 152 years ago.

This one, in fact:

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Now I'm not discrediting or discounting the wisdom embodied in the supposed inscription on the tombstone of the 11th century Anglican bishop. It really is very insightful! Definitely worth pondering on and learning from.

I'm simply saying that that perhaps this whole spiel presents an invaluable opportunity to learn a second, equally insightful (albeit entirely unrelated) lesson—that, like Abraham Lincoln sensibly noted in 1864, "the problem with Internet quotes is that you can't always depend on their accuracy."

=P

Published by The Planctonian