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Why Do We Quote?

Ruth Finnegan

II. Beyond the here and now

5. Harvesting Others’ Words: The Long Tradition of Quotation Collections

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  • 1 MO/D3644.

It is going to sound daft, but I always feel a connection to the wisdom of
people through the ages
(24-year-old librarian from Birmingham)1

  • 2 Preface to Thomas of Ireland’s Manipulus florum, transl. Nighman 2006.

Since the sea of original books is like a great and wide ocean that cannot be
explored by just anyone, it seemed to me more useful to have a few sayings
of the doctors at hand rather than too many
(Thomas of Ireland 1306)2

Jewels five-words-long That on the stretch’d fore-finger of all time
Sparkle forever
(Tennyson Princess iii 352)

1Many people today have a collection of quotations on their shelves – not everyone, but not just the highly learned either. Among the twenty-first century British observers of Chapters 2 and 3 some had gathered their own collections over the years, others possessed and used one or more of the many published compilations, others again knew of their existence even if they made little use of them or questioned the motives of those who did. Quotation collections are an accepted feature of modern culture.

2Here is a different strand in the treatment of others’ words which complements the strategy of using quotation signs to demarcate them inside a longer text. This is not recognition in the midst of other words, but the decisive extracting of chunks of wordage, gathered in a frame of other quoted units. The reproduction of others’ words, that is, is not confined to the situational processes exemplified in the first chapters nor, as in Chapter 4, to quotation markers in the flow of written words. Here we are dealing with sharply demarcated excerpts, short sayings picked out from the innumerable words of human beings to be preserved in deliberately constructed stores.

3But from what background and to what purpose have such collections been constructed and transmitted? Are they just an idiosyncrasy of today with our widespread literacy and proliferating access to the web? Such questions will lead us through many different examples and provide yet another glimpse of the diverse ways humans mark and weigh the words of others.

5.1. A present-day example: The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations

4Let me again begin with one specific case. Here it is The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, the collection most often referred to by the British observers. This is a publication currently in many homes in Britain and abroad too, a consistent best seller in Britain and by many regarded as the iconic reference book.

5By 2009 The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations was in its 7th edition, a massive volume of over 1100 pages containing 20,000 quotations. It is a mix of old and new, literary and ephemeral, prose and verse. Some are familiar indeed:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them
(Laurence Binyon ’For the fallen’).

He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young
(The Bible (authorised version), Isaiah chapter 40 verse 11)

6Others are perhaps more esoteric but still loved by some, like

Give me but one firm spot on which to stand, and I will move the earth
(Archimedes, on the action of a lever)


My dog! What remedy remains,
Since, teach you all I can,
I see you after all my pains,
So much resemble man!
(William Cowper 1793 ’On a spaniel called Beau, killing a young bird’)

8There are numerous excerpts from sources like Shakespeare, Milton or The Book of Common Prayer, seldom more than a few lines, but between them covering pages and pages; famous literary gems like Blake’s ’Tyger, tyger…’, or Jane Austen’s ’It is a truth universally acknowledged… ’: and sayings that have rung down the centuries like ’Well begun is half done’, and ’In the country of the blind the one eyed man is king’. More recent examples like ’The only thing we have to fear is fear itself’, ’Garbage in, garbage out’, ’Better red than dead’, and ’Axis of evil’ are there too, and catchphrases like ’Very interesting… but stupid’ or the science fiction ’Take me to your leader’. The quotations are predominantly in English but there are a few foreign-language passages, mostly with English translation, including, even now, a number in Latin.

9The current version may have more topical and international extracts than earlier editions but is still noted for its representation of the traditional English and classical literary canon. As throughout the dictionary’s history, the quotations are ordered alphabetically by authors’ names, with a few separate sections for such categories as, in the current edition, epitaphs, proverbs, mottos, slogans and film titles, together with an extensive index allowing readers to locate examples by keyword.

Fig. 5.1 First page of The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 7th edition, 2009.
© Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 7th edition, edited by Elizabeth Knowles (2009), reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press (

  • 3 3 This account of ODQ relies heavily on information in its seven successive editions, the Oxford U (...)

10How did this collection of quotations originate, and what were the purposes for which it was compiled? A brief account of its setting in time and place gives some indication of the conventions and processes which underlay its compilation.3

11Already under discussion early in the twentieth century, the first edition of ODQ (its handy abbreviation) appeared in October 1941. It was an immediate success, acclaimed, as the Illustrated London News had it, as ’combining authority with charm’. The first printing of 20,000 sold out in a month and the publishers were soon battling with wartime restrictions to get a reprint out by 1942.

12ODQ was, naturally, influenced by the viewpoints of the time – or, more precisely, by the dominant figures involved in its planning and compilation. Elizabeth Knowles, its recent editor, described the period when plans for the first edition were being argued over in the 1930s:

They were looking at a dictionary of quotations which would have a primarily literary base, and which would include quotations from major writers likely to be quoted in English by the literate and cultured person (ODQ6 2004, Introduction: xii).

13That first edition did make room for a few advertisements and popular songs, among them soldiers’ songs from the first world war such as ’Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag’ and music-hall favourites like ’We don’t want to fight, but by jingo if we do… ’. It claimed to look less to the compilers’ favourites than to quotations that were ’familiar’ and ’current’ – those that ’might be found at some time in one or other of the leading articles of the daily and weekly papers with their wide range of matter – political, literary, descriptive, humorous, &c’ (ODQ1 1941: xi).As the Introduction had it, ’This is not a private anthology but a collection of the quotations which the public knows best’ (ODQ1 1941: iv).

14Nevertheless it could not escape being pre-eminently literary and anglocentric, and the ’public’ whose familiar quotations were envisaged was an educated one. The introductory note from ’The compilers’ made clear that it was for the ’literary’ reader. They opened by invoking Johnson’s view that ’Classical quotation is the parole of literary men all over the world’ and continued

The committee have tried to keep in mind that a number of different kinds of readers would be likely to use the book: these are the ’professionals’, such as journalists, writers, public speakers, &c., the cross-word devotee, since this form of intellectual amusement appears to have come to stay; the man who has in his mind either a few or many half-completed or unidentified quotations which he would like to complete or verify; and (since, as Emerson wrote – ’By necessity, by proclivity – and by delight, we all quote’) everyone who has found joy and beauty in the words of the writers and wishes to renew that pleasure by using the words again – he whom perhaps Johnson meant by ’the literary man’ (ODQ1 1941: xii).

15It was produced, in other words, in a setting ’imbued’ as it was put from a later vantage point, ’with the culture… of the first quarter of the twentieth century in Britain, and especially the literature of the ancient and the English-speaking world that was then read and studied at home, school, and university’ (ODQ3 1980: ii). The Greek and Latin classics were then regularly quoted by Members of Parliament, and compilers and readers of the time had mostly been to Oxford or Cambridge and came from a school background of learning literary passages by heart. ’Opening the pages is rather like walking into a traditional study lined with leather-bound volumes’ (ODQ6 2004: xlii).

16For its selection of ’familiar’ quotations, therefore, the 1941 edition looked largely to the established writers of the past. The most quoted writers, the compilers noted, were Browning, Byron, Cowper, Dickens, Johnson, Kipling, Milton, Shakespeare, Shelley, Tennyson and Wordsworth. There were separate sections for ’anonymous’, for ballads, nursery rhymes, quotations from Punch, the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. The quotations were predominantly in English but there was a foreign section with English translations from modern European languages, from classical Greek and, more extensively, from Latin. As the compilers explained

Latin is no longer a normal part of the language of educated people as it was in the eighteenth century; but from that age certain classical phrases have survived to become part of contemporary speech and writing. It is these ’survivals’ that have been included here together with a few of the sayings or writings of the Schoolmen and early theologians (ODQ1 1941: xiii).

17Apart from songs from the 1914-18 war and a few advertisements and slogans, there were few recent items – topical quotations were not of interest.

18ODQ has continued in print ever since. Still a leading favourite, its successive editions have built on its predecessors but changed over time. This was partly in length – the first edition had around 11,000 quotations, the most recent nearly twice that – but also in its coverage and to an extent its aims. It is interesting to follow the mutations over the years. The second edition, 1953, followed lengthy debates by a revision committee. It was in part re-organised: previously separate sections brought into the alphabetic sequence, and quotations individually numbered through the page – still the format today. Apart from some Second World War quotations, however, notably by Winston Churchill, there was little change in content or overall philosophy. About 95% remained the same. The changes in the third (1979) edition were more substantial and, indeed, controversial for only about 60% of the second edition survived. Nursery rhymes, songs and advertisements were ousted and slogans and items from the world of ’broadcasting and other mass-media’ discouraged. The upshot was a re-assertion of the established literary canon to the disadvantage of recent examples or current affairs. Subsequent editions looked more widely. Songs and hymns were allowed back, as were proverbs, nursery rhymes and recent popular sayings. The press has trawled more widely as the years have gone on, and now has a growing database of quotations from its reading programme plus electronic feedback and questionnaires on the web.

19The traditional anglocentric focus has also been shifting with the inclusion of more from non-British authors and from non-Christian sacred texts. A new perspective on what kind of words could count as quotation has accompanied a growing recognition of its increasingly multi-cultural readership and some widening of the earlier focus on classic texts of the past.

20The current edition is still a recognisably British production. But besides the traditional literary quotations it now has a greater proportion of advertising slogans, film lines, epitaphs, and popular ’misquotations’ as well as new entries reflecting recent sayings like George W Bush’s ’Brownie you’re doing a heck of a job’ in the aftermath of the 2005 Katrina hurricane or Paris Hilton’s ’Dress cute wherever you go. Life is too short to blend in’. But only those can be included, the editor insists, that look as if they have caught on, likely to become ’lasting’ – a necessary requirement, it seems, for being accepted as fully a ’quotation’.

21The demand for ODQ remains substantial. It has also spawned numerous sister dictionaries, many themselves appearing in several editions. We have The Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations,… of Literary Quotations,… of Political Quotations,… of Biographical Quotations,… of Medical Quotations,… of American Legal Quotations,…. of Scientific Quotations.… of Phrase, Saying, and Quotation,… of Thematic Quotations,… of Quotations by Subject,… of Modern Quotation,… of Twentieth-Century Quotations, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Quotation. A Little Oxford Dictionary of Quotations has gone through successive editions. There have also been several editions of The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs, the first in 1936. There is an avid market, it seems, for quotation collections.

22The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations and its sisters may be particularly wellknown. But there are, and have been, hundreds of other such collections on the market. Searching the website for ’dictionary of quotations’ in mid-2006 drew over 500 entries, while a few years earlier an online search of Books in Print under ’reference’ and ’quotations’ found 2,993 hits (Mulac 2002: 1870). There are huge numbers of web collections and many live pages with ’quote of the week’, ’quote of the day’ or ’this month’s quotes column’. Besides the raft of general collections from almost every leading publisher, there are volumes of quotations under such labels as ’literary’, ’modern’, ’military’, ’humorous’, ’sports’, ’Latin’, ’political’, ’biographical’, ’environmental’, ’deathbed sayings’, ’from the Vietnam war’, ’film’, ’Shakespeare’, and a multitude of others.

23The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations was not alone in another way, for it did not arise out of nothing. There was already an ample tradition of quotation collections behind it, and the Oxford 1941 volume was by no means the first in the field.

24In fact the first step in the planning of the Oxford dictionary was to look at the existing collections. This was not just to assess the competition but to scrutinise their characteristic features. Since the Oxford volume was to be a reference book not an anthology they would have to choose which of the current systems to adopt: whether ordered chronologically or alphabetically, for example, and if the latter whether by author, topic or wording, and how indexed.

25But they also turned to existing collections for their contents. This was a key part of the compiling process. The first thing was ’to mark in the best existing Dictionaries of Quotations the certain material’ (letter from R. W. Chapman 26 Nov. 1931, OUP archives). The method was to make a paper slip for each item they found and only after that to supplement these from the expert knowledge of members of the committee responsible for the collection. As one of the compilers explained later:

We, first of all, worked through all existing dictionaries of quotations and deleted or took over such matter as we thought was necessary for a new dictionary of quotation. Then we worked through certain major works in committee… all the main literary figures in both Britain and America… Then we also took on our shoulders working more thoroughly through certain basic works or certain authors in whom we had particular interest (Gerard W. S. Hopkins Statement 13 July 1954, OUP archives).

26Of the nine collections looked at closely the two that emerged as most central in the process were Benham’s Book of Quotations (1907-) and Hoyt’s The Cyclopedia of Practical Quotations (1896-), the latter a source particularly admired by several compilers.

27This reliance on earlier publications is clear in the archive records, and was indeed common practice for such collections. The compilers of the first edition were open that

The existing dictionaries were taken as a foundation and the entries, pasted on separate cards, considered individually for rejection or inclusion. With these as a basis the most important authors were again dealt with either by the expert, or in committee, or by both (ODQ1 1941: xi).

28The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations was certainly a work in its own right and drew on many contributions from its individual compilers. But it unquestionably also owed a substantial debt to its predecessors. It then itself in turn served as a source for others’ compilations. Though, as the British mass observers remind us, its use may not be as ubiquitous as the publishers hope, its influence has without doubt spread through many widening circles, both transmitting the many quotations from the collectors of the past and facilitating their further distribution in future compilations.

5.2. Forerunners in the written Western tradition

  • 4 Many different terms for these extracts from others’ words have been used over the years, sometime (...)

29The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations was thus just one of a cluster of twentieth-century volumes with a background in earlier compilations. It was at the same time carrying on a long Western heritage of quotation collections. These varied in many ways, but the striking thing was their popularity and persistence. They have continued from antiquity to the present day, and been of far greater presence than one might gather from most histories of literature or popular culture. So this section takes the story back through a series of short case studies from this long tradition, going back from the period when ’quotations’ was the common term to the earlier collections of ’adages’, ’maxims’ or ’authorities’.4

30In the early twentieth century there were already many established popular collections, well consulted by the ODQ compilers, among them, as already mentioned, Hoyt’s The Cyclopedia of Practical Quotations, an American volume in continued existence since the late nineteenth century, and Benham’s Book of Quotations, Proverbs and Household Words first published in 1907 and still going strong through the first half of the twentieth century with its innumerable world-wide editions containing thousands of quotations. There was also the prominent American publication, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations: A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Proverbs Traced to Their Sources in Ancient and Modern Literature, also included in ODQ’s search though probably not one of their central sources. First privately published in 1855, by Bartlett’s death in 1905 there had already been nine successive editions with expanding coverage; it is still probably the market leader in the US as ODQ is in Britain.

  • 5 For more detailed accounts of quotation dictionaries in English over the last two to three centuri (...)

31But beyond these there had been a deluge of other collections throughout the nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries, with such titles as – to pick just a few among multitudes – Routledge’s Little Cyclopaedia of Familiar Quotations in Verse and Prose, the first of whose two parts was for quotations which ’are, almost without exception, in constant usage by every cultivated person’ (London 1909), and Anna Ward’s 700-page A Dictionary of Quotations from English and Foreign Authors including Translations from Ancient Sources, published in London and Boston in 1906. Going back further, there were H. T. Riley’s A Dictionary of Latin and Greek Quotations, Proverbs, Maxims and Mottos, Classical and Mediaeval (London 1872 and after), Bohn’s Dictionary of Quotations from the English Poets (London 1867 with many subsequent editions and special American versions), J. Hain Friswell’s Familiar Words. An Index of Verborum or Quotation Handbook, London 1865, I. R. P[Preston]’s Handbook of Familiar Quotations from English Authors (London 1853), L.C. Gent’s The Book of Familiar Quotations: Being a Collection of Popular Extracts and Aphorisms Selected from the Works of the Best Authors (London 1852), and many, many others. There were also collections of quotations from writers like Wordsworth or Shakespeare, and special purpose compilations such as the 101 Quaint Quotations by Geo. Scarr Hall for his fellow lay preachers in 1900, one of the many sermon aids of uplifting quotations from classical and well-known authors. 5

32Many nineteenth-century collections drew on sources in English. The tradition of commonplace books, starting many centuries before as a system of (mainly) Latin excerpts from authors held to be authoritative or stylistically exemplary, had meantime been developing into personal notebooks for reflection and collection, increasingly in the vernacular. This was a continuing feature of learning and private life in Victorian times and part of the background to the nineteenth-century publications.

33Published collections however still leant towards the more literary, religious and in some cases legal sources. The preceding centuries had seen great emphasis on the classical languages – collections of sententiae in Latin, religious quotations, and a flood of volumes of extracts from classical writers like Virgil or Cicero. Quotations from the Greek and Latin classics featured prominently, and even where these were in, or at least followed by, an English translation they still seemed to somehow constitute the bedrock of quotation. Despite some early multilingual collections, notably a remarkable collection in 1596 by Iosephus Langius of Latin, Greek, and German equivalents, the legacy of classical learning had long held sway, with Latin for many centuries the learned international language and the natural font, as it were, for quotation. But by the late eighteenth century the educated reader was also expected to have some interest in the offerings of the bons mots of Europe. By this stage there were also plentiful collections of quotations translated not only from Latin and Greek but from French, German, Spanish, Italian, and occasionally languages from further afield.

34Thus, to take one example for further elaboration, 1797 saw the publication in London of A Dictionary of Quotations in Most Frequent Use. Taken from the Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, and Italian Languages; Translated into English. With Illustrations Historical and Idiomatic. In various editions and under several titles it was popular for many years in both Europe and America. The London Magazine’s reviewer asserted that ’no individuals have deserved so well [as its editor] of the literary world, since the time of that walking dictionary of proverbs, the illustrious Sancho Panza’ (Anon 1826: 358) and even in the twentieth century the work was still enough known to be mentioned in the 1941 ODQ (ODQ1 1941: xi). The collection was claimed to have been put together for a private friend without any view to publication. But as often happens (at least as compilers tell it) ’by mere accident’ it caught the eye of an influential contact who urged its publication (Introduction to 7th edition). It took off and was still in one form or another in print some seventy years later.

Fig. 5.2 Page from the 1st edition of Macdonnel’s Dictionary of Quotations, London, 1797.
(© The British Library Board,

35The first edition did not indicate the compiler’s name. It soon emerged however that he was David Evans Macdonnel, a London lawyer. In the successive London editions, ’Macdonnel’s Dictionary of Quotations’ started to appear on the spine and his name on the title page.

36It was a collection of short quotations in the original language followed immediately by an English translation and in many cases further comment (illustrated in Fig. 5.2). The Preface stated its aim disarmingly

If it had been the Aim of the Compiler to have made a large Book, his Task might easily have been effected – His Object was of a more limited Nature. He has for some Years looked into every Publication political or miscellaneous, and he trusts that his Diligence has been such as to miss but a few of the Quotations which are most popular, or of the Phrases most necessary to be understood. The Readers of Newspapers in particular, will find, on Reference, nearly all those ”Mots d’Usage”, with which those who know but little affect to impose on those who have learned something less (Macdonnel 1797: v).

37The arrangement was alphabetical, ordered by quotation rather than author (as in the ODQ) or topic as in many other collections. It was assumed, it would appear, that those consulting it were conversant enough with the original to locate it for in neither this nor later editions was there an index.

38The compiler shared the concerns of many later editors. He wished to suit his collection both to the needs of the times and to the preservation of ancient wisdom – though his definition of both these dimensions naturally differed from those of twentieth-century readers. The Preface tried to strike a fine balance, reflecting at once reverence and ambivalence towards the classical languages. It presented the situation at the turn of the eighteenth/ nineteenth centuries as one of reaction against over-quotation from the ancients – ’those tedious and frequent Quotations which ”larded the Leanness” of some of our earlier Writers, and were even deemed necessary in colloquial Intercourse’. There was a long passage from an (unnamed) ’judicious Writer on the present state of Literature in England’:

One cause why the learned Languages have sunk into Disrepute of late Years has been the Disuse of Quotations from them by our most esteemed authors. In the time of James the First, and for a long space afterwards, the Affectation of quoting from Latin and Greek Writers was carried to the most ridiculous Extremes, commonly one Part of a Sentence being in English, and the Remainder in Language few Readers could understand. – At present we are deviating to the opposite point, and the Classics are supplanted by Quotations from our own Poets, or by French Phrases
(Macdonnel 1797: Preface).

39The compiler aimed to include quotations ’in most frequent use’ but even so found he had included more classical examples than those from ’the living Language’, a disparity which, he insisted ’arises solely from Usage, and not from the Choice of the Compiler. We adopt with some Degree of Veneration those Axioms which the Lapse of Ages has consecrated’. His focus, as he explained later, was quotations from the ’classic flowers, culled and retained from the poets of the Augustan age’, but he had also borrowed some ’useful precepts, and a few poetic blossoms, from our continental neighbours’ (Macdonnel 1826 (9th edition): iv). The collection was intended for ’that numerous class of society, who are acquainted only with their mother tongue’ (1826: v). All in all, as Macdonnel was soon to conclude

It were to be wished that the Writers, who quote largely from other Languages, would furnish a Translation, either marginally or otherwise. The practice of Quotation is rather on the Increase with some affected Writers, who seem to take for granted that all their Readers are classically informed. To those who are not so, this Collection of Commonplaces will, the Compiler trusts, be found useful (Macdonnel 1798 (2nd edition): Preface).

40Macdonnel’s Dictionary found a ready readership. A considerably enlarged second edition followed within a year, and among other additions and corrections now included translations of ’Motto’s of the several Peers of the three Kingdoms… the Translations now current being frequently absurd in the extreme’ (Preface 2nd edition: vii), together with translations of certain ’law phrases’. A third edition followed in 1799 and by 1826 the dictionary was in its ninth London edition, with a Spanish translation coming out in Barcelona in 1836. As the compiler professed with due modesty in his 1826 ninth edition

When a work of this description, aiming only to be useful, has passed in a short time through eight Editions, it may be supposed, without a strained inference, to have gained the sanction of those for whose use it was intended (Macdonnel 1826: Introduction).

41It also inspired the format and much of the content of several later publications. One was the anonymous A New Dictionary of Quotations from the Greek, Latin, and Modern Languages Translated into English and Occasionally Accompanied with Illustrations, Historical, Poetical, and Anecdotical, published in London in 1858. There had been an even more direct reincarnation in 1856 when an enlarged version came out in London under the hand of a Dr. E. H. Michelsen with the new title of Manual of Quotations from the Ancient, Modern, and Oriental Languages, including Law Phrases, Maxims, Proverbs and Family Mottoes; the title page continued – in small print – ’forming a new and considerably enlarged edition of Macdonnel’s Dictionary of Quotations’.

  • 6 There were in all nine London editions, successively revised and enlarged, with minor variation ar (...)

42Meantime the original had been having its success across the Atlantic, where in 1810 the fifth London edition had also appeared in Philadelphia under the slightly altered title of A Dictionary of Select and Popular Quotations Which are in Daily Use, Taken from the Latin, French, Greek, Spanish and Italian Languages; Translated into English, with Illustrations, Historical and Idiomatic. This was followed by at least six American editions (not all under Macdonnel’s name, see Fig. 5.3) and further reprints up to at least 1869. The Dictionary of Quotations was clearly in demand.6

Fig. 5.3 Title page of American edition based on Macdonnel’s Dictionary, Philadelphia 1854.

Fig. 5.4 Roundel of Erasmus by Hans Holbein the Younger, in Adages, 1533, Basel.
Erasmus’ short humorous poem about compiling his Adages appears below the portrait: ’To write out proverbs is easy, they say, and it’s true/ But to write them in thousands? – a grind!/ If you don’t believe me, try it yourself – /Of my efforts you’ll soon grow more kind’ (translated Barker 2001: xx). The roundel and poem are on the back of the title page of Adagiorum opus D. Erasmi Roterodami, Basileæ ex officina Frobeniana, 1533

  • 7 The literature on Erasmus is huge; works particularly drawn on here include Barker 2001, Eden 2001 (...)

43We can skip back some centuries for a second example – a monumental quotation collection in Latin that rapidly attained best seller status in the early sixteenth century, indeed proved to be one of the first big-selling sensations of the Western printing press and one which continued to spread its influence for generations later. This was a massive compilation of short sayings by classical authors collected over many years by the humanist Renaissance scholar Erasmus Desiderius, also known as Erasmus of Rotterdam. Under the title not of ’quotations’ but, this time, of ’adages’, its final version contained over four thousand entries in Latin and Greek, supplemented by specially written commentaries on each. The focus was not vernacular languages but the ancient classical texts.7

44The Adages (Latin adagia) started as a relatively short volume, published in Paris in 1500 when Erasmus was in his thirties. It contained around 800 Greek and Latin quotations, each followed by a commentary. This was Adagiorum Collectanea or, in its full title, A Collection of Paroemiae or Adages, Old and Most Celebrated, Made by Desyderius Herasmus Roterdamus, a Work Both New and Wonderfully Useful for Conferring Beauty and Distinction on All Kinds of Speech and Writing. Throughout his life Erasmus continued work on his collection, producing successively revised editions. By his death in 1536 it contained 4151 entries and some vastly expanded commentaries. By then, though commonly referred to just as Adagia, its title had appropriately become Chiliades Adagiorum Thousands of Adages.

45Looking back some twenty-four years after his first version Erasmus described the initial motivation for his great collection:

When I considered the important contribution made to elegance and richness of style by brilliant aphorisms, apt metaphors, proverbs, and similar figures of speech, I made up my mind to collect the largest possible supply of such things from approved authors of every sort and arrange them each in its appropriate class, to make them more accessible to those who wish to practise composition with a view to securing a rich and ready diction (Erasmus Letters 1341A: 576-82, CWE Vol. 9: 315).

46He gathered excerpts not from contemporary sources or from what he regarded as the trivial sayings of the common people but from what was ancient: from the sages, poets, and philosophers of the great past like Plato, Aristotle, Homer, Cicero, Plutarch, Pliny. In his Introduction he spoke of reverence for antiquity and the great age of proverbs: ’In these symbols, as it were, almost all the philosophy of the Ancients was contained’ (Adages, Introduction section v, CWE Vol. 31: 13). Other collections had concentrated on quotations from the Christian authorities. His aim was to bring his readers into direct contact with the literature of the classical world, not least of the Greek texts then little known in their original form, complementing the then predominant sway of Christian texts and forging a synthesis between Christianity and classical learning. The work was made up of a series of separate entries. The saying as it appeared in a Latin and/or Greek source came first, followed by a commentary in Latin, sometimes just a few lines, sometimes much longer. Since this gave detailed information about the source(s) it often included extensive further quotations from Latin or Greek authors. Erasmus also used his commentaries for light-hearted asides and for substantial social and political comment on issues of the day. Some brief examples in English translation can illustrate the form.

Principium dividium totius Well begun is half done

This adage signifies that it is in the tackling of a task that the greatest difficulty lies. It is a half-line from Hesiod, quoted by Lucian in Hermotimus. Aristotle also refers to it in the Politics, book 5, and Plato in the Laws, book 6: ’For in proverbs it is said that the beginning is half of a whole action, and everyone always praises a good beginning. But, as it seems to me, it is more than half, and no one has ever praised sufficiently a beginning well made’. Suidas quotes from a certain Marinus: ’That was the beginning for us, and not only the beginning, nor as the proverb has it half of the whole, but the complete thing itself’. Aristotle in the Ethics, book 1: ’The beginning is said to be more than half of the whole’. Horace in the Epistles: ’Who sets about hath half performed his deed; / Dare to be wise’. Ausonius: ’Begin, for half the deed is in beginning; / Begin the other half, and you will finish’. Plutarch, in his essay ’On How to Study Poetry’, quotes these verses from Sophocles: ’For someone who begins well every deed, / ’Tis likely that’s the way the end will be’
(Adages 1 ii 39, CWE Vol. 31: 181-2).

Dii facientes adiuvant The gods help those who help themselves

Varro in his Agriculture, book 1: ’And since, as they say, the gods help those who help themselves, I will invoke the gods first’. He indicates that divine help is commonly available, not to the idle, but to industrious men who try as hard as they can. To this I think we should refer those lines in Homer which have already become proverbial: ’Some things, Telemachus, will you devise / In your own heart; some too will heaven suggest’. Cicero used this in book 9 of his Letters to Atticus; ’You have to do everything unprepared. But nevertheless ”some you’ll devise, some too will heaven suggest”’
(Adages 1 vi 17, CWE Vol. 32: 15).

47Some commentaries were much longer. Most monumental of all was his condemnation of war which became substantial enough to be published as a separate pamphlet. It started off:

Dulce bellum inexpertis War is a treat for those who have not tried it

This is one of the finest of proverbs and is widely used in literature: War is a treat for one who has not tried it. In book 3 chapter 14 of his Art of War Vegetius puts it this way: ’Do not put too much trust in a novice who is eager for battle, for it is to the inexperienced that fighting is attractive’. From Pindar we have: ’War is sweet for those who have not tried it, but anyone who knows what it is is horrified beyond measure if he meets it in his heart’. You can have no idea of the dangers and evils of some aspects of human affairs until you have tried them…
(Adages IV i 1, CWE Vol. 35: 399-400).

48The collection grew gradually, with an apparently artless rather than systematic arrangement. Once described as ’one of the world’s biggest bedside books’ (Phillips 1967: vii), it seems more a volume for browsing than a searchable reference work; unlike some other collections of the time the excerpts were not ordered by topic or alphabet. Later editions did include two indexes, one listing the adages alphabetically, the other by topics, but no indexing by keyword or detailed subject. Nor was there any particular system for organising the items within the volumes. Similar sayings did sometimes come together but incongruous examples often followed closely on each other. One sequence for example runs: ’To avoid getting wet a man ran through the rain / Fell into a pit and was ne’er seen again’, ’You use both jaws’, ’A city-dweller has no righteous thoughts’, ’As sordid as Patroclus’, ’Every master speaks to his slave in words of one syllable’, ’To wear a wig’, and, of people who follow outdated customs, ’Full of grasshoppers’ (Adages III iii 89-95, CWE Vol. 34: 312-14).

49The Adages went through innumerable editions and attracted enormous interest throughout Europe and beyond. Twenty-seven reprints of the first version appeared in Erasmus’ lifetime, followed by successively revised and enlarged editions of the massive Chiliades Adagiorum, published in Basel in 1508, 1515, 1517/18, 1520, 1523, 1528, 1530, 1533, and 1536. A number still survive, well-thumbed and annotated by their contemporary readers. Over the following years they were constantly reprinted. They were adapted in myriad ways, reorganized in differing orders or under new headings, abridged into handier versions, annotated, altered, or expurgated by the removal of the social criticism. The collection was expanded by the addition of new proverbs – a term mostly taken as synonymous with adage – and used as the basis for new publications. A volume published in 1574 for example has 852 pages of Erasmus and 647 additional pages by other commentators and collectors, and many seventeenth-century works conflated Erasmus’ collections with those of others.

50Editions of the Adages were used in English schools for training in the classical languages and a key source of learning. They regularly figured in scholars’ personal libraries: out of a hundred sixteenth-century Oxford wills, for example, half included books by Erasmus, most often the Adages. Though Latin was then widely understood by readers across Europe, there were also many translations into the vernacular. Richard Taverner’s (shortened) edition of Proverbes or Adagies gathered out of the Chiliades of Erasmus was the first English translation, in 1539, followed in 1545 by an enlarged edition With newe addicions as well of Latyn proverbes as of Englysshe. Even when not explicitly cited, this was a quotation book with a hugely extensive distribution and influence in Europe’s early modern period. As Erasmus himself foreshadowed it, the Aldine printing house which published much of his work was ’building a library which knows no walls save those of the world itself’ (commentary on Festina lente (Make haste slowly’), Adages II i 1, CWE Vol. 33: 10).

51After the eighteenth century the Adages itself was less prominent. But it continued to be the direct or indirect sourcebook for later collections. Versions are still in print, including paperback selections in English. Examples from the Adages appear frequently in contemporary web collections and surface in sometimes unexpected places: along with Barbara Woodhouse and Mark Twain, Erasmus is one of the most plentifully quoted authors in a recent dictionary of quotations about cats and dogs (Nowlan and Nowlan 2001). Either in their Latin original or, more commonly, a vernacular equivalent, the sayings he collected still regularly appear in both speech and writing. ’No sooner said than done’, ’Fortune favours the brave’, ’Many a slip twixt the cup and the lip’, ’He blows his own trumpet’, ’To look a gift horse in the mouth’, ’Many hands make light work’: these and many others all came in Erasmus’ Adages.

52Erasmus’ Adages is a striking example of a monumental and groundbreaking collection. But though Erasmus was unquestionably a pioneer in taking readers back to the original Latin and Greek words, his collecting activities, like those of others, did not come out of nothing. Many people were then making collections and it was common practice for students and scholars to gather notable short pieces from their reading into notebooks for later use. Nor was Erasmus the first Renaissance scholar to publish a collection of proverbs. The Italian Polydor Vergil had brought out his Little Book of Proverbs (Proverbiorum libellus) two years before Erasmus’ first collection and it too went through many editions. And this in turn had been preceded by many earlier collections of proverbs and similar gnomic literature.

53Before that too, and dating back to antiquity, ran a long tradition of compilations. During the centuries leading up to Erasmus’ life and before there had been vast numbers of textual collections. They took various forms, but many were referred to as florilegia, collections of ’flowers’ (a long-lasting image among compilers). These largely focused on excerpts from Christian or Christian-approved sources. Thus the fifth century and later saw the circulation of many collections of religious pieces. Some were compilations of quotations authorised by the church and approved by church councils. Others were compiled by monks copying out passages from their spiritual readings for later personal reflection. Others again were teaching aids, aidememoires or theological textbooks. The tradition of compiling and working with short excerpts was a long-continuing and vigorous one.

  • 8 This account of the Manipulus florum relies mainly on Clark 2004, Marshall et al. 1980, McEvoy 200 (...)

54It was from this background that our third main example comes. Two centuries before Erasmus, at the start of the fourteenth century, a theologian known as Thomas of Ireland was creating one of these ’collections of flowers’. Born in Ireland, he had studied arts and theology at the Sorbonne in Paris and was using the library there to make his compilation. He published it in 1306 and called it Manipulus florum – a handful of flowers.8

55Thomas’ Latin compilation was not only a vast store of recognised excerpts from the authorities but an accessible reference work. It included thousands of quotations from the leading Christian authorities, whose words made up the main material, as well as a selection from approved pre- Christian classical authors like Cicero or Seneca. Probably first intended for devotional study and a tool for self-improvement, it also became a resource for preachers. This was a period when sermons for the laity were becoming more important, with an increased interest in preaching generally. The result was a flood of sermon aids – manuals and reference works to which preachers could turn so as to elaborate on a text in their sermons or draw out a particular theme, a role for which Thomas’s collection proved to be eminently suited.

56It opened with a preface, building on a biblical image well-known to his readers, that of the widow Ruth gathering the harvesters’ leavings.

Ruth, a poor woman without her own harvest to gather, went into another’s field to glean after the harvesters. So too have I… not without some effort, collected the ears of grain of original sources, namely, various authoritative quotations by holy men, from various books (diversas sanctorum auctoritates de diversis libris). But realizing that they were not organized and so would not be of much use to anyone else after me, I have concisely gathered them here, as into a sheaf (manipulus) comprised of various ears, in alphabetical order in the manner of concordances so that they can thus be more easily found by myself and by other simple people. And so, just as when the other harvesters came joyously carrying their sheaves, let me (along with the poor widow) offer this, gathered behind the backs of the doctors, to the treasury of the Lord.
For since the sea of original books is like a great and wide ocean that cannot be explored by just anyone, it seemed to me more useful to have a few sayings (dicta) of the doctors at hand rather than too many
(Manipulus florum, Preface, transl. Nighman 2006).

57Despite these modest-sounding words it was a massive collection: 6000 quotations plus an impressive bibliography listing the 366 works used – the equivalent, in a modern estimate, of 365 pages of print at 300 words per page (Rouse and Rouse 1979: 117).

58Thomas aimed to make his collection readily searchable and easy to use. His preface explained his system with admirable clarity: its topic headings, strict alphabetical ordering, manner of citing sources, and cross-referencing style. The excerpts were grouped under topic headings commonly used in sermons and lectures, ’with which a person can improve himself in every way’. There were in all 266 of these alphabetically ordered topics, each with its sequence of excerpts – ’authoritative quotations (auctoritates), which seem to speak very well on the subject, from saints and other learned men’. Under ’A’ for example came passages on such topics as (to give just a selection under their Latin headings) abstinentia (35 quotations); amor (57); angelus (26); anima (31); avaritia (61). Each passage was followed by its author’s name. Thus the first and third of the 95 entries for amicitia (friendship) started, as often, with quotations from Augustine:

a Friendship
I do not know whether friendships are to be considered Christian which are more to be characterized by the popular proverb, ’Flattery makes friends but truth makes enemies’ than by the ecclesiastical one, ’Better the wounds inflicted by a friend than the fraudulent kisses of any enemy’.
Augustine in a letter to Jerome
c Friendship
Be like a doctor; the doctor does not love the sick unless he hates the sickness – he attacks the fever to set the sick person free from it. Do not love the vices of your friends, if you love your friends.
Augustine in a sermon
(Manipulus florum, amicitia: a, c, transl. McEvoy 2009).

Fig. 5.5 From an early manuscript of Thomas of Ireland’s Manipulus florum.
Part of a page from a manuscript which may have been an autograph of Thomas of Ireland, illustrating the layout and cross-referencing system.The top of the image has three lines from the final (35th) entry, a quotation attributed to a letter by Seneca, for Abstinencia, which is followed by a list of where (ubi) the reader can find nine other relevant entries under different topic headings as well as three synonym topics (Ieiunium, Sobrietas and Temperancia) and one antonym topic (Gula). The individual cross-referenced quotations are identified by their alphabetic codes: Caro e, r [i.e. the 5th and 17th entries under Caro siue corpus], Coniugium c [the 3rd under Coniugium], Consuetudo c [the 3rd under Consuetudo], and so on. These cross-references are then followed by the opening entries under the next topic heading, Abusio (BnF MS lat. 15985, f.4r reproduced by permission of Bibliothèque nationale de France, image selected by C. Nighman)

59Organising quotations under topic headings was a familiar system at that period but had the problem that a passage could be relevant for several topics – a difficulty for a collection that, like the Manipulus florum, was intended not to be read through but to be searched. Thomas tackled this by his innovative cross-referencing. He gave each quotation a letter code based on its order under a given topic head. As Thomas explained it for his readers

Because a quotation that relates to one topic may also apply to several other topics, in order to avoid repeating quotations under different topics, I have placed letters of the alphabet in the margin next to each quotation that generally correspond to the number of quotations in that topic, and where the number of letters does not suffice, they are combined (Manipulus florum, Preface, transl. Nighman 2006).

60Thus ’Avarice a’ (avaritia a) identified the first of the 61 entries under ’Avarice’, followed by avaritia b, avaritia c, moving into double letters like avaritia ad and avaritia bg when the end of the alphabet was reached; similarly for other topic headings. At the end of each topic’s entries came a list of cross references enabling the reader to trace relevant excerpts located under other topic heads, each identifiable by its unique alphabetic code. Here was a remarkably effective tool for ready location and cross reference at a time when manuscript pages were unnumbered, and one that continued in play for many centuries afterwards.

61The Manipulus florum had far-reaching influence in late mediaeval Europe and after. Over 180 manuscript copies survive, mostly in repositories all over Europe with a few in North American collections. After the establishment of print it appeared in at least 50 editions: first in 1483, again about ten years later, reprinted at least twenty-five times in the sixteenth century, a dozen times in the seventeenth century, and further editions, if less frequently, up to the late nineteenth century. The bishop of Vannes prefaced a Paris edition (Flores doctorum) in 1887 as ’a signal service for preachers, who should quote from ”the living sources of our Tradition”’. Like many such compilations, it went through many transformations and its successive editions saw both additions and subtractions. Parts were taken over to be incorporated into yet other collections, just as Thomas himself had drawn not only on his own reading but on existing compilations.

62It was extensively used as a source for mediaeval preachers, for theological study, pastoral work, and private devotional reading. It became a major sourcebook for literature in the vernacular and was itself extensively mined for later compilations. As summed up by the two scholars who did so much to bring it to attention

The Manipulus was of service to anyone whose profession involved composition – theological, literary, legal or other. Its influence extended from 1306 to the end of the Middle Ages and beyond; from new order to old, from priest, canon and friar to prelate and pope. It served theologians, anthologists, literary figures and pamphleteers, male and female. For virtually anyone whose career put a premium on a choice of phrase, the Manipulus florum was of ready use
(Rouse and Rouse 1979: 229).

  • 9 On Cato’s Distichs I have drawn especially on Chase 1922 and Duff and Duff 1935, also on Boas 1952 (...)

63But the longevity of both Thomas of Ireland’s work and Erasmus’ longrunning Adages, amazing as they are, was dwarfed by the remarkable diffusion and continuity of a short work known as Cato’s Distichs, a book happily going on its way alongside these other productions. Little read now, this collection of Latin moralistic epigrams became one of the best-known books in the Middle Ages and earlier, and remained in circulation for well over a millennium. For much of that time it was a best-seller in both manuscript and print.9

64It apparently originated in late antiquity, possibly the third century AD, when the name of Cato became attached to the collection. It was a series of short pieces of moral advice in Latin verse. These were not attributed to earlier writers but presented as precepts by Cato himself, or at any rate credited to him. Some probably went back to Greek originals and many carried reminiscences of Latin poets such as Horace, Ovid, or Virgil, and at least one (2.3) was well-enough known to be quoted on an early gravestone:

Cease death to fear: none but a fool would choose
Thro’ fear of death the joys of life to lose.

65’Cato’s’ collection came to be circulated as a store of memorable sayings in the same way as other compilations of quotation, had a huge circulation in many languages, and was extensively mined in later compilations of proverbs and moral maxims.

66The book opened with a short prologue. As so often in the tradition of wisdom literature, the precepts were notionally addressed to the author’s son:

When I noticed how very many go seriously wrong in their manner of living I concluded that I must apply a corrective to their belief and take counsel of the experience of mankind in order that they may live most gloriously and attain honour. Now I will teach thee, dearest son, in what way thou mayest fashion a rule for thy life. Therefore, so read my precepts that thou mayest understand them, for to read and not to understand is equivalent to not reading
(Cato Distichs, Prologue, transl. Chase 1922).

67Fifty-seven short one-line proverbial maxims followed, with pieces of practical and ethical advice like ’Yield to him who is older’, ’Guard well your own interests’, ’Keep your temper’, ’Don’t drink too much’, ’Remember a good turn’.

68The meat of the collection came in the following four books of (in all) 144 precepts in two-line classical Latin verse: the ’distichs’ (couplets) of the title. Here are the first ten from Book 1:

1. If God a spirit is as poets sing,
With mind kept pure make thou thy offering.
2. Be oft awake: from too much sleep abstain,
For vice from sloth doth ever nurture gain.
3. Who rules his tongue doth highest praises reap:
Godlike is he who silence well doth keep.
4. Ne’er with thyself perversely disagree;
Who’s out with self in peace with none will be.
5. If on men’s lives and deeds thou look’st, thou’lt see
That from those faults they blame, not one is free.
6. Shun that which harms, e’en tho thy love is caught;
Before mere wealth should safety first be sought.
7. Be ever kind or stern to suit the time;
The wise may change his practice without crime.
8. Heed not when of thy slave thy wife complains,
For whom her husband loves, she aye disdains.
9. When thou giv’st counsel cease not till the end;
Though it unwelcome be, e’en to thy friend.
10. Try not with words the talker to outdo;
On all is speech bestowed: good sense on few
(Cato Distichs, 1: 1-10, transl. Chase 1922).

69Slim as it was, the collection had a long life before it.It did not spring directly from the Christian tradition so, unlike Thomas of Ireland’s huge compilation or Erasmus’ learned collection, could not carry the authority of excerpts from revered writers. Nor did it have an alphabetical ordering or other device for easy searching. Yet it was a best seller for centuries, adopted and adapted by the Christian church and distributed across diverse countries and languages.

70The central reason for this continuing popularity was its use in education. It served both as a key text for the learning of Latin and as a source of moral wisdom – albeit of a fairly practical and worldly kind – for instructing the young. It was read in Roman primary schools in later antiquity, studied in seventh-century monastery schools in Ireland, and in both the British Isles and the Continent was on school textbook lists in the eighth to eleventhcenturies. It was often bound together with other selected works in standard (if changing) combinations for school use, and from the fifteenth century taken up by printing presses across the Western world.

71Prized both as moral guide and Latin primer it helped to shape many lives over the centuries. More than just a schoolbook, it was read and valued by adults too, quoted both by scholars and in popular songs, and the couplets, often learned by heart during schooldays, left their trace through later years. Its verse style influenced later gnomic collections, and for centuries it was alluded to by writer after writer as a taken-for-granted text. It was referred to by the French poet Venantius Fortunatus in the sixth century and used by a long series of famous authors over the centuries, from Alcuin and Gerald of St Gall to the English Alfred the Great who, it was said, drew on it for his proverb collection. From the twelfth century on, as one author puts it, ’references to Cato… are to be found literally everywhere’ (Hazleton 1957: 159). The fourteenth-century Piers Plowman quoted plentifully from the Distichs, acknowledging the source. Chaucer was closely acquainted with the collection. His Canterbury Tales had many quotations – and parodies – from ’Catoun which that was so wys a man’, and he could rely on his audience’s understanding when he characterised a carpenter as without the most elementary of learning since ’He knew no Catoun, for his wit was rude’. Cato was mentioned in the prologue to Don Quixote, and both mediaeval and later German and Spanish writers quoted him extensively. By the fifteenth and sixteenth century parodies were circulating in the vernacular, as in the Schoole of Slovenrie: or Cato Turn’d Wrong Side Outward (1605). Its popularity was both demonstrated and enhanced by numerous commentaries and expositions in both mediaeval and more recent times, themselves built on for further exposition and circulation.

72Its massive diffusion also took place through innumerable translations – into, among other languages, French, German, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Swedish, Italian, Polish, Hungarian, Irish, Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman, Bohemian, Greek and Icelandic. Four English editions of a version translated from the French were printed by William Caxton within seven years, the first in 1477; he dedicated it ’vnto the noble auncyent and renommed cyte [city] of London in Englond’, directing it to the children of London merchants, as ’the best book to be taught to young children in school, and also to the people of every age it is full convenient if it be well understanded’. Erasmus quoted the book and brought out a version, itself widely translated and distributed in multiple editions, often bound together with other collections of wise sayings (Fig. 5.6 shows the title page of a London edition published in 1540). Another version, edited by Calvin’s teacher Maturinus Corderius, was said to have gone through a hundred printings. In one form or another the book long continued in circulation. The Latin text was printed in 1577 as part of the Jesuits’ educational programme in Mexico. It was used in English classrooms in the time of Milton and Oliver Cromwell, prescribed by sixteenth and seventeenth century statute for public schools like Eton and Harrow, and published with Erasmus’ commentary in London in 1760 as Cato’s Distichs de moribus improved, in a more complete and useful method than any yet extant… For the use of schools. In both continental Europe and America its use in schools continued well into the eighteenth century in both Latin and vernacular. In 1735 Benjamin Franklin published a newly translated version in Philadelphia as Cato’s Moral Distichs Englished in Couplets – the first Latin classic to be translated and printed in the British colonies of North America. He saw it as of good moral use for both adults and children – ’Very proper to be Put in the Hands of Young Persons’ – and was confident that it would be in demand.

Fig. 5.6 Richard Taverner’s edition of Cato’s Distichs with Erasmus’ commentary, London, 1540.
(© The British Library Board, 1460.a.32)

The Manuscript copy of this Translation of Cato’s Moral Distichs happened into my Hands some time since, and being my self extremely pleased with it, I thought it might be no less acceptable to the Publick… In my Opinion it is no unfit or unprofitable Entertainment for those of riper Years. For certainly, such excellent Precepts of Morality, contain’d in such short and easily-remember’d Sentences, may to Youth particularly be very serviceable in the Conduct of Life, since there can scarce happen any Affair of Importance to us, in which we may need Advice, but one or more of these Distichs suited to the Occasion, will seasonably occur to the Memory, if the Book has been read and studied with a proper Care and Attention…
I confess, I have so great Confidence in the common Virtue and Good Sense of the People of this and the neighbouring Provinces, that I expect to sell a very good Impression
(Franklin 1735: iii-iv).

73Though Cato’s text is no longer in print and is by now largely forgotten, it is gaining new life through circulation on the web and occasional surfacing in college courses. It even provided the ’quote for the day’ (17th June) on a 2009 website, in its translation as:

  • 10

Dread not the day that endeth all life’s ills;
For fear of death all joy in living kills.10

74A collection of such longevity surely tells us something about the European devotion to written repositories of verbal sayings. Over the centuries there have indeed been many great literary works and collections but there can have been few which directly touched so many lives over a millennium or more as this modest compilation of maxims.

75Such examples have only touched the surface. There were many collections besides those already mentioned, among them the Book of Hours (the collection of psalms and biblical quotations which was often a household’s sole book in the late Middle Ages); Plutarch’s apothegms; the collected sayings of illustrious figures like Socrates, Diogenes or Alexander the Great (attributed to them at any rate); sayings of the desert fathers; and the inter-connected succession of proverb collections. A long tradition unquestionably underpins the quotation collections of today.

5.3. Where did they come from?

76These and other collections were constructed by their compilers from many, and varied, sources. The verbal clusters selected for record could be shorter or longer (sometimes just a single phrase or line); by unknown or by named (or misnamed) authors; and in a variety of familiar or unfamiliar languages. Depending on date or context they could be drawn from everyday or rhetorical speech, or – more often – from written sources: religious, literary, philosophical and much else, and presented under a variety of terms. Common at all periods, it seems, was some version of ’sayings’ (Latin dicta) but with changing targets and connotations over the centuries. The ’authorities’ of early collections, whether Christian or from the ancient classical world, gradually gave way or were combined with less normative terms like ’maxims’, ’commonplaces’ (with its changing meanings), ’proverbs’, ’adages’, the overarching term ’quotations’ or, most recently, ’catchphrases’, ’songs’ and ’slogans’.

77The selections were also of course bound into that same question as in the previous chapter: of whose voices and what kind of excerpts counted as suitable for highlighting, repeating and – in the present context – storing for further reference. Attitudes to the collecting of others’ words have in part paralleled the changing uses of quote marks, as they gradually moved from focusing primarily on classical, literary or authoritative Christian sources to sayings from the near-present, from the ’common’ man, and from spoken not just written language. By the nineteenth century newspapers as well as literary and biblical sources were being drawn on and, though the idea of ’best authors’ still prevailed, nineteenth- and, especially, twentiethcentury quotation collections laid particular stress on ’familiar’, ’popular’, or ’in most frequent’ or ’common’ use. Not that that avoided the issue of whose definition of ’familiar’ counted and who controlled the selection. In the sixteenth century Erasmus had presented his adages as ’frequently on people’s lips’ while looking to the ancient classic writers for his selection and despising the verbalisation of the common people, while the ’literary reader’ of the 1941 Oxford Dictionary of Quotations might scarcely fit the common expectations of today. But the trawl has now certainly spread to include wording from film, broadcast and ’non-traditional’ media, extending beyond the traditional literary canon of just one country. Recent collections boast of being up to the minute and pride themselves on including ’new’, ’modern’ and ’topical’ quotes.

78But at same time another striking feature of recent collections – even now – is a continuing interest in spanning the ages. Contemporary blurbs swim with phrases like ’from Cleopatra to J. K. Rowling, and the battle of Marathon to the Hutton inquiry’, ’from the ancients of East and West to the global village of the twenty-first century’, ’from Cicero to the Simpsons’. The sources come from past as well as present and, as in earlier collections, there remains a focus on the wealth and wisdom of past times. Even now allusions to the classical world carry surprising resonance and many collections still contain quotations from Latin or Greek and the highart literary canon from earlier centuries, and refer in their blurbs to the authors of antiquity. Looking to the past not just the present almost seems a requirement for what it is to be a collection of quotations.

79This is reinforced by the remarkable longevity of many key collections and their impact both across vast geographical areas and on successive generations. In their presence and travels they transmit, and embody, voices from beyond the present.

80The Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers published by William Caxton in 1477 is an example of one such compilation (Fig. 5.7). That it should be the first book to be printed with a date in England evidences the interest in such collections while its curious history illustrates well both their long-lived potential and the complex and far-reaching pathways they sometimes followed. The Arabic original of this work had been compiled in Cairo near the start of the second millennium by the Syrian Mubashshir ibn Fatik as Muhtar-al-Hikam (’Wise sayings’). It appeared in 1053 with its hundreds of quotations from Jewish, Arabic and Greek sources. Two centuries later it was circulating in Spanish translation as Bocados de Oro (’Gold sayings’). It was soon translated further into Latin, cut down to just the philosophers’ sayings, and circulated widely in Europe under such titles as Liber philosophorum moralium or Placita philosophorum. In the late fourteenth century it appeared in French as Les dits des philosophes. Both Latin and French versions became popular in England and at least four

Fig. 5.7 The Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers printed by William Caxton 1477.
The earliest dated book to be printed in England. This shows the start of the main text

  • 11 On this (arguably controversial) work see Raybould 2006, Jayne 1995: 37ff.

81English translations were in circulation in the mid to late fifteenth century, with many changes and errors accumulated over the centuries. Caxton’s 1477 publication was a translation from the French version into English by the king’s brother-in-law Earl Rivers who paid Caxton to print and edit it.11

82In every period from which we have records, it seems, there was a habit of compiling and circulating collections of verbal excerpts. Some became amazingly long-lasting, firmly established and widely distributed, not seldom best sellers of their time. The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations has been going strong for over sixty years, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations for a century and a half. Macdonnel’s collection spanned some seventy years, there are still new editions and translations of Erasmus’ Adages after 500 years, and editions of Thomas of Ireland’s Manipulus florum appeared from the early fourteenth to the late nineteenth century. More astounding still was the active use and multiple appearances and transformations of Cato’s Distichs over a millennium and a half. And these were only a few among a host of other long-lived collections that continued over the ages either as independent collections in their own right or – equally significant – through their re-use and repackaging by others.

83For amidst all the variety and change in quotations collections a further feature to notice is their continuity. This was not just the fact, remarkable in itself, of the continuing popularity of the collecting genre in general and of certain individual collections in particular, but the degree of concordance in their contents. There were many chains of connection between them.

84This was partly through the inclusion of the same or similar items over the centuries. What in one sense made something a quotation was that it should be recognised as such, that it should be ’lasting’ as the recent ODQ had it – and how better than through its appearance and re-appearance in collections? A range of quotations have become standard ones, recurring in collections across the years, sometimes in different languages, detailed wording or attribution of authorship but still recognisably the same.

85Thus key passages attached to the various virtues or vices were repeated and repeated through many centuries. Quotations from the Christian church fathers ran through the ages, verses from Virgil or extracts by Plato or Cicero appeared and reappeared in collections over nearly two millennia. Even now Latin excerpts continue in collections, from short phrases like Cato’s delenda est Carthago (’Carthage must be destroyed’) from the second century B. C. or Julius Caesar’s veni vidi vici (’I came I saw I conquered’) to longer classical passages. Certain verses from Virgil have seemingly become inevitable items as with his timeo danaos et dona ferentes (’I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts’ – cautious words before the booby-trapped wooden horse of Troy). So too with certain English literary passages, repeated again and from one collection to another like Tennyson’s ’Tis better to have loved and lost / than never to have loved at all’ or Lord Stowell’s ’The sweet simplicity of the three percents’. Edmund Spenser’s ’But on his breast a bloody cross he bore /The dear remembrance of his dying Lord’ from the Faerie Queene is perhaps less immediately appealing today, and yet just through its recurrence has acquired a kind of quotative glow.

  • 12 See Doyle 2004 for a fuller account.

86There are also constantly repeated proverb-like quotations. The passage commonly quoted as (in its English version) ’In the kingdom of the blind the one-eyed man is king’ has figured in innumerable collections, including Erasmus’ Adages, itself drawn from earlier texts, as well as in constant further compilations, including recent web collections. It came in H.G. Wells’ The Country of the Blind too, cited under that source in some editions of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. ’Owls to Athens’, quoted from ancient sources in Erasmus’ Adages, similarly crops up in multiple collections in varying formulations from John Heywood’s 1606 English collection to recent instances like ’Carrying coals to Newcastle’, ’… pine to Scandinavia’ or ’… beer to Munich’. Or take ’Write in water’, cited by Erasmus from classical sources, prevalent in Elizabethan times, reappearing in countless other collections, and still current today; in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations it comes under Keats’s name in the fuller form ’Here lies one whose name was writ in water’.12The Greek author Hesiod’s ’Well begun is half done’ came in Erasmus’ collection, re-appeared, variously phrased, in Latin and English in Macdonnel’s dictionary (see Fig. 5.2), in Benham’s collection and in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations as well as in innumerable English proverb collections. ’The gods help those who help themselves’, Erasmus’ quotation from the Roman Varro, reappeared in Macdonnel as the French Aide toi le ciel t’aidera (’Help yourself and heaven will help you’) attributed there to Fontaine, and still well-known in common parlance. The list could go on. Tennyson’s image of jewels sparkling ’forever’ is without doubt a romantic exaggeration but has a grain of truth. Not every gem lives on, and many have vanished to be replaced by others, but the enduring hardihood of many of these collected wordings is nevertheless amazing.

87We cannot trace the exact processes by which such recurrent entries were repeated and repeated again. But we do know that many collections drew directly on earlier compilations. With all the variations over time, space, language and purpose, the chain was to some degree a continuous one where new collections depended not just on the compilers’ own purposes and interests but directly on previous compilations. The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations’ systematic mining of earlier collections was far from alone. This was common practice. Friswell’s 1865 London-based quotation handbook, Familiar Words, for example, appropriated much of its contents from Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, while Bartlett’s collection in its turn had drawn directly on Isabella Preston’s Handbook of Familiar Quotations from English Authors published in London in 1853, one reason no doubt for the bias towards English authors in Bartlett’s early editions (Hancher 2003). Certainly compilers also utilised their own memorised recollections and reading – some more, some less – but amidst the many collections there was undoubtedly extensive transmission from one to another. The vicissitudes of Macdonnel’s quotation dictionaries were not unusual, where what began as one collection became transformed into subsequent ones, sometimes with substantial overlap in presentation or content but under differing titles and attributed editors.

88In a similar way huge numbers of collections, pastiches and commonplace books were based on Erasmus’ Adages. Its popularity in multiple English translations and transformations fed directly into proverb collections and played a part in establishing many English proverbs. Erasmus in his turn, while certainly steeped in the original Greek and Latin texts and taking much direct from there, himself used previous compilations such as the massive earlier compilations of Diogenianus, Zenobius, Stobaeus, Suidas and the mid fifteenth-century collection of sententiae by Michael Apostolius. His ’Well begun is half done’, to recur to that example, was already popular in antiquity and had appeared in the earlier collections of Diogenianus and Suidas.

89And then there was the vast spread of mediaeval florilegia. Thomas of Ireland’s Manipulus florum drew in part on original works he consulted in the Sorbonne library in the early fourteenth century, but in addition built on existing compilations, notably the great Cistercian florilegia of the previous century. Two of these, Flores paradysi and the Liber exceptionum ex libris viginti trium auctorum, were large indexed collections of patristic and ancient authorities, and major sources for Thomas’ work, themselves with roots in yet earlier collections. Through the following centuries Thomas’ compendium was in its turn used repeatedly in the compilation of other collections of extracts.

90Cato’s Distichs had a similar but probably even more extensive influence on later compilations. There were continual republications and transformations of his work, with additions, commentaries and translations into innumerable languages. They formed the basis for collections of proverbs, and appeared in various guises in European languages, including numerous translations and manipulations in English. Together with Erasmus’ collections, they were an important source of inspiration for John Heywood’s immensely influential A Dialogue Containing the Number in Effect of All the Proverbs in the English Tongue in1546. The Distichs’ echoes were heard yet again in eighteenth-century North America in the aphorisms in Benjamin Franklin’s best-selling series Poor Richard’s Almanac.

91The sayings gathered as quotations in these successive collections came from many sources and have changed thorough the centuries, many once established ones falling by the way and others more recently harvested being added to the store. But one striking feature has certainly been the continuity between one collection and another, mutating and transforming over time but with immense repetition nonetheless. Certain chunks of words gained the status of texts to be enshrined for conservation and re-use, passed on over the years whether through personal commonplace books or published collections, fit items to be gathered up in the recurrent compilations that were apparently such a widespread institution in every period. For their compilers, for their readers and for those for whom these words of others came through more indirect channels, they structured the continuity and appreciation of select items of verbal textuality. Reinforced in some cases by formal or informal schooling, these were the words accepted to a greater or lesser degree as of special weight and meaning.

92Quotations in short have been harvested from many fields. But one major source was the persisting presence of the many organised memory stores already in one way or another to hand for further transmission.

5.4. Why collect quotations?

93As to why people should so often harvest and store the words of others, one part of the answer must surely lie simply in the force attached to a long-established convention. Collections of excerpts from others’ words have been an accepted genre for millennia, exerting an influence on successive generations year after year after year, and it takes no great originality to follow in the habit.

  • 13 Amidst the huge literature on early collections and wisdom literature generally I have found the f (...)

94Such habits are not just a thing of the Western written tradition but apparently long-practised throughout the world. In all areas and eras, it seems, we encounter the impulse to mark out distinctive words of others’ as of special import, and harvest them into verbal stores. Nor has such collecting been a minor activity for the numbers in which such excerpts were gathered have often been vast. A myriad sayings and extracts have been gathered up and circulated in their hundreds and thousands in successive collections over the centuries and throughout the globe. Collecting quotations together has indeed been one of the constant purposes to which the written word has been put.13

95Indeed what is probably the oldest substantial corpus of written forms in existence turns out to be a collection of quotations. Inscribed on the clay tablets of ancient Mesopotamia (Fig. 5.8) these may have originated as early as the third millennium BC, among the earliest literary texts in the world. They were certainly in regular school use in the second millennium BC. By then Sumerian had become a language of education rather than common speech and these written sayings were serving as models for scribal exercises. Their secular and sometimes satirical content is illustrated in such examples as

Fig. 5.8 From the world’s earliest proverb collection: inscribed clay tablet from ancient Sumer.
(Courtesy of the Penn Museum, object # B6139)

The pleasure of a daughter-in-law is anger.
A lie multiplies seven times.
He who shaves his head gets more hair
And he who collects the barley gets more and more grain.

  • 14 This summary is based on the authoritative account in Alster 1997.

96The Sumerian collection in all comprised many hundreds of such items, some of them in turn passing on into later middle Eastern proverb traditions.14

97The gathering together of selected verbal excerpts has long been a characteristic of writing. There were many collections in early China, among them the monumental Confucian and Taoist corpora; the sayings attributed to Confucius for example have circulated in their thousands not just in China but throughout the world both orally and in written collections, and nowadays, extensively, on the web. To mention just a few further instances among the many, India has seen countless collections of maxims and literary quotations in Sanskrit, and similarly throughout much of the far East (Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Burma and Java for example). There have been Arabic collections, ancient traditions from Egypt, and the treasures of the Hebrew Bible and ancient Judaism. Florilegia were not confined to Western Europe but came in Byzantine and Slavic literatures too. The extent and spread of quotation collections has been remarkable, and many of them, or their offshoots in later years, have persisted across centuries and are still in some form or other extant today.

98Amassed over the years by scribes, seers, religious practitioners, literary admirers, scholars, teachers, moralists, publishers, and enthusiasts for one cause or another, the stream continues up to the present. The difficulty of widespread access to books or extensive written texts might seem to explain the prominence of earlier collections in making choice extracts available to those who could not afford their own libraries – a contrast, surely, with the increasing access to longer texts through print in recent centuries and, more recently, through electronic technologies. But that scarcely provides a full explanation, for the collecting of others’ words shows no sign of fading away. At the very same time that some question the continued viability of quotation marks the deluge of quotation compilations continues undiminished.

99Such collections have provided ways of organising and perpetuating knowledge. Almost all the principles of arrangement we know today – by author; by subject, date, keyword, appended index, cross-referencing, alphabetic ordering – have a long history. Their specific application at any one time however has been bound in with the conventions and preoccupations of the day or the interests of the compiler. For these compilations have not of course been neutral selections from out of the infinite flow of human language. They both reflected and shaped the culture and tastes of the times – or perhaps, to put it more precisely, of particular interest groups within it, defining and ordering not just knowledge but current hierarchies and presuppositions about reality. Some collections were directed towards correct religious or political doctrine, as in the dogmatic florilegia authorised by church councils so readers could rely on these convenient summaries of what the Christian Fathers and approved theologians had said in controversial ecclesiastical matters: it was writers held to be authoritative and of praiseworthy opinions as well as exemplary style whose words were copied into the commonplace books of early modern Europe. Other collections were held to transmit certain moral and spiritual standards, as with Cato’s Distichs or the many collections that presented the virtues and vices under specifically defined headings. So too with compilations of key sayings for political or religious activists and disciples, whether from sacred scriptures or the sayings of Mao. Even in overtly more dispassionate selections, implicit and sometimes unconscious evaluations often underlay the collections, whether in assumptions about the ’cultivated person’ – one formulation in 1910 – or the 1941 Oxford Dictionary of Quotations’ hope that it would start people reading the poets’ (ODQ1 xii). What was classed as ’familiar’ depended on the compiler’s outlook. Erasmus looked to learned classical sources while in Bartlett’s early editions the English-dominated ’familiar quotations’ drawn from the sea of literature came from a source where ’most of the sea was mixed with the Thames estuary’ (Hancher 2003: 52). It carried differing messages if the selection was from, say, ancient classical authors; Christian or other religious writers; the traditional English or European literary canon; some admired individual; proverbial phrases in current circulation; or popular sayings from recent political rallies or mass media programmes.

100Amidst the many variations some themes recur. Time and again over the years the words in quotations collections have been repeated as ethical injunctions, as gems of beauty or wisdom, inspirational insights, points for meditation. They have been used as texts for learning, models for composition, manuals for speakers and writers, cures for incorrect renderings, exemplification of great authors, weapons in political or religious struggle, choice flowers from the past. Often the motivation has been to make the wisdom of the ancients – the more, or less, ancient that is – accessible to contemporary readers. They have also acted as important tools for further literary, theological and intellectual creation. The compilations might indeed have been typically associated with the powerful and erudite but their influences and uses spread wider, embedded in the practices of knowledge, learning and literary art throughout the ages. Not themselves great literary works, and often bypassed in histories of literature, they yet underpinned the creative endeavours of others and flowed both into and out of the literary imagination, imbuing it with the radiance of repeated and known quotations and allusions.

101There have thus been many and varied purposes and uses for collecting quotations, changing and overlapping even in the case of any one collection and its successive transformations. But at the same time there is still a sense in which such collections have not needed any enunciated explanation. The genre, to repeat, has long been part of established practice and in demand, with no call to justify its supply. These stores of others’ sayings provided a proven mechanism of corralling words into authorised pens of knowledge and of tradition, and of preserving – and controlling – them as a resource in the present.

102Human beings, or some of them anyway, apparently love collecting things and bringing them under control. It is noteworthy that verbal chunks have taken such a prominent place in this, attesting to the weight laid in human culture on the power and art of words and their controlled repetition. Vast resources have been expended to gather up, preserve, store, distribute, manage, propagate and market the selected words of others. As throughout history, some people have had less access or control over these valuables than have others and not all may have shared the presuppositions of the collectors or transmitters. But unlike some other valued resources these stores of riches have not become used up over time, their glow sometimes the more burnished in their use and re-use over the years. The collections make up a substantive achievement of human culture in their own right, an institutionalised way of treating others’ words long established in human history.

103Here then is another way of demarcating others’ words that complements the quotation markers considered in the previous chapter. To a degree it rests on a different principle, singling out chunks of words with abrupt edges and gathering them explicitly, as others’ words, into an organised store for conservation. The two strategies are worth distinguishing, but do not operate separately. They merge into each other in their operation, from the marginal references of earlier years to the indented and blocked-out quotations in modern expositions and academic texts (some of which read like quotation-compilations with interludes). Most notably they intertwine in their changing assessments of whose words are to be privileged.

104With all the diversities of detail, the extent and ubiquity of this mode of treating quotations – capturing them into organised repositories – is indeed astonishing. Such collections are, it is true, part of the moderately learned written traditions of our history rather than used by or (even now) accessible or of interest to everyone, a point that comes through both in the historical examples and in the comments of the contemporary British observers. Not everyone, clearly, has engaged personally in lengthy systematic collecting; nor, even in contexts of high literacy and mass print, does everyone possess a collection or, where they do, make much use of it. But such collections are remarkable in their numbers and distribution nevertheless. And both their direct usage and the ripples from their effects have a broad spread, going far more widely than just the highly educated or the professional scholars. They fix and make visible the links to earlier writers and voices from the past. Gathering together quotations is an extraordinarily long-flourishing and proliferating product of human culture, where we harvest others’ words from the past to be controlled and activated in the present.


1 MO/D3644.

2 Preface to Thomas of Ireland’s Manipulus florum, transl. Nighman 2006.

3 3 This account of ODQ relies heavily on information in its seven successive editions, the Oxford University Press website and the Oxford University Press (OUP) Archives. I am particularly indebted to Elizabeth Knowles, till 2007 Publishing Manager, Oxford Quotations Dictionaries, not only for her publications, both hardcopy and electronic, but also for her generous personal assistance. I am also most grateful to Martin Maw for arranging access to the OUP Archives.

4 Many different terms for these extracts from others’ words have been used over the years, sometimes differentiated but often in practice with much the same meaning. ’Quotations’ is common in recent centuries, but frequently used terms in earlier centuries, and to an extent still today, have included (to take just some English and Latin terms) ’proverbs’, ’apophthegms’, ’adages’, ’gnomes’, ’maxims’, ’aphorisms’, sententiae, ’sayings’ (Latin dicta and its derivatives), ’precepts’, ’authorities’ (Latin auctoritates). The collections focused on here were mostly of relatively short sayings, though they shade at the other end of the continuum into anthologies of longer pieces.

5 For more detailed accounts of quotation dictionaries in English over the last two to three centuries see Hancher 2003, Knowles 2009, Regier 2010; on the massive collecting activities in the complementary but partly overlapping form of anthologies and miscellanies, see Benedict 1996; and, on proverbs, Obelkevich 1987.

6 There were in all nine London editions, successively revised and enlarged, with minor variation around the original title 1797, 1798, 1799, 1803, 1809, 1811, 1819, 1822, and 1826. A Spanish translation appeared in Barcelona in 1836. The enlarged and revised version edited by E. H. Michelsen appeared in 1858 as A Manual of Quotations, from the Ancient, Modern and Oriental Languages. The American publication, based on the fifth London edition, came out in Philadelphia in 1810 under the title A Dictionary of Select and Popular Quotations Which Are in Daily Use, Taken from the Latin, French, Greek, Spanish and Italian Languages; Translated into English, with Illustrations, Historical and Idiomatic, with six American editions by 1841 under the same or similar titles, and further reprints up to at least 1869. A retrospective reprint appeared in 1990.

7 The literature on Erasmus is huge; works particularly drawn on here include Barker 2001, Eden 2001, Gand 1893, Phillips 1967, Rummel 1994, and the multi-volume Toronto University Press translations of his collected works (Erasmus 1974- (CWE); unless otherwise indicated the account here follows the translations and referencing in that series); also, on early proverb collections more generally (in the broad sense of proverbs that includes sententiae, adages, apothegms etc, prose and verse, and both ’popular’ and learned sources) Habenicht 1963, Schulze- Busacker 1997, Taylor 1992, Whiting 1953; on earlier Greek compilations Leutsch and Schneidewin 1839-51.

8 This account of the Manipulus florum relies mainly on Clark 2004, Marshall et al. 1980, McEvoy 2009, Moss 1996, Nighman 2005, 2006- (an invaluable and still developing web edition), and, especially, Rouse and Rouse 1979; also for further background Carruthers 1990: 174ff, Taylor 1992.

9 On Cato’s Distichs I have drawn especially on Chase 1922 and Duff and Duff 1935, also on Boas 1952, Hazelton 1957, 1960, Marchand and Irvine 2006/2009, Taylor 1992, 1999, 2004. The traditional attribution to the earlier Roman statesman Marcius Portius Cato and the added name of Dionysius are rejected by modern scholars.


distichs/ (26 Nov. 2009).

11 On this (arguably controversial) work see Raybould 2006, Jayne 1995: 37ff.

12 See Doyle 2004 for a fuller account.

13 Amidst the huge literature on early collections and wisdom literature generally I have found the following especially helpful: Alster 1997, Bowden 1996, Hansen 1981, Perdue 2008, Taylor 1992, and the many excellent accounts in Sasson 1981.

14 This summary is based on the authoritative account in Alster 1997.

List of illustrations

Caption Fig. 5.1 First page of The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 7th edition, 2009.© Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 7th edition, edited by Elizabeth Knowles (2009), reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press (
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Caption Fig. 5.2 Page from the 1st edition of Macdonnel’s Dictionary of Quotations, London, 1797.(© The British Library Board,
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Caption Fig. 5.3 Title page of American edition based on Macdonnel’s Dictionary, Philadelphia 1854.
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Caption Fig. 5.4 Roundel of Erasmus by Hans Holbein the Younger, in Adages, 1533, Basel.Erasmus’ short humorous poem about compiling his Adages appears below the portrait: ’To write out proverbs is easy, they say, and it’s true/ But to write them in thousands? – a grind!/ If you don’t believe me, try it yourself – /Of my efforts you’ll soon grow more kind’ (translated Barker 2001: xx). The roundel and poem are on the back of the title page of Adagiorum opus D. Erasmi Roterodami, Basileæ ex officina Frobeniana, 1533
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Caption Fig. 5.5 From an early manuscript of Thomas of Ireland’s Manipulus florum.Part of a page from a manuscript which may have been an autograph of Thomas of Ireland, illustrating the layout and cross-referencing system.The top of the image has three lines from the final (35th) entry, a quotation attributed to a letter by Seneca, for Abstinencia, which is followed by a list of where (ubi) the reader can find nine other relevant entries under different topic headings as well as three synonym topics (Ieiunium, Sobrietas and Temperancia) and one antonym topic (Gula). The individual cross-referenced quotations are identified by their alphabetic codes: Caro e, r [i.e. the 5th and 17th entries under Caro siue corpus], Coniugium c [the 3rd under Coniugium], Consuetudo c [the 3rd under Consuetudo], and so on. These cross-references are then followed by the opening entries under the next topic heading, Abusio (BnF MS lat. 15985, f.4r reproduced by permission of Bibliothèque nationale de France, image selected by C. Nighman)
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Caption Fig. 5.6 Richard Taverner’s edition of Cato’s Distichs with Erasmus’ commentary, London, 1540.(© The British Library Board, 1460.a.32)
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Caption Fig. 5.7 The Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers printed by William Caxton 1477.The earliest dated book to be printed in England. This shows the start of the main text
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Caption Fig. 5.8 From the world’s earliest proverb collection: inscribed clay tablet from ancient Sumer.(Courtesy of the Penn Museum, object # B6139)
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