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Graven Words

June 2024
1min read

Inscriptions of a Nation Collected Quotations from Washington Monuments

by Clint W. Ensign, Congressional Quarterly Books, 120 pages .

When the author of this pocket-size volume moved to Washington to work for a congressman, he became fascinated with the inscriptions he found on the city’s public buildings and monuments. What began as a hobby (copying them down) is now a book and, in its very miscellany, its shadings from prosaic to brilliant, a charming one. The philosophizing of Founding Fathers and the poetry of the Bible are here in abundance, but it is the unexpected that gives the most value. Surprisingly awful are some inscriptions at the former Post Office (now the National Postal Museum) written by Charles W. Eliot, a Harvard president, and edited by President Woodrow Wilson: “Carrier of News and Knowledge / Instrument of Trade and Industry / Promoter of Mutual Acquaintance / Of Peace and Good Will /Among Men and Nations.” Nearby, at the former Post Office Department Building, a splendid antidote resides, taken, remarkably, from an 1859 Postmaster General’s annual report: “It is the delicate ear trump through which alike nations and families and isolated individuals whisper their joys and their sorrows, their convictions and their sympathies, to all who listen for their coming.”

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