Two volumes of bookish cultural history that I’ve been reading: Willis Goth Regier’s Quotology (Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2010), about quotations, and Anthony Grafton’s The Footnote: A Curious History (Harvard Univ. Press, 1997), about, obviously, footnotes. Both packed with fascinating detail, though their style and audiences are rather different.
Quotology is aimed at a general audience, of those who are fascinated by quotations (which, as Fred Shapiro says in his blurb, is “just about everyone who is interested in culture or history”), and it’s an easy and entertaining read.
It takes up
translation, transmission, attribution, pertinence, variation, exactness, and how it happens that a word, phrase, or passage is recognized as quotation (p. xiii)
looks at the back-and-forth relationship between proverbs and quotations, at plagiarism vs. quotation, and at “quotation” as restatement. There’s a lengthy list of (overlapping) types of quotation, and, of course, a huge number of quotations.
Some are especially interesting to linguists. On p. 26, for example, there’s a history of the appropriated quotation, given by Ben Jonson as “Speak, that I may see thee.” Regier traces a history from Socrates, as quoted by Apuleius of Madauros (in English translation: “Say something, that I may see what you are like”), Petrarch (in translation: “Speak, that I might see thee”), Erasmus (“Speak up, that I may see thee”), and then as a quotation, in Latin or translation, in many places, including Dryden’s “Loquere ut te videam; speak that I may know thee.” Still, Jonson gets the credit in “the great compendia of our day”.
On reading this, I thought I heard an echo of a song from the Sacred Harp, #448b, The Grieved Soul, words by Joseph Hart (1759), but the sentiment is very different:
Come, my soul and let us try
For a little season.
Ev’ry burden to lay by,
Come and let us reason.
What is this that casts thee down?
Who are those that grieve thee?
Speak and let the worst be known.
Speaking may relieve thee.
Here there is a distant echo of Isaiah 1:17-18, in the KJV:
Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow
Come now, and let us reason together …
This is what happens when you get thinking about quotations. All sorts of things suggest themselves.
Grafton’s The Footnote is a different kettle of fish. Like all of Grafton’s work, it is astonishingly erudite (peppered with relevant quotations in Latin, German, Italian, and French — all translated into English, however) and written in an elegant high-academic style, with flashes of humor and playfulness:
Nowadays, historians’ arguments must still stride forward or totter backward on their footnotes. But the lead of official prose has replaced the gold of Gibbon’s classic oratory. (p. 4)
(I’ve heard Grafton talk, at the Stanford Humanities Center, and it was a stunning performance — so far beyond anything I could imagine doing myself that I was simultaneously exhilarated and humbled.)
The book is specifically about the practice of historians, and “the grace infused into history when it was transformed from an eloquent narrative into a critical discipline” (p. 24). Grafton distinguishes footnoting from the long-standing practices of annotation and commentary of texts, and notes the functions that footnotes have come to serve:
First, they persuade: they convince the reader that the historian has done an acceptable amount of work, enough to lie within the tolerances of the field.
… Second, they indicate the chief sources that the historian has actually used. (p. 22)
The bulk of the book is then an extended tour through history — the history of footnotes in historiography. With, of course, a great many footnotes.