American bookstores are blessed with many excellent quotation books, but one has been outstanding since its publication in 1855. This book, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, has been a bedrock source of information for writers, speakers, and anyone else wanting a quotation to back up a point.
John Bartlett (1820-1905) was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and became the owner of the University Book Store in Cambridge. Students and Harvard professors gravitated to his store and were particularly grateful for his help in reference matters. Bartlett’s memory was encyclopedic, and he answered many questions concerning the source of a quotation without having to check the source. Hence «Ask John Bartlett» became proverbial. His opus Familiar Quotations has been kept current over the years through several editions. Bartlett joined the Boston publishing firm of Little, Brown in 1863 and became a senior partner in 1878.
John Bartlett’s Complete Concordance to Shakespeare’s Dramatic Works and Poems is also a standard reference guide.
John Bartlett should not be confused with John Russell Bartlett (1805-1886), who made a great contribution to linguistics with his Dictionary of Americanisms. He assisted John Carter Brown in acquiring and cataloging his noted book collection, now in the John Carter Brown Library of Brown University, founded by his grandfather Nicholas.