Here is a little tale I am bringing back from my early days as a columnist. It is about an event (a man?) who changed my life:
It has been a while. Years, even. But I will never forget that first time.
My expectations? I didn’t have any. Nobody had ever told me about him. Not even in school, which is odd, school being Gossip Central for unexpurgated and unadulterated speculation on subjects like that.
Right from the start, however, he intrigued me. What a wealth of knowledge! How interesting! How funny! How witty, insightful, delightful. His way with words. His scrupulous fairness … always advising when a thought that made me drool with envy at its elegant symmetry, had originated, not with him, but with some giant on whose shoulders yet another giant stood.
That first night, though. I couldn’t stop. And he?
Well, he seemed to go on forever. His keen brain thrilling and urging me on to more ... always more.
“Never had I more excited, passionate, fantastical imagination, nor an ear and eye that more expected the impossible.” (William Butler Yeats)
His cool wisdom cautioned me.
“The better part of valor is discretion.” (Shakespeare)
His wit amused me.
“I believe a little in-compatibility is the spice of life, particularly if he has income and she is pattable.” (Ogden Nash)
He was always able to firm up the gone-jelly substance of my spine.
“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.” (Sir Winston Churchill)
There were times when I needed to adjust my too-fastidious perspective.
“Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.” (Noel Coward)
Times when I needed to plump up the emaciated superstructure of my spirit.
“One hour of life, crowded to the full with glorious action, and filled with noble risks, is worth whole years of those mean observances of paltry decorum.” (Sir Walter Scott)
Times when I needed to sharpen my focus.
“Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.” (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
To laugh. “Advice to persons about to marry – ‘Don’t.’” (Punch)
To cry: “Our chiefs are killed… The old men are all dead… The little children are freezing to death … My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.” (Chief Joseph)
But more than anything else, to be reminded that long before I picked up my first pen, John had already populated pages with the incalculable gift of perfectly put together words. Words, words, words.
John Bartlett. My John. Born 1820. Died 1905.
He published the first edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations in 1855. His purpose, “To show ... the obligations our language owes to various authors for numerous phrases and familiar quotations...”
Think of a word. Any word. Look it up in your Bartlett’s. There, in all of its splendor and glory, are ways in which those who preceded us have put that very combination of letters to memorable use.
DEBT: “The debt we owe the play of imagination is incalculable.” (Carl Gustav Jung)
GENIUS: “Books are the legacies that a great genius leaves to mankind.” (Joseph Addison)
QUOTATIONS: “It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations. Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations is an admirable work, and I studied it intently.” (Sir Winston Churchill)
And so...to bed again. With John. My John. The John I love. I can never get enough of that man.
Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2022. Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit www.shellyreuben.com