Academic journal article Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

Will the Real Cervantes Please Stand Up? (1) Cervantes in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations

Academic journal article Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

Will the Real Cervantes Please Stand Up? (1) Cervantes in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations

Article excerpt

JOHN BARTLETT AS A sixteen-year old lad started to work in the Harvard College bookstore, where he came to know the stock--inside and out--so well that whenever there was any question about anything, people would just say "Ask John Bartlett." He kept a notebook of some of the things that people asked him, and in 1855, when he was 35, and by then owned the bookstore, he published part of the contents of his notebook, a "small thin volume," called Familiar Quotations. Its object was to show "to some extent, the obligations our language owes to various authors for numerous phrases and familiar quotations which have become 'household words.'" By the time it was in its fourth edition, both the book and Bartlett himself moved to Little, Brown Publishers. In his lifetime, his book went through five more editions, each one larger than the previous one.

Now, if you want to know what Elbert Hubbard, who died in the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, had to say about loyalty to your employer, Bartlett will tell you: "If you work for a man, in heaven's name, work for him! If he pays you wages that supply you bread and butter, work for him--speak well of him, think well of him, stand by him and stand by the institution he represents."

The case of Elbert Hubbard brings up two matters. The first is: Just who is Elbert Hubbard, and is this really a familiar quotation, a "household word"? Of the ten-thousand or so quotations in the book, how many of them are really familiar? Bartlett himself, in the preface to the fourth edition of his work, answers this question: "It is not easy to determine in all cases the degree of familiarity that may belong to phrases or sentences which present themselves for admission; for what is familiar to one class of readers may be quite new to another. Many maxims of the most famous writers of our language, and numberless curious happy turns from orators and poets, have knocked at the door, and it was hard to deny them:' He ends with: "... it has been thought better to incur the risk of erring on the side of fullness" And in fairness to Elbert Hubbard, in his day--the turn of the past century--he was a well-known journalist.

A second question that comes up derives from the fact that Elbert Hubbard's quotation was said a couple of decades after Bartlett published his own last edition. How much of Bartlett's came after Bartlett stopped working on it? Later editors, such as Nathan Haskell Dole and Christopher Morley have kept Bartlett's original corpus intact, but have added many items from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

By the time the ninth edition rolled around, Bartlett himself had included some French authors (Villon, Boileau, Rabelais, Montaigne, and others) and quotations from "the ancients." And by the time the eleventh edition was published, a formal set of translated authors had been set up, the Romance section under the watchful eye of none other than Harvard's own J.D.M. Ford. Of the 140-odd foreign authors present, the only Spanish writers are Loyola and Cervantes.

There are about 275 entries from Don Quixote. It was my father, Don, who first started thinking about the question of Cervantes in Bartlett. He wondered about a number of things. Since a translation was perforce used for this selection, how many of the Familiar Quotations reflect Cervantes' real words faithfully? How many Quotations say about the same thing Cervantes did, but with turns of phrase to fit English norms? Of more curious interest were the final two questions: are there any that differ entirely from Cervantes' text? and are there any that are not even present in the original at all? In other words, is Bartlett attributing to Cervantes quotations which are in fact bells and whistles added by the translator? And what percentage would that be, if any?

The translation Bartlett's successors used was Motteux's. When I saw this, it made me wince since I didn't (and still don't) like that translation, even though I had two different versions of it on my shelf. …

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