Eugene Field.

The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac online

. (page 1 of 9)
Online LibraryEugene FieldThe Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac → online text (page 1 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by Charles Keller





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

"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?


Buena Park, December, 1895.

The Chapters in this Book




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

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

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.



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

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Online LibraryEugene FieldThe Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac → online text (page 1 of 9)