The Long, Happy Life Of ‘bartlett’s Quotations’


Eight years passed, and Little, Brown decided it was time for a new edition. The former editors had left, and the chairman of the board came across my blizzard of memos in the files. Perhaps I might do? I was sounded out in a typically Bostonian offhand way: “I don’t suppose you’d be interested in editing the next edition of Bartlett, would you?” I replied that I would be, provided I could hire a staff of experts in different fields who would select the familiar quotes with proper sources. That was agreed to.

Since the publication of the thirteenth, centennial edition a decade before, many people had achieved world renown and uttered memorable remarks—Camus, Dag Hammarskjöld, Pope John XXIII, Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, Robert Oppenheimer, Albert Schweitzer—and phrases had emerged: the beat generation, brinkmanship, the Great Society, the affluent society, the multiversity, cybernetics, racism, the revolution of rising expectations, the American Establishment. Translations from the classics had to be overhauled and brought into the twentieth century. Homer hitherto had appeared in Familiar Quotations only in Pope’s translation, of which Pope’s contemporary, the classicist Richard Bentley, remarked, “It is a very pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer. ” It was Zeph Stewart who now translated Homer and, along with Dudley Fitts, other classical authors. (Stewart had been shocked to find “Man is the measure of all things” missing from Protagoras, and that might have goaded him into taking up the challenge of “doing” the classics, which he did superbly.)


OTHER FAMOUS quotations had been overlooked in previous editions: “There is always something new out of Africa” (Pliny); “But it does move” (Galileo); “There go the ships” (Psalm 104); “When I am dead and opened you shall find ‘Calais’ lying on my heart” (Mary Tudor); “But that was in another country; and besides, the wench is dead” (Marlowe); “One man with courage makes a majority” (Andrew Jackson); “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (Santayana); “Surprised by joy” (Wordsworth); “E = mc2”(Einstein); “Q.E.D.” (Euclid); “War is much too serious a matter to be entrusted to the military” (Clemenceau); “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step” (Laotzu); “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken” (Cromwell), a saying that Judge Learned Hand wished to have “written over the portals of every church, every school, every courthouse, and … every legislative body in the United States.”

Errors had persisted—one for over a hundred years: the misquotation of the title of Gray’s “Elegy.” The word Written was omitted before “in a Country Churchyard. ” It had escaped all the editors and proofreaders and copy editors, and it was the organist in my church who pointed it out to me.

As in previous editions, we had fun with the footnotes, not only adding interesting cross-references but also inserting occasional parodies of passages quoted. One of my favorites is James K. Stephen’s takeoff on the Wordsworth poem that goes, “Two voices are there: one is of the sea,/One of the mountains.…” Stephen’s version reads, “Two voices are there: one is of the deep/And one is of an old half-witted sheep/Which bleats articulate monotony,/ And indicates that two and one are three./And, Wordsworth, both are thine.”

The blue-bound fourteenth edition came out in 1968 and did so well that during some years it sold as many as fifty thousand copies.

BY 1976 LITTLE, BROWN was looking ahead to its 125th anniversary, and it was decided that a suitable commemorative publication would be a new edition of Bartlett—the fifteenth. The first thing Mary Rackliffe, the superb copy editor of the fourteenth edition, and I did was to go through the old edition of Bartlett and mark passages to go.

But of course the primary mission of a Bartlett editor is to assemble appropriate quotations from the years since the previous edition, again using the criteria of “familiar” or “worthy of perpetuation.” The new edition also should reflect recent developments in scholarship regarding earlier authors, new editions, and fresh translations. Quotations not included before suddenly take on relevance and significance in the light of changing tastes and attitudes.