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Please help me with a quote!

Posted by Eleonore ( on 17:21:49 16/03/04

Dear all,

I am to publish an article on online collaboration on writing. I saw this quote:
How do I know what I think until I see what I say?

It is supposed to be written by Forster, and I would like to use it. Can anybody help me with the complete reference (title, page, year, publisher, location)?
I'd be ever so grateful!!!

How do I know what I think

Posted by Jon Scaife ( on 22:30:35 10/06/04

This is quoted by Daniel Dennett in Consciousness Explained and by other authors. I'm seen a reference to it as being in Howards End but so far I haven't found it. I don't think it appears in the screenplay of the Merchant-Ivory film of Howards End.
If you find a definite source I'd be interested!


Posted by Laura (board editor) on 16:45:11 11/06/04

It is definitely Forster's, but not from Howards End. It is used in an essay - I don't know which one I'm afraid - and the highest chance of finding it would be in Abinger Harvest or in Two Cheers for Democracy. If not in one of these, it could be in The Prince's Tale and Other Unpublished Writings. But the best candidate would be the former two. I will have a look at it myself as well.

Best wishes, Laura

How do I know...

Posted by Judith Seaboyer ( on 05:57:26 07/07/04

I've sought this site because I too was trying to track down this quote! My "source" says it's Aspects of the Novel but that's all. So we're still not there, but maybe closer!

Jude Seaboyer

How do I know ... attribution

Posted by Michael Harvey ( on 21:42:01 11/10/04

I've been looking for the original source of the quote as well and have found it attributed to Forster, W.H. Auden, and Isak Dinesen; but I have never seen any credible indication of the actual work from which it comes.

How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?

Posted by Heiko (editor) on 18:59:25 14/05/05

As dicussed this is a misquote from _Aspects of the Novel_, the whole thing goes like this:

"Another distinguished critic has agreed with Gide--that old lady in the anecdote who was accused by her niece of being illogical. For some time she could not be brought to understand what logic was, and when she grasped its true nature she was not so much angry as contemptuous. 'Logic! Good gracious! What rubbish!' she exclaimed. 'How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?' Her nieces, educated young women, thought that she was passée; she was really more up-to-date than they were." (EMF, _AN_, ed. Oliver Stallybrass (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976) 99)

How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?

Posted by John ( on 01:00:32 04/08/06

Does this mean the quote comes originally from Gide, and Forster popularised it? That would explain how Graham Wallas manages to use the phrase in 'The art of thought' in 1926, a year before Aspects of the Novel was published.

how can i tell...

Posted by matt48170 ( on :22:13:45 10/04/07

I thought this was from Alice in Wonderland.

How can I tell what I think

Posted by Elsa ( on 03:06:08 26/03/09

It comes from E. M. Forster's lecture "Aspects of the Novel" and is spoken by a fictitious, unnamed woman he referst to in the essay.

Might it be Wallas'?

Posted by Zarpudia ( on :12:05:02 15/12/09

Well, just to make it a bit more complicated:
Donald Davidson quotes it in "Knowing your own mind", and points to Graham Wallas as its author. I've seen it in his The Art of Thought (London: Jonathan Cape, 1926, p. 106):

"The little girl had the making of a poet in her who, being told to be sure of her meaning before she spoke, said, 'How can I know what I think till I see what I say?'.

Wallas' book is one year earlier than E.M. Foster's "Aspects of novels".


Posted by susanne ( on :20:28:41 01/05/11

or even hear what i say...........

How do I know

Posted by susan ( on :02:33:27 01/02/13

I think the quote has much to do with the written word. As a teacher, it speaks to me of the importance of the written word by the student to assist them in organizing their thoughts, or knowing what they mean. And, of course, the written word is the highest level of development in language, preceded only and respectively by listening, speaking, and reading.

This brainy quote hangs in my classroom and office.

Thank you for the discussion. It was very helpful.

Re: How do I know

Posted by Heiko (editor) on 20:48:12 01/02/13

Dear Susan,

To put that up in the classroom sounds like a jolly good idea. I hope it will inspire your students.

Best wishes,



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