History of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations Part 2

About the major reference book Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, biography of John Bartlett and history of the book's different editions.



"Should this be favorably received, endeavors will be made to make it more worthy of the approbation of the public in a future edition." wrote Bartlett in his preface to the first edition. Apparently it was, because Bartlett, who was to live another half a century, personally edited eight more editions. Little, Brown and Company, the present publishers, came in on the fourth edition (1863), as, by the way, did two other American institutions--Ralph Waldo Emerson and The New England Primer ("In Adam's fall/We sinned all.") The seventh (1875) saw the addition of Washington, both Adamses, Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Andrew Jackson, Daniel Webster, and Lincoln, plus one lone literary figure, Edgar Allan Poe. The classics received extensive coverage for the first time. The Bible was transferred, without comment, from the front to the back of the book, so that Familiar Quotations no longer began with Genesis 2:18, "It is not good that the man should be alone," but with the first two lines of the Prologue to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, "Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote/The droghte of March hath perced to the roote."

By the ninth edition, the last edited by John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations had grown to almost four times the size of the first edition. "I have gathered a posie of other men's flowers, and nothing but the thread that binds them is my own," wrote Bartlett on the title page. To the list of "other men" he had added Americans Calhoun, Clay, Jefferson Davis, Andrew Johnson, Rutherford B. Hayes, Grover Cleveland, and Davy Crockett, plus yet one more solitary man of letters, Bret Harte. For the first time a significant number of non-English-speaking personages appeared, including Ali ibn-abi-Talio (son-in-law of Mohammed), Alfonso the Wise (13th-century Spanish king), Marcus Aurelius, Martin Luther, Napoleon, and Omar Khayyam.

Bartlett had viewed the ninth edition as the "close of the volume's tentative life," but Little, Brown apparently felt "they should not willingly let it die" (Milton), and produced a 10th in 1914 under Nathan Haskell Dole, poet, editor, and translator. Dole's rendition further expanded the Quotations. American literary figures Thoreau, Whitman, and Twain finally appeared, but not as yet Melville, Hawthorne, Emily Dickinson, or either William or Henry James. Tolstoi arrived, as did Yeats (ironically with the one work--"The Land of Heart's Desire"--that he had refused to include in his Collected Poems).

The great leap forward of Familiar Quotations occurred with the 11th edition (1937), under the editorship of the celebrated author Christopher Morley. Morley felt the time had come to substitute "literary power" for "familiarity" as the touchstone for selection, although he left the title intact. The work became for the first time truly comprehensive; it must have been devastating for any currently established writer not to find himself included. Melville, Hawthorne, Dickinson, and the Jameses made their belated appearance. Leonardo joined Michelangelo (who had inexplicably sailed in with the seventh), Dostoevski joined Tolstoi, and Aesop, Balzac, Hugo, Blake, and the Venerable Bede were accounted for. Such inclusions as FDR, Hitler, and Mussolini made the 11th more topical, although Churchill apparently just missed it. Also, for the first time a little weeding out took place among the old standbys of the early editions, and such notables as Capt. Charles Morris with his "Solid men of Boston, make no long orations; / Solid men of Boston, drink no deep potations" were lost to posterity.

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