« PreviousContinue »
N presenting to the public a new collection of familiar
quotations, a brief explanation of the aim and the
nature of the work seems to be demanded. At the outset, the difficulty is encountered of determining the scope of the work, and the classes of readers to which it is to appeal. The primary object of a collection of "familiar quotations” is to furnish information as to the author fugitive line or passage, such as sometimes haunts the brain, and also the exact locality in that author's works where such line or passage may be found.
But from this restricted field others open, until it is rendered more and more difficult to determine where the lines governing admission or rejection shall be drawn. One seeks a well-turned phrase that may embody a wish or a compliment for a friend; the orator or statesman desires some epigrammatic passage with which he can adroitly illustrate a point or make a well-rounded peroration. Instinctively all such turn to the book of “familiar quotations,” in the hope of finding therein the sentiments they desire to express. And so the circles widen until little can be considered but the feasibility of compiling a good "working" collection of condensed crystallized philosophy and apt descriptions, necessarily bounded in its scope by the ordinary limitations of handiness of reference.
Any attempt to limit the terms of admission by a test of "familiarity” must necessarily fail; as what is familiar to one may be unknown to another seeker of the kinds mentioned above. With the enormous increase of genuine literature, not to mention books of merit but of unstable reputation, familiarity with the bulk of the world's literary treasures is to-day beyond the capability of all but a few. The mind that is stored with the lofty imagery of Milton, or the graphic but too often prosy descriptions of Homer and other classical writers, has little in common with that of the reader of humorous works, such as those of Hood and Barham, Mark Twain and Kipling. To cater exclusively to one class is to exclude the other from participation in whatever advantages a collection of quotations may possess; and practically neither class would be satisfied with the result, yet with the best endeavours, the question will repeatedly be asked of any collection,—and doubtless at times with impatience,—“Why is this passage given room while that is omitted?” No answer can be given that will prove satisfactory to every querist. The omission of one passage may be justified by its very familiarity, it being assumed that nearly every one would recognize its language and its source, and the space thus afforded may give room to some phrase newly coming into favour. The insertion of another may be due to its familiarity in certain circles of readers.
To constitute familiarity a quotation must present, in pleasing and compact form, some noteworthy truth or idea, be the latter philosophical or humorous. It must be incisive, to create an impression on the mind; it must be brief, to retain a hold, however slight, upon the memory. A line or a few words will linger for years in some unused chamber of the brain, until occasion furnishes the connection between the present and the past. Then like a flash comes recollection,-sometimes clear, but more often confused and indistinct, —of having that idea presented to the mind before. According to the strength of the mental faculties and the amount of their training, more or less assistance must be called for to reproduce the complete image, and the mere suggestion of a word may suffice to establish the train of thought. But to frame a complete list of quotations which should supply the mental yearnings of every one would be an impossible task. Many men have many minds—to quote a hoary thought-and no collection-however comprehensive -of crystallized ideas could ever begin to supply the demands of human mental activities.
Too many books of this nature follow one another blindly, even in many cases justifying the suspicion that little originality was used in their compilation. In the present work, however, the selection of quotations has been made directly from the sources, with the purpose of bringing together as varied a collection as possible,-a collection which should appeal to a large number of readers through both its literary value and its practical usefulness. This has made it possible to avoid following the exact lines of the older collections, and to present to the public a work fresh and original. The advantage of the present volume as a book of reference is that it contains many phrases and verses, the source of which is not generally known or easily found; and that it is particularly interesting and suggestive to the general reader on account of the number and variety of the quotations, many of which are from literary fields not generally touched upon in similar works.
In the present collection, but little attempt has been made to tap the great fountain of foreign or classical literature, or to trace to their original sources the sentences which contain the crystallized wisdom of ages. In the world of thought there is comparatively little new. Old ideas are reclothed in newer language; but many of the gems of English literature have their basic germ in the thought of thousands of years ago. The logic of a Bacon, the imagery of a Milton, or the keen exposition of human nature of a Shakespeare can often be traced back to the philosophers, poets, orators, and historians of Greece and Rome. Still further back, the thread may be followed through Egyptian lore till we find familiar ideas impressed on Assyrian and Babylonian tablets and cylinders. Beyond this point who can say that human wisdom shall be ultimately traced? And yet it can hardly be said that scientific exploration will not at some time reveal evidence of more remote civilizations with rich literature. For this reason little or no attempt has been made in these pages to detect the earliest known exponent of an idea. Space, to say nothing of other limitations upon such a scheme, would naturally forbid more than has been attempted,—the citation of some author of ability or repute who has at some time given form and utterance to a happy description, a quaint conceit, or an immortal truth.
The field of this book is therefore narrowed practically to English and American literature. Within this field every effort has been made to include a wide range of authors, subjects and literary styles. There has been no intent to limit the quotations to authors of classical rank; for humble ideas will often survive where polished form will perish. Considerable use has, however, been made of such translations from the classics and the writings of foreign authors as have reproduced in poetic form in our own tongue the glories of the Greek and Latin writers.
The storehouse of language and thought which lies within the covers of the Bible has purposely been drawn upon very scantily, and then more by way of annotation than of direct quotation. More than sufficient material has been found in more modern fields to fill the space originally allotted to this volume, and to enter the sacred field without reaping an ample harvest would prove but an aggravation to the seeker after Biblical lore.
For the quotations that are given, a glance at the index of authors will suffice to show that there is an unusually large number of authors cited,-more than in any other such collection of similar size and scope; and that they represent all classes from the great poets to obscure writers who are remembered only by some one poem, or perhaps by a single verse or phrase which through some value of its own has impressed itself upon the minds of men. Among these many authors, even at the risk of sacrificing some old favourites, the most modern writers have been well represented; for many of their apt phrases and forcible words have already made their impression upon the public mind, and if not actually “familiar" are rapidly becoming so, and are likely to remain so. Among those cited may be mentioned, Kipling, Austin Dobson, Edwin Markham, and Theodore Roosevelt. The introduction of such names is a distinguishing characteristic of this volume, and will contribute largely, it is hoped, to its usefulness.
In citing the different quotations, each one has been taken from the most trustworthy available editions of the works of the authors cited, and variorum readings have been supplied in many cases. When possible, such different readings have been given in the text enclosed in brackets; but when the variation is considerable and the insertion of both renderings in the text awkward or impossible, one of the readings has been given in the form of a footnote. Painstaking effort