“The uttered part of a man’s life, let us always repeat, bears to the unuttered, unconscious part a small unknown proportion. He himself never knows it, much less do others.”— Carlyle’s Essay on Scott.

BOOKS UNREAD.

“ Μηκέτι πλανϥ̑ · οὔτε γὰρ τα ὑπομνημάτιά σοῦ μέλλεις ἀναγιώσκειν, οὔτε τὰς ἀρχαίων Ῥωμαίων καὶ Ἑλλήνων πράξεις, καὶ τὰς ἐκ τῶν συγγραμμάτων ἐκλογὰς, ἃς εἰς τὸ γῆρας σαυτῷ ἀπετίθεσο.” - MARCUS ANTONINUS, iii, 14.

“ No longer delude thyself; for thou wilt never read thine own memoranda, nor the recorded deeds of old Romans and Greeks, and those passages in books which thou hast been reserving for thine old age.”

IN the gradual growth of every student’s library, he may or may not continue to admit literary friends and advisers ; but he will be sure, sooner or later, to send for a man with a tool-chest. Sooner or later, every nook and corner will be filled with books, every window will be more or less darkened, and added shelves must be devised. He may find it hard to achieve just the arrangement he wants, but he will find it hardest of all to meet squarely that inevitable inquiry of the puzzled carpenter, as he looks about him, “ Have you really read all these books ? ” The expected answer is, “ To be sure, how can you doubt it ? ” Yet if you asked him in turn, “ Have you actually used every tool in your toolchest ? ” you would very likely be told, “ Not one half as yet, at least this season ; I have the others by me, to use as I need them.” Now if this reply can be fairly made in a simple, well-defined, distinctly limited occupation like that of a joiner, how much more inevitable it is in a pursuit which covers the whole range of thought and all the facts in the universe. The library is the author’s toolchest. He must at least learn, as he grows older, to take what he wants and to leave the rest.

This never was more tersely expressed than by Margaret Fuller when she says, “ A man who means to think and write a great deal must, after six and twenty, learn to read with his fingers.” A few men of leisure may satisfy themselves by reading over and over a single book and ignoring all others, like that English scholar who read Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey every year in the original, devoting a week to each canto, and reserving the minor poems for his summer vacation. Nay, there are books in the English language so vast that the ordinary reader recoils before their text and their footnotes. Such, for instance, is Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, containing substantially the history of the whole world for thirteen centuries. When the author dismissed the last page of his book, on June 27,1787, in that historic garden at Geneva, knowing that he was to address his public at once in four different languages, is it not possible that he may have felt some natural misgiving as to whether any one person would ever read the whole of it? We know him to have predicted that Fielding’s Tom Jones would outlast the palace of the Escurial and the imperial eagle of Austria, but he recorded no similar claim for his own work. The statesman, Fox, to be sure, pronounced the book to be “ immortal,” simply because, as he said, no man in the world could do without it; and Sheridan added, with undue levity, that if not luminous, it was at least voluminous. But modern readers, as a rule, consult it, they do not read it. It is, at best, a toolchest.

Yet there lies before me what is, perhaps, the most remarkable manuscript catalogue of books read that can be found in the English-speaking world, this being the work of a man of eighty-three, who began life by reading a verse of the Bible aloud to his mother when three years old, had gone through the whole of it by the time he was nine, and then went on to grapple with all the rest of literature, upon which he is still at work. His vast catalogue of books read begins with 1837, and continues up to the present day, thus covering much more than half a century, a course of reading not yet finished and in which Gibbon is but an incident. One finds, for instance, at intervals, such items as these : “ Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, read twice between 1856 and 1894; ” “ Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, third reading, 1895 ; ” “ Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, vols. 1 and 2, fourth reading ; ” followed soon after by “ Gibbon, vols. 3-6, fourth reading ; ” “ Gibbon, vols. 7-8, fourth reading.” What are a thousand readings of Tom Jones compared with a series of feats like this ? And there is a certain satisfaction to those who find themselves staggered by the contemplation of such labor, when they read elsewhere on the list the recorded confession that this man of wonderful toil occasionally stooped so far as cheerfully to include That Frenchman and Mr. Barnes of New York.

The list of books unread might properly begin with those painted shelves of mere book covers which present themselves in some large libraries, to veil the passageway. These are not books unread, since they are not books at all. Much the same is true of those which perhaps may still be seen, as formerly, in old Dutch houses round Albany ; the effigies of books merely desired, but not yet possessed ; and only proposed as purchases for some day when the owner’s ship should come in. These were made only of blocks of wood, neatly painted and bound in leather with the proper labels, but surely destined never to be read, since they had in them nothing readable. Almost as remote from the real books are those dummies made up by booksellers to be exhibited by their traveling agents. Thus I have at hand a volume of my own translation of Epictetus, consisting of a single “ signature ” of eighteen pages, repeated over and over, so that one never gets any farther : each signature bearing on the last page, by one of Fate’s simple and unconscious strokes, the printed question, “Where is progress, then ? ” (page 18). Where, indeed ! Next to these, of course, the books which go most thoroughly unread are those which certainly are books, but of which we explore the backs only, as in fine old European libraries ; books as sacredly preserved as was once that library at Blenheim, — now long since dispersed,— in which, when I idly asked the custodian whether she did not find it a great deal of trouble to keep them dusted, she answered with surprise, “ No, sir, the doors have not been unlocked for ten years.” It is so in some departments of even American libraries.

Matthew Arnold once replied to a critic who accused him of a lack of learning that the charge was true, but that he often wished he had still less of that possession, so hard did he find it to carry lightly what he knew. The only knowledge that involves no burden lies, it may be justly claimed, in the books that are left unread. I mean those which remain undisturbed, long and perhaps forever, on a student’s bookshelves ; books for which he possibly economized, and to obtain which he went without his dinner; books on whose backs his eyes have rested a thousand times, tenderly and almost lovingly, until he has perhaps forgotten the very language in which they are written. He has never read them, yet during these years there has never been a day when he would have sold them ; they are a part of his youth. In dreams he turns to them ; in dreams he reads Hebrew again ; he knows what a Differential Equation is ; “ how happy could he be with either.” He awakens, and whole shelves of his library are, as it were, like fair maidens who smiled on him in their youth but once, and then passed away. Under different circumstances, who knows but one of them might have been his ? As it is, they have grown old apart from him ; yet for him they retain their charms. He meets them as the ever delightful but now half-forgotten poet Praed meets his “ Belle of the Ball-Room ” in later years :

“ For in my heart’s most secret cell
There had been many other lodgers;
And she was not the ball-room’s belle,
But only Mrs. Something Rogers.”

So in my case, my neighbors at the Harvard Observatory have solved the differential equations ; my other neighbors, the priests, have read — let us hope — the Hebrew psalms; but I live to ponder on the books unread.

This volume of Hirsch’s Algebra, for instance, takes me back to a happy period when I felt the charm given to mathematics by the elder Peirce, and might easily have been won to devote my life to them, had casual tutorships been tossed about so freely as now. No books retain their attraction when reopened, I think, as much as the mathematical; the quaint formulæ seeming like fascinating recluses with cowled heads. A mere foreign language, even if half forgotten, is something that can be revived again. It is simply another country of the world, and you can revisit it at will ; but mathematics is another world. To reënter it would be to leave common life behind, and yet it seems so attractive that even to sit down and calculate a table of logarithms would appear tempting. The fact of dwelling near an observatory, as I do, might seem to nourish this illusion, yet I have never encountered any pursuit, not even astronomy, which does not leave its votaries still, by their own confession, bound by the limitations of mortal men.

Many books go unread in our libraries that are prized for their associations only. There is, for instance, yonder set of Fourier in five volumes. I have read them little, but they are full of manuscript notes in the fine Italian hand of the dear friend to whom I loaned them in our days at the University. His life and career have ever been a note of sadness in those early memories, but when I open the books he comes before me in all his youthful charm. There is Fourier’s portrait, still noble and impressive as when I pasted it in the first volume ; nothing in his books ever equaled it, yet its expression is as hard to read as were his books. How much of that period they all represent! and each time I open them, the face of Fourier seems to fade away, and there is the shadowy impression of that of ray friend, just receding at the open door.

The same illusion extends also to all one’s shelves of Greek and Latin authors; they reproduce their associations. We chant with Pindar, sing with Catullus, without taking a book from its place. Yonder series of volumes of Æschylus, with his commentators, holds the eye with charm and reverence ; I rarely open any one of them except that which contains the Agamemnon ; and that most often to verify some re-reading of FitzGerald’s wonderful translation; the only version from the Greek, so far as I know, in which the original text is bettered, and one in which the translator has moreover put whole passages of his own, that fitly match the original. Yet he wrote in a letter which lies before me, “I am yet not astonished (at my all but seventy years of age) with the credit given me for so far succeeding in reproducing other men’s thoughts, which is all I have tried to do. [Italics my own.] I know yet many others would have done as well, and any Poet better.” And again, on those other shelves are sixteen volumes relating to Aristophanes, of which only three contain the originals, and all the rest hold only commentaries or translations, exhibiting the works of the one light or joyous brain which ancient Greece produced ; a poet who was able to balance all the tragedians by the grace and charm of his often translated but never reproduced comedy of The Birds.

Books which we have first read in odd places always retain their charm, whether read or neglected. Thus Hazlitt always remembered that it was on the 10th of April, 1798, that he “ sat down to a volume of the New Éloise at the Inn at Llangollen over a bottle of sherry and a cold chicken.” In the same way I remember how Professor Longfellow in college recommended to us, for forming a good French style, to read Balzac’s Peau de Chagrin ; and yet it was a dozen years later before I found it in a country inn, on a lecture trip, and sat up half the night to read it. It may be, on the other hand, that such haphazard meetings with books sometimes present them under conditions hopelessly unfavorable, as when I encountered Whitman’s Leaves of Grass for the first time on my first voyage in an Azorian barque ; and it inspires to this day a slight sense of nausea, which it might, after all, have inspired equally on land.

Some of my own books, probably the most battered and timeworn, have recalled for nearly half a century the associations of camp life during the civil war. They represent the few chosen or more likely accidental volumes that stood against the wall in the primitive little shelves at some picket station. A part of them survived to be brought home again : the small Horace; the thin volume containing that unsurpassed book of terse nobleness, Sir Thomas Browne’s Christian Morals ; the new translation of Jean Paul’s Titan just then published, sent from home by a zealous friend, and handed from tent to tent for reading in the long summer afternoons; books interrupted by the bugle and then begun again. They were perhaps read and reread, or perhaps never even opened ; they may never have been opened since; but they now seem like silent members of the Loyal Legion or the Grand Army of the Republic. I may or may not care much for the individual men as they are, but they represent what was and what might have been ; and it is the same with the books. The same mixture of feelings applies to certain French or German books bought in the lands where they were printed, or even imported thence, or from old bookstores in London. No matter; their land is the world of literature ; their mere presence imparts a feeling like that which Charles Lamb applies to himself in the cloisters at Oxford which he had visited only during the weeks of vacation : “ In graver moods, I proceed Master of Arts.”

The books most loved of all in a student’s library are perhaps those which first awakened his literary enthusiasm, and which are so long since superseded by other and possibly better books that he leaves them unread and yet cannot part with them ; books which even now open of themselves at certain favorite passages, having a charm that can never be communicated to a more recent reader. Remembering, as I do, the first books which created in America the long period of enthusiasm for German literature which has now seemingly spent itself, I turn to them with ever fresh delight, although I may rarely open them. Such, for instance, are Heine’s Letters on German Literature, translated by G. W. Haven in this country in 1836, and Mrs. Austen’s Characteristics of Goethe, largely founded on Falk’s recollections, and published in 1841. A passage in this last book which always charmed me was that which described how the heroes of German literature — Goethe, Herder, Wieland, and Gleim — went out with the Court into the forests where Goethe’s gypsy songs were written ; and another passage where it says, “ At the hermitage, where a visit from a wandering stag is not uncommon, and where the forester watches the game by the light of the autumnal moon, a majestic tree is yet standing, on which, inscribed as in a living album, the names of Herder, Gleim, Lavater, Wieland, and Goethe, are still distinctly legible.” How many vows I made in youth to visit that little hermitage built of trunks of trees and covered with moss, on whose walls Goethe had written the slumber song of summer : —

Ueber allen Gipfeln
Ist Ruh,
In allen Wipfeln
Spürest du
Kaum einen Hauch;
Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde.
Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch.

Thus much for Goethe’s Characteristics. I fear that my boyish copy of Heine opens of itself at the immortal compliment given by the violin player Solomons to George III of England, then his pupil: “ Violin players are divided into three classes : to the first belong those who cannot play at all; to the second belong those who play very miserably; and to the third, those who play finely; Your Majesty has already elevated yourself to the rank of the second class.” Tried by such a classification, Heine certainly ranks in the third class, not the second ; yet strange it is that, of the two German authors who bid fair to live longest on the road to immortality, the one, Goethe, should be the most absolutely German among them all, while Heine died in heart, as in residence, a Frenchman.

But there are other books, perhaps inherited or bought in a deluded hour, that have no page at which they open of themselves through mere habit. “ What actual benefits do we reap,” asks Hazlitt, “ from the writings of a Laud, or a Whitgift, or a Bishop Bull, or a Bishop Waterland, or Prideaux’s Connections, or Beausobre, or St. Augustine, or of Pufendorf, or of Vattel? ” Take from this list St. Augustine, and I could indorse it; but his Confessions I think will forever remain fascinating because they are intensely human, though one cannot easily read more than one or two pages at a time. He makes revelations which are, in depth of feeling, when compared to the far-famed Confessions of Rousseau, as Hamlet to Love’s Labour’s Lost. I refer especially, in case we must read it in English, to a fine anonymous fragmentary translation, far superior to Pusey’s, and edited by Miss Elizabeth P. Peabody in Boston, sixty years ago. Upon what superb sentences does one open in this version, “ How deep are Thy ways, O God, Thou only great, that sittest silent on high and by an unwearied law dispensing penal blindness to lawless desires! ” How this thought of penal blindness haunted the author! and who ever penetrated the desultory tragedies of too ardent youth like Augustine ? “ Thy wrath had gathered over me, and I knew it not. I was grown deaf by the clanking of the chain of my mortality, the punishment of the pride of my soul, and I strayed further from Thee, and Thou lettest me alone, and I was tossed about, and wasted, and dissipated, and I boiled over in my fornications, and Thou heldest Thy peace, O Thou my tardy joy! Thou then heldest Thy peace, and I wandered further and further from Thee, into more and more fruitless seed-plots of sorrow, and a proud dejectedness, and a restless weariness.” What trenchant phrases are these ! — and what self-analysis in such revelations as this : “ What is worthy of blame but Vice ? But I made myself worse than I was, that I might not be dispraised ; and when in anything I had not sinned like the abandoned ones, I would say that I had done what I had not done, that I might not seem contemptible in proportion as I was innocent; or of less account, the more chaste.”

Who can wonder that the heretical Pope, Clement XIV (Ganganelli), wrote, “ Take care to procure the Confessions of St. Augustine, a book written with his tears ” ? or who can be surprised that a certain Bishop said to Augustine’s mother, when she reproached him for not watching and questioning her son incessantly, “ Go thy ways and God bless thee, for it is not possible that the son of these tears should perish ” ? Most important of all, and a passage which I, for one, would gladly see engrossed on parchment and hung above the desk of every teacher of elocution in America, is the following: —

“ Behold, O Lord God, yea, behold patiently, as Thou art wont, how carefully the sons of men observe the covenanted rules of letters and syllables that those who spake before them used, neglecting the eternal covenant of everlasting salvation received from Thee. In asmuch, that a teacher or learner of the hereditary laws of pronunciation will more offend men, by speaking without the aspirate, of a ‘ uman being,’ in despite of the laws of grammar, than if he, a ‘ human being,’ hate a ‘ human being ’ in despite of Thee. . . . In quest of the fame of eloquence, a man standing before a human judge, surrounded by a human throng, declaiming against his enemy with fiercest hatred, will take heed most watchfully, lest, by an error of the tongue, he murder the word ‘ human-being; ’ but takes no heed, lest, through the malice of his heart, he murder the real human being.”

There are many books which, although left unread, are to be valued for single sentences only, to be found here and there. Others are prized for the picturesque manner in which their quarto or folio pages are filled with capital or italic letters, or even for the superb and daring eccentricity of their title-pages alone. I have volumes of Jacob Behmen where each detached line of the title-page has something quaint and picturesque in it, and a dozen different fonts of type are drawn upon to conduct the reader through their mazes, as for instance in this: —

“ Aurora.
That is, the
Day-Spring.
Or
Dawning of the Day in the Orient
Or
Morning-Rednesse
in the Rising of the
Sun.
That is
The Root or Mother of
Philosophie, Astrologie & Theologie
from the true Ground.
Or
A Description of Nature.
All this set down diligently from a true
Ground in the Knowledge of the
Spirit, and in the impulse of God,
By
Jacob Behme
Teutonick Philosopher.
Being his First Book.
Written in Gerlitz in Germany Anno
Christi M. DC. XII. on Tuesday after
the Day of Pentecost or Whitsunday
Ætatis suæ 37.
London, Printed by John Streater, for
Giles [sic] Calvert, and are be sold at
his Shop at the Black-spread-Eagle at
the West-End of Pauls, 1656.”

Could I represent this title-page by photography as it is, you would see “ DaySpring ” in lower-case letters ; but in the largest type of all, as if leading a flight, the “ Morning-Rednesse ” in broad smiling German text, the “ Dawning of the Day in the Orient ” in a long italic line which suggests the very expansion of the light; and the “ Sun ” in the very centre of the page, as if all else were concentrated there ; the word itself being made still terser, if possible, by the old-fashioned spelling, since it reads briefly “ SVN.”

Or consider such a magnificent hurling together of stately and solemn words as this; the whole Judgment Day of the Universe, as it were, brought together into a title-page : —

“ Signatura Rerum :
or the
Signature of all Things:
shewing
The Sign, and Signification of the severall
Forms and Shapes in the
Creation:
And what the
Beginning, Ruin, and Cure of every
Thing is ; it proceeds out of Eternity
into Time,
and again out of Time into Eternity,
and comp-
rizeth All Mysteries.
Written in High Dutch, MDCXXII.
By Jacob Behmen,
aliàs
Teutonicus Phylosophus.
London,
Printed by John Macock, for Gyles Cal-
vert, at the black spread
Eagle, at the West end of Pauls Church,
1651.”

Here again the words “ Beginning, Ruin, and Cure ” are given in large italic letters, and I never open the book without a renewed sensation of awe, very much as if I were standing beside that gulf which yawned at Lisbon in 1755, and had seen those 30,000 human beings swallowed up before my eyes.

We do not sufficiently appreciate, in modern books, the condensed and at least readable title-pages which stand sentinel, as it were, at their beginning. We forget how much more easily the books of two centuries ago were left unread, inasmuch as the title-page was apt to be in itself as long as a book. Take, for instance, this quaint work, not to be found in Allibone’s Dictionary of Authors, but owing its authorship to “ J. Bland, Professor of Physic,” who published in 1773, at London, “An Essay in Praise of Women ; or a Looking Glass for Ladies to see their Perfections in with Observations how the Godhead seemed concerned in their Creation; what Respect is due to them on that Account; how they have behaved in all Ages and especially in our Saviour’s Time.” Thus begins the title-page, which is as long as an ordinary chapter, and closes thus : “ Also Observations and Reflections in Defense against base and satirical Authors, proving them not only erroneous and diabolical but repugnant to Holy Scripture. The Whole being a Composition of Wit and Humor, Morality and Divinity fit to be perused by all the curious and ingenious, especially the Ladies.” After this title-page, it is asking too much of any one to read the book, unless it be to study the manner in which the tea-table, now held so innocent, had, in 1733, such associations of luxury and extravagance that Professor J. Bland is compelled to implore husbands not to find fault with it. “ More harmless liquor could never be invented than the ladies in this age have made choice of. What is so pleasant and grateful to the taste as a dish of tea, sweetened with fine loaf sugar? What more innocent banquet could have ever been in use than this? and what more becoming conversation than the inoffensive, sweet and melodious expressions of the fair ones over an entertainment so much like themselves ? ”

Or let us turn to one of the early American books, “The Columbian Muse, a Selection of American Poetry from various Authors of Established Reputation. Published in New York in 1794.” The most patriotic American could not now read it with patience, yet the most unpatriotic cannot deny its quaint and fervent flavor. It is full of verses on the President’s birthday and the genius of America ; and of separate odes on American sages, American poets, and American painters. The monotonous couplets, the resounding adjectives, the personifications, the exclamation points, all belong to their period, the time when “ Inoculation, heavenly maid ” was deemed an appropriate opening for an ode. The very love poetry was patriotic and bore the title “ On Love and the American Fair,” by Colonel Humphreys, who also contributes a discourse on “ The Future State,” which turns out to refer to “ Western Territory.” Aside from the semi-political allusions there is no local coloring whatever, except that Richard Alsop in an elegy written in February, 1791, gives the very first instance, so far as I know, of an allusion in verse to any flower distinctively American : —

“ There the Wild-Rose in earliest pride shall bloom,
There the Magnolia’s gorgeous flowers unfold,
The purple Violet shed its sweet perfume:
And beauteous Meadia wave her plumes of gold.”

This last plant, though not here accurately described, must evidently have been the Dodecatheon Meadia, or “ Shooting Star.” This is really the highest point of Americanism attained in the dingy little volume ; the low-water mark being clearly found when we read in the same volume the work of a poet then known as “ W. M. Smith, Esq.,” who could thus appeal to American farmers to celebrate a birthday : —

“ Shepherds, then, the chorus join,
Haste the festive wreath to twine :
Come with bosoms all sincere,
Come with breasts devoid of care ;
Bring the pipe and merry lay,
’T is Eliza’s natal day.”

Wordsworth says in his Personal Talk,

“ Dreams, books are each a world ; ”

and the books unread mingle with the dreams and unite the charm of both. This applies especially, I think, to books of travel; we buy them, finding their attractions strong, but somehow we do not read them over and over, unless they prove to be such books as those of Urquhart, — the Pillars of Hercules especially, where the wealth of learning and originality is so great that we seem in a different region of the globe on every page. One of the most poetic things about Whittier’s temperament lay in this fact, that he felt most eager to visit each foreign country before he had read any book about it. After reading, the dream was half fulfilled, and he turned to something else, so that he died without visiting any foreign country. But the very possession of such books, and their presence on the shelves, carries one to the Arctic regions or to the Indian Ocean. No single book of travels in Oceanica, it may be, will last so long as that one stanza of Whittier’s, —

“ I know not where Thine islands lift
Their fronded palms in air ;
But this I know, I cannot drift
Beyond Thy love and care.”

How often have I known that poem to be recited by those who did not even know the meaning of the word “ fronded ”! It is the poet, not the explorer or the geographer, who makes the whole round world his own.

‘ After all,” as the brilliant and melancholy Rufus Choate said, “ a book is the only immortality ; ” and sometimes when a book is attacked and even denounced, its destiny of fame is only confirmed. Thus the vivacious and cheery Pope, Pio Nono, when asked by a too daring author to help on his latest publication, suggested that he could only aid it by putting it in the Index Expurgatorius. Yet if a book is to be left unread at last, the fault must ultimately rest on the author, even as the brilliant Lady Eastlake complained, when she wrote of modern English novelists, “ Things are written now to be read once, and no more ; that is, they are read as often as they deserve. A book in old times took five years to write and was read five hundred times by five hundred people. Now it is written in three months, and read once by five hundred thousand people. That’s the proper proportion.”

Thomas Wentworth Higginson.