Tastes

“MY latest fad,” said Harrington, “is this little library of the greatest names in literature. It is by no means complete, but the nucleus is there.”

When Harrington speaks of his fads he does himself injustice. The world might think them fads, or worse. But I, who know the man, know that his fondness for things out of the way, insignificant, or neglected, is something more than eccentricity, something more than a collector’s appetite run amuck. In reality, Harrington’s soul goes out to the worthless objects he frequently brings together into odd little museums. He loves them precisely because they are insignificant. His whole life has been a silent protest against the arrogance of success, of high merit, of rare value. His heart is always on the side of the Untermensch, a name given by the Germans, a learned people, to what we call the under-dog.

“My collection,” said Harrington, “is as yet confined almost entirely to authors in the English language. Here is my Shakespeare, a first edition, I believe, though undated. The year, I presume, was about 1875. The title, you see, is comprehensive: The Nature of Evaporating Inflammations in Arteries after Ligature, Accupressure, and Torsion. Edward O. Shakespeare, who wrote the book, is not a debated personality. His authorship of the book is unquestioned, and I assure you it is a comfort to handle a text which you know left its author’s mind exactly as it now confronts you in the page.

“Next to the Shakespeare you find my Dickens volumes, two in number. Albert Dickens published, in 1904, his Tests of Forest Trees. It has been praised in authoritative quarters as an excellent work of its kind. An older book is Dickens’s Continental A. B. C., a railway guide which I am fond of thinking of as the probable instrument of a vast amount of human happiness. Imagine the fond meetings and reunions which this chubby little book has made possible — husbands and wives, fathers and children, lovers, who from the most distant corners of the earth have sought and found each other by means of the Dickens railway time-tables. To how many beds of illness has it brought a comforter, to how many habitations of despair — but I must not preach. I call your attention to the next volume, Byron, From the title, A Handbook of lake Minnetonka, you will perceive that it is in the same class as my Dickens.”

Harrington drew his handkerchief to wipe the dust from a thin octavo in sheepskin. “This Emerson,”he said, “is the earliest in date of my Americana. William Emerson’s A Sermon on the Decease of the Rev. Peter Thacher appeared in 1802, at a time when people still thought it worth while to utilize the death of a good man by putting him into a book for the edification of the living. The adjoining two volumes are by Spencer. Charles E. Spencer’s Rue, Thyme, and Myrtle is a sheaf of dainty poetry which was very popular in Philadelphia during the second decade after the Civil War. Do we still write poetry as single-heartedly as people did? It may be. Perhaps we might find out by comparing this other volume by Edwin Spencer, Cakes and Ale, published in 1897, with the Philadelphia Spencer of forty years ago.

“ I must hurry you through the rest of my books,” said Harrington. “Thomas James Thackeray’s The Soldier’s Manual of Rifle-Firing appeared in 1858, and undoubtedly had its day of usefulness. Thomas Kipling was professor of divinity at Cambridge University toward the end of the eighteenth century. In 1793 he edited the volume I now hold in my hand, Codex Bezœ, one of the most precious of our extant MSS. of the New Testament. I like to think of that fine old Cambridge professor’s name as bound up with patient, self-effacing scholarship and a highly developed spirituality. But I digress. Cast your eye over this little group of foreign writers. Here is Dumas, — Jean Baptiste Dumas, — whose Leçons sur la philosophic chimique, delivered in 1835, were considered worthy of being published thirty years later. The quaint volume that comes next is by Du Maurier, who was French ambassador to the Hague about 1620. The title, in the Dutch, is Propositie gedan door den Heere van Maurier, etc.—Propositions advanced by the Sieur du Maurier, one of the Regent’s able and merry-hearted diplomats, I take it. And here is Goethe; he would repay your reading. Rudolf Goethe’s Mitteilungen ueber Obstund Gartenbau is one of the best books of the present day in its field.

“And finally,” said Harrington with a flash of pride quite unusual in him, “the treasure of my little library — Homer; again a first edition.”

“Homer!” I cried. “An editio princeps !

“Nearly one hundred and fifty years old,” he said. “The Rev. Henry Homer deserved well of his British countrymen when he gave to the world — it was in 1767 — his Inquiry into the Measures of Preserving and Improving the Publick Roads of this Kingdom.”

Harrington sat down and eyed me doubtfully as if awaiting an unfavorable opinion. His face quite lit up when I hastened to assure him that his library was one of the most impressive collections it had ever been my good fortune to come across.

“Very few collections,” I told him, “bear the impress of a personality. As a rule they are shopfuls of costly masterpieces such as any multi-millionaire may have if he does n’t prefer horses or monkey dinners. But how often does one find a treasure-house like yours, Harrington, revealing an exquisitely discriminating taste in cooperation with the bold originality of the true amateur?”