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Quotation by George Eliot on moving the world forward

Topics: Leadership, Perfection

 

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Quotation by George Eliot on important work not waiting for perfect men.

The important work of moving the world forward
"does not wait to be done by perfect men."

~ George Eliot

Click here to read author biography and to view additional quotations by George Eliot.

Photo of ocean wake by Rand Green.


Contextual Notes

Although the entirety of this aphorism is commonly attributed to George Eliot, in actuality, only the last nine words are a direct quote and the first eight are a paraphrase, broadening the application of the concept.

The original quotation comes from Eliot's first fictional work, Scenes of Clerical Life, a collection of three stories published in book form in 1858. In the third story, "Janet's Repentance," the story's narrator observes:

The blessed work of helping the world forward, happily does not wait to be done by perfect men; and I should imagine that neither Luther nor John Bunyan, for example, would have satisfied the modern demand for an ideal hero, who believes nothing but what is true, feels nothing but what is exalted, and does nothing but what is graceful. The real heroes, of God's making, are quite different: they have their natural heritage of love and conscience which they drew in with their mother's milk; they know one or two of those deep spiritual truths which are only to be won by long wrestling with their own sins and their own sorrows; they have earned faith and strength so far as they have done genuine work...."

 In context, Eliot's narrator is making specific reference to religious leaders who, while perhaps less than perfect in their personal lives (as are all mortals), nevertheless have helped the world forward spiritually.

The paraphrased version in common use, which replaces Eliot's "The blessed work of helping the world forward" with the phrase "The important work of moving the world forward," appropriately extends to leaders in all aspects of society, whether scientists or industrialists or educators or statesmen, Eliot's avowal that such work does not wait to be done by perfect individuals – and happily so; for if it did, the work would never be done.

~ Rand Green 


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