A reader writes:
Since you often blog about the process, I’d be interested in how you accumulated the almanac quotes. And I bet some of your other regulars would like to know, too.
Glad to oblige. I noticed long ago that the standard books of quotations didn’t contain very many of my favorite quotes (other than the obvious ones that everybody likes). It used to be my practice to dogear the relevant pages of my copies of the books in which those quotes appeared, but that was both inefficient and aesthetically displeasing. Then, fifteen years ago, I purchased at more or less the same time my first personal computer and a copy of H.L. Mencken’s New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources, a wonderful book about which I wrote as follows in The Skeptic:
[Mencken] had long kept a card file of quotations for his own use, and in 1932 he had gotten the idea to expand it into a full-scale dictionary; Charles Angoff worked on it with him for two years, after which he carried on alone. Though not generally recognized as such, it is one of his major achievements, comparable in scope to The American Language and no less personal in its method. “The Congressman hunting for platitudes to embellish his eulogy upon a fallen colleague will find relatively little to his purpose,” he warned in his preface, and many readers have thus concluded that he compiled the New Dictionary of Quotations with tongue in cheek. Like Dr. Johnson’s dictionary, it is wrongly remembered for its eccentricities, among them an extensive selection of invidious remarks about the Jews and a sprinkling of unattributed “proverbs” that sound as though they had been coined by the editor himself. In fact, it contains a vast number of well-chosen, well-organized, accurately attributed and dated quotations on every imaginable subject, ranging widely among both familiar and arcane sources. The only important author missing from its 1,347 pages is Mencken himself, who told Time that “I thought it would be unseemly to quote myself. I leave that to the intelligence of posterity.” Yet the New Dictionary bears the dark stamp of his skepticism on every page, and at least one critic, Morton Dauwen Zabel, was quick to grasp the fact: “The impression soon becomes inescapable that what Mencken has produced as a