Browsing through Bartlett's for beloved neighbors

As I look through Bartlett's Familiar Quotations and enjoy what Bartlett himself called "the obligations our language owns to various authors for numerous phrases," I love finding remarkable things on the same page or adjacent pages. But for me, it's hard to beat a single column deep in the book, which holds quotations from my first favorite song and a writer who's gone from mere favorite to a good influence on my own writing.

First, the song: I grew up loving "The Skye Boat Song" -- thanks, Dad. But it took Bartlett's to tell me that it was written by Harold Edwin Boulton (1859-1935):

"Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing;

Onward, the sailors cry;

Carry the lad that's born to be King

Over the sea to Skye."

Second, the favorite writer: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) has quotations running from near "The Skye Boat Song" to another page. The second quotation is from the second novel featuring Sherlock Holmes, "The Sign of Four." I loved this in high school for multiple-choice tests, and I still think it's a great problem-solving rule:

"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

A lesser-known quotation, from Sir Arthur's "Through the Magic Door" (1908), sums up for me the joy and the sustenance of books:

"It is a great thing to start life with a small number of really good books which are your very own."

So it is, Sir Arthur -- and it is a great thing to continue to be more and more surrounded by them, furniture of my mind as much as my apartment.

My first favorite song and one of my lifetime's favorite writers, so close together -- what search engine can do that?

Why depend on a search engine to get back here? Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

Leave a comment