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BY-WAYS IN BOOK-LAND.




BY-WAYS IN BOOK-LAND

Short Essays on Literary Subjects

BY
WM. DAVENPORT ADAMS
AUTHOR OF 'DICTIONARY OF ENGLISH LITERATURE,' ETC.

'_Excursusque breves tentat._'
'GEORGICS,' iv. 194.

LONDON
ELLIOT STOCK, 62, PATERNOSTER ROW
1888




TO MY FATHER,
W. H. DAVENPORT ADAMS,
THIS LITTLE VOLUME
Is Affectionately Inscribed.




_In the following pages, the writer for the most part deals with small
subjects in an unelaborate manner. He leaves the highways of literature,
and strays into the fields and lanes, picking here a flower and there a
leaf, and not going far at any time. There is no endeavour to explore
with system, or to extend any excursion beyond a modest ramble. The
author wanders at haphazard into paths which have attracted him, and
along which, he hopes, the reader may be willing to bear him company._





CONTENTS.

PAGE

PAPER-KNIFE PLEASURES 1

RUSKIN AS POET 10

ELECTIONS IN LITERATURE 19

FAMILIAR VERSE 28

SHAKESPEARE'S ENGLAND 36

HEREDITY IN SONG 44

STINGS FOR THE STINGY 51

DIALOGUES OF THE DEAD 59

SERMONS IN FLOWERS 66

'DON QUIXOTE' IN ENGLAND 74

BEDSIDE BOOKS 83

THEIR MUCH SPEAKING 91

PEERS AND POETRY 99

THE PRAISE OF THAMES 107

ENGLISH EPIGRAPHS 114

THE 'SEASON' IN SONG 123

THE 'RECESS' IN RHYME 131

JAQUES IN LOVE 139

MOCKING AT MATRIMONY 148

PARSON POETS 156

THE OUTSIDES OF BOOKS 164

THE NOT IMPOSSIBLE SHE 172

NONSENSE VERSES 180

SINGLE-SPEECH HAMILTONS 188

DRAMATIC NOMENCLATURE 196

PUNS AND PATRONYMICS 203

'YOURS TRULY' 209

POSTSCRIPTS 217




_BY-WAYS IN BOOK-LAND_




PAPER-KNIFE PLEASURES.


One is for ever hearing enough and to spare about old books and those
who love them. There is a whole literature of the subject. The men
themselves, from Charles Lamb downwards, have over and over again
described their ecstasies--with what joy they have pounced upon some
rare edition, and with what reverence they have ever afterwards regarded
it. It is some time since Mr. Buchanan drew his quasi-pathetic picture
of the book-hunter, bargaining for his prize,

'With the odd sixpence in his hand,
And greed in his gray eyes;'

having, moreover, in his mind's eye as he walked

'Vistas of dusty libraries
Prolonged eternally.'

Mr. Andrew Lang, too, has sung to us of the man who 'book-hunts while
the loungers fly,' who 'book-hunts though December freeze,' for whom

'Each tract that flutters in the breeze
Is charged with hopes and fears,'

while

'In mouldy novels fancy sees
Aldines, Bodonis, Elzevirs.'

There are periodicals which cater solely for old-book adorers; and while
on the one hand your enthusiast will publish his 'Pleasures' and
'Diversions,' on the other a contemporary will devote a volume to the
subjects which attract and interest 'the Book Fancier.'

Meanwhile, is there nothing to be said of, or by, the admirer of new
books--the man or woman who rejoices in the pleasant act of turning over
new leaves? At a time when volumes are issuing by the dozen from the
publishers' counters, shall not something be chronicled of the happiness
which lies in the contemplation, the perusal, of the literary product
which comes hot from the press? For, to begin with, the new books have
at least this great advantage over the old--that they are clean. It is
not everybody who can wax dithyrambic over the 'dusty' and the 'mouldy.'
It is possible for a volume to be too 'second-hand.' Your devotee, to be
sure, thinks fondly of the many hands, dead and gone, through which his
'find' has passed; he loves to imagine that it may have been held
between the fingers of some person or persons of distinction; he is in
the seventh heaven of exaltation if he can be quite certain it has had
that honour. But suppose this factitious charm is really wanting?
Suppose a volume is dirty, and ignobly so? Must one necessarily delight
in dogs' ears, bask in the shadow of beer-stains, and 'chortle' at the
sign of cheese-marks? Surely it is one of the merits of new leaves that
they come direct from the printer and the binder, though they, alas!
may have left occasional impressions of an inky thumb.

It might possibly be argued that a new volume is, if anything, 'too
bright and good'--too beautiful and too resplendent--for 'base uses.'
There is undoubtedly an _amari aliquid_ about them. They certainly do
seem to say that we 'may look but must not touch.' Talk about the awe
with which your book-hunter gazes upon an ancient or infrequent tome;
what is it when compared with the respect which another class of
book-lover feels for a volume which reaches them 'clothed upon with'
virtual spotlessness? Who can have the heart to impair that innocent
freshness? Do but handle the book, and the harm is done--unless, indeed,
the handling be achieved with hands delicately gloved. The touch of the
finger is, in too many cases, fatal. On the smooth cloth or the vellum
or the parchment, some mark, alas! must needs be made. The lover of new
books will hasten, oftentimes, to enshrine them in paper covers; but a
book in such a guise is, for many, scarcely a book at all; it has lost
a great deal of its charm. Better, almost, the inevitable tarnishing.
All that's bright must fade; the new book cannot long maintain its
lustre. But it has had it, to begin with. And that is much. We feel at
least the first fine careless rapture. Whatever happens, no one can
deprive us of that--of the first fond glimpse of the immaculate.

But the matter is not, of course, one of exterior only. Some interest,
at least, attaches to the contents, however dull the subject, however
obscure the author. A new book is a new birth, not only to the ęsthetic
but to the literary sense. It contains within it boundless
possibilities. There are printed volumes which are books only in
form--which are mere collections of facts or figures, or what not, and
which do not count. But if a volume be a genuine specimen of the _belles
lettres_, the imagination loves to play upon it. What will it be like?
What treasures lie concealed in it? What delights has it in store for
us? In our curiosity we are like the boy in Mr. Pinero's farcical
comedy: 'It is the 'orrible uncertainty wot we craves after.' No one can
tell what may nestle in the recesses of new leaves. Not even in
reference to well-known writers can we be positively sure. They may
belie their reputation. The illustrious Smith may make a failure; the
obscurer Brown may score a hit. For once in a way Robinson may have
produced something we can read; to everybody's surprise, the great Jones
has dropped into the direst twaddle. And if this uncertainty exists in
respect to those we know, how much more auspicious is it in the case of
those who are quite new to us? What gems of purest ray serene may repose
within the pages of the unopened book before us!

And, talking of unopened books, how much of the pleasure we derive from
newly-published volumes lies in the process by which we first make their
acquaintance. There are those who would have all books issued with the
edges of the pages cut. The reasons why are obvious. To begin with, some
labour is thereby saved to the purchaser; a certain measure of time,
too, is saved. The reviewer, who has no moments to spare, may
anathematize the leaves he has to separate with the paper-knife; the
traveller by rail may condemn to Hades the producers of the work which
he cannot cut open--because he has not the wherewithal about him.
Everywhere there are eager and hasty readers who chafe at the delay
which an uncut book imposes upon their impatient spirit. On the other
hand, your genuine book-adorer, your enthusiast, who loves to extract
from a volume all which it is capable of yielding, cannot but approve a
habit which enables him to linger delightedly over his new possession.
What special sweets may not be hidden within just those very pages which
are at present closed to him! _Omne ignotum_ is, for him, _pro
magnifico_--here may be the very cream of the cream. And so the adorer
dallies with his prize. First he peeps within the leaves, and gleans a
sentence here and there. And then he begins to use the cutter--slowly,
slowly--dwelling with enraptured tardiness upon each page which he
reveals.

Who shall say that new leaves have no drawbacks? Verily, they have them.
It cannot be supposed, for instance, that they are always wholly
acceptable to the aforesaid professional censor. The reviewer, sitting
surrounded by them, tier on tier, may rail at the productiveness of the
age, and wish that there might not be more than one new book each week.
And the omnivorous reader, anxious to keep up with the literature of the
day, might fairly re-echo the aspiration. Who, indeed, can hope to turn
over a tithe of the new leaves which are issued daily? Nor can an
unlimited consumption of them be recommended. Mr. Lowell is to a certain
extent justified when he says that

'Reading new books is like eating new bread;
One can bear it at first, but by gradual steps he
Is brought to death's door of a mental dyspepsy.'

Assuredly new books are so far like new bread, that we should not
consume them in too rapid succession. At the same time, let us be
thankful for them, inasmuch as they have the unquestionable gift of
novelty. Lord Beaconsfield's Lady Montfort said she preferred a new
book, even if bad, to a classic. That was a strong saying, but there are
points of view from which it is perfectly defensible.




RUSKIN AS POET.


It was lately rumoured that Mr.



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