TPM Contest: Who Said This? About Whom? No. 2

Right, here’s a quiz. I’ll be pretty impressed if people get this right without cheating. You’re not allowed to cheat, by the way. That would be wrong. And you’ll get a severe telling off.

I want to know who said this – and about whom it was said. I expect people to be able to identify the about whom pretty quickly. But the identity of the person who said it will be more difficult, I reckon. Obviously it won’t be more difficult if you Google it, but you won’t do that, because what’s the point, right – and anyway there’s the whole severe telling off thing to worry about. Here’s a clue. The person who wrote this had a famous son.

Others again debated – Whether the angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary in the shape of a serpent, or a dove, or a man, or of a woman? Did he seem to be young or old? In what dress was he? Was his garment white or of two colours? Was his linen clean or foul? Did he appear in the morning, noon, or evening? What was the colour of the Virgin Mary’s hair? Was she acquainted with the mechanic and liberal arts? Had she a thorough knowledge of the Book of Sentences, and all it contains?… But these are only trifling matters: they also agitated, Whether when during her conception the Virgin was seated, Christ too was seated; and whether when she lay down, Christ also lay down?

That’s it.

(You see this is what happens when one finds religion: one becomes interested in what people have previously said about Christ and the Holy Mother…)

ps., The judge’s decision is final. No correspondence will be entered into. Please allow 28 days for the non-delivery of your non-prize.

Leave a comment ?


  1. Stephen Cowley

    Let me guess. It would have to be later than the naive Christian speculators the passage adverts to, but they could be either some kind of early gnostic, or perhaps pedantic medievals. The reference to liberal arts sounds medieval, and I think Lombard’s Book of Sentences establishes that, so that would rule out St Augustine. So amongst early critics of the medievals, I’d guess maybe Montaigne or Erasmus.

  2. s. wallerstein (ex amos)

    I’d say that this passage was not translated, that it was originally written in English, in the 18th or 19th century. Otherwise, no clues.

  3. @Stephen – Pretty good at narrowing down the target, though not quite specific enough. But not Montaigne or Erasmus.

    @Amos – You’re right. Not translated.

  4. s. wallerstein (ex amos)

    That was fairly easy.

    The prose was old-fashioned, certainly not 20th (or 21st) century, and I assume that you (Jeremy) use up-to-date translations, not the Jowett version.

    Ergo, it is not a translation.

  5. Could it be Philip Gosse about Thomas Aquinas? Just a guess, based on the clues so far provided.

  6. Thomas Aquinas is pretty close, George, though you need to go a little bit wider than that (Thomas Aquinas would be considered the major figure in the “movement” this person is talking about).

    But no, not Philip Gosse.

  7. Completely Random

    C.S. Lewis? Or Oscar Wilde?

  8. “Famous son” and the early-19th-century tone of the prose made me guess Erasmus Darwin.

  9. @MKR – Nope, but you’re bang on in terms of time frame.

  10. how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

    I take it the target is Scholasticism.

    Couldn’t tell you who fired the arrow, but a man of letters rather than a philospher or protestant theologian methinks.

  11. Curious, You’re a genius!

    Yes, scholasticism. And yes, a man of letters.

    So we’ve got the target as scholasticism and the author as an early 19th century man of letters, who had a famous son.

    Nearly there!

  12. Answered on Twitter, was told to come over here. Reckoned it was Isaac Disraeli.

  13. John, I’m fawning over you, as promised on Twitter.

    You’re brilliant. The quote comes from Isaac Disraeli’s “Curiosities of Literature, Vol 1”, which is a fabulously entertaining read.

    You can find it here:

  14. Will none speak up for the Angelical Doctor and the Schoolmen?

  15. Based on what others have narrowed it down to, could it be James Mill (as that would fulfill the famous son element) about Duns Sctus?

  16. John Morgan,

    You must have missed the most recent comments – its been established that it was in fact Isaac Disraeli on Scholasticism generally.

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