Today I return to an old category, Browsing through Bartlett's. For those who aren't yet familiar with such posts, let me explain that my 1955 edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations is a frequent source of joy when I'm looking for inspiration about words. As I developed the idea for this category, I decided on three different types of quotations worth sharing: those already familiar to me (and, I hope, to fellow lifelong readers); those I recognize, but hadn't attributed to the correct author; and wonderful turns of phrase I hadn't known, but admire and want to make more familiar.
I confess that among many bookmarks in my copy of Bartlett's, I don't use onefor Charles Dickens (1812-1870 ). After struggling with him at length -- and at length -- early in my school years, I simply gave up on him, apart from the occasional look at "A Christmas Carol" (one of his shorter works). I was not the least surprised to learn that Dickens was often paid by the word.
But then this caught my eye:
"There are only two styles of portrait painting, the serious and the smirk."
-- from "Nicholas Nickelby" (1838-1839), Chapter 10
Immediately after that was a familiar phrase, but one I'd have thought was anyone's work but Dickens:
"Oh! they're too beautiful to live, much too beautiful!"
-- Ibid, Chapter 14
Maybe it's been too long since I read "A Christmas Carol," or maybe it was due to collecting these quotations just after I'd been playing cello. For whatever reason, I have a warning for the next time my cello's out:
"In came a fiddler -- and tuned like fifty stomach-aches."
-- from "A Christmas Carol" (1843), Stave Two
I thought I'd come up with a fine, clear point for the end of this collection. Then this "modern" phrase jumped off of the page of Bartlett's:
"Not to put too fine a point upon it."
-- from "Bleak House" (1852-1853), Chapter 32
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Filed under: Browsing through Bartlett's