I Can’t Wait to Get This Book

I love a good quotation as much if not more than the next guy. But whenever I dig deeply into who really said what, a lot of the quotations are either made up entirely or misattributed. (Was it really Stella Adler, for instance, who upon entering a theater had a younger, prettier woman open the door for her and say “Age before beauty” — prompting Adler (or someone) to march right through the door and say, “Pearls before swine”?) Furthermore, it seems that half of all quotations in the world these days are attributed to Mark Twain or Oscar Wilde. In something I was writing just the other day, I wanted to cite the old maxim about the weather — that everyone talks about it but no one does anything about it — which is commonly attributed to Twain. But at least according to Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, it was Charles Dudley Warner — a collaborator of Twain’s, and a fellow resident of Hartford, Conn. — who wrote that line in an 1897 editorial in the Courant. (By the way, if you are a fan of Twain you should tour his house in Hartford; it still has the original silver, e.g., which this guy once tried to steal.)

Now comes along The Yale Book of Quotations, edited by Fred R. Shapiro. It aims to suss out the reality behind a great many famous quotations. I ordered it from Amazon the minute I read the article linked above. The article makes it sound as though Shapiro and his colleagues worked hard to find original sourcing for all the quotes, which I’m sure must have been a lot of work and fabulously fun. I would like to know how their methodology differs, if significantly, from the folks who put out Bartlett’s.

No matter how good the new Yale book is, I promise not to clog up this website with pithy quotes of the day from various clever people. The market for that is already way flooded.

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  1. “Following the Equator” a two volume trip around the world made by Twain (Sam Clemens) is something I picked up and dusted off last year, and much to my surprise it is easily Twain’s most important work, being as it is a subtle philosophical treatise that uses the whole world as its stage.

    It’s astounding the comment Twain makes about today’s lessons left unlearned, though Twain clearly saw straight through a millenium before they vexed us.

    After reading it, I declared myself to be a Twainist.

    Don Robertson, The American Philosopher.
    Homepage: http://www.geocities.com/donaldwrobertson/index.html

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  2. “Following the Equator” a two volume trip around the world made by Twain (Sam Clemens) is something I picked up and dusted off last year, and much to my surprise it is easily Twain’s most important work, being as it is a subtle philosophical treatise that uses the whole world as its stage.

    It’s astounding the comment Twain makes about today’s lessons left unlearned, though Twain clearly saw straight through a millenium before they vexed us.

    After reading it, I declared myself to be a Twainist.

    Don Robertson, The American Philosopher.
    Homepage: http://www.geocities.com/donaldwrobertson/index.html

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  3. Brian S. says:

    Similar book is called “They Never Said It”, about false quotations. Includes lots of false quotes of Lincoln, mostly proclaiming him a Christian, some proclaiming him an atheist.

    Good book, although I haven’t read it in years.

    Snopes.com is a decent website source for tracking false quotes.

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  4. Brian S. says:

    Similar book is called “They Never Said It”, about false quotations. Includes lots of false quotes of Lincoln, mostly proclaiming him a Christian, some proclaiming him an atheist.

    Good book, although I haven’t read it in years.

    Snopes.com is a decent website source for tracking false quotes.

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  5. shapiro says:

    I appreciate this nice posting about my book. For a thorough response to the question about how my methods differ from those of Bartlett’s, see the Yale University Press blog:

    http://yalepress.typepad.com/yalepresslog/

    Fred R. Shapiro

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  6. shapiro says:

    I appreciate this nice posting about my book. For a thorough response to the question about how my methods differ from those of Bartlett’s, see the Yale University Press blog:

    http://yalepress.typepad.com/yalepresslog/

    Fred R. Shapiro

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  7. 3612 says:

    If you find yourself in Hartford touring the Mark Twain House, be sure to also walk through the Harriet Beecher Stowe house (25 yards away) to compare the opulence of these two contemporary writers. No way that Stowe could keep up with the Jonses.// Interesting to note that 100+ years on, it’s Twain quotes all over the internet, with a mere smattering of Stowe. “Tom Sawyer” is still taught but not “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” Good literature wins out over melodrama.

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  8. 3612 says:

    If you find yourself in Hartford touring the Mark Twain House, be sure to also walk through the Harriet Beecher Stowe house (25 yards away) to compare the opulence of these two contemporary writers. No way that Stowe could keep up with the Jonses.// Interesting to note that 100+ years on, it’s Twain quotes all over the internet, with a mere smattering of Stowe. “Tom Sawyer” is still taught but not “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” Good literature wins out over melodrama.

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