Sometimes, when I have bought a book that I did not seriously need, and could not afford, and am a little ashamed go home, I make an inscription in it: 'To my dear wife, upon her birthday; many happy returns.' This works, up to a point, the chief drawback being that it is applicable to only one brief period of the year. So I substitute for it sometimes a formula that can be used in the spring instead of in the fall: 'To my dear husband, from his loving Harriet'; or, 'From Harriet to Carl. Many happy returns.' I recommend these methods, merely suggesting that their success will necessarily depend somewhat upon the tact and skill of the performer—as also upon the temper of the party of the second part.
Sometimes I employ a method with still more indirection in it. I go into Holmes's Second-Hand Bookstore,—truly, as his advertisement has it, 'There is no place like Holmes,' and there I find a half-dozen novels. They are finely bound, and printed in large type, and constitute a series. The name of the original owner has been scrupulously removed, and they are in fine condition. One of them is Smolett's Humphrey Clinker, another is Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, a third is Charles Reade's It Is Never Too Late to Mend. There are six of them, and they can be had for the ridiculous price of $3.35. No man in his right mind would pass up such a bargain. So I buy them. I take them to my study at the church. I carefully distribute them around among the stock already on hand, so that none but an extremely discerning person would observe that anything had been added. After a few weeks, I take one of them home, and carelessly leave it on the sitting-room table.
'What is this?' says the head-of-the-family, as we sit down before the fire in the evening.
'What is what?' I ask, as if unaware that there is anything.
'This book?' she says.
'Which one?' I ask. 'Oh, that,' I say, looking hard at it as if to recall some old, forgotten circumstance; 'that's something that has been kicking around down at the study for quite a while.'
The six books, being all alike on the outside, can thus be introduced, one after another, into the house, in a period of a few weeks, without commotion of any sort.
Some few books I have, of course, that I have not bought. It pleases me remember that, when my father died, thirty years ago, he had on his study table John Fiske's Idea of God and Destiny of Man, and Robertson Smith's Old Testament in the Jewish Church; they were new at the time, and they were indicative of the position to which a man who got his theological training before the Civil War had worked himself out. I prize also a book of Scotch poems, called Scotia's Bards, not merely because my father used to read aloud out of it, but because I remember when mother planned to buy it as a birthday present for him, and the local dealer had to send to Chicago for it, and all of us who were in the secret feared it would not arrive in time; but it did. Some such books carry a lot of personal immortality with them.