Monday, January 14, 2013

Sir Walter Scott on his bookshelves

January's letters party continues, this time with lines sent by Sir Walter Scott to Lady Louisa Stuart on February 21, 1825:
Dread, my dear Lady Louisa, that in preferring some comely quarto to a shabby duodecimo, your Ladyship may be rejecting the editio princeps. Consider that in banishing some antiquated piece of polissonnerie you may destroy the very work for which the author lost his ears two centuries since, and which has become almost priceless. Then there are so many reasons for not parting with duplicates, for they may have a value in being tall, or a value in being short, or perhaps in having the leaves uncut, or some peculiar and interesting misprint in a particular passage, that there is no end to the risque of selection. So much for Bibliomania. But besides the whims of the book-collectors, there are real and serious reasons why books should not be discarded but with the utmost caution. Many useless in themselves are curious as marking manners. Many neglected and run down when they appeared and ill spoken of by contemporary critics, contain much nevertheless that is worthy of notice and preservation. These fall asleep like the chrysalis, and awaken to glitter in the sun of popularity like the butterfly. I firmly believe I could bring myself to send nothing to the bookstalls excepting school books and ordinary editions of English Classics, and that should be done with great caution.
Two quick thoughts:

1. Why have I never opened a letter with "Dread"? Must remedy that. (Though preferably with an exclamation point: "Dread!"

2. Scott could take such a position on keeping every book that crossed his threshold, because oh, what a threshold!

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