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THE LOVE AFFAIRS OF A BIBLIOMANIAC
BY EUGENE FIELD
The determination to found a story or a series of sketches on the
delights, adventures, and misadventures connected with
bibliomania did not come impulsively to my brother. For many
years, in short during the greater part of nearly a quarter of a
century of journalistic work, he had celebrated in prose and
verse, and always in his happiest and most delightful vein, the
pleasures of book-hunting. Himself an indefatigable collector of
books, the possessor of a library as valuable as it was
interesting, a library containing volumes obtained only at the
cost of great personal sacrifice, he was in the most active
sympathy with the disease called bibliomania, and knew, as few
comparatively poor men have known, the half-pathetic,
half-humorous side of that incurable mental infirmity.
The newspaper column, to which he contributed almost daily for
twelve years, comprehended many sly digs and gentle scoffings at
those of his unhappy fellow citizens who became notorious,
through his instrumentality, in their devotion to old
book-shelves and auction sales. And all the time none was more
assiduous than this same good-natured cynic in running down a
musty prize, no matter what its cost or what the attending
difficulties. ``I save others, myself I cannot save,'' was his
In his published writings are many evidences of my brother's
appreciation of what he has somewhere characterized the
``soothing affliction of bibliomania.'' Nothing of book-hunting
love has been more happily expressed than ``The Bibliomaniac's
Prayer,'' in which the troubled petitioner fervently asserts:
``But if, O Lord, it pleaseth Thee
To keep me in temptation's way,
I humbly ask that I may be
Most notably beset to-day;
Let my temptation be a book,
Which I shall purchase, hold and keep,
Whereon, when other men shall look,
They'll wail to know I got it cheap.''
And again, in ``The Bibliomaniac's Bride,'' nothing breathes
better the spirit of the incurable patient than this:
``Prose for me when I wished for prose,
Verse when to verse inclined,--
Forever bringing sweet repose
To body, heart and mind.
Oh, I should bind this priceless prize
In bindings full and fine,
And keep her where no human eyes
Should see her charms, but mine!''
In ``Dear Old London'' the poet wailed that ``a splendid Horace
cheap for cash'' laughed at his poverty, and in ``Dibdin's
Ghost'' he revelled in the delights that await the bibliomaniac
in the future state, where there is no admission to the women
folk who, ``wanting victuals, make a fuss if we buy books
instead''; while in ``Flail, Trask and Bisland'' is the very
essence of bibliomania, the unquenchable thirst for possession.
And yet, despite these self-accusations, bibliophily rather than
bibliomania would be the word to characterize his conscientious
purpose. If he purchased quaint and rare books it was to own
them to the full extent, inwardly as well as outwardly. The
mania for books kept him continually buying; the love of books
supervened to make them a part of himself and his life.
Toward the close of August of the present year my brother wrote
the first chapter of ``The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac.''
At that time he was in an exhausted physical condition and
apparently unfit for any protracted literary labor. But the
prospect of gratifying a long-cherished ambition, the delight of
beginning the story he had planned so hopefully, seemed to give
him new strength, and he threw himself into the work with an
enthusiasm that was, alas, misleading to those who had noted
fearfully his declining vigor of body. For years no literary
occupation had seemed to give him equal pleasure, and in the
discussion of the progress of his writing from day to day his eye
would brighten, all of his old animation would return, and
everything would betray the lively interest he felt in the
creature of his imagination in whom he was living over the
delights of the book-hunter's chase. It was his ardent wish that
this work, for the fulfilment of which he had been so long
preparing, should be, as he playfully expressed it, a monument of
apologetic compensation to a class of people he had so humorously
maligned, and those who knew him intimately will recognize in the
shortcomings of the bibliomaniac the humble confession of his own
It is easy to understand from the very nature of the undertaking
that it was practically limitless; that a bibliomaniac of so many
years' experience could prattle on indefinitely concerning his
``love affairs,'' and at the same time be in no danger of
repetition. Indeed my brother's plans at the outset were not
definitely formed. He would say, when questioned or joked about
these amours, that he was in the easy position of Sam Weller when
he indited his famous valentine, and could ``pull up'' at any
moment. One week he would contend that a book-hunter ought to be
good for a year at least, and the next week he would argue as
strongly that it was time to send the old man into winter
quarters and go to press. But though the approach of cold
weather increased his physical indisposition, he was not the
less interested in his prescribed hours of labor, howbeit his
weakness warned him that he should say to his book, as his much-
loved Horace had written:
``Fuge quo descendere gestis:
Non erit emisso reditis tibi.''
Was it strange that his heart should relent, and that he should
write on, unwilling to give the word of dismissal to the book
whose preparation had been a work of such love and solace?
During the afternoon of Saturday, November 2, the nineteenth
instalment of ``The Love Affairs'' was written. It was the
conclusion of his literary life. The verses supposably
contributed by Judge Methuen's friend, with which the chapter
ends, were the last words written by Eugene Field. He was at
that time apparently quite as well as on any day during the fall
months, and neither he nor any member of his family had the
slightest premonition that death was hovering about the
household. The next day, though still feeling indisposed, he
was at times up and about, always cheerful and full of that
sweetness and sunshine which, in his last years, seem now to have
been the preparation for the life beyond. He spoke of the
chapter he had written the day before, and it was then that he
outlined his plan of completing the work. One chapter only
remained to be written, and it was to chronicle the death of the
old bibliomaniac, but not until he had unexpectedly fallen heir
to a very rare and almost priceless copy of Horace, which
acquisition marked the pinnacle of the book-hunter's conquest.
True to his love for the Sabine singer, the western poet
characterized the immortal odes of twenty centuries gone the
greatest happiness of bibliomania.
In the early morning of November 4 the soul of Eugene Field
passed upward. On the table, folded and sealed, were the memoirs
of the old man upon whom the sentence of death had been
pronounced. On the bed in the corner of the room, with one arm
thrown over his breast, and the smile of peace and rest on his
tranquil face, the poet lay. All around him, on the shelves and
in the cases, were the books he loved so well. Ah, who shall say
that on that morning his fancy was not verified, and that as the
gray light came reverently through the window, those cherished
volumes did not bestir themselves, awaiting the cheery voice:
``Good day to you, my sweet friends. How lovingly they beam upon
me, and how glad they are that my rest has been unbroken.''
Could they beam upon you less lovingly, great heart, in the
chamber warmed by your affection and now sanctified by death?
Were they less glad to know that the repose would be unbroken
forevermore, since it came the glorious reward, my brother, of
the friend who went gladly to it through his faith, having
striven for it through his works?
ROSWELL MARTIN FIELD
Buena Park, December, 1895.
The Chapters in this Book
MY FIRST LOVE
THE BIRTH OF A NEW PASSION
THE LUXURY OF READING IN BED
THE MANIA OF COLLECTING SEIZES ME
BALDNESS AND INTELLECTUALITY
MY ROMANCE WITH FIAMMETTA
THE DELIGHTS OF FENDER-FISHING
BALLADS AND THEIR MAKERS
BOOKSELLERS AND PRINTERS, OLD AND NEW
WHEN FANCHONETTE BEWITCHED ME
DIAGNOSIS OF THE BACILLUS LIBRORUM
THE PLEASURES OF EXTRA-ILLUSTRATION
ON THE ODORS WHICH MY BOOKS EXHALE
ELZEVIRS AND DIVERS OTHER MATTERS
A BOOK THAT BRINGS SOLACE AND CHEER
THE MALADY CALLED CATALOGITIS
THE NAPOLEONIC RENAISSANCE
MY WORKSHOP AND OTHERS
OUR DEBT TO MONKISH MEN
MY FIRST LOVE
At this moment, when I am about to begin the most important
undertaking of my life, I recall the sense of abhorrence with
which I have at different times read the confessions of men famed
for their prowess in the realm of love. These boastings have
always shocked me, for I reverence love as the noblest of the
passions, and it is impossible for me to conceive how one who has
truly fallen victim to its benign influence can ever thereafter
speak flippantly of it.
Yet there have been, and there still are, many who take a seeming
delight in telling you how many conquests they have made, and
they not infrequently have the bad taste to explain with
wearisome prolixity the ways and the means whereby those
conquests were wrought; as, forsooth, an unfeeling huntsman is
forever boasting of the game he has slaughtered and is forever
dilating upon the repulsive details of his butcheries.
I have always contended that one who is in love (and having once
been in love is to be always in love) has, actually, no
confession to make. Love is so guileless, so proper, so pure a
passion as to involve none of those things which require or which
admit of confession. He, therefore, who surmises that in this
exposition of my affaires du coeur there is to be any betrayal of
confidences, or any discussion, suggestion, or hint likely either
to shame love or its votaries or to bring a blush to the cheek of
the fastidious--he is grievously in error.
Nor am I going to boast; for I have made no conquests. I am in
no sense a hero. For many, very many years I have walked in a
pleasant garden, enjoying sweet odors and soothing spectacles; no
predetermined itinerary has controlled my course; I have wandered
whither I pleased, and very many times I have strayed so far into
the tangle-wood and thickets as almost to have lost my way. And
now it is my purpose to walk that pleasant garden once more,
inviting you to bear me company and to share with me what
satisfaction may accrue from an old man's return to old-time
places and old-time loves.
As a child I was serious-minded. I cared little for those sports
which usually excite the ardor of youth. To out-of-door games
and exercises I had particular aversion. I was born in a
southern latitude, but at the age of six years I went to live
with my grandmother in New Hampshire, both my parents having
fallen victims to the cholera. This change from the balmy
temperature of the South to the rigors of the North was not
agreeable to me, and I have always held it responsible for that
delicate health which has attended me through life.
My grandmother encouraged my disinclination to play; she
recognized in me that certain seriousness of mind which I
remember to have heard her say I inherited from her, and she
determined to make of me what she had failed to make of any of
her own sons--a professional expounder of the only true faith of
Congregationalism. For this reason, and for the further reason
that at the tender age of seven years I publicly avowed my desire
to become a clergyman, an ambition wholly sincere at that time--
for these reasons was I duly installed as prime favorite in my
As distinctly as though it were but yesterday do I recall the
time when I met my first love. It was in the front room of the
old homestead, and the day was a day in spring. The front room
answered those purposes which are served by the so-called parlor
of the present time. I remember the low ceiling, the big
fireplace, the long, broad mantelpiece, the andirons and fender
of brass, the tall clock with its jocund and roseate moon, the
bellows that was always wheezy, the wax flowers under a glass
globe in the corner, an allegorical picture of Solomon's temple,
another picture of little Samuel at prayer, the high, stiff-back
chairs, the foot-stool with its gayly embroidered top, the mirror
in its gilt-and-black frame--all these things I remember well,
and with feelings of tender reverence, and yet that day I now
recall was well-nigh threescore and ten years ago!
Best of all I remember the case in which my grandmother kept her
books, a mahogany structure, massive and dark, with doors
composed of diamond-shaped figures of glass cunningly set in a
framework of lead. I was in my seventh year then, and I had
learned to read I know not when. The back and current numbers of
the ``Well-Spring'' had fallen prey to my insatiable appetite
for literature. With the story of the small boy who stole a pin,
repented of and confessed that crime, and then became a good and
great man, I was as familiar as if I myself had invented that
ingenious and instructive tale; I could lisp the moral numbers of
Watts and the didactic hymns of Wesley, and the annual reports of
the American Tract Society had already revealed to me the sphere
of usefulness in which my grandmother hoped I would ultimately
figure with discretion and zeal. And yet my heart was free;
wholly untouched of that gentle yet deathless passion which was
to become my delight, my inspiration, and my solace, it awaited
the coming of its first love.
Upon one of those shelves yonder--it is the third shelf from the
top, fourth compartment to the right--is that old copy of the
``New England Primer,'' a curious little, thin, square book in
faded blue board covers. A good many times I have wondered
whether I ought not to have the precious little thing sumptuously
attired in the finest style known to my binder; indeed, I have
often been tempted to exchange the homely blue board covers for
flexible levant, for it occurred to me that in this way I could
testify to my regard for the treasured volume. I spoke of this
one day to my friend Judge Methuen, for I have great respect for
``It would be a desecration,'' said he, ``to deprive the book of
its original binding. What! Would you tear off and cast away
the covers which have felt the caressing pressure of the hands of
those whose memory you revere? The most sacred of sentiments
should forbid that act of vandalism!''
I never think or speak of the ``New England Primer'' that I do
not recall Captivity Waite, for it was Captivity who introduced
me to the Primer that day in the springtime of sixty-three years
ago. She was of my age, a bright, pretty girl--a very pretty, an
exceptionally pretty girl, as girls go. We belonged to the same
Sunday-school class. I remember that upon this particular day
she brought me a russet apple. It was she who discovered the
Primer in the mahogany case, and what was not our joy as we
turned over the tiny pages together and feasted our eyes upon the
vivid pictures and perused the absorbingly interesting text!
What wonder that together we wept tears of sympathy at the
harrowing recital of the fate of John Rogers!
Even at this remote date I cannot recall that experience with
Captivity, involving as it did the wood-cut representing the
unfortunate Rogers standing in an impossible bonfire and being
consumed thereby in the presence of his wife and their numerous
progeny, strung along in a pitiful line across the picture for
artistic effect--even now, I say, I cannot contemplate that
experience and that wood-cut without feeling lumpy in my throat
and moist about my eyes.
How lasting are the impressions made upon the youthful mind!
Through the many busy years that have elapsed since first I
tasted the thrilling sweets of that miniature Primer I have not
forgotten that ``young Obadias, David, Josias, all were pious'';
that ``Zaccheus he did climb the Tree our Lord to see''; and that
``Vashti for Pride was set aside''; and still with many a
sympathetic shudder and tingle do I recall Captivity's
overpowering sense of horror, and mine, as we lingered long over
the portraitures of Timothy flying from Sin, of Xerxes laid out
in funeral garb, and of proud Korah's troop partly submerged.
My Book and Heart
Must never part.
So runs one of the couplets in this little Primer-book, and right
truly can I say that from the springtime day sixty-odd years ago,
when first my heart went out in love to this little book, no
change of scene or of custom no allurement of fashion, no demand
of mature years, has abated that love. And herein is exemplified
the advantage which the love of books has over the other kinds of
love. Women are by nature fickle, and so are men; their
friendships are liable to dissipation at the merest provocation
or the slightest pretext.
Not so, however, with books, for books cannot change. A thousand
years hence they are what you find them to-day, speaking the same
words, holding forth the same cheer, the same promise, the same
comfort; always constant, laughing with those who laugh and
weeping with those who weep.
Captivity Waite was an exception to the rule governing her sex.
In all candor I must say that she approached closely to a
realization of the ideals of a book--a sixteenmo, if you please,
fair to look upon, of clear, clean type, well ordered and well
edited, amply margined, neatly bound; a human book whose text, as
represented by her disposition and her mind, corresponded
felicitously with the comeliness of her exterior. This child was
the great-great-granddaughter of Benjamin Waite, whose family
was carried off by Indians in 1677. Benjamin followed the party
to Canada, and after many months of search found and ransomed the
The historian has properly said that the names of Benjamin Waite
and his companion in their perilous journey through the
wilderness to Canada should ``be memorable in all the sad or
happy homes of this Connecticut valley forever.'' The child who
was my friend in youth, and to whom I may allude occasionally
hereafter in my narrative, bore the name of one of the survivors
of this Indian outrage, a name to be revered as a remembrancer of
sacrifice and heroism.
THE BIRTH OF A NEW PASSION
When I was thirteen years old I went to visit my Uncle Cephas.
My grandmother would not have parted with me even for that
fortnight had she not actually been compelled to. It happened
that she was called to a meeting of the American Tract Society,
and it was her intention to pay a visit to her cousin, Royall
Eastman, after she had discharged the first and imperative duty
she owed the society. Mrs. Deacon Ranney was to have taken me
and provided for my temporal and spiritual wants during
grandmother's absence, but at the last moment the deacon came
down with one of his spells of quinsy, and no other alternative
remained but to pack me off to Nashua, where my Uncle Cephas
This involved considerable expense, for the stage fare was three
shillings each way: it came particularly hard on grandmother.
inasmuch as she had just paid her road tax and had not yet
received her semi-annual dividends on her Fitchburg Railway
stock. Indifferent, however, to every sense of extravagance and
to all other considerations except those of personal pride, I
rode away atop of the stage-coach, full of exultation. As we
rattled past the Waite house I waved my cap to Captivity and
indulged in the pleasing hope that she would be lonesome without
me. Much of the satisfaction of going away arises from the
thought that those you leave behind are likely to be wretchedly
miserable during your absence.
My Uncle Cephas lived in a house so very different from my
grandmother's that it took me some time to get used to the place.
Uncle Cephas was a lawyer, and his style of living was not at all
like grandmother's; he was to have been a minister, but at twelve
years of age he attended the county fair, and that incident
seemed to change the whole bent of his life. At twenty-one he
married Samantha Talbott, and that was another blow to
grandmother, who always declared that the Talbotts were a
shiftless lot. However, I was agreeably impressed with Uncle
Cephas and Aunt 'Manthy, for they welcomed me very cordially and
turned me over to my little cousins, Mary and Henry, and bade us
three make merry to the best of our ability. These first
favorable impressions of my uncle's family were confirmed when I
discovered that for supper we had hot biscuit and dried beef
warmed up in cream gravy, a diet which, with all due respect to
grandmother, I considered much more desirable than dry bread and
Aha, old Crusoe! I see thee now in yonder case smiling out upon
me as cheerily as thou didst smile those many years ago when to a
little boy thou broughtest the message of Romance! And I do love
thee still, and I shall always love thee, not only for thy
benefaction in those ancient days, but also for the light and the
cheer which thy genius brings to all ages and conditions of
My Uncle Cephas's library was stored with a large variety of
pleasing literature. I did not observe a glut of theological
publications, and I will admit that I felt somewhat aggrieved
personally when, in answer to my inquiry, I was told that there
was no ``New England Primer'' in the collection. But this
feeling was soon dissipated by the absorbing interest I took in
De Foe's masterpiece, a work unparalleled in the realm of
I shall not say that ``Robinson Crusoe'' supplanted the Primer in
my affections; this would not be true. I prefer to say what is
the truth; it was my second love. Here again we behold another
advantage which the lover of books has over the lover of women.
If he be a genuine lover he can and should love any number of
books, and this polybibliophily is not to the disparagement of
any one of that number. But it is held by the expounders of our
civil and our moral laws that he who loveth one woman to the
exclusion of all other women speaketh by that action the best and
highest praise both of his own sex and of hers.
I thank God continually that it hath been my lot in life to found
an empire in my heart--no cramped and wizened borough wherein
one jealous mistress hath exercised her petty tyranny, but an
expansive and ever-widening continent divided and subdivided into
dominions, jurisdictions, caliphates, chiefdoms, seneschalships,
and prefectures, wherein tetrarchs, burgraves, maharajahs,
palatines, seigniors, caziques, nabobs, emirs, nizams, and nawabs
hold sway, each over his special and particular realm, and all
bound together in harmonious cooperation by the conciliating
spirit of polybibliophily!
Let me not be misunderstood; for I am not a woman-hater. I do
not regret the acquaintances--nay, the friendships--I have formed
with individuals of the other sex. As a philosopher it has
behooved me to study womankind, else I should not have
appreciated the worth of these other better loves. Moreover, I
take pleasure in my age in associating this precious volume or
that with one woman or another whose friendship came into my life
at the time when I was reading and loved that book.
The other day I found my nephew William swinging in the hammock
on the porch with his girl friend Celia; I saw that the young
people were reading Ovid. ``My children,'' said I, ``count this
day a happy one. In the years of after life neither of you will
speak or think of Ovid and his tender verses without recalling at
the same moment how of a gracious afternoon in distant time you
sat side by side contemplating the ineffably precious promises of
maturity and love.''
I am not sure that I do not approve that article in Judge
Methuen's creed which insists that in this life of ours woman
serves a probationary period for sins of omission or of
commission in a previous existence, and that woman's next step
upward toward the final eternity of bliss is a period of longer
or of shorter duration, in which her soul enters into a book to
be petted, fondled, beloved and cherished by some good man--like
the Judge, or like myself, for that matter.
This theory is not an unpleasant one; I regard it as much more
acceptable than those so-called scientific demonstrations which
would make us suppose that we are descended from tree-climbing
and bug-eating simians. However, it is far from my purpose to
enter upon any argument of these questions at this time, for
Judge Methuen himself is going to write a book upon the subject,
and the edition is to be limited to two numbered and signed
copies upon Japanese vellum, of which I am to have one and the
Judge the other.
The impression I made upon Uncle Cephas must have been favorable,
for when my next birthday rolled around there came with it a book
from Uncle Cephas--my third love, Grimm's ``Household Stories.''
With the perusal of this monumental work was born that passion
for fairy tales and folklore which increased rather than
diminished with my maturer years. Even at the present time I
delight in a good fairy story, and I am grateful to Lang and to
Jacobs for the benefit they have conferred upon me and the rest
of English-reading humanity through the medium of the fairy books
and the folk tales they have translated and compiled.
Baring-Gould and Lady Wilde have done noble work in the same
realm; the writings of the former have interested me
particularly, for together with profound learning in directions
which are specially pleasing to me, Baring-Gould has a distinct
literary touch which invests his work with a grace indefinable
but delicious and persuasive.
I am so great a lover of and believer in fairy tales that I once
organized a society for the dissemination of fairy literature,
and at the first meeting of this society we resolved to demand of
the board of education to drop mathematics from the curriculum in
the public schools and to substitute therefor a four years'
course in fairy literature, to be followed, if the pupil desired,
by a post-graduate course in demonology and folk-lore. We hired
and fitted up large rooms, and the cause seemed to be flourishing
until the second month's rent fell due. It was then discovered
that the treasury was empty; and with this discovery the society
ended its existence, without having accomplished any tangible
result other than the purchase of a number of sofas and chairs,
for which Judge Methuen and I had to pay.
Still, I am of the opinion (and Judge Methuen indorses it) that
we need in this country of ours just that influence which the
fairy tale exerts. We are becoming too practical; the lust for
material gain is throttling every other consideration. Our babes
and sucklings are no longer regaled with the soothing tales of
giants, ogres, witches, and fairies; their hungry, receptive
minds are filled with stories about the pursuit and slaughter of
unoffending animals, of war and of murder, and of those
questionable practices whereby a hero is enriched and others are
impoverished. Before he is out of his swaddling-cloth the
modern youngster is convinced that the one noble purpose in life
is to get, get, get, and keep on getting of worldly material.
The fairy tale is tabooed because, as the sordid parent alleges,
it makes youth unpractical.
One consequence of this deplorable condition is, as I have
noticed (and as Judge Methuen has, too), that the human eye is
diminishing in size and fulness, and is losing its lustre. By as
much as you take the God-given grace of fancy from man, by so
much do you impoverish his eyes. The eye is so beautiful and
serves so very many noble purposes, and is, too, so ready in the
expression of tenderness, of pity, of love, of solicitude, of
compassion, of dignity, of every gentle mood and noble
inspiration, that in that metaphor which contemplates the eternal
vigilance of the Almighty we recognize the best poetic expression
of the highest human wisdom.
My nephew Timothy has three children, two boys and a girl. The
elder boy and the girl have small black eyes; they are as devoid
of fancy as a napkin is of red corpuscles; they put their pennies
into a tin bank, and they have won all the marbles and jack-
stones in the neighborhood. They do not believe in Santa Claus
or in fairies or in witches; they know that two nickels make a
dime, and their golden rule is to do others as others would do
them. The other boy (he has been christened Matthew, after me)
has a pair of large, round, deep-blue eyes, expressive of all
those emotions which a keen, active fancy begets.
Matthew can never get his fill of fairy tales, and how the dear
little fellow loves Santa Claus! He sees things at night; he
will not go to bed in the dark; he hears and understands what the
birds and crickets say, and what the night wind sings, and what
the rustling leaves tell. Wherever Matthew goes he sees
beautiful pictures and hears sweet music; to his impressionable
soul all nature speaks its wisdom and its poetry. God! how I
love that boy! And he shall never starve! A goodly share of
what I have shall go to him! But this clause in my will, which
the Judge recently drew for me, will, I warrant me, give the dear
child the greatest happiness:
``Item. To my beloved grandnephew and namesake, Matthew, I do
bequeath and give (in addition to the lands devised and the
stocks, bonds and moneys willed to him, as hereinabove specified)
the two mahogany bookcases numbered 11 and 13, and the contents
thereof, being volumes of fairy and folk tales of all nations,
and dictionaries and other treatises upon demonology, witchcraft,
mythology, magic and kindred subjects, to be his, his heirs, and
his assigns, forever.''
THE LUXURY OF READING IN BED
Last night, having written what you have just read about the
benefits of fairy literature, I bethought me to renew my
acquaintance with some of those tales which so often have
delighted and solaced me. So I piled at least twenty chosen
volumes on the table at the head of my bed, and I daresay it was
nigh daylight when I fell asleep. I began my entertainment with
several pages from Keightley's ``Fairy Mythology,'' and followed
it up with random bits from Crofton Croker's ``Traditions of the
South of Ireland,'' Mrs. Carey's ``Legends of the French
Provinces,'' Andrew Lang's Green, Blue and Red fairy books,
Laboulaye's ``Last Fairy Tales,'' Hauff's ``The Inn in the
Spessart,'' Julia Goddard's ``Golden Weathercock,'' Frere's
``Eastern Fairy Legends,'' Asbjornsen's ``Folk Tales,'' Susan
Pindar's ``Midsummer Fays,'' Nisbit Bain's ``Cossack Fairy
Tales,'' etc., etc.
I fell asleep with a copy of Villamaria's fairy stories in my
hands, and I had a delightful dream wherein, under the protection
and guidance of my fairy godmother, I undertook the rescue of a
beautiful princess who had been enchanted by a cruel witch and
was kept in prison by the witch's son, a hideous ogre with seven
heads, whose companions were four equally hideous dragons.
This undertaking in which I was engaged involved a period of five
years, but time is of precious little consideration to one when
he is dreaming of exploits achieved in behalf of a beautiful
princess. My fairy godmother (she wore a mob-cap and was
hunchbacked) took good care of me, and conducted me safely
through all my encounters with demons, giants, dragons, witches,
serpents, hippogriffins, ogres, etc.; and I had just rescued the
princess and broken the spell which bound her, and we were about
to ``live in peace to the end of our lives,'' when I awoke to
find it was all a dream, and that the gas-light over my bed had
been blazing away during the entire period of my five-year war
for the delectable maiden.
This incident gives me an opportunity to say that observation has
convinced me that all good and true book-lovers practise the
pleasing and improving avocation of reading in bed. Indeed, I
fully believe with Judge Methuen that no book can be appreciated
until it has been slept with and dreamed over. You recall,
perhaps, that eloquent passage in his noble defence of the poet
Archias, wherein Cicero (not Kikero) refers to his own pursuit of
literary studies: ``Haec studia adolescentiam alunt, senectutem
oblectant; secundas res ornant, adversis perfugium ac solatium
praebent; delectant domi, non impediunt foris; PERNOCTANT
nobiscum, peregrinantur, rusticantur!''
By the gods! you spoke tally, friend Cicero; for it is indeed so,
that these pursuits nourish our earlier and delight our later
years, dignifying the minor details of life and affording a
perennial refuge and solace; at home they please us and in no
vocation elsewhere do they embarrass us; they are with us by
night, they go with us upon our travels, and even upon our
retirement into the country do they accompany us!
I have italicized pernoctant because it is that word which
demonstrates beyond all possibility of doubt that Cicero made a
practice of reading in bed. Why, I can almost see him now,
propped up in his couch, unrolling scroll after scroll of his
favorite literature, and enjoying it mightily, too, which
enjoyment is interrupted now and then by the occasion which the
noble reader takes to mutter maledictions upon the slave who has
let the lamp run low of oil or has neglected to trim the wick.
``Peregrinantur?'' Indeed, they do share our peregrinations,
these literary pursuits do. If Thomas Hearne (of blessed
memory!) were alive to-day he would tell us that he used always
to take a book along with him whenever he went walking, and was
wont to read it as he strolled along. On several occasions (as
he tells us in his diary) he became so absorbed in his reading
that he missed his way and darkness came upon him before he knew
I have always wondered why book-lovers have not had more to say
of Hearne, for assuredly he was as glorious a collector as ever
felt the divine fire glow within him. His character is
exemplified in this prayer, which is preserved among other papers
of his in the Bodleian Library:
``O most gracious and merciful Lord God, wonderful is Thy
providence. I return all possible thanks to Thee for the care
Thou hast always taken of me. I continually meet with most
signal instances of this Thy providence, and one act yesterday,
when I unexpectedly met with three old MSS., for which, in a
particular manner, I return my thanks, beseeching Thee to
continue the same protection to me, a poor, helpless sinner,''
Another prayer of Hearne's, illustrative of his faith in
dependence upon Divine counsel, was made at the time Hearne was
importuned by Dr. Bray, commissary to my Lord Bishop of London,
``to go to Mary-Land'' in the character of a missionary. ``O
Lord God, Heavenly Father, look down upon me with pity,'' cries
this pious soul, ``and be pleased to be my guide, now I am
importuned to leave the place where I have been educated in the
university. And of Thy great goodness I humbly desire Thee to
signify to me what is most proper for me to do in this affair.''
Another famous man who made a practice of reading books as he
walked the highways was Dr. Johnson, and it is recorded that he
presented a curious spectacle indeed, for his shortsightedness
compelled him to hold the volume close to his nose, and he
shuffled along, rather than walked, stepping high over shadows
and stumbling over sticks and stones.
But, perhaps, the most interesting story illustrative of the
practice of carrying one's reading around with one is that which
is told of Professor Porson, the Greek scholar. This human
monument of learning happened to be travelling in the same coach
with a coxcomb who sought to air his pretended learning by
quotations from the ancients. At last old Porson asked:
``Pri'thee, sir, whence comes that quotation?''
``From Sophocles,''quoth the vain fellow.
``Be so kind as to find it for me?'' asked Porson, producing a
copy of Sophocles from his pocket.
Then the coxcomb, not at all abashed, said that he meant not
Sophocles, but Euripides. Whereupon Porson drew from another
pocket a copy of Euripides and challenged the upstart to find the
quotation in question. Full of confusion, the fellow thrust his
head out of the window of the coach and cried to the driver:
``In heaven's name, put me down at once; for there is an old
gentleman in here that hath the Bodleian Library in his pocket!''
Porson himself was a veritable slave to the habit of reading in
bed. He would lie down with his books piled around him, then
light his pipe and start in upon some favorite volume. A jug of
liquor was invariably at hand, for Porson was a famous drinker.
It is related that on one occasion he fell into a boosy slumber,
his pipe dropped out of his mouth and set fire to the bed-
clothes. But for the arrival of succor the tipsy scholar would
surely have been cremated.
Another very slovenly fellow was De Quincey, and he was devoted
to reading in bed. But De Quincey was a very vandal when it came
to the care and use of books. He never returned volumes he
borrowed, and he never hesitated to mutilate a rare book in order
to save himself the labor and trouble of writing out a quotation.
But perhaps the person who did most to bring reading in bed into
evil repute was Mrs. Charles Elstob, ward and sister of the Canon
of Canterbury (circa 1700). In his ``Dissertation on
Letter-Founders,'' Rowe Mores describes this woman as the
``indefessa comes'' of her brother's studies, a female student in
Oxford. She was, says Mores, a northern lady of an ancient
family and a genteel fortune, ``but she pursued too much the drug
called learning, and in that pursuit failed of being careful of
any one thing necessary. In her latter years she was tutoress in
the family of the Duke of Portland, where we visited her in her
sleeping-room at Bulstrode, surrounded with books and dirtiness,
the usual appendages of folk of learning!''
There is another word which Cicero uses--for I have still
somewhat more to say of that passage from the oration ``pro
Archia poeta''--the word ``rusticantur,'' which indicates that
civilization twenty centuries ago made a practice of taking books
out into the country for summer reading. ``These literary
pursuits rusticate with us,'' says Cicero, and thus he presents
to us a pen-picture of the Roman patrician stretched upon the
cool grass under the trees, perusing the latest popular romance,
while, forsooth, in yonder hammock his dignified spouse swings
slowly to and fro, conning the pages and the colored plates of
the current fashion journal. Surely in the telltale word
``rusticantur'' you and I and the rest of human nature find a
worthy precedent and much encouragement for our practice of
loading up with plenty of good reading before we start for the
scene of our annual summering.
As for myself, I never go away from home that I do not take a
trunkful of books with me, for experience has taught me that
there is no companionship better than that of these friends, who,
however much all things else may vary, always give the same
response to my demand upon their solace and their cheer. My
sister, Miss Susan, has often inveighed against this practice of
mine, and it was only yesterday that she informed me that I was
the most exasperating man in the world.
However, as Miss Susan's experience with men during the
sixty-seven hot summers and sixty-eight hard winters of her life
has been somewhat limited, I think I should bear her criticism
without a murmur. Miss Susan is really one of the kindest
creatures in all the world. It is her misfortune that she has
had all her life an insane passion for collecting crockery, old
pewter, old brass, old glass, old furniture and other trumpery of
that character; a passion with which I have little sympathy. I
do not know that Miss Susan is prouder of her collection of all
this folderol than she is of the fact that she is a spinster.
This latter peculiarity asserts itself upon every occasion
possible. I recall an unpleasant scene in the omnibus last
winter, when the obsequious conductor, taking advantage of my
sister's white hair and furrowed cheeks, addressed that estimable
lady as ``Madam.'' I'd have you know that my sister gave the
fellow to understand very shortly and in very vigorous English
(emphasized with her blue silk umbrella) that she was Miss Susan,
and that she did not intend to be Madamed by anybody, under any
THE MANIA OF COLLECTING SEIZES ME
Captivity Waite never approved of my fondness for fairy
literature. She shared the enthusiasm which I expressed whenever
``Robinson Crusoe'' was mentioned; there was just enough
seriousness in De Foe's romance, just enough piety to appeal for
sympathy to one of Captivity Waite's religious turn of mind.
When it came to fiction involving witches, ogres, and flubdubs,
that was too much for Captivity, and the spirit of the little
Yet I have the documentary evidence to prove that Captivity's
ancestors (both paternal and maternal) were, in the palmy
colonial times, as abject slaves to superstition as could well be
imagined. The Waites of Salem were famous persecutors of
witches, and Sinai Higginbotham (Captivity's great-great-
grandfather on her mother's side of the family) was Cotton
Mather's boon companion, and rode around the gallows with that
zealous theologian on that memorable occasion when five young
women were hanged at Danvers upon the charge of having tormented
little children with their damnable arts of witchcraft. Human
thought is like a monstrous pendulum: it keeps swinging from one
extreme to the other. Within the compass of five generations we
find the Puritan first an uncompromising believer in demonology
and magic, and then a scoffer at everything involving the play of
I felt harshly toward Captivity Waite for a time, but I harbor
her no ill-will now; on the contrary, I recall with very tender
feelings the distant time when our sympathies were the same and
when we journeyed the pathway of early youth in a companionship
sanctified by the innocence and the loyalty and the truth of
childhood. Indeed, I am not sure that that early friendship did
not make a lasting impression upon my life; I have thought of
Captivity Waite a great many times, and I have not unfrequently
wondered what might have been but for that book of fairy tales
which my Uncle Cephas sent me.
She was a very pretty child, and she lost none of her comeliness
and none of her sweetness of character as she approached
maturity. I was impressed with this upon my return from college.
She, too, had pursued those studies deemed necessary to the
acquirement of a good education; she had taken a four years'
course at South Holyoke and had finished at Mrs. Willard's
seminary at Troy. ``You will now,'' said her father, and he
voiced the New England sentiment regarding young womanhood; ``you
will now return to the quiet of your home and under the direction
of your mother study the performance of those weightier duties
which qualify your sex for a realization of the solemn
responsibilities of human life.''
Three or four years ago a fine-looking young fellow walked in
upon me with a letter of introduction from his mother. He was
Captivity Waite's son! Captivity is a widow now, and she is
still living in her native State, within twenty miles of the
spot where she was born. Colonel Parker, her husband, left her a
good property when he died, and she is famous for her charities.
She has founded a village library, and she has written me on
several occasions for advice upon proposed purchases of books.
I don't mind telling you that I had a good deal of malicious
pleasure in sending her not long ago a reminder of old times in
these words: ``My valued friend,'' I wrote, ``I see by the
catalogue recently published that your village library contains,
among other volumes representing the modern school of fiction,
eleven copies of `Trilby' and six copies of `The Heavenly Twins.'
I also note an absence of certain works whose influence upon my
earlier life was such that I make bold to send copies of the same
to your care in the hope that you will kindly present them to the
library with my most cordial compliments. These are a copy each
of the `New England Primer' and Grimm's `Household Stories.' ''
At the age of twenty-three, having been graduated from college
and having read the poems of Villon, the confessions of Rousseau,
and Boswell's life of Johnson, I was convinced that I had
comprehended the sum of human wisdom and knew all there was worth
knowing. If at the present time--for I am seventy-two--I knew
as much as I thought I knew at twenty-three I should undoubtedly
be a prodigy of learning and wisdom.
I started out to be a philosopher. My grandmother's death during
my second year at college possessed me of a considerable sum of
money and severed every tie and sentimental obligation which had
previously held me to my grandmother's wish that I become a
minister of the gospel. When I became convinced that I knew
everything I conceived a desire to see something, for I had
traveled none and I had met but few people.
Upon the advice of my Uncle Cephas, I made a journey to Europe,
and devoted two years to seeing sights and to acquainting myself
with the people and the customs abroad. Nine months of this time
I spent in Paris, which was then an irregular and unkempt city,
but withal quite as evil as at present. I took apartments in the
Latin Quarter, and, being of a generous nature, I devoted a
large share of my income to the support of certain artists and
students whose talents and time were expended almost exclusively
in the pursuit of pleasure.
While thus serving as a visible means of support to this horde of
parasites, I fell in with the man who has since then been my
intimate friend. Judge Methuen was a visitor in Paris, and we
became boon companions. It was he who rescued me from the
parasites and revived the flames of honorable ambition, which had
well-nigh been extinguished by the wretched influence of Villon
and Rousseau. The Judge was a year my senior, and a wealthy
father provided him with the means for gratifying his wholesome
and refined tastes. We two went together to London, and it was
during our sojourn in that capital that I began my career as a
collector of books. It is simply justice to my benefactor to say
that to my dear friend Methuen I am indebted for the inspiration
which started me upon a course so full of sweet surprises and
There are very many kinds of book collectors, but I think all may
be grouped in three classes, viz.: Those who collect from
vanity; those who collect for the benefits of learning; those who
collect through a veneration and love for books. It is not
unfrequent that men who begin to collect books merely to gratify
their personal vanity find themselves presently so much in love
with the pursuit that they become collectors in the better sense.
Just as a man who takes pleasure in the conquest of feminine
hearts invariably finds himself at last ensnared by the very
passion which he has been using simply for the gratification of
his vanity, I am inclined to think that the element of vanity
enters, to a degree, into every phase of book collecting; vanity
is, I take it, one of the essentials to a well-balanced
character--not a prodigious vanity, but a prudent, well-governed
one. But for vanity there would be no competition in the world;
without competition there would be no progress.
In these later days I often hear this man or that sneered at
because, forsooth, he collects books without knowing what the
books are about. But for my part, I say that that man bids fair
to be all right; he has made a proper start in the right
direction, and the likelihood is that, other things being equal,
he will eventually become a lover, as well as a buyer, of books.
Indeed, I care not what the beginning is, so long as it be a
beginning. There are different ways of reaching the goal. Some
folk go horseback via the royal road, but very many others are
compelled to adopt the more tedious processes, involving rocky
pathways and torn shoon and sore feet.
So subtile and so infectious is this grand passion that one is
hardly aware of its presence before it has complete possession of
him; and I have known instances of men who, after having
associated one evening with Judge Methuen and me, have waked up
the next morning filled with the incurable enthusiasm of
bibliomania. But the development of the passion is not always
marked by exhibitions of violence; sometimes, like the measles,
it is slow and obstinate about ``coming out,'' and in such cases
applications should be resorted to for the purpose of diverting
the malady from the vitals; otherwise serious results may ensue.
Indeed, my learned friend Dr. O'Rell has met with several cases
(as he informs me) in which suppressed bibliomania has resulted
fatally. Many of these cases have been reported in that
excellent publication, the ``Journal of the American Medical
Association,'' which periodical, by the way, is edited by
ex-Surgeon-General Hamilton, a famous collector of the literature
of ornament and dress.
To make short of a long story, the medical faculty is nearly a
unit upon the proposition that wherever suppressed bibliomania is
suspected immediate steps should be taken to bring out the
disease. It is true that an Ohio physician, named Woodbury, has
written much in defence of the theory that bibliomania can be
aborted; but a very large majority of his profession are of the
opinion that the actual malady must needs run a regular course,
and they insist that the cases quoted as cured by Woodbury were
not genuine, but were bastard or false phases, of the same class
as the chickenpox and the German measles.
My mania exhibited itself first in an affectation for old books;
it mattered not what the book itself was--so long as it bore an
ancient date upon its title-page or in its colophon I pined to
possess it. This was not only a vanity, but a very silly one.
In a month's time I had got together a large number of these old
tomes, many of them folios, and nearly all badly worm-eaten, and
One day I entered a shop kept by a man named Stibbs, and asked if
I could procure any volumes of sixteenth-century print.
``Yes,'' said Mr. Stibbs, ``we have a cellarful of them, and we
sell them by the ton or by the cord.''
That very day I dispersed my hoard of antiques, retaining only my
Prynne's ``Histrio-Mastix'' and my Opera Quinti Horatii Flacci
(8vo, Aldus, Venetiis, 1501). And then I became interested in
British balladry--a noble subject, for which I have always had a
veneration and love, as the well-kept and profusely annotated
volumes in cases 3, 6, and 9 in the front room are ready to prove
to you at any time you choose to visit my quiet, pleasant home.
BALDNESS AND INTELLECTUALITY
One of Judge Methuen's pet theories is that the soul in the human
body lies near the center of gravity; this is, I believe, one of
the tenets of the Buddhist faith, and for a long time I eschewed
it as one might shun a vile thing, for I feared lest I should
become identified even remotely with any faith or sect other than
Yet I noticed that in moments of fear or of joy or of the sense
of any other emotion I invariably experienced a feeling of
goneness in the pit of my stomach, as if, forsooth, the center of
my physical system were also the center of my nervous and
intellectual system, the point at which were focused all those
devious lines of communication by means of which sensation is
instantaneously transmitted from one part of the body to another.
I mentioned this circumstance to Judge Methuen, and it seemed to
please him. ``My friend,'' said he, ``you have a particularly
sensitive soul; I beg of you to exercise the greatest prudence in
your treatment of it. It is the best type of the bibliomaniac
soul, for the quickness of its apprehensions betokens that it is
alert and keen and capable of instantaneous impressions and
enthusiasms. What you have just told me convinces me that you
are by nature qualified for rare exploits in the science and art
of book-collecting. You will presently become bald--perhaps as
bald as Thomas Hobbes was--for a vigilant and active soul
invariably compels baldness, so close are the relations between
the soul and the brain, and so destructive are the growth and
operations of the soul to those vestigial features which humanity
has inherited from those grosser animals, our prehistoric
You see by this that Judge Methuen recognized baldness as
prima-facie evidence of intellectuality and spirituality. He has
collected much literature upon the subject, and has promised the
Academy of Science to prepare and read for the instruction of
that learned body an essay demonstrating that absence of hair
from the cranium (particularly from the superior regions of the
frontal and parietal divisions) proves a departure from the
instincts and practices of brute humanity, and indicates surely
the growth of the understanding.
It occurred to the Judge long ago to prepare a list of the names
of the famous bald men in the history of human society, and this
list has grown until it includes the names of thousands,
representing every profession and vocation. Homer, Socrates,
Confucius, Aristotle, Plato, Cicero, Pliny, Maecenas, Julius
Caesar, Horace, Shakespeare, Bacon, Napoleon Bonaparte, Dante,
Pope, Cowper, Goldsmith, Wordsworth, Israel Putnam, John Quincy
Adams, Patrick Henry--these geniuses all were bald. But the
baldest of all was the philosopher Hobbes, of whom the revered
John Aubrey has recorded that ``he was very bald, yet within dore
he used to study and sitt bare-headed, and said he never took
cold in his head, but that the greatest trouble was to keepe off
the flies from pitching on the baldness.''
In all the portraits and pictures of Bonaparte which I have seen,
a conspicuous feature is that curl or lock of hair which depends
upon the emperor's forehead, and gives to the face a pleasant
degree of picturesque distinction. Yet this was a vanity, and
really a laughable one; for early in life Bonaparte began to get
bald, and this so troubled him that he sought to overcome the
change it made in his appearance by growing a long strand of hair
upon his occiput and bringing it forward a goodly distance in
such artful wise that it right ingeniously served the purposes of
that Hyperion curl which had been the pride of his youth, but
which had fallen early before the ravages of time.
As for myself, I do not know that I ever shared that derisive
opinion in which the unthinking are wont to hold baldness. Nay,
on the contrary, I have always had especial reverence for this
mark of intellectuality, and I agree with my friend Judge Methuen
that the tragic episode recorded in the second chapter of II.
Kings should serve the honorable purpose of indicating to
humanity that bald heads are favored with the approval and the
protection of Divinity.
In my own case I have imputed my early baldness to growth in
intellectuality and spirituality induced by my fondness for and
devotion to books. Miss Susan, my sister, lays it to other
causes, first among which she declares to be my unnatural
practice of reading in bed, and the second my habit of eating
welsh-rarebits late of nights. Over my bed I have a gas-jet so
properly shaded that the rays of light are concentrated and
reflected downward upon the volume which I am reading.
Miss Susan insists that much of this light and its attendant heat
falls upon my head, compelling there a dryness of the scalp
whereby the follicles have been deprived of their natural
nourishment and have consequently died. She furthermore
maintains that the welsh-rarebits of which I partake invariably
at the eleventh hour every night breed poisonous vapors and
subtle megrims within my stomach, which humors, rising by their
natural courses to my brain, do therein produce a fever that
from within burneth up the fluids necessary to a healthy
condition of the capillary growth upon the super-adjacent and
exterior cranial integument.
Now, this very declaration of Miss Susan's gives me a potent
argument in defence of my practices, for, being bald, would not a
neglect of those means whereby warmth is engendered where it is
needed result in colds, quinsies, asthmas, and a thousand other
banes? The same benignant Providence which, according to
Laurence Sterne, tempereth the wind to the shorn lamb provideth
defence and protection for the bald. Had I not loved books, the
soul in my midriff had not done away with those capillary
vestiges of my simian ancestry which originally flourished upon
my scalp; had I not become bald, the delights and profits of
reading in bed might never have fallen to my lot.
And indeed baldness has its compensations; when I look about me
and see the time, the energy, and the money that are continually
expended upon the nurture and tending of the hair, I am thankful
that my lot is what it is. For now my money is applied to the
buying of books, and my time and energy are devoted to the
reading of them.
To thy vain employments, thou becurled and pomaded Absalom!
Sweeter than thy unguents and cosmetics and Sabean perfumes is
the smell of those old books of mine, which from the years and
from the ship's hold and from constant companionship with sages
and philosophers have acquired a fragrance that exalteth the soul
and quickeneth the intellectuals! Let me paraphrase my dear
Chaucer and tell thee, thou waster of substances, that
For me was lever han at my beddes hed
A twenty bokes, clothed in black and red
Of Aristotle and his philosophie,
Than robes rich, or fidel, or sautrie;
But all be that I ben a philosopher
Yet have I but litel gold in cofre!
Books, books, books--give me ever more books, for they are the
caskets wherein we find the immortal expressions of humanity
--words, the only things that live forever! I bow reverently to
the bust in yonder corner whenever I recall what Sir John
Herschel (God rest his dear soul!) said and wrote: ``Were I to
pay for a taste that should stand me in stead under every variety
of circumstances and be a source of happiness and cheerfulness to
me during life, and a shield against its ills, however things
might go amiss and the world frown upon me, it would be a taste
for reading. Give a man this taste and a means of gratifying it,
and you can hardly fail of making him a happy man; unless,
indeed, you put into his hands a most perverse selection of
books. You place him in contact with the best society in every
period of history--with the wisest, the wittiest, the tenderest,
the bravest, and the purest characters who have adorned humanity.
You make him a denizen of all nations, a contemporary of all
ages. The world has been created for him.''
For one phrase particularly do all good men, methinks, bless
burly, bearish, phrase-making old Tom Carlyle. ``Of all
things,'' quoth he, ``which men do or make here below by far the
most momentous, wonderful, and worthy are the things we call
books.'' And Judge Methuen's favorite quotation is from
Babington Macaulay to this effect: ``I would rather be a poor
man in a garret with plenty of books than a king who did not love
Kings, indeed! What a sorry lot are they! Said George III. to
Nicol, his bookseller: ``I would give this right hand if the
same attention had been paid to my education which I pay to that
of the prince.'' Louis XIV. was as illiterate as the lowliest
hedger and ditcher. He could hardly write his name; at first, as
Samuel Pegge tells us, he formed it out of six straight strokes
and a line of beauty, thus: | | | | | | S--which he afterward
perfected as best he could, and the result was LOUIS.
Still I find it hard to inveigh against kings when I recall the
goodness of Alexander to Aristotle, for without Alexander we
should hardly have known of Aristotle. His royal patron provided
the philosopher with every advantage for the acquisition of
learning, dispatching couriers to all parts of the earth to
gather books and manuscripts and every variety of curious thing
likely to swell the store of Aristotle's knowledge.
Yet set them up in a line and survey them--these wearers of
crowns and these wielders of scepters--and how pitiable are they
in the paucity and vanity of their accomplishments! What knew
they of the true happiness of human life? They and their
courtiers are dust and forgotten.
Judge Methuen and I shall in due time pass away, but our
courtiers--they who have ever contributed to our delight and
solace--our Horace, our Cervantes, our Shakespeare, and the rest
of the innumerable train--these shall never die. And inspired
and sustained by this immortal companionship we blithely walk the
pathway illumined by its glory, and we sing, in season and out,
the song ever dear to us and ever dear to thee, I hope, O gentle
Oh, for a booke and a shady nooke,
Eyther in doore or out,
With the greene leaves whispering overhead,
Or the streete cryes all about;
Where I maie reade all at my ease
Both of the newe and old,
For a jollie goode booke whereon to looke
Is better to me than golde!
MY ROMANCE WITH FIAMMETTA
My bookseller and I came nigh to blows some months ago over an
edition of Boccaccio, which my bookseller tried to sell me. This
was a copy in the original, published at Antwerp in 1603,
prettily rubricated, and elaborately adorned with some forty or
fifty copperplates illustrative of the text. I dare say the
volume was cheap enough at thirty dollars, but I did not want it.
My reason for not wanting it gave rise to that discussion between
my bookseller and myself, which became very heated before it
ended. I said very frankly that I did not care for the book in
the original, because I had several translations done by the most
competent hands. Thereupon my bookseller ventured that aged and
hackneyed argument which has for centuries done the book trade
such effective service--namely, that in every translation, no
matter how good that translation may be, there is certain to be
lost a share of the flavor and spirit of the meaning.
``Fiddledeedee!'' said I. ``Do you suppose that these
translators who have devoted their lives to the study and
practice of the art are not competent to interpret the different
shades and colors of meaning better than the mere dabbler in
foreign tongues? And then, again, is not human life too short
for the lover of books to spend his precious time digging out the
recondite allusions of authors, lexicon in hand? My dear sir, it
is a wickedly false economy to expend time and money for that
which one can get done much better and at a much smaller
expenditure by another hand.''
From my encounter with my bookseller I went straight home and
took down my favorite copy of the ``Decameron'' and thumbed it
over very tenderly; for you must know that I am particularly
attached to that little volume. I can hardly realize that nearly
half a century has elapsed since Yseult Hardynge and I parted.
She was such a creature as the great novelist himself would have
chosen for a heroine; she had the beauty and the wit of those
Florentine ladies who flourished in the fourteenth century, and
whose graces of body and mind have been immortalized by
Boccaccio. Her eyes, as I particularly recall, were specially
fine, reflecting from their dark depths every expression of her
Why I called her Fiammetta I cannot say, for I do not remember;
perhaps from a boyish fancy, merely. At that time Boccaccio and
I were famous friends; we were together constantly, and his
companionship had such an influence upon me that for the nonce I
lived and walked and had my being in that distant, romantic
period when all men were gallants and all women were grandes
dames and all birds were nightingales.
I bought myself an old Florentine sword at Noseda's in the Strand
and hung it on the wall in my modest apartments; under it I
placed Boccaccio's portrait and Fiammetta's, and I was wont to
drink toasts to these beloved counterfeit presentments in
flagons (mind you, genuine antique flagons) of Italian wine.
Twice I took Fiammetta boating upon the Thames and once to view
the Lord Mayor's pageant; her mother was with us on both
occasions, but she might as well have been at the bottom of the
sea, for she was a stupid old soul, wholly incapable of sharing
or appreciating the poetic enthusiasms of romantic youth.
Had Fiammetta been a book--ah, unfortunate lady!--had she but
been a book she might still be mine, for me to care for lovingly
and to hide from profane eyes and to attire in crushed levant and
gold and to cherish as a best-beloved companion in mine age! Had
she been a book she could not have been guilty of the folly of
wedding with a yeoman of Lincolnshire--ah me, what rude
awakenings too often dispel the pleasing dreams of youth!
When I revisited England in the sixties, I was tempted to make an
excursion into Lincolnshire for the purpose of renewing my
acquaintance with Fiammetta. Before, however, I had achieved
that object this thought occurred to me: ``You are upon a
fool's errand; turn back, or you will destroy forever one of the
sweetest of your boyhood illusions! You seek Fiammetta in the
delusive hope of finding her in the person of Mrs. Henry Boggs;
there is but one Fiammetta, and she is the memory abiding in your
heart. Spare yourself the misery of discovering in the hearty,
fleshy Lincolnshire hussif the decay of the promises of years
ago; be content to do reverence to the ideal Fiammetta who has
built her little shrine in your sympathetic heart!''
Now this was strange counsel, yet it had so great weight with me
that I was persuaded by it, and after lying a night at the
Swan-and-Quiver Tavern I went back to London, and never again had
a desire to visit Lincolnshire.
But Fiammetta is still a pleasing memory--ay, and more than a
memory to me, for whenever I take down that precious book and
open it, what a host of friends do troop forth! Cavaliers,
princesses, courtiers, damoiselles, monks, nuns, equerries,
pages, maidens--humanity of every class and condition, and all
instinct with the color of the master magician, Boccaccio!
And before them all cometh a maiden with dark, glorious eyes, and
she beareth garlands of roses; the moonlight falleth like a
benediction upon the Florentine garden slope, and the night wind
seeketh its cradle in the laurel tree, and fain would sleep to
the song of the nightingale.
As for Judge Methuen, he loves his Boccaccio quite as much as I
do mine, and being somewhat of a versifier he has made a little
poem on the subject, a copy of which I have secured
surreptitiously and do now offer for your delectation:
One day upon a topmost shelf
I found a precious prize indeed,
Which father used to read himself,
But did not want us boys to read;
A brown old book of certain age
(As type and binding seemed to show),
While on the spotted title-page
Appeared the name ``Boccaccio.''
I'd never heard that name before,
But in due season it became
To him who fondly brooded o'er
Those pages a beloved name!
Adown the centuries I walked
Mid pastoral scenes and royal show;
With seigneurs and their dames I talked--
The crony of Boccaccio!
Those courtly knights and sprightly maids,
Who really seemed disposed to shine
In gallantries and escapades,
Anon became great friends of mine.
Yet was there sentiment with fun,
And oftentimes my tears would flow
At some quaint tale of valor done,
As told by my Boccaccio.
In boyish dreams I saw again
Bucolic belles and dames of court,
The princely youths and monkish men
Arrayed for sacrifice or sport.
Again I heard the nightingale
Sing as she sang those years ago
In his embowered Italian vale
To my revered Boccaccio.
And still I love that brown old book
I found upon the topmost shelf--
I love it so I let none look
Upon the treasure but myself!
And yet I have a strapping boy
Who (I have every cause to know)
Would to its full extent enjoy
The friendship of Boccaccio!
But boys are, oh! so different now
From what they were when I was one!
I fear my boy would not know how
To take that old raconteur's fun!
In your companionship, O friend,
I think it wise alone to go
Plucking the gracious fruits that bend
Wheree'er you lead, Boccaccio.
So rest you there upon the shelf,
Clad in your garb of faded brown;
Perhaps, sometime, my boy himself
Shall find you out and take you down.
Then may he feel the joy once more
That thrilled me, filled me years ago
When reverently I brooded o'er
The glories of Boccaccio!
Out upon the vile brood of imitators, I say! Get ye gone, ye
Bandellos and ye Straparolas and ye other charlatans who would
fain possess yourselves of the empire which the genius of
Boccaccio bequeathed to humanity. There is but one master, and
to him we render grateful homage. He leads us down through the
cloisters of time, and at his touch the dead become reanimate,
and all the sweetness and the valor of antiquity recur; heroism,
love, sacrifice, tears, laughter, wisdom, wit, philosophy,
charity, and understanding are his auxiliaries; humanity is his
inspiration, humanity his theme, humanity his audience, humanity
Now it is of Tancred's daughter he tells, and now of
Rossiglione's wife; anon of the cozening gardener he speaks and
anon of Alibech; of what befell Gillette de Narbonne, of
Iphigenia and Cymon, of Saladin, of Calandrino, of Dianora and
Ansaldo we hear; and what subject soever he touches he quickens
it into life, and he so subtly invests it with that indefinable
quality of his genius as to attract thereunto not only our
sympathies but also our enthusiasm.
Yes, truly, he should be read with understanding; what author
should not? I would no more think of putting my Boccaccio into
the hands of a dullard than I would think of leaving a bright and
beautiful woman at the mercy of a blind mute.
I have hinted at the horror of the fate which befell Yseult
Hardynge in the seclusion of Mr. Henry Boggs's Lincolnshire
estate. Mr. Henry Boggs knew nothing of romance, and he cared
less; he was wholly incapable of appreciating a woman with dark,
glorious eyes and an expanding soul; I'll warrant me that he
would at any time gladly have traded a ``Decameron'' for a copy
of ``The Gentleman Poulterer,'' or for a year's subscription to
that grewsome monument to human imbecility, London ``Punch.''
Ah, Yseult! hadst thou but been a book!
THE DELIGHTS OF FENDER-FISHING
I should like to have met Izaak Walton. He is one of the few
authors whom I know I should like to have met. For he was a wise
man, and he had understanding. I should like to have gone
angling with him, for I doubt not that like myself he was more of
an angler theoretically than practically. My bookseller is a
famous fisherman, as, indeed, booksellers generally are, since
the methods employed by fishermen to deceive and to catch their
finny prey are very similar to those employed by booksellers to
attract and to entrap buyers.
As for myself, I regard angling as one of the best of avocations,
and although I have pursued it but little, I concede that
doubtless had I practised it oftener I should have been a better
man. How truly has Dame Juliana Berners said that ``at the
least the angler hath his wholesome walk and merry at his ease,
and a sweet air of the sweet savour of the mead flowers that
maketh him hungry; he heareth the melodious harmony of fowls; he
seeth the young swans, herons, ducks, cotes, and many other fowls
with their broods, which meseemeth better than all the noise of
hounds, the blasts of horns, and the cry of fowls that hunters,
falconers, and fowlers can make. And IF the angler take
fish--surely then is there no man merrier than he is in his
My bookseller cannot understand how it is that, being so
enthusiastic a fisherman theoretically, I should at the same time
indulge so seldom in the practice of fishing, as if, forsooth, a
man should be expected to engage continually and actively in
every art and practice of which he may happen to approve. My
young friend Edward Ayer has a noble collection of books relating
to the history of American aboriginals and to the wars waged
between those Indians and the settlers in this country; my other
young friend Luther Mills has gathered together a multitude of
books treating of the Napoleonic wars; yet neither Ayer nor Mills
hath ever slain a man or fought a battle, albeit both find
delectation in recitals of warlike prowess and personal valor. I
love the night and all the poetic influences of that quiet time,
but I do not sit up all night in order to hear the nightingale or
to contemplate the astounding glories of the heavens.
For similar reasons, much as I appreciate and marvel at the
beauties of early morning, I do not make a practice of early
rising, and sensible as I am to the charms of the babbling brook
and of the crystal lake, I am not addicted to the practice of
wading about in either to the danger either to my own health or
to the health of the finny denizens in those places.
The best anglers in the world are those who do not catch fish;
the mere slaughter of fish is simply brutal, and it was with a
view to keeping her excellent treatise out of the hands of the
idle and the inappreciative that Dame Berners incorporated that
treatise in a compendious book whose cost was so large that only
``gentyll and noble men'' could possess it. What mind has he
who loveth fishing merely for the killing it involves--what mind
has such a one to the beauty of the ever-changing panorama which
nature unfolds to the appreciative eye, or what communion has he
with those sweet and uplifting influences in which the meadows,
the hillsides, the glades, the dells, the forests, and the
Out upon these vandals, I say--out upon the barbarians who would
rob angling of its poesy, and reduce it to the level of the
butcher's trade! It becomes a base and vicious avocation, does
angling, when it ceases to be what Sir Henry Wotton loved to call
it--``an employment for his idle time, which was then not idly
spent; a rest to his mind, a cheerer of his spirits, a diverter
of sadness, a calmer of unquiet thoughts, a moderator of
passions, a procurer of contentedness, and a begetter of habits
of peace and patience in those that professed and practised it!''
There was another man I should like to have met--Sir Henry
Wotton; for he was an ideal angler. Christopher North, too (``an
excellent angler and now with God''!)--how I should love to
have explored the Yarrow with him, for he was a man of vast soul,
vast learning, and vast wit.
``Would you believe it, my dear Shepherd,'' said he, ``that my
piscatory passions are almost dead within me, and I like now to
saunter along the banks and braes, eying the younkers angling, or
to lay me down on some sunny spot, and with my face up to heaven,
watch the slow-changing clouds!''
THERE was the angling genius with whom I would fain go angling!
``Angling,'' says our revered St. Izaak, ``angling is somewhat
like poetry--men are to be born so.''
Doubtless there are poets who are not anglers, but doubtless
there never was an angler who was not also a poet. Christopher
North was a famous fisherman; he began his career as such when he
was a child of three years. With his thread line and bent-pin
hook the wee tot set out to make his first cast in ``a wee
burnie'' he had discovered near his home. He caught his fish,
too, and for the rest of the day he carried the miserable little
specimen about on a plate, exhibiting it triumphantly. With
that first experience began a life which I am fain to regard as
one glorious song in praise of the beauty and the beneficence of
My bookseller once took me angling with him in a Wisconsin lake
which was the property of a club of anglers to which my friend
belonged. As we were to be absent several days I carried along a
box of books, for I esteem appropriate reading to be a most
important adjunct to an angling expedition. My bookseller had
with him enough machinery to stock a whaling expedition, and I
could not help wondering what my old Walton would think, could he
drop down into our company with his modest equipment of hooks,
flies, and gentles.
The lake whither we went was a large and beautiful expanse, girt
by a landscape which to my fancy was the embodiment of poetic
delicacy and suggestion. I began to inquire about the chub,
dace, and trouts, but my bookseller lost no time in telling me
that the lake had been rid of all cheap fry, and had been stocked
with game fish, such as bass and pike.
I did not at all relish this covert sneer at traditions which I
have always reverenced, and the better acquainted I became with
my bookseller's modern art of angling the less I liked it. I
have little love for that kind of angling which does not admit of
a simultaneous enjoyment of the surrounding beauties of nature.
My bookseller enjoined silence upon me, but I did not heed the
injunction, for I must, indeed, have been a mere wooden effigy to
hold my peace amid that picturesque environment of hill, valley,
wood, meadow, and arching sky of clear blue.
It was fortunate for me that I had my ``Noctes Ambrosianae''
along, for when I had exhausted my praise of the surrounding
glories of nature, my bookseller would not converse with me; so I
opened my book and read to him that famous passage between Kit
North and the Ettrick Shepherd, wherein the shepherd discourses
boastfully of his prowess as a piscator of sawmon.
As the sun approached midheaven and its heat became
insupportable, I raised my umbrella; to this sensible proceeding
my bookseller objected--in fact, there was hardly any reasonable
suggestion I had to make for beguiling the time that my
bookseller did not protest against it, and when finally I
produced my ``Newcastle Fisher's Garlands'' from my basket, and
began to troll those spirited lines beginning
Away wi' carking care and gloom
That make life's pathway weedy O!
A cheerful glass makes flowers to bloom
And lightsome hours fly speedy O!
he gathered in his rod and tackle, and declared that it was no
use trying to catch fish while Bedlam ran riot.
As for me, I had a delightful time of it; I caught no fish, to be
sure: but what of that? I COULD have caught fish had I so
desired, but, as I have already intimated to you and as I have
always maintained and always shall, the mere catching of fish is
the least of the many enjoyments comprehended in the broad,
gracious art of angling.
Even my bookseller was compelled to admit ultimately that I was a
worthy disciple of Walton, for when we had returned to the club
house and had partaken of our supper I regaled the company with
many a cheery tale and merry song which I had gathered from my
books. Indeed, before I returned to the city I was elected an
honorary member of the club by acclamation--not for the number
of fish I had expiscated (for I did not catch one), but for that
mastery of the science of angling and the literature and the
traditions and the religion and the philosophy thereof which, by
the grace of the companionship of books, I had achieved.
It is said that, with his feet over the fender, Macaulay could
discourse learnedly of French poetry, art, and philosophy. Yet
he never visited Paris that he did not experience the most
exasperating difficulties in making himself understood by the
French customs officers.
In like manner I am a fender-fisherman. With my shins toasting
before a roaring fire, and with Judge Methuen at my side, I love
to exploit the joys and the glories of angling. The Judge is ``a
brother of the angle,'' as all will allow who have heard him tell
Father Prout's story of the bishop and the turbots or heard him
With angle rod and lightsome heart,
Our conscience clear, we gay depart
To pebbly brooks and purling streams,
And ne'er a care to vex our dreams.
And how could the lot of the fender-fisherman be happier? No
colds, quinsies or asthmas follow his incursions into the realms
of fancy where in cool streams and peaceful lakes a legion of
chubs and trouts and sawmon await him; in fancy he can hie away
to the far-off Yalrow and once more share the benefits of the
companionship of Kit North, the Shepherd, and that noble
Edinburgh band; in fancy he can trudge the banks of the
Blackwater with the sage of Watergrasshill; in fancy he can hear
the music of the Tyne and feel the wind sweep cool and fresh o'er
Coquetdale; in fancy, too, he knows the friendships which only he
can know--the friendships of the immortals whose spirits hover
where human love and sympathy attract them.
How well I love ye, O my precious books--my Prout, my Wilson, my
Phillips, my Berners, my Doubleday, my Roxby, my Chatto, my
Thompson, my Crawhall! For ye are full of joyousness and cheer,
and your songs uplift me and make me young and strong again.
And thou, homely little brown thing with worn leaves, yet more
precious to me than all jewels of the earth--come, let me take
thee from thy shelf and hold thee lovingly in my hands and press
thee tenderly to this aged and slow-pulsing heart of mine! Dost
thou remember how I found thee half a century ago all tumbled in
a lot of paltry trash? Did I not joyously possess thee for a
sixpence, and have I not cherished thee full sweetly all these
years? My Walton, soon must we part forever; when I am gone say
unto him who next shall have thee to his own that with his latest
breath an old man blessed thee!
BALLADS AND THEIR MAKERS
One of the most interesting spots in all London to me is Bunhill
Fields cemetery, for herein are the graves of many whose memory I
revere. I had heard that Joseph Ritson was buried here, and
while my sister, Miss Susan, lingered at the grave of her
favorite poet, I took occasion to spy around among the tombstones
in the hope of discovering the last resting-place of the curious
old antiquary whose labors in the field of balladry have placed
me under so great a debt of gratitude to him.
But after I had searched in vain for somewhat more than an hour
one of the keepers of the place told me that in compliance with
Ritson's earnest desire while living, that antiquary's grave was
immediately after the interment of the body levelled down and
left to the care of nature, with no stone to designate its
location. So at the present time no one knows just where old
Ritson's grave is, only that within that vast enclosure where so
many thousand souls sleep their last sleep the dust of the famous
ballad-lover lies fast asleep in the bosom of mother earth.
I have never been able to awaken in Miss Susan any enthusiasm for
balladry. My worthy sister is of a serious turn of mind, and I
have heard her say a thousand times that convivial songs (which
is her name for balladry) are inspirations, if not actually
compositions, of the devil. In her younger days Miss Susan
performed upon the melodeon with much discretion, and at one time
I indulged the delusive hope that eventually she would not
disdain to join me in the vocal performance of the best ditties
of D'Urfey and his ilk.
If I do say it myself, I had a very pretty voice thirty or forty
years ago, and even at the present time I can deliver the ballad
of King Cophetua and the beggar maid with amazing spirit when I
have my friend Judge Methuen at my side and a bowl of steaming
punch between us. But my education of Miss Susan ended without
being finished. We two learned to perform the ballad of Sir
Patrick Spens very acceptably, but Miss Susan abandoned the
copartnership when I insisted that we proceed to the sprightly
Life's short hours too fast are hasting--
Sweet amours cannot be lasting.
My physician, Dr. O'Rell, has often told me that he who has a
well-assorted ballad library should never be lonely, for the
limitations of balladly are so broad that within them are to be
found performances adapted to every mood to which humanity is
liable. And, indeed, my experience confirms the truth of my
physician's theory. It were hard for me to tell what delight I
have had upon a hot and gusty day in a perusal of the history of
Robin Hood, for there is such actuality in those simple rhymes as
to dispel the troublesome environments of the present and
transport me to better times and pleasanter scenes.
Aha! how many times have I walked with brave Robin in Sherwood
forest! How many times have Little John and I couched under the
greenwood tree and shared with Friar Tuck the haunch of juicy
venison and the pottle of brown October brew! And Will Scarlet
and I have been famous friends these many a year, and if
Allen-a-Dale were here he would tell you that I have trolled full
many a ballad with him in praise of Maid Marian's peerless
Who says that Sherwood is no more and that Robin and his merry
men are gone forever! Why, only yesternight I walked with them
in that gracious forest and laughed defiance at the doughty
sheriff and his craven menials. The moonlight twinkled and
sifted through the boscage, and the wind was fresh and cool.
Right merrily we sang, and I doubt not we should have sung the
whole night through had not my sister, Miss Susan, come tapping
at my door, saying that I had waked her parrot and would do well
to cease my uproar and go to sleep.
Judge Methuen has a copy of Bishop Percy's ``Reliques of Ancient
English Poetry'' that he prizes highly. It is the first edition
of this noble work, and was originally presented by Percy to Dr.
Birch of the British Museum. The Judge found these three volumes
exposed for sale in a London book stall, and he comprehended them
without delay--a great bargain, you will admit, when I tell you
that they cost the Judge but three shillings! How came these
precious volumes into that book stall I shall not presume to say.
Strange indeed are the vicissitudes which befall books, stranger
even than the happenings in human life. All men are not as
considerate of books as I am; I wish they were. Many times I
have felt the deepest compassion for noble volumes in the
possession of persons wholly incapable of appreciating them. The
helpless books seemed to appeal to me to rescue them, and too
many times I have been tempted to snatch them from their
inhospitable shelves, and march them away to a pleasant refuge
beneath my own comfortable roof tree.
Too few people seem to realize that books have feelings. But if
I know one thing better than another I know this, that my books
know me and love me. When of a morning I awaken I cast my eyes
about my room to see how fare my beloved treasures, and as I cry
cheerily to them, ``Good-day to you, sweet friends!'' how
lovingly they beam upon me, and how glad they are that my repose
has been unbroken. When I take them from their places, how
tenderly do they respond to the caresses of my hands, and with
what exultation do they respond unto my call for sympathy!
Laughter for my gayer moods, distraction for my cares, solace for
my griefs, gossip for my idler moments, tears for my sorrows,
counsel for my doubts, and assurance against my fears--these
things my books give me with a promptness and a certainty and a
cheerfulness which are more than human; so that I were less than
human did I not love these comforters and bear eternal gratitude
Judge Methuen read me once a little poem which I fancy mightily;
it is entitled ``Winfreda,'' and you will find it in your Percy,
if you have one. The last stanza, as I recall it, runs in this
And when by envy time transported
Shall seek to rob us of our joys,
You'll in our girls again be courted
And I'll go wooing in our boys.
``Now who was the author of those lines?'' asked the Judge.
``Undoubtedly Oliver Wendell Holmes,'' said I. ``They have the
flavor peculiar to our Autocrat; none but he could have done up
so much sweetness in such a quaint little bundle.''
``You are wrong,'' said the Judge, ``but the mistake is a natural
one. The whole poem is such a one as Holmes might have written,
but it saw the light long before our dear doctor's day: what a
pity that its authorship is not known!''
``Yet why a pity?'' quoth I. ``Is it not true that words are the
only things that live forever? Are we not mortal, and are not
books immortal? Homer's harp is broken and Horace's lyre is
unstrung, and the voices of the great singers are hushed; but
their songs--their songs are imperishable. O friend! what moots
it to them or to us who gave this epic or that lyric to
immortality? The singer belongs to a year, his song to all
time. I know it is the custom now to credit the author with his
work, for this is a utilitarian age, and all things are by the
pound or the piece, and for so much money.
``So when a song is printed it is printed in small type, and the
name of him who wrote it is appended thereunto in big type. If
the song be meritorious it goes to the corners of the earth
through the medium of the art preservative of arts, but the
longer and the farther it travels the bigger does the type of the
song become and the smaller becomes the type wherein the author's
name is set.
``Then, finally, some inconsiderate hand, wielding the pen or
shears, blots out or snips off the poet's name, and henceforth
the song is anonymous. A great iconoclast--a royal old
iconoclast--is Time: but he hath no terrors for those precious
things which are embalmed in words, and the only fellow that
shall surely escape him till the crack of doom is he whom men
know by the name of Anonymous!''
``Doubtless you speak truly,'' said the Judge; ``yet it would be
different if I but had the ordering of things. I would let the
poets live forever and I would kill off most of their poetry.''
I do not wonder that Ritson and Percy quarrelled. It was his
misfortune that Ritson quarrelled with everybody. Yet Ritson was
a scrupulously honest man; he was so vulgarly sturdy in his
honesty that he would make all folk tell the truth even though
the truth were of such a character as to bring the blush of shame
to the devil's hardened cheek.
On the other hand, Percy believed that there were certain true
things which should not be opened out in the broad light of day;
it was this deep-seated conviction which kept him from publishing
the manuscript folio, a priceless treasure, which Ritson never
saw and which, had it fallen in Ritson's way instead of Percy's,
would have been clapped at once into the hands of the printer.
How fortunate it is for us that we have in our time so great a
scholar as Francis James Child, so enamored of balladry and so
learned in it, to complete and finish the work of his
predecessors. I count myself happy that I have heard from the
lips of this enthusiast several of the rarest and noblest of the
old British and old Scottish ballads; and I recall with pride
that he complimented me upon my spirited vocal rendering of
``Burd Isabel and Sir Patrick,'' ``Lang Johnny More,'' ``The Duke
o' Gordon's Daughter,'' and two or three other famous songs which
I had learned while sojourning among the humbler classes in the
North of England.
After paying our compliments to the Robin Hood garlands, to
Scott, to Kirkpatrick Sharpe, to Ritson, to Buchan, to
Motherwell, to Laing, to Christie, to Jamieson, and to the other
famous lovers and compilers of balladry, we fell to discoursing
of French song and of the service that Francis Mahony performed
for English-speaking humanity when he exploited in his inimitable
style those lyrics of the French and the Italian people which are
now ours as much as they are anybody else's.
Dear old Beranger! what wonder that Prout loved him, and what
wonder that we all love him? I have thirty odd editions of his
works, and I would walk farther to pick up a volume of his
lyrics than I would walk to secure any other book, excepting of
course a Horace. Beranger and I are old cronies. I have for the
great master a particularly tender feeling, and all on account of
But there--you know nothing of Fanchonette, because I have not
told you of her. She, too, should have been a book instead of
the dainty, coquettish Gallic maiden that she was.
BOOKSELLERS AND PRINTERS, OLD AND NEW
Judge Methuen tells me that he fears what I have said about my
bookseller will create the impression that I am unkindly disposed
toward the bookselling craft. For the last fifty years I have
had uninterrupted dealings with booksellers, and none knows
better than the booksellers themselves that I particularly admire
them as a class. Visitors to my home have noticed that upon my
walls are hung noble portraits of Caxton, Wynkin de Worde,
Richard Pynson, John Wygthe, Rayne Wolfe, John Daye, Jacob
Tonson, Richard Johnes, John Dunton, and other famous old
printers and booksellers.
I have, too, a large collection of portraits of modern
booksellers, including a pen-and-ink sketch of Quaritch, a line
engraving of Rimell, and a very excellent etching of my dear
friend, the late Henry Stevens. One of the portraits is a
unique, for I had it painted myself, and I have never permitted
any copy to be made of it; it is of my bookseller, and it
represents him in the garb of a fisherman, holding his rod and
reel in one hand and the copy of the ``Compleat Angler'' in the
Mr. Curwen speaks of booksellers as being ``singularly thrifty,
able, industrious, and persevering--in some few cases singularly
venturesome, liberal, and kind-hearted.'' My own observation and
experience have taught me that as a class booksellers are
exceptionally intelligent, ranking with printers in respect to
the variety and extent of their learning.
They have, however, this distinct advantage over the
printers--they are not brought in contact with the manifold
temptations to intemperance and profligacy which environ the
votaries of the art preservative of arts. Horace Smith has said
that ``were there no readers there certainly would be no writers;
clearly, therefore, the existence of writers depends upon the
existence of readers: and, of course, since the cause must be
antecedent to the effect, readers existed before writers. Yet,
on the other hand, if there were no writers there could be no
readers; so it would appear that writers must be antecedent to
It amazes me that a reasoner so shrewd, so clear, and so exacting
as Horace Smith did not pursue the proposition further; for
without booksellers there would have been no market for
books--the author would not have been able to sell, and the
reader would not have been able to buy.
The further we proceed with the investigation the more satisfied
we become that the original man was three of number, one of him
being the bookseller, who established friendly relations between
the other two of him, saying: ``I will serve you both by
inciting both a demand and a supply.'' So then the author did
his part, and the reader his, which I take to be a much more
dignified scheme than that suggested by Darwin and his school of
By the very nature of their occupation booksellers are
broad-minded; their association with every class of humanity and
their constant companionship with books give them a liberality
that enables them to view with singular clearness and
dispassionateness every phase of life and every dispensation of
Providence. They are not always practical, for the development
of the spiritual and intellectual natures in man does not at the
same time promote dexterity in the use of the baser organs of the
body, I have known philosophers who could not harness a horse or
even shoo chickens.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once consumed several hours' time trying to
determine whether he should trundle a wheelbarrow by pushing it
or by pulling it. A. Bronson Alcott once tried to construct a
chicken coop, and he had boarded himself up inside the structure
before he discovered that he had not provided for a door or for
windows. We have all heard the story of Isaac Newton--how he
cut two holes in his study-door, a large one for his cat to enter
by, and a small one for the kitten.
This unworldliness--this impossibility, if you please--is
characteristic of intellectual progression. Judge Methuen's
second son is named Grolier; and the fact that he doesn't know
enough to come in out of the rain has inspired both the Judge and
myself with the conviction that in due time Grolier will become a
The mention of this revered name reminds me that my bookseller
told me the other day that just before I entered his shop a
wealthy patron of the arts and muses called with a volume which
he wished to have rebound.
``I can send it to Paris or to London,'' said my bookseller.
``If you have no choice of binder, I will entrust it to
Zaehnsdorf with instructions to lavish his choicest art upon
``But indeed I HAVE a choice,'' cried the plutocrat, proudly.
``I noticed a large number of Grolier bindings at the Art
Institute last week, and I want something of the same kind
myself. Send the book to Grolier, and tell him to do his
prettiest by it, for I can stand the expense, no matter what it
Somewhere in his admirable discourse old Walton has stated the
theory that an angler must be born and then made. I have always
held the same to be true of the bookseller. There are many, too
many, charlatans in the trade; the simon-pure bookseller enters
upon and conducts bookselling not merely as a trade and for the
purpose of amassing riches, but because he loves books and
because he has pleasure in diffusing their gracious influences.