“Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.”
Last week I shared this quote on social media, and I said that it was attributed to William Butler Yeats. In that post I mentioned that the phrase is actually a variation of a biblical verse, Hebrews 13:2: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
The part about the biblical verse is accurate. However, I mixed up something important about this quote, so I have to set the record straight.
In addition to Yeats, the quote has also been attributed to William Shakespeare, himself. But ’twas neither Mr. Yeats nor the Bard who crafted this pleasing phrase. The originator of the modern form of this quote is actually bookseller George Whitman, who founded the Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris in 1951. Mr. Whitman painted these immortal words on the wall of his bookstore, and they have welcomed booklovers ever since.
Of course, the Bible quote came first (as it always does) but the contemporary quote that we know so well is all Mr. Whitman’s.
It’s interesting how attributions can get goofed up like that, isn’t it? This is partly a phenomena of the internet, of course, but technology isn’t entirely to blame (darn it). One of my favorite websites is quoteinvestigator.com, where they diligently research to get the source of who said what. For a geek like me, it’s a fun place to go and browse. I could lose hours (and indeed I have!) reading the evolution of various quotes.
This particular quote partly inspired my new novel, The Book of Forgotten Angels. The sentiment is beautiful and the advice is sound. To quote Dickens (correctly, I hope): “May that truly be said of us, and all of us!”
Hugs and happy reading,
Photos in this post:
- Close-up of the quote on the bookstore wall. Source: Pinterest.
- The same photo, uncropped.
- The exterior of the Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris. Source: Pinterest.
- The young, rakish George Whitman himself. Source: shakespeareandcompany.com
- Yours truly, outside the Annapolis Bookstore in 2016, with that same quote chalked in behind me. Photographer: Mandy Sroka.
- Quote meme, with correct attribution.
“Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.” – George Whitman