Beware the Librarian!
THERE was a time when the warning “ Beware of Pickpockets! ” was common in public places, and the belief prevailed that the crooks themselves posted the notices to make men betray their hidden valuables. The similitude in the present instance will not bear pressure. Though I, who bid you beware of the librarian, am myself an amateur librarian at present, it does not follow that I have designs upon the members of the Club.
Quite otherwise in fact. For the members of the Club are the game that the librarian hunts, inasmuch as all of them have written books, or are planning to write them. And I, too, have written books, and so am classed among the hunted as well as among the hunters. Logically, I am in the position of the squirrel in a cage, pursuing my own self into vertiginous abstractions of perpetual pursuit and perpetual capture. Practically, there is no conflict. I am more author than librarian, make of either as little as you please. For this is true: one can be a librarian only temporarily, but one stays an author long after he is dead. Therefore I stand with the Club. Because, once having assumed it, there is no getting rid of our authorship, and because the librarians subject us to cruel and abusive treatment, I wish to lay before the Club some of our wrongs and to inquire what we are going to do about it.
In the first place, the librarian has a mania for digging up long-forgotten names. It is more than zeal in a good cause. It is a passion like the gossipmonger’s, and it spares nothing. He will tear up your family history and the graveyards and the old town records and the files of the newspapers, to prove that you should bear an uncouth or heterogeneous collection of names, too great a burden for Bunyan’s Christian; or that you have married four times at least, or have sailed under the Jolly Roger of a pseudonym, or have dishonored your parents by lopping off the least desirable of their baptismal gifts. If you were christened Maggie May, and have by degrees adapted it into Margaret Vere, keep your guilty secret — if you can; if you can’t, not only will it be no secret, but it will be blazoned upon the cards in every Carnegie library in the land that you are only Maggie May. Even marriage must be made with prudence. You may write of love at first sight, but it behooves you in your own case, if a woman, to look well to the man’s name. After having earned laurels wellwon as a Schuyler Crowninshield, would you have it written of you, “ (now Mrs. Alonzo Boggs) ” ? Nothing is forgiven here, and verily those who enter leave hope behind.
An example. There was once a man whose name was Charles Dickens. At least he said it was that, and his biographers, honest men we thought, said it was that, and all who loved him called him nothing different. It is changed now, though. After a long search over the carddrawers, a Little Girl with a scrap of paper twisted about her forefinger, comes to Information. “ Have you got this book ? — I want a book; — it is — it is called A Christmas Carol, and the man’s name was Charles Dickens. But you have n’t got any Charles Dickens here, for I have looked and looked, and there is n’t any, only a Dickens, C. H. J. Is his Christmas Carol any good to read ? ” No, my dear, it is not! The only Dickens is Charles Dickens, the only carol, his Christmas Carol. Beware of impostors! All other Dickenses are the invention of the librarian.
Also, again, there was once a soul whom we knew as George Eliot. Whose the body that went with the soul did not so much matter, for all that was known of her for many years answered to the name of George Eliot. Later, she became Mrs. Cross, and if the librarian, to keep a rule of uniformity, refers us to that name, we accept it as hers. “ Marian Evans Cross ” is not an ill-sounding name. But here comes in the librarians’ esoteric information:— “Cross, Mrs. Marian Ann (Evans),” they say. Now who would name a child “ Mary Double Ann ” ? And why, if they did, should we perpetuate it ? But this is not the worst. One of the foremost libraries in the land sanctions this form: “ Cross, Mrs. M. A. (E.) L.” But what, in heaven’s name does that “ L ” stand for ? Why, I remember reading letters of hers, written in her own most gracious script, as round as pearls, and as fair as copperplate (purple the ink, after the fashion of the seventies), and they were signed, “Marian ” — ah! that’s it! —they were signed, “ Marian Lewes.” So the “ L ” is for “ Lewes,” a name to which she had not the shadow of a legal right, which she never wrote under, and which she seemed to wish to efface by her belated marriage.
Is it not a bitter irony that the librarian has so little thought or care of an author who has deserved so well at his hands?
Sometimes good work is done upon the title. This is referred to the publishers, since they are close at hand.
NUMBER FOUR PARK STREET,
DEAR SIRS :— Please send by return mail two copies of Melibœus-Hipponax of your catalogue.
It is hoped that they will not say that it is out of print; we only wanted Lowell’s Biglow Papers. The Library School Rules (fifth edition, page 24, sample card twelve), showing how to write “ partial titles,” actually gives as the full title, “ Melibœus-Hipponax; the Biglow Papers.”
But look in the book, my dear sir! The compound is there, above the other; but note the print: in the octavo volume at my hand, a light-face minion italic type, set off by a 1¼ʺ rule from all that follows, with a period, not a semi-colon, between. If types express anything, as some artists in typography think they do, this was never intended for any part of the title. It is to say, as by way of foretaste, “ Here’s sunthin’ for you in the pastoral line. If you look for Virgil’s stately measure and Melibœus discoursing melodiously to Tityrus beneath the shady beech, my scrannel pipe grates no such tune. A second Hipponax I, lame, ugly, spiteful sometimes, a caricature myself, making limping verses. Quite a different sort of ‘ Pastoral ’ from Virgil’s I give you, and yet, though a poor thing, ’t is mine own.”
These are some of the eccentricities of the trained librarian in his dealing with authors. With the public he has devised a system of abbreviations of proper names which admirably achieves its end of obscuration. By a week or so of hard study one can learn that D: is David, D . . is Delia; that E: stands for Edward and E . . for Elizabeth; that J followed by a colon is John, by a semi-colon is Johann, by an inverted semi-colon is Jean; he is very nearly as well off as if he knew nothing at all about it and merely made a good guess. A hundred proper names or more can be expressed in this unenlightening manner, some of them possibly with a show of reason. But after we have admitted so much, we have still to inquire why A : a should be Augusta,and A : inus be Augustinus. There’s something so horridly improper-looking about “ Wilson, Mrs. A: a J . . [Evans] ” that I doubt if I ever have the courage to ask the librarian if she has a copy of St. Elmo.
But the point of moment to the Club is, what is being done with our own names ? Have we no rights in them ? Is n’t an author’s name his trade-mark ? If the makers of satins and sausages, by running together two or three misspelled words, can produce a nondescript which the law recognizes as their own, not to be misused or altered, why cannot the author claim rights in his own name in such form as he chooses to place it upon his books ? Is n’t the author’s right in his product nearly as integral as the sausage-maker’s is in his? If we buy books under the name of Hall Caine, why must we call for them in the public library as the works of Thomas Henry Hall Caine? We know no such man. Charles John Cutcliffe Wright Hyne is a mere librarian’s fetish, quite apart from the creator of the genial cut-throats who have given us pleasure. Why should the librarian be privileged to obscure to us the authors whom we seek, and to force unpalatable names upon a reluctant public? “ What business have you,” pertinently demanded Orgetorix of Cæsar, “ in this Gaul of mine which I have conquered ? ”
There are cases wherein this over-zeal of the librarian works a real hardship. If your parents had called you Lucaby Ophelia, or Oxirene, or Elphameo Mascledo, or Vesta Annira (all actual names) who could blame you for ” calling yourself ” by some other name ? There was a family once — we will call them Toodles, for they were real folk — who were long on good names. Not to mention the others, there was Juan Fernandez Island Toodles, and there was little Sir Walter Scott Bart Toodles. If you were born a baronet at both ends of your name, what could you do if the librarian stuck her claws into you ? It is a serious matter. Why, under existing conditions, little Europeeny Wiggs must exhale the odor of the Cabbage Patch, even though she writes an encyclopædia. In brackets or in parentheses, if she attempt to hide the fact, it will be heralded abroad that she was born of poor and ignorant parents. Perhaps the case is your own. Know then: revamp with never so much ingenuity; drop out the Scroggins or the Noggins which held the (unfulfilled) hope of testamentary favors from the rich great-aunt; erase your diminutives; change Essie into Josephine and Effie into
Appiah; elide your Mary Eliza into the more presentable Mareliza, and soften your Hannah Jane to Anna J.: still you carry a guilty secret, and the librarian — you know it, you fear it, you believe it — is going to find you out.