Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bartlett's Quotations

I grabbed a 1955 edition of Bartlett's Quotations from the shelved of
the department library and began flipping through it. The book is
organized chronologically, by the birth date of the author of the
quote. Sometimes I will know every author on the page, sometimes I
will recognize none.

The highest rate of recognition seems to come from people born from
1804 to 1806: Disraeli, Hawthorne, de Toqueville, Wilberforce,
Garrison, Mill. Earlier and later time periods tend to be filled with
people I don't know. I don't know of this says more about that period
in history, or my education.

There is a huge difference in my appreciation of the quote when I know
something about the author. Context is golden. The purpose of a
general education should be to give you the context to understand,
absorb, and appreciate all the random facts you encounter in your
life. This does not happen with most education today. It saddens me
to know that so many people do not have enough general knowledge about
the world to put things like these quotes into context.

I was disappointed to see only three Steinbeck quotes. I think he
should have rated more, especially since they gave Emerson eight whole
pages. Maybe this has been corrected in later editions.

I found one quote/poem so good that I wanted to share it. The author
is Stoddard King, a songwriter in the early 1900's. He is so obscure
that he does not even have a Wikipedia entry:

A writer owned an asterisk
And kept it in his den
Where he wrote tales ( which had large sales )
Of frail and erring men,
And always, when he reached the point
Where carping censors lurk,
He called upon the Asterisk
To do his dirty work.

The poem, in its memorable and amusing way, tells a lot about social
standards. It seems to be a universal rule that people are fascinated
by anything that is just over the line of socially acceptable, no
matter where the line is drawn. If something is within the limits,
people are bored by it. If something is too far past the limit,
people recoil in terror. But the money is made by pushing the limit a
little. This, of course, has the effect of moving the limit a bit
further out, as the risqué eventually becomes the passé.

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