Metro-East Living

A good writer often borrows quotes from an even better one

Wally Spiers
Wally Spiers

I recently acquired a copy of “A Dictionary of Thoughts. Being a cyclopedia of laconic quotations from the best authors of the world, both ancient and modern.”

That is not a very laconic title, laconic meaning of few words but then there are a heck of a lot of words in the book.

The volume, compiled by Tryon Edwards, (1809-1894) is 644 pages of wisdom in the form of quotes that Edwards collected throughout his life and then shared with others. Edwards was a theologian, author and minister of the Second Congregational Church in New London, Conn.

The edition I have was printed in 1911 and given to me by a friend back In my hometown. Unfortunately the cover is in tatters but the bulk of the book is in good shape. I doubt it has monetary value, but what is inside is priceless, I think.

Edwards supplies his justification for compiling the book in an introductory quote from Christian Bovee, a 19th century writer.

“A great thought is a great boon, for which God is to first thanked. Then he who is the first to utter it and then, in a lesser, but still in a considerable degree, the man who is the first to quote it to us,” Bovee wrote. That means I deserve thanks in a much, much lesser degree I think. But I’ll take it.

“Next to being witty, the best thing is being able to quote another’s wit,” Bovee also wrote. Guilty again.

But I also am justified in reproducing these sallies, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge asserts in this quote.

“Let every book-worm, when in any fragrant, scarce old tome, he discovers a sentence, a story, an illustration that does his heart good, hasten to give it to others.”

Edwards was a prolific writer and quotes himself some 150 times in the book.

“Between two evils, choose neither; between two goods, choose both,” he wrote.

Shakespeare earned some 350 entries in the book but Mark Twain had only one, although it was a good one.

“Fortune knocks at every man’s door once in a life but in a good many cases the man is in a neighboring saloon and does not hear her,” Twain wrote.

There were a lot of things in the book that struck me, too many to reproduce lest I have to compile my own quote book.

“The lives of the best of us are spent in choosing between evils.”

Junius, 18th century anonymous English letter writer.

Then there is advice that just seems obvious.

“Scoff not at the natural defects of any which are not in their power to amend. It is cruel to beat a cripple with his own crutches,” wrote Thomas Fuller, 19th century writer.

Does that mean it is not as cruel to beat him with someone else’s crutches? Probably not what he was going for there.

“The first day, a guest; the second, a burden; the third, a pest,” wrote Eduord Laboulaye, French lawyer and author and the man who had the idea for the Statue of Liberty, in a twist on the old saying that guests and fish stink after the third day.

“Fear is the tax that conscience pays to guilt,” wrote George Sewell, 18th century English poet.

Finally, I’ll let Edwards have the last words with his quote under the heading of brevity.

“Have something to say, say it and stop when you are done.”