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Title: Books and Bookmen
Author: Maclaren, Ian, 1850-1907
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Books and Bookmen" ***

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Transcribed from the 1912 James Nisbet & Co. edition by David Price,
email ccx074@pglaf.org

                         [Picture: Ian Maclaren]



                            BOOKS AND BOOKMEN


                                    BY
                               IAN MACLAREN

                                  London
                        JAMES NISBET & CO. LIMITED
                          22 BERNERS STREET, W.
                                   1912



BOOKS AND BOOKMEN


THEY cannot be separated any more than sheep and a shepherd, but I am
minded to speak of the bookman rather than of his books, and so it will
be best at the outset to define the tribe.

It does not follow that one is a bookman because he has many books, for
he may be a book huckster or his books may be those without which a
gentleman’s library is not complete.  And in the present imperfect
arrangement of life one may be a bookman and yet have very few books,
since he has not the wherewithal to purchase them.  It is the foolishness
of his kind to desire a loved author in some becoming dress, and his
fastidiousness to ignore a friend in a fourpence-halfpenny edition.  The
bookman, like the poet, and a good many other people, is born and not
made, and my grateful memory retains an illustration of the difference
between a bookowner and a bookman which I think is apropos.  As he was to
preside at a lecture I was delivering he had in his courtesy invited me
to dinner, which was excellent, and as he proposed to take the rôle that
night of a man who had been successful in business, but yet allowed
himself in leisure moments to trifle with literature, he desired to
create an atmosphere, and so he proposed with a certain imposing air that
we should visit what he called “my library.”  Across the magnificence of
the hall we went in stately procession, he first, with that kind of walk
by which a surveyor of taxes could have at once assessed his income, and
I, the humblest of the bookman tribe, following in the rear, trembling
like a skiff in the wake of an ocean liner.  “There,” he said, with his
thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat, “what do you think of that?” And
_that_ was without question a very large and ornate and costly mahogany
bookcase with glass doors.  Before I saw the doors I had no doubt about
my host, but they were a seal upon my faith, for although a bookman is
obliged to have one bit of glass in his garden for certain rare plants
from Russia and Morocco, to say nothing of the gold and white vellum lily
upon which the air must not be allowed to blow, especially when charged
with gas and rich in dust, yet he hates this conservatory, just as much
as he loves its contents.  His contentment is to have the flowers laid
out in open beds, where he can pluck a blossom at will.  As often as one
sees the books behind doors, and most of all when the doors are locked,
then he knows that the owner is not their lover, who keeps tryst with
them in the evening hours when the work of the day is done, but their
jailer, who has bought them in the market-place for gold, and holds them
in this foreign place by force.  It has seemed to me as if certain old
friends looked out from their prison with appealing glance, and one has
been tempted to break the glass and let, for instance, Elia go free.  It
would be like the emancipation of a slave.  Elia was not, good luck for
him, within this particular prison, and I was brought back from every
temptation to break the laws of property by my chairman, who was still
pursuing his catechism.  “What,” was question two, “do you think I paid
for _that_?”  It was a hopeless catechism, for I had never possessed
anything like _that_, and none of my friends had in their homes anything
like _that_, and in my wildest moments I had never asked the price of
such a thing as _that_.  As it loomed up before me in its speckless
respectability and insolence of solid wealth my English sense of
reverence for money awoke, and I confessed that this matter was too high
for me; but even then, casting a glance of deprecation in its direction,
I noticed _that_ was almost filled by a single work, and I wondered what
it could be.  “Cost £80 if it cost a penny, and I bought it second-hand
in perfect condition for £17, 5s., with the books thrown in—_All the Year
Round_ from the beginning in half calf;” and then we returned in
procession to the drawing-room, where my patron apologised for our
absence, and explained that when two bookmen got together over books it
was difficult to tear them away.  He was an admirable chairman, for he
occupied no time with a review of literature in his address, and he slept
without being noticed through mine (which is all I ask of a chairman),
and so it may seem ungrateful, but in spite of “_that_” and any books,
even Spenser and Chaucer, which _that_ might have contained, this Mæcenas
of an evening was not a bookman.

It is said, and now I am going to turn the application of a pleasant
anecdote upside down, that a Colonial squatter having made his pile and
bethinking himself of his soul, wrote home to an old friend to send him
out some chests of books, as many as he thought fit, and the best that he
could find.  His friend was so touched by this sign of grace that he
spent a month of love over the commission, and was vastly pleased when he
sent off, in the best editions and in pleasant binding, the very essence
of English literature.  It was a disappointment that the only
acknowledgment of his trouble came on a postcard, to say that the
consignment had arrived in good condition.  A year afterwards, so runs
the story, he received a letter which was brief and to the point.  “Have
been working over the books, and if anything new has been written by
William Shakespeare or John Milton, please send it out.”  I believe this
is mentioned as an instance of barbarism.  It cannot be denied that it
showed a certain ignorance of the history of literature, which might be
excused in a bushman, but it is also proved, which is much more
important, that he had the smack of letters in him, for being turned
loose without the guide of any training in this wide field, he fixed as
by instinct on the two classics of the English tongue.  With the help of
all our education, and all our reviews, could you and I have done better,
and are we not every day, in our approval of unworthy books, doing very
much worse?  Quiet men coming home from business and reading, for the
sixth time, some noble English classic, would smile in their modesty if
any one should call them bookmen, but in so doing they have a sounder
judgment in literature than coteries of clever people who go crazy for a
brief time over the tweetling of a minor poet, or the preciosity of some
fantastic critic.

There are those who buy their right to citizenship in the commonwealth of
bookmen, but this bushman was free-born, and the sign of the free-born
is, that without critics to aid him, or the training of a University, he
knows the difference between books which are so much printed stuff and a
good book which is “the Precious life-blood of a Master Spirit.”  The
bookman will of course upon occasion trifle with various kinds of
reading, and there is one member of the brotherhood who has a devouring
thirst for detective stories, and has always been very grateful to the
creator of _Sherlock Holmes_.  It is the merest pedantry for a man to
defend himself with a shamed face for his light reading: it is enough
that he should be able to distinguish between the books which come and go
and those which remain.  So far as I remember, _The Mystery of a Hansom
Cab_ and _John Inglesant_ came out somewhat about the same time, and
there were those of us who read them both; but while we thought the
_Hansom Cab_ a very ingenious plot which helped us to forget the tedium
of a railway journey, I do not know that there is a copy on our shelves.
Certainly it is not lying between _The Ordeal of Richard Feverel_ and
_The Mayor of Casterbridge_.  But some of us venture to think that in
that admirable historical romance which moves with such firm foot through
both the troubled England and the mysterious Italy of the seventeenth
century, Mr. Shorthouse won a certain place in English literature.

When people are raving between the soup and fish about some popular novel
which to-morrow will be forgotten, but which doubtless, like the moths
which make beautiful the summer-time, has its purpose in the world of
speech, it gives one bookman whom I know the keenest pleasure to ask his
fair companion whether she has read _Mark Rutherford_.  He is proudly
conscious at the time that he is a witness to perfection in a gay world
which is content with excitement, and he would be more than human if he
had not in him a touch of the literary Pharisee.  She has _not_ read
_Mark Rutherford_, and he does not advise her to seek it at the
circulating library, because it will not be there, and if she got it she
would never read more than ten pages.  Twenty thousand people will
greedily read _Twice Murdered and Once Hung_ and no doubt they have their
reward, while only twenty people read _Mark Rutherford_; but then the
multitude do not return to _Twice Murdered_, while the twenty turn again
and again to _Mark Rutherford_ for its strong thinking and its pure
sinewy English style.  And the children of the twenty thousand will not
know _Twice Murdered_, but the children of the twenty, with others added
to them, will know and love _Mark Rutherford_.  Mr. Augustine Birrell
makes it, I think, a point of friendship that a man should love George
Borrow, whom I think to appreciate is an excellent but an acquired taste;
there are others who would propose _Mark Rutherford_ and the _Revelation
in Tanner’s Lane_ as a sound test for a bookman’s palate.  But . . . de
gustibus . . . !

It is the chief office of the critic, while encouraging all honest work
which either can instruct or amuse, to distinguish between the books
which must be content to pass and the books which must remain because
they have an immortality of necessity.

According to the weightiest of French critics of our time the author of
such a book is one “who has enriched the human mind, who has really added
to its treasures, who has got it to take a step further . . . who has
spoken to all in a style of his own, yet a style which finds itself the
style of everybody, in a style that is at once new and antique, and is
the contemporary of all the ages.”  Without doubt Sainte-Beuve has here
touched the classical quality in literature as with a needle, for that
book is a classic to be placed beside Homer and Virgil and Dante and
Shakespeare—among the immortals—which has wisdom which we cannot find
elsewhere, and whose form has risen above the limitation of any single
age.  While ordinary books are houses which serve for a generation or two
at most, this kind of book is the Cathedral which towers above the
building at its base and can be seen from afar, in which many generations
shall find their peace and inspiration.  While other books are like the
humble craft which ply from place to place along the coast, this book is
as a stately merchantman which compasses the great waters and returns
with a golden argosy.

The subject of the book does not enter into the matter, and on subjects
the bookman is very catholic, and has an orthodox horror of all sects.
He does not require Mr. Froude’s delightful apology to win the _Pilgrim’s
Progress_ a place on his shelf, because, although the bookman may be far
removed from Puritanism, yet he knows that Bunyan had the secret of
English style, and although he may be as far from Romanism, yet he must
needs have his A’Kempis (especially in Pickering’s edition of 1828), and
when he places the two books side by side in the department of religion,
he has a standing regret that there is no _Pilgrim’s Progress_ also in
Pickering.

Without a complete Milton he could not be content.  He would like to have
Masson’s Life too in 6 vols. (with index), and he is apt to consider the
great Puritan’s prose still finer than his poetry, and will often take
down the Areopagitica that he may breathe the air of high latitudes; but
he has a corner in his heart for that evil living and mendacious bravo,
but most perfect artist, Benvenuto Cellini.  While he counts Gibbon’s
Rome, I mean the Smith and Milman edition in 8 vols., blue cloth, the
very model of histories, yet he revels in those books which are the
material for historians, the scattered stones out of which he builds his
house, such as the diaries of John Evelyn and our gossip Pepys, and that
scandalous book, _Grammont’s Memoirs_, and that most credulous but
interesting of Scots annalists, Robert Wodrow.

According to the bookman, but not, I am sorry to say, in popular
judgment, the most toothsome kind of literature is the Essay, and you
will find close to his hand a dainty volume of Lamb open perhaps at that
charming paper on “Imperfect Sympathies,” and though the bookman be a
Scot yet his palate is pleasantly tickled by Lamb’s description of his
national character—Lamb and the Scots did not agree through an
incompatibility of humour—and near by he keeps his Hazlitt, whom he
sometimes considers the most virile writer of the century: nor would he
be quite happy unless he could find in the dark _The Autocrat of the
Breakfast Table_.  He is much indebted to a London publisher for a very
careful edition of the _Spectator_, and still more to that good bookman,
Mr. Austin Dobson, for his admirable introduction.  As the bookman’s
father was also a bookman, for the blessing descendeth unto the third and
fourth generation, he was early taught to love De Quincey, and although,
being a truthful man, he cannot swear he has read every page in all the
fifteen volumes—roxburghe calf—yet he knows his way about in that
whimsical, discursive, but ever satisfying writer, who will write on
anything, or any person, always with freshness and in good English, from
the character of Judas Iscariot and “Murder as a Fine Art” to the Lake
Poets—there never was a Lake school—and the Essenes.  He has much to say
on Homer, and a good deal also on “Flogging in Schools”; he can hardly
let go Immanuel Kant, but if he does it is to give his views, which are
not favourable, of _Wilhelm Meister_; he is not above considering the art
of cooking potatoes or the question of whether human beings once had
tails, and in his theological moods he will expound St. John’s Epistles,
or the principles of Christianity.  The bookman, in fact, is a quite
illogical and irresponsible being, who dare not claim that he searches
for accurate information in his books as for fine gold, and he has been
known to say that that department of books of various kinds which come
under the head of “what’s what,” and “why’s why,” and “where’s where,”
are not literature.  He does not care, and that may be foolish, whether
he agrees with the writer, and there are times when he does not inquire
too curiously whether the writer be respectable, which is very wrong, but
he is pleased if this man who died a year ago or three hundred years has
seen something with his own eyes and can tell him what he saw in words
that still have in them the breath of life, and he will go with cheerful
inconsequence from Chaucer, the jolliest of all book companions, and
Rabelais—although that brilliant satirist had pages which the bookman
avoids, because they make his gorge rise—to Don Quixote.  If he carries a
Horace, Pickering’s little gem, in his waistcoat pocket, and sometimes
pictures that genial Roman club-man in the Savile, he has none the less
an appetite for Marcus Aurelius.  The bookman has a series of love
affairs before he is captured and settles down, say, with his favourite
novel, and even after he is a middle-aged married man he must confess to
one or two book friendships which are perilous to his inflammable heart.

In the days of calf love every boy has first tasted the sweetness of
literature in two of the best novels ever written, as well as two of the
best pieces of good English.  One is _Robinson Crusoe_ and the other the
_Pilgrim’s Progress_.  Both were written by masters of our tongue, and
they remain until this day the purest and most appetising introduction to
the book passion.  They created two worlds of adventure with minute vivid
details and constant surprises—the foot on the sand, for instance, in
_Crusoe_, and the valley of the shadow with the hobgoblin in _Pilgrim’s
Progress_—and one will have a tenderness for these two first loves even
until the end.  Afterwards one went afield and sometimes got into queer
company, not bad but simply a little common.  There was an endless series
of Red Indian stories in my school-days, wherein trappers could track the
enemy by a broken blade of grass, and the enemy escaped by coming down
the river under a log, and the price was sixpence each.  We used to pass
the tuck-shop at school for three days on end in order that we might
possess _Leaping Deer_, _the Shawnee Spy_.  We toadied shamefully to the
owner of _Bull’s Eye Joe_, who, we understood, had been the sole
protection of a frontier state.  Again and again have I tried to find one
of those early friends, and in many places have I inquired, but my humble
companions have disappeared and left no signs, like country children one
played with in holiday times.

It appears, however, that I have not been the only lover of the trapper
stories, nor the only one who has missed his friends, for I received a
letter not long ago from a bookman telling me that he had seen my
complaint somewhere, and sending me the _Frontier Angel_ on loan strictly
that I might have an hour’s sinless enjoyment.  He also said he was on
the track of _Bill Bidden_, another famous trapper, and hoped to send me
word that Bill was found, whose original value was sixpence, but for whom
this bookman was now prepared to pay gold.  One, of course, does not mean
that the Indian and trapper stories had the same claim to be literature
as the _Pilgrim’s Progress_, for, be it said with reverence, there was
not much distinction in the style, or art in the narrative, but they were
romances, and their subjects suited boys, who are barbarians, and there
are moments when we are barbarians again, and above all things these
tales bring back the days of long ago.  It was later that one fell under
the power of two more mature and exacting charmers, Mayne Reid’s _Rifle
Rangers_ and Dumas’ _Monte Christo_.  The _Rangers_ has vanished with
many another possession of the past, but I still retain in a grateful
memory the scene where Rube, the Indian fighter, who is supposed to have
perished in a prairie fire and is being mourned by the hero, emerges with
much humour from the inside of a buffalo which was lying dead upon the
plain, and rails at the idea that he could be wiped out so easily.
Whether imagination has been at work or not I do not know, but that is
how my memory has it now, and to this day I count that resurrection a
piece of most fetching work.

Rambling through a bookshop a few months ago I lighted on a copy of
_Monte Christo_ and bought it greedily, for there was a railway journey
before me.  It is a critical experiment to meet a love of early days
after the years have come and gone.  This stout and very conventional
woman—the mother of thirteen children—could she have been the black-eyed,
slim girl to whom you and a dozen other lads lost their hearts?  On the
whole, one would rather have cherished the former portrait and not have
seen the original in her last estate.  It was therefore with a flutter of
delight that one found in this case the old charm as fresh as
ever—meaning, of course, the prison escape with its amazing ingenuity and
breathless interest.

When one had lost his bashfulness and could associate with grown-up
books, then he was admitted to the company of Scott, and Thackeray, and
Dickens, who were and are, as far as one can see, to be the leaders of
society.  My fond recollection goes back to an evening in the early
sixties when a father read to his boy the first three chapters of the
_Pickwick Papers_ from the green-coloured parts, and it is a bitter
regret that in some clearance of books that precious Pickwick was allowed
to go, as is supposed, with a lot of pamphlets on Church and State, to
the great gain of an unscrupulous dealer.

The editions of Scott are now innumerable, each more tempting than the
other; but affection turns back to the old red and white, in forty-eight
volumes, wherein one first fell under the magician’s spell.  Thackeray,
for some reason I cannot recall, unless it were a prejudice in our home,
I did not read in youth, but since then I have never escaped from the
fascination of _Vanity Fair_ and _The Newcomes_, and another about which
I am to speak.  What giants there were in the old days, when an average
Englishman, tried by some business worry, would say, “Never mind,
Thackeray’s new book will be out to-morrow.”  They stand, these three
sets, Scott, Thackeray, and Dickens, the very heart of one’s library of
fiction.  Wearied by sex novels, problem novels, theological novels, and
all the other novels with a purpose, one returns to the shelf and takes
down a volume from this circle, not because one has not read it, but
because one has read it thirty times and wishes for sheer pleasure’s sake
to read it again.  Just as a tired man throws off his dress coat and
slips on an old study jacket, so one lays down the latest thoughtful, or
intense, or something worse pseudo work of fiction, and is at ease with
an old gossip who is ever wise and cheery, who never preaches and yet
gives one a fillip of goodness.  Among the masters one must give a
foremost place to Balzac, who strikes one as the master of the art in
French literature.  It is amazing that in his own day he was not
appreciated at his full value, and that it was really left to time to
discover and vindicate his position.  He is the true founder of the
realistic school in everything wherein that school deserves respect, and
has been loyal to art.  He is also certain to maintain his hold and be an
example to writers after many modern realists have been utterly and
justly forgotten.

Two books from the shelf of fiction are taken down and read once a year
by a certain bookman from beginning to end, and in this matter he is now
in the position of a Mohammedan converted to Christianity, who is advised
by the missionary to choose one of his two wives to have and to hold as a
lawful spouse.  When one has given his heart to _Henry Esmond_ and the
_Heart of Midlothian_ he is in a strait, and begins to doubt the
expediency of literary monogamy.  Of course, if it go by technique and
finish, then _Esmond_ has it, which from first to last in conception and
execution is an altogether lovely book; and if it go by heroes—Esmond and
Butler—then again there is no comparison, for the grandson of Cromwell’s
trooper was a very wearisome, pedantic, grey-coloured Puritan in whom one
cannot affect the slightest interest.  How poorly he compares with Henry
Esmond, who was slow and diffident, but a very brave, chivalrous,
single-hearted, modest gentleman, such as Thackeray loved to describe.
Were it not heresy to our Lady Castlewood, whom all must love and serve,
it also comes to one that Henry and Beatrix would have made a complete
pair if she had put some assurance in him and he had installed some
principle into her, and Henry Esmond might have married his young
kinswoman had he been more masterful and self-confident.  Thackeray takes
us to a larger and gayer scene than Scott’s Edinburgh of narrow streets
and gloomy jails and working people and old-world theology, but yet it
may be after all Scott is stronger.  No bit of history, for instance, in
_Esmond_ takes such a grip of the imagination as the story of the
Porteous mob.  After a single reading one carries that night scene etched
for ever in his memory.  The sullen, ruthless crowd of dour Scots, the
grey rugged houses lit up by the glare of the torches, the irresistible
storming of the Tolbooth, the abject helplessness of Porteous in the
hands of his enemies, the austere and judicial self-restraint of the
people, who did their work as those who were serving justice, their care
to provide a minister for the criminal’s last devotions, and their quiet
dispersal after the execution—all this remains unto to-day the most
powerful description of lynch law in fiction.  The very strength of old
Edinburgh and of the Scots-folk is in the _Heart of Midlothian_.  The
rivalry, however, between these two books must be decided by the heroine,
and it seems dangerous to the lover of Scott to let Thackeray’s fine lady
stand side by side with our plain peasant girl, yet soul for soul which
was greater, Rachel of Castlewood or Jeanie Deans?  Lady Castlewood must
be taken at the chief moment in _Esmond_, when she says to Esmond:
“To-day, Henry, in the anthem when they sang, ‘When the Lord turned the
captivity of Zion we were like them that dream’—I thought, yes, like them
that dream, and then it went, ‘They that sow in tears shall reap in joy;
and he that goeth forth and weepeth, shall doubtless come again with
rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.’  I looked up from the book and
saw you; I was not surprised when I saw you, I knew you would come, my
dear, and I saw the gold sunshine round your head.”

That she said as she laughed and sobbed, crying out wildly, “Bringing
your sheaves with you, your sheaves with you.”  And this again, as Esmond
thinks of her, is surely beaten gold.  “Gracious God, who was he, weak
and friendless creature, that such a love should be poured out upon him;
not in vain, not in vain has he lived that such a treasure be given him?
What is ambition compared to that but selfish vanity?  To be rich, to be
famous: what do these profit a year hence when other names sound louder
than yours, when you lie hidden away under the ground along with the idle
titles engraven on your coffin?  Only true love lives after you, follows
your memory with secret blessing or precedes you and intercedes for you.
‘Non omnis moriar’—if dying I yet live in a tender heart or two, nor am
lost and hopeless living, if a sainted departed soul still loves and
prays for me.”  This seems to me the second finest passage in English
fiction, and the finest is when Jeanie Deans went to London and pleaded
with the Queen for the life of her condemned sister, for is there any
plea in all literature so eloquent in pathos and so true to human nature
as this, when the Scottish peasant girl poured forth her heart: “When the
hour of trouble comes to the mind or to the body—and seldom may it visit
your ladyship—and when the hour of death that comes to high and low—lang
and late may it be yours—oh, my lady, then it is na’ what we hae dune for
oursels but what we hae dune for ithers that we think on maist
pleasantly.  And the thought that ye hae intervened to spare the puir
thing’s life will be sweeter in that hour, come when it may, than if a
word of your mouth could hang the haill Porteous mob at the tail of ae
tow.”  Jeanie Deans is the strongest woman in the gallery of Scott, and
an embodiment of all that is sober, and strong, and conscientious, and
passionate in Scotch nature.

The bookman has indeed no trouble arranging his gossips in his mind,
where they hold good fellowship, but he is careful to keep them apart
upon his bookshelves, and when he comes home after an absence and finds
his study has been tidied, which in the feminine mind means putting
things in order, and to the bookman general anarchy (it was the real
reason Eve was put out of Eden), when he comes home, I say, and finds
that happy but indecorous rascal Boccaccio, holding his very sides for
laughter, between Lecky’s _History of European Morals_ and Law’s _Serious
Call_, both admirable books, then the bookman is much exhilarated.
Because of the mischief that is in him he will not relieve those two
excellent men of that disgraceful Italian’s company for a little space,
but if he finds that the domestic sprite has thrust a Puritan between two
Anglican theologians he effects a separation without delay, for a
religious controversy with its din and clatter is more than he can bear.

The bookman is indeed perpetually engaged in his form of spring cleaning,
which is rearranging his books, and is always hoping to square the
circle, in both collecting the books of one department together, and also
having his books in equal sizes.  After a brief glance at a folio and an
octavo side by side he gives up that attempt, but although he may have to
be content to see his large Augustine, Benedictine edition, in the same
row with Bayle’s Dictionary, he does not like it and comforts himself by
thrusting in between, as a kind of mediator, Spotswood’s _History of the
Church of Scotland_ with Burnett’s _Memoirs of the Dukes of Hamilton_,
that edition which has the rare portrait of Charles I. by Faithorne.  He
will be all his life rearranging, and so comes to understand how it is
that women spend forenoons of delight in box rooms or store closets, and
are happiest when everything is turned upside down.  It is a slow
business, rearrangement, for one cannot flit a book bound after the taste
of Grolier, with graceful interlacement and wealth of small ornaments,
without going to the window and lingering for a moment over the glorious
art, and one cannot handle a Compleat Angler without tasting again some
favourite passage.  It is days before five shelves are reconstructed,
days of unmixed delight, a perpetual whirl of gaiety, as if one had been
at a conversazione, where all kinds of famous people whom you had known
afar had been gathered together and you had spoken to each as if he had
been the friend of your boyhood.  It is in fact a time of reminiscences,
when the two of you, the other being Sir Thomas Browne, or Goldsmith, or
Scott, or Thackeray, go over passages together which contain the sweetest
recollections of the past.  When the bookman reads the various
suggestions for a holiday which are encouraged in the daily newspapers
for commercial purposes about the month of July, he is vastly amused by
their futility, and often thinks of pointing out the only holiday which
is perfectly satisfying.  It is to have a week without letters and
without visitors, with no work to do, and no hours, either for rising up
or lying down, and to spend the week in a library, his own, of course, by
preference, opening out by a level window into an old-fashioned garden
where the roses are in full bloom, and to wander as he pleases from
flower to flower where the spirit of the books and the fragrance of the
roses mingle in one delight.

Times there are when he would like to hold a meeting of bookmen, each of
whom should be a mighty hunter, and he would dare to invite Cosmo Medici,
who was as keen about books as he was about commerce, and according to
Gibbon used to import Indian spices and Greek books by the same vessel,
and that admirable Bishop of Durham who was as joyful on reaching Paris
as the Jewish pilgrim was when he went to Sion, because of the books that
were there.  “O Blessed God of Gods, what a rush of the glow of Pleasure
rejoiced our hearts, as often as we visited Paris, the Paradise of the
World!  There we long to remain, where on account of the greatness of our
love the days ever appear to us to be few.  There are delightful
libraries in cells redolent with aromatics, there flourishing greenhouses
of all sorts of volumes, there academic meads, trembling with the
earthquake of Athenian Peripatetics pacing up and down, there the
promontory of Parnassus and the Porticoes of the Stoics.”  The Duke of
Roxburghe and Earl Spencer, two gallant sportsmen whose spoils have
enriched the land; Monkbarns also, though we will not let him bring any
antiquities with him, jagged or otherwise; and Charles Lamb, whom we
shall coax into telling over again how he started out at ten o’clock on
Saturday night and roused up old Barker in Covent Garden, and came home
in triumph with “that folio Beaumont and Fletcher,” going forth almost in
tears lest the book should be gone, and coming home rejoicing, carrying
his sheaf with him.  Besides, whether Bodley and Dibdin like it or not,
we must have a Royalty, for there were Queens who collected, and also on
occasions stole books, and though she be not the greatest of the Queenly
bookwomen and did not steal, we shall invite Mary Queen of Scots, while
she is living in Holyrood, and has her library beside her.  Mary had a
fine collection of books well chosen and beautifully bound, and as I look
now at the catalogue it seems to me a library more learned than is likely
to be found even in the study of an advanced young woman of to-day.  A
Book of Devotion which was said to have belonged to her and afterwards to
a Pope, gloriously bound, I was once allowed to look upon, but did not
buy, because the price was marked in plain figures at a thousand guineas.
It would be something to sit in a corner and hear Monkbarns and Charles
Lamb comparing notes, and to watch for the moment when Lamb would
withdraw all he had said against the Scots people, or Earl Spencer
describing with delight to the Duke of Roxburghe the battle of Sale.  But
I will guarantee that the whole company of bookworms would end in paying
tribute to that intelligent and very fascinating young woman from
Holyrood, who still turns men’s heads across the stretch of centuries.
For even a bookman has got a heart.

Like most diseases the mania for books is hereditary, and if the father
is touched with it the son can hardly escape, and it is not even
necessary that the son should have known his father.  For Sainte-Beuve’s
father died when he was an infant and his mother had no book tastes, but
his father left him his books with many comments on the margins, and the
book microbe was conveyed by the pages.  “I was born,” said the great
critic in the _Consolations_, “I was born in a time of mourning; my
cradle rested on a coffin . . . my father left me his soul, mind, and
taste written on every margin of his books.”  When a boy grows up beside
his father and his father is in the last stages of the book disease,
there is hardly any power which can save that son, unless the mother be
robustly illiterate, in which case the crossing of the blood may make him
impervious.  For a father of this kind will unconsciously inoculate his
boy, allowing him to play beside him in the bookroom, where the air is
charged with germs (against which there is no disinfectant, I believe,
except commercial conversation), and when the child is weary of his toys
will give him an old book of travels, with quaint pictures which never
depart from the memory.  By and by, so thoughtless is this invalid
father, who has suffered enough, surely, himself from this disease, that
he will allow his boy to open parcels of books, reeking with infection,
and explain to him the rarity of a certain first edition, or show him the
thickness of the paper and the glory of the black-letter in an ancient
book.  Afterwards, when the boy himself has taken ill and begun on his
own account to prowl through the smaller bookstalls, his father will
listen greedily to the stories he has to tell in the evening, and will
chuckle aloud when one day the poor victim of this deadly illness comes
home with a newspaper of the time of Charles II., which he has bought for
threepence.  It is only a question of time when that lad, being now on an
allowance of his own, will be going about in a suit of disgracefully
shabby tweeds, that he may purchase a Theophrastus of fine print and
binding upon which he has long had his eye, and will be taking milk and
bread for his lunch in the city, because he has a foolish ambition to
acquire by a year’s saving the Kelmscott edition of the _Golden Legend_.
A change of air might cure him, as for instance twenty years’ residence
on an American ranch, but even then on his return the disease might break
out again: indeed the chances are strong that he is really incurable.
Last week I saw such a case—the bookman of the second generation in a
certain shop where such unfortunates collect.  For an hour he had been
there browsing along the shelves, his hat tilted back upon his head that
he might hold the books the nearer to his eyes, and an umbrella under his
left arm, projecting awkwardly, which he had not laid down, because he
did not intend to stay more than two minutes, and knew indeed, as the
father of a family, that he ought not to be there at all.  He often drops
in, for this is not one of those stores where a tradesman hurries forward
to ask what you want and offers you the last novel which has captivated
the juicy British palate; the bookman regards such a place with the same
feeling that a physician has to a patent drug-store.  The dealer in this
place so loved his books that he almost preferred a customer who knew
them above one who bought them, and honestly felt a pang when a choice
book was sold.  Never can I forget what the great Quaritch said to me
when he was showing me the inner shrine of his treasure-house, and I felt
it honest to explain that I could only look, lest he should think me an
impostor.  “I would sooner show such books to a man that loved them
though he couldn’t buy them, than a man who gave me my price and didn’t
know what he had got.”  With this slight anecdote I would in passing pay
the tribute of bookmen to the chief hunter of big game in our day.

When the bookman is a family man, and I have sometimes doubts whether he
ought not to be a celibate like missionaries of religion and other
persons called to special devotion, he has of course to battle against
his temptation, and his struggles are very pathetic.  The parallel
between dipsomania and bibliomania is very close and suggestive, and I
have often thought that more should be made of it.  It is the wife who in
both cases is usually the sufferer and good angel, and under her happy
influence the bookman will sometimes take the pledge, and for him, it is
needless to say, there is only one cure.  He cannot be a moderate
drinker, for there is no possibility of moderation, and if he is to be
saved he must become a total abstainer.  He must sign the pledge, and the
pledge must be made of a solemn character with witnesses, say his poor
afflicted wife and some intelligent self-made Philistine.  Perhaps it
might run like this: “I, A. B., do hereby promise that I will never buy a
classical book in any tongue, or any book in a rare edition; that I will
never spend money on books in tree-calf or tooled morocco; that I shall
never enter a real old bookshop, but should it be necessary shall
purchase my books at a dry goods store, and there shall never buy
anything but the cheapest religious literature, or occasionally a popular
story for my wife, and to this promise I solemnly set my hand.”  With the
ruin of his family before his eyes, or at least, let us say, the
disgraceful condition of the dining-room carpet, he intends to keep his
word, and for a whole fortnight will not allow himself to enter the
street of his favourite bookshop.  Next week, however, business, so he
says at least, takes him down the street, but he remembers the danger,
and makes a brave effort to pass a public-house.  The mischief of the
thing, however, is that there is another public-house in the street and
passing it whets the latent appetite, and when he is making a brave dash
past his own, some poor inebriate, coming out reluctantly, holds the door
open, and the smell is too much for his new-born virtue.  He will go in
just for a moment to pass the time of day with his friend the publican
and see his last brand of books, but not to buy—I mean to drink—and then
he comes across a little volume, the smallest and slimmest of volumes, a
mere trifle of a thing, and not dear, but a thing which does not often
turn up and which would just round off his collection at a particular
point.  It is only a mere taste, not downright drinking; but ah me, it
sets him on fire again, and I who had seen him go in and then by a
providence have met his wife coming out from buying that carpet, told her
where her husband was, and saw her go to fetch him.  Among the touching
incidents of life, none comes nearer me than to see the bookman’s wife
pleading with him to remember his (once) prosperous home and his (almost)
starving children.  And indeed if there be any other as entirely
affecting in this province, it is the triumphant cunning with which the
bookman will smuggle a suspicious brown paper parcel into his study at an
hour when his wife is out, or the effrontery with which he will declare
when caught, that the books have been sent unbeknown to him, and he
supposes merely for his examination.  For, like drink, this fearsome
disease eats into the very fibre of character, so that its victim will
practise tricks to obtain books in advance of a rival collector, and will
tell the most mendacious stories about what he paid for them.

Should he desire a book, and it be not a king’s ransom, there is no
sacrifice he will not make to obtain it.  His modest glass of Burgundy he
will cheerfully surrender, and if he ever travelled by any higher class,
which is not likely, he will now go third, and his topcoat he will make
to last another year, and I do not say he will not smoke, but a cigar
will now leave him unmoved.  Yes, and if he gets a chance to do an extra
piece of writing, between 12 and 2 A.M., he will clutch at the
opportunity, and all that he saves, he will calculate shilling by
shilling, and the book he purchases with the complete price—that is the
price to which he has brought down the seller after two days’
negotiations—anxious yet joyful days—will be all the dearer to him for
his self-denial.  He has also anodynes for his conscience when he seems
to be wronging his afflicted family, for is he not gathering the best of
legacies for his sons, something which will make their houses rich for
ever, or if things come to the worst cannot his collection be sold and
all he has expended be restored with usury, which in passing I may say is
a vain dream?  But at any rate, if other men spend money on dinners and
on sport, on carved furniture and gay clothing, may he not also have one
luxury in life?  His conscience, however, does give painful twinges, and
he will leave the Pines Horace, which he has been handling delicately for
three weeks, in hopeless admiration of its marvellous typography, and be
outside the door before a happy thought strikes him, and he returns to
buy it, after thirty minutes’ bargaining, with perfect confidence and a
sense of personal generosity.  What gave him this relief and now suffuses
his very soul with charity?  It was a date which for the moment he had
forgotten and which has occurred most fortunately.  To-morrow will be the
birthday of a man whom he has known all his days and more intimately than
any other person, and although he has not so high an idea of the man as
the world is good enough to hold, and although he has often quarrelled
with him and called him shocking names—which tomcats would be ashamed
of—yet he has at the bottom a sneaking fondness for the fellow, and
sometimes hopes he is not quite so bad after all.  One thing is certain,
the rascal loves a good book and likes to have it when he can, and
perhaps it will make him a better man to show that he has been remembered
and that one person at least believes in him, and so the bookman orders
that delightful treasure to be sent to his own address in order that next
day he may present it—as a birthday present—to himself.

Concerning tastes in pleasure there can be no final judgment, but for the
bookman it may be said, beyond any other sportsman, he has the most
constant satisfaction, for to him there is no close season, except the
spring cleaning which he furiously resents, and only allows once in five
years, and his autumn holiday, when he takes some six handy volumes with
him.  For him there are no hindrances of weather, for if the day be
sunshine he taketh his pleasure in a garden, and if the day be sleet of
March the fireside is the dearer, while there is a certain volume—Payne’s
binding, red morocco, a favourite colour of his—and the bookman reads
_Don Quixote_ with the more relish because the snowdrift is beating on
the window.  During the hours of the day when he is visiting patients,
who tell their symptoms at intolerable length, or dictating letters about
corn, or composing sermons, which will not always run, the bookman is
thinking of the quiet hour which will lengthen into one hundred and
eighty minutes, when he shall have his reward, the kindliest for which a
man can work or hope to get.  He will spend the time in the good company
of people who will not quarrel with him, nor will he quarrel with them.
Some of them of high estate and some extremely low; some of them learned
persons and some of them simple, country men.  For while the bookman
counteth it his chief honour and singular privilege to hold converse with
Virgil and Dante, with Shakespeare and Bacon, and suchlike nobility, yet
is he very happy with Bailie Nicol Jarvie and Dandie Dinmont, with Mr.
Micawber and Mrs. Gamp; he is proud when Diana Vernon comes to his room,
and he has a chair for Colonel Newcome; he likes to hear Coleridge
preach, who, as Lamb said, “never did anything else,” and is much
flattered when Browning tries to explain what he meant in _Paracelsus_.
It repays one for much worry when William Blake not only reads his _Songs
of Innocence_ but also shows his own illustrations, and he turns to his
life of Michael Angelo with the better understanding after he has read
what Michael Angelo wrote to Vittoria Colonna.  He that hath such
friends, grave or gay, needeth not to care whether he be rich or poor,
whether he know great folk or they pass him by, for he is independent of
society and all its whims, and almost independent of circumstances.  His
friends of this circle will never play him false nor ever take the pet.
If he does not wish their company they are silent, and then when he turns
to them again there is no difference in the welcome, for they maintain an
equal mind and are ever in good humour.  As he comes in tired and
possibly upset by smaller people they receive him in a kindly fashion,
and in the firelight their familiar faces make his heart glad.  Once I
stood in Emerson’s room, and I saw the last words that he wrote, the pad
on which he wrote them, and the pen with which they were written, and the
words are these: “The Book is a sure friend, always ready at your first
leisure, opens to the very page you desire, and shuts at your first
fatigue.”

As the bookman grows old and many of his pleasures cease, he thanks God
for one which grows the richer for the years and never fades.  He pities
those who have not this retreat from the weariness of life, nor this
quiet place in which to sit when the sun is setting.  By the mellow
wisdom of his books and the immortal hope of the greater writers, he is
kept from peevishness and discontent, from bigotry and despair.  Certain
books grow dearer to him with the years, so that their pages are worn
brown and thin, and he hopes with a Birmingham book-lover, Dr. Showell
Rogers, whose dream has been fulfilled, that Heaven, having a place for
each true man, may be “a bookman’s paradise, where early black-lettered
tomes, rare and stately, first folios of Shakespeare, tall copies of the
right editions of the Elzevirs, and vellumed volumes galore, uncropped,
uncut, and unfoxed in all their verdant pureness, fresh as when they left
the presses of the Aldi, are to be had for the asking.”  Between this man
at least and his books there will be no separation this side the grave,
but his gratitude to them and his devotion will ever grow and their
ministries to him be ever dearer, especially that Book of books which has
been the surest guide of the human soul.  “While I live,” says one who
both wrote and loved books and was numbered among our finest critics,
“while I live and think, nothing can deprive me of my value for such
treasures.  I can help the appreciation of them while I last and love
them till I die, and perhaps if fortune turns her face once more in
kindness upon me before I go, I may chance, some quiet day, to lay my
overbeating temples on a book, and so have the death I most envy.”





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