26 February 2014

The Passion of the Unsuccessful

E. M. Martin, Wayside Wisdom; A Book for Quiet People (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1920), pp. 197-198:
There is a certain odd relationship between the old worm-eaten volumes and the silent meanly dressed people who steal in and fondly handle them. For books are the passion of the unsuccessful, the friends and companions of disappointment and of poverty; and if a rich man gathers together a fine library it is often the poor man, lean with longing, who has told him what to buy. Outside a second-hand book-shop I once saw a bright-eyed old woman in Workhouse bonnet and shawl looking wistfully at the trays full of books, until, unable to resist temptation, she took one up and began to read, lost to the noise of the street or the mud that splashed upon the pavement. I came closer and saw that it was a volume of Pascal's Pensées, but before I could speak she had placed it back on the tray and, moving quickly, disappeared down a side alley as a man came out of the shop. "If she had the money she'd be one of my best customers," he said, beginning to rearrange his wares. "She comes as often as she can get away, and I never disturb her, but let her read as long as she likes; she must have spent many an hour here." I wondered who the old woman had been whose hunger for books even the dull routine of the Workhouse had not stilled, and I have always regretted that in my surprise I let her go away empty-handed.
See also Who Was E. M. Martin?