The Booklover and His Books
by Harry Lyman Koopman
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The book therefore consists of a stiff cover joined by a flexible back—in the book beautiful a tight back—and inclosing highly flexible leaves. The substance of the board is not visible, being covered with an ornamental material, either cloth or leather, but it should be strong and tough and in thickness proportioned to the size of the volume. In very recent years we have available for book coverings really beautiful cloths, which are also more durable than all but the best leathers; but we have a right to claim for the book beautiful a covering of leather, and full leather, not merely a back and hinges. We have a wide range of beauty in leathers, from the old ivory of parchment—when it has had a few centuries in which to ripen its color—to the sensuous richness of calf and the splendor of crushed levant. The nature of the book must decide, if the choice is yet to be made. But, when the book has been covered with appropriate leather so deftly that the leather seems "grown around the board," and has been lettered on the back—a necessary addition giving a touch of ornament—we are brought up against the hard fact that, unless the decorator is very skillful indeed—a true artist as well as a deft workman—he cannot add another touch to the book without lessening its beauty. The least obtrusive addition will be blind tooling, or, as in so many old books, stamping, which may emphasize the depth of color in the leather. The next step in the direction of ornament is gilding, the next inlaying. In the older books we find metal clasps and corners, which have great decorative possibilities; but these, like precious stones, have disappeared from book ornamentation in modern times before the combined inroad of the democratic and the classic spirit.

Having once turned back the cover, our interest soon forsakes it for the pages inclosed by it. The first of these is the page opposite the inside of the cover; obviously it should be of the same or, at least, of a similar material to the body of the book. But the inside of the cover is open to two treatments; it may bear the material either of the outer covering or of the pages within. So it may display, for instance, a beautiful panel of leather—doublure—or it may share with the next page a decorative lining paper; but that next page should never be of leather, for it is the first page of the book.

As regards book papers, we are to-day in a more fortunate position than we were even a few years ago; for we now can obtain, and at no excessive cost, papers as durable as those employed by the earliest printers. It is needless to say that these are relatively rough papers. They represent one esthetic advance in papermaking since the earliest days in that they are not all dead white. Some of the books of the first age of printing still present to the eye very nearly the blackest black on the whitest white. But, while this effect is strong and brilliant, it is not the most pleasing. The result most agreeable to the eye still demands black or possibly a dark blue ink, but the white of the paper should be softened. Whether we should have made this discovery of our own wit no one can tell; but it was revealed to us by the darkening of most papers under the touch of time. Shakespeare forebodes this yellowing of his pages; but what was then thought of as a misfortune has since been accepted as an element of beauty, and now book papers are regularly made "antique" as well as "white." Even white does not please us unless it inclines to creamy yellow rather than to blue. But here, as everywhere, it is easy to overstep the bounds of moderation and turn excess into a defect. The paper of the book beautiful will not attract attention; we shall not see it until our second look at the page. The paper must not be too thick for the size of the book, else the volume will not open well, and its pages, instead of having a flowing character, will be stiff and hard.

The sewing of the book is not really in evidence, except indirectly. Upon the sewing and gluing, after the paper, depends the flexibility of the book; but the sewing in most early books shows in the raised bands across the back, which are due to the primitive and preferable stitch. It may also show in some early and much modern work in saw-marks at the inner fold when the book is spread wide open; but no such book can figure as a book beautiful. The head band is in primitive books a part of the sewing, though in all modern books, except those that represent a revival of medieval methods, it is something bought by the yard and stuck in without any structural connection with the rest of the book.

It is the page and not the cover that controls the proportions of the book, as the living nautilus controls its inclosing shell. The range in the size of books is very great—from the "fly's-eye Dante" to "Audubon's Birds"—but the range in proportion within the limits of beauty is astonishingly small, a difference in the relation of the width of the page to its height between about sixty and seventy-five per cent. If the width is diminished to nearer one-half the height, the page becomes too narrow for beauty, besides making books of moderate size too narrow to open well. On the other hand, if the width is much more than three-quarters of the height, the page offends by looking too square. In the so-called "printer's oblong," formed by taking twice the width for the diagonal, the width is just under fifty-eight per cent of the height, and this is the limit of stately slenderness in a volume. As we go much over sixty per cent, the book loses in grace until we approach seventy-five per cent, when a new quality appears, which characterizes the quarto, not so much beauty, perhaps, except in small sizes, as a certain attractiveness, like that of a freight boat, which sets off the finer lines of its more elegant associates. A really square book would be a triumph of ugliness. Oblong books also rule themselves out of our category. A book has still a third element in its proportions, thickness. A very thin book may be beautiful, but a book so thick as to be chunky or squat is as lacking in elegance as the words we apply to it. To err on the side of thickness is easy; to err on the side of thinness is hard, since even a broadside may be a thing of beauty.

We now come to the type-page, of which the paper is only the carrier and framework. This should have, as nearly as possible, the proportion of the paper—really it is the type that should control the paper—and the two should obviously belong together. The margins need not be extremely large for beauty; an amount of surface equal to that occupied by the type is ample. There was once a craze for broad margins and even for "large-paper" copies, in which the type was lost in an expanse of margin; but book designers have come to realize that the proportion of white to black on a page can as easily be too great as too small. Far more important to the beauty of a page than the extent of the margin are its proportions. The eye demands that the upper margin of a printed page or a framed engraving shall be narrower than the lower, but here the kinship of page to picture ceases. The picture is seen alone, but the printed page is one of a pair and makes with its mate a double diagram. This consists of two panels of black set between two outer columns of white and separated by a column of white. Now if the outer and inner margins of a page are equal, the inner column of the complete figure will be twice as wide as the outer. The inner margin of the page should therefore be half (or, to allow for the sewing and the curve of the leaf, a little more than half) the width of the outer. Then, when we open the book, we shall see three columns of equal width. The type and paper pages, being of the same shape, should as a rule be set on a common diagonal from the inner upper corner to the outer lower corner. This arrangement will give the same proportion between the top and bottom margins as was assigned to the inner and outer. It is by attention to this detail that one of the greatest charms in the design of the book may be attained.

We saw that the shape of the book is a rectangle, and this would naturally be so if there were no other reason for it than because the smallest factor of the book, the type, is in the cross-section of its body a rectangle. The printed page is really built up of tiny invisible rectangles, which thus determine the shape of the paper page and of the cover. A page may be beautiful from its paper, its proportions, its color effects, even if it is not legible; but the book beautiful, really to satisfy us, must neither strain the eye with too small type nor offend it with fantastic departures from the normal. The size of the type must not be out of proportion to that of the page or the column; for two or more columns are not barred from the book beautiful. The letters must be beautiful individually and beautiful in combination. It has been remarked that while roman capitals are superb in combination, black-letter capitals are incapable of team play, being, when grouped, neither legible nor beautiful. There has been a recent movement in the direction of legibility that has militated against beauty of type, and that is the enlarging of the body of the ordinary lowercase letters at the expense of its limbs, the ascenders and descenders, especially the latter. The eye takes little account of descenders in reading, because it runs along a line just below the tops of the ordinary letters, about at the bar of the small e; nevertheless, to one who has learned to appreciate beauty in type design there is something distressing in the atrophied or distorted body of the g in so many modern types and the stunted p's and q's—which the designer clearly did not mind! The ascenders sometimes fare nearly as badly. Now types of this compressed character really call for leading, or separation of the lines; and when this has been done, the blank spaces thus created might better have been occupied by the tops and bottoms of unleaded lines containing letters of normal length and height. Too much leading, like too wide margins, dazzles and offends the eye with its excess of white. The typesetting machines have also militated against beauty by requiring that every letter shall stand within the space of its own feet or shoulders. Thus the lowercase f and y and the uppercase Q are shorn of their due proportions. These are points that most readers do not notice, but they are essential, for the type of the book beautiful must not be deformed by expediency. On the other hand, it need not be unusual; if it is, it must be exceptionally fine to pass muster at all. The two extremes of standard roman type, Caslon and Bodoni, are handsome enough for any book of prose. One may go farther in either direction, but at one's risk. For poetry, Cloister Oldstyle offers a safe norm, from which any wide departure must have a correspondingly strong artistic warrant. All these three types are beautiful, in their letters themselves, and in the combinations of their letters into lines, paragraphs, and pages. Beautiful typography is the very foundation of the book beautiful.

But beautiful typography involves other elements than the cut of the type itself. The proofreading must be trained and consistent, standing for much more than the mere correction of errors. The presswork must be strong and even. The justification must be individual for each line, and not according to a fixed scale as in machine setting; even when we hold the page upside down, we must not be able to detect any streamlets of white slanting across the page. Moreover, if the page is leaded, the spacing must be wider in proportion, so that the color picture of the rectangle of type shall be even and not form a zebra of black and white stripes. It is hardly necessary to say that the registration must be true, so that the lines of the two pages on the same leaf shall show accurately back to back when one holds the page to the light. Minor elements of the page may contribute beauty or ugliness according to their handling: the headline and page number, their character and position; notes marginal or indented, footnotes; chapter headings and initials; catch-words; borders, head and tail pieces, vignettes, ornamental rules. Even the spacing of initials is a task for the skilled craftsman. Some printers go so far as to miter or shave the type-body of initials to make them, when printed, seem to cling more closely to the following text. Indenting, above all in poetry, is a feature strongly affecting the beauty of the page. Not too many words may be divided between lines; otherwise the line endings will bristle with hyphens. A paragraph should not end at the bottom of a page nor begin too near it, neither should a final page contain too little nor be completely full. Minor parts of the book, the half-title, the dedication page, the table of contents, the preface, the index, present so many opportunities to make or mar the whole. Especially is this true of the title-page. This the earliest books did not have, and many a modern printer, confronted with a piece of refractory title copy, must have sighed for the good old days of the colophon. Whole books have been written on the title-page; it must suffice here to say that each represents a new problem, a triumphant solution of which gives the booklover as much pleasure to contemplate as any other single triumph of the volume.

But what of color—splendid initials in red, blue, or green, rubricated headings, lines, or paragraphs? It is all a question of propriety, literary and artistic. The same principle holds as in decoration of binding. A beautiful black and white page is so beautiful that he who would improve it by color must be sure of his touch. The beauty of the result and never the beauty of the means by itself must be the test.

But books are not always composed of text alone. We need not consider diagrams, which hardly concern the book beautiful, except to say that, being composed of lines, they are often really more decorative than illustrations fondly supposed to be artistic. The fact that an engraving is beautiful is no proof that it will contribute beauty to a book; it may only make an esthetic mess of the text and itself. As types are composed of firm black lines, only fairly strong black-line engravings have any artistic right in the book. This dictum, however, would rule out so many pictures enjoyed by the reader that he may well plead for a less sweeping ban; so, as a concession to weakness, we may allow white-line engravings and half-tones if they are printed apart from the text and separated from it, either by being placed at the end of the book or by having a sheet of opaque paper dividing each from the text. In this case the legend of the picture should face it so that the reader will have no occasion to look beyond the two pages when he has them before him. The printers of the sixteenth century, especially the Dutch, did not hesitate to send their pages through two presses, one the typographic press, and the other the roller press for copper-plate engravings. The results give us perhaps the best example that we have of things beautiful in themselves but unlovely in combination. As in the use of other ornamental features, there are no bounds to the use of illustration except that of fitness.

We have spoken of margins from the point of view of the page; from that of the closed book they appear as edges, and here they present several problems in the design of the book beautiful. If the book is designed correctly from the beginning, the margins will be of just the right width and the edges cannot be trimmed without making them too narrow. Besides, the untrimmed edges are witnesses to the integrity of the book; if any exception may be made, it will be in the case of the top margin, which may be gilded both for beauty and to make easy the removal of dust. But the top should be rather shaved than trimmed, so that the margin may not be visibly reduced. The gilding of all the edges, or "full gilt," is hardly appropriate to the book beautiful, though it may be allowed in devotional books, especially those in limp binding, and its effect may there be heightened by laying the gilt on red or some other color. Edges may be goffered, that is, decorated with incised or burnt lines, though the result, like tattooing, is more curious than ornamental. The edges may even be made to receive pictures, but here again the effect smacks of the barbaric.

We have now gone over our subject in the large. To pursue it with all possible degrees of minuteness would require volumes. William Morris, for instance, discusses the proper shape for the dot of the i; and even the size of the dot and its place above the letter are matters on which men hold warring opinions. We have not even raised the question of laid or wove paper, nor of the intermixture of different series or sizes of types. In short, every phase of the subject bristles with moot points, the settlement of one of which in a given way may determine the settlement of a score of others.

But what is the use to the public of this knowledge and enjoyment of ours? Is it not after all a fruitless piece of self-indulgence? Surely, if bookmaking is one of the minor arts, then the private knowledge and enjoyment of its products is an element in the culture of the community. But it is more than that; it is both a pledge and a stimulus to excellence in future production. Artists in all fields are popularly stigmatized as a testy lot—irritabile genus—but their techiness does not necessarily mean opposition to criticism, but only to uninformed and unappreciative criticism, especially if it be cocksure and blatant. There is nothing that the true artist craves so much—not even praise—as understanding of his work and the welcome that awaits his work in hand from the lips of "those who know." Thus those who appreciate and welcome the book beautiful, by their encouragement help to make it more beautiful, and so by head and heart, if not by hand, they share in the artist's creative effort. Also, by thus promoting beauty in books, they discourage ugliness in books, narrowing the public that will accept ugly books and lessening the degree of ugliness that even this public will endure. Finally, it seems no mere fancy to hold that by creating the book beautiful as the setting of the noblest literature, we are rendering that literature itself a service in the eyes of others through the costly tribute that we pay to the worth of the jewel itself.


In De Morgan's winsome story, "Alice for Short," the heroine of the earlier portion, Miss Peggy Heath, is made to feel what it would mean to her to be deprived of a certain companion, and thus realizes his importance to her life.

It is this test of elimination that I shall ask you to apply to reading. Imagine yourselves deprived of the privilege, as many another has been by loss of sight or illness or poverty or removal from book centers. I have in mind such an instance. The late Professor William Mathews was injured by a fall when he was ninety years old, and until the end of his life, about a year later, was confined to his bed. You may know him as the author of various books of essays: "Getting on in the World," "Great Conversers," "Hours with Men and Books," "Words, their Use and Abuse," and other volumes that testify a marvelous range of acquaintance with literature. He wrote to a friend that he was brightening his hours of loneliness by repeating to himself passages of poetry and prose that he had learned by heart in his earlier days. Few of us can ever have such stores of memory to draw upon as his, but how happy we should be if under such circumstances we might be able to turn to a like source of consolation. Yet we have a much more famous instance of a great scholar cut off from the privilege of reading. Milton has given us in his famous invocation to Light, with which he opens the third book of "Paradise Lost," a picture of his own deprivation, presented with a universal blank in place of Nature's fair book of knowledge. The passage is too long to quote here, but let the reader turn to it, if only to refresh his memory.

This shows the privilege that we are now enjoying, and it may perhaps be sufficient to take our lesson at this point; but since it is always pleasanter to consider gain rather than loss, suppose we turn the subject around and imagine how it would seem if, after having been deprived all our lives of the privilege of reading, we suddenly had it thrust upon us. We should now find ourselves able to enjoy those wonderful works of literature which we had always been hearing about from the lips of others, but had never been able to know directly. How we should revel in the prospect before us! At last to be able to read the "Iliad"! To follow the fortunes of wandering Ulysses! To accompany Dante in his mystical journey through the three worlds! To dare with Macbeth and to doubt with Hamlet! Our trouble would be that we should not know which to select first. We should wish we had the eyes of an insect that we might read them all at once.

We have a familiar expression in taking leave of our friends, "Be good to yourself!" which, it will be seen, is the modern man's translation of the old "farewell," with the truly modern implication that the question of his faring well will depend upon himself. But can we call a man good to himself who does not avail himself of advantages that are freely open to him and that others about him are embracing? The great men of the past have been such because to their natural abilities they added an acquaintance with the thought of the great men who preceded them. The same is true of the men whom we are glad to honor among our contemporaries. We may feel very sure that we are not heaven-descended geniuses, or even possessed of unusual talent; and yet, if we do not give ourselves the advantages that all those had who have won distinction, we have certainly not given ourselves a fair chance to show what is in us. Therefore, as a duty to ourselves, we must make the acquaintance of the books that the common judgment of the world has pronounced to be of the most value. They must become more than names to us. We may not indeed find in all of them food for our own spirits, but it is a part of our business in seeking a knowledge of mankind to know the thoughts and thought-forms that men have found of most worth. It is not to be supposed that we shall prize all these books equally; some of them will never be more to us than great monuments which, for some reason peculiar to our temperaments, do not appeal to us; but among their number we shall find some that will throw open to our souls the very gates of heaven—books that will raise our natures forevermore to a higher power, as if from two-dimensional Flatland creatures we had suddenly been advanced to three dimensions, or, in our own humdrum world of length, breadth, and thickness, we had received the liberty of the mysterious fourth dimension.

Let us now take a brief inventory of our heritage. We can glance at only the most precious of these treasures, the crown jewels of the world's literature, which are all ours, whether we choose to wear them or not. But first let me make it plain that I am not assuming that all the great monuments of human genius are literary. I am not forgetful of the fact that literature is only one of the fine arts, that the Strassburg Cathedral, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Rembrandt's School of Anatomy, Michelangelo's Moses are all products of man's creative genius, records of the life of God in the soul of man. But I do insist that literature is the most inclusive and the most definite of all the arts, and that therefore books unlock to us a vaster world than obeys the spell of any other art. One man's soul may attain its transfiguration through architecture or music or painting or sculpture as another does through poetry; the great thing is to attain the transfiguration; and let us be thankful for the many ways in which God fulfills himself to man. I am not trying to make out a case for literature, but literature is my subject, and what I say of it must be taken as equally friendly to all the other great forms of human expression and often as equally applicable to them.

We will not talk of a five-foot or a three-foot shelf, or one of any other exact dimension, though I suspect that no very long range of space would be required to hold all the supremely great books for whose contents we should have room in our souls. The limitation will prove to be in us rather than in the material of literature. The Bible, while containing supremely great literature, has still higher claims, and for the present discussion may be left to its special advocates. But meanwhile our treasures are waiting for their inventory.

Literature for people of our race begins with Homer and is confined to Europe and English America. This means in a very true sense that all the literature which concerns us is modern, for the Greeks are the first and perhaps the greatest of the moderns. They present us as their first contribution the works that go under the name of Homer, and we need not disturb ourselves now with the question whether the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey" were both written by the same man, or even each written by a single hand. The point is that we have in them an imperishable picture of the life of a vanished world. Each is an epic of the natural man, the one national, the other personal. In the "Iliad" we are plunged into the thickening close of the ten years' war between the Greeks and Trojans, during which the beautiful cause of all the trouble, Helen, retains all her youthful bloom and, in fact, nobody seems to grow any older. We have a crowded stage with many episodes and interests. In the "Odyssey" we trace the fortunes of one man, Ulysses, during his return from the war, which occupies him ten years, so that he is away from home, as Rip Van Winkle was, twenty years; but, instead of finding everybody grown old or dead, as Irving's hero did, he finds his wife still young and attractive and beset by numerous suitors. We are very glad to have this so, because we are all children at heart and want just such an ending. The telling of these stories, while simple, is on a lofty plane; the gods themselves take part in the passions of the contestants and even in the warfare. The poet, no doubt, meant this for what it professes to be; but I cannot help seeing in the embroiling of Olympus a perhaps unrealized tribute of the poet to the greatness of the human soul in the scale of the universe, a suggestion that moral and spiritual values and powers outweigh the stars in their courses.

Great as are the works of Homer, we are not to suppose them the only masterpieces in Greek literature. Certainly the three great dramatists cannot be omitted, all so great, yet so unlike. These three, together with two pastoral poets, one lyric poet, and the greatest of prose poets, are vividly pictured by Mrs. Browning in the glowing stanzas of her "Wine of Cyprus."

Oh, our AEschylus, the thunderous! How he drove the bolted breath Through the cloud, to wedge the ponderous In the gnarled oak beneath. Oh, our Sophocles, the royal, Who was born to monarch's place, And who made the whole world loyal, Less by kingly power than grace. Our Euripides, the human, With his droppings of warm tears, And his touches of things common Till they rose to touch the spheres! Our Theocritus, our Bion, And our Pindar's shining goals!— These were cup-bearers undying Of the wine that's meant for souls. And my Plato, the divine one, If men know the gods aright By their motions as they shine on With a glorious trail of light!—

It would not be surprising if some who read these lines should find more food for mind and soul in Plato than in any other of the Greek writers. Certainly those works of Plato and his contemporary, Xenophon, that relate to the life, teachings, and death of Socrates are contributions to a yet uncollected Bible of humanity, one more inclusive than that of Jew or Christian.

It is one of the great misfortunes of Roman literature that the works of its chief writers are used as textbooks for schools, a misfortune shared to some extent by the Greek. Yet Homer and Xenophon, Vergil and Cicero, did not write for children or callow youth. They belong to Longfellow's

grand old masters, Whose mighty thoughts suggest Life's endless toil and endeavor,

and their writings have no relation to adolescence. Yet it is to be feared that most people who have read their works remember them as seen through the cloudy medium of their own immaturity. Byron speaks of reading and hating Horace as a schoolboy, but no normal person can hate Horace any more than he can hate Washington Irving. It is possible, however, that pupils who have to read Irving's "Sketch Book" with the fear of a college entrance examination before their minds may have no affection even for him. So some of us may have something to unlearn in our reading of Vergil and Horace, for we must approach their works as strong meat for mature minds. Vergil's theme is nothing less than the glorification of the Roman state through its divinely ordered and heroic founding. School children seldom read more than the six books of the "Aeneid" required for college; but the other six, though of much less varied interest, are necessary for the appreciation of the poem. The whole is a work that no one can afford to pass over in his search for the burning words that keep alive the thought of other ages. Very different in theme and manner is the poetry of Horace. He is the most modern of all the men of old, far more modern than our own Puritan ancestors. His mixture of grace and shrewdness, poetic charm and worldly wisdom, we find nowhere else. The bulk of his work is not large, and this fact, as in the case of Gray and Keats and Poe, is rather in his favor, because the reader can easily become familiar with it all, though then he will sigh for more. Horace wears well; the older we grow the better we like him. He has love songs for youth, political poems for maturity, and satires for old age. After we have lived with him for half a century he becomes more real to us than most of our acquaintances in the flesh. Roman literature is not without other great names to attract the student; but these two must not be overlooked by the most general or the most selective reader.

With Vergil the world always associates the still greater figure of one who was proud to call him master—that of Dante. More than is true of almost any other writer, his work is a compendium of the life of his time. The "Divine Comedy" is first of all poetry, and poetry of the loftiest order; but it is also an embodiment of the learning, the philosophy, and the theology of his age. It mirrors at once the greatness and the limitations of the medieval mind. Dante is not modern in the sense that Horace is, though he is thrice as near to us in time. Leigh Hunt said that his great poem ought to be called an infernal tragedy; but that is true only of the Inferno; the spiritual atmosphere clears as we follow his footsteps through the Purgatorio and the Paradiso. Of all the masterpieces of human genius the "Divine Comedy" is perhaps the one that asks the most self-surrender of the modern reader and—shall I add?—that repays it most richly. Longfellow's marvelous sonnet sequence, written while he was translating Dante, portrays at once the spirit in which we should approach the reading of the "Divine Comedy" and the wonders that we shall find there. It is a book that we never can outgrow. To know it is to be made a citizen of the moral universe.

In 1616, within ten days of each other, there passed from earth two men, each the writer first thought of when his country's literature is mentioned, and one of them the first writer in the world's literature. Cervantes and Shakespeare very likely died in ignorance of each other's work. Stoddard has depicted them in Paradise,

Where sweet Cervantes walks, A smile on his grave face ... Where, little seen but light, The only Shakespeare is.

There is no injustice in saying that Shakespeare's nature included that of Cervantes. Not so inclusive was Dante's; what his nature most lacked we find in the author of "Don Quixote." Yet personally they are equally heroic figures, and, one an exile and the other a slave, both drained to the dregs the cup of human suffering. Cervantes has several great advantages over most of the world's classic writers: his masterpiece is a work of humor; it is written in a simple and graceful style, at once easy and winning; and it is written in prose, which, after all, does not make so severe a cultural demand on the reader as poetry. For these very reasons it cannot aspire to the highest rank, but what it loses in fame it makes up in popularity. Though in a few passages it is not parlor reading, "Don Quixote" is one of the cleanest of all the world's great books. It is not merely technically clean, but clean-minded. It has the form of a satire on chivalry, but its meaning goes much deeper. It is really a satire on a more persistent weakness of the Spanish character, visionary unrealism. We have this quality held up to ridicule in the learned man and the ignorant man, for Sancho Panza is as much of an unrealist as his master, only he is a groveling visionary while Don Quixote is a soaring one. This, too, is a book that one does not outgrow, but finds it a perpetually adequate commentary on his own widening experience of men and their motives.

In regard to the supreme figure in literature, the least thing that we can do is to read him, and, having read him, to read him again and to keep his volumes next to our hands. We shall hardly read Shakespeare without having the question of commentators come up; and surely Shakespeare deserves all the attention that we can bestow upon him. But the general reader should clearly distinguish between the two kinds of commentary that have appeared regarding Shakespeare, the one having to do with his text, his historical accuracy, and his use of words, the other with his meaning. In Hudson's edition these two kinds of notes are kept separate. Surely it is the thought of Shakespeare that we want, and not the pedantry of minute scholarship regarding his material, useful as that is in its place. The reader who has mastered Hudson's introductions and has read Dowden's "Shakspere: His Mind and Art" or Brandes's "Critical Study" will have all that he will ordinarily need in the way of guidance. But remember that reading about Shakespeare is not reading Shakespeare; that means, for the time at least, self-surrender to Shakespeare's leading. Shakespeare is perhaps the supreme example of a man who found the world interesting. He may not be sympathetic with evil, but he finds it so interesting that he makes us, for the time being, take a fratricidal usurper like Hamlet's uncle, or a gross, sponging braggart like Falstaff, at his own estimate. Shakespeare is never shocked at anything that happens in the world; he knows the world too well for that. He offends the Puritan in us by his indifference; he is therefore probably the best kind of reading for Puritans. Shakespeare is romantic in his literary methods, but in his portrayal of character he is an unsurpassed realist. If life were all thought and achievement, Shakespeare would be the last word in literature; but there is another side, the side which the Puritan represents, with which Shakespeare is but imperfectly sympathetic. His message accordingly needs to be supplemented; and it is interesting that his great successor, the man who still stands next to him in our literature, supplies that missing strain. If we could take but one book with us into banishment, it would be Shakespeare—thus proving Shakespeare's supremacy by Miss Peggy Heath's principle of elimination; but if we could take two, that second, I am frank to confess, would for me be Milton.

It is Milton's literary glory that he appeared in the second generation following Spenser and Shakespeare—he was born in Shakespeare's lifetime—and carried off the palm, which he still keeps, for the greatest English poem. In spiritual kinship he is much nearer to Spenser than to Shakespeare. Shakespeare hides behind his pages; his personality makes no clear or at least ready impression upon us; but the colossal personality of Milton towers above all his works. He is Milton, the superman, and communion with him for the moment lifts us to something like his own level. In this personal inspiration lies Milton's greatest service to his readers. Over and above the poetic delights, of which he is a master unsurpassed, is the inspiration that comes from the man behind the poetry; or, to express the same thought in other words, above the organ music of his verse sounds clear and far the trumpet call of personality. Therefore Milton is destined to inspire generations by which his theology and his justification of the ways of God to man are swept into his own limbo of myth and delusion. Fortunately Milton's verse is not appallingly great in amount. If we cannot hope to know it all by heart, as Macaulay did, we can at least know it well enough to recognize any quotation from it, and rich will be the furnishing of our minds when we have made this true.

In our beadroll of the world's greatest writers I shall mention only one more, Goethe. He is the modern man who touched life most widely, penetratingly, and sanely. His long life came down so near to ours that many of us have had friends who were in childhood or infancy his contemporaries. It is fair to say that since his death the world has moved much nearer to his mental attitude than it stood in his lifetime, and one of the agencies that have wrought the change is the living force of his own works, which led and still lead the thought of men. Goethe may be called the ideal creative critic of life. He held up a mirror, not to Nature, as Shakespeare did, but to society; and society can get away from the image which it sees reflected there only by growing away from it.

Here let us close our list, not because there are no other great writers to choose from, but because it is long enough for our present purposes, and because, from this point on, every addition is open to challenge. I have intentionally pitched my counsel high; some of my readers may feel like calling it a counsel of perfection; but according to my way of thinking, no writer is too good for any of us to read. Moreover, I honestly think the list interesting. It is not chiefly reading for recreation, but for soul expansion, and it means intellectual effort. Unless we wrestle with an author as Jacob did with the angel, we shall not receive the highest blessing. But some one may plead that, while he does not wish to read wholly for amusement, he is not in a condition, either from training or circumstances, to engage in mental athletics. He cannot apply himself to an author as he recognizes that the greatest writers deserve; but he is willing to read with attention, and he should like to feel that what he is reading is good literature. This is a reasonable request, and, out of countless possible responses, I will make one that I hope may prove both profitable and attractive.

Let us set out with the recognition of the fact that systematic reading is far more profitable than desultory reading, even on the same literary level. One excellent way to achieve system is to read by authors—to make the author a study, in his writings and his life. To read Hawthorne's "House of the Seven Gables," for instance, is to drink from a fountain of the purest spiritual delight; but we gain an additional delight, even if of a lower kind, when we know something of Hawthorne's life and his relations to the old town of Salem. In many cases it is necessary to know the author's life in order really to understand his book. Now I will suggest the reading, not merely of separate authors, but of a group. There are many such, of varying degrees of greatness: the Elizabethan group, the Lake poets, the Byron-Shelley-Keats group, the mid-nineteenth-century British novelists, to go no further than writers in English. But I am going to ask your interest in the New England group of authors who were writing fifty years ago. They comprise the well-known names of Emerson, Hawthorne, Longfellow, Whittier, Holmes, Thoreau, and Lowell. Each of these delightful writers deserves to be studied for his own sake, but, if we take them as a group, we shall gain still more in understanding and profit. How shall we approach the reading of them? They obviously cannot all be read at once; so let us begin with any one, say Hawthorne, read his life in Mrs. Field's brief Beacon Biography, dipping at the same time into his "Note-Books," and then read some of his short stories and the "Scarlet Letter." His biography will already have brought us into contact with most of the other names, of Longfellow, his college classmate, and of Emerson and Thoreau, his neighbors at Concord. We may read the Beacon Biography of Longfellow, but Higginson's would be better, as fuller and more adequate. We may first read Longfellow's prose works, "Outre-Mer" and "Hyperion," and then his "Voices of the Night," besides following him in his "Life, with Extracts from his Journal and Correspondence," edited by his brother, which is one of the most delightful of books. We shall do well to read each author's writings in chronological succession; so they will stand in orderly relation with his life. Similarly we may take up Emerson first in Mr. Sanborn's Beacon Biography, or in Dr. Holmes's larger but still handy volume, and then we can apply ourselves with better understanding to Emerson's essays and poems. I particularly mention his poems, for I believe that Emerson will come to be rated higher as a poet than he has yet been. His poetry at its best is hardly below anyone's best; the only trouble is that there is so little of it; but ultimately all writers are judged by their best. In the same way we may take up all the writers of the group, learning something of the life of each and reading some of his works before passing on to another. Let me especially call your attention to the writings of Thoreau, who is less known to his countrymen than any of the others. He is a writer of great originality and freshness of view. He, too, wrote some exquisite poetry, worthy of any name in literature; but you will have to look for it among other verse that has more originality than charm. Obviously what I have recommended is not the work of one year's leisure, but the protracted delight of many years: for these books are not to be hurried over to get to the end of the chapter or to see how they are coming out; neither are they material for skipping. They are to be read attentively and reread; and if one or another fails to make a strong appeal to some reader, surely he cannot fail to find in most of them a source of lofty pleasure and spiritual enrichment. One fruit that we may expect from such reading is that we shall find ourselves drawn nearer to the supreme masters and shall end by surrendering ourselves to them. To know our New England group is not indeed to climb the Alps of literature, but it is at least to climb its White Mountains. Every gain will be a fresh incitement, and those who at the start join the literary Appalachian Club may be looked for some day in the ranks of the Alpinists.

A word on the reading of contemporary writers; for even our second list did not bring us down to our own time. We shall, of course, read our contemporaries, and we have a right to, so long as we do not give them the time and attention that clearly belong to their betters. The truth is that contemporaries—unless they are contemporary poets—have a quite unfair advantage over their elders, our own in time and place being so much more attractive to us than anything more remote. Still, our contemporaries have a claim upon us—even, I am rash enough to assert, our contemporary poets—for they have a message that their predecessors cannot give us; it may not be the most important message for us, but it is a message of value, as we shall see if we return to De Morgan and his novels. These remarkable books we cannot miss without losing something that makes our own day fine and precious among earth's generations. But in this respect they are literally chosen from ten thousand, for we need constantly the caution that the near carries with it an appearance of importance that is an illusion; of this truth our periodical literature, from the newspaper up, is the illustrious example, and the lesson is all summed up in the one phrase, "back number." Let us be careful that in heeding contemporary voices we are not storing our minds with the contents of "back numbers." True literature as we have seen, never becomes out of date; Homer keeps up with the telegraph.

I have but one final word, which has been provided for me by Charles Lamb, who says in his inimitable fashion: "I own that I am disposed to say grace upon twenty other occasions in the course of the day besides my dinner. I want a form for setting out upon a pleasant walk, for a moonlight ramble, for a friendly meeting, or a solved problem. Why have we none for books, those spiritual repasts—a grace before Milton—a grace before Shakespeare—a devotional exercise proper to be said before reading the Fairy Queen?" This is the spirit of a joyous but devoutly grateful expectance, in which I would have myself approach the reading of a great book. The gratitude I surely owe the author, for there is no great book but has come like refined gold out of the furnace fire. I owe it also to the Providence which has granted me this lofty privilege. Moreover, it is only in the humility born of such an attitude that I can make a complete approach to my author and gain that uplift and enrichment of the soul, which—and not pastime nor pleasure—is the true end, as it should be the aim of reading.


One of the greatest contributions that modern investigation has made to human knowledge is background. It was once thought a remarkable achievement to uncover the historic background of modern institutions, and this was all that, until lately, scholarship attempted. Dr. Samuel Johnson confidently remarked that we know no more about ancient Britain than the old writers have told us, nor can we ever know any more than this. Edward Clodd reminds us that at the very time when the great oracle voiced this assertion discoveries had already been made in England that, when interpreted as they have been since, were to make the landing of Caesar seem, by comparison, a contemporary occurrence. Now this inconceivably remote prehistoric era furnishes not merely arrowheads and stone chisels and burial mounds, but also other objects that are the background of that "picture of time" of which the book of to-day is the foreground.

Very properly these are objects of art, and they afford the earliest illustrations in histories of art as they do in histories of the book. Thus the printer who questions what art has to do with his business stamps himself as two hundred thousand years behind the times. They are pictures, and the book of to-day has descended as directly from them as the printer of to-day has descended from the man who made them. They are, moreover, in some instances, works of very high art. The picture of the mammoth, scratched on a fragment of the mammoth's tusk, is a piece of drawing so skillful that only the greatest living masters can equal it. Not even Rembrandt's drawing of the elephant, which Dr. Holmes celebrates in one of his poems, is more expressive or wrought with more economy of effort. In the same district of southwestern France, Dordogne, that yielded the drawings are found long cave galleries of paintings representing the creatures of that period, all executed with great spirit and ability. But what are the steps in the descent from these ancient pictures to the printed book?

Primitive man had one more string to his conversational bow than most civilized people have, namely, sign language. But gesture and speech alike prevail but little against space and time. Each is possible only at short range, and each dies on the eye or ear that receives it. Pictures may be carried to any distance and may be preserved for any length of time. They were probably made first in response to an instinct rather for art than for the communication of ideas; but their great advantage for communication must have been perceived very early, and, as we find picture writing employed by primitive races to-day, we have the right to infer that prehistoric peoples at the same stage of culture also employed it. Pure picture writing, however, does not suffice for all that men have to say. It is easy to represent a house, but how shall we represent a home? It is easy to represent a woman, but how shall we add the idea of wife? To do this we must pass from simple pictures to symbols. Chinese writing has never advanced beyond this stage. Its prodigious type-case of more than forty-two thousand characters contains, therefore, only a series of pictures, direct and symbolic, all highly conventionalized, but recognizable in their earlier forms. To represent "wife" the Chinaman combines the two signs for "woman" and "broom"; to represent "home" he makes a picture of a pig under a roof! The Egyptian and Mexican systems of writing, though very different to the eye, were both of this nature and represented ideas rather than words. Yet all true alphabets, which are representations of sound, have been derived from such primitive ideograms or pictures of ideas. What was the process?

The rebus is the bridge from the writing of thoughts to the writing of sounds, and it came into use through the necessity of writing proper names. Every ancient name, like many modern ones, had a meaning. A king's name might be Wolf, and it would be indicated by the picture of a wolf. Ordinarily the picture would be named by everyone who saw it according to his language; he might call it "wolf," or "lupus," or "lykos"; but when it meant a man's name he must call it Wolf, whatever his own language. So such names as Long Knife and Strong Arm would be represented, and these pictures would thus be associated with the sound rather than the thing. By and by it was found convenient, where the word had several syllables, to use its picture to represent the sound of only the first syllable, and, still later, of only the first sound or letter. Thus the Egyptian symbol for F was originally a picture of the horned asp, later it stood for the Egyptian name of this venomous creature, and finally for the first sound in the name, being used as the letter F itself; and the reason why we have the barred cross-piece in the F, the two horns in U, V, and Y, and the four in W (VV) is because the Egyptian asp had two horns, as may be seen from the illustration in the Century Dictionary under the word cerastes; and every time that we write one of these letters we are making a faded copy of the old picture. We find systems of writing in all the stages from pure pictures to the phonetic alphabet; in Egyptian hieroglyphics we find a mixture of all the stages. So much for the background of the book as the bringer of a message to the eye, but the outward form or wrapping of that message has also a long and interesting history.

No objects could be much more unlike than a Babylonian tablet, an Egyptian papyrus roll, and a Mexican book. They are as different as a brick, a narrow window-shade, and a lady's fan; they have nothing common in their development, yet they were used for the same purpose and might bring identically the same message to the mind. Inwardly, as regards writing or printing, all books have a parallel development; but outwardly, in their material and its form, they are the results of local conditions. In Babylonia, which was a fertile river-bottom, bricks were the only building material, and clay was therefore a familiar substance. Nothing was more natural than that the Babylonian should scratch his record or message on a little pat of clay, which he could afterwards bake and render permanent. Some day all other books in the world will have crumbled into dust, their records being saved only when reproduced; but at that remote time there will still exist Babylonian books, even now five thousand years old, apparently no nearer destruction than when they were first made.

The Babylonian book carried its message all on the outside; the Egyptian book went to the opposite extreme, and we should find our chief objection to it in the difficulty of getting readily at its contents. There flourished on the banks of the Nile a stout reed, six feet high, called by the Egyptians "p-apa" and by the Greeks "papyros" or "byblos." It was the great source of raw material for Egyptian manufactures. Its tufted head was used for garlands; its woody root for various purposes; its tough rind for ropes, shoes, and similar articles—the basket of Moses, for instance; and its cellular pith for a surface to write on. As the stem was jointed, the pith came in lengths, the best from eight to ten inches. These lengths were sliced through from top to bottom, and the thin slices laid side by side. Another layer was pasted crosswise above these, the whole pressed, dried in the sun, and rubbed smooth, thus giving a single sheet of papyrus. As the grain ran differently on the two surfaces of the papyrus sheet, only one side was written on. Other sheets were added to this by pasting them edge to edge until enough for a roll had been made, usually twenty, a roller being fastened to the last edge and a protecting strip of wood to the front. The manuscript was unrolled by the right hand and rolled up by the left. It is obvious that a book of reference in this form would be subjected to great wear. In our dictionaries it is as easy to find Z as A; but in a papyrus book, to find the end meant to unroll the whole. The Latin word for roll was "volumen," hence our "volume." A long work could obviously not be produced conveniently in a single roll, therefore Homer's "Iliad" and "Odyssey," for instance, were each divided into twenty-four books, and that is why the divisions of an epic poem are still called books, though they are really chapters. The rolls composing a single work were kept together in a case something like a bandbox. The roll was the book form of the Greek and Roman as well as the Egyptian world, but it left no descendants. Our book form was derived from a different source, which we will now consider.

Just as we speak of Russia leather, so the ancients spoke of Pergamum skins, or parchment. The story is that Eumenes II, King of Pergamum, a city of Asia Minor, tried to build up a library rivaling that of Alexandria, and the Ptolemies, seeking to thwart him, forbade the export of papyrus from Egypt. Eumenes, however, developed the manufacture of Pergamum skin, or parchment, or vellum, which not only enabled him to go on with his library, but also incidentally changed the whole character of the book for future ages. This material is not only much more serviceable than the fragile papyrus, but, being tough enough to stand folding and sewing, permitted the book to be made in its present or codex form, the original codex being two or three Roman waxed tablets of wood, fastened together like hinged slates, and thus opening very crudely in the manner of our books. This development of parchment occurred in the first half of the second century before Christ. The new material and book form gradually made their way into favor and came to constitute the book of the early Christian and medieval world. Though paper was introduced into Europe soon after the year seven hundred, it did not displace parchment until the invention of printing called for a material of its cheaper and more adaptable character.

But, though we have traced the origin of our present book form, we have not yet filled in the background of its history. Several other notable types of the book deserve our attention; first of all that of China, one of the most attractive of all book forms, to which we devote our next chapter. Though it superficially resembles our own books, it is really the product of a different line of evolution. When we examine it closely, we find that in many respects it is the exact reverse of our practice. It is printed on only one side of the paper; it is trimmed at the back and folded on the fore edge; its wide margin is at the top; its running headline is on the folded fore edge; its sewing is on the outside; its binding is limp; its lines run up and down the page; and its pages, according to Western ideas, open from the back towards the front. Yet it is a thing of beauty, and let us hope that nothing in the modern reorganization of China will change its character to prevent it from remaining a joy forever.

Just as Chinese paper is made from bamboo, which plays an even greater part in China than papyrus did in Egypt, so the book of India utilizes the leaves of that important tropical tree, the palm. The sheets of the book before me are strips of palm-leaf two inches wide and two feet long. They are written on both sides and, following the run of the grain, lengthwise. This makes an inordinate length of line, but, owing to the small number of lines on the page, the confusion of the eye is less than might be expected. The leaves composing the book are clamped between two boards of their own size, the block thus formed is pierced with two holes, through which pins are thrust, and the whole is wound with a cord. The dimensions vary, some books being larger and some much smaller. I have also before me a Burmese booklet in which the leaves are one inch wide and six inches long. Sometimes the sheets are of brass, beautifully lacquered, and the writing heavy and highly decorative. These books also vary greatly in size, some forming truly massive and sumptuous volumes. Birch bark was also employed as a book material in India, being used in what we should call quarto sheets, and in Farther India a peculiar roll is in use, made of Chinese paper, folded at the side, sewed at the top, and rolled up like a manifold banner in a cover of orange-colored or brown cotton cloth.

We do not ordinarily associate books with pre-Columbian America; yet one of the most interesting of all book forms was current in Mexico before the Conquest. As in the case of the Chinese book, it looks superficially like ours; we think it is a tiny quarto until we see that its measure is rather that of an oblong twenty-fourmo; that is, its dimensions are just scant of five inches high and six inches wide. It has thin wooden covers and is, over all, an inch thick; but between these covers is a strip of deerskin twenty-nine feet long and, of course, nearly five inches wide. This is folded in screen or fan fashion, the first and last leaves being pasted to the inside of the covers. This attachment is really the only binding; the whole strip is capable of being opened up to its full length. It is read—by those who can read its vividly colored hieroglyphics—by holding it like a modern book, turning the leaves until what seems the end is reached, and then turning the cover for the next leaf, and continuing to turn until the first cover is reached again, but from the other side. Incredible as it may seem, there is a book of India which is almost identical in structure with the ancient Mexican book. It has the shape of the palm-leaf book, but it is made of heavy paper, blackened to be written on with a chalk pencil, and it opens like a fan exactly in the Mexican fashion. Each cover is formed by a double fold of paper, and the writing runs lengthwise of the page as in the palm-leaf volume. As the writing can be erased, the book serves the purpose of a slate.

The variety of objects that men have used to write upon almost surpasses imagination, ranging from mountain walls to the ivory shoulders of Rider Haggard's heroine in his "Mr. Meeson's Will." Such unusual, if actual, writing materials belong, perhaps, rather to the penumbra than to the background of the book; but, as a final survey of our subject, running back to the time when there were no books and men must rely upon their memories, we may quote what Lane says of the sources from which the Kuran was derived after the death of Mohammed: "So Zeyd gathered the Kuran from palm-leaves, skins, shoulder-blades (of beasts), stones, and the hearts of men."


The naturalist, Lloyd Morgan, in one of his lectures threw together on the screen pictures of a humming bird and an insect of the same size, the two looking so much alike as to seem to the casual observer to belong to the same order. Yet they are anatomically far more different than the man and the fish. In much the same way we may be led to suppose that a Chinese book and an occidental paper-bound book are much the same thing in origin as they are to the eye. But here too the likeness is only apparent. One book form has descended from a block of wood and the other from a fold of silk.

The Chinese book is such a triumph of simplicity, cheapness, lightness, and durability that it deserves a more careful study at the hands of our book producers than it has yet received. In fact we do not see why books made on nearly these lines should not be an attractive and popular innovation in our book trade. Approaches, to be sure, have been made to this peculiar book form, but they have been partial imitations, not consistent reproductions. In an illustrated edition of Longfellow's "Michael Angelo," published in 1885, Houghton, Mifflin and Company produced a small folio, the binding of which is obviously patterned after that of a Chinese book. But the printing is on every page, and the paper is so stiff that the book will not lie open. In the holiday edition which the same publishers issued in 1896 of Aldrich's poem, entitled "Friar Jerome's Beautiful Book," they produced a volume in which the front folds were not intended to be cut open; but they outdid the Chinese by printing on only one of the pages exposed at each opening of the book, instead of on both, as the Chinese do, thus utilizing only one-fourth of the possible printing surface of the volume. In this case again the paper was stiff and the binding was full leather with heavy tapes for tying. A much closer approach to the Chinese book form was afforded by "The Periodical," issued by Henry Frowde, in the form which it bore at first. Here we have what may fairly be called a naturalization of the Chinese book idea in the occident. But let us see exactly what that Chinese book form is.

The standard book is printed from engraved wood blocks, each of which is engraved on the side of the board, not on the end like our wood blocks, and for economy is engraved on both its sides. Each of these surfaces prints one sheet of paper, making two pages. The paper, being unsized, is printed on only one side, and the fold is not at the back, as in our books, but at the front. The running headline, as we should call it, with the page number, is printed in a central column, which is folded through when the book is bound, coming half on one page and half on the other. There is always printed in this column a fan-shaped device, called the fish's tail, whose notch indicates where the fold is to come. It may be remarked in passing that the Chinese book begins on what to us is the last page, and that the lines read from top to bottom and follow one another from right to left. Each page has a double ruled line at top and bottom and on the inner edge. The top and bottom lines and the fish's tail, being printed across the front fold, show as black lines banding the front edge when the book is bound. The bottom line is taken by the binder as his guide in arranging the sheets, this line always appearing true on the front edge and the others blurred. The top margin has more than twice the breadth of the lower. After the sheets are gathered, holes are punched at proper distances from the back edge—four seems to be the regulation number whether the book be large or small, but large books have an extra hole at top and bottom towards the corner from the last hole. These holes are then plugged with rolls of paper to keep the sheets in position, and the top, bottom, and back edges are shaved with a sharp, heavy knife, fifty or more volumes being trimmed at the same stroke. A piece of silk is pasted over the upper and lower corners of the back. Covers, consisting of two sheets of colored paper folded in front like the pages, are placed at front and back, but not covering the back edge, or there is an outer sheet of colored paper with inside lining paper and a leaf of heavy paper between for stiffening. Silk cord is sewn through the holes and neatly tied, and the book is done—light in the hand and lying open well, inexpensive and capable with proper treatment of lasting for centuries.

What are the chief defects of the Chinese book from an occidental point of view? The most obvious is that it will not stand alone. Another is that its covers, being soft, are easily crumpled and dog's-eared. A third is that it is printed on only one side of the paper and therefore wastes space. All these objections must be admitted, but it may be urged with truth that our books, in spite of their relatively costly binding, do not stand alone any too well, and in fact this is a function seldom asked of books anyway. Its covers are soft, but this means at least that they are not so hard and foreign to the material of the book as to tear themselves off after a dozen readings, as is the case with so many of our bindings. There is no danger of breaking the back of a Chinese book on first opening it, for it has no lining of hard glue. As to the utilization of only one side of the paper, it must be remembered that the Chinese paper is very thin, and that this practice makes it possible to secure the advantage of opacity without loading the paper with a foreign and heavy material. Moreover, the thickness of the pasteboard cover is saved on the shelves, and even if a substitute for it is adopted, it is in the form of a light pasteboard case that holds several volumes at once. Such a cover is capable of being lettered on the back, though the Chinese seem not to think this necessary, but put their title labels on the side. Really, the back of the Chinese book is to us its most foreign feature. It is a raw edge, not protected by the cover, and differs from the front only in consisting of the edges of single leaves instead of folds. It is in fact a survival from the days before the invention of paper, when books were printed on silk, the raw edge of which would fray and was therefore consigned to the position where it would have the least wear and would do the least harm if worn.

But there is no reason why, in Europeanizing the Chinese book, the corner guard should not be extended the whole length of the back and bear the ordinary lettering. With this slight difference the Chinese book would be equipped to enter the lists on fairly even terms against the prevailing occidental type of book, which has come down to us from the ancient Roman codex through the parchment book, of which ours is only a paper imitation. In "The Periodical," referred to, four pages instead of two were printed at once, or, at least, four constitute a fold. The sheets are stitched through with thread—they might, of course, have been wire-stitched—and then a paper cover is pasted on, as in the case of any magazine or paper-bound book. But in this process the beauty of the Chinese binding disappears, though the Chinese do the same with their cheapest pamphlets. In these days, when lightness and easy handling are such popular features in books, what publisher will take up the book form that for two thousand years has enshrined the wisdom of the Flowery Kingdom, and by trifling adaptations here and there make it his own and ours?


Sir Hiram Maxim, the knight from Maine, prophesies that we shall change our religion twenty times in the next twenty thousand years. In the last two thousand years we have changed our book material twice, from papyrus to parchment and from parchment to paper, with a consequent change of the book form from the roll to the codex. Shall we therefore change our book material twenty times in the next twenty thousand years? Only time itself can tell; but for five hundred years the book has never been in such unstable equilibrium as at present; the proverb "A book's a book" has never possessed so little definite meaning. This condition applies chiefly to the paper, but as this changes, the binding will also change from its present costly and impermanent character to something at once cheaper and more durable.

The changes in modern paper have worked in two opposite directions, represented on the one hand by Oxford India paper, with its miraculous thinness, opacity, and lightness, and on the other hand by papers that, while also remarkably light, offer, as a sample book expresses it, "excellent bulk"; for instance, 272 pages to an inch as against 1500 to an inch of Oxford India paper.[3] The contrasted effects of these two types of material upon the book as a mechanical product are well worth the consideration of all who are engaged in the making of books.

Some of these results are surprising. What, for instance, could be more illogical than to make a book any thicker than strength and convenience require? Yet one has only to step out into the markets where books and buyers meet to find a real demand for this excess of bulk. Though illogical, the demand for size in books is profoundly psychological and goes back to the most primitive instincts of human nature. The first of all organs in biological development, the stomach, will not do its work properly unless it has quantity as well as quality to deal with. So the eye has established a certain sense of relationship between size and value, and every publisher knows that in printing from given plates he can get twice as much for the book at a trifling excess of cost if he uses thicker paper and gives wider margins. That all publishers do not follow these lines is due to the fact that other elements enter into the total field of bookselling besides quantity, the chief of which is cost, and another of which, growing in importance, is compactness. But it is safe to say that to the buyer who is not, for the moment at least, counting the cost, mere bulk makes as great an appeal as any single element of attractiveness in the sum total of a book.

This attraction of bulk receives a striking increase if it is associated with lightness. The customer who takes up a large book and suddenly finds it light to hold receives a pleasurable shock which goes far towards making him a purchaser. He seems not to ask or care whether he may be getting few pages for his money. The presence of this single, agreeable element of lightness at once gives a distinction to the book that appears to supplant all other requirements. The purchaser does not realize that the same lightness of volume associated with half the thickness would not seem to him remarkable, though the book would take up only half the room on his shelves. He feels that a modern miracle in defiance of gravitation has been wrought in his favor, and he is willing to pay for the privilege of enjoying it.

Curiously and somewhat unexpectedly the results of neither extreme, thick paper nor thin, are wholly satisfactory in the library. The parvenu, who is looking only to the filling up of his shelves with volumes of impressive size, may find satisfaction in contemplating wide backs. But the scholar and the public librarian will grudge the space which this "excellent bulk" occupies. One single element in their favor he will be quick to recognize, the better space which they afford for distinct lettering. In a private library that is collected for use and not for show the thin-paper books are almost an unmixed blessing. They cost little for what they contain. Their reduction in thickness is often associated with a reduction in height and width, so that they represent an economy of space all round. A first-rate example of this is furnished by the Oxford India Paper Dickens, in seventeen volumes, printed in large type, yet, as bound, occupying a cubical space of only 13 by 7 by 4-1/2 inches and weighing only nine pounds. A more startling instance is that of the novels of Thomas Love Peacock, which are issued in a pretty library edition of ten volumes. But they are also issued in a single volume, no higher nor wider, and only three-fourths of an inch thick. But it is at this point that the public librarian rises to protest. It is all very well, he says, for the private owner to have his literature in this concentrated form, but for himself, how is he to satisfy the eight readers who call for "Headlong Hall," "Nightmare Abbey," and the rest of Peacock's novels all at once? To be sure he can buy and catalogue eight single-volume sets of the author's works instead of one set in ten volumes, and when he has done this each reader will be sure to find the particular novel that he is looking for so long as a set remains; but the cost will naturally be greater. On the other hand, he welcomes equally with the private buyer the thin-paper edition of the Shakespeare Apocrypha, which needs only a third of the shelf space required for the regular edition, seven-sixteenths of an inch as against an inch and five-sixteenths. He also looks upon his magazine shelves and sees a volume of the "Hibbert Journal" with 966 pages in large type occupying the space of a volume of the "Independent" with 1788 pages in fine type, or again he sees by the side of his thin-paper edition of Dickens another on heavy paper occupying more than three times the lineal space with no advantage in clearness of type. By this time he is ready to vote, in spite of the occasional disability of overcompactness, for the book material that will put the least strain upon his crowded shelves. A conference with the booksellers shows him that he is not alone in this conclusion. Certain standard works, like the Oxford Book of English Verse and Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, have almost ceased to be sold in any but the thin-paper editions. Then there dawns upon him the vision of a library in which all books that have won their way into recognition shall be clothed in this garb of conciseness, and in which all that aspire to that rank shall follow their example. In short he sees what he believes to be the book of the future, which will be as different from the book of the present as that is from the parchment book of the early and middle ages of the Christian era, and as different in binding as it is in material. The realization of this vision will involve first of all a readjustment of values on the part of the public, an outgrowing of its childish admiration for bulk. But this change is coming so rapidly under the stress of modern conditions of crowding, especially in city life, as to reduce the vision from its prophetic rank to a case of mere foresight.


The binding of a book is its most conspicuous feature, the part which forms its introduction to the public and by which too often it is judged and valued; yet the binding is not an integral portion of the volume. It may be changed many times without essentially changing the book; but if the printed pages are changed, even for others identical to the eye, the book becomes another copy. The binding is, therefore, a part of a book's environment, though the most intimate part, like our own clothing, to which, indeed, it bears a curious resemblance in its purpose and its perversions.

Human clothing is for protection and adornment. That of a book involves two other demands mutually so contradictory that bookbinding has always offered a most attractive challenge to the skill of the handicraftsman. The first demand is that the book when closed shall form a well-squared and virtually solid block, like the rectangle of wood from which its first predecessors were split, and shall be able to stand alone, unsupported. The second demand is that this same object, when open, shall lie flat at any point and display all its leaves in turn as fully, and far more conveniently, than if they had never been fastened together. Whatever may be true of other clothing, it is eminently true of a book's that the part which really counts is the part which is never seen. Only the ornamental portion of a book's covering is exposed. The portions which protect the book and render it at once firm and flexible are out of sight and unheeded by the ordinary reader. Hence the existence of so much bookbinding that is apparently good and essentially bad, and hence the perpetual timeliness of attempts like that of the present chapter, to point out what binding is and should be. The processes in bookbinding by which its different ends of utility and ornament are achieved are known under the two heads of Forwarding and Finishing.

Forwarding includes many processes, literally "all but the finishing." It is to forwarding that a book owes its shapeliness, its firmness, its flexibility, and its durability. Forwarding takes the unfolded and unarranged sheets as delivered by the printer and transforms them into a book complete in all but its outermost covering of cloth or leather. The first process is to fold the sheets and reduce their strange medley of page numbers to an orderly succession. This is assuming that there is a whole edition to be bound. If it consists of a thousand copies, then there will be a certain number of piles of folded sheets, each containing a thousand copies of the same pages printed in groups, let us say, of sixteen each. These groups of pages are called sections or signatures. They are now rearranged, or gathered, into a thousand piles, each containing the signatures that belong to one book. The edition is thus separated into its thousand books, which the collator goes over to see that each is perfect. Let us follow the fortunes of a single one. It is not much of a book to look at, being rather a puffy heap of paper, but pressing, rolling, or beating soon reduces it to normal dimensions, and it is then carried forward to the important process of sewing. This is the very heart of the whole work. If the book is badly sewed, it will be badly bound, though a thousand dollars were to be spent upon the decoration of its covering. There is only one best method of sewing, and that is around raised cords, in the way followed by the earliest binders. There are modern machine methods that are very good, but they are only cheap substitutes for the best. The cords must be of good, long-fibered hemp, and the thread of the best quality and the right size drawn to the right degree of tension without missing a sheet. After the sewing the end papers are put in place, the back is glued and rounded, and the mill boards are fitted. Into these last the ends of the cords are laced and hammered. The book is then pressed to set its shape, being left in the press for some days or even weeks. After it is taken out, if the edges are to be treated, they are trimmed and then gilded, marbled, sprinkled, or otherwise decorated. The head band—for which many French binders substitute a fold in the leather—is now added. It was formerly twisted as the book was sewn, but at present is too often bought ready-made and simply glued on. The book is now forwarded.

The business of the finisher is to cover and protect the work already done on the book, but in such a way as not to interfere with the strength and flexibility that have been gained, and, finally, to add such decoration as may be artistically demanded or within the means of the purchaser. If leather is employed, it must be carefully shaved to give an easily opening hinge, yet not enough to weaken it unnecessarily. This is a most important process and one that must be left largely to the good faith of the binder. If he is unworthy of confidence, his mistakes may long escape notice, but, though buried, they are doomed to an inglorious resurrection, albeit he may count on a sufficient lapse of time to protect himself.

The next and last process of finishing is that of the decorator, whose work passes out of the sphere of handicraft into that of art. His problem is no easy one; it is to take a surface of great beauty in itself, as of calf or morocco, and so treat it as to increase its beauty. Too often, after he has done his utmost, the surface is less attractive to the eye than it was at the beginning. He, therefore, has a task quite different from that of the painter or sculptor, whose materials are not at the outset attractive. This condition is so strongly felt that many booklovers leave their bindings untooled, preferring the rich sensuous beauty and depth of color in a choice piece of leather to any effect of gilding or inlaying. This initial beauty of the undecorated book does not, however, form an impossible challenge, as witness the work of the Eves, Le Gascon, and the binders of such famous collectors as Grolier and de Thou.

It may be well to consider more particularly what the problem of the book decorator is. Though perfectly obvious to the eye and clearly illustrated by the work of the masters, it has been sometimes lost sight of by recent binders. It is, in a word, flat decoration. In the first place he has a surface to work upon that is large enough to allow strength of treatment, yet small enough to admit delicacy; then, whatever in beautiful effects of setting, relief, harmony, and contrast can be brought about by blind tooling, gilding, and inlaying, or by rubbing the surface as in crushed levant, or variegating it as in "tree" or marbled calf, all this he can command. He has control of an infinite variety of forms in tooling; he has only to use them with taste and skill. There is practically no limit to the amount of work that he can put into the binding of a single book, provided that every additional stroke is an additional beauty. He may sow the leather with minute ornament like Mearne, or set it off with a few significant lines like Aldus or Roger Payne; all depends upon the treatment. If he is a master, the end will crown the work; if not, then he should have stopped with simple lettering and have left the demands of beauty to be satisfied by the undecorated leather. Above all, let every decorator stick to flat ornament. The moment that he ventures into the third dimension, or perspective, that moment he invades the province of the draftsman or painter. One does not care to walk over a rug or carpet that displays a scene in perspective, neither does one wish to gaze into a landscape wrought upon the cover of a book, only to have the illusion of depth dispelled upon opening the volume. Embossing is, to be sure, a literal not a pictorial invasion of the third dimension, but its intrusion into that dimension is very slight and involves no cheating of the eye. It has now practically gone out of use, as has the heavy medieval ornamentation of studs or jewels. In cloth covers, which are confessedly edition work and machine made, the rules of ornament need not be so sharply enforced. Here embossing still flourishes to some extent. But the decorative problem is essentially the same in cloth as in leather binding, and the best design will be one that triumphs within the conditions, not outside them. The machines and the division of labor have made sad havoc with binding as a craft. The men in America, at least, who are masters of every process and of all the skill and cunning of the early binders are few, and their thinning ranks are not being filled. Will bookbinding, in spite of a high economic demand, share the fate that has overtaken engraving, or shall we have a renascence of this fascinating handicraft and delightful art, to take its name from the present era?

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