29 January 2013

Some Minor Soiling and Shelf Wear

Jules Janin, L'Amour des livres [The Love of Books] (Paris: J. Miard, 1866), pp. 8-10. My translation:
[Y]ou and I, my young friend, we naturally look with profound horror and contempt on the good folk who say: "Well, it doesn't matter if the book is rich or poor, whole or broken; the important thing is that it belonged to Madame de Sévigné, or Bélise. It may smell like carnations or burnt fat, like the musk of courtesans or the light perfume of an honest woman; it is still a book... And what does it matter, after all, whether it comes from the Louvre or from Pont-Neuf." What an execrable opinion, and a horrifying remark! 
What could be more foolish than to read and act in this way? Does it not bother you, gentlemen readers who lack a sense of smell, to hold a muck-stained book in your unwashed hands? A book that has been indelibly stained by the greasy hair and grubby fingers of some errant girl or scruffy lackey? Do you not mind flipping through a sewer, and smelling the abominable stench of a stable or some other nasty place every time you turn a page? 
These sad men and stupid women, these simpletons call it a book. It is an infectious bit of cloth, a rag that has no name in any language! Bah! I would not read from those soiled pages, not even if they contained the most beautiful passages from all literature. No, I would not even read about Priam at the feet of Achilles, putting his lips to the hands that killed his son; nor of Iphigenia being brought to the altar in Euripides; nor of Anacreon under his vine; nor of the Cyclops in Theocritus contemplating the waves on the Sicilian shore. 
There is nothing beautiful and good, nothing great and heroic in a humiliated, dirty book that is full of disgusting things and filth. Look into any of the gilt-edged books that some idiot has purchased and find an impurity, and someone will answer with that silly refrain: "It doesn't matter to me!" 
That person does not know how to read. He has only read tabloid newspapers, cheap novels, or historical adventure books.  
While you are at it, ask him if he has no qualms about giving his arm to a woman of questionable repute who shuffles through the street in her worn-out shoes, with her nose in the air and mud on her dress. Ask him if it does not matter whether there is a spot on his coat and holes in his boots. It is just as shameful, if not more so, to have a pile of rubbish in the corner of your room, arrogantly masquerading as a library when even the rag-and-bone man would not want it.
Another excerpt: Advice for Bibliophiles