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Working with Sources: in Context

One of the best reasons for using a quotation is to show that your own work is part of an ongoing conversation about themes that concern humanity, a conversation that has been going on before you stepped up and made your point of view known, and that will continue after you make a contribution. Below are some thoughtful and inspiring insights about using quotations. Perhaps these thoughts will inspire you to imagine your own work as part of the human conversation.

One must be a wise reader to quote wisely and well. —A. Bronson Alcott, Table Talk (1877).

Quotation ... A writer expresses himself in words that have been used before because they give his meaning better than he can give it himself, or because they are beautiful or witty, or because he expects them to touch a cord of association in his reader, or because he wishes to show that he is learned and well read. Quotations due to the last motive are invariably ill-advised; the discerning reader detects it and is contemptuous; the undiscerning is perhaps impressed, but even then is at the same time repelled, pretentious quotations being the surest road to tedium.  —Henry W. Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926).

When I quote others I do so in order to express my own ideas more clearly. —Michel de Montaigne, “Of the Education of Children,” (1595).

We rarely quote nowadays to appeal to authority ... though we quote sometimes to display our sapience and erudition. Some authors we quote against. Some we quote not at all, offering them our scrupulous avoidance, and so make them part of our “white mythology.” Other authors we constantly invoke, chanting their names in cerebral rituals of propitiation or ancestor worship. —Ihab Hassan, "The Critic as Innovator," (1977).

By necessity, by proclivity, and by delight, we all quote. —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Where is the literature which gives expression to Nature? He would be a poet who could impress the winds and streams into his service, to speak for him; who nailed words to their primitive senses, as farmers drive down stakes in the spring, which the frost has heaved; who derived his words as often as he used them,—transplanted them to his page with earth adhering to their roots; whose words were so true and fresh and natural that they would appear to expand like the buds at the approach of spring, though they lay half smothered between two musty leaves in a library,—aye, to bloom and bear fruit there, after their kind, annually, for the faithful reader, in sympathy with surrounding Nature. I do not know of any poetry to quote which adequately expresses this yearning for the Wild. —Henry David Thoreau, "Walking," (1862).

 

 

 

 

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