WHAT WAS THE FIRST "quotations book"? As a lifelong connoisseur of the genre, I have my nominee. But I will not name it here. "A reasonable probability is the only certainty," to quote Edgar Watson Howe from Country Town Sayings, and I am just that certain that if I mention a title and a date some reader somewhere will start like a night nurse and exclaim, "Aha! Got him there!" thence informing me in a long, all too persuasive letter that another collection of quotations was published earlier than my nominee. I am not particularly sensitive to being corrected. A few lines below I want to invite critical letters and suggestions for improving this book. But it is in the nature of quotations books that every reader of them is sooner or later disappointed to find that a personal favorite has been overlooked or deliberately omitted. I can wait to hear from the critics of the guts of this book.
If, however, I shall pass over the question of which was the first quotations book and, therefore, what it was like, I shall generalize boldly about the second quotations book. It, we may be sure, was put together by copying a goodly part of the first and adding personal favorites. Since the unknown pioneer, all compilers of quotations books have been pilferers. Except for the liars. Mindful of Numbers 32:23 ("Be sure thy sin will find thee out"), I hasten to align myself with the former venial sinners. The easiest part of preparing Quotations in American History was the initial phase, when I thumbed casually through the numerous general quotations books in existence and many of the very, very specialized quotation books, pocketing each pertinent item that was not fastened down by copyright or tainted by highly dubious authenticity.
Pleasant work. But not without its demands. There are a great many quotations books on the shelves. The American Books in Print for 1980-81 listed no fewer than 184 titles under the rubric, although many of them bore names of less than compelling appeal, things along the lines of "The Quotable Rock Guitarist."
I decided not even to look at the British catalogs for fear of find-