Home  »  Respectfully Quoted  »  Charles William Eliot (1834–1926)

Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations. 1989.

NUMBER: 1438
AUTHOR: Charles William Eliot (1834–1926)
QUOTATION: Carrier of news and knowledge
Instrument of trade and industry
Promoter of mutual acquaintance
Of peace and of goodwill
Among men and nations

Messenger of sympathy and love
Servant of parted friends
Consoler of the lonely
Bond of the scattered family
Enlarger of the common life
ATTRIBUTION: CHARLES W. ELIOT, revised by Woodrow Wilson, inscriptions on the main Post Office, Washington, D.C.—Inscriptions Written by Charles William Eliot, p. 40 (1934).

In 1877 Charles W. Eliot, president of Harvard University 1869–1909, was asked to provide an inscription for a Civil War monument. “The brevity, cogency, and lyric quality of what he wrote … won wide acclaim and … he was constantly asked to provide inscriptions” until his death in 1926. He achieved considerable “success in this difficult form of composition…. it meant not only the happy exercise of his gift for concise and descriptive phrasing, but also appealed to his experience as a mathematician” because the words had to fit particular, sometimes restrictive spaces.

“In 1911, at the close of a long day’s work at Northeast Harbor, Maine, Mr. Eliot went out on his boat in company with two or three friends. Presently he produced a scrap of paper and an infinitesimal pencil and began to write. When he had finished, he read aloud the original draft of the two inscriptions for the Post Office at Washington. Possibly he had meditated these inscriptions for some time, but it appeared to those present like an inspiration of the moment. In time they came, unsigned, to the notice of President Wilson who made a few alterations and consigned the inscriptions to the stonecutters. Only later did he learn the name of the author.”—Ibid., Foreword by Grace Eliot Dudley, pp. 7, 9.
SUBJECTS: Postal Service