24 September 2013

How Brief the Hours

Thomas Bird Mosher, in the foreward to his 1913 catalogue of books:
Out of the myriad books of all the ages now accessible how brief the hours that even the man of greatest leisure can give to them. Is it strange that all sorts of absurdities should flourish in the matter of pointing out the best one hundred or best one thousand — the only true three foot or five foot shelf — and the inevitable excellent series which "everyman" should possess? It comes, as we view it ourselves, that one has to decide first of all which of two widely diverse courses of reading one should take, — the practical , dry-as-dust necessary routine book of facts — or follow on the starry track of those "precious minims" which find us young and always keep us so. Are we reading for business purposes or for that wider outlook which Literature alone has power to bestow? If, for the former, then the biblia-a-biblia of Charles Lamb's amused contempt; the half hours with the worst authors as Edward FitzGerald put it; the books reeking with self-help are the ones required. If, on the other hand, we are assured of somewhat else than mere commercial values, then, by the intensive method, we must turn to the little parcels of man's bequests to Time — the lifeblood of the ages garnered in prose and verse — such as I have long ago given my heart to and would by what I publish persuade you along the same sunlit road.