The Ecphorizer

Who Said It First?
Paul W. Healy

Issue #39 (November 1984)

You may not have said anything until you've become somebody

The second Christmas after our marriage I received from my wife a gift I still cherish--and refer to often: the Eleventh Edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, inscribed "To Paul, Christmas 1938, Always, Zelda." On certain succeeding

...and we will hit them over the head with beer bottles...

Christmases other editions have found their way under the tree: the Twelfth in 1948; the Thirteenth (centennial edition) in 1955; the Fourteenth in [quoteright]1968, and, finally, the Fifteenth in 1980. They form one of the most important sections of my reference shelf, along with the facsimile first edition, which I bought.

John Bartlett (1820-1905) was a clerk in the college bookstore at Cambridge, and later purchased the store. He became known to the students and customers of the town as a treasure trove of information about the origins of sayings, and therefore felt constrained to publish (May, 1855) a slim volume entitled Familiar Quotations.The work was well received, and in succeeding years he edited eight more enlarged and revised editions. His ninth edition, published in 1891, contained 1158 pages: 862 of text, 296 of index. The indices of Bartlett, which make it far more valuable than any other compilation of quotations, contain all the words of the quotation, listed individually--except, of course, for words like a," "and," and " the."

Bartlett clearly had fine taste in literature: of the dozens of authors whose works are cited in that first small volume, only five seem to have been dropped entirely: Robert Barnhill, Robert Cranshaw, The Earl of Roscommon, Joshua Sylvester, and Sam Tuke. Three more have been demoted to footnotes: Barton Booth, Grevile Fulke (Lord Brooke), and John Philips. But Thomas Tusser advanced in the world: the eleventh edition carries an asterisk before his name, which indicates that there are so many footnotes referring to him that the authors consider it impractical to list them.

Over the years there have been many changes in Bartlett's volumes: authors are added, a few deleted, and an astonishing number of "familiar" quotations disappear! I shall deal with only the last five editions, which, after all, cover a span of forty-three years--a greater period than the first nine editions. In what follows the comparison will be made by number of page entries. But note that while editions eleven through fourteen had a uniform page size, the fifteenth has larger pages and smaller type. For example, the thirty-two quotations from The Merry Wives of Windsor in the eleventh edition fill just over one page; in the fifteenth edition there are thirty-seven on a page (only 15 from The Merry Wives of Windsor). Present editors (Emily Morison Beck and staff, who did the last three editions) do not seem too fond of humorists, though Mark Twain has fared well over the years: two and a half pages in the eleventh, same in the twelfth, 6 pages in the thirteenth and fourteenth, and five in the fifteenth. Not so Don(ald Robert Perry) Marquis: three pages in the eleventh, two pages in the thirteenth, and less than one page in the fifteenth. Except for the writings of archie (the poet reincarnated as a cockroach), just about all of Marquis's works are missing. This quotation never appears after the thirteenth edition:

Jehovah: Did I ever mention publicly how Hell got started? I don't think I ever did. It was this way: I thought I'd do something nice for a lot of theologians who had, after all, been doing the best they could, according to their lights; so I gave them an enormous tract of Heaven to do what they pleased with--set it apart for them to inhabit and administer. I didn't pay any attention to it for a few thousand years, and when I looked at it again, they'd made it into Hell.

(Chapters for the Orthodox chapter 7.) If you watch certain 24-hour stations on television you realize how right Marquis was!

Finley Peter Dunne has had his ups and downs: three-quarters of a page in the eleventh, one page in the twelfth, four pages in the thirteenth, only two pages in the fourteenth, and one and a half pages in the fifteenth. But two of his Mr. Dooley's remarks have been faithfully retained: "The raypublican party broke ye, but now that ye're down, we'll not turn a cold shoulder to ye. Come in and we'll keep ye broke." The other: "Th' dimmy-cratic party ain't on speakin' terms with itself."* Will Rogers may have put it even better: "I belong to no organized political party; I'm a Democrat."

Thomas flood, who seemed to get his poetic inspiration from unfaithful women, has not fared well either, dropping from two pages in the eleventh edition to one page in the fifteenth. Missing are the following two verses:

Ben Battle was a soldier bold,
     And used to war's alarms;
But a cannon ball took off his legs,
     So he laid down his arms.
--"Faithless Nellie Gray," Stanza 1

His death, which happened in his berth,
     At forty-odd befell:
They went and told the Sexton, and
     The Sexton tolled the bell.
 --"Faithless Sally Brown," Stanza 17

(The last two lines of the latter stanza are in the fifteenth edition.)

After certain statesmen have achieved prominence, the editors of Bartlett are suddenly able to discover some worthwhile quotations from a period well before the preceding edition, in which they had not appeared. Winston Churchill will serve as a good example. The eleventh edition (1938) ignores him, but among the four and a half pages of his quotations in the twelfth edition (1948) there are ten that are dated before 1938, including four from The Malakand Field Force (1898). Since these volumes had the same editors, it is odd that such worthy quotations escaped their earlier notice. The preface to the twelfth edition has an item surely missing from any history text: The Dean of Canterbury, the Very Reverend Hewlett Johnson, was quoted (Associated Press, June 22, 1947) as having been present at Churchill's famous broadcast (June 4, 1940, after Dunkirk): "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets," said Churchill. Then, according to the Dean, he covered the microphone and said with a smile: "and we will hit them over the heads with beer bottles, which is all we have really got."

Present in the eleventh and twelfth editions, but missing thereafter, is this splendid poem from the Sanskrit, "The Salutation of the Dawn':

Listen to the Exhortation of the Dawn!
     Look to this Day!
For it is Life, the very Life of Life.
In its brief course lie all the Verities and Realities of your Existence:
     The Bliss of Growth,
     The Glory of Action,
     The Splendor of Beauty.
For Yesterday is but a Dream,
And Tomorrow is only a Vision;
 But Today well-lived makes every Yesterday a Dream of Happiness,
And Every Tomorrow a Vision of Hope.
Look well therefore to this Day!
Such is the Salutation of the Dawn.

Obviously personal taste counts for a lot: Christopher Morley and Louella D. Everett (eleventh and twelfth editions) were clearly not nearly so fond of the writing of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) as was Emily Morison Beck (thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth editions). In the eleventh edition he rates less than two pages; in the fifteenth edition, three and a half. Not all fantasy writers have fared as well. J.R.R. Tolkien rates only one quotation: the opening sentence of The Hobbit. And some extremely prolific modern writers (Isaac Asimov, for example) rate no space at all.

Sometimes one can find a bad slip in Bartlett. William Safire, in the New York Times Magazine for September 30, 1984, quotes the line usually attributed to W. C. Fields: "Anyone who hates children and dogs can't be all bad." He adds that Bartlett gives credit to Leo Rosten (author of The Joys of Yiddish in a tribute to Fields in 1939; but John Duffie, in the Canadian magazine Monday cites an article by Cedric Worth in a 1937 Harper's magazine: "No man who hates dogs and children can be all bad." The article was titled "Dog Food for Thought."

The moral seems clear: if the quotation you seek isn't in the most recent edition of Bartlett, don't despair. Try the one before that--and the one before that, and the one before that. After all, there are only 15 editions to date!

* For a sizeable sample of Mr. Dooley's ideas, see The Ecphorizer No. 15, Nov. 1982, p. 17. 

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