Friday, February 22, 2008


Glum Friday

It's cold and snowing here and customers are few and I've got a bad case of the glums.

But I'll pull myself together long enough to add another book to the Christopher Morley series. Morley edited Bartlett's Quotations twice, you know, and this little bitty book came out just prior to his first Bartlett, the 11th edition in 1937, which he co-edited with Louella D. Everett. Preface to "Bartlett" (Little, Brown 1937):

The book contains a charming essay printed as a teaser for the big book itself. Morley says about editing Bartlett, "This is in no sense a collection of personal choices. It is foremost a salvage of those words which users of the English tongue have shown evidence not willingly to let die.... The Public must love bad verse, it reads so much of it."

A bit later he adds, "One of the pleasures of this re-editing has been that one collaborator, by long experience with inquiries for the affable familiar ghosts of print, knows acutely what readers want; and the other believes himself to know what they ought to want."

A nice distinction. We know who is the latter. He later calls Bartlett "a diary of the race" and a collection of "the Now It's Got To Be Tolds of a good many generations." He also, finally, urges that "there is need of a companion and quite different kind of volume, which might be called Not in Bartlett." My own copy of the 11th edition of Bartlett is at home, otherwise I'd be quoting one of the spurious listings Morley inserted, as an in-joke. When I first bought the big Bartlett, years ago, I spent a lot of time browsing in it, and it seemed to me that whatever Morley might have said about the matter, his fingerprints were all over every page. Blake, Hazlitt, Dickinson, Melville...

I bought this copy of the Preface to "Bartlett" for a few dollars. Even while knowing that the eight illustrations the table of contents calls for had all been neatly sliced out by some unknown vandal. (Curses!) I couldn't not get the book - the text was fine, the cover was lovely, it was cheap. I felt sorry for it. Story of my life.

Have a good weekend, folks. I'm going to go home soon to supper and the final two essays of Montaigne. I hate endings - I'm going to miss him dreadfully when it's all said and done. Though I won't miss carrying around this three-pound paperback everywhere I go.


Strange that someone would cut out the illustrations. There are several that are fine- the photos of Bartlett and Morley, an exterior shot of The Knothole, and, best of all, a photo of a precarious tower of papers (The Manuscript) on a small table, kept from toppling by a piece of twine.

It was sad to read his comment: " I observe that longevity has been vouchsafed to Bartlett editors. Old J.B. died at eighty-five, and Dr. Dole at eighty-four. The present editors are hopeful." He was 47 when he finished the Preface and had 20 years left, 14 before the strokes.

Finally, apropos of your current reading: " Everything has to be said all over again, in its own tone of voice, for each succeeding generation. (And thank goodness: if people realized, for instance, that almost everything conceivably sayable had been said in Montaigne, why should they ever buy another book?)"

I know... poor little mutilated book.

I should have provided a picture of my own first edition of "Bartlett." It's on the shelf behind me, right now. An unassuming volume. I bought it at an otherwise lackluster library sale, at least ten years ago, maybe longer. One dollar. I knew it was an early edition, but didn't know it was a first until I got it home. Now it lives with my reference books.

Thanks for the quotation - I finished the "Essays" this weekend. Took me a long time, those last fifty pages, because I kept stopping to take notes. He does say everything about everything, and his opinions are remarkably modern and balanced. A humane humanist, a spiritual humanist, if there can be such a one.

Thanks for reading, Dan, and commenting.
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