In March, my husband took a little trip to New York state, and brought back with him some rescues from a warehouse that was abandoned and about to be repurposed.
Books. Orphaned books left behind in the rush or perhaps deemed not worth transplanting in new digs. My husband brought a handful of them home because their faded hardcovers pricked his soul. He knew they'd be loved and cared for in our home.
Among the treasure were two volumes of poetry: the slim Academy Classics/Selected Poems of Pope, Gray, Goldsmith (1899), a badly neglected copy of Longfellow poems, the tattered pages of which remind me of a homesteader's family Bible (the copyright is missing, but one Beulah C. Hitzel kindly wrote on the first page that she received the volume in 1919), and an illustrated copy of Ivanhoe (1903) designed to assist the student understand the history and geography of the time in which the story is set.
I took one look at the battered, raggedy things and understood immediately why they moved my husband enough to risk paying an overweight luggage fee to bring them home.
It's not that I have some fantastic insight into the reasons these books/stories have endured the ages. That's not why I'm writing this today. I suppose what I would like most is to sit beside you, thumb through and ooo and ahh at the familiar strangeness of old words. Maybe dream a little about the people who read them before we did. Maybe just wonder about what the whole thing means.
The editors of the volume believed "that the added poems will materially assist the student to a fuller sympathy with the spirit of the respective authors and to a clearer comprehension of their time." Can their be any doubt they achieved their goal?
These editors rankle me. Look how unkind they are on page 69: "Apart from his career as an author, the life of Alexander Pope was uneventful." Hey now, wait just a minute. Uneventful? Says who? Makes you want to run out and do something eventful just to prevent future editors from saying this about you, doesn't it?
They weren't any kinder to Goldsmith, "Oliver's school-days were spent in idleness. At Trinity College (1744-1749) he did not mend his ways, and during the two years that followed his graduation he was contentedly dependant on the industry of his mother and the generosity of his friends." and "He lacked the force of character that would have enabled him to fix a definite purpose and carry it out."I shudder to think what history might make of my school days. Isn't it interesting that the world wants very much the product of the minds of people very creative and different, but wants those who possess such minds to act like everyone else? Still, they must have liked the guy in the end since he's included in the volume.
Ivanhoe wobbles from page one: "The purpose of this edition is not to supplant the teacher, but to lessen, if possible his duties. To do this by placing in the hand of the pupil such historical material and suggestions for study, with questions upon the text, as he will be expected to answer." Gee, thanks fellas. Their hearts were in the right place, though, as they explain a bit further down the page, "Experience has also shown that comparatively few pupils have access in their homes to a large dictionary, or to other reference books, and that the school library does not always furnish these in numbers sufficient for the pupils desiring to use them."
Can you see the flocks of desperate students descending on the library, desperate and a little angry at having to line up for a peek into the large dictionary? Well, Josephene Ruda from study room 102, and Aloise Hiedrowski from study room 112 were not among those disparaging crowds, I can tell you that much. Both these ladies took full advantage of this book. Oh how they must have giggled and hugged themselves with glee knowing they had been spared the agony of non-access to knowledge.
I like The Companion Books, Longfellow Poems best. Three pages listing the contents of the book,
followed by 487 pages of poetry. No need to comment on the stuff, just read and see how it goes. That's pure enough isn't it? Doesn't it say so much that they've compiled all this works into one place? Isn't that enough to prove they are worth reading, studying, memorizing? This book belonged to Beulah C. Hitzel in 1919, but someone, at some point, wrote below her name in pencil, "Yesterday with some authors. Fields." No idea. But I hope it has some wonderful meaning. I'm going to pretend it does.
Thanks for meandering through with me today.
Have you rescued orphaned books? Stumbled upon a thrift store classic? Do you have a heart for ratty old hardcovers? Will you spend some time thumbing through a forgotten book? Let us read over your shoulder a minute, too.