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BOOKS AND BOOKMEN

by Ian Maclaren [Pseudonym of the Rev. John Watson]


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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