9 June 2014

Lovers, Friends, and Acquaintances

W. Robertson Nicoll, A Bookman's Letters (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1915), pp. 224-225:
You ought to have three kinds of books. There is a verse in one of the Psalms: 'Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into the darkness.' Lover, friend, acquaintance. Your individuality is the centre, round it and near it is the little circle of love those who are your nearest and dearest. Round that is a larger concentric circle of friends, and then round that is a very large circle of acquaintances. All the people you know are lovers, friends, and acquaintances. I say the same thing about books. Certain books you love, and they are the special books, the books you want to read every year, the books you would not be without, the books which you bind in morocco, the books you would keep at all costs. Find the books that you love, and then find your friends among books. By friends I mean excellent books, though not the books that appeal most immediately and sharply. I love Boswell's Life of Johnson; Lockhart's Life of Scott is my friend. That is not to disparage Lockhart's Life of Scott. It is simply to say that the one book has certain greater qualities than the other it is the difference between lover and friend.

Among the lovers you should have at least one poet. I am told that poetry is coming to something very good in these days, and I am glad to hear it. But it is a comfort that much good poetry has been written already, quite enough to go on with. Find the poet that you love. You can only hope to love a few, but you may have many friends.

Your mental life will be determined by your lovers and your friends ; but, if you have lovers and friends, there is no reason why you should not have a great number of acquaintances. A public man said recently that he had 4000 acquaintances, and one may certainly know 4000 books. In the world of books it is essential to have acquaintances, if it were only for this that the acquaintanceships help us to appreciate our lovers and our friends. Life, however, is a very poor thing for those who have no lovers and no friends, but only acquaintances. And so the mind is a desert mind that has only acquaintances among books. But when the higher society is made sure it will be very easy and very pleasant to enlarge the circle of our acquaintances even to the end.