As delivered to Geoff Twentyman on The Breakfast Show at BBC Radio Bristol just now. A waxwork is being unveiled in Bath that purports to show what Jane Austen looked like. A challenge has been issued to write the letter that the unknown soldier (statue at Paddington Station) is reading:
Interesting pair of stories this morning. The waxwork imagery of Jane Austin puts a face to someone whose words we know well.
Whereas the challenge to discuss the content of the unknown soldier's letter is to suggest words for an individual whose appearance we know well.
It is clear that looks mean a lot to some people. We do judge by appearance. It is why politicians spend so much time with image consultants (beat) and I prefer radio.
But for our classic and historical authors? I read Bill Bryson's little biography of William Shakespeare recently. He points out that there are only three reliable images of that playwright from his day, and it is likely that two of them copied the third one.
We know very little about the appearance of our biblical heroines and heroes. Michelangelo's statue of David is more about romantic masculinity than a true likeness, although the Bible tells us he was good-looking. We know next to nothing about Jesus of Nazarath's physical appearance apart from generalisations.
Some people in Athens had erected an altar to an unknown God. St Paul, stopping off there to debate in the market place, used the opportunity to speak of Jesus. God may well be unknown, distant, he suggested, but Jesus has made him known.
It was Jane Austen herself who said 'Life is but a quick succession of busy nothings.'
But the unknown soldier - Everyman - stands for sacrifice, courage and generosity of heart and spirit. We almost don't need to put words on his lips. A life all over far too quickly. Busy, but not nothing.
How do you want to be remembered? For how you looked? Or for what you did?
(Grateful thanks to Commissioning Editor Tim Pemberton for improving the punchline.)