A key book in a home library is Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. While it is now in its eighteenth edition (2012), the fourteenth edition (1968) may be its epitome. No doubt older material has been purged in later editions to make room for more recent poetry, prose, pronouncements, and pontifications. The more recent material which has been added, although no doubt worthy, may not exceed in value that which has been expunged.
While Bartlett’s sets the standard, and while there exist many books centered around quotable individuals — for instance, I have separate volumes such as Quotations from Chairman Bill (Buckley), some sayings of Will Rogers, Gandhi on non-violence, even The Humor of Christ — most quotable people alive since the middle of the 20th Century will not be lost to pre-Gutenberg darkness if not included in Bartlett’s.
In fact, I would argue for a two-volume Bartlett’s in the near future if that might help retain the ancient as well as the modern. Or, if you do obtain an eighteenth or later edition, be sure to pair it with a fourteenth or earlier volume.
What is a quotation?
Someone makes an observation, orally — in a speech perhaps, or in writing — (Oh! So many forms of writing! A stage play, a movie script, a novel, an essay, an editorial, a poem…) — yes, someone makes a statement, an observation or offers an opinion, and it summarizes in a few words what all of us have been thinking, or would have wanted to say if we had been thinking. And we say Aha! I want to remember that! And then, moments after reading it or hearing it, we fail utterly to recall the words of the other person’s pithy comment.
We marvel at the skill of some wordsmiths. Will anyone ever match the crystal shards of Dorothy Parker’s insults? The mental antics of Steven Wright? The therapeutic lyrics and harmonies of John Hartford and Kris Kristofferson? One would think that a person who can condense a lucid thought into few words would expect to be quoted. In theory, they do expect to be. In theory, a quotable expression is not copyrighted.
Many people are remembered for saying something that they lifted or adapted from an older source. Some have boldly expropriated a line and laid claim to it. And some great sayings are merely attributed to the wrong source at some point, and the credit sticks. (“Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”)
Even when the words are misquoted or mis-attributed, they may still contain some distilled, even profound wisdom. Albert Jay Nock himself is credited with the statement: “The question of who is right is a very small one indeed beside the question of what is right.” (Cogitations: Selected Letters, 19) Variations of that sentiment may have been around for hundreds of years.
Our Collections of Quotations
In separate collections in these pages, we have some Quoted Memes, a good representation of Nock’s written work (Quotations by Nock), and some words of wisdom and cultural observations from hundreds of others (Quotations by Many).
Many years ago, in my search of West Coast bookstores, I bought a copy of Mao Tse-Tung’s little red book. It was printed in English, (in Communist China, no doubt), and was of the same size and configuration — with soft, red plastic cover, as the ones we would see being held aloft in posters and publicity-stunt photos of crowds in China.
I later relinquished the volume in a purge of my home library, a cleansing that has been necessary from time to time, since I cannot afford the space for all the books I would like to own.
I saw a use for Quotations from Chairman Mao when I was writing the novel, Cold Morning Shadow, in 2019. Fortunately, even though my own copy was long gone, the internet filled the void for that purpose. We will round up some of his sayings, in time, and include them here in a separate section, to offer a sinister collectivist contrast with clear thinking.
Innumerable useful observations and much of the world’s wisdom have been condensed into illustrated panels posted as “memes” on various internet sites. The meme is a unit of thought transmission, described by Rachel Klein as a “single-image, multi-layered comedic cultural critique.” The term, meme, coined in 1976, is a singularly benign contribution to our language from Richard Dawkins, much of whose other offerings for our intellectual consideration deserve to be discarded like junk mail. We may owe Gary Larson credit for the first steady stream of memes. His daily Far Side cartoons with their one-line captions, appearing first on January 1, 1980 and last on January 1, 1995, embodied the spirit of the art form even though the internet was not yet ready to offer instantaneous dispersal.
While some of the quotations in these groupings are credited, correctly or inaccurately, to individuals who may be no more illustrious than the person next door or a prominent “public figure,” many if not most memes are unattributed.
I care little who said or wrote what is quoted. I can discern a nugget of truth when I see it and I can recoil reflexively from a pile of rot when I smell it.
And so, we have a collection of Quoted Memes.
Quotes by Nock
Context is important, if many short statements are to be appreciated or to make sense. From the treasury of Albert Jay Nock’s work, we present a collection of Quotations by Nock. The depths of his thinking can be appreciated in a more thorough reading of his work.
Quotations by Many
William F. Buckley, Jr., once acknowledged that his adversary and friend, John Kenneth Galbraith, experienced occasional lapses into sanity. In the same vein, I’ve noticed that people who espouse odious ideas, who propound predatory collectivist political positions, or who have dishonored themselves with disreputable personal histories, have sometimes been given to moments of lucid thought. I don’t mind recognizing their “lapses into sanity” by quoting them. In spite of his regrettable behavior among women, Bill Cosby, for example, still stands out as a superb comedian.
Some often-quoted attention-getters have no place in these pages, because nothing they have said contributes a whit to our freedom or to the defense of our natural rights. I think of Noam Chomsky, for one. His acolytes accord him expertise in the meaning and intent of the U.S. Constitution on the authority, one supposes, of his academic expertise in pre-historic proto-languages. I find that heartening, because I too lack formal education in the Constitution, but I am, as Chomsky, somewhat of an expert on languages and linguistics. Therefore, I am as qualified as Chomsky to address non-language subjects such as liberty and government. What’s more, I’ve read (and re-read) the Constitution. Noam Chomsky, plainly, has not.
And so we offer our collected quotations of original sayings spoken by, written by, or attributed to many different individuals.
What runs through these collections, if it doesn’t exactly unite them, are themes of personal responsibility, acting with kindness and love for one another, fierce adherence to liberty, and abiding suspicion of the State.
If you see a misquote or can supply a source where something is “unattributed,” or if you have a favorite quotation that you believe deserves to be added, please let us know.