A Tale of Caprice

LISTEN, gentle reader, to this tale of human caprice. If I were not in danger of giving utterance to a platitude, I should remind you that fact is often-times stranger than fiction; for no imaginative gesture of my own could more defiantly challenge your credulity than the following — which is the bare truth, and nothing more.

I was the recipient, some days ago, of a printed announcement displaying a list of the new titles added to the shelves of a certain public library during the last few months. I read the announcement from the beginning to the end, and then from the end to the beginning. I shall probably read it again, when I see this in print, just to reassure myself, and if you want a look also I will see to that as well.

At first I thought Don Stewart was playing a practical joke — or was it Stephen Leacock? Then I suspected the typesetter. Now I put it up to you.

You know what a library circular looks like? A prosaic white sheet with the usual headings — fiction, biography, religion, travel, juveniles, and the others. Well, this one conformed mechanically, even to the symmetrical list of authors and titles. I glanced at the books listed under the heading, ‘Useful Arts.’ I had always wondered what they were. I saw ‘ BOGUE, B. N. — Stammering: Its Cause and Cure.’ I supposed that it was the ‘cure’ that was the ‘useful art,’ and read on to ‘CURRIER, A. F. — How to Keep Well.' A useful art, certainly, although I had always thought that health was a science. Then came ‘PAGE, W. H. — A Publisher’s Confession.' Well, I reflected in passing, one sure way to keep well is to keep out of publishing. Rather clever to slip those two volumes in together!

‘Fine Arts’ was the next heading. This selection began with Atkinson’s Women on the Farm and ended with Wilcox’s Mah-Jongg. Yes, most women on a farm would play MahJongg. Why not? Intermediate titles were artistically grouped as follows: Mayer’s Jungle Beasts I Have Captured, Courtney Ryley Cooper’s Lions ’n Tigers ’n Everything, a volume on Ideal Homes, and Hatcher Hughes’s Hell-Bent for Heaven. I read the heading again and then proceeded. Practical Amateur Photography had its place next to Durant’s Taming the Wildings. Of course! A photograph produced at the psychological moment is helpful in any conquest. This is indeed one of the finest of the arts.

‘Sociology.’ Here I encountered ‘ARNOLD, J. H. — The Debater’s Guide.' So that’s what sociology is — being able to outtalk the other fellow! This section also included Richardson’s Diplomatic Education and a manual on Seat Weaving. Was there a subtle connection here, I wondered? ‘Natural Science ’ revealed Corke’s Wild Flowers As They Grow and A. E. Wiggam’s Fruit of the Family Tree, in subtle juxtaposition. I read on. Barrington’s romance of Nelson and Lady Hamilton, The Divine Lady, appeared under ‘Fiction,’ while M. Maurois’s Ariel received the sanction of ‘History.’ Beveridge’s Art of Public Speaking was divorced from its spouse, The Debater’s Guide, and thrown in under ‘Literature.’

‘Philosophy’ disclosed but two titles: Fosdick’s Twelve Tests of Character and Stearns’s Challenge of Youth. Surely here was something else that Horatio had never dreamt of. Why relegate Principal Stearns’s practical solution of the schoolboy problem to this classification, I wondered, and why not let the collection of sermons by Dr. Fosdick skip two lines below and fall in under ‘Religion’? After all, he seems to be identified with it.

Why call Struthers Burt’s essays on Dude Wrangling ‘Travel,’ and why herd Anzia Yezierska’s autobiography, Children of Loneliness, with its marked sociological significance, into the fiction pen? And again, why put John Addington Symonds down as the author of The Life of Benvenuto Cellini? His translation is undoubtedly the best, but let us at least give the militant master-jeweler credit for his tedious hours with quill and foolscap. I found my questions coming thick and fast.

The ‘Literature’ collection reminded me of a pound of assorted candy from one of the Happiness stores — something to suit every taste. RingLardner, John Masefield, Agnes Repplier, the Haddock family, Samuel Crothers, and Lafcadio Hearn all got the same cover over them some way. And — I hesitate to tell you — Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Harp-Weaver had jumped into the same box with Songs and Ballads of the Maine Lumberjacks!

What more is there to say — except that the library is not, as you supposed, a one-room affair above the railroad station at Shade Gap, Iowa? It happens to be — and more’s the pity — a nice new red-brick building, embellished with busts of Dante and Shakespeare, facing the much-traveled Boston Post Road at a point not so far from the erstwhile country seat of one Elihu Yale.

But wait! I knew I should say that. (I think Professor Tinker corrected me the last time.) A library, gentle reader, is never a nice new building, red-brick or otherwise. A library, if there is one, is always found inside.