29 October 2018

The Library

Elizabeth Shippen Green (1891-1954), The Library (c. 1905)
From the Delaware Art Museum 

Hat tip: First Things, via Anecdotal Evidence

25 October 2018

Noli Me Tangere

"The Groans of the Museum," The London Mercury, Vol. XIX, No. 114 (April 1929), pp. 228-229:
An MP has been suggesting, by means of a question, that the British Museum should be given powers to destroy such of its printed rubbish as nobody, in the future, can conceivably wish to consult. It certainly is terrifying to contemplate the great daily inflow into Bloomsbury, and Hendon via Bloomsbury, of books, pamphlets, leaflets, magazines, newspapers, and music: and to imagine how elaborate the system of classification and storage will have to be in the future if the student of 2129 is to be entitled to expect, at brief notice, to be brought this year’s file of the Bulletins of the Large Black Pig Society or a complete collection of the published opuscula of Clapham and Dwyer.

Surely, surely, exclaims the rebellious heart in us, something can be spared : surely there must be  at least a portion of the "literature" which pours into the Museum which might be quietly put into the furnace at once, in the certainty that from now until Doomsday not one single human being, however eccentric  or erudite, could possibly ask for any of it. Yet the difficulties leap to the  eye the moment one observes the categories which the Hon. Member suggests contain material suitable for destruction. One that he specifies is "old comic songs." Yet one man’s "old comic song" is another man’s meat. We ourselves are intimately acquainted with an anthologist who spent precious days at the Museum searching through the yellowing backnumbers of Messrs. Francis, Day, and Hunter’s publications and those of their predecessors; finding in them certain things he thought worth reprinting as well as a good deal of light upon the tastes and manners of our fathers and grandfathers. Skip a century or two. Imagine that music-halls had flourished in Chaucer’s day or Shakespeare’s, and that a few volumes of the ditties they provided were suddenly brought to light by those relentless excavators, the Death Duties! What a to-do! What excitement! What competition! What eagerness to study and to edit on the part of all the gravest and greyest Professors in England, America and Germany, a host of persons to whom the strains and words of I Wanna Go Back to the Gobi and My Sweetie Is So Blue are completely unknown! The Museum is not yet bursting, and the bowels of the earth are deep. Let us leave "Noli me Tangere" above its portals and pass this risky job of selection on to our successors.

23 October 2018

Eternal Recurrence

Philip Gilbert Hamerton, The Quest of Happiness (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1897), pp. 184-185:
Would you consent to live your own life over again, exactly as you have lived, and in every particular? This is very different from having the experience of a second and different human life with all its freshness of interest. Is any one willing to go through his own life again as a conscientious reader will study a classical author for a second time, without omitting a single word? The willingness to do this is extremely rare, but there are instances of it. One of my friends told his eldest son at the age of eighty, that if it were offered to him to live over again exactly as he had lived he would gladly accept the offer. The reader probably supposes that this man's existence had been peculiarly exempt from evils. On the contrary, he had known some of the worst evils that can possibly happen to humanity. He had been utterly ruined both in purse and health, though he afterwards prospered and recovered. After a happy marriage he had known the long, sad solitude of the widower. He had been overburdened with family charges, both in his own house and out of it. The intensity of intolerable anxiety had brought on paralysis. His home life had been poisoned by the dread of famine, and his business life by the shadow of impending bankruptcy. Yet he would have gone through it all again for the pleasure of living once more the earlier and the later happy days! 
A related post: Do You Like This Idea?

16 October 2018

Is the Gamble Worthwhile?

Harvey Miller, "Phaidon and the Business of Art Book Publishing: 1923-1967," Visual Resources, Vol. XV (1999), pp. 343-353 (at pp. 344-345):
Publishers usually set the price of a book by multiplying the unit cost by a factor — it is at least three, but may be as high as eight or ten, depending on the nature of the book, to allow for booksellers' discount, selling and distribution costs and production and editorial overhead costs. [Phaidon founder Béla] Horovitz had a different approach — the disaster theory. He reasoned somewhat as follows: If I set the price of the book at a popular level, and it is very good value I shall sell many scores of thousands. What would happen if there were a disaster and my estimate of sales were wrong? I would still sell some books, since they are good books. I would lose some money. Can I stand that loss? But if I am right I have established a book that will become a standard, and will be reprinted time and time again. Is the gamble worthwhile? What can I do to make the book more attractive, and more saleable?

Only a small independent publisher, who stands to gain or lose on his decision, can reason in this way. Modern publishing conglomerates with committees and specialized functions, find it difficult to apply this type of reasoning although, of course, they do try.

15 October 2018

There Are Abysses in Those Words

Alice Meynell, "An Article on Particles,"  The London Mercury, Vol. 1, No. 1 (November 1918), pp. 71-72:
There is nothing in English that we should prize more dearly than our right to negative particles of both derivations, and especially our particle of German derivation in its right Teutonic place. That "un" implies, encloses so much, denies so much, refuses so much, point-blank, with a tragic irony that French, for example, can hardly compass. Compare our all-significant "unloved," "unforgiven," with any phrase of French. There are abysses, in those words, at our summons, deep calling to deep, dreadful or tender passion, the thing and its undoing locked together, grappled.

4 October 2018

Thanksgiving

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, "Of Benefits," Seneca's Morals, tr. Sir Roger L'Estrange (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1917), p. 58:
We can be thankful to a friend for a few acres, or a little money: and yet for the freedom and command of the whole earth, and for the great benefits of our being, as life, health, and reason, we look upon ourselves as under no obligation. If a man bestows upon us a house that is delicately beautified with paintings, statues, gildings, and marble, we make a mighty business of it, and yet it lies at the mercy of a puff of wind, the snuff of a candle, and a hundred other accidents, to lay it in the dust. And is it nothing now to sleep under the canopy of heaven, where we have the globe of the earth for our place of repose, and the glories of the heavens for our spectacle? How comes it that we should so much value what we have, and yet at the same time be so unthankful for it? Whence is it that we have our breath, the comforts of light and of heat, the very blood that runs in our veins? the cattle that feed us, and the fruits of the earth that feed them? Whence have we the growth of our bodies, the succession of our ages, and the faculties of our minds? so many veins of metals, quarries of marble, etc. The seed of everything is in itself, and it is the blessing of God that raises it out of the dark into act and motion. To say nothing of the charming varieties of music, beautiful objects, delicious provisions for the palate, exquisite perfumes, which are cast in, over and above, to the common necessities of our being.