Quotations Wanted

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I HATE QUOTATIONS . Tell me what you know,” wrote Emerson. It’s a feeling our grandparents would have understood. For hundreds of years most educated people could unloose a torrent of quotations from the wise or famous on any occasion. Many a stern admonition or well-meaning piece of advice was nailed down by an apt example from the Bible, Shakespeare, or Emerson himself. No longer; the art of the quotation died with the arts of listening, reading, and memorization. What had, in Emerson’s day, become at best a pedantic, at worst an oppressive, way of expressing oneself, today seems like a magical talent. It may be that some harmless English teacher who hasn’t heard the news or a down-home preacher or two are still able to recollect the perfect passage that transforms the commonplace into the extraordinary. But these are professionals; nowadays the average citizen is more likely to be heard quoting the punch line of an unprintable joke.

To remedy this amnesia, to help preserve the best that has been thought and said, and to serve as a useful addition to your library, the editors of this magazine are now preparing an ambitious volume to be called The American Heritage Book of American Quotations . Not only will you be able to find the most memorable words of or about America and Americans in it—including the great documents of the republic—you will also be able to look up quotations on very specific places, occupations, personalities, incidents, and landmarks. The subject matter will range from Detroit to Dred Scott, steamboats to Chicago, Barry Goldwater to gold mining, as well as the Grand Canyon, Thomas Alva Edison, the battle of Antietam, and the Crash of 1929. If all that we hope for the book comes to pass, it will not only become a standard reference, it should be a book that will be browsed through and read for its own sake.

While the work is still in progress, we’d like to invite our readers to contribute to it. If you send any number of your favorite quotations to us—with the exact source, of course—they will be considered for inclusion. Address your entries to QUOTATIONS , American Heritage, 10 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10020. They should arrive in our office no later than August 15, 1984. Because of the nature of such an open call, we will not be able to correspond with you about submissions, nor can we return the entries. Nor will there be any reward other than the possibility that the quotation that is nearest, dearest, saddest, funniest or that simply says it all to you—about any aspect of life in America—will be in the finished book. Is that reward enough? Well, as Emerson also wrote, “Next to the originator of a good sentence is the first quoter of it. ”