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Copyright, 1912,
By George H. Doran Company






HUMOUR: AN ANALYSIS . ,. . . . . 45


THE WAVERLEY NOVELS . ,. : . ,., ,. 127



Books and Bookmen

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

It does not follow that one is a bookman
because he has many books, for he may be a
book huckster or his books may be those with-
out which a gentleman's library is not com-
plete. And in the present imperfect arrange-
ment 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 au-
thor in some becoming dress, and his fastidi-
ousness to ignore a friend in a four-pence-
halfpenny edition. The bookman, like the
poet, and a good many other people, is born
and not made, and my grateful memory re-
tains 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 atmos-
phere, and so he proposed with a certain im-
posing 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, fol-
lowing 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 gar-
den 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 con-
tents. 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 pur-
suing his catechism. " What," was question
two, " do you think I paid for that? " It was
a hopeless catechism, for I had never pos-
sessed 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 respecta-
bility and insolence of solid wealth my Eng-
lish sense of reverence for money awoke, and
I confessed that this matter was too high for
me; but even then, casting a glance of depre-
cation in its direction, I noticed that was al-
most filled by a single work, and I wondered
what it could be. " Cost 80 if it cost a
penny, and I bought it second-hand in perfect
condition for 17, 53., with the books thrown
in All the Year Round from the beginning
in half calf;" and then we returned in pro-
cession to the drawing-room, where my pa-
tron apologised for our absence, and ex-
plained that when two bookmen got together
over books it was difficult to tear them away.
He was an admirable chairman, for he occu-
pied 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 chair-
man), and so it may seem ungrateful, but in
spite of " that " and any books, even Spenser
and Chaucer, which that might have con-
tained, this Maecenas of an evening was not a

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 acknowledg-
ment of his trouble came on a postcard, to say
that the consignment had arrived in good con-
dition. 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 Wil-
liam Shakespeare or John Milton, please send
it out." I believe this is mentioned as an in-
stance 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 also proved, which is much
more important, that he had the smack of let-
ters 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 citi-
zenship 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 in-
genious plot which helped us to forget the te-
dium 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 doubt-
less, 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, be-
cause 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 read Twice Mur-
dered twice, while the twenty turn again and
again to Mark 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 ac-
quired taste; there are others who would pro-


pose 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 en-
couraging 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 en-
riched 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 litera-
ture as with a needle, for that book is a classic
to be placed beside Homer and Virgil and
Dante and Shakespeare among the immor-
tals 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 Prog-
ress a place on his shelf, because, although the
bookman may be far removed from Puritan-
ism, 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 edi-
tion of 1828, and when he places the two
books side by side in the department of reli-
gion, 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, I mean Smith and
Milman's Gibbon's Rome in 8 vols., blue
cloth, the very model of histories, yet he rev-
els 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 scan-
dalous book, Grammont's Memoirs, and that
most credulous but interesting of Scots an-
nalists, 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 vol-
ume 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 Haz-
litt, 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 Dob-
son, 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 char-
acter 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 favour-
able, of Wilhelm Meister; he is not above con-
sidering the art of cooking potatoes or the
question of whether human beings once had


tails, and in his theological moods he will ex-
pound 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 curi-
ously 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 jol-
liest 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 car-
ries 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 be-
fore he is captured and settles down, say, with
his favourite novel, and even after he is a mid-
dle-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 Rob-
inson 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 de-
tails 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 lit-
tle 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 com-
ing 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 re-
ceived 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 fa-
mous 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 Pil-
grim'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 bar-
barians, 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
Cristo. 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 sup-
posed 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 fetch-
ing work.

Rambling through a bookshop a few
months ago I lighted on a copy of Monte


Cristo 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 in-
genuity 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 so-
ciety. 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 Pick-
wick 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 affec-
tion turns back to the old red and white, in
forty-eight volumes, wherein one first fell un-
der 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
Neivcomes, 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 nov-
els, 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 re-
spect, and has been loyal to art. He is also
certain to maintain his hold and be an exam-
ple 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 Moham-
medan converted to Christianity who is ad-
vised 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 ex-


pediency 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 inter-
est. 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 de-
scribe. Were it not heresy to our Lady Cas-
tlewood, 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 instilled
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 in-
stance, in Esmond takes such a grip of the im-

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Online LibraryIan MaclarenBooks and bookmen, and other essays → online text (page 1 of 8)