A Book for All Readers
by Ainsworth Rand Spofford
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse


















When we survey the really illimitable field of human knowledge, the vast accumulation of works already printed, and the ever-increasing flood of new books poured out by the modern press, the first feeling which is apt to arise in the mind is one of dismay, if not of despair. We ask—who is sufficient for these things? What life is long enough—what intellect strong enough, to master even a tithe of the learning which all these books contain? But the reflection comes to our aid that, after all, the really important books bear but a small proportion to the mass. Most books are but repetitions, in a different form, of what has already been many times written and printed. The rarest of literary qualities is originality. Most writers are mere echoes, and the greater part of literature is the pouring out of one bottle into another. If you can get hold of the few really best books, you can well afford to be ignorant of all the rest. The reader who has mastered Kames's "Elements of Criticism," need not spend his time over the multitudinous treatises upon rhetoric. He who has read Plutarch's Lives thoroughly has before him a gallery of heroes which will go farther to instruct him in the elements of character than a whole library of modern biographies. The student of the best plays of Shakespeare may save his time by letting other and inferior dramatists alone. He whose imagination has been fed upon Homer, Dante, Milton, Burns, and Tennyson, with a few of the world's master-pieces in single poems like Gray's Elegy, may dispense with the whole race of poetasters. Until you have read the best fictions of Scott, Thackeray, Dickens, Hawthorne, George Eliot, and Victor Hugo, you should not be hungry after the last new novel,—sure to be forgotten in a year, while the former are perennial. The taste which is once formed upon models such as have been named, will not be satisfied with the trashy book, or the spasmodic school of writing.

What kind of books should form the predominant part in the selection of our reading, is a question admitting of widely differing opinions. Rigid utilitarians may hold that only books of fact, of history and science, works crammed full of knowledge, should be encouraged. Others will plead in behalf of lighter reading, or for a universal range. It must be admitted that the most attractive reading to the mass of people is not scientific or philosophical. But there are many very attractive books outside the field of science, and outside the realm of fiction, books capable of yielding pleasure as well as instruction. There are few books that render a more substantial benefit to readers of any age than good biographies. In them we find those personal experiences and adventures, those traits of character, that environment of social and domestic life, which form the chief interest in works of fiction. In fact, the novel, in its best estate, is only biography amplified by imagination, and enlivened by dialogue. And the novel is successful only when it succeeds in depicting the most truly the scenes, circumstances, and characters of real life. A well written biography, like that of Dr. Johnson, by Boswell, Walter Scott, by Lockhart, or Charles Dickens, by Forster, gives the reader an insight into the history of the times they lived in, the social, political, and literary environment, and the impress of their famous writings upon their contemporaries. In the autobiography of Dr. Franklin, one of the most charming narratives ever written, we are taken into the writer's confidence, sympathize with his early struggles, mistakes, and successes, and learn how he made himself, from a poor boy selling ballads on Boston streets, into a leader among men, whom two worlds have delighted to honor. Another most interesting book of biography is that of the brothers William and Robert Chambers, the famous publishers of Edinburgh, who did more to diffuse useful knowledge, and to educate the people, by their manifold cheap issues of improving and entertaining literature, than was ever done by the British Useful Knowledge Society itself.

The French nation has, of all others, the greatest genius for personal memoirs, and the past two centuries are brought far more vividly before us in these free-spoken and often amusing chronicles, than in all the formal histories. Among the most readable of these (comparatively few having been translated into English) are the Memoirs of Marmontel, Rousseau, Madame Remusat, Amiel, and Madame De Stael. The recently published memoirs by Imbert de St. Amand, of court life in France in the times of Marie Antoinette, Josephine, Marie Louise, and other periods, while hastily written and not always accurate, are lively and entertaining.

The English people fall far behind the French in biographic skill, and many of their memoirs are as heavy and dull as the persons whom they commemorate. But there are bright exceptions, in the lives of literary men and women, and in some of those of noted public men in church and state. Thus, there are few books more enjoyable than Sydney Smith's Memoirs and Letters, or Greville's Journals covering the period including George IV to Victoria, or the Life and Letters of Macaulay, or Mrs. Gaskell's Charlotte Bronte, or the memoirs of Harriet Martineau, or Boswell's Life of Dr. Johnson. Among the briefer biographies worthy of special mention are the series of English Men of Letters, edited by John Morley, and written by some of the best of contemporary British writers. They embrace memoirs of Chaucer, Spenser, Bacon, Sidney, Milton, De Foe, Swift, Sterne, Fielding, Locke, Dryden, Pope, Johnson, Gray, Addison, Goldsmith, Burke, Hume, Gibbon, Bunyan, Bentley, Sheridan, Burns, Cowper, Southey, Scott, Byron, Lamb, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, De Quincey, Macaulay, Landor, Dickens, Thackeray, Hawthorne, and Carlyle. These biographies, being quite compendious, and in the main very well written, afford to busy readers a short-hand method of acquainting themselves with most of the notable writers of Britain, their personal characteristics, their relation to their contemporaries, and the quality and influence of their works. Americans have not as yet illustrated the field of biographic literature by many notably skilful examples. We are especially deficient in good autobiographies, so that Dr. Franklin's stands almost alone in singular merit in that class. We have an abundance of lives of notable generals, professional men, and politicians, in which indiscriminate eulogy and partisanship too often usurp the place of actual facts, and the truth of history is distorted to glorify the merits of the subject of the biography. The great success of General Grant's own Memoirs, too, has led publishers to tempt many public men in military or civil life, into the field of personal memoirs, not as yet with distinguished success.

It were to be wished that more writers possessed of some literary skill, who have borne a part in the wonderful drama involving men and events enacted in this country during the century now drawing to a close, had given us their sincere personal impressions in autobiographic form. Such narratives, in proportion as they are truthful, are far more trustworthy than history written long after the event by authors who were neither observers nor participants in the scenes which they describe.

Among American biographies which will help the reader to gain a tolerably wide acquaintance with the men and affairs of the past century in this country, are the series of Lives of American Statesmen, of which thirty volumes have been published. These include Washington, the Adamses, Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton, Jay, Madison, Marshall, Monroe, Henry, Gallatin, Morris, Randolph, Jackson, Van Buren, Webster, Clay, Calhoun, Cass, Benton, Seward, Lincoln, Chase, Stevens, and Sumner. While these Memoirs are of very unequal merit, they are sufficiently instructive to be valuable to all students of our national history.

Another very useful series is that of American Men of Letters, edited by Charles Dudley Warner, in fifteen volumes, which already includes Franklin, Bryant, Cooper, Irving, Noah Webster, Simms, Poe, Emerson, Ripley, Margaret Fuller, Willis, Thoreau, Taylor, and Curtis.

In the department of history, the best books for learners are not always the most famous. Any mere synopsis of universal history is necessarily dry reading, but for a constant help in reference, guiding one to the best original sources, under each country, and with very readable extracts from the best writers treating on each period, the late work of J. N. Larned, "History for Ready Reference," five volumes, will be found invaluable. Brewer's Historic Note Book, in a single volume, answers many historic queries in a single glance at the alphabet. For the History of the United States, either John Fiske's or Eggleston's is an excellent compend, while for the fullest treatment, Bancroft's covers the period from the discovery of America up to the adoption of the constitution in 1789, in a style at once full, classical, and picturesque. For continuations, McMaster's History of the People of the United States covers the period from 1789 to 1824, and is being continued. James Schouler has written a History of the United States from 1789 to 1861, in five volumes, while J. F. Rhodes ably covers the years 1850 to the Civil War with a much more copious narrative.

For the annals of England, the Short History of England by J. R. Green is a most excellent compend. For more elaborate works, the histories of Hume and Macaulay bring the story of the British Empire down to about 1700. For the more modern period, Lecky's History of England in the 18th century is excellent, and for the present century, McCarthy's History of Our Own Time, and Miss Martineau's History of England, 1815-52, are well written works. French history is briefly treated in the Student's History of France, while Guizot's complete History, in eight volumes, gives a much fuller account, from the beginnings of France in the Roman period, to the year 1848. Carlyle's French Revolution is a splendid picture of that wonderful epoch, and Sloane's History of Napoleon gives very full details of the later period.

For the history of Germany, Austria, Russia, France, Spain, Italy, Holland, and other countries, the various works in the "Story of the Nations" series, are excellent brief histories.

Motley's Rise of the Dutch Republic and his United Netherlands are highly important and well written historical works.

The annals of the ancient world are elaborately and ably set forth in Grote's History of Greece, Merivale's Rome, and Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Another class of books closely allied to biography and history, is the correspondence of public men, and men of letters, with friends and contemporaries. These familiar letters frequently give us views of social, public, and professional life which are of absorbing interest. Among the best letters of this class may be reckoned the correspondence of Horace Walpole, Madame de Sevigne, the poets Gray and Cowper, Lord Macaulay, Lord Byron, and Charles Dickens. Written for the most part with unstudied ease and unreserve, they entertain the reader with constant variety of incident and character, while at the same time they throw innumerable side-lights upon the society and the history of the time.

Next, we may come to the master-pieces of the essay-writers. You will often find that the best treatise on any subject is the briefest, because the writer is put upon condensation and pointed statement, by the very form and limitations of the essay, or the review or magazine article. Book-writers are apt to be diffuse and episodical, having so extensive a canvas to cover with their literary designs. Among the finest of the essayists are Montaigne, Lord Bacon, Addison, Goldsmith, Macaulay, Sir James Stephen, Cardinal Newman, De Quincey, Charles Lamb, Washington Irving, Emerson, Froude, Lowell, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. You may spend many a delightful hour in the perusal of any one of these authors.

We come now to poetry, which some people consider very unsubstantial pabulum, but which forms one of the most precious and inspiring portions of the literature of the world. In all ages, the true poet has exercised an influence upon men's minds that is unsurpassed by that of any other class of writers. And the reason is not far to seek. Poetry deals with the highest thoughts, in the most expressive language. It gives utterance to all the sentiments and passions of humanity in rhythmic and harmonious verse. The poet's lines are remembered long after the finest compositions of the writers of prose are forgotten. They fasten themselves in the memory by the very flow and cadence of the verse, and they minister to that sense of melody that dwells in every human brain. What the world owes to its great poets can never be fully measured. But some faint idea of it may be gained from the wondrous stimulus given through them to the imaginative power, and from the fact that those sentiments of human sympathy, justice, virtue, and freedom, which inspire the best poetry of all nations, become sooner or later incarnated in their institutions. This is the real significance of the oft-quoted saying of Andrew Fletcher, that stout Scotch republican of two centuries ago, that if one were permitted to make all the ballads of a nation, he need not care who should make the laws.

In the best poetry, the felicity of its expressions of thought, joined with their rhythmical form, makes it easy for the reader to lay up almost unconsciously a store in the memory of the noblest poetic sentiments, to comfort or to divert him in many a weary or troubled hour. Hence time is well spent in reading over and over again the great poems of the world. Far better and wiser is this, than to waste it upon the newest trash that captivates the popular fancy, for the last will only tickle the intellectual palate for an hour, or a day, and be then forgotten, while the former will make one better and wiser for all time.

Nor need one seek to read the works of very many writers in order to fill his mind with images of truth and beauty which will dwell with him forever. The really great poets in the English tongue may be counted upon the fingers. Shakespeare fitly heads the list—a world's classic, unsurpassed for reach of imagination, variety of scenes and characters, profound insight, ideal power, lofty eloquence, moral purpose, the most moving pathos, alternating with the finest humor, and diction unequalled for strength and beauty of expression. Milton, too, in his minor poems, has given us some of the noblest verse in the language. There is poetry enough in his L'Allegro and Il Penseroso to furnish forth a whole galaxy of poets.

Spenser and Pope, Gray and Campbell, Goldsmith and Burns, Wordsworth and the Brownings, Tennyson and Longfellow,—these are among the other foremost names in the catalogue of poets which none can afford to neglect. Add to these the best translations of Homer, Virgil, Horace, Dante, and Goethe, and one need not want for intellectual company and solace in youth or age.

Among the books which combine entertainment with information, the best narratives of travellers and voyagers hold an eminent place. In them the reader enlarges the bounds of his horizon, and travels in companionship with his author all over the globe. While many, if not the most, of the books of modern travellers are filled with petty incidents and personal observations of no importance, there are some wonderfully good books of this attractive class. Such are Kinglake's "Eothen, or traces of travel in the East," Helen Hunt Jackson's "Bits of Travel," a volume of keen and amusing sketches of German and French experiences, the books of De Amicus on Holland, Constantinople, and Paris, those on England by Emerson, Hawthorne, William Winter, and Richard Grant White, Curtis's Nile Notes, Howell's "Venetian Life," and Taine's "Italy, Rome and Naples."

The wide domain of science can be but cursorily touched upon. Many readers get so thorough a distaste for science in early life—mainly from the fearfully and wonderfully dry text-books in which our schools and colleges have abounded—that they never open a scientific book in later years. This is a profound mistake, since no one can afford to remain ignorant of the world in which we live, with its myriad wonders, its inexhaustible beauties, and its unsolved problems. And there are now works produced in every department of scientific research which give in a popular and often in a fascinating style, the revelations of nature which have come through the study and investigation of man. Such books are "The Stars and the Earth," Kingsley's "Glaucus, or Wonders of the Shore," Clodd's "Story of Creation," (a clear account of the evolution theory) Figuier's "Vegetable World," and Professor Langley's "New Astronomy." There are wise specialists whose published labors have illuminated for the uninformed reader every nook and province of the mysteries of creation, from the wing of a beetle to the orbits of the planetary worlds. There are few pursuits more fascinating than those that bring us acquainted with the secrets of nature, whether dragged up from the depths of the sea, or demonstrated in the substance and garniture of the green earth, or wrung from the far-off worlds in the shining heavens.

A word only can be spared to the wide and attractive realm of fiction. In this field, those are the best books which have longest kept their hold upon the public mind. It is a wise plan to neglect the novels of the year, and to read (or to re-read in many cases) the master-pieces which have stood the test of time, and criticism, and changing fashions, by the sure verdict of a call for continually new editions. Ouida and Trilby may endure for a day, but Thackeray and Walter Scott are perennial. It is better to read a fine old book through three times, than to read three new books through once.

Of books more especially devoted to the history of literature, in times ancient and modern, and in various nations, the name is legion. I count up, of histories of English literature alone (leaving out the American) no less than one hundred and thirty authors on this great field or some portion of it. To know what ones of these to study, and what to leave alone, would require critical judgment and time not at my command. I can only suggest a few known by me to be good. For a succinct yet most skilfully written summary of English writers, there is no book that can compare with Stopford A. Brooke's Primer of English Literature. For more full and detailed treatment, Taine's History of English Literature, or Chambers' Cyclopaedia of English Literature, two volumes, with specimens of the writers of every period, are the best. E. C. Stedman's Victorian Poets is admirable, as is also his Poets of America. For a bird's eye view of American authors and their works, C. F. Richardson's Primer of American Literature can be studied to advantage, while for more full reference to our authors, with specimens of each, Stedman's Library of American Literature in eleven volumes, should be consulted. M. C. Tyler's very interesting critical History of the Early American Literature, so little known, comes down in its fourth volume only to the close of the revolution in 1783.

For classical literature, the importance of a good general knowledge of which can hardly be overrated, J. P. Mahaffy's History of Greek Literature, two volumes, and G. A. Simcox's Latin Literature, two volumes, may be commended. On the literature of modern languages, to refer only to works written in English, Saintsbury's Primer of French Literature is good, and R. Garnett's History of Italian Literature is admirable (by the former Keeper of Printed Books in the British Museum Library). Lublin's Primer of German Literature is excellent for a condensed survey of the writers of Germany, while W. Scherer's History of German Literature, two volumes, covers a far wider field. For Spanish Literature in its full extent, there is no work at all equal to George Ticknor's three volumes, but for a briefer history, H. B. Clark's Hand-book of Spanish Literature, London, 1893, may be used.

I make no allusion here to the many works of reference in the form of catalogues and bibliographical works, which may be hereafter noted. My aim has been only to indicate the best and latest treatises covering the leading literatures of the world, having no space for the Scandinavian, Dutch, Portuguese, Russian, or any of the Slavonic or oriental tongues.

Those who find no time for studying the more extended works named, will find much profit in devoting their hours to the articles in the Encyclopaedia Britannica upon the literatures of the various countries. These are within reach of everyone.

The select list of books named in this chapter does not by any means aim to cover those which are well worth reading; but only to indicate a few, a very few, of the best. It is based on the supposition that intelligent readers will give far less time to fiction than to the more solid food of history, biography, essays, travels, literary history, and applied science. The select list of books in the fields already named is designed to include only the most improving and well-executed works. Many will not find their favorites in the list, which is purposely kept within narrow limits, as a suggestion only of a few of the best books for a home library or for general reading. You will find it wise to own, as early in life as possible, a few of the choicest productions of the great writers of the world. Those who can afford only a selection from a selection, can begin with never so few of the authors most desired, or which they have not already, putting in practice the advice of Shakespeare:

"In brief, sir, study what you most affect."

Says John Ruskin: "I would urge upon every young man to obtain as soon as he can, by the severest economy, a restricted and steadily increasing series of books, for use through life; making his little library, of all his furniture, the most studied and decorative piece." And Henry Ward Beecher urged it as the most important early ambition for clerks, working men and women, and all who are struggling up in life, to form gradually a library of good books. "It is a man's duty," says he, "to have books. A library is not a luxury, but one of the necessaries of life."

And says Bishop Hurst, urging the vital importance of wise selection in choosing our reading: "If two-thirds of the shelves of the typical domestic library were emptied of their burden, and choice books put in their stead, there would be reformation in intelligence and thought throughout the civilized world."


Let us now consider the subject of books fitted for public libraries. At the outset, it is most important that each selection should be made on a well considered plan. No hap-hazard, or fitfully, or hastily made collection can answer the two ends constantly to be aimed at—namely, first, to select the best and most useful books, and, secondly, to economize the funds of the library. No money should be wasted upon whims and experiments, but every dollar should be devoted to the acquisition of improving books.

As to the principles that should govern and the limitations to be laid down, these will depend much upon the scope of the library, and the amount of its funds. No library of the limited and moderate class commonly found in our public town libraries can afford to aim at the universal range of a national library, nor even at the broad selections proper to a liberally endowed city library.

But its aims, while modest, should be comprehensive enough to provide a complete selection of what may be termed standard literature, for the reading public. If the funds are inadequate to do this in the beginning, it should be kept constantly in view, as the months and years go on. Every great and notable book should be in the library sooner or later, and if possible at its foundation. Thus will its utility and attractiveness both be well secured.

Taking first the case of a small public library about to be started, let us see in a few leading outlines what it will need.

1. A selection of the best works of reference should be the corner-stone of every library collection. In choosing these, regard must be had to secure the latest as well as the best. Never buy the first edition of Soule's Synonymes because it is cheap, but insist upon the revised and enlarged edition of 1892. Never acquire an antiquated Lempriere's or Anthon's Classical Dictionary, because some venerable library director, who used it in his boyhood, suggests it, when you can get Professor H. T. Peck's "Dictionary of Classical Antiquities," published in 1897. Never be tempted to buy an old edition of an encyclopaedia at half or quarter price, for it will be sure to lack the populations of the last census, besides being a quarter of a century or more in arrears in its other information. When consulting sale catalogues to select reference books, look closely at the dates of publication, and make sure by your American or English catalogues that no later edition has appeared. It goes without saying that you will have these essential bibliographies, as well as Lowndes' Manual of English Literature first of all, whether you are able to buy Watt and Brunet or not.

2. Without here stopping to treat of books of reference in detail, which will appear in another place, let me refer to some other great classes of literature in which every library should be strong. History stands fairly at the head, and while a newly established library cannot hope to possess at once all the noted writers, it should begin by securing a fine selection, embracing general history, ancient and modern, and the history of each country, at least of the important nations. For compendious short histories, the "Story of the Nations" series, by various writers, should be secured, and the more extensive works of Gibbon, Grote, Mommsen, Duruy, Fyffe, Green, Macaulay, Froude, McCarthy, Carlyle, Thiers, Bancroft, Motley, Prescott, Fiske, Schouler, McMaster, Buckle, Guizot, etc., should be acquired. The copious lists of historical works appended to Larned's "History for Ready Reference" will be useful here.

3. Biography stands close to history in interest and importance. For general reference, or the biography of all nations, Lippincott's Universal Pronouncing Dictionary of Biography is essential, as well as Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography, for our own country. For Great Britain, the "Dictionary of National Biography" is a mine of information, and should be added if funds are sufficient. Certain sets of collective biographies which are important are American Statesmen, 26 vols., Englishmen of Letters, — vols., Autobiography, 33 vols., Famous Women series, 21 vols., Heroes of the Nation series, 24 vols., American Pioneers and Patriots, 12 vols., and Plutarch's Lives. Then of indispensable single biographies there are Boswell's Johnson, Lockhart's Scott, Froude's Carlyle, Trevelyan's Macaulay, Froude's Caesar, Lewes' Goethe, etc.

4. Of notable essays, a high class of literature in which there are many names, may be named Addison, Montaigne, Bacon, Goldsmith, Emerson, Lamb, De Quincey, Holmes, Lowell, etc.

5. Poetry stands at the head of all the literature of imagination. Some people of highly utilitarian views decry poetry, and desire to feed all readers upon facts. But that this is a great mistake will be apparent when we consider that the highest expressions of moral and intellectual truth and the most finely wrought examples of literature in every nation are in poetic form. Take out of the world's literature the works of its great poets, and you would leave it poor indeed. Poetry is the only great source for the nurture of imagination, and without imagination man is a poor creature. I read the other day a dictum of a certain writer, alleging that Dickens's Christmas Carol is far more effective as a piece of writing than Milton's noble ode "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity." Such comparisons are of small value. In point of fact, no library can spare either of them. I need not repeat the familiar names of the great poets; they are found in all styles of production, and some of the best are among the least expensive.

6. Travels and voyages form a very entertaining as well as highly instructive part of a library. A good selection of the more notable will prove a valuable resource to readers of nearly every age.

7. The wide field of science should be carefully gleaned for a good range of approved text-books in each department. So progressive is the modern world that the latest books are apt to be the best in each science, something which is by no means true in literature.

8. In law, medicine, theology, political science, sociology, economics, art, architecture, music, eloquence, and language, the library should be provided with the leading modern works.

9. We come now to fiction, which the experience of all libraries shows is the favorite pabulum of about three readers out of four. The great demand for this class of reading renders it all the more important to make a wise and improving selection of that which forms the minds of multitudes, and especially of the young. This selection presents to every librarian and library director or trustee some perplexing problems. To buy indiscriminately the new novels of the day, good, bad, and indifferent (the last named greatly predominating) would be a very poor discharge of the duty devolving upon those who are the responsible choosers of the reading of any community. Conceding, as we must, the vast influence and untold value of fiction as a vehicle of entertainment and instruction, the question arises—where can the line be drawn between the good and improving novels, and novels which are neither good nor improving? This involves something more than the moral tone and influence of the fictions: it involves their merits and demerits as literature also. I hold it to be the bounden duty of those who select the reading of a community to maintain a standard of good taste, as well as of good morals. They have no business to fill the library with wretched models of writing, when there are thousand of good models ready, in numbers far greater than they have money to purchase. Weak and flabby and silly books tend to make weak and flabby and silly brains. Why should library guides put in circulation such stuff as the dime novels, or "Old Sleuth" stories, or the slip-slop novels of "The Duchess," when the great masters of romantic fiction have endowed us with so many books replete with intellectual and moral power? To furnish immature minds with the miserable trash which does not deserve the name of literature, is as blameworthy as to put before them books full of feverish excitement, or stories of successful crime.

We are told, indeed (and some librarians even have said it) that for unformed readers to read a bad book is better than to read none at all. I do not believe it. You might as well say that it is better for one to swallow poison than not to swallow any thing at all. I hold that library providers are as much bound to furnish wholesome food for the minds of the young who resort to them for guidance, as their parents are to provide wholesome food for their bodies.

But the question returns upon us—what is wholesome food? In the first place, it is that great body of fiction which has borne the test, both of critical judgment, and of popularity with successive generations of readers. It is the novels of Scott, Austen, Dickens, Thackeray, George Eliot, Cooper, Hawthorne, Kingsley, Mulock-Craik, and many more, such as no parents need blush to put into the hands of their daughters. In the next place, it is such a selection from the myriads of stories that have poured from the press of this generation as have been approved by the best readers, and the critical judgment of a responsible press.

As to books of questionable morality, I am aware that contrary opinions prevail on the question whether any such books should be allowed in a public library, or not. The question is a different one for the small town libraries and for the great reference libraries of the world. The former are really educational institutions, supported at the people's expense, like the free schools, and should be held to a responsibility from which the extensive reference libraries in the city are free. The latter may and ought to preserve every form of literature, and, if national libraries, they would be derelict in their duty to posterity if they did not acquire and preserve the whole literature of the country, and hand it down complete to future generations. The function of the public town library is different. It must indispensably make a selection, since its means are not adequate to buy one-tenth of the annual product of the press, which amounts in only four nations (England, France, Germany, and the United States) to more than thirty-five thousand new volumes a year. Its selection, mainly of American and English books, must be small, and the smaller it is, the greater is the need of care in buying. In fact, it is in most cases, compelled to be a selection from a selection. Therefore, in the many cases of doubt arising as to the fit character of a book, let the doubt be resolved in favor of the fund, thus preserving the chance of getting a better book for the money.

With this careful and limited selection of the best, out of the multitude of novels that swarm from the press, the reading public will have every reason to be satisfied. No excuse can be alleged for filling up our libraries with poor books, while there is no dearth whatever of good ones. It is not the business of a public library to compete with the news stands or the daily press in furnishing the latest short stories for popular consumption; a class of literature whose survival is likely to be quite as short as the stories themselves.

Take an object lesson as to the mischiefs of reading the wretched stuff which some people pretend is "better than no reading at all" from the boy Jesse Pomeroy, who perpetrated a murder of peculiar atrocity in Boston. "Pomeroy confessed that he had always been a great reader of 'blood and thunder' stories, having read probably sixty dime novels, all treating of scalping and deeds of violence. The boy said that he had no doubt that the reading of those books had a great deal to do with his course, and he would advise all boys to leave them alone."

In some libraries, where the pernicious effect of the lower class of fiction has been observed, the directors have withdrawn from circulation a large proportion of the novels, which had been bought by reason of their popularity. In other newly started libraries only fiction of the highest grade has been placed in the library from the start, and this is by far the best course. If readers inquire for inferior or immoral books, and are told that the library does not have them, although they will express surprise and disappointment, they will take other and improving reading, thus fulfilling the true function of the library as an educator. Librarians and library boards cannot be too careful about what constitutes the collection which is to form the pabulum of so many of the rising generation.

This does not imply that they are to be censors, or prudes, but with the vast field of literature before them from which to choose, they are bound to choose the best.

The American Library Association has had this subject under discussion repeatedly, and while much difference of opinion has arisen from the difficulty of finding any absolute standard of excellence, nearly all have agreed that as to certain books, readers should look elsewhere than to the public free library for them. At one time a list of authors was made out, many of whose works were deemed objectionable, either from their highly sensational character, or their bad style, or their highly wrought and morbid pictures of human passions, or their immoral tendency. This list no doubt will surprise many, as including writers whose books everybody, almost, has read, or has been accustomed to think well of. It embraces the following popular authors, many of whose novels have had a wide circulation, and that principally through popular libraries.

Here follow the names:

Mary J. Holmes, Mrs. Henry Wood, C. L. Hentz, M. P. Finley, Mrs. A. S. Stephens, E. D. E. N. Southworth, Mrs. Forrester, Rhoda Broughton, Helen Mathers, Jessie Fothergill, M. E. Braddon, Florence Marryat, Ouida, Horatio Alger, Mayne Reid, Oliver Optic, W. H. S. Kingston, E. Kellogg, G. W. M. Reynolds, C. Fosdick, Edmund Yates, G. A. Lawrence, Grenville Murray, W. H. Ainsworth, Wilkie Collins, E. L. Bulwer-Lytton, W. H. Thomes, and Augusta Evans Wilson.

Bear in mind, that only English and American novels are included, and those only of the present century: also, that as to many which are included, no imputation of immorality was made. Such a "black list" is obviously open to the charge of doing great injustice to the good repute of writers named, since only a part of the works written by some of them can properly be objected to, and these are not specially named. Bulwer-Lytton, for example, whose "Paul Clifford" is a very improper book to go into the hands of young people, has written at least a dozen other fictions of noble moral purpose, and high literary merit.

Out of seventy public libraries to which the list was sent, with inquiry whether the authors named were admitted as books of circulation, thirty libraries replied. All of them admitted Bulwer-Lytton and Wilkie Collins, all but two Oliver Optic's books, and all but six Augusta Evans Wilson's. Reynolds' novels were excluded by twenty libraries, Mrs. Southworth's by eleven, "Ouida's" by nine, and Mrs. Stephens's and Mrs. Henry Wood's by eight. Other details cannot find space for notice here.

This instance is one among many of endeavors constantly being made by associated librarians to stem the ever increasing flood of poor fiction which threatens to submerge the better class of books in our public libraries.

That no such wholesome attempt can be wholly successful is evident enough. The passion for reading fiction is both epidemic and chronic; and in saying this, do not infer that I reckon it as a disease. A librarian has no right to banish fiction because the appetite for it is abused. He is not to set up any ideal and impossible standard of selection. His most useful and beneficent function is to turn into better channels the universal hunger for reading which is entertaining. Do readers want an exciting novel? What can be more exciting than "Les Miserables" of Victor Hugo, a book of exceptional literary excellence and power? Literature is full of fascinating stories, admirably told, and there is no excuse for loading our libraries with trash, going into the slums for models, or feeding young minds upon the unclean brood of pessimistic novels. If it is said that people will have trash, let them buy it, and let the libraries wash their hands of it, and refuse to circulate the stuff which no boy nor girl can touch without being contaminated.

Those who claim that we might as well let the libraries down to the level of the poorest books, because unformed and ignorant minds are capable of nothing better, should be told that people are never raised by giving them nothing to look up to. To devour infinite trash is not the road to learn wisdom, or virtue, or even to attain genuine amusement. To those who are afraid that if the libraries are purified, the masses will get nothing that they can read, the answer is, have they not got the entire world of magazines, the weekly, daily, and Sunday newspapers, which supply a whole library of fiction almost daily? Add to these plenty of imaginative literature in fiction and in poetry, on every library's shelves, which all who can read can comprehend, and what excuse remains for buying what is neither decent nor improving?

Take an example of the boundless capacity for improvement that exists in the human mind and human taste, from the spread of the fine arts among the people. Thirty years ago, their houses, if having any decoration at all, exhibited those fearful and wonderful colored lithographs and chromos in which bad drawing, bad portraiture, and bad coloring vied with each other to produce pictures which it would be a mild use of terms to call detestable. Then came the two great international art expositions at Philadelphia and Chicago, each greatly advancing by the finest models, the standard of taste in art, and by new economies of reproduction placing the most beautiful statues and pictures within the reach of the most moderate purse. What has been the result? An incalculable improvement in the public taste, educated by the diffusion of the best models, until even the poor farmer of the backwoods will no longer tolerate the cheap and nasty horrors that once disfigured his walls.

The lesson in art is good in literature also. Give the common people good models, and there is no danger but they will appreciate and understand them. Never stoop to pander to a depraved taste, no matter what specious pleas you may hear for tolerating the low in order to lead to the high, or for making your library contribute to the survival of the unfittest.

Is it asked, how can the librarian find out, among the world of novels from which he is to select, what is pure and what is not, what is wholesome and what unhealthy, what is improving and what is trash? The answer is—there are some lists which will be most useful in this discrimination, while there is no list which is infallible. Mr. F. Leypoldt's little catalogue of "Books for all Time" has nothing that any library need do without. Another compendious list is published by the American Library Association. And the more extensive catalogue prepared for the World's Fair in 1893, and embracing about 5,000 volumes, entitled "Catalogue of A. L. A. Library: 5,000 vols. for a popular library," while it has many mistakes and omissions, is a tolerably safe guide in making up a popular library. I may note that the list of novels in this large catalogue put forth by the American Library Association has the names of five only out of the twenty-eight writers of fiction heretofore pronounced objectionable, and names a select few only of the books of these five.

As for the later issues of the press, and especially the new novels, let him skim them for himself, unless in cases where trustworthy critical judgments are found in journals. Running through a book to test its style and moral drift is no difficult task for the practiced eye.

Let us suppose that you are cursorily perusing a novel which has made a great sensation, and you come upon the following sentence: "Eighteen millions of years would level all in one huge, common, shapeless ruin. Perish the microcosm in the limitless macrocosm! and sink this feeble earthly segregate in the boundless rushing choral aggregation!" This is in Augusta J. Evans Wilson's story "Macaria", and many equally extraordinary examples of "prose run mad" are found in the novels of this once noted writer. What kind of a model is that to form the style of the youthful neophyte, to whom one book is as good as another, since it was found on the shelves of the public library?

I am not insisting that all books admitted should be models of style; even a purist must admit that one of the greatest charms of literature is its infinite variety. But when book after book is filled with such specimens of literary lunacy as this, one is tempted to believe that Homer and Shakespeare, to say nothing of Thackeray and Hawthorne, have lived in vain.

Never fear criticism of those who find fault with the absence from your library of books that you know to be nearly worthless; their absence will be a silent but eloquent protest against them, sure to be vindicated by the utter oblivion into which they will fall. Many a flaming reputation has been extinguished after dazzling callow admirers for six months, or even less. Do not dread the empty sarcasm, that may grow out of the exclusion of freshly printed trash, that your library is a "back number." To some poor souls every thing that is great and good in the world's literature is a "back number"; and the Bible itself, with its immortal poetry and sublimity, is the oldest back number of all. It is no part of your business as a librarian to cater to the tastes of those who act as if the reading of endless novels of sensation were the chief end of man. As one fed on highly spiced viands and stimulating drinks surely loses the appetite for wholesome and nourishing food, so one who reads only exciting and highly wrought fictions loses the taste for the master-pieces of prose and poetry.

Let not the fear of making many mistakes be a bug-bear in your path. If you are told that your library is too exclusive, reply that it has not means enough to buy all the good books that are wanted, and cannot afford to spend money on bad or even on doubtful ones. If you have excluded any highly-sought-for book on insufficient evidence, never fail to revise the judgment. All that can be expected of any library is approximately just and wise selection, having regard to merit, interest, and moral tone, more than to novelty or popularity.

In the matter of choice, individual opinions are of small value. Never buy a book simply because some reader extols it as very fine, or "splendid," or "perfectly lovely." Such praises are commonly to be distrusted in direct proportion to their extravagance.

A good lesson to libraries is furnished in the experience of the Cleveland (Ohio) Public Library. In 1878, out of 16,000 volumes in that library, no less than 6,000 were novels. The governing board, on the plea of giving people what they wanted, bought nearly all new books of fiction, and went so far, even, as to buy of Pinkerton's Detective stories, fifteen copies each, fifteen of all Mrs. Southworth's novels, etc. But a change took place in the board, and the librarian was permitted to stop the growing flood of worthless fiction, and as fast as the books were worn out, they were replaced by useful reading. It resulted that four years later, with 40,000 volumes in the library, only 7,000 were novels, or less than one-fifth, instead of more than one-third of the whole collection, as formerly. In the same time, the percentage of fiction drawn out was reduced from 69 per cent. of the aggregate books read, to 50 per cent.

Libraries are always complaining that they cannot buy many valuable books from lack of funds. Yet some of them buy a great many that are valueless in spite of this lack. Can any thing be conceived more valueless than a set of Sylvanus Cobb's novels, reprinted to the number of thirty-five to forty, from the New York Ledger? Yet these have been bought for scores of libraries, which could not afford the latest books in science and art, or biography, history, or travel. There are libraries in which the latest books on electricity, or sewerage, or sanitary plumbing, might have saved many lives, but which must go without them, because the money has been squandered on vapid and pernicious literature.

In almost every library, while some branches of knowledge are fairly represented, others are not represented at all. Nearly all present glaring deficiencies, and these are often caused by want of systematic plan in building up the collection. Boards of managers are frequently changed, and the policy of the library with them. All the more important is it that the librarian should be so well equipped with a definite aim, and with knowledge and skill competent to urge that aim consistently, as to preserve some unity of plan.

I need not add that a librarian should be always wide awake to the needs of his library in every direction. It should be taken for granted that its general aim is to include the best books in the whole range of human knowledge. With the vast area of book production before him, he should strengthen every year some department, taking them in order of importance.

Some scholarly writers tell us that very few books are essential to a good education. James Russell Lowell named five, which in his view embraced all the essentials; namely, Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Goethe's Faust. Prof. Charles E. Norton of Harvard remarked that this list might even be abridged so as to embrace only Homer, Dante and Shakespeare. I can only regard such exclusiveness as misleading, though conceding the many-sidedness of these great writers. To extend the list is the function of all public libraries, as well as of most of the private ones. Next after the really essential books, that library will be doing its public good service which acquires all the important works that record the history of man. This will include biography, travels and voyages, science, and much besides, as well as history.

Special pains should be taken in every library to have every thing produced in its own town, county, and State. Not only books, but all pamphlets, periodicals, newspapers, and even broadsides or circulars, should be sought for and stored up as memorials of the present age, tending in large part rapidly to disappear.

In selecting editions of standard authors, one should always discriminate, so as to secure for the library, if not the best, at least good, clear type, sound, thick paper, and durable binding. Cheap and poor editions wear out quickly, and have to be thrown away for better ones, which wise economy should have selected in the first place. For example, a widely circulated edition of Scott's novels, found in most libraries, has the type so worn and battered by the many large editions printed from the plates, that many letters and words are wanting, thus spoiling not only the pleasure but abridging the profit of the reader in perusing the novels. The same is true of one edition of Cooper. Then there are many cheap reprints of English novels in the Seaside and other libraries which abound in typographical errors. A close examination of a cheap edition of a leading English novelist's works revealed more than 3,000 typographical errors in the one set of books! It would be unpardonable carelessness to buy such books for general reading because they are cheap.

Librarians should avoid what are known as subscription books, as a rule, though some valid exceptions exist. Most of such books are profusely illustrated and in gaudy bindings, gotten up to dazzle the eye. If works of merit, it is better to wait for them, than to subscribe for an unfinished work, which perhaps may never reach completion.

A librarian or book collector should be ever observant of what he may find to enrich his collection. When in a book-store, or a private or public library, he should make notes of such works seen as are new to him, with any characteristics which their custodian may remark upon. Such personal examination is more informing than any catalogue.

I think each public library should possess, besides a complete set of the English translations of the Greek and Latin classics, a full set of the originals, for the benefit of scholarly readers. These classic texts can be had complete in modern editions for a very moderate price.

How far duplicate volumes should be bought should depend upon demand, and the views of the purchasing powers. There is a real need of more than one copy of almost every standard work, else it will be perpetually out, giving occasion for numerous complaints from those who use the library. It would be a good rule to keep one copy always in, and at the service of readers, of every leading history, standard poet, or popular novel. Then the duplicate copies for circulation may be one or more, as experience and ability to provide may determine. A library which caters to the novel-reading habit as extensively as the New York Mercantile (a subscription library) has to buy fifty to one hundred copies of "Trilby," for example, to keep up with the demand. No such obligation exists for the free public libraries. They, however, often buy half a dozen to a dozen copies of a very popular story, when new, and sell them out after the demand has slackened or died away.

The methods of selection and purchase in public libraries are very various. In the Worcester (Mass.) Public Library, the librarian makes a list of desiderata, has it manifolded, and sends a copy to each of the thirteen members of the Board of directors. This list is reported on by the members at the next monthly meeting of the Board, and generally, in the main, approved. Novels and stories are not bought until time has shown of what value they may be. The aim is mainly educational at the Worcester library, very special pains being taken to aid all the pupils and teachers in the public schools, by careful selection, and providing duplicate or more copies of important works.

In the Public Library of Cleveland, Ohio, there is appointed out of the governing Board a book-committee of three. To one of these are referred English books wanted, to another French, and to the third German books. This sub-committee approves or amends the Librarian's recommendations, at its discretion; but expensive works are referred to the whole board for determination.

In the New York Mercantile Library, which must keep continually up to date in its supply of new books, the announcements in all the morning papers are daily scanned, and books just out secured by immediate order. Many publishers send in books on approval, which are frequently bought. An agent in London is required to send on the day of publication all new books on certain subjects.

The library boards of management meet weekly in New York and Philadelphia, but monthly in most country libraries. The selection of books made by committees introduces often an element of chance, not quite favorable to the unity of plan in developing the resources of the library. But with a librarian of large information, discretion, and skill, there need seldom be any difficulty in securing approval of his selections, or of most of them. In some libraries the librarian is authorized to buy at discretion additions of books in certain lines, to be reported at the next meeting of the board; and to fill up all deficiencies in periodicals that are taken. This is an important concession to his judgment, made in the interest of completeness in the library, saving a delay of days and sometimes weeks in waiting for the board of directors.

All orders sent out for accessions should previously be compared with the alphabeted order-card list, as well as with the general catalogue of the library, to avoid duplication. After this the titles are to be incorporated in the alphabet of all outstanding orders, to be withdrawn only on receipt of the books.

The library should invite suggestions from all frequenting it, of books recommended and not found in the collection. A blank record-book for this purpose, or an equivalent in order-cards, should be always kept on the counter of the library.



The buying of books is to some men a pastime; to others it is a passion; but to the librarian and the intelligent book collector it is both a business and a pleasure. The man who is endowed with a zeal for knowledge is eager to be continually adding to the stores which will enable him to acquire and to dispense that knowledge. Hence the perusal of catalogues is to him an ever fresh and fascinating pursuit. However hampered he may be by the lack of funds, the zest of being continually in quest of some coveted volumes gives him an interest in every sale catalogue, whether of bookseller or of auctioneer. He is led on by the perennial hope that he may find one or more of the long-wished for and waited-for desiderata in the thin pamphlet whose solid columns bristle with book-titles in every variety of abbreviation and arrangement. It is a good plan, if one can possibly command the time, to read every catalogue of the book auctions, and of the second-hand book dealers, which comes to hand. You will thus find a world of books chronicled and offered which you do not want, because you have got them already: you will find many, also, which you want, but which you know you cannot have; and you may find some of the very volumes which you have sought through many years in vain. In any case, you will have acquired valuable information—whether you acquire any books or not; since there is hardly a priced catalogue, of any considerable extent, from which you cannot reap knowledge of some kind—knowledge of editions, knowledge of prices, and knowledge of the comparative scarcity or full supply of many books, with a glimpse of titles which you may never have met before. The value of the study of catalogues as an education in bibliography can never be over-estimated.

The large number of active and discriminating book-buyers from America has for years past awakened the interest and jealousy of collectors abroad, where it has very largely enhanced the price of all first-class editions, and rare works.

No longer, as in the early days of Dibdin and Heber, is the competition for the curiosities of old English literature confined to a half-score of native amateurs. True, we have no such omnivorous gatherers of literary rubbish as that magnificent helluo librorum, Richard Heber, who amassed what was claimed to be the largest collection of books ever formed by a single individual. Endowed with a princely fortune, and an undying passion for the possession of books, he spent nearly a million dollars in their acquisition. His library, variously stated at from 105,000 volumes (by Dr. Dibdin) to 146,000 volumes (by Dr. Allibone) was brought to the hammer in 1834. The catalogue filled 13 octavo volumes, and the sale occupied 216 days. The insatiable owner (who was a brother of Reginald Heber, Bishop of Calcutta) died while still collecting, at the age of sixty, leaving his enormous library, which no single house of ordinary size could hold, scattered in half a dozen mansions in London, Oxford, Paris, Antwerp, Brussels and Ghent.

Yet the owner of this vast mass of mingled nonsense and erudition, this library of the curiosities of literature, was as generous in imparting as in acquiring his literary treasures. No English scholar but was freely welcome to the loan of his volumes; and his own taste and critical knowledge are said to have been of the first order.

From this, probably the most extensive private library ever gathered, let us turn to the largest single purchase, in number of volumes, made at one time for a public library. When Dr. J. G. Cogswell went abroad in 1848, to lay the foundations of the Astor Library, he took with him credentials for the expenditure of $100,000; and, what was of even greater importance, a thoroughly digested catalogue of desiderata, embracing the most important books in every department of literature and science. No such opportunity of buying the finest books at the lowest prices is likely ever to occur again, as the fortuitous concourse of events brought to Dr. Cogswell. It was the year of revolutions—the year when the thrones were tottering or falling all over Europe, when the wealthy and privileged classes were trembling for their possessions, and anxious to turn them into ready money. In every time of panic, political or financial, the prices of books, as well as of all articles of luxury, are the first to fall. Many of the choicest collections came to the hammer; multitudes were eager to sell—but there were few buyers except the book merchants, who were all ready to sell again. The result was that some 80,000 volumes were gathered for the Astor Library, embracing a very large share of the best editions and the most expensive works, with many books strictly denominated rare, and nearly all bound in superior style, at an average cost of about $1.40 per volume. This extraordinary good fortune enabled the Astor Library to be opened on a very small endowment, more splendidly equipped for a library of reference than any new institution could be today with four or five times the money.

Compared with such opportunities as these, you may consider the experiences of the little libraries, and the narrow means of recruitment generally found, as very literally the day of small things. But a wise apportionment of small funds, combined with a good knowledge of the commercial value of books, and perpetual vigilance in using opportunities, will go very far toward enlarging any collection in the most desirable directions.

Compare for a moment with the results stated of the Astor Library's early purchases, the average prices paid by British Libraries for books purchased from 1826 to 1854, as published in a parliamentary return. The average cost per volume varied from 16s or about $4 a volume, for the University Library of Edinburgh, to 4s 6d, or $1.10 a volume for the Manchester Free Library. The latter, however, were chiefly popular new books, published at low prices, while the former included many costly old works, law books, etc. The British Museum Library's average was 8s 5d or about $2.00 per volume. Those figures represent cloth binding, while the Astor's purchases were mostly in permanent leather bindings.

Averages are very uncertain standards of comparison, as a single book rarity often costs more than a hundred volumes of the new books of the day; but in a library filled with the best editions of classical and scientific works, and reference books, I presume that two dollars a volume is not too high an estimate of average cost, in these days represented by the last twenty years. For a circulating library, on the other hand, composed chiefly of what the public most seek to read, half that average would perhaps express the full commercial value of the collection. Of its intrinsic value I will not here pause to speak.

There are many methods of book buying, of which we may indicate the principal as follows:

1. By direct orders from book dealers. 2. By competition on select lists of wants. 3. By order from priced catalogues. 4. By purchase at auction sales. 5. By personal research among book stocks. 6. By lists and samples of books sent on approval.

Each of these methods has its advantages—and, I may add, its disadvantages likewise. The collector who combines them, as opportunity presents, is most likely to make his funds go the farthest, and to enrich his collection the most. Direct orders for purchase are necessary for most new books wanted, except in the case of the one government library, which in most countries, receives them under copyright provision. An advantageous arrangement can usually be made with one or more book-dealers, to supply all new books at a fairly liberal discount from retail prices. And it is wise management to distribute purchases where good terms are made, as thereby the trade will feel an interest in the library, and a mutuality of interest will secure more opportunities and better bargains.

The submission of lists of books wanted, to houses having large stocks or good facilities, helps to make funds go as far as possible through competition. By the typewriter such lists can now be manifolded much more cheaply than they can be written or printed.

Selection from priced catalogues presents a constantly recurring opportunity of buying volumes of the greatest consequence, to fill gaps in any collection, and often at surprisingly low prices. Much as book values have been enhanced of late years, there are yet catalogues issued by American, English and continental dealers which quote books both of the standard and secondary class at very cheap rates. Even now English books are sold by the Mudie and the W. H. Smith lending libraries in London, after a very few months, at one-half to one-fourth their original publishing price. These must usually be rebound, but by instructing your agent to select copies which are clean within, all the soil of the edges will disappear with the light trimming of the binder.

Purchase at auction supplies a means of recruiting libraries both public and private with many rare works, and with the best editions of the standard authors, often finely bound. The choice private libraries of the country, as well as the poor ones, tend to pour themselves sooner or later into public auctions. The collectors of books, whose early avidity to amass libraries of fine editions was phenomenal, rarely persist in cultivating the passion through life. Sometimes they are overtaken by misfortune—sometimes by indifference—the bibliomania not being a perennial inspiration, but often an acute and fiery attack, which in a few years burns out. Even if the library gathered with so much money and pains descends to the heirs of the collector, the passion for books is very seldom an inherited one. Thus the public libraries are constantly recruited by the opportunities of selection furnished by the forced sale of the private ones. Here, public competition frequently runs up the price of certain books to an exorbitant degree, while those not wanted often sell for the merest trifle. One should have a pretty clear idea of the approximate commercial value of books, before competing for them at public sale. He may, however, if well persuaded in his own mind as to the importance or the relative unimportance to his own collection of any work, regulate his bids by that standard, regardless of commercial value, except as a limit beyond which he will not go. Few librarians can personally attend auction sales—nor is it needful, when limits can so easily be set to orders. It is never safe to send an unlimited bid, as there may be others without limit, in which case the book is commonly awarded to the most remote bidder.

There are many curiosities of the auction room, one of them being the frequent re-appearance of book rarities which have been through several auctions, sometimes at intervals of years, keenly competed for by rival bibliophiles, and carried off in triumph by some ardent collector, who little thought at the time how soon his own collection would come to the hammer.

There are also many curiosities of compilation in auction catalogues. Not to name errors of commission, like giving the authorship of books to the wrong name, and errors of omission, like giving no author's name at all, some catalogues are thickly strewn with the epithets rare—and very rare, when the books are sufficiently common in one or the other market. Do not be misled by these surface indications. Books are often attributed in catalogues to their editor or translator, and the unwary buyer may thus find himself saddled with a duplicate already in his own collection. There has been much improvement in late years in the care with which auction catalogues are edited, and no important collection at least is offered, without having first passed through the hands of an expert, familiar with bibliography. It is the minor book sales where the catalogues receive no careful editing, and where the dates and editions are frequently omitted, that it is necessary to guard against. It is well to refrain from sending any bids out of such lists, because they furnish no certain identification of the books, and if all would do the same, thus diminishing the competition and the profit of the auctioneer, he might learn never to print a catalogue without date, place of publication, and full name of author of every book offered.

Never be too eager to acquire an auction book, unless you are very thoroughly assured that it is one of the kind truly designated rarissimus. An eminent and thoroughly informed book collector, with an experience of forty years devoted to book auctions and book catalogues, assured me that it was his experience that almost every book would turn up on the average about every seven years. Of course there are notable exceptions—and especially among the class of books known as incunabula, (or cradle-books printed in the infancy of printing) and of early Americana: but it is not these which the majority of libraries are most in search of. Remember always, if you lose a coveted volume, that there will be another chance—perhaps many of them. The private collector, who carries it off against you, has had no former opportunity to get the rare volume, and may never have another. He is therefore justified in paying what is to ordinary judgment an extraordinary price. Individual collectors die, but public libraries are immortal.

If you become thoroughly conversant with priced catalogues, you will make fewer mistakes than most private buyers. Not only catalogues of notable collections, with the prices obtained at auction, but the large and very copious catalogues of such London book-dealers as Quaritch and Sotheran, are accessible in the great city libraries. These are of the highest use in suggesting the proximate prices at which important books have been or may be acquired. Since 1895, annual volumes entitled "American Book Prices Current" have been issued, giving the figures at which books have been sold at all the principal auction sales of the year.

There is no word so much abused as the term rare, when applied to books. Librarians know well the unsophisticated citizen who wants to sell at a high price a "rare" volume of divinity "a hundred and fifty years old" (worth possibly twenty-five cents to half a dollar,) and the persistent woman who has the rarest old bible in the country, which she values anywhere from fifty to five hundred dollars, and which turns out on inspection to be an imperfect copy of one of Barker's multitudinous editions of 1612 to '18, which may be picked up at five to eight shillings in any old London book-shop. The confident assertions so often paraded, even in catalogues, "only three copies known," and the like, are to be received with absolute incredulity, and the claims of ignorant owners of books who fancy that their little pet goose is a fine swan, because they never saw another, are as ridiculous as the laudation bestowed by a sapient collector upon two of his most valued nuggets. "This, sir, is unique, but not so unique as the other."

Buying books by actual inspection at the book-shops is even more fascinating employment than buying them through catalogues. You thus come upon the most unexpected volumes unawares. You open the covers, scan the title-pages, get a glimpse of the plates, and flit from book to book, like a bee gathering honey for its hive. It is a good way to recruit your library economically, to run through the stock of a book-dealer systematically—neglecting no shelf, but selecting throughout the whole stock, and laying aside what you think you may want. When this is done, you will have quite a pile of literature upon which to negotiate with the proprietor. It is cheaper to buy thus at wholesale than by piecemeal, because the bookseller will make you a larger discount on a round lot of which you relieve his shelves.

Another method of recruiting your library is the examination of books "on approval." Most book-dealers will be so obliging as to send in parcels of books for the inspection of a librarian or collector, who can thus examine them leisurely and with more thoroughness than in a book store, without leaving his business.

All books, by whatever course they may be purchased, are indispensably to be collated before they are accepted and paid for. Neglect of this will fill any library with imperfections, since second-hand books are liable to have missing leaves, or plates, or maps, while new books may lack signatures or plates, or be wrongly bound together. In the case of new books, or books still in print, the publisher is bound to make good an imperfection.

In old books, this is usually impossible, and the only remedy is to return the imperfect books upon the seller's hands, unless there may be a reason, such as the rarity of the volume, or its comparative little cost, or the trifling nature of the imperfection, for retaining it. The equities in these cases are in favor of the buyer, who is presumed to have purchased a perfect copy. But the right of reclamation must be exercised promptly, or it may be forfeited by lapse of time. If an imperfection in any book you order is noted in the catalogue, it is not subject to return. I have ever found the book auctioneers most courteous and considerate in their dealings—and the same can be said of the book trade generally, among whom instances of liberality to libraries are by no means rare.

One of the choicest pleasures of the book collector, whether private student or librarian, is to visit the second-hand book-shops of any city, and examine the stock with care. While he may find but few notable treasures in one collection, a search through several shops will be almost sure to reward him. Here are found many of the outpourings of the private libraries, formed by specialists or amateurs, and either purchased by the second-hand dealer en bloc, or bid off by him at some auction sale. Even rare books are picked up in this way, no copies of which can be had by order, because long since "out of print." The stock in these shops is constantly changing, thus adding a piquant and sometimes exciting element to the book-hunter, who is wise in proportion as he seizes quickly upon all opportunities of new "finds" by frequent visits. To mourn over a lost chance in rare books is often more grievous to the zealous collector, than to lose a large share out of his fortune; while to exult over a literary nugget long sought and at length found is a pleasure to which few others can be compared.

Of the many bouquinistes whose open-air shops line the quays of Paris along the Seine, numbering once as many as a hundred and fifty dealers in second-hand books, I have no room to treat; books have been written about them, and the litterateurs of France, of Europe, and of America have profited by countless bargains in their learned wares. Nor can I dwell upon the literary wealth of London book-shops, dark and dingy, but ever attractive to the hungry scholar, or the devotee of bibliomania.

Of the many second-hand booksellers (or rather sellers of second-hand books) in American cities, the more notable have passed from the stage of action in the last quarter of a century. Old William Gowans, a quaint, intelligent Scotchman, in shabby clothes and a strong face deeply marked with small pox, was for many years the dean of this fraternity in New York. His extensive book-shop in Nassau street, with its dark cellar, was crowded and packed with books on shelves, on stairways and on the floors, heaped and piled in enormous masses, amid which the visitor could hardly find room to move. On one of the piles you might find the proprietor seated—

Books to the right of him, Books to the left of him, Books behind him, Volleyed and tumbled,

while he answered inquiries for books from clergymen and students, or gruffly bargained with a boy or an old woman for a dilapidated lot of old books. He had a curious quizzical way with strangers, who at once set him down as an oddity, and his impatience with ignoramuses and bores gave him the repute of crustiness, which was redeemed by suavity enough whenever he met with people of intelligence.

Gowans issued scores of catalogues of his stock, in which titles were often illustrated by notes, always curious and often amusing, credited to "Western Memorabilia," a work which no bookseller or man of letters had ever heard of, but which was shrewdly suspected to have been a projected scrap-book of the observations and opinions of William Gowans.

There was another eccentric book-dealer's shop in Nassau street kept by one John Doyle, who aimed so high in his profession as to post over his door a sign reading "The Moral Centre of the Intellectual Universe." This establishment was notably full of old editions of books of English history and controversial theology.

The most famous second-hand book-shop in Boston was Burnham's, whose fore-name was Thomas Oliver Hazard Perry, shortened into "Perry Burnham" by his familiars. He was a little, pale-faced, wiry, nervous man, with piercing black eyes and very brusque manners. In old and musty books he lived and moved and had his being, for more than a generation. He exchanged a stuffy, narrow shop in Cornhill for more spacious quarters in Washington street, near School street, where he bought and sold books with an assiduous devotion to business, never trusting to others what he could do himself. He was proud of his collection and its extent. He bought books and pamphlets at auction literally by the cart-load, every thing that nobody else wanted being bid off to Burnham at an insignificant price, almost nominal. He got a wide reputation for selling cheaply, but he always knew when to charge a stiff price for a book, and to stick to it. Once when I was pricing a lot of miscellaneous books picked out for purchase, mostly under a dollar a volume, we came to a copy of "The Constitutions of the Several Independent States of America," 1st edition, Philadelphia, 1781, of which two hundred copies only were printed, by order of Congress. This copy was in the original boards, uncut, and with the autograph of Timothy Pickering on the title page. "If the Congress Library wants that book," said Mr. Burnham, "it will have to pay eight dollars for it." I took it, well pleased to secure what years of search had failed to bring. The next year my satisfaction was enhanced when an inferior copy of the same book was offered at twenty dollars.

Burnham died a wealthy man, having amassed a million dollars in trade and by rise in real estate, as he owned the land on which the Parker House stands in Boston.

Among Philadelphia dealers in second-hand books, one John Penington was recognized as most intelligent and honorable. He was a book-lover and a scholar, and one instinctively ranked him not as a bookseller, but as a gentleman who dealt in books. On his shelves one always found books of science and volumes in foreign languages.

Another notable dealer was John Campbell, a jolly, hearty Irish-American, with a taste for good books, and an antipathy to negroes, as keen as the proverbial hatred of the devil for holy water. Campbell wrote a book entitled "Negromania," published in 1851, in which his creed was set forth in strong language. He was a regular bidder at book auctions, where his burly form and loud voice made him a prominent figure.

Of notable auction sales of books, and of the extravagant prices obtained for certain editions by ambitious and eager competition, there is little room to treat. The oft-told story of the Valdarfer Boccaccio of 1471, carried off at the Roxburghe sale in 1812, at L2,260 from Earl Spencer by the Marquis of Blandford, and re-purchased seven years after at another auction for L918, has been far surpassed in modern bibliomania. "The sound of that hammer," wrote the melodramatic Dibdin, "echoed through Europe:" but what would he have said of the Mazarin Bible of Gutenberg and Fust (1450-55) sold in 1897, at the Ashburnham sale, for four thousand pounds, or of the Latin Psalter of Fust and Schoeffer, 2d ed. 1459, which brought L4,950 at the Syston Park sale in 1884? This last sum (about twenty-four thousand dollars) is the largest price ever yet recorded as received for a single volume. Among books of less rarity, though always eagerly sought, is the first folio Shakespeare of 1623, a very fine and perfect copy of which brought L716.2 at Daniel's sale in 1864. Copies warranted perfect have since been sold in London for L415 to L470. In New York, a perfect but not "tall" copy brought $4,200 in 1891 at auction. Walton's "Compleat Angler," London, 1st ed. 1653, a little book of only 250 pages, sold for L310 in 1891. It was published for one shilling and sixpence. The first edition of Robinson Crusoe brought L75 at the Crampton sale in 1896.

The rage for first editions of very modern books reached what might be called high-water mark some time since, and has been on the decline. Shelley's "Queen Mab," 1st ed. 1813, was sold at London for L22.10, and his "Refutation of Deism," 1814, was sold at L33, at a London sale in 1887. In New York, many first editions of Shelley's poems brought the following enormous prices in 1897.

Shelley's Adonais, 1st ed. Pisa, Italy, 1821, $335. Alastor, London, 1816, $130. The Cenci, Italy, 1819, $65. Hellas, London, 1822, $13.

But these were purely adventitious prices, as was clearly shown in the sale at the same auction rooms, a year or two earlier, of the following:

Shelley's Adonais, 1st ed. Pisa, 1821, $19. Alastor, London, 1816, $32. The Cenci, Italy, 1819, $21. Hellas, London, 1822, $2.

The sales occasionally made at auction of certain books at extraordinary prices, prove nothing whatever as to the real market value, for these reasons: (1) The auctioneer often has an unlimited bid, and the price is carried up to an inordinate height. (2) Two or more bidders present, infatuated by the idea of extreme rarity, bid against one another until all but one succumb, when the price has reached a figure which it is a mild use of terms to call absurd. (3) Descriptions in sale catalogues, though often entirely unfounded, characterising a book as "excessively rare;" "only — copies known," "very scarce," "never before offered at our sales," etc., may carry the bidding on a book up to an unheard-of price.

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse