A Librarian's Open Shelf
by Arthur E. Bostwick
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It must not be assumed, however, that limitation of action along the lines I have indicated means weakness of organization. On the contrary, foreign observers have generally testified to the exceptional strength and efficiency of societies and groups of all kinds in this country. It may be interesting to quote here what a recent French writer on the United States has to say of the part played by associations of all kinds in our national life. And, in passing, he who is proud of his country nowadays should read what is said of her by French and German, and even English writers. The muck-raking is all on this side of the water. The writer from whom I quote, M. Paul de Rousiers, author of "La Vie Americaine," does not commend without discrimination, which makes what he has to say of more value. He notes at the outset that "the spirit of free association is widely extended in the United States, and it produces results of surprising efficiency." There are two motives for association, he thinks, the consciousness of weakness, which is generally operative abroad, and the consciousness of strength, which is our motive here. He says:

The need of association comes generally from the conscience of one's own feebleness or indolence.... When such people join they add together their incapacities; hence the failure of many societies formed with great eclat. On the contrary, when men accustomed to help themselves without depending on their neighbors form an association, it is because they really find themselves facing a common difficulty ... such persons add their capacities; they form a powerful union of capables, the only one that has force. Hence the general success of American associations.

The radical difference in the motives for association here and in the old world was noted long ago by De Tocqueville, who says:

European societies are naturally led to introduce into their midst military customs and formulas.... The members of such associations respond to a word of command like soldiers in a campaign; they profess the dogma of passive obedience, or rather, by uniting, they sacrifice entirely, at a single stroke, their judgment and free will.... In American associations, on the other hand, individual independence finds its part; as in society every man moves at the same time toward the same goal, but all are not forced to go by the same road. No one sacrifices his will or his reason, but applies them both toward the success of the common enterprise.

Commenting on this, De Rousiers goes on:

This is not to say that the discipline necessary to the pursuit of the common end is less exact than with us. As far as I can judge, the members of an American association, on the contrary, take their obligations more seriously than we, and precisely because they have undertaken them very freely, without being forced into them by environment or fashion, and also because the heads of the association have not sought to make it serve their own interests. In fine, their discipline is strong, but it is applied only to one precise object; it may thus subsist intact and without tyranny, despite the most serious divergences of view among the members regarding objects foreign to its aim. These happy conditions—this large and concrete mind, joined to the effective activity of the Americans, have given rise to a multitude of groups that are rendering the greatest service.

De Rousiers enlarges on this point at great length and gives many illustrations. He returns to it even when he appears to have gone on to other subjects. In an account of a visit to a militia encampment in Massachusetts, where he was inclined at the outset to scoff at the lack of formal military training, but finally became enthusiastic over the individual efficiency and interest of the militiamen, he ends by saying:

What I have seen here resembles what I have seen everywhere throughout the United States; each organism, each individual, preserves all its freedom, as far as it can; hence the limited and special character of the public authorities, to whom little is left to do. This doubtless detracts from the massed effects that we are in the habit of producing; we are apt to think that this kind of liberty is only disorder; but individual efforts are more energetic and when they converge toward a single end, by spontaneous choice of each will, their power is incalculable. This it is that makes the strength of America.

An interesting and satisfactory summary. There is, however, another way of looking at it. A well-known scientific man recently expressed to me his conviction that an "American" association of any kind is destined to failure, whether it be of scientific men, commercial travellers or plumbers. By "American" here he meant continental in extent. There may thus be, according to this view, a successful Maine hotel-keeper's association, a New York bar association, or a Pennsylvania academy of fine arts, but no such body truly representative of the whole United States. Many such organizations are "American" or "National" in name only; for instance, the "American" Academy of Sciences, which is a Boston institution, or the "National" Academy of Fine Arts, which belongs to New York City. Many bodies have attempted to obviate this trouble by the creation of local sections in different parts of the country, and the newly-formed Society of Illuminating Engineers has, I understand, in mind the organization of perfectly co-ordinate bodies in various parts of the country, without any attempt to create a central body having headquarters at a definite place. This is somewhat as if the American Library Association should consist of the federated state associations, perhaps with a council consisting of a single representative from each. It would seem to be a workable and rather attractive plan. We may remind ourselves again that the United States itself is the classic example of an American association, and that it has been fairly successful by adopting this very system. Our recognition of the necessity of local divisions in our own association and of close affiliation with the various state bodies is shown by the recent resolution of the council providing for sectional meetings and by the presence at this and several other state meetings in the present month of an official representative of the American Library Association. That these, or similar means of making our national body continental in something more than name are necessary we may freely admit. Possibly it may take some years of experimentation, ending perhaps in appropriate constitutional revision, to hit upon the best arrangement. Too much centralization is bad; but there must be some centralization. We must have our capital and our legislative and administrative machinery, as the United States has at Washington. For legislative purposes our Washington is a shifting one. It is wherever the Association may hold its annual meeting and wherever the Council may convene in the interim. For such administrative and executive purposes as require a fixed location, our Washington is for the present in Boston. Next year it may be elsewhere; but whether it shall remain there or move to some other place would seem to be a matter of small importance. Wherever it may be, it will be inaccessible to a large majority of American librarians. If immediate accessibility is a requisite, therefore, some of its functions may and should be divided. It may not be too much to look forward to a sectional headquarters in every state in the Union, related perhaps to the general headquarters somewhat as branch libraries to a central library, or, perhaps, carried on under the auspices of the state associations. At any rate, it is encouraging to reflect that we are not insensible to the obstacles in the way of making our own, or any other association truly American in scope, and are experimenting toward obviating them.

All these considerations appear to me to lead to one conclusion—the duty of every librarian to become and remain a member of the American Library Association. I do not desire to dwell on the direct advantages that membership offers—these are not few, and they are sufficiently obvious. Possibly most of those who are likely to be affected by them are already members of the Association. I would recommend for consideration higher grounds than these. Instead of asking the question, "What is there in it for me?" I should inquire, "What is there in it for other people?" How will it benefit the general status of library work, the general standing of librarians in the community, the influence of libraries on those who use or ought to use them—these and a hundred other elements of progress that are closely bound up with the success of library effort, but that may not add to the welfare of any one individual.

There seems to be no doubt that the answers to these questions all point toward increased membership. As we have chosen to work along the broader lines and by the energy of mass rather than that of velocity—with the sledge-hammer rather than the rifle bullet—it is surely our duty to make that mass as efficient and as impressive as possible, which means that it must be swelled to the largest possible proportions. Large membership may be efficient in two ways, by united weight and by pervasiveness. An army is powerful in the first way. Ten thousand men concentrated in one spot may strike a sledge-hammer blow and carry all before them. Yet the same ten thousand men may police a great city without even seeing one another. Scattered about on different beats they are everywhere. Every block or two one meets a patrol and the sense of security that they give is overwhelming. It is in this way, it seems to me, that large membership in the American Library Association may be effective. We meet together but once a year, and even then we do not bring out our full force. We have no intention of marching on Washington en masse to secure legislation or even of forcing our trustees to raise salaries by a general library strike. But if we can make it an unusual thing for a librarian not to be a member of the American Library Association; if wherever one goes he meets our members and recognizes what they stand for, then, it seems to me, public opinion of librarians and librarianship is sure to rise. Our two savages, who band together for a few moments to lift a log, become by that act of association marked men among their fellows; the mere fact that they have intelligence enough to work together for any purpose raises them above the general level. It is not alone that increasing numbers, strength, and influence make for the glory of the Association itself; the most successful bodies of this kind are those that exalt, not themselves but the professions, localities or ideals that they represent. It is because increasing our numbers and scattering our membership throughout the land will increase the influence of the library and strengthen the hands of those who work in it that I believe such increase a worthy object of our effort. Associations and societies come and go, form and disband; they are no more immortal than the men and women that compose them. Yet an association, like a man, should seek to do the work that lies before it with all its strength, and to keep that strength at its maximum of efficiency. So doing, it may rest content that, be its accomplishment large or small, its place in the history of human endeavor is worthy and secure.


Those who complain that the average of general education has been lowered are both right and wrong—right literally and wrong in the general impression that they give. It is undoubtedly true that among young persons with whom an educated adult comes intellectually in contact the average of culture is lower than it was twenty years ago. This is not, however, because the class of persons who were well educated then are to-day less well trained, but rather because the class has been recruited from the ignorant classes, by the addition of persons who were not educated at all then, or educated very slightly, and who are now receiving a higher, though still inadequate degree of training. In other words the average of education among all persons in the community is higher, but the average among educated persons is lower, because the educated class has been enlarged by the addition of large numbers of slightly educated persons.

This phenomenon is common to all stages of progress in all sorts of things. It is true, for instance, in the general advance of the world in civilization. The average degree of appreciation of art among persons who know anything of art at all is less, for instance, than in the days of ancient Greece, because the class of art-lovers throughout the world is vastly larger and includes a very large number of persons whose appreciation of art is slight and crude. There is, nevertheless, a greater total amount of love for art, and a higher average of art education, taking into account the world's entire population, than there was then. Let us state the case mathematically: If, of one thousand persons, ten have a hundred dollars each and the rest nothing, a gift of five dollars each to five hundred others will raise the average amount owned by each of the thousand, but will greatly lower the average amount held by the property owners in the group, who will now number 510, instead of ten.

"How do you demonstrate all this?" will probably be asked. I do not know of any statistical data that will enable it to be proved directly, but it is certain that education is becoming more general, which must increase the number of partly educated persons having an imperfect educational background—a lack of ancestral training and home influence. Thus, among the persons with whom the educated adult comes in contact, he necessarily meets a larger number of individuals than formerly who betray lack of education in speech, writing or taste; and he wrongly concludes that the schools are not doing their work properly. If the schools were not doing their work properly, we should have direct statistical evidence of it, and all the direct evidence I have seen goes to show that the schools are accomplishing more to-day and accomplishing it by better methods, than ever before.

Similarly, I believe that the totality of teaching ability in the profession has increased. The conspicuous failures are persons who are unfit to be teachers and who have been drafted into service because of our sudden increase in educational plant. The result in some cases has been a curious aberration in disciplinary methods—a freakishness that is inseparable from any sudden advance such as we are making.

Our schools can and will advance much further in personnel, methods and results; but they are by no means on the downward path now. One way in which they may do better work is by greater appreciation of their selective as well as their training function.

Suppose we have twenty bushels of raspberries and the same quantity of potatoes to be prepared for food. Our present educational methods are a good deal like those of a cook who should try to make the whole into either jam or Saratoga chips, or should divide the lot in some arbitrary way unrelated to their fitness for one or the other operation. We are giving in our educational institutions many degrees and many kinds of training without proper selection of the persons to whom the training is to be applied. Selection must be and is made, of course, but it is made on arbitrary lines, or for reasons unrelated to fitness. One boy's education lasts ten years, and another's two, not because the former is fitted to profit by a longer period of training, but because his father happens to have money and inclination to give it to him. One young man studies medicine and another goes into business, not because these are the careers for which they are specially fitted, but because one thinks that the prefix "Doctor" would look well in front of his name and the other has a maternal uncle in the dry-goods trade.

I am not so foolish as to think that selection of this kind could ever be made with unerring accuracy, but I do assert that an effort should be made to effect it in a greater degree through our regular educational institutions and to leave it less to chance. Our present methods are like those of wild nature, which scatters seeds broadcast in the hope that some may settle on favoring soil, rather than those of the skilled cultivator, who sees that seed and soil are fitted for each other.

In this and other particulars I look for great improvement in our educational methods; but I do not think that, except in local and unessential particulars, here and there, they are now retrograding.


[4] Read at the opening of the Chestnut Hill Branch, Philadelphia Free Library, January 22, 1909.

Of the three great divisions of economics—production, distribution and consumption—the library has to do chiefly with the second, and it is as a distributor of literature that I desire to speak of it, although it has its share both in the production and consumption of books—more briefly, in the writing and reading of them. Much writing of books is done wholly in libraries and by their aid, and much reading is done therein. These functions I pass by with this brief notice.

A library distributes books. So does a bookseller. The functions of these two distributors, however, should differ somewhat as do those of the two producers of books—the author and the publisher. The author creates the soul of the book and the publisher gives it a body. The former produces the immaterial, possibly the eternal, part and the latter merely the material part. Likewise, in our distribution we librarians should lay stress upon what is in the book, upon the production of the author rather than on that of the publisher, though we may not neglect the latter. We are, however, eminently distributors of ideas rather than of mere merchandise, and in so far as we lay stress on the material side of the book—important as this is—and neglect what is in it, we are but traders in books and not librarians.

Among many of the great distributors of ideas—the magazine, the newspaper, the school—it is becoming increasingly difficult to find any that do not feel what I may call an anti-civic tendency. They have come to be supported largely by other agencies than the public, and they are naturally controlled by those agencies. As for the public, it has become accustomed to paying less than cost for what it gets along these lines, and is thus becoming intellectually pauperized. It is no more possible to distribute ideas at a profit, as a commercial venture, nowadays, than it would have been to run a circus, with an admission fee, in Imperial Rome. Thus a literary magazine is possible only because it is owned by some publisher who uses it as an advertising medium. He can afford to sell it to the public for less than cost; the public would leave a publication sold at a fair profit severely alone, hence such a venture is impossible. A scientific magazine in like manner must have some one to back it—a firm of patent-office brokers or a scientific society. The daily papers depend almost wholly on their advertisements; the public would not buy a simple compilation of the day's news at a fair profit. Even our great institutions of higher education give their students more than the latter pay for; the student is getting part of his tuition for nothing. A college that depends wholly on tuition fees for its support is soon left without students. Thus all these disseminators of ideas are not dependent on the persons to whom they distribute those ideas, for whose interest it is that the ideas shall be good and true and selected with discrimination. They depend rather for support on outside bodies of various kinds and so tend to be controlled by them—bodies whose interests do not necessarily coincide with those of the public. This is not true of material things. Their distributors still strive to please the public, for it is by the public that they are supported. If the public wants raspberry jam, raspberry jam it gets; and if, being aroused, it demands that this shall be made out of raspberries instead of apples, dock-seeds and aniline, it ultimately has its way. But if the department store were controlled by some outside agency, benevolent or otherwise, which partly supported it and enabled it to sell its wares below cost, then if this controlling agency willed that we should eat dock-seeds and aniline—dock-seeds and aniline we should doubtless eat.

Not that the controlling powers in all these instances are necessarily malevolent. The publisher who owns a literary magazine may honestly desire that it shall be fearlessly impartial. The learned body that runs a scientific periodical may be willing to admit to its pages a defense of a thesis that it has condemned in one of its meetings; the page-advertiser in a great daily may be able to see his pet policy attacked in its editorial columns without yielding to the temptation to bring pressure to bear; the creator of an endowed university may view with equanimity an attack by one of its professors on the methods by which he amassed his wealth. All these things may be; we know in fact that they have been and that they are. But unfortunately we all know of cases where the effect of outside control has been quite the contrary. The government of a benevolent despot, we are told, would be ideal; but alas! rules for making a despot benevolent and for ensuring that he and his successors shall remain so, are not yet formulated. We have fallen back on the plan of fighting off the despot—good though he may possibly be; would that we could also abolish the non-civic control of the disseminators of ideas!

Are there, then, no disseminators of ideas free from interference? Yes, thank heaven, there are at least two—the public school and the public library. Of these, the value of academic freedom to the public school is slight, because the training of the very young is of its nature subject little to the influences of which we have spoken. There is little opportunity, during a grammar school or high school course, to influence the mind in favor of particular government policies and particular theories in science or literature or art. This opportunity comes later. And it is later that the public library does its best work. Supported by the public it has no impulse and no desire to please anyone else. No suspicion of outside control hangs over it. It receives gifts; but they are gifts to the public, held by the public, not by outsiders. It is tax-supported, and the public pays cost price for what it gets—no more and no less. The community has the power of abolishing the whole system in the twinkling of an eye. The library's power in an American municipality lies in the affections of those who use and profit by it. It holds its position by love. No publisher may say to it: "Buy my books, not those of my rival"; no scientist may forbid it to give his opponent a hearing; no religious body may dictate to it; no commercial influence may throw a blight over it. It is untrammeled.

How long is it to remain thus? That is for its owners, the public, to say. I confess that I feel uneasy when I realize how little the influence of the public library is understood by those who might try to wield that influence, either for good or for evil. Occasionally an individual tries to use it sporadically—the poet who tries to secure undying fame by distributing free copies of his verses to the libraries, the manufacturer who gives us an advertisement of his product in the guise of a book, the enthusiast who runs over our shelf list to see whether the library is well stocked with works on his fad—socialism or Swedenborgianism, or the "new thought." But, so far, there has been no concerted, systematic effort on the part of classes or bodies of men to capture the public library, to dictate its policy, to utilize its great opportunities for influencing the public mind. When this ever comes, as it may, we must look out!

So far as my observation goes, the situation—even the faintest glimmering of it—is far from dawning on most of these bodies. Most individuals, when the policy of the library suits them not, exhaust their efforts in an angry kick or an epistolary curse; they never even think of trying to change that policy, even by argument. Most of them would rather write a letter to a newspaper, complaining of a book's absence, than to ask the librarian to buy it. Organizations—civil, religious, scientific, political, artistic—have usually let us severely alone, where their influence, if they should come into touch with the library, would surely be for good—would be exerted along the line of morality, of more careful book selection, of judicial mindedness instead of one-sidedness.

Let us trust that influences along this line—if we are to have influences at all—may gain a foothold before the opposite forces—those of sordid commercialism, of absurdities, of falsities, of all kinds of self-seeking—find out that we are worth their exploitation.

When it comes, as I expect it will some day—this general realization of what only a few now understand—that the public library is worth trying to influence and to exploit, our trouble will be that we shall be without any machinery at all to receive it, to take care of it, to direct the good into proper channels and to withstand the evil. We are occasionally annoyed and disconcerted now by the infinitesimal amount of it that we see; we wish people would mind their own business; we detest meddlers; we should be able to do more work if it were not for the bores—and so on. But what—what in heaven's name shall we do with the deluge when it comes? With what dam shall we withstand it; through what sluices shall we lead it; into what useful turbines shall we direct it? These things are worth pondering.

For the present then, this independence of the library as a distributor may be regarded as one of its chief economic advantages. Another is its power as a leveler, and hence as an adjunct of democracy. Democracy is a result, not a cause, of equality. It is natural in a community whose members resemble each other in ability, modes of thought and mental development, just as it is unthinkable where great natural differences racial or otherwise, exist. If we wish to preserve democracy, therefore, we must first maintain our community on something like a level. And we must level it up, not down; for although a form of democracy may exist temporarily among individuals equally ignorant or degraded, the advent of a single person more advanced in the scale of ability, quickly transforms it into absolutism. Similar inequalities may result in an aristocratic regime. The reason why England, with its ancient aristocracy, on the whole, is so democratic, is that its commoners are constantly recruited by the younger sons of its nobility, so that the whole body politic is continually stirred and kept more homogeneous than on the continent, where all of a noble's sons and daughters are themselves noble. This stirring or levelling process may be effected in many ways and along many lines, but in no way better than by popular education, as we have well understood in this country. This is why our educational system is a bulwark of our form of government, and this is why the public library—the only continuous feature of that system, exercising its influence from earliest childhood to most advanced age—is worth to the community whatever it may cost in its most improved form. There are enough influences at work to segregate classes in our country, and they come to us ready-made from other countries; we may be thankful that the public library is helping to make Americans of our immigrants and to make uniformly cultivated and well-informed Americans of us all.

Another interesting light on the functions of the printed page, and hence of the library, is shown by the recent biological theory that connects the phenomena of heredity with those of habit and memory. The inheritance of ancestral characteristics, according to this view, may be described as racial memory. To illustrate, we may take an interesting study of a family of Danish athletes, recently made and published in France. The members of this family, adults and children, men and women, have all been gymnasts for over three hundred years—no one of them would think of adopting any other means of gaining a livelihood. It seems certain to the scientific men who have been conducting the investigation, that not only the physical ability to become an acrobat, but also the mental qualities that contribute so much to success in this occupation—pride in the acrobatic pre-eminence of the family, courage, love of applause, and so on—have been handed down from one generation to another, and that it has cost each generation less time and effort to acquire its skill than its predecessor. In other words, we are told, members of this family are born with certain predispositions—latent ancestral memories, we may say, of the occupations of previous generations. To make these effective, it is necessary only to awaken them, and this may be done simply by the sight of other persons performing gymnastic feats. These they learn in weeks, where others, without such ancestral memories, would require months or years.

Evidently this may be applied much more widely than to mere physical skill. Few of us can boast of gymnastic ancestry, but all of us have inherited predispositions and have ancestral memories that make it easier for us to learn certain things and to choose certain courses than we should find it without them. Some of these are good; some bad. Some are useful; some injurious. It is necessary only to awaken them to set going a train of consequences; if not awakened, they may remain permanently dormant. How important, therefore, are the suggestions that may serve as such awakeners; how necessary to bring forward the useful, and to banish the injurious ones!

Now of all possible agencies that may bring these predispositions into play—that may awaken our ancestral memories, if you choose to adopt this theory—I submit that the book stands at the very head. For it is itself a racial record; it may contain, in the form best suited to awaken our predispositions, the very material which, long ages ago, was instrumental in handing those predispositions down to us. It is in tune with our latent memories, and it may set them vibrating more vigorously than any merely contemporary agency.

Does this not place in a new and interesting light the library and the books of which it is composed? We have learned to respect them as the records of the race and to recognize their value as teachers and their power as energizers; in addition we now see that they may act as fingers on invisible mental triggers. A slight impulse—altogether trivial compared with its effect—and off goes the gun. The discharge may carry a line to a wrecked ship, or it may sink her with all on board.

We frequently hear it said of some book whose tendency is bad: "Well, it can't hurt me, anyway; I'm immune." Are you quite sure? Have you gone quite to the bottom of those ancestral memories of yours, and are you certain that there are none that such a book may rouse, to your harm?

On the other hand, does this not explain much that has always interested the librarian; for instance, the vast popularity of fairy tales, especially those that date back to our racial infancy? I need dwell no further on the economic importance of the book as viewed from this standpoint.

But it has also a function almost diametrically opposed to that which we have just considered; besides harking back to what is oldest it looks forward to what is newest. It may stir us by awakening dim racial recollections; but it may also thrill us by adding to the store of what is already in the mind. In fact, we like to assimilate new ideas, to think new thoughts, to do new acts; we like to read or hear something that we could not have produced ourselves. When we are young and ignorant, therefore, we like music or art or literature that appears trivial to us as we grow older and have developed our own creative powers. A poem that is no better than one a man might dash off himself he likes no longer; he prefers to be confronted with something that is above and beyond his own powers, though not above his comprehension. Thus, as he grows, his zone of enjoyment shifts upward, and the library covers the whole moving field. When Solomon John Peterkin, pen in hand, sat down to write a book, he discovered that he hadn't anything to say. Happy lad! He had before him all literature as a field of enjoyment, for all, apparently, was beyond his creative efforts.

Do those of you who are musicians remember when you first apprehended the relations between the tonic and the dominant chords? I have heard a small boy at a piano play these alternately for hours. Such a performance is torture to you and me; it is the sweetest harmony to him, because it is new and has just come into his sphere of creative power. When he is thoroughly satisfied that he can produce the effect at will, he abandons it for something newer and a little higher. The boy who discovers, without being told, that the dominant chord, followed by the tonic, produces a certain musical effect, is doing something that for him is on a par with Wagner's searching the piano for those marvellous effects of his that are often beyond technical explanation.

The child who reads what you think is a trivial book, re-reads it, and reads others like it, is doing this same thing in the domain of literature—he is following the natural course that will bring him out at the top after a while.

When we distribute books, then, we distribute ideas, not only actual, but potential. A book has in it not only the ideas that lie on its surface, but millions of others that are tied to these by invisible chords, of which we have touched on but a few—the invisible ancestral memories of centuries ago, the foretastes of future thoughts in our older selves and our posterity of centuries hence. When we think of it, it is hard to realize that a book has not a soul.

Gerald Stanley Lee, in his latest book, a collection of essays on millionaires, sneers at the efforts of the rich mill owners to improve their employees by means of libraries. Life in a modern mill, he thinks, is so mechanical as to dull all the higher faculties. "Andrew Carnegie," he says (and he apparently uses the name merely as that of a type), "has been taking men's souls away and giving them paper books."

Now the mills may be soul-deadening—possibly they are, though it is hard to benumb a soul—but I will venture to say that for every soul that Mr. Carnegie, or anyone else, has taken away, he has created, awakened and stimulated a thousand by contact with that almost soul—that near-soul—that resides in books. Mr. Lee's books may be merely paper; mine have paper and ink only for their outer garb; their inner warp and woof is of the texture of spirit.

This is why I rejoice when a new library is opened. I thank God for its generous donor. I clasp hands with the far-reaching municipality that accepts and supports it. I wish good luck to the librarians who are to care for it and give it dynamic force; I congratulate the public whose privilege it is to use it and to profit by it.


Among those in all parts of the world whose good opinion is worth having, Simon Newcomb was one of the best known of America's great men. Astronomer, mathematician, economist, novelist, he had well-nigh boxed the compass of human knowledge, attaining eminence such as is given to few to reach, at more than one of its points. His fame was of the far-reaching kind,—penetrating to remote regions, while that of some others has only created a noisy disturbance within a narrow radius.

Best and most widely known as an astronomer, his achievements in that science were not suited for sensational exploitation. He discovered no apple-orchards on the moon, neither did he dispute regarding the railways on the planet Venus. His aim was to make still more exact our knowledge of the motions of the bodies constituting what we call the solar system, and his labors toward this end, begun more than thirty years ago, he continued almost until the day of his death. Conscious that his span of life was measured by months and in the grip of what he knew to be a fatal disease, he yet exerted himself with all his remaining energy to complete his monumental work on the motion of the moon, and succeeded in bringing it to an end before the final summons came. His last days thus had in them a cast of the heroic, not less than if, as the commander of a torpedoed battleship, he had gone down with her, or than if he had fallen charging at the head of a forlorn hope. It is pleasant to think that such a man was laid to rest with military honors. The accident that he was a retired professor in the United States Navy may have been the immediate cause of this, but its appropriateness lies deeper.

Newcomb saw the light not under the Stars and Stripes, but in Nova Scotia, where he was born, at the town of Wallace on March 12, 1835. His father, a teacher, was of American descent, his ancestors having settled in Canada in 1761. After studying with his father and teaching for some little time in his native province he came to the United States while yet a boy of eighteen, and while teaching in Maryland in 1854-'56 was so fortunate as to attract, by his mathematical ability, the attention of two eminent American scientific men, Joseph Henry and Julius Hilgard, who secured him an appointment as computer on the Nautical Almanac. The date of this was 1857, and Newcomb had thus, at his death, been in Government employ for fifty-two years. As the work of the almanac was then carried on in Cambridge, Mass., he was enabled to enter the Lawrence Scientific School of Harvard University, where he graduated in 1858 and where he pursued graduate studies for three years longer. On their completion in 1861 he was appointed a professor of mathematics in the United States Navy, which office he held till his death. This appointment, made when he was twenty-six years old,—scarcely more than a boy,—is a striking testimony to his remarkable ability as a mathematician, for of practical astronomy he still knew little.

One of his first duties at Washington was to supervise the construction of the great 26-inch equatorial just authorized by Congress and to plan for mounting and housing it. In 1877 he became senior professor of mathematics in the navy, and from that time until his retirement as a Rear Admiral in 1897 he had charge of the Nautical Almanac office, with its large corps of naval and civilian assistants, in Washington and elsewhere. In 1884 he also assumed the chair of mathematics and astronomy in Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, and he had much to to do, in an advisory capacity, with the equipment of the Lick Observatory and with testing and mounting its great telescope, at that time the largest in the world.

To enumerate his degrees, scientific honors, and medals would tire the reader. Among them were the degree of LL.D. from all the foremost universities, the gold medal of the Royal Astronomical Society of London in 1874, the great gold Huygens medal of the University of Leyden, awarded only once in twenty years, in 1878, and the Schubert gold medal of the Imperial Academy of St. Petersburg. The collection of portraits of famous astronomers at the Observatory of Pulkowa contains his picture, painted by order of the Russian Government in 1887. He was, of course, a member of many scientific societies, at home and abroad, and was elected in 1869 to our own National Academy of Sciences, becoming its vice-president in 1883. In 1893 he was chosen one of the eight foreign associates of the Institute of France,—the first native American since Benjamin Franklin to be so chosen. Newcomb's most famous work as an astronomer,—that which gained him world-wide fame among his brother astronomers,—was, as has been said, too mathematical and technical to appeal to the general public among his countrymen, who have had to take his greatness, in this regard, on trust. They have known him at first hand chiefly as author or editor of popular works such as his "Popular Astronomy" (1877); of his text-books on astronomy, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus; of his books on political economy, which science he was accustomed to call his "recreation"; and of magazine articles on all sorts of subjects not omitting "psychical research," which was one of the numerous by-paths into which he strayed. He held at one time the presidency of the American Society for Psychical Research.

The technical nature of his work in mathematical astronomy,—his "profession," as he called it, in distinction to his "recreations" and minor scientific amusements,—may be seen from the titles of one or two of his papers: "On the Secular Variations and Mutual Relations of the Orbits of the Asteroids" (1860); "Investigation of the Orbit of Neptune, with General Tables of Its Motion" (1867); "Researches on the Motion of the Moon" (1876); and so on. Of this work Professor Newcomb himself says, in his "Reminiscences of an Astronomer" (Boston, 1903), that it all tended toward one result,—the solution of what he calls "the great problem of exact astronomy," the theoretical explanation of the observed motions of the heavenly bodies.

If the universe consisted of but two bodies,—say, the sun and a planet,—the motion would be simplicity itself; the planet would describe an exact ellipse about the sun, and this orbit would never change in form, size, or position. With the addition of only one more body, the problem at once becomes so much more difficult as to be practically insoluble; indeed, the "problem of the three bodies" has been attacked by astronomers for years without the discovery of any general formula to express the resulting motions. For the actually existing system of many planets with their satellites and countless asteroids, only an approximation is possible. The actual motions as observed and measured from year to year are most complex. Can these be completely accounted for by the mutual attractions of the bodies, according to the law of gravitation as enunciated by Sir Isaac Newton? In Newcomb's words, "Does any world move otherwise than as it is attracted by other worlds?" Of course, Newcomb has not been the only astronomer at work on this problem, but it has been his life-work and his contributions to its solution have been very noteworthy.

It is difficult to make the ordinary reader understand the obstacles in the way of such a determination as this. Its two elements are, of course, the mapping out of the lines in which the bodies concerned actually do move and the calculations of the orbits in which they ought to move, if the accepted laws of planetary motion are true. The first involves the study of thousands of observations made during long years by different men in far distant lands, the discussion of their probable errors, and their reduction to a common standard. The latter requires the use of the most refined methods of mathematical analysis; it is, as Newcomb says, "of a complexity beyond the powers of ordinary conception." In works on celestial mechanics a single formula may fill a whole chapter.

This problem first attracted Newcomb's attention when a young man at Cambridge, when by analysis of the motions of the asteroids he showed that the orbits of these minor planets had not, for several hundred thousand years past, intersected at a single point, and that they could not, therefore, have resulted, during that period, from the explosion of a single large body, as had been supposed.

Later, when Newcomb's investigations along this line had extended to the major planets and their satellites, a curious anomaly in the moon's motion made it necessary for him to look for possible observations made long before those hitherto recorded. The accepted tables were based on observations extending back as far as 1750, but Newcomb, by searching the archives of European observatories, succeeded in discovering data taken as early as 1660, not, of course, with such an investigation as this in view, but chiefly out of pure scientific curiosity. The reduction of such observations, especially as the old French astronomers used apparent time, which was frequently in error by quarter of an hour or so, was a matter of great difficulty. The ancient observer, having no idea of the use that was to be made of his work, had supplied no facilities for interpreting it, and "much comparison and examination was necessary to find out what sort of an instrument was used, how the observations were made, and how they should be utilized for the required purpose." The result was a vastly more accurate lunar theory than had formerly been obtained.

During the period when Newcomb was working among the old papers of the Paris Observatory, the city, then in possession of the Communists, was beset by the national forces, and his studies were made within hearing of the heavy siege guns, whose flash he could even see by glancing through his window.

Newcomb's appointment as head of the Nautical Almanac office greatly facilitated his work on the various phases of this problem of planetary motions. Their solution was here a legitimate part of the routine work of the office, and he had the aid of able assistants,—such men as G.W. Hill, who worked out a large part of the theory of Jupiter and Saturn, and Cleveland Keith, who died in 1896, just as the final results of his work were being combined. In connection with this work Professor Newcomb strongly advocated the unification of the world's time by the adoption of an international meridian, and also international agreement upon a uniform system of data for all computations relating to the fixed stars. The former still hangs fire, owing to mistaken "patriotism"; the latter was adopted at an international conference held in Paris in 1896, but after it had been carried into effect in our own Nautical Almanac, professional jealousies brought about a modification of the plan that relegated the improved and modernized data to an appendix.

Professor Newcomb's retirement from active service made the continuance of his great work on an adequate scale somewhat problematical, and his data on the moon's motion were laid aside for a time until a grant from the newly organized Carnegie Institution in 1903 enabled him to employ the necessary assistance, and the work has since gone forward to completion.

What is the value of such work, and why should fame be the reward of him who pursues it successfully? Professor Newcomb himself raises this question in his "Reminiscences," and without attempting to answer it directly he notes that every civilized nation supports an observatory at great annual expense to carry on such research, besides which many others are supported by private or corporate contributions. Evidently the consensus of public opinion must be that the results are worth at least a part of what they cost. The question is included in the broader one of the value of all research in pure science. Speaking generally, the object of this is solely to add to the sum of human knowledge, although not seldom some application to man's physical needs springs unexpectedly from the resulting discoveries, as in the case of the dynamo or that of wireless telegraphy. Possibly a more accurate description of the moon's motion is unlikely to bring forth any such application, but those who applaud the achievements of our experts in mathematical astronomy would be quick to deny that their fame rests on any such possibility.

Passing now to Professor Newcomb's "recreation," as he called, it,—political economy, we may note that his contributions to it were really voluminous, consisting of papers, popular articles and several books, including "The A B C of Finance" (1877) and "Principles of Political Economy" (1886). Authorities in the science never really took these as seriously as they deserved, possibly because they regarded Professor Newcomb as scarcely orthodox. Some of his distinctions, however, are of undoubted value and will live; for instance, that between the fund and the flux of wealth, on which he insists in his treatises on finance. As to Professor Newcomb's single excursion into fiction, a romance entitled "His Wisdom the Defender," it is perhaps sufficient to say that, like everything he attempted, it is at least worth notice. It is a sort of cross between Jules Verne and Bulwer Lytton's "Coming Race."

Professor Newcomb's mind was comprehensive in its activity. One might have thought that an intellect occupied to the last in carrying out one of the most stupendous tasks ever attempted by a mathematical astronomer would have had little time or little energy left for other things; but Newcomb took his rest and pleasure in popular articles and interviews. Only a short time before his death he published an essay on aeronautics that attracted wide attention, drawing the conclusions that the aeroplane can never be of much use either as a passenger-carrier or in war, but that the dirigible balloon may accomplish something within certain lines, although it will never put the railways and steamships out of business. In particular, he treated with unsparing ridicule the panic fear of an aerial invasion that so lately seized upon our transatlantic cousins.

Personally, Newcomb was an agreeable companion and a faithful friend. His success was due largely to his tenacity of purpose. The writer's only personal contact with him came through the "Standard Dictionary,"—of whose definitions in physical science Newcomb had general oversight. On one occasion he came into the office greatly dissatisfied with the definition that we had framed for the word "magnet."—a conception almost impossible to define in any logical way. We had simply enumerated the properties of the thing,—a course which in the absence of authoritative knowledge of their causes was the only rational procedure. But Newcomb's mind demanded a logical treatment, and though he must have seen from the outset that this was a forlorn hope, his tenacity of purpose kept him, pencil in hand, writing and erasing alternately for an hour or more. Finally he confessed that he could do no better than the following pair of definitions,—"Magnet, a body capable of exerting magnetic force," and "Magnetic Force, the force exerted by a magnet." With a hearty laugh at this beautiful circulus in definiendo he threw down his pencil, and the imperfect and illogical office definition was accepted.

Logical as he was, however, he was in no sense bound by convention. His economics, as has been said, was often unorthodox, and even in his mathematical text-books he occasionally shocked the hide-bound. I well remember an interesting discussion among members of the Yale mathematical faculty just after the appearance of Newcomb's text-book of geometry, in which he was unsparingly condemned by some because he assumed in certain elementary demonstrations that geometrical figures could be removed from the paper, turned over and laid down again,—the so-called "method of superposition," now generally regarded as quite allowable. Of course, a figure can be treated in this way only in imagination and for this season, probably, the method was not employed by Euclid. Its use, however, leads always to true results, as anyone may see; and it was quite characteristic of Professor Newcomb that he should have taken it up, not having the fear of the Greek geometers before him.

Such was Newcomb; it will be long before American science sees his equal. Mathematical genius is like an automobile,—it is looked upon in two opposing fashions as one has it or has it not. A noted educator not long ago announced his belief that the possession of a taste for mathematics is an exact index of the general intellectual powers. Not much later, another eminent teacher asserted that mathematical ability is an exotic,—that one may, and often does, possess it who is in other respects practically an imbecile. This is scarcely a subject in which a single illustration decides, but surely Newcomb's career justifies the former opinion rather than the latter; the amount and kind of his mental abilities along all lines seemed to run parallel to his mathematical genius, to resemble it in quantity and in kind.

The great volumes of astronomical tables without which no astronomer may now venture upon a computation are his best monument; yet the general reader will longer remember, perhaps, the lucid expositor, the genial essayist, the writer of one of the most readable autobiographies of our day.


[5] Read before the Pacific Northwest Library Association, June, 1910.

Are books fitted to be our companions? That depends. You and I read them with pleasure; others do not care for them; to some the reading of any book at all is as impossible as the perusal of a volume in Old Slavonic would be to most of us. These people simply do not read at all. To a suggestion that he supplement his usual vacation sports by reading a novel, a New York police captain—a man with a common school education—replied, "Well, I've never read a book yet, and I don't think I'll begin now." Here was a man who had never read a book, who had no use for books, and who could get along perfectly well without them. He is not a unique type. Hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens might as well be quite illiterate, so far as the use that they make of their ability to read is concerned. These persons are not all uneducated; they possess and are still acquiring much knowledge, but since leaving school they have acquired it chiefly by personal experience and by word of mouth. Is it possible that they are right? May it be that to read books is unnecessary and superfluous?

There has been some effort of late to depreciate the book—to insist on its inadequacy and on the impracticality of the knowledge that it conveys. "Book-learning" has always been derided more or less by so-called "practical men". A recent series of comic pictures in the newspapers makes this clear. It is about "Book-taught Bilkins". Bilkins tries to do everything by a book. He raises vegetables, builds furniture, runs a chicken farm, all by the directions contained in books, and meets with ignominious failure. He makes himself, in fact, very ridiculous in every instance and thousands of readers laugh at him and his absurd books. They inwardly resolve, doubtless, that they will be practical and will pay no attention to books. Are they right? Is the information contained in books always useless and absurd, while that obtained by experience or by talking to one's neighbor is always correct and valuable?

Many of our foremost educators are displeased with the book. They are throwing it aside for the lecture, for laboratory work, for personal research and experiment. Does this mean that the book, as a tool of the teacher, will have to go?

What it all certainly does mean is that we ought to pause a minute and think about the book, about what it does and what it can not do. This means that we ought to consider a little the whole subject of written as distinguished from spoken language. Why should we have two languages—as we practically do—one to be interpreted by the ear and the other by the eye? Could we or should we abandon either? What are the advantages and what the limitations of each? We are so accustomed to looking upon the printed page, to reading newspapers, books, and advertisements, to sending and receiving letters, written or typewritten, that we are apt to forget that all this is not part of the natural order, except in the sense that all inventions and creations of the human brain are natural. Written language is a conscious invention of man; spoken language is a development, shaped by his needs and controlled by his sense of what is fitting, but not at the outset consciously devised.

We are apt to think of written language as simply a means of representing spoken language to the eye; but it is more than this; originally, at least in many cases, it was not this at all. The written signs represented not sounds, but ideas themselves; if they were intended to correspond directly with anything, it was with the rude gestures that signified ideas and had nothing to do with their vocal expression. It was not until later that these written symbols came to correspond to vocal sounds and even to-day they do so imperfectly; languages that are largely phonetic are the exception. The result is, as I have said, that we have two languages—a spoken and a written. What we call reading aloud is translation from the written to the spoken tongue; while writing from dictation is translation from the spoken to the written. When we read, as we say, "to ourselves," we sometimes, if we are not skilful, pronounce the spoken words under our breath, or at least form them with our vocal organs. You all remember the story of how the Irishman who could not read made his friend stop up his ears while reading a letter aloud, so that he might not hear it. This anecdote, like all good comic stories, has something in it to think about. The skilful reader does not even imagine the spoken words as he goes. He forgets, for the moment, the spoken tongue and translates the written words and phrases directly into the ideas for which they stand. A skilful reader thus takes in the meaning of a phrase, a sentence, even of a paragraph, at a glance. Likewise the writer who sets his own thoughts down on paper need not voice them, even in imagination; he may also forget all about the spoken tongue and spread his ideas on the page at first hand. This is not so common because one writes slower than he speaks, whereas he reads very much faster. The swift reader could not imagine that he was speaking the words, even if he would; the pace is too incredibly fast.

Our written tongue, then, has come to be something of a language by itself. In some countries it has grown so out of touch with the spoken tongue that the two have little to do with each other. Where only the learned know how to read and write, the written language takes on a learned tinge; the popular spoken tongue has nothing to keep it steady and changes rapidly and unsystematically. Where nearly all who speak the language also read and write it, as in our own country, the written tongue, even in its highest literary forms, is apt to be much more familiar and colloquial, but at the same time the written and the spoken tongue keep closer together. Still, they never accurately correspond. When a man "talks like a book," or in other words, uses such language that it could be printed word for word and appear in good literary form, we recognize that he is not talking ordinary colloquial English—not using the normal spoken language. On the other hand, when the speech of a southern negro or a down-east Yankee is set down in print, as it so often is in the modern "dialect story," we recognize at once that although for the occasion this is written language, it is not normal literary English. It is most desirable that the two forms of speech shall closely correspond, for then the written speech gets life from the spoken and the spoken has the written for its governor and controller; but it is also desirable that each should retain more or less individuality, and fortunately it is almost impossible that they should not do so.

We must not forget, therefore, that our written speech is not merely a way of setting down our spoken speech in print. This is exactly what our friends the spelling reformers appear to have forgotten. The name that they have given to what they propose to do, indicates this clearly. When a word as written and as spoken have drifted apart, it is usually the spoken word that has changed. Reform, therefore, would be accomplished by restoring the old spoken form. Instead of this, it is proposed to change the written form. In other words, the two languages are to be forced together by altering that one of them that is by its essence the most immutable. Where the written word has been corrupted as in spelling "guild" for "gild," the adoption of the simpler spelling is a reform; otherwise, not.

Now is the possession of two languages, a spoken and a written, an advantage or not? With regard to the spoken tongue, the question answers itself. If we were all deaf and dumb, we could still live and carry on business, but we should be badly handicapped. On the other hand, if we could neither read nor write, we should simply be in the position of our remote forefathers or even of many in our own day and our own land. What then is the reasons for a separate written language, beyond the variety thereby secured, by the use of two senses, hearing and sight, instead of only one?

Evidently the chief reason is that written speech is eminently fitted for preservation. Without the transmittal of ideas from one generation to another, intellectual progress is impossible. Such transmittal, before the invention of writing, was effected solely by memory. The father spoke to the son, and he, remembering what was said, told it, in turn, to the grandson. This is tradition, sometimes marvellously accurate, but often untrustworthy. And as it is without check, there is no way of telling whether a given fact, so transmitted, is or is not handed down faithfully. Now we have the phonograph for preserving and accurately reproducing spoken language. If this had been invented before the introduction of written language, we might never have had the latter; as it is, the device comes on the field too late to be a competitor with the book in more than a very limited field. For preserving particular voices, such as those of great men, or for recording intonation and pronunciation, it fills a want that writing and printing could never supply.

For the long preservation of ideas and their conveyance to a human mind, written speech is now the indispensable vehicle. And, as has been said, this is how man makes progress. We learn in two ways: by undergoing and reflecting on our own experiences and by reading and reflecting on those of others. Neither of these ways is sufficient in itself. A child bound hand and foot and confined in a dark room would not be a fit subject for instruction, but neither would he reach a high level if placed on a desert island far from his kind and forced to rely solely on his own experiences. The experiences of our forebears, read in the light of our own; the experiences of our forebears, used as a starting-point from which we may move forward to fresh fields—these we must know and appreciate if we are to make progress. This means the book and its use.

Books may be used in three ways—for information, for recreation, for inspiration. There are some who feel inclined to rely implicitly on the information that is to be found in books—to believe that a book can not lie. This is an unfortunate state of mind. The word of an author set down in print is worth no more than when he gives it to us in spoken language—no more and no less. There was, to be sure, a time when the printed word implied at least care and thoughtfulness. It is still true that the book implies somewhat more of this than the newspaper, but the difference between the two is becoming unfortunately less. Now a wrong record, if it purports to be a record of facts, is worse than none at all. The man who desires to know the distance between two towns in Texas and is unable to find it in any book of reference may obtain it at the cost of some time and trouble; but if he finds it wrongly recorded, he accepts the result and goes away believing a lie. If we are to use books for information, therefore, it is of the utmost consequence that we know whether the information is correct or not. A general critical evaluation of all literature, even on this score alone, without going into the question of literary merit, is probably beyond the possibilities, although it has been seriously proposed. Some partial lists we have, and a few lists of those lists, so that we may know where to get at them. There are many books about books, especially in certain departments of history, technology, or art, but no one place to which a man may go, before he begins to read his book, to find out whether he may believe what he reads in it. This is a serious lack, especially as there is more than one point of view. Books that are of high excellence as literature may not be at all accurate. How shall the boy who hears enthusiastic praise of Prescott's histories and who is spellbound when he reads them know that the results of recent investigation prove that those histories give a totally incorrect idea of Mexico and Peru? How is the future reader of Dr. Cook's interesting account of the ascent of Mount McKinley to know that it has been discredited? And how is he to know whether other interesting and well-written histories and books of travel have not been similarly proved inaccurate? At present, there is no way except to go to one who knows the literature of the subject, or to read as many other books on the subject as can be obtained, weighing one against the other and coming to one's own conclusions. Possibly the public library may be able to help. Mr. Charles F. Lummis of the Los Angeles library advocates labelling books with what he calls "Poison Labels" to warn the reader when they are inaccurate or untrustworthy. Most librarians have hesitated a little to take so radical a step as this, not so much from unwillingness to assume the duty of warning the public, as from a feeling that they were not competent to undertake the critical evaluation of the whole of the literature of special subjects. The librarian may know that this or that book is out of date or not to be depended on, but there are others about which he is not certain or regarding which he must rely on what others tell him. And he knows that expert testimony is notoriously one-sided. It is this fear of acting as an advocate instead of as a judge that has generally deterred the librarian from labelling his books with notes of advice or warning.

There is, however, no reason why the librarian should take sides in the matter. He may simply point out to the reader that there are other books on the same subject, written from different points of view, and he may direct attention to these, letting the reader draw his own conclusions. There is probability that the public library in the future will furnish information and guidance of this kind about books, more than it has done in the past.

And here it may be noted in passing that the library is coming out of its shell. It no longer holds itself aloof, taking good care of its books and taking little care of the public that uses them. It is coming to realize that the man and the book are complementary, that neither is much without the other, and that to bring them together is its duty. It realizes also that a book is valuable, not because it is so much paper and ink and thread and leather, but because it records and preserves somebody's ideas. It is the projection of a human mind across space and across time and where it touches another human mind those minds have come into contact just as truly and with as valuable results as if the bodies that held them stood face to face in actual converse. This is the miracle of written speech—a miracle renewed daily in millions of places with millions of readers.

We have, in the modern library, the very best way of perpetuating such relations as this and of ensuring that such as are preserved shall be worth preserving. When the ancients desired to make an idea carry as far as possible, they saw to the toughness and strength of the material object constituting the record; they cut it in stone or cast it in metal, forgetting that all matter is in a state of continual flux and change; it is the idea only that endures. Stone and metal will both one day pass away and unless some one sees fit to copy the inscription on a fresh block or tablet, the record will be lost. It is, then, only by continual renewal of its material basis that a record in written language can be made to last, and there is no reason why this renewal should not take place every few years, as well as every few centuries. There is even an advantage in frequent renewal; for this ensures that the value of the record shall be more frequently passed upon and prevents the preservation of records that are not worth keeping. This preservation by frequent renewal is just what is taking place with books; we make them of perishable materials; if we want to keep them, we reprint them; otherwise they decay and are forgotten.

We should not forget that by this plan the reader is usually made the judge of whether a book is worth keeping. Why do we preserve by continual reprinting Shakespeare and Scott and Tennyson and Hawthorne? The reprinting is done by publishers as a money-making scheme. It is profitable to them because there is a demand for those authors. If we cease to care for them and prefer unworthy writers, Shakespeare and Scott will decay and be forgotten and the unworthy ones will be preserved. Thus a great responsibility is thrown upon readers; so far they have judged pretty well.

Just now, however, we are confining ourselves to the use of books for information; and here there is less preservation than elsewhere. Especially in science, statements and facts quickly become out of date; here it is not the old but the new that we want—the new based on the accurate and enduring part of the old.

Before we leave this part of the subject it may be noted that many persons have no idea of the kinds of information that may be obtained from books. Even those who would unhesitatingly seek a book for data in history, art, or mathematics would not think of going to books for facts on plumbing, weaving, or shoe-making, for methods of shop-window decoration or of display-advertising, for special forms of bookkeeping suitable for factories or for stock-farms—for a host of facts relating to trades, occupations, and business in general. Yet there are books about all these things—not books perhaps to read for an idle hour, but books full of meat for them who want just this kind of food. If Book-taught Bilkins fails, after trying to utilize what such books have taught him, it is doubtless because he has previously failed to realize that books plus experience, or, to put it differently, the recorded experience of others plus our own is better than either could be separately. And the same is true of information that calls for no physical action to supplement it. Books plus thought—the thoughts of others plus our own—are more effective in combination than either could be by itself. Reading should provoke thought; thought should suggest more reading, and so on, until others' thoughts and our own have become so completely amalgamated that they are our personal intellectual possessions.

But we may not read for information at all—recreation may be what we are after. Do not misunderstand me. Many persons have an idea that if one reads to amuse himself he must necessarily read novels. I think most highly of good novels. Narrative is a popular form of literary expression; it is used by those who wish to instruct as well as to amuse. One may obtain plenty of information from novels—often in a form nowhere else available. If we want exact statement, statistical or otherwise, we do not go to fiction for it; but if we wish to obtain what is often more important—accurate and lasting general impressions of history, society, or geography, the novel is often the only place where these may be had. Likewise, one may amuse himself with history, travel, science, or art—even with mathematics. The last is rarely written primarily to amuse, although we have such a title as "Mathematical recreations," but there are plenty of non-fiction books written for entertainment and one may read for entertainment any book whatever. The result depends not so much on the book or its contents as on the reader.

Recreation is now recognized as an essential part of education. And just as physical recreation consists largely in the same muscular movements that constitute work, only in different combinations and with different ends in view, so mental recreation consists of intellectual exercise with a similar variation of combinations and aims.

Somebody says that "play is work that you don't have to do". So reading for amusement may closely resemble study—the only difference is that it is purely voluntary. Here again, however, the written language is only an intermediary; we have as before, the contact of two minds—only here it is often the lighter contact of good-fellowship. And one who reads always for such recreation is thus like the man who is always bandying trivialities, story-telling, and jesting—an excellent, even a necessary, way of passing part of one's time, but a mistaken way of employing all of it.

The best kind of recreation is gently stimulating, but stimulation may rise easily to abnormality. There are fiction drunkards just as there are persons who take too much alcohol or too much coffee. In fact, if one is so much absorbed by the ideas that he is assimilating that the process interferes with the ordinary duties of life, he may be fairly sure that it is injuring him. If one loves coffee or alcohol, or even candy, so dearly that one can not give it up, it is time to stop using it altogether. If a reader is so fond of an exciting story that he can not lay it aside, so that he sits up late at night reading it, or if he can not drop it from his mind when he does lay it aside, but goes on thinking about the deadly combat between the hero and Lord William Fitz Grouchy when he ought to be studying his lessons or attending to his business, it is time to cut out fiction altogether. This advice has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the fiction. It will not do simply to warn the habitual drunkard that he must be careful to take none but the best brands; he must drop alcohol altogether. If you are a fiction drunkard, enhanced quality will only enslave you further. This sort of use is no more recreation in the proper sense of the word than is gambling, or drinking to excess, or smoking opium.

And now we come to a use of books that is more important—lies more at the root of things—than their use for either information or recreation—their use for inspiration. One may get help and inspiration along with the other two—reading about how to make a box may inspire a boy to go out and make one himself. It is this kind of thing that should be the final outcome of every mental process. Nothing that goes on in the brain is really complete until it ends in a motor stimulus. The action, it is true, may not follow closely; it may be the result of years of mental adjustment; it may even take place in another body from the one where it originated. The man who tells us how to make a box, and tells it so fascinatingly that he sets all his readers to box-making, presumably has made boxes with his own hands, but there may be those who are fitted to inspire action in others rather than to undertake it themselves. And the larger literature of inspiration is not that which urges to specific deeds like box-making, or even to classes of deeds, like caring for the sick or improving methods of transportation; rather does it include in its scope all good thoughts and all good actions. It makes better men and women of those who read it; it is revolutionary and evolutionary at the same time, in the best sense of both words.

What will thus inspire me, do you ask? It would be easy to try to tell you; it would also be easy to fail. Many have tried and failed. This is a deeply personal matter. I can not tell what book, or what passage in a book, will touch the magic spring that shall make your life useful instead of useless, that shall start your thoughts and your deeds climbing up instead of grovelling or passively waiting. Only search will reveal it. The diamond-miner who expects to be directed to the precise spot where he will find a gem will never pick one up. Only he who seeks, finds. There are, however, places to look and places to avoid. The peculiar clay in which diamonds occur is well known to mineralogists. He who runs across it, looks for diamonds, though he may find none. But he who hunts for them on the rock-ribbed hills of New Hampshire or the sea-sands of Florida is doing a foolish thing—although even there he may conceivably pick up one that has been dropped by accident.

So you may know where it is best to go in your search for inspiration from books, for we know where seekers in the past have most often found it. He who could read the Bible or Shakespeare without finding some of it is the exception. It may be looked for in the great poets—Homer, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, Milton, Hugo, Keats, Goethe; or the great historians—Tacitus, Herodotus, Froissart, Macaulay, Taine, Bancroft; or in the great travellers from Sir John Mandeville down, or in biographies like Boswell's life of Johnson, or in books of science—Laplace, Lagrange, Darwin, Tyndall, Helmholtz; in the lives of the great artists; in the great novels and romances—Thackeray, Balzac, Hawthorne, Dickens, George Eliot. Yet each and all of these may leave you cold and may pick up your gem in some out-of-the-way corner where neither you nor anyone else would think of looking for it.

Did you ever see a car-conductor fumbling about in the dark with the trolley pole, trying to hit the wire? While he is pulling it down and letting it fly up again, making fruitless dabs in the air, the car is dark and motionless; in vain the motorman turns his controller, in vain do the passengers long for light. But sooner or later the pole strikes the wire; down it flows the current that was there all the time up in the air; in a jiffy the car is in motion and ablaze with light. So your search for inspiration in literature may be long and unsuccessful; you are dark and motionless. But the life-giving current from some great man's brain is flowing through some book not far away. One day you will make the connection and your life will in a trice be filled with light and instinct with action.

And before we leave this subject of inspiration, let us dwell for a moment on that to be obtained from one's literary setting in general—from the totality of one's literary associations and impressions, as distinguished from that gained from some specific passage or idea.

It has been said that it takes two to tell the truth; one to speak and one to listen. In like manner we may say that two persons are necessary to a great artistic interpretation—one to create and one to appreciate. And of no art is this more true than it is of literature. The thought that we are thus cooperating with Shakespeare and Schiller and Hugo in bringing out the full effect of their deathless conceptions is an inspiring one and its consideration may aid us in realizing the essential oneness of the human race, so far as its intellectual life is concerned.

Would you rather be a citizen of the United States than, we will say, of Nicaragua? You might be as happy, as well educated, as well off, there as here. Why do you prefer your present status? Simply and solely because of associations and relationships. If this is sentiment, as it doubtless is, it is the kind of sentiment that rules the world—it is in the same class as friendship, loyalty, love of kin, affection for home. The links that bind us to the past and the threads that stretch out into the future are more satisfactory to us here in the United States, with the complexity of its interests for us, than they would be in Nicaragua, or Guam, or Iceland.

Then of what country in the realm of literature do you desire to be a citizen? Of the one where Shakespeare is king and where your familiar and daily speech is with the great ones of this earth—those whose wise, witty, good, or inspiring words, spoken for centuries past, have been recorded in books? Or would you prefer to dwell with triviality and banality—perhaps with Laura Jean Libbey or even with Mary J. Holmes, and those a little better than these—or a little worse.

I am one of those who believe in the best associations, literary as well as social. And associations may have their effect even if they are apparently trivial or superficial.

When the open-shelf library was first introduced we were told that one of its chief advantages was that it encouraged "browsing"—the somewhat aimless rambling about and dipping here and there into a book. Obviously this can not be done in a closed-shelf library. But of late it has been suggested, in one quarter or another, that although this may be a pleasant occupation to some, or even to most, it is not a profitable one. Opponents of the open shelf of whom there are still one or two, here and there, find in this conclusion a reason for negativing the argument in its favor, while those of its advocates who accept this view see in it only a reason for basing that argument wholly on other grounds.

Now those of us who like a thing do not relish being told that it is not good for us. We feel that pleasure was intended as an outward sign of benefits received and although it may in abnormal conditions deceive us, we are right in demanding proof before distrusting its indications. When the cow absorbs physical nutriment by browsing, she does so without further reason than that she likes it. Does the absorber of mental pabulum from books argue wrongly from similar premises?

Many things are hastily and wrongly condemned because they do not achieve certain results that they were not intended to achieve. And in particular, when a thing exists in several degrees or grades, some one of those grades is often censured, although good in itself, because it is not a grade or two higher. Obviously everything depends on what is required. When a shopper wants just three yards of cloth, she would be foolish to buy four. She would, of course, be even more foolish to imagine that, if she really wished four, three would do just as well. But if a man wants to go to the eighth story of a building, he should not be condemned because he does not mount to the ninth; if he wishes a light lunch, he should not be found fault with for not ordering a seven-course dinner. And yet we continually hear persons accused of "superficiality" who purposely and knowingly acquire some slight degree of knowledge of a subject instead of a higher degree. And others are condemned, we will say, for reading for amusement when they might have read for serious information, without inquiring whether amusement, in this instance, was not precisely what they needed.

It may be, therefore, that browsing is productive of some good result, and that it fails to effect some other, perhaps some higher, result which its critics have wrongly fixed upon as the one desirable thing in this connection.

When a name embodies a figure of speech, we may often learn something by following up the figure to see how far it holds good. What does an animal do, and what does it not do, when it "browses"? In the first place it eats food—fresh, growing food; but, secondly, it eats this food by cropping off the tips of the herbage, not taking much at once, and again, it moves about from place to place, eating now here and now there and then making selection, from one motive or another, but presumably following the dictates of its own taste or fancy. What does it not do? First, it does not, from choice, eat anything bad. Secondly, it does not necessarily consume all of its food in this way. If it finds a particularly choice spot, it may confine its feeding to that spot; or, if its owner sees fit, he may remove it to the stable, where it may stand all day and eat what he chooses to give it. The benefits of browsing are, first, the nourishment actually derived from the food taken, coupled with the fact that it is taken in small quantities, and in great variety; and secondly, the knowledge of good spots, obtained from the testing of one spot after another, throughout the whole broad pasture.

Now I submit that our figure of speech holds good in all these particulars. The literary "browser" partakes of his mental food from books and is thereby nourished and stimulated; he takes it here and there in brief quantities, moving from section to section and from shelf to shelf, selecting choice morsels of literature as fancy may dictate. He does not, if he is a healthy reader, absorb voluntarily anything that will hurt him, and this method of literary absorption does not preclude other methods of mental nourishment. He may like a book so much that he proceeds to devour it whole, or his superiors in knowledge may remove him to a place where necessary mental food is administered more or less forcibly. And having gone so far with our comparison, we shall make no mistake if we go a little further and say that the benefits of browsing to the reader are twofold, as they are to the material feeder—the absorption of actual nutriment in his own wilful, wayward manner—a little at a time and in great variety; and the knowledge of good reading obtained from such a wide testing of the field.

Are not these real benefits, and are they not desirable? I fear that our original surmise was correct and that browsing is condemned not for what it does, but because it fails to do something that it could not be expected to do. Of course, if one were to browse continuously he would be unable to feed in any other way. Attendance upon school or the continuous reading of any book whatever would be obviously impossible. To avoid misunderstanding, therefore, we will agree at this point that whatever may be said here in commendation of browsing is on condition that it be occasional and not excessive and that the normal amount of continuous reading and study proceed together with it.

Having settled, therefore, that browsing is a good thing when one does not occupy ones' whole time with it, let us examine its advantages a little more in detail.

First: about the mental nourishment that is absorbed in browsing; the specific information, the appreciation of what is good, the intellectual stimulation—not that which comes from reading suggested or guided by browsing, but from the actual process itself. I have heard it strenuously denied that any such absorption occurs; the bits taken are too small, the motion of the browser is too rapid, the whole process is too desultory. Let us see. In the first place a knowledge of authors and titles and of the general character of their works is by no means to be despised. I heard the other day of a presumably educated woman who betrayed in a conversation her ignorance of Omar Khayyam—not lack of acquaintance with his works, but lack of knowledge that such a person had ever existed. If at some period in her life she had held in her hand a copy of "The Rubaiyat," and had glanced at its back, without even opening it, how much embarrassment she might have been spared! And if, in addition, she had glanced within for just ten seconds and had discovered that he wrote poetry in stanzas of four lines each, she would have known as much about Omar as do many of those who would contemptuously scoff at her ignorance. With so brief effort may we acquire literary knowledge sufficient to avoid embarrassment in ordinary conversation. Browsing in a good library, if the browser has a memory, will soon equip him with a wide range of knowledge of this kind. Nor is such knowledge to be sneered at as superficial. It is all that we know, or need to know, about scores of authors. One may never study higher mathematics, but it may be good for him to know that Lagrange was a French author who wrote on analytical mechanics, that Euclid was a Greek geometer, and that Hamilton invented quaternions. All this and vastly more may be impressed on the mind by an hour in the mathematical alcove of a library of moderate size. And it will do no harm to a boy to know that Benvenuto Cellini wrote his autobiography, even if the inevitable perusal of the book is delayed for several years, or that Felicia Hemans, James Thomson, and Robert Herrick wrote poetry, independently of familiarity with their works, or that "Lamia" is not something to eat or "As you like it" a popular novel. Information of this kind is almost impossible to acquire from lists or from oral statement, whereas a moment's handling of a book in the concrete may fix it in the mind for good and all. So far, we have not supposed that even a word of the contents has been read. What, now, if a sentence, a stanza, a paragraph, a page, passes into the brain through the eye? Those who measure literary effect by the thousand words or by the hour are making a great mistake. The lightning flash is over in a fraction of a second, but in that time it may reveal a scene of beauty, may give the traveller warning of the fatal precipice, or may shatter the farmer's home into kindling wood. Intellectual lightning may strike the "browser" as he stands there book in hand before the shelf. A word, a phrase, may sear into his brain—may turn the current of his whole life. And even if no such epoch-making words meet his eye, in how brief a time may he read, digest, appreciate, some of the gems of literature! Leigh Hunt's "Jennie kissed me" would probably take about thirty seconds; on a second reading he would have it by heart—the joy of a life-time. How many meaty epigrams would take as long? The whole of Gray's "Elegy" is hardly beyond the browser's limit.

In an editorial on the Harvard Classics in the "Chicago evening post", (April 22), we read, "the cultural tabloid has very little virtue;... to gain everything that a book has to give one must be submerged in it, saturated and absorbed". This is very much like saying, "there is very little nourishment in a sandwich; to get the full effect of a luncheon you must eat everything on the table". It is a truism to say that you can not get everything in a book without reading all of it; but it by no means follows that the virtue of less than the whole is negligible.

So much for the direct effect of what one may thus take in, bit by bit. The indirect effect is even more important. For by sampling a whole literature, as he does, he not only gets a bird's-eye view of it, but he finds out what lie likes and what he dislikes; he begins to form his taste. Are you afraid that he will form it wrong? I am not. We are assuming that the library where he browses is a good one; here is no chance of evil, only a choice between different kinds of good. And even if the evil be there, it is astonishing how the healthy mind will let it slip and fasten eagerly on the good. Would you prefer a taste fixed by someone who tells the browser what he ought to like? Then that is not the reader's own taste at all, but that of his informant. We have too much of this sort of thing—too many readers without an atom of taste of their own who will say, for instance, that they adore George Meredith, because some one has told them that all intellectual persons do so. The man who frankly loves George Ade and can yet see nothing in Shakespeare may one day discover Shakespeare. The man who reads Shakespeare merely because he thinks he ought to is hopeless.

But what a triumph, to stand spell-bound by the art of a writer whose name you never heard, and then discover that he is one of the great ones of the world! Nought is comparable to it except perhaps to pick out all by yourself in the exhibition the one picture that the experts have chosen for the museum or to be able to say you liked olives the first time you tasted them.

Who are your favorites? Did some one guide you to them or did you find them yourselves? I will warrant that in many cases you discovered them and that this is why you love them. I discovered DeQuincey's romances, Praed's poetry, Beranger in French, Heine in German, "The Arabian nights", Moliere, Irving's "Alhambra," hundreds of others probably. I am sure that I love them all far more than if some one had told me they were good books. If I had been obliged to read them in school and pass an examination on them, I should have hated them. The teacher who can write an examination paper on Gray's "Elegy", would, I firmly believe, cut up his grandmother alive before the physiology class.

And next to the author or the book that you have discovered yourself comes the one that the discoverer himself—your boy or girl friend—tells you about. He knows a good thing—she knows it! No school nonsense about that; no adult misunderstanding. I found out Poe that way, and Thackeray's "Major Gahagan", and many others.

To go back to our old illustration and consider for a moment not the book but the mind, the personality whose ideas it records, such association with books represents association with one's fellowmen in society—at a reception, in school or college, at a club. Some we pass by with a nod, with some we exchange a word; sometimes there is a warm handgrasp; sometimes a long conversation. No matter what the mental contact may be, it has its effects—we are continually gaining knowledge, making new friends, receiving fresh inspiration. The complexion of this kind of daily association determines the cast of one's mind, the thoroughness of his taste, the usefulness or uselessness of what he does. A man is known by the company he keeps, because that company forms him; he gets from it what becomes brain of his brain and soul of his soul.

And no less is he formed by his mental associations with the good and the great of all ages whom he meets in books and who talk to him there. More rather than less; for into a book the writer puts generally what is best in him, laying aside the pettiness, the triviality, the downright wickedness that may have characterized him in the flesh.

I have often heard the comment from one who had met face to face a writer whose work he loved—"Oh! he disappointed me so!" How disappointed might we be with Thackeray, with Dickens, even with Shakespeare, could we meet them in the flesh! Now they can not disappoint us, for we know only what they have left on record—the best, the most enduring part, purified from what is gross and earthly.

In and among such company as this it is your privilege to live and move, almost without money and without price. Thank God for books; let them be your friends and companions through life—for information, for recreation, but above all for inspiration.


[6] Read before the St. Louis Academy of Science.

A theory involving some sort of a discrete or discontinuous structure of energy has been put forward by Prof. Max Planck of the University of Berlin. The various aspects of this theory are discussed and elaborated by the late M. Henri Poincare in a paper entitled "L'Hypothese des Quanta," published in the Revue Scientifique (Paris, Feb. 21, 1912).

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