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