And Other People
LEON H. VINCENT
BOSTON AND NEW YORK HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY The Riverside Press, Cambridge 1899
COPYRIGHT, 1898, BY LEON H. VINCENT ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
TO MY FATHER THE REV. B. T. VINCENT, D.D. THIS LITTLE VOLUME IS Dedicated WITH LOVE AND ADMIRATION
Four of these papers—the first Bibliotaph, and the notes on Keats, Gautier, and Stevenson's St. Ives—are reprinted from the Atlantic Monthly by the kind permission of the editor.
I am also indebted to the literary editor of the Springfield Republican and to the editors of Poet-Lore, respectively, for allowing me to reprint the paper on Thomas Hardy and the lecture on An Elizabethan Novelist.
THE BIBLIOTAPH: A PORTRAIT NOT WHOLLY IMAGINARY THE BIBLIOTAPH: HIS FRIENDS, SCRAP-BOOKS, AND 'BINS' LAST WORDS ON THE BIBLIOTAPH THOMAS HARDY A READING IN THE LETTERS OF JOHN KEATS AN ELIZABETHAN NOVELIST THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A FAIR-MINDED MAN CONCERNING A RED WAISTCOAT STEVENSON: THE VAGABOND AND THE PHILOSOPHER STEVENSON'S ST. IVES
THE BIBLIOTAPH AND OTHER PEOPLE
THE BIBLIOTAPH: A PORTRAIT NOT WHOLLY IMAGINARY
A popular and fairly orthodox opinion concerning book-collectors is that their vices are many, their virtues of a negative sort, and their ways altogether past finding out. Yet the most hostile critic is bound to admit that the fraternity of bibliophiles is eminently picturesque. If their doings are inscrutable, they are also romantic; if their vices are numerous, the heinousness of those vices is mitigated by the fact that it is possible to sin humorously. Regard him how you will, the sayings and doings of the collector give life and color to the pages of those books which treat of books. He is amusing when he is purely an imaginary creature. For example, there was one Thomas Blinton. Every one who has ever read the volume called Books and Bookmen knows about Thomas Blinton. He was a man who wickedly adorned his volumes with morocco bindings, while his wife 'sighed in vain for some old point d'Alencon lace.' He was a man who was capable of bidding fifteen pounds for a Foppens edition of the essays of Montaigne, though fifteen pounds happened to be 'exactly the amount which he owed his plumber and gas-fitter, a worthy man with a large family.' From this fictitious Thomas Blinton all the way back to Richard Heber, who was very real, and who piled up books as other men heap together vulgar riches, book-collectors have been a picturesque folk.
The name of Heber suggests the thought that all men who buy books are not bibliophiles. He alone is worthy the title who acquires his volumes with something like passion. One may buy books like a gentleman, and that is very well. One may buy books like a gentleman and a scholar, which counts for something more. But to be truly of the elect one must resemble Richard Heber, and buy books like a gentleman, a scholar, and a madman.
You may find an account of Heber in an old file of The Gentleman's Magazine. He began in his youth by making a library of the classics. Then he became interested in rare English books, and collected them con amore for thirty years. He was very rich, and he had never given hostages to fortune; it was therefore possible for him to indulge his fine passion without stint. He bought only the best books, and he bought them by thousands and by tens of thousands. He would have held as foolishness that saying from the Greek which exhorts one to do nothing too much. According to Heber's theory, it is impossible to have too many good books. Usually one library is supposed to be enough for one man. Heber was satisfied only with eight libraries, and then he was hardly satisfied. He had a library in his house at Hodnet. 'His residence in Pimlico, where he died, was filled, like Magliabecchi's at Florence, with books from the top to the bottom; every chair, every table, every passage containing piles of erudition.' He had a house in York Street which was crowded with books. He had a library in Oxford, one at Paris, one at Antwerp, one at Brussels, and one at Ghent. The most accurate estimate of his collections places the number at 146,827 volumes. Heber is believed to have spent half a million dollars for books. After his death the collections were dispersed. The catalogue was published in twelve parts, and the sales lasted over three years.
Heber had a witty way of explaining why he possessed so many copies of the same book. When taxed with the sin of buying duplicates he replied in this manner: 'Why, you see, sir, no man can comfortably do without three copies of a book. One he must have for his show copy, and he will probably keep it at his country house; another he will require for his own use and reference; and unless he is inclined to part with this, which is very inconvenient, or risk the injury of his best copy, he must needs have a third at the service of his friends.'
In the pursuit of a coveted volume Heber was indefatigable. He was not of those Sybaritic buyers who sit in their offices while agents and dealers do the work. 'On hearing of a curious book he has been known to put himself into the mail-coach, and travel three, four, or five hundred miles to obtain it, fearful to trust his commission to a letter.' He knew the solid comfort to be had in reading a book catalogue. Dealers were in the habit of sending him the advance sheets of their lists. He ordered books from his death-bed, and for anything we know to the contrary died with a catalogue in his fingers.
A life devoted to such a passion is a stumbling-block to the practical man, and to the Philistine foolishness. Yet you may hear men praised because up to the day of death they were diligent in business,—business which added to life nothing more significant than that useful thing called money. Thoreau used to say that if a man spent half his time in the woods for the love of the woods he was in danger of being looked upon as a loafer; but if he spent all his time as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making Earth bald before her time, he was regarded as an upright and industrious citizen.
Heber had a genius for friendship as well as for gathering together choice books. Sir Walter Scott addressed verses to him. Professor Porson wrote emendations for him in his favorite copy of Athenaeus. To him was inscribed Dr. Ferrier's poetical epistle on Bibliomania. His virtues were celebrated by Dibdin and by Burton. In brief, the sketch of Heber in The Gentleman's Magazine for January, 1834, contains a list of forty-six names,—all men of distinction by birth, learning, or genius, and all men who were proud to call Richard Heber friend. He was a mighty hunter of books. He was genial, scholarly, generous. Out-of-door men will be pleased to know that he was active physically. He was a tremendous walker, and enjoyed tiring out his bailiff by an all-day tramp.
Of many good things said of him this is one of the best: 'The learned and curious, whether rich or poor, have always free access to his library.' Thus was it possible for Scott very truthfully to say to Heber, 'Thy volumes open as thy heart.'
No life of this Prince of Book-Hunters has been written, I believe. Some one with access to the material, and a sympathy with the love of books as books, should write a memoir of Heber the Magnificent. It ought not to be a large volume, but it might well be about the size of Henry Stevens's Recollections of James Lenox. And if it were equally readable it were a readable book indeed.
Dibdin thought that Heber's tastes were so catholic as to make it difficult to classify him among hunters of books. The implication is that most men can be classified. They have their specialties. What pleases one collector much pleases another but little or not at all. Collectors differ radically in the attitude they take with respect to their volumes. One man buys books to read, another buys them to gloat over, a third that he may fortify them behind glass doors and keep the key in his pocket. Therefore have learned words been devised to make apparent the varieties of motive and taste. These words begin with biblio; you may have a biblio almost anything.
Two interesting types of maniac are known respectively as the bibliotaph and the biblioclast. A biblioclast is one who indulges himself in the questionable pleasure of mutilating books in order more sumptuously to fit out a particular volume. The disease is English in origin, though some of the worst cases have been observed in America. Clergymen and presidents of colleges have been known to be seized with it. The victim becomes more or less irresponsible, and presently runs mad. Such an one was John Bagford, of diabolical memory, who mutilated not less than ten thousand volumes to form his vast collection of title-pages. John Bagford died an unrepentant sinner, lamenting with one of his later breaths that he could not live long enough to get hold of a genuine Caxton and rip the initial page out of that.
The bibliotaph buries books; not literally, but sometimes with as much effect as if he had put his books underground. There are several varieties of him. The dog-in-the-manger bibliotaph is the worst; he uses his books but little himself, and allows others to use them not at all. On the other hand, a man may be a bibliotaph simply from inability to get at his books. He may be homeless, a bachelor, a denizen of boarding-houses, a wanderer upon the face of the earth. He may keep his books in storage or accumulate them in the country, against the day when he shall have a town house with proper library.
The most genial lover of books who has walked city streets for many a day was a bibliotaph. He accumulated books for years in the huge garret of a farmhouse standing upon the outskirts of a Westchester County village. A good relative 'mothered' the books for him in his absence. When the collection outgrew the garret it was moved into a big village store. It was the wonder of the place. The country folk flattened their noses against the panes and tried to peer into the gloom beyond the half-drawn shades. The neighboring stores were in comparison miracles of business activity. On one side was a harness-shop; on the other a nondescript establishment at which one might buy anything, from sunbonnets and corsets to canned salmon and fresh eggs. Between these centres of village life stood the silent tomb for books. The stranger within the gates had this curiosity pointed out to him along with the new High School and the Soldiers' Monument.
By shading one's eyes to keep away the glare of the light, it was possible to make out tall carved oaken cases with glass doors, which lined the walls. They gave distinction to the place. It was not difficult to understand the point of view of the dressmaker from across the way who stepped over to satisfy her curiosity concerning the stranger, and his concerning the books, and who said in a friendly manner as she peered through a rent in the adjoining shade, 'It's almost like a cathedral, ain't it?'
To an inquiry about the owner of the books she replied that he was brought up in that county; that there were people around there who said that he had been an exhorter years ago; her impression was that now he was a 'political revivalist,' if I knew what that was.
The phrase seemed hopeless, but light was thrown upon it when, later, I learned that this man of many buried books gave addresses upon the responsibilities of citizenship, upon the higher politics, and upon themes of like character. They said that he was humorous. The farmers liked to hear him speak. But it was rumored that he went to colleges, too. The dressmaker thought that the buying of so many books was 'wicked.' 'He goes from New York to Beersheba, and from Chicago to Dan, buying books. Never reads 'em because he hardly ever comes here.'
It became possible to identify the Bibliotaph of the country store with a certain mature youth who some time since 'gave his friends the slip, chose land-travel or seafaring,' and has not returned to build the town house with proper library. They who observed him closely thought that he resembled Heber in certain ways. Perhaps this fact alone would justify an attempt at a verbal portrait. But the additional circumstance that, in days when people with the slightest excuse therefor have themselves regularly photographed, this old-fashioned youth refused to allow his 'likeness' to be taken,—this circumstance must do what it can to extenuate minuteness of detail in the picture, as well as over-attention to points of which a photograph would have taken no account.
You are to conceive of a man between thirty-eight and forty years of age, big-bodied, rapidly acquiring that rotund shape which is thought becoming to bishops, about six feet high though stooping a little, prodigiously active, walking with incredible rapidity, having large limbs, large feet, large though well-shaped and very white hands; in short, a huge fellow physically, as big of heart as of body, and, in the affectionate thought of those who knew him best, as big of intellect as of heart.
His head might be described as leonine. It was a massive head, covered with a tremendous mane of brown hair. This was never worn long, but it was so thick and of such fine texture that it constituted a real beauty. He had no conceit of it, being innocent of that peculiar German type of vanity which runs to hair, yet he could not prevent people from commenting on his extraordinary hirsute adornment. Their occasional remarks excited his mirth. If they spoke of it again, he would protest. Once, among a small party of his closest friends, the conversation turned upon the subject of hair, and then upon the beauty of his hair; whereupon he cried out, 'I am embarrassed by this unnecessary display of interest in my Samsonian assertiveness.'
He loved to tease certain of his acquaintances who, though younger than himself, were rapidly losing their natural head-covering. He prodded them with ingeniously worded reflections upon their unhappy condition. He would take as a motto Erasmus's unkind salutation, 'Bene sit tibi cum tuo calvitio,' and multiply amusing variations upon it. He delighted in sending them prescriptions and advertisements clipped from newspapers and medical journals. He quoted at them the remark of a pale, bald, blond young literary aspirant, who, seeing him, the Bibliotaph, passing by, exclaimed audibly and almost passionately, 'Oh, I perfectly adore hair!'
Of his clothes it might be said that he did not wear them, but rather dwelt at large in them. They were made by high-priced tailors and were fashionably cut, but he lived in them so violently—that is, traveled so much, walked so much, sat so long and so hard, gestured so earnestly, and carried in his many pockets such an extraordinary collection of notebooks, indelible pencils, card-cases, stamp-boxes, penknives, gold toothpicks, thermometers, and what not—that within twenty-four hours after he had donned new clothes all the artistic merits of the garments were obliterated; they were, from every point of view, hopelessly degenerate.
He was a scrupulously clean man, but there was a kind of civilized wildness in his appearance which astonished people; and in perverse moments he liked to terrify those who knew him but little by affirming that he was a near relative of Christopher Smart, and then explaining in mirth-provoking phrases that one of the arguments used for proving Smart's insanity was that he did not love clean linen.
His appetite was large, as became a large and active person. He was a very valiant trencher-man; and yet he could not have been said to love eating for eating's sake. He ate when he was hungry, and found no difficulty in being hungry three times a day. He should have been an Englishman, for he enjoyed a late supper. In the proper season this consisted of a bountiful serving of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, with a glass of lemonade. As a variant upon the beverage he took milk. He was the only man I have known, whether book-hunter or layman, who could sleep peacefully upon a supper of cucumbers and milk.
There is probably no occult relation between first editions and onions. The Bibliotaph was mightily pleased with both: the one, he said, appealed to him aesthetically, the other dietetically. He remarked of some particularly large Spanish onions that there was 'a globular wholesomeness about them which was very gratifying;' and after eating one he observed expansively that he felt 'as if he had swallowed the earth and the fullness thereof.' His easy, good-humored exaggerations and his odd comments upon the viands made him a pleasant table companion: as when he described a Parker House Sultana Roll by saying that 'it looked like the sanguinary output of the whole Crimean war.'
High-priced restaurants did not please him as well as humbler and less obtrusive places. But it was all one,—Delmonico's, the Bellevue, a stool in the Twelfth Street Market, or a German cafe on Van Buren Street. The humors of certain eating-houses gave him infinite delight. He went frequently to the Diner's Own Home, the proprietor of which, being both cook and Christian, had hit upon the novel plan of giving Scriptural advice and practical suggestions by placards on the walls. The Bibliotaph enjoyed this juxtaposition of signs: the first read, 'The very God of peace sanctify you wholly;' the second, 'Look out for your Hat and Coat.'
The Bibliotaph had no home, and was reputed to live in his post-office box. He contributed to the support of at least three clubs, but was very little seen at any one of them. He enjoyed the large cities, and was contented in whichever one he happened to find himself. He was emphatically a city man, but what city was of less import. He knew them all, and was happy in each. He had his favorite hotel, his favorite bath, his work, bushels of newspapers and periodicals, friends who rejoiced in his coming as children in the near advent of Christmas, and finally book-shops in which to browse at his pleasure. It was interesting to hear him talk about city life. One of his quaint mannerisms consisted in modifying a well-known quotation to suit his conversational needs. 'Why, sir,' he would remark, 'Fleet Street has a very animated appearance, but I think the full tide of human existence is at the corner of Madison and State.'
His knowledge of cities was both extensive and peculiar. I have heard him name in order all the hotels on Broadway, beginning at the lower end and coming up as far as hotels exist, branching off upon the parallel and cross streets where there were noted caravansaries, and connecting every name with an event of importance, or with the life and fortunes of some noted man who had been guest at that particular inn. This was knowledge more becoming in a guide, perhaps, but it will illustrate the encyclopaedic fullness of his miscellaneous information.
As was natural and becoming in a man born within forty miles of the metropolis, he liked best the large cities of the East, and was least content in small Western cities. But this was the outcome of no illiberal prejudice, and there was a quizzical smile upon his lips and a teasing look in his eyes when he bantered a Westerner. 'A man,' he would sometimes say, 'may come by the mystery of childbirth into Omaha or Kansas City and be content, but he can't come by Boston, New York, or Philadelphia.' Then, a moment later, paraphrasing his remark, he would add, 'To go to Omaha or Kansas City by way of New York and Philadelphia is like being translated heavenward with such violence that one passes through—into a less comfortable region!'
Strange to say, the conversation of this most omnivorous of book-collectors was less of books than of men. True, he was deeply versed in bibliographical details and dangerously accurate in his talk about them, but, after all, the personality back of the book was the supremely interesting thing. He abounded in anecdote, and could describe graphically the men he had met, the orators he had heard, the occasions of importance where he had been an interested spectator. His conversation was delightfully fresh and racy because of the vividness of the original impressions, the unusual force of the ideas which were the copies of these impressions, and the fine artistic sense which enabled him to determine at once what points should be omitted, and what words should be used most fittingly to express the ideas retained.
He had no pride in his conversational power. He was always modest, but never diffident. I have seen him sit, a respectful listener, absolutely silent, while some ordinary chatterer held the company's attention for an hour. Many good talkers are unhappy unless they have the privilege of exercising their gifts. Not so he. Sometimes he had almost to be compelled to begin. On such occasions one of his intimates was wont to quote from Boswell: 'Leave him to me, sir; I'll make him rear.'
The superficial parts of his talk were more easily retained. In mere banter, good-humored give-and-take, that froth and bubble of conversational intercourse, he was delightful. His hostess, the wife of a well-known comedian, apologized to him for having to move him out of the large guest-chamber into another one, smaller and higher up,—this because of an unexpected accession of visitors. He replied that it did not incommode him; and as for being up another flight of stairs, 'it was a comfort to him to know that when he was in a state of somnolent helplessness he was as near heaven as it was possible to get in an actor's house.' The same lady was taking him roundly to task on some minor point in which he had quite justly offended her; whereupon he turned to her husband and said, 'Jane worships but little at the shrine of politeness because so much of her time is mortgaged to the shrine of truth.'
When asked to suggest an appropriate and brief cablegram to be sent to a gentleman who on the following day would become sixty years of age, and who had taken full measure of life's joys, he responded, 'Send him this: "You don't look it, but you've lived like it."'
His skill in witty retort often expressed itself by accepting a verbal attack as justified, and elaborating it in a way to throw into shadow the assault of the critic. At a small and familiar supper of bookish men, when there was general dissatisfaction over an expensive but ill-made salad, he alone ate with apparent relish. The host, who was of like mind with his guests, said, 'The Bibliotaph doesn't care for the quality of his food, if it has filling power.' To which he at once responded, 'You merely imply that I am like a robin: I eat cherries when I may, and worms when I must.'
His inscriptions in books given to his friends were often singularly happy. He presented a copy of Lowell's Letters to a gentleman and his wife. The first volume was inscribed to the husband as follows:—
'To Mr. —— ——, who is to the owner of the second volume of these Letters what this volume is to that: so delightful as to make one glad that there's another equally as good, if not better.'
In volume two was the inscription to the wife, worded in this manner:—
'To Mrs. —— ——, without whom the owner of the first volume of these Letters would be as that first volume without this one: interesting, but incomplete.'
Perhaps this will illustrate his quickness to seize upon ever so minute an occasion for the exercise of his humor. A young woman whom he admired, being brought up among brothers, had received the nickname, half affectionately and half patronizingly bestowed, of 'the Kid.' Among her holiday gifts for a certain year was a book from the Bibliotaph, a copy of Old-Fashioned Roses, with this dedication: 'To a Kid, had Abraham possessed which, Isaac had been the burnt-offering.'
It is as a buyer and burier of books that the subject of this paper showed himself in most interesting light. He said that the time to make a library was when one was young. He held the foolish notion that a man does not purchase books after he is fifty; I shall expect to see him ransacking the shops after he is seventy, if he shall survive his eccentricities of diet that long. He was an omnivorous buyer, picking up everything he could lay his hands upon. Yet he had a clearly defined motive for the acquisition of every volume. However absurd the purchase might seem to the bystander, he, at any rate, could have given six cogent reasons why he must have that particular book.
He bought according to the condition of his purse at a given time. If he had plenty of money, it would be expensive publications, like those issued by the Grolier Club. If he was financially depressed, he would hunt in the out-of-door shelves of well-known Philadelphia bookshops. It was marvelous to see what things, new and old, he was able to extract from a ten-cent alcove. Part of the secret lay in this idea: to be a good book-hunter one must not be too dainty; one must not be afraid of soiling one's hands. He who observes the clouds shall not reap, and he who thinks of his cuffs is likely to lose many a bookish treasure. Our Bibliotaph generally parted company with his cuffs when he began hunting for books. How many times have I seen those cuffs with the patent fasteners sticking up in the air, as if reaching out helplessly for their owner; the owner in the mean time standing high upon a ladder which creaked under his weight, humming to himself as he industriously examined every volume within reach. This ability to live without cuffs made him prone to reject altogether that orthodox bit of finish to a toilet. I have known him to spend an entire day in New York between club, shops, and restaurant, with one cuff on, and the other cuff—its owner knew not where.
He differed from Heber in that he was not 'a classical scholar of the old school,' but there were many points in which he resembled the famous English collector. Heber would have acknowledged him as a son if only for his energy, his unquenchable enthusiasm, and the exactness of his knowledge concerning the books which he pretended to know at all. For not alone is it necessary that a collector should know precisely what book he wants; it is even more important that he should be able to know a book as the book he wants when he sees it. It is a lamentable thing to have fired in the dark, and then discover that you have shot a wandering mule, and not the noble game you were in pursuit of. One cannot take his reference library with him to the shops. The tests, the criteria, must be carried in the head. The last and most inappropriate moment for getting up bibliographical lore is that moment when the pressing question is, to buy or not to buy. Master Slender, in the play, learned the difficulties which beset a man whose knowledge is in a book, and whose book is at home upon a shelf. It is possible to sympathize with him when he exclaims, 'I had rather than forty shillings I had my Book of Songs and Sonnets here!' In making love there are other resources; all wooers are not as ill equipped as Slender was. But in hunting rare books the time will be sure to come when a man may well cry, 'I had rather than forty dollars I had my list of first editions with me!'
The Bibliotaph carried much accurate information in his head, but he never traveled without a thesaurus in his valise. It was a small volume containing printed lists of the first editions of rare books. The volume was interleaved; the leaves were crowded with manuscript notes. An appendix contained a hundred and more autograph letters from living authors, correcting, supplementing, or approving the printed bibliographies. Even these authors' own lists were accurately corrected. They needed it in not a few instances. For it is a wise author who knows his own first edition. Men may write remarkable books, and understand but little the virtues of their books from the collector's point of view. Men are seldom clever in more ways than one. Z. Jackson was a practical printer, and his knowledge as a printer enabled him to correct sundry errors in the first folio of Shakespeare. But Z. Jackson, as the Rev. George Dawson observes, 'ventured beyond the composing-case, and, having corrected blunders made by the printers, corrected excellencies made by the poet.'
It was amusing to discover, by means of these autograph letters, how seldom a good author was an equally good bibliographer. And this is as it should be. The author's business is, not to take account of first editions, but to make books of such virtue that bibliomaniacs shall be eager to possess the first editions thereof. It is proverbial that a poet is able to show a farmer things new to him about his own farm. Turn a bibliographer loose upon a poet's works, and he will amaze the poet with an account of his own doings. The poet will straightway discover that while he supposed himself to be making 'mere literature' he was in reality contributing to an elaborate and exact science.
The Bibliotaph was not a blind enthusiast on the subject of first editions. He was one of the few men who understood the exceeding great virtues of second editions. He declared that a man who was so fortunate as to secure a second edition of Henry Crabb Robinson's Diary was in better case than he who had bothered himself to obtain a first. When it fell in with his mood to argue against that which he himself most affected, he would quote the childish bit of doggerel beginning 'The first the worst, the second the same,' and then grow eloquent over the dainty Templeman Hazlitts which are chiefly third editions. He thought it absurd to worry over a first issue of Carlyle's French Revolution if it were possible to buy at moderate price a copy of the third edition, which is a well-nigh perfect book, 'good to the touch and grateful to the eye.' But this lover of books grew fierce in his special mania if you hinted that it was also foolish to spend a large sum on an editio princeps of Paradise Lost or of Robinson Crusoe. There are certain authors concerning the desirability of whose first editions it must not be disputed.
The singular readiness with which bookish treasures fell into his way astonished less fortunate buyers. Rare Stevensons dropped into his hand like ripe fruit from a tree. The most inaccessible of pamphlets fawned upon him, begging to be purchased, just as the succulent little roast pigs in The New Paul and Virginia run about with knives and forks in their sides pleading to be eaten. The Bibliotaph said he did not despair of buying Poe's Tamerlane for twenty-five cents one of these days; and that a rarity he was sure to get sooner or later was a copy of that English newspaper which announced Shelley's death under the caption Now he Knows whether there is a Hell or Not.
He unconsciously followed Heber in that he disliked large-paper copies. Heber would none of them because they took up too much room; their ample borders encroached upon the rights of other books. Heber objected to this as Prosper Merimee objected to the gigantic English hoopskirts of 1865,—there was space on Regent Street for but one woman at a time.
Original as the Bibliotaph was in appearance, manners, habits, he was less striking in what he did than in what he said. It is a pity that no record of his talk exists. It is not surprising that there is no such record, for his habits of wandering precluded the possibility of his making a permanent impression. By the time people had fully awakened to the significance of his presence among them he was gone. So there grew up a legend concerning him, but no true biography. He was like a comet, very shaggy and very brilliant, but he stayed so brief a time in a place that it was impossible for one man to give either the days or the thought to the reproduction of his more serious and considered words. A greater difficulty was involved in the fact that the Bibliotaph had many socii, but no fidus Achates. Moreover, Achates, in this instance, would have needed the reportorial powers of a James Boswell that he might properly interpret genius to the public.
This particular genius illustrated the misfortune of having too great facility in establishing those relations which lie midway between acquaintance and friendship. To put the matter in the form of a paradox, he had so many friends that he had no friend. Perhaps this is unjust, but friendship has a touch of jealousy and exclusiveness in it. He was too large-natured to say to one of his admirers, 'Thou shalt have no other gods save myself;' but there were those among the admirers who were quite prepared to say to him, 'We prefer that thou shalt have no other worshipers in addition to us.'
People wondered that he seemed to have no care for a conventional home life. He was taxed with want of sympathy with what makes even a humble home a centre of light and happiness. He denied it, and said to his accusers, 'Can you not understand that after a stay in your home I go away with much the feeling that must possess a lusty young calf when his well-equipped mother tells him that henceforth he must find means of sustenance elsewhere?'
He professed to have been once in love, but no one believed it. He used to say that his most remarkable experience as a bachelor was in noting the uniformity with which eligible young women passed him by on the other side of the way. And when a married friend offered condolence, with that sleek complacency of manner noteworthy in men who are conscious of being mated for life better than they deserve, the Bibliotaph said, with an admiring glance at the wife, 'Your sympathy is supererogatory, sir, for I fully expect to become your residuary legatee.'
It is most pleasing to think of this unique man 'buffeting his books' in one of those temporary libraries which formed about him whenever he stopped four or five weeks in a place. The shops were rifled of not a few of their choicest possessions, and the spoils carried off to his room. It was a joy to see him display his treasures, a delight to hear him talk of them. He would disarm criticism with respect to the more eccentric purchases by saying, 'You wouldn't approve of this, but I thought it was curious,'—and then a torrent of facts, criticisms, quotations, all bearing upon the particular volume which you were supposed not to like; and so on, hour after hour. There was no limit save that imposed by the receptive capacity of the guest. It reminded one of the word spoken concerning a 'hard sitter at books' of the last century, that he was a literary giant 'born to grapple with whole libraries.' But the fine flavor of those hours spent in hearing him discourse upon books and men is not to be recovered. It is evanescent, spectral, now. This talk was like the improvisation of a musician who is profoundly learned, but has in him a vein of poetry too. The talk and the music strongly appeal to robust minds, and at the same time do not repel the sentimentalist.
It is not to be supposed that the Bibliotaph pleased every one with whom he came in contact. There were people whom his intellectual potency affected in a disagreeable way. They accused him of applying great mental force to inconsidered trifles. They said it was a misfortune that so much talent was going to waste. But there is no task so easy as criticising an able man's employment of his gifts.
THE BIBLIOTAPH: HIS FRIENDS, SCRAP-BOOKS, AND 'BINS'
To arrive at a high degree of pleasure in collecting a library, one must travel. The Bibliotaph regularly traveled in search of his volumes. His theory was that the collector must go to the book, not wait for the book to come to him. No reputable sportsman, he said, would wish the game brought alive to his back-yard for him to kill. Half the pleasure was in tracking the quarry to its hiding-place. He himself ordered but seldom from catalogues, and went regularly to and fro among the dealers in books, seeking the volume which his heart desired. He enjoyed those shops where the book-seller kept open house, where the stock was large and surprises were common, where the proprietor was prodigiously well-informed on some points and correspondingly ill-informed on others. He bought freely, never disputed a price, and laid down his cash with the air of a man who believes that unspent money is the root of all evil.
These travels brought about three results: the making of friends, the compilation of scrap-books, and the establishment of 'bins.' Before speaking of any one of these points, a word on the satisfactions of bibliographical touring.
In every town of considerable size, and in many towns of inconsiderable size, are bookshops. It is a poor shop which does not contain at least one good book. This book bides its time, and usually outstays its welcome. But its fate is about its neck. Somewhere there is a collector to whom that book is precious. They are made for one another, the collector and the book; and it is astonishing how infrequently they miss of realizing their mutual happiness. The book-seller is a marriage-broker for unwedded books. His business is to find them homes, and take a fee for so doing. Sugarman the Shadchan was not more zealous than is your vendor of rare books.
Now, it is a curious fact that the most desirable of bookish treasures are often found where one would be least likely to seek them. Montana is a great State, nevertheless one does not think of going to Montana for early editions of Shakespeare. Let the book-hunter inwardly digest the following plain tale of a clergyman and a book of plays.
There is a certain collector who is sometimes called 'The Bishop.' He is not a bishop, but he may be so designated; coming events have been known to cast conspicuous shadows in the likeness of mitre and crosier. The Bishop heard of a man in Montana who had an old book of plays with an autograph of William Shakespeare pasted in it. Being a wise ecclesiastic, he did not exclaim 'Tush' and 'Fie,' but proceeded at once to go book-hunting in Montana. He went by proxy, if not in person; the journey is long. In due time the owner of the volume was found and the book was placed in the Bishop's hands for inspection. He tore off the wrappers, and lo! it was a Fourth Folio of Shakespeare excellently well preserved, and with what appeared to be the great dramatist's signature written on a slip of paper and pasted inside the front cover. The problem of the genuineness of that autograph does not concern us. The great fact is that a Shakespeare folio turned up in Montana. Now when he hears some one express desire for a copy of Greene's Groatsworth of Wit, or any other rare book of Elizabeth's time, the Bishop's thoughts fly toward the setting sun. Then he smiles a notable kind of smile, and says, 'If I could get away I'd run out to Montana and try to pick up a copy for you.'
There is a certain gentleman who loves the literature of Queen Anne's reign. He lives with Whigs and Tories, vibrates between coffee-house and tea-table. He annoys his daughter by sometimes calling her 'Belinda,' and astonishes his wife with his mock-heroic apostrophes to her hood and patches. He reads his Spectator at breakfast while other people batten upon newspapers only three hours old. He smiles over the love-letters of Richard Steele, and reverences the name and the writings of Joseph Addison. Indeed, his devotion to Addison is so radical that he has actually been guilty of reading The Campaign and the Dialogue on Medals. This gentleman hunted books one day and was not successful. It seemed to him that on this particular afternoon the world was stuffed with Allison's histories of Europe, and Jeffrey's contributions to the Edinburgh Review. His heart was filled with bitterness and his nostrils with dust. Books which looked inviting turned out to be twenty-second editions. Of fifty things upon his list not one came to light. But it was predestined that he should not go sorrowing to his home. He pulled out from a bottom shelf two musty octavo volumes bound in dark brown leather, and each securely tied with a string; for the covers had been broken from the backs. The titles were invisible, the contents a mystery. The gentleman held the unpromising objects in his hand and meditated upon them. They might be a treatise on conic sections, or a Latin Grammar, and again they might be a Book. He untied the string and opened one of the volumes. Was it a breath of summer air from Isis that swept out of those pages, which were as white as snow in spite of the lapse of nearly two centuries? He read the title, MUSARUM ANGLICANARUM ANALECTA. The date was 1699. He turned to the table of contents, and his heart gave a contented throb. There was the name he wished to see, J. Addison, Magd. Coll: The name occurred eight times. The dejected collector had found a clean and uncut copy of those two volumes of contemporary Latin verse compiled by Joseph Addison, when he was a young man at Oxford, and printed at the Sheldonian Theatre. Addison contributed eight poems to the second volume. The bookseller was willing to take seventy-five cents for the set, and told the gentleman as he did up the package that he was a comfort to the trade.
That night the gentleman read The Battle of the Pigmies and the Cranes, while his wife read the evening edition of the Lurid Paragraph. Now he says to his friends, 'Hunt books in the most unpromising places, but make a thorough search. You may not discover a Koh-i-noor, but you will be pretty sure to run upon some desirable little thing which gives you pleasure and costs but a trifle.'
One effect of this adventure upon himself is that he cannot pass a volume which is tied with a string. He spends his days and Saturday nights in tying and untying books with broken covers. Even the evidence of a clearly-lettered title upon the back fails to satisfy him. He is restless until he has made a thorough search in the body of the volume.
The Bibliotaph's own best strokes of fortune were made in out-of-the-way places. But some god was on his side. For at his approach the bibliographical desert blossomed like the rose. He used to hunt books in Texas at one period in his life; and out of Texas would he come, bringing, so it is said, first editions of George Borrow and Jane Austen. It was maddening to be with him at such times, especially if one had a gift for envy.
Yet why should one envy him his money, or his unerring hand and eye? He paid for the book, but it was yours to read and to caress so long as you would. If he took it from you it was only that he might pass it on to some other friend. But if that volume once started in the direction of the great tomb of books in Westchester County, no power on earth could avail to restore it to the light of day.
It is pleasant to meditate upon past journeys with the Bibliotaph. He was an incomparable traveling companion, buoyant, philosophic, incapable of fatigue, and never ill. Yet it is a tradition current, that he, the mighty, who called himself a friend to physicians, because he never robbed them of their time either in or out of office-hours, once succumbed to that irritating little malady known as car-sickness. He succumbed, but he met his fate bravely and with the colors of his wit flying. The circumstances are these:—
There is a certain railway thoroughfare which justly prides itself upon the beauty of its scenery. This road passes through a hill-country, and what it gains in the picturesque it loses in that rectilinear directness most grateful to the traveler with a sensitive stomach. The Bibliotaph often patronized this thoroughfare, and one day it made him sick. As the train swept around a sharp curve, he announced his earliest symptom by saying: 'The conspicuous advantages of this road are that one gets views of the scenery and reviews of his meals.'
A few minutes later he suggested that the road would do well to change its name, and hereafter be known as 'The Emetic G. and O.'
They who were with him proffered sympathy, but he refused to be pitied. He thought he had a remedy. He discovered that by taking as nearly as possible a reclining posture, he got temporary relief. He kept settling more and more till at last he was nearly on his back. Then he said: 'If it be true that the lower down we get the more comfortable we are, the basements of Hell will have their compensations.'
He was too ill to say much after this, but his last word, before the final and complete extinction of his manhood, was, 'The influence of this road is such that employees have been known involuntarily to throw up their jobs.'
The Bibliotaph invariably excited comment and attention when he was upon his travels. I do not think he altogether liked it. Perhaps he neither liked it nor disliked it. He accepted the fact that he was not as other men quite as he would have accepted any indisputable fact. He used occasionally to express annoyance because of the discrepancy between his reputation and appearance; in other words, because he seemed a man of greater fame than he was. He suffered the petty discomforts of being a personage, and enjoyed none of the advantages. He declared that he was quite willing to be much more distinguished or much less conspicuous. What he objected to was the Laodicean character of his reputation as set over against the pronounced and even startling character of his looks and manner.
He used also to note with amusement how indelible a mark certain early ambitions and tentative studies had made upon him. People invariably took him for a clergyman. They decided this at once and conducted themselves accordingly. He made no protest, but observed that their convictions as to how they should behave in his presence had corollaries in the shape of very definite convictions as to how he should carry himself before them. He thought that such people might be described as moral trainers. They do not profess virtue themselves, but they take a real pleasure in keeping you up to your profession.
The Bibliotaph had no explanation to give why he was so immediately and invariably accounted as one in orders. He was quite sure that the clerical look was innate, and by no means dependent upon the wearing of a high vest or a Joseph Parker style of whisker; for once as he sat in the hot room of a Turkish bath and in the Adamitic simplicity of attire suitable to the temperature and the place, a gentleman who occupied the chair nearest introduced conversation by saying, 'I beg your pardon, sir, but are you not a clergyman?'
'This incident,' said the Bibliotaph, 'gave me a vivid sense of the possibility of determining a man's profession by a cursory examination of his cuticle.' Lowell's conviction about N. P. Willis was well-founded: namely, that if it had been proper to do so, Willis could have worn his own plain bare skin in a way to suggest that it was a representative Broadway tailor's best work.
I imagine that few boys escape an outburst of that savage instinct for personal adornment which expresses itself in the form of rude tattooing upon the arms. The Bibliotaph had had his attack in early days, and the result was a series of decorations of a highly patriotic character, and not at all in keeping with South Kensington standards. I said to him once, apropos of the pictures on his arms: 'You are a great surprise to your friends in this particular.' 'Yes,' he replied, 'few of them are aware that the volume of this Life is extra-illustrated.'
But that which he of necessity tolerated in himself he would not tolerate in his books. They were not allowed to become pictorially amplified. He saw no objection to inserting a rare portrait in a good book. It did not necessarily injure the book, and it was one way of preserving the portrait. Yet the thing was questionable, and it was likely to prove the first step in a downward path. As to cramming a volume with a heterogeneous mass of pictures and letters gathered from all imaginable sources, he held the practice in abhorrence, and the bibliographical results as fit only for the libraries of the illiterate rich. He admitted the possibility of doing such a thing well or ill; but at its best it was an ill thing skillfully done.
The Bibliotaph upon his travels was a noteworthy figure if only because of the immense parcel of books with which he burdened himself. That part of the journeying public which loves to see some new thing puzzled itself mightily over the gentleman of full habit, who in addition to his not inconsiderable encumbrance of flesh and luggage, chose to carry about a shawl-strap loaded to utmost capacity with a composite mass of books, magazines, and newspapers. It was enormously heavy, and the way in which its component parts adhered was but a degree short of the miraculous. He appeared hardly conscious of its weight, for he would pick the thing up and literally trip with it on a toe certainly not light, but undeniably fantastic.
He carried the books about with him partly because he had just purchased them and wished to study their salient points, and partly because he was taking them to a 'bin.' There is no mystery about these 'bins.' They were merely places of temporary rest for the books before the grand moving to the main library. But if not mysterious they were certainly astonishing, because of their number and size. With respect to number, one in every large city was the rule. With respect to size, few people buy in a lifetime as many books as were sometimes heaped together in one of these places of deposit. He would begin by leaving a small bundle of books with some favorite dealer, then another, and then another. As the collection enlarged, the accommodations would be increased; for it was a satisfaction to do the Bibliotaph this favor, he purchased so liberally and tipped the juvenile clerks in so royal a manner. Nor was he always in haste to move out after he had once moved in. One bookseller, speaking of the splendid proportions which the 'bin' was assuming, declared that he sometimes found it difficult to adjust himself mentally to the situation; he couldn't tell when he came to his place of business in the morning whether he was in his own shop or the Bibliotaph's library.
The corner of the shop where the great collector's accumulations were piled up was a centre of mirth and conversation if he himself chanced to be in town. Men dropped in for a minute and stayed an hour. In some way time appeared to broaden and leisure to grow more ample. Life had an unusual richness, and warmth, and color, when the Bibliotaph was by. There was an Olympian largeness and serenity about him. He seemed almost pagan in the breadth of his hold upon existence. And when he departed he left behind him what can only be described as great unfilled mental spaces. I recall that a placard was hung up in his particular corner with the inscription, 'English spoken here.' This amused him. Later there was attached to it another strip upon which was crayoned, 'Sir, we had much good talk,' with the date of the talk. Still later a victim added the words, 'Yes, sir, on that day the Bibliotaph tossed and gored a number of people admirably.'
It was difficult for the Bibliotaph not to emit intellectual sparks of one kind or another. His habit of dealing with every fact as if it deserved his entire mental force, was a secret of his originality. Everything was worth while. If the fact was a serious fact, all the strength of his mind would be applied to its exposition or defense. If it was a fact of less importance, humor would appear as a means to the conversational end. And he would grow more humorous as the topics grew less significant. When finally he rioted in mere word-play, banter, quizzing, it was a sign that he regarded the matter as worthy no higher species of notice.
I like this theory of his wit so well that I am minded not to expose it to an over-rigid test. The following small fragments of his talk are illustrative of such measure of truth as the theory may contain.
Among the Bibliotaph's companions was one towards whose mind he affected the benevolent and encouraging attitude of a father to a budding child. He was asked by this friend to describe a certain quaint and highly successful entertainer. This was the response: 'The gentleman of whom you speak has the habit of coming before his audience as an idiot and retiring as a genius. You and I, sir, couldn't do that; we should sustain the first character consistently throughout the entire performance.'
It was his humor to insist that all the virtues and gifts of a distinguished collector were due for their expansion and development to association with himself and the writer of these memories. He would say in the presence of the distinguished collector: 'Henry will probably one day forget us, but on the Day of Judgment, in any just estimate of the causes of his success, the Lord won't.'
I have forgotten what the victim's retort was; it is safe to assume that it was adequate.
This same collector had the pleasing habit of honoring the men he loved, among whom the Bibliotaph was chief, with brightly written letters which filled ten and fifteen half-sheets. But the average number of words to a line was two, while a five-syllable word had trouble in accommodating itself to a line and a half, and the sheets were written only upon one side. The Bibliotaph's comment was: 'Henry has a small brain output, but unlimited influence at a paper-mill.'
Of all the merry sayings in which the Bibliotaph indulged himself at the expense of his closest friend this was the most comforting. A gentleman present was complaining that Henry took liberties in correcting his pronunciation. 'I have no doubt of the occasional need of such correction, but it isn't often required, and not half so often as he seems to think. I, on the other hand, observe frequent minor slips in his use of language, but I do not feel at liberty to correct him.'
The Bibliotaph began to apply salve to the bruised feelings of the gentleman present as follows: 'The animus of Henry's criticism is unquestionably envy. He probably feels how few flies there are in your ointment. While you are astonished that in his case there should be so little ointment for so many flies.'
The Bibliotaph never used slang, and the united recollections of his associates can adduce but two or three instances in which he sunk verbally so low as even to hint slang. He said that there was one town which in his capacity of public speaker he should like to visit. It was a remote village in Virginia where there was a girls' seminary, the catalogue of which set forth among advantages of location this: that the town was one to which the traveling lecturer and the circus never came. The Bibliotaph said, 'I should go there. For I am the one when I am on the platform, and by the unanimous testimony of all my friends I am the other when I am off.'
The second instance not only illustrates his ingenuity in trifles, but also shows how he could occasionally answer a friend according to his folly. He had been describing a visit which he had made in the hero-worshiping days of boyhood to Chappaqua; how friendly and good-natured the great farmer-editor was; how he called the Bibliotaph 'Bub,' and invited him to stay to dinner; how he stayed and talked politics with his host; how they went out to the barn afterwards to look at the stock; what Greeley said to him and what he said to Greeley,—it was a perfect bit of word-sketching, spontaneous, realistic, homely, unpretentious, irresistibly comic because of the quaintness of the dialogue as reported, and because of the mental image which we formed of this large-headed, round-bellied, precocious youth, who at the age of sixteen was able for three consecutive hours to keep the conversational shuttlecock in the air with no less a person than Horace Greeley. Amid the laughter and comment which followed the narration one mirthful genius who chose for the day to occupy the seat of the scorner, called out to the Bibliotaph:—
'How old did you say you were at that time, "Bub"?'
'And did you wear whiskers?'
The query was insulting. But the Bibliotaph measured the flippancy of the remark with his eye and instantly fitted an answer to the mental needs of the questioner.
'Even if I had,' he said, 'it would have availed me nothing, for in those days there was no wind.'
The Bibliotaph was most at home in the book-shop, on the street, or at his hotel. He went to public libraries only in an emergency, for he was impatient of that needful discipline which compelled him to ask for each volume he wished to see. He had, however, two friends in whose libraries one might occasionally meet him in the days when he hunted books upon this wide continent. One was the gentleman to whom certain letters on literature have been openly addressed, and who has made a library by a process which involves wise selection and infinite self-restraint. This priceless little collection contains no volume which is imperfect, no volume which mars the fine sense of repose begotten in one at the sight of lovely books becomingly clothed, and no volume which is not worthy the name of literature. And there is matter for reflection in the thought that it is not the library of a rich man. Money cannot buy the wisdom which has made this collection what it is, and without self-denial it is hardly possible to give the touch of real elegance to a private library. When dollars are not counted the assemblage of books becomes promiscuous. How may we better describe this library than by the phrase Infinite riches in a little book-case!
There was yet another friend, the Country Squire, who revels in wealth, buys large-paper copies, reads little but deeply, and raises chickens. His library (the room itself, I mean) is a gentleman's library, with much cornice, much plate-glass, and much carving; whereof a wit said, 'The Squire has such a beautiful library, and no place to put his books.'
These books are of a sort to rejoice the heart, but their tenure of occupancy is uncertain. Hardly one of them but is liable to eviction without a moment's notice. They have a look in their attitude which indicates consciousness of being pilgrims and strangers. They seem to say, 'We can tarry, we can tarry but a night.' Some have tarried two nights, others a week, others a year, a few even longer. But aside from a dozen or so of volumes, not one of the remaining three thousand dares to affirm that it holds a permanent place in its owner's heart of hearts. It is indeed a noble procession of books which has passed in and out of those doors. A day will come in which the owner realizes that he has as good as the market can furnish, and then banishments will cease. One sighs not for the volumes which deserved exile, but for those which were sent away because their master ceased to love them.
There was no friend with whom the Bibliotaph lived on easier terms than with the Country Squire. They were counterparts. They supplemented one another. The Bibliotaph, though he was born and bred on a farm, had fled for his salvation to the city. The Squire, a man of city birth and city education, had fled for his soul's health to the country; he had rendered existence almost perfect by setting up an urban home in rural surroundings. It was well said of that house that it was finely reticent in its proffers of hospitality, and regally magnificent in its kindness to those whom it delighted to honor.
It was in the Country Squire's library that the Bibliotaph first met that actor with whom he became even more intimate than with the Squire himself. The closeness of their relation suggested the days of the old Miracle plays when the theatre and the Church were as hand in glove. The Bibliotaph signified his appreciation of his new friend by giving him a copy of a sixteenth-century book 'containing a pleasant invective against Poets, Pipers, Players, Jesters, and such like Caterpillars of a Commonwealth.' The Player in turn compiled for his friend of clerical appearance a scrap-book, intended to show how evil associations corrupt good actors.
This actor professed that which for want of a better term might be called parlor agnosticism. The Bibliotaph was sturdily inclined towards orthodoxy, and there was from time to time collision between the two. It is my impression that the actor sometimes retired with four of his five wits halting. But he was brilliant even when he mentally staggered. Neither antagonist convinced the other, and after a while they grew wearied of traveling over one another's minds.
It fell out on a day that the actor made a fine speech before a large gathering, and mindful of stage effect he introduced a telling allusion to an all-wise and omnipotent Providence. For this he was, to use his own phrase, 'soundly spanked' by all his friends; that is, he was mocked at, jeered, ridiculed. To what end, they said, was one an agnostic if he weakly yielded his position to the exigencies of an after-dinner speech. The Bibliotaph alone took pains to analyze his late antagonist's position. He wrote to the actor congratulating him upon his success. 'I wondered a little at this, remembering how inconsiderable has been your practice; and I infer that it has been inconsiderable, for I am aware how seldom an actor can be persuaded to make a speech. I, too, was at first shocked when I heard that you had made a respectful allusion to Deity; but I presently took comfort, remembering that your gods, like your grease-paints, are purely professional.'
He was always capital in these teasing moods. To be sure, he buffeted one about tremendously, but his claws were sheathed, and there was a contagiousness in his frolicsome humor. Moreover one learned to look upon one's self in the light of a public benefactor. To submit to be knocked about by the Bibliotaph was in a modest way to contribute to the gayety of nations. If one was not absolutely happy one's self, there was a chastened comfort in beholding the happiness of the on-lookers.
A small author wrote a small book, so small that it could be read in less time than it takes to cover an umbrella, that is, 'while you wait.' The Bibliotaph had Brobdingnagian joy of this book. He sat and read it to himself in the author's presence, and particularly diminutive that book appeared as its light cloth cover was outlined against the Bibliotaph's ample black waistcoat. From time to time he would vent 'a series of small private laughs,' especially if he was on the point of announcing some fresh illustration of the fallibility of inexperienced writers. Finally the uncomfortable author said, 'Don't sit there and pick out the mistakes.' To which the Bibliotaph triumphantly replied, 'What other motive is there for reading it at all?'
He purchased every copy of this book which he could find, and when asked by the author why he did so, replied, 'In order to withdraw it from circulation.' A moment afterwards he added reflectively, 'But how may I hope to withdraw a book from that which it has never had?'
He was apt to be severe in his judgment of books, as when he said of a very popular but very feeble literary performance that it was an argument for the existence of God. 'Such intensity of stupidity was not realized without Infinite assistance.'
He could be equally emphatic in his comments upon men. Among his acquaintance was a church dignitary who blew alternately hot and cold upon him. When advised of some new illustration of the divine's uncertainty of attitude, the Bibliotaph merely said, 'He's more of a chameleon than he is a clergyman.'
That Bostonian would be deficient in wit who failed to enjoy this remark. Speaking of the characteristics of American cities, the Bibliotaph said, 'It never occurs to the Hub that anything of importance can possibly happen at the periphery.'
He greatly admired the genial and philanthropic editor of a well-known Philadelphia newspaper. Shortly after Mr. Childs's death some one wrote to the Bibliotaph that in a quiet Kentucky town he had noticed a sign over a shop-door which read, 'G. W. Childs, dealer in Tobacco and Cigars.' There was something graceful in the Bibliotaph's reply. He expressed surprise at Mr. Childs's new occupation, but declared that for his own part he was 'glad to know that the location of Heaven had at last been definitely ascertained.'
The Bibliotaph habitually indulged himself in the practice of hero-worship. This propensity led him to make those glorified scrap-books which were so striking a feature in his collection. They were no commonplace affairs, the ugly result of a union of cheap leather, newspaper-clippings and paste, but sumptuous books resplendent in morocco and gilt tooling, the creations of an artist who was eminent among binders. These scrap-books were chiefly devoted to living men,—men who were famous, or who were believed to be on the high road to fame. There was a book for each man. In this way did the Bibliotaph burn incense before his Dii majores et minores.
These books were enriched with everything that could illustrate the gifts and virtues of the men in whose honor they were made. They contained rare manuscripts, rare pictures, autograph comments and notes, a bewildering variety of records,—memorabilia which were above price. Poets wrote humorous verse, and artists who justly held their time as too precious to permit of their working for love decorated the pages of the Bibliotaph's scrap-books. One does not abuse the word 'unique' when he applies it to these striking volumes.
The Bibliotaph did not always follow contemporary judgment in his selection of men to be so canonized. He now and then honored a man whose sense of the relation of achievement to fame would not allow him to admit to himself that he deserved the distinction, and whose sense of humor could not but be strongly excited at the thought of deification by so unusual a process. It might be pleasant to consider that the Bibliotaph cared so much for one's letters as to wish not to destroy them, but it was awful to think of those letters as bound and annotated. This was to get a taste of posthumous fame before posthumous fame was due. The Bibliotaph added a new terror to life, for he compelled one to live up to one's scrap-book. He reversed the old Pagan formula, which was to the effect that 'So-and-So died and was made a god.' According to the Bibliotaph's prophetic method, a man was made a god first and allowed to die at his leisure afterward. Not every one of that little company which his wisdom and love have marked for great reputation will be able to achieve it. They are unanimously grateful that he cared enough for them to wish to drag their humble gifts into the broad light of publicity. But their gratitude is tempered by the thought that perhaps he was only elaborately humorous at their expense.
The Bibliotaph's intellectual processes were so vigorous and his pleasure in mental activity for its own sake was so intense that he was quite capable of deciding after a topic of discussion had been introduced which side he would take. And this with a splendid disdain of the merits of the cause which he espoused. I remember that he once set out to maintain the thesis that a certain gentleman, as notable for his virtues as he was conspicuous for lack of beauty, was essentially a handsome man. The person who initiated the discussion by observing that 'Mr. Blank was unquestionably a plain man' expected from the Bibliotaph (if he expected any remark whatever) nothing beyond a Platonic 'That I do most firmly believe.' He was not a little astonished when the great book-collector began an elaborate and exhaustive defense of the gentleman whose claims to beauty had been questioned. At first it was dialogue, and the opponent had his share of talk; but when in an unlucky moment he hinted that such energy could only be the result of consciousness on the Bibliotaph's part that he was in a measure pleading his own cause, the dialogue changed to monologue. For the Bibliotaph girded up his loins and proceeded to smite his opponent hip and thigh. All in good humor, to be sure, and laughter reigned, but it was tremendous and it was logically convincing. It was clearly not safe to have a reputation for good looks while the Bibliotaph was in this temper. All the gentlemen were in terror lest something about their countenances might be construed as beauty, and men with good complexions longed for newspapers behind which to hide their disgrace.
As for the disputant who had stirred up the monster, his situation was as unenviable as it was comic to the bystanders. He had never before dropped a stone into the great geyser. He was therefore unprepared for the result. One likened him to an unprotected traveler in a heavy rain-storm. For the Bibliotaph's unpremeditated speech was a very cloud-burst of eloquence. The unhappy gentleman looked despairingly in every direction as if beseeching us for the loan of a word-proof umbrella. There was none to be had. We who had known a like experience were not sorry to stand under cover and watch a fellow mortal undergo this verbal drenching. The situation recalled one described by Lockhart when a guest differed on a point of scholarship with the great Coleridge. Coleridge began to 'exert himself.' He burst into a steady stream of talk which broadened and deepened as the moments fled. When finally it ceased the bewildered auditor pulled himself together and exclaimed, 'Zounds, I was never so be-thumped with words in my life!'
People who had opportunity of observing the Bibliotaph were tempted to speculate on what he might have become if he had not chosen to be just what he was. His versatility led them to declare for this, that, and the other profession, largely in accordance with their own personal preferences. Lawyers were sure that he should have been an advocate; ministers that he would have done well to yield to the 'call' he had in his youth; teachers were positive that he would have made an inspiring teacher. No one, so far as I know, ever told him that in becoming a book-collector he had deprived the world of a great musician; for he was like Charles Lamb in that he was sentimentally inclined to harmony but organically incapable of a tune.
Yet he was so broad-minded that it was not possible for him to hold even a neutral attitude in the presence of anything in which other people delighted. I have known him to sit through a long and heavy organ recital, not in a resigned manner but actively attentive, clearly determined that if the minutest portion of his soul was sensitive to the fugues of J. S. Bach he would allow that portion to bask in the sunshine of an unwonted experience. So that from one point of view he was the incarnation of tolerance as he certainly was the incarnation of good-humor and generosity. He envied no man his gifts from Nature or Fortune. He was not only glad to let live, but painstakingly energetic in making the living of people a pleasure to them, and he received with amused placidity adverse comments upon himself.
Words which have been used to describe a famous man of this century I will venture to apply in part to the Bibliotaph. 'He was a kind of gigantic and Olympian school-boy, ... loving-hearted, bountiful, wholesome and sterling to the heart's core.'
LAST WORDS ON THE BIBLIOTAPH
The Bibliotaph's major passion was for collecting books; but he had a minor passion, the bare mention of which caused people to lift their eyebrows suspiciously. He was a shameless, a persistent, and a successful hunter of autographs. His desire was for the signatures of living men of letters, though an occasional dead author would be allowed a place in the collection, provided he had not been dead too long. As a rule, however, the Bibliotaph coveted the 'hand of write' of the man who was now more or less conspicuously in the public eye. This autograph must be written in a representative work of the author in question. The Bibliotaph would not have crossed the street to secure a line from Ben Jonson's pen, but he mourned because the autograph of the Rev. C. L. Dodgson was not forthcoming, nor likely to be. His conception of happiness was this: to own a copy of the first edition of Alice in Wonderland, upon the fly-leaf of which Lewis Carroll had written his name, together with the statement that he had done so at the Bibliotaph's request, and because that eminent collector could not be made happy in any other Way.
The Bibliotaph liked the autograph of the modern man of letters because it was modern, and because there was a reasonable hope of its being genuine. He loved genuineness. Everything about himself was exactly what it pretended to be. From his soul to his clothing he was honest. And his love for the genuine was only surpassed in degree by his contempt for the spurious. I remember that some one gave him a bit of silverware, a toilet article, perhaps, which he next day threw out of a car window, because he had discovered that it was not sterling. He scouted the suggestion that possibly the giver may not have known. Such ignorance was inexcusable, he said. 'The likelier interpretation was that the gift was symbolical of the giver.' The act seemed brutal, and the comment thereon even more so. But to realize the atmosphere, the setting of the incident, one must imagine the Bibliotaph's round and comfortable figure, his humorous look, and the air of genial placidity with which he would do and say a thing like this. It was as impossible to be angry with him in behalf of the unfortunate giver of cheap silver as to take offense at a tree or mountain. And it was useless to argue the matter—nay it was folly, for he would immediately become polysyllabic and talk one down.
It was this desire for genuine things which made him entirely suspicious of autographs which had been bought and sold. He had no faith in them, and he would weaken your faith, supposing you were a collector of such things. Offer him an autograph of our first president and he would reply, 'I don't believe that it's genuine; and if it were I shouldn't care for it; I never had the honor of General Washington's acquaintance.' The inference was that one could have a personal relation with a living great man, and the chances were largely in favor of getting an autograph that was not an object of suspicion.
Few collectors in this line have been as happy as the Bibliotaph. The problem was easily mastered with respect to the majority of authors. As a rule an author is not unwilling to give such additional pleasure to a reader of his book as may consist in writing his name in the reader's copy. It is conceivable that the author may be bored by too many requests of this nature, but he might be bored to an even greater degree if no one cared enough for him to ask for his autograph. Some writers resisted a little, and it was beautiful to see the Bibliotaph bring them to terms. He was a highwayman of the Tom Faggus type, just so adroit, and courteous, and daring. He was perhaps at his best in cases where he had actually to hold up his victim; one may imagine the scene,—the author resisting, the Bibliotaph determined and having the masterful air of an expert who had handled just such cases before.
A humble satellite who disapproved of these proceedings read aloud to the Bibliotaph that scorching little essay entitled Involuntary Bailees, written by perhaps the wittiest living English essayist. An involuntary bailee—as the essayist explains—is a person to whom people (generally unknown to him) send things which he does not wish to receive, but which they are anxious to have returned. If a man insists upon lending you a book, you become an involuntary bailee. You don't wish to read the book, but you have it in your possession. It has come to you by post, let us suppose, 'and to pack it up and send it back again requires a piece of string, energy, brown paper, and stamps enough to defray the postage.' And it is a question whether a casual acquaintance 'has any right thus to make demands on a man's energy, money, time, brown paper, string, and other capital and commodities.' There are other ways of making a man an involuntary bailee. You may ask him to pass judgment on your poetry, or to use his influence to get your tragedy produced, or to do any one of a half hundred things which he doesn't want to do and which you have no business to ask him to do. The essayist makes no mention of the particular form of sin which the Bibliotaph practiced, but he would probably admit that malediction was the only proper treatment for the idler who bothers respectable authors by asking them to write their names in his copies of their books. For to what greater extent could one trespass upon an author's patience, energy, brown paper, string, and commodities generally? It was amusing to watch the Bibliotaph as he listened to this arraignment of his favorite pursuit. The writer of the essay admits that there may be extenuating circumstances. If the autograph collector comes bearing gifts one may smile upon his suit. If for example he accompanies his request for an autograph with 'several brace of grouse, or a salmon of noble proportions, or rare old books bound by Derome, or a service of Worcester china with the square mark,' he may hope for success. The essayist opines that such gifts 'will not be returned by a celebrity who respects himself.' 'They bless him who gives and him who takes much more than tons of manuscript poetry, and thousands of entreaties for an autograph.'
A superficial examination of the Bibliotaph's collection revealed the fact that he had either used necromancy or given many gifts. The reader may imagine some such conversation between the great collector and one of his dazzled visitors:—
'Pray, how did you come by this?'
'His lordship has always been very kind in such matters.'
'And where did you get this?'
'I am greatly indebted to the Prime Minister for his complaisance.'
'But this poet is said to abhor Americans.'
'You see that his antipathy has not prevented his writing a stanza in my copy of his most notable volume.'
'I have at divers times contributed the sum of five dollars to divers Fresh Air funds.'
The Bibliotaph could not be convinced that his sin of autograph collecting was not venial. When authors denied his requests, on the ground that they were intrusions, he was inclined to believe that selfishness lay at the basis of their motives. Some men are quite willing to accept great fame, but they resent being obliged to pay the penalties. They wish to sit in the fierce light which beats on an intellectual throne, but they are indignant when the passers-by stop to stare at them. They imagine that they can successfully combine the glory of honorable publicity with the perfect retirement enjoyed only by aspiring mediocrity. The Bibliotaph believed that he was a missionary to these people. He awakened in them a sense of their obligations toward their admirers. The principle involved is akin to that enunciated by a certain American philosopher, who held that it is an act of generosity to borrow of a man once in a while; it gives that man a lively interest in the possible success or possible failure of your undertaking.
He levied autographic toll on young writers. For mature men of letters with established reputations he would do extraordinary and difficult services. A famous Englishman, not a novelist by profession, albeit he wrote one of the most successful novels of his day, earnestly desired to own if possible a complete set of all the American pirated editions of his book. The Bibliotaph set himself to this task, and collected energetically for two years. The undertaking was considerable, for many of the pirated editions were in pamphlet, and dating from twenty years back. It was almost impossible to get the earliest in a spotless condition. Quantities of trash had to be overhauled, and weeks might elapse before a perfect copy of a given edition would come to light. Books are dirty, but pamphlets are dirtier. The Bibliotaph declared that had he rendered an itemized bill for services in this matter, the largest item would have been for Turkish baths.
Here was a case in which the collector paid well for the privilege of having a signed copy of a well-loved author's novel. He begrudged no portion of his time or expenditure. If it pleased the great Englishman to have upon his shelves, in compact array and in spotless condition, these proofs of what he didn't earn by the publication of his books in America, well and good. The Bibliotaph was delighted that so modest a service on his part could give so apparently great a pleasure. The Englishman must have had the collecting instinct, and he must have been philosophical, since he could contemplate with equanimity these illegitimate volumes.
The conclusion of the story is this: The work of collecting the reprints was finished. The last installment reached the famous Englishman during an illness which subsequently proved fatal. They were spread upon the coverlid of the bed, and the invalid took a great and humorous satisfaction in looking them over. Said the Bibliotaph, recounting the incident in his succinct way, 'They reached him on his death-bed,—and made him willing to go.'
The Bibliotaph was true to the traditions of the book-collecting brotherhood, in that he read but little. His knowledge of the world was fresh from life, not 'strained through books,' as Johnson said of a certain Irish painter whom he knew at Birmingham. But the Bibliotaph was a mighty devourer of book-catalogues. He got a more complete satisfaction, I used to think, in reading a catalogue than in reading any other kind of literature. To see him unwrapping the packages which his English mail had brought was to see a happy man. For in addition to books by post, there would be bundles of sale-catalogues. Then might you behold his eyes sparkle as he spread out the tempting lists; the humorous lines about the corners of his mouth deepened, and he would take on what a little girl who watched him called his 'pussy-cat look.' Then with an indelible pencil in his huge and pudgy left fist (for the Bibliotaph was a Benjaminite), he would go through the pages, checking off the items of interest, rolling with delight in his chair as he exclaimed from time to time, 'Good books! Such good books!' Say to him that you yourself liked to read a catalogue, and his response was pretty sure to be, 'Pleasant, isn't it?' This was expressive of a high state of happiness, and was an allusion. For the Bibliotaph was once with a newly-married man, and they two met another man, who, as the conversation proceeded, disclosed the fact that he also had but recently been wed. Whereupon the first bridegroom, marveling that there could be another in the world so exalted as himself, exclaimed with sympathetic delight, 'And you, too, are married.' 'Yes,' said the second, 'pleasant, isn't it?' with much the same air that he would have said, 'Nice afternoon.' This was one of the incidents which made the Bibliotaph skeptical about marriage. But he adopted the phrase as a useful one with which to express the state of highest mental and spiritual exaltation.
People wondered at the extent of his knowledge of books. It was very great, but it was not incredible. If a man cannot touch pitch without being defiled, still less can he handle books without acquiring bibliographical information. I am not sure that the Bibliotaph ever heard of that professor of history who used to urge his pupils to handle books, even when they could not get time to read them. 'Go to the library, take down the volumes, turn over the leaves, read the title-pages and the tables of contents; information will stick to you'—this was the professor's advice. Information acquired in this way may not be profound, but so far as it goes it is definite and useful. For the collector it is indispensable. In this way the Bibliotaph had amassed his seemingly phenomenal knowledge of books. He had handled thousands and tens of thousands of volumes, and he never relinquished his hold upon a book until he had 'placed' it,—until he knew just what its rank was in the hierarchy of desirability.
Between a diligent reading of catalogues and an equally diligent rummaging among the collections of third and fourth rate old book-shops, the Bibliotaph had his reward. He undoubtedly bought a deal of trash, but he also lighted upon nuggets. For example, in Leask's Life of Boswell is an account of that curious little romance entitled Dorando. This so-called Spanish Tale, printed for J. Wilkie at the Bible in St. Paul's Church-Yard, was the work of James Boswell. It was published anonymously in 1767, and he who would might then have bought it for 'one shilling.' It was to be 'sold also by J. Dodsley in Pall Mall, T. Davies in Russell-Street, Covent Garden, and by the Book-sellers of Scotland.' This T. Davies was the very man who introduced Boswell to Johnson. He was an actor as well as a bookseller. Dorando was a story with a key. Under the names of Don Stocaccio, Don Tipponi, and Don Rodomontado real people were described, and the facts of the 'famous Douglas cause' were presented to the public. The little volume was suppressed in so far as that was possible. It is rare, so rare that Boswell's latest biographer speaks of it as the 'forlorn hope of the book-hunter,' though he doubts not that copies of it are lurking in some private collection. One copy at least is lurking in the Bibliotaph's library. He bought it, not for a song to be sure, but very reasonably. The Bibliotaph declares that this book is good for but one thing,—to shake in the faces of Boswell collectors who haven't it.