QUOTATIONS, FAMILIAR AND OTHERWISE
CYNTHIA F PAWLEK
QUOTATIONS ARE a familiar part of our daily lives. We see them on the printed page, and hear them in speeches and late-night news commentaries. They are often used to clarify what is being said, or to lend an air of authority and/or respectability. They can add spice to an argument and be persuasive. They can also be taken out of context to purposefully mislead or misrepresent, or twisted to support a different point of view from the original intent.
Quotations can be deucedly difficult to verify. Proving that someone did indeed author a quotation, or that the wording of the quotation is correct can be an extremely time-consuming and sometimes unfulfilling task! The relatively recent development of published books of quotations [Bartlett's Familiar Quotations began the tradition in this country in 1855] 1 has been a great boon to librarians faced with the task of hunting down a reference. And yet there is, inevitably, the unanswerable query that confounds and frustrates the seeker. Reference librarians, sometimes known for their desire to answer a question past the patron's willingness to pursue it, can find quotations irritatingly elusive, and can often remember unanswered queries from months or even years before.
Dartmouth's renown as being the alma mater of Daniel Webster, and the fact that it has housed the Webster Papers project, encourages people from across the country to phone the Library to ask for verification of quotations attributed to Webster. His best-known quotation to Dartmouth men and women is 'It is, sir, as I have said, a small college, and yet there are those who love it.' This statement is cited in Bartlett's as Dartmouth College Case . It really was Chauncey Goodrich in 1852 who recounted this memorable quotation in his portrayal of the accounts of that day back in 1818. Did Webster really say it? Some quotations have been looked for extensively without ever being verified, and yet are requested time and again. Kenneth C. Cramer, archivist for the College, says that neither he nor Charles Wiltse, editor of the Webster Papers, has been able to track down a quotation about the Old Man (in the mountains) being comparable to hanging out your shingle. Another Webster query that resurfaces periodically is a quotation concerning the value of a Christian education. Are these fact or folklore?
That librarians will sometimes go to great lengths to answer a querry is demonstrated by the appearance of a regular column in RQ, a reference librarians' journal, entitled 'The Exchange.' Here librarians will send their 'unanswerables' asking for assistance from their colleagues. Often the unanswered questions are quotations. For instance, who said, 'The coldest winter I ever spent was one summer in San Francisco.' [sometimes attributed to Mark Twain, but so far not verified]; or: 'I'd rather get to Hell late than to Chicago on time,' and 'A touch of vulgarity adds charm to a woman.'? Librarians want to know!
The tradition of quotation books may be fairly recent, but it is a constantly expanding one. The Dartmouth Online Catalog shows close to 300 books dealing with quotations in the Library's collection. A recent addition to our resources is the volume Respectfully Quoted, issued this year by the Library of Congress. It represents a publication of the 'CRR Quotation File' kept on hand at the Congressional Reading Room to avoid duplication of time and effort on those difficult to verify quotations. It is interesting to read as one ponders the variety of subjects, and tries to imagine the questioner's intent in using the quotation. It may also prove a godsend to the next librarian searching for the author of 'Gentlemen do not read each other's mail' [identified in Respectfully Quoted as Henry L. Simpson, when as secretary of state under Herbert Hoover, he closed the Department of State's code-breaking office], 2 and 'Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing,' often attributed to Vince Lombardi, but here verified as uttered by Red Sanders, football coach of Vanderbilt University, in 1948. 3
Alas, my hope for a final solution to a quotation attributed to Thomas Jefferson concerning the gentleman farmer remains unanswered.
1. Respectfully Quoted. A Dictionary of Quotations Requested from the Congressional Research Service., Ed. Suzy Platt (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1989), p. xxi.
2. Respectfully Quoted.,p. 287.
3. Respectfully Quoted.,p. 373.
Last Updated: 4/19/17