1905 Catalogue Foreword
Long have I felt that writing in the third person obscured that which for years I have held most at heart. And now I am impelled to the more direct course of coming, as it were, to a closer grip with friends known and unknown.
Often I have been asked: “Had you any motive other than that of craftsmanship in your shaping of material?” In answer, I like to assert my belief that my choice has been, and is, guided by a unifying principle which is responsible for whatever I may select or discard. Confessedly, my work has opened the gates of a luminous world to me. And for this very reason I would transmit what light I may to others, even as in races of old relays of runners passed on the burning torch.
I am convinced that in literature alone is to be found and cherished the personal might which brings together vanished past and living present. Hence, what I have learned of storm and sun, may I not in my books make over to the men and women who reach out through intellectual sympathy and touch hands with me? The soul of literature is not a dead soul. Its poets and prophets are forever vocable, creating a divine unrest which must unite us all as Brethren of the Book.
And what do I offer you? This season I bring out a work which seems to me to be the ultimate expression of all that is best and deepest, a glorious gospel constituting the one thing craved spiritually in this unstable world of Here and Now. In the last days of Herbert Spencer’s life on earth there crept into that mighty intellect what may well be described as a terror of the Universe. The unthinkable infinitude of space became an obsession. Matthew Arnold speaks of the Greek conception of life as one wherein men and women were conceivably neither sick nor sorry. Compare with these two conceptions The Book Of Heavenly Death and tell me if Whitman does not possess what Greek and Englishman alike lacked? This Book is not a mere series of paragraphs skilfully welded into apparent harmony but an organic, living whole–a symphony of mightiest meaning based on the rock of Evolution with one thing more added–Love. And this, O friends whom I may never meet or greet other than in these words, is what I would have you finally consider. Does it not begin to be plain that there is design in what I would convey to you?
To sum up: in this Catalogue I have had a definite aim even in my selection of what others have said concerning the books I publish. There is no one quotation not the result of careful thought. The poems given at length were not included merely to fill blank spaces. And in the passages printed on the final page you are to read what I have read and can only read as a revelation to the Soul of Man, placed last because when “all else of dear and desirable” is at an end such truths as these remain.
“Kinsman, learn this:
The artist’s market is the heart of man;
The artist’s price, some little good of man.
Tease not thy vision with vain search for ends.
The End of Means is art that works by love,
The End of Ends . . . in God’s Beginning’s lost.”
THOMAS B MOSHER.
1906 Catalogue Foreword
“IN THE BRIGHT LEXICON OF YOUTH”
I do not doubt that the passionately-wept deaths of young men
are provided for.
Because many of the dearest associations of life are centered in and about books,–the tale read to a child by some loved voice forever stilled,–the poem recited under the wide and starry sky in hours of the soul that youth alone reveals to us,–I want to speak of my own experience at a period I can recall with precision, which after more than thirty years seems as of yesterday.
If I could have my wish granted I would re-live a summer’s brief vacation in Springfield, Massachusetts, where, in 1875, I found my friend to be, Leo, a youthful High School graduate of that city, whose bright day came to an unexpected end barely four years later.(1) At this formative epoch of our lives we read the poets old and new, Browning among moderns being our lodestar: —Paracelsus and The Ring and the Book to-day still weave their magic spell around me. Whitman was not absent from our thought though it must be confessed the Leaves did not pierce home to my heart and brain as they were destined to do a few years later in St. Louis. Extensive if, no doubt, superficial readings in Buckle, Draper, Lecky, Spencer, Darwin, Huxley, Mill, became joint enthusiasms in the few years we knew each other, and, as I find by reference to a little packet of Leo’s letters, our discussions took on a times a varied and even recondite air of investigation!
Thus, endowed with a gleam of the Vision Splendid, and like an earlier Marius and Flavian, (whose career as yet “upon the knees of the Gods,” we knew not of), we forsook the busy streets and book in hand lost ourselves on long rambles about the beautiful country roads, or, again, in light-oared skiff adventured the broad-bosomed river which steals past Agawan shore on its winding and willow-fringed way to meet and mingle with the flashing waters of the distant Sound.
Is it not well to speak of these things? This boy with his love of the True, the Beautiful, the Good, became my friend when conceivably without him I had suffered irreparable life-long loss,–a friendship still having its beneficent results in the best I may hope to achieve.
Now, whenever I open one of our books of that old time, I am comforted by the words wherein Caponsacchi takes leave of Pompilia:
“All This, how far away!
Mere delectation, meet for a minute’s dream!–
Just as a drudging student trims his lamp,
Opens his Plutarch, puts him in the place
Of Roman, Grecian; draws the patched gown close,
Dreams, “Thus should I fight, save or rule the world!”–
Then smilingly, contentedly, awakes
To the old solitary nothingness.
So I, from such communion, pass content.”
Moreover, I see that the thing of beauty in art, in letters, in music,–in a word the beauty of an idea,–is given to few to create, while to enjoy should be the inalienable birthright of all. Conceivably this thing of beauty might be hidden in the obscurity of woful types and wretched paper, at what risk of almost absolute effacement! You will say things are not quite so badly off in the realm of books: still very much of what I have produced worthily in America during the past fifteen years was discoverable only after diligent research and then largely in the shape of inedited texts or the limited luxury of a first and, intentionally, an only edition!
And so, to take leave of the subject, I accept Literature for what it seemed in those golden hours to my friend and myself, a guide with whom we could trust ourselves in the dark as with a lamp that the night of ages has never extinguished. What, think you, are all its messages and ministries if not addressed to this eternal need in the soul of man?
They cannot fail us–these “prayers of Saints that inly burned,” these words of seekers after the Perfect Way. How else evolve a deeper and undying music out of an otherwise dead and dumb Past,–a music begotten of the love and longing inseparable from “that little infinite thing the human heart?” It was the revelation of just this basic truth, which thirty years ago came to me and my friend, that I desire to transmit to others who may pass along our self-same way.
“There will come a time, when it shall be light; and when man shall awaken from his lofty dreams, and find his dreams still there, and that nothing has gone save his sleep.”
THOMAS B MOSHER.
(1) His full name was Leopold Lobsitz. He was born in New York City, October 1st, 1858, and came with his family to Springfield in 1864. His sudden death took place in Boston, at the Massachusetts General Hospital, February 17th, 1879. Father and mother have since followed their son, whose untimely end wrought such shipwreck of their earthly hopes.
1907 Catalogue Foreword
“THE VISION SPLENDID”
In that greet Ode by Wordsworth which first saw the light in print one hundred years ago, and which stands related to all other odes in the English language as a cedar of Lebanon stands yet towers above every other tree of the valley, are these chryselephantine lines:–
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But He beholds the light and whence it flows
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature’s Priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.
Is it then a foregone conclusion that this youthful awakening must in the nature of things depart or can we, as the poet would have us believe, retain and strengthen “these shadowy recollections” until they assume for us and for all who will the living semblance of “truths that wake, to perish never?” And if it indeed be so how may we best lay hold upon this wider prospect and become inheritors of the Divine Vision? It seems to me the answer is very clear: we may have part and parcel in “the years that bring the philosophic mind” through that Idealism which came in with our first clothes, and through Culture evolved out of the individual initiative, which again, in the final analysis, is Idealism raised to its highest power.
As John Addington Symonds tells us, Culture, while one of the “words which have been overworked” may nevertheless. be defined “as the raising of previously educated intellectual faculties to their highest potency by the conscious effort of their possessors.” We who have read Whitman attentively know that he did not look upon “culture” in this light: but as Symonds acutely remarks, “his arguments . . . are directed against the vulgar conception of culture, as an imitative smattering, a self-assertiveness of so-called cultivated people.” Undoubtedly both men were agreed that
Rhymes and rhymers pass away, poems distilled from poems pass away;
The swarms of reflectors and the polite pass, and leave ashes;
Admirers, importers, obediant persons, make but the soil of literature.
And concerning Idealism which is not of the Schools either to confer or take away, but which a liberal education can do much to foster, what may we say of it save that it is the underprop of any possible culture, the prerequisite basis underlying both Art and Books? “Literature, so long as it be idealistic, is the anodyne of the spirit, the mother of faith, the nurse of hope!”
You recall the volume of Sophocles that was found on the body of the drowned Shelley. Many of us have carried about memories of books each in its way as infinitely precious as this book was to the dead poet. It is the province of Literature, and of poetry and impassioned prose especially, to fasten themselves upon us: to wind their way into our heart of hearts, to make over to manhood and middle age and at last,–if it needs must come–to make over to old age even, the intellectual deposits of the sacred Past.
To what conclusion would I, therefore, bring you? To the sole viewpoint I had in mind, the “one thought ever at the fore” in the work I offer: that in it all and transfusing it all should be somewhat of this limitless vision–the Vision Splendid which does not fade away!
I think it demonstrable that work like this must of necessity be founded upon other than mere money values. More deeply than ever I feel the responsibility of my individuality in book-making, if such a phrase be permitted; and that on “this short day of frost and sun” if I have accomplished anything at all its worth issues out of the Ideal lying behind Reality.
Rest assured in Idealism there remains an abiding refuge which the Soul of Man has ever sought; that in Idealism alone we find justified and made perfect “our faith in the incompleteness of the world as we see it, and in the ultimate completeness of the Divine plan.”
THOMAS B. MOSHER.
1908 Catalogue Foreword
“SACRED THINGS NEVER DIE”
In every country where two kind of legal money are in circulation, the bad money always drives out the good.
SIR THOMAS GRESHAM.
In citing what is known to students of Political Economy as Gresham’s Law I have in mind a book that cannot be overpraised for its Idealism, wherein this law apparently is applied to Literature in our own immediate day and generation. The depth of the writer’s saturnine humour will surely come home to those of us who, like the heroine of Together, have dallied at any news-stand in any one of “the vast eighteen-story hotels of New York,” or elsewhere. Here is what we cannot choose but behold: “Gay little books, saucy little books, cheap little books, pleasant little books,–all making their bid to curtain cells in the grey matter of these sated human beings! A literature composed chiefly by women for women,–tons of wood pulp, miles of linen covers, rivers of ink, –all to feed the prevailing taste, like the ribbons, the jewels, the candy, the theatre tickets!”
Precisely! Go where we will in this broad land of ours, these “tons of wood pulp,” these “miles of linen covers” confront and confound us. Shall we therefore confess judgement and, admitting Mr. Robert Herrick to be in the right, admit also that this presentment of his is the ultimate outcome of Democracy in its literary uplift? Well, speaking from myself, I do not believe Mr. Herrick, even for a moment, so considers it. Like a good physician he first makes sure of his diagnosis. There are the symptoms: the remedy, if such there be, “is all within.” For cure, (and I accept his entire novel as an argument of passionate intensity in favour of “a new light, a new life,”) the real cure comes from what you and I, meaning all who are of like-mindedness, may do to set in motion and sustain a higher law than that controlling a mere monetary currency. Even in the worst reactionary period do you and I seriously believe there ever was any actual danger of the higher being driven out by the lower intellectual coinage? The currency of the Soul, conceivably, is of another order and of a substance more enduring,–more excellent!
“Be not discouraged, keep on, there are divine things well envelop’d,
I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.”
There is, then, let us say, no Gresham’s Law prevailing in the realm of Books: say, rather, in the audit of the years the base and the bad find their own place; that the words of the Spirit are the only inevitable rulers of “that little infinite thing” the Soul of Man. In a passage doubtless very familiar but which cannot be too often quoted, Emerson transcribes what, for him and for many another gone before him, must have been an actual experience: “The young mortal enters the hall of the firmament: he is alone with them [the gods] alone, they pouring on him benedictions and gifts, and beckoning him up to their thrones. On the instant, and incessantly, fall snow-storms of illusions. He fancies himself in a vast crowd which sways this way and that, and whose movements and doings he must obey; he fancies himself poor, orphaned, insignificant . . . Every moment new changes and new showers of deceptions, to baffle and distract him. And when, by-and-by for an instant, the air clears, and the cloud lifts a little, there are the gods still sitting around him on their thrones,–they alone with him alone.”
I do not know if this has been used before as an illustration of what arises in one’s own mind at the outset of literary study: the perturbation, the seeming incoherence, the planless, pathless jungle one must encounter on his way to the Light. Even so these are the conditions and the reward,–if we press on to the Reality beyond all veils of outer Seeming,–is that vision of the Abiding Ones: they alone with us alone!
This then is the thought impressing itself as a finality, and these the words, chosen from Mr. Robert Herrick’s latest and greatest novel, which I adopt as my title: Sacred things never die! Not illusions, and not death, “but always a new world, a new light, a new life;” realities you and I are finding all around us and, as book-lover, and book-maker, have been able in some satisfying degree to impart each to the other. Hence, in the last analysis of our beliefs, there remains for us a basic law of Joy and Peace summed and sealed up in a single word: “Ecstasy, the secret behind the stars, beyond the verge of the sea, in the great lunar spaces of the spirit.”
“And I saw that there was an Ocean of Darkness and Death: but an infinite Ocean of Light and Love flowed over the Ocean of Darkness: and in that I saw the infinite Love of God.”
THOMAS BIRD MOSHER.
1909 Catalogue Foreword
“THE GREAT COMPANIONS”
“Allons! after the great Companions, and to belong to them! . . . .
They go! they go! I know that they go, but I know not where they go,
But I know that they go toward the best–toward something great.”
Of Late much has been heard of the three or five foot shelf of books, which, perused with diligence, possibly would lead on to the liberal education that has been, presumably, beyond reach of the average man and woman in America. We are reminded also of the Best Hundred Books which came at an earlier period and did so much for the publisher and so little for those who pinned their faith to this crass method of laying hold upon the intellectual treasure-trove of the ages. These rough and ready schemes undoubtedly keep the word of promise to the ear: whether they do not succeed in breaking it to the heart is a question that I for one rather leave open or frankly dispute.
In other words, I do not believe that all the systems of culture in the world can bring either you or me into touch with literature unless there are associations of ideas slowly developed and, if I must say so, subject to spiritual laws almost impossible of definition. What were the first books, the first poems that attracted us? Again, speaking for myself, I say those chosen at haphazard, the chance acquaintance one might conceivably form in the winding and not very reputable byways of an old city–of Bookland. I once mentioned how I came to the appreciation of Virgil, or what for the most of us is all we can know of Virgil–in translation. It was chance, but the time was ripe for it, that first brought me within hail of that wonderful drift-heap of three centuries known as Old Plays. The same applies to almost everything else absorbed from books that I have endeavoured to make over to others.
Of old it was said, memory draws from a deep well: within us, waiting to emerge, a chance touch may reveal an unsuspected continuity linking the Rose Mystica of love beheld of Catullus with the least last versifier, who is yet of the singing ones of all ages– to-day as of yesterday and so on forever. I confess I cared little for coins until I saw one recently which cancelled in a moment the eighteen centuries that had elapsed since it was current. It was by no means an uncommon coin as numismatists reckon it, this piece of metal bearing the image and superscription of the wife of Antoninus Pius, the daughter of Annius Verus, the mother of Faustina the Younger, who in turn was the wife of Marcus Aurelius and mother of Commodus. Pater, in a memorable chapter of Marius the Epicurean, brings the court life of the great Stoic emperor before us. Thus, the coin glanced at casually, mere lump of bronze begrimed and battered and in a dealer’s tray, evoked Faustina and the desire for her image and superscription. This, then, was the beauty lurking at the heart of things which Swinburne also saw in a London street, with the result that the world possesses a poem which may well outlast the Roman eagles.
Once again: in that vast portrait gallery bequeathed by the Wizard of the North to all the years that run, you will recall the figure of Old Mortality at his patient task of recutting the names of the worthy dead who, lacking his pious aid, were in danger of being forgotten by the living world about them. Well, I have sometimes thought that in a manner I was following those Old World footsteps of the stonecutter when, for example, I made the first reprint of 1891 of George Meredith’s Modern Love. In some of these books “are the broken airs you once loved”–or might come to love if from now on you knew them. In others there is the message of the consecrated ones–the Great Companions of whom we know as they moved and spoke among men only by the record that remains–their book–their Bible!
But it would sound unduly egoistic if I took up the various titles and themes, which, so to speak, I have “resown in fields their authors never knew.” What I have wished to emphasize is the finely fortuitous manner whereby our bookish loves come to exist and “the unconquerable resurgence of beauty” derived from a long vanished past. It is admittedly sometimes difficult to decide as to the letter or the spirit or to what ultimate purpose, even, these men have written. For it must be conceded that “We know very few words of the Divine Language. Most of its sounds are too low and large for us to hear, their vibrations are too infrequent; we are only aware that a word has been spoken, and some of us do not trouble about it.” But one thing we shall find; all enduring literature “must be written in faith,” and this appeal “works solely upon the lonely mind, and has no outward aid. . . . . Those who work for the moment have their reward. In every generation they have audience fit though many. . . . . But the few who have ears to listen to the voice of Life itself, must work by faith. They speak to their kindred in far-off places and far-off times, assured of recognition, for, as the poet said, the gods are known to each other.”
THOMAS B. MOSHER.