Delights of the Periodical Index
CHARLES LAMB classified time-tables and dictionaries as “books which are not books.” Without doubt he would have included the Index to Periodical Literature, if such a monument of industry and patience had existed in his day. Whether it may be termed a book or not, a most charming volume of approximately five hundred pages appears each January, containing a list of the magazine articles of the preceding year. What a feast for the imagination! What a world of suggestion is to be found in these titles, each of which has been as carefully and succinctly worded as a telegram! Every one remembers, in the old rhetoric, the “suggested topics for composition;”and who is there who has not planned famous essays, which he never found the time to write, upon “ An exciting moment,” or, “How the farm looked when I went back”? Here, however, we have real compositions which have actually been written, and published, and paid for, and which we may consult if we are so inclined.
Turn the pages of the index of 1906 for a moment, and see if your interest and curiosity are not aroused by such titles as, People who have eaten books; Why do the hands of a jeweler’s dummy watch point to 18 minutes past 8 o’clock ? Can we keep sober? Cat fear; Feigning death; Chairs designed for the prevention of seasickness; Sermons in stomach stones; Significance of throwing the shoe; Conscience at the custom house; Spanked through Europe; Disadvantages of durability; Baedeker in the making; Machine that smokes cigars; Disagreeable books; Children and their pets in the San Francisco fire; Passing of the attic; Do women enjoy each other ? Burbanking the flea. And so on throughout the list, many a title suggesting a train of thought, or affording an entertainment that, very possibly, would not be found in the article itself.
Again, one finds an occasional article which might prove interesting or profitable to his friends, as, The vice of generalizing; New method of treating red noses; Obstinacy in conversation; Woman inquiring about trains; Honesty in the ministry; Diet delusions; The beneficial effects of coffee as a drink.
Writers do not write, nor readers read, what does not interest them. It is therefore with increased faith in human nature that one observes the evident striving for better things. By far the longest lists are those labeled: Bible, Christian, Church, Colleges, Education, Missions, Religion, Temperance. There are also hundreds of discussions of definite problems of improvement of present conditions; for example : Child labor, Corporations, Insurance investigation, Meat inspection, Municipal ownership. Patent medicines.
As a yearly record of the rise and fall of fads, which we Americans follow with such enthusiasm, the index is interesting. In the present number, for instance, we find whole columns of titles treating of the automobile, by the side of ten lonely articles on the once popular game of golf.
Also the year’s progress in the solution of those seemingly impossible problems with which a few untiring souls are ever persistently struggling, is to be found under headings like. Aerial navigation; Cotton-picking machine; Cow-milking machine; Tuberculosis.
As a résumé of the events of the year, which succeed one another with such rapidity that they are in danger of being crowded from the memory, one reads with profit headings like the following: Susan B. Anthony; Christian IX, King of Denmark; Marshall Field; William Rainey Harper; Henrik Ibsen; Joseph Wheeler; Centenary of William Lloyd Garrison ; Bicentenary celebration of Benjamin Franklin; 70th Birthday of Mark Twain; Fallières, President of France; Haakon VII, King of Norway; Panama Canal; Building the new Campanile; Eruption of Vesuvius; Valparaiso ruined by an earthquake; Destruction of San Francisco; Great Simplon tunnel; Tunneling the East River; The new Salton Sea; Towing the Dewey dock 14,000 miles; Esperanto; Fonetik refawrm.
Finally, there is real consolation for the literary novice in the observation that the best known and most prolific writers scarcely average one article a month in the best magazines.