1910 Catalogue Foreword
[Mosher indicated the following at the beginning of his 1910 catalogue:]
Instead of the usual Foreword to these
yearly Catalogues of The Mosher Books
I have reprinted this inimitable tribute to
the memory of George Meredith. It seems
so far beyond anything I could hope to say
that I feel my readers will be the gainers
by my personal silence.
[The tribute to “George Meredith | Box Hill–May 22, 1909” was written by J. M. Barrie]
1911 Catalogue Foreword
“BEFORE BOOKS AND AFTER BOOKS”
Suppose you heard these words spoken for the first time:
“Do not weep for me,
This is not my true country,
I have lived banish’d from my true country, I now go back there,
I return to the celestial sphere where every one goes in his turn.”
Would you not say that such an utterance revealed one of the brightest visions enshrined in that haunted palace, the human heart? Well, these are the words that Whitman sought out for himself, and made over to us, and they read as if he drew his inspiration from the depths of cosmic consciousness. Shall we affirm that he was inspired by the Bhagavad-Gîtâ –ethics of the Master drawn from an older source than the Hebrew Bible– or was it what the American seer had read into a composite text derived from all that had gone before? And would you call this a lost point of view? If it is, then my scheme of things has an insubstantial value, and any “tidings of great joy” I thought inherent in the books I have chosen to offer you is but a mirage of the mind, the baseless fabric of a vision that fades and leaves no trace.
Now it appears to me, having come to the end of twenty years of publishing, this was the thing I had most deeply at heart! It voices another statement, that “before books and after books is the human soul.” As Ruskin said: “for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another; my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew: this, if anything of mine is worth your memory.”
At times I may have unduly insisted upon the fact that it was not merely a commercial adventure with me, but the possession of ideals in book-publishing, with the implication that the thing done was for a purpose beyond itself: “Seeing finally with inexorable vision the way that life comes and the way that life goes whatever may happen with words.”(1) The beauty that endures has an inherent divine right even if the cryptic saying of William Butler Yeats, “all the most valuable things are useless,” also contains a truth not easily translatable into the common speech of every day. Still, it is this ever-living rose of beauty and a still older ever-living truth underlying life which must come together and harmonize whence, out of the dust and decay of ages, the flower of human hope shall re-emerge, transplanted both as to time and place,–imperishable in its essence.
It is the doctrine of Palingenesis as expressed by Longfellow:
“There was an old belief that in the embers
Of all things their primordial form exists,
And cunning alchemists
Could re-create the rose with all its members
From its own ashes, but without the bloom,
Without the lost perfume.”
Above and beyond this belief of the hermetic philosophers the persistence of the lost perfume of Literature stands an established fact: the persistence of Love and Life being co-eternal,–no less human and no less divine!
But oh! how many things crowd upon us in the evening or rather, shall I say, in the twilight of our days; and how little time we have to work out the immanent beauty which comes at the close and not at the dawn of life! Finally, it seems to me that all beauty is a slow evolution of the soul, and while some at the very start have had The Perfect Vision, to others and indeed to most of us, it is not permitted. We must wait and are fortunate if we lay hold upon the unfading flower which produced them all, –that Protean energy–the Soul of Man.
Therefore, it is better to accept these shapes and shadows of undying realities and aspirations and leave you, who care for what I say or what I have attempted to do, to your own interpretation of the true and permanent in literature as outlined in this Foreword. For “as a great verse out of casual speech” is “forged in fire” even so, out of these books that were in my heart and should reach other hearts, I transmit the word as I have received it.
“So many ways, yet only one shall find:
So many joys, yet only one shall bless;
So many creeds, yet to each pilgrim mind
One road to the divine forgetfulness.”
THOMAS BIRD MOSHER.
(1) A passage from Optimos by my friend Horace Traubel, (New York, 1910,) who is also responsible for the title I have chosen for this Foreword.
1912 Catalogue Foreword
THE BOOKS I SHALL NOT READ AGAIN
There is a passage in The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, (1903) which George Gissing must have written in sad sincerity out of a heart steeped in the bitter waters of experience and, as I read it, my own youthful days and nights return to me with fond persistence akin to a tender and living sorrow. “Ah,” he cried out, “the books that one will never read again!” And then goes on, “I have but to muse and one after another they arise before me.”
Yes, they do indeed arise before me as well! Most poignantly of all the set of Bell’s British Theatre (1) bought by an indulgent father in the winter of 1866-67 when I crossed the Atlantic to meet him in Hamburg, and began a voyage which did not end until the late summer months of 1870. This particular collection bore the delicately written signature of an unchronicled and shadowy Jane Sonntag in each of its thirty-four volumes, unearthed in an old bookshop near the Elbe where, on a top shelf, it had awaited the coming of the small American who was then and there first made acquainted with Old Plays. The set comprised one hundred and forty distinct compositions ranging from tragedy, comedy and opera, to mask, (it opens with Milton’s Comus), and gave what must have been at the time–the dates are 1790 to 1799,–a popular reprint of “the most esteemed plays” ever brought together to delight the heart of any man or woman who loved Old English Comedy as it was then acted upon the living stage. One should not forget the earlier and more justly famous Dodsley’s Collection, but of this I was not aware, and so, speaking solely for my boyish self, it is to JOHN BELL, British Library, STRAND, that I can trace and owe my knowledge of Congreve, Cibber, Farquhar, Vanburgh, and even Wycherley! I wish it were within my limits or power to go into more explicit details of what this New World, which was the Old World of the Eighteenth Century reborn for my especial delight, has ever since meant to me. Other and later, perhaps wiser and better, book-loves have I met in the mid-forest of life, but when this is said, here and not elsewhere the magic key first became mine. With it I unlocked the gate and entered the enchanted garden of Literature. No one told me–no one guided me,–yet I heard the immortal Lityerses-song that once, and once only, is permitted the listening ear of Youth when Youth broods over all.
Now, how gladly would I know the history of my set of Old Plays. Possibly no other form of human art retains in the same degree that first fine careless rapture–the magic of a forgotten day–still alive to work its will as do these dear dumpy eighteenmos. My regard for George Farquhar dates from this period; The Recruiting Officer, Sir Harry Wildair, The Inconstant, The Beaux Strategem–a world of passionate dust, once living, but now gone! The name itself–Jane Sonntag! In reading a volume, I found an old-fashioned pin, hand-wrought, with welded head, inserted as a placemark when the book was laid aside for that day’s reading, and if ever resumed this little relic would serve as a reminder. Truly, it may belong to the period, “When these old plays were new.”
No! I shall never again read books as I once read them in my early seafaring when all the world and love were young! Nor shall I ever forget those days of tropic splendour, or nights when only a faint and oily lamp swung in the lonely cabin; the plunging ship midst ocean’s grey and solitary waste, and the long wintry passage around Cape Horn. Hence these shadow-shapes of the buried life are very real and vital to me. If there is undue egoism in such intimacies, I feel I may take the risk, confident that others have fared along the self-same road and will recognize footprints of their fellow traveller.
One positive result from this would make it appear that all genuine love of poetry–I include both prose and verse–is born in us,–a divine birthright,–a gift not to be bought, but, given the happy moment, capable of flaming into undying life of the deeper soul. What I would point out is the sometime lack of appreciation on the part of those who only see its youthful incertitude, its childish hesitations, its mere bashfulness. For the love of Beauty as first revealed must never be set down to sentimentalism–must never be discredited or made ashamed. It is the one thing which if lacking nothing else can take its place. In it we hear in the dewy morn of Life, amidst the old garden of Paradise, what we know instinctively is none other than the voice of God coming from “where the great Voices sound and Visions dwell.”
“Is it a dream?
Nay but the lack of it the dream,
And failing it life’s lore and wealth a dream,
And all the world a dream.”
THOMAS BIRD MOSHER.
(1) Bell’s British Theatre. A collection of the most celebrated Comedies and Dramas, with about 120 fine Portraits of Actors in Character. Complete set, 34 vols., 18mo. Calf. London, 1792.–BOOKSELLERS’ CATALOGUE.
1913 Catalogue Foreword
OF READING MANY BOOKS
I will take the slight mask off at once, and tell you plainly that I want to speak to
you about the treasures hidden in books; and about the way we find them, and the
way we lose them.
Within a few years the word intensive has come to have a meaning which in effect opens up a new world of work, heretofore seen dimly or not at all. As applied to practical affairs of field or farmyard, kitchen-garden or apple-orchard, we are all agreed as to the scientific value of intensive cultivation. When, however, one would by a parity of reasoning apply this method as a means of intellectual culture, one is not so sure that the idea will find favour, or will not be met with the objection that “intensive” in this sense is but a mental narrowing up and not a widening process. Especially is this so should we insist that the reading of many books is not the best nor the only way to lay hold upon the things more excellent, which, whether in prose or poetry, faith tells us “will perish never!”
And yet, consider! Out of the myriad books of all the ages now accessible how brief the hours that even the man of greatest leisure can give to them. Is it strange that all sorts of absurdities should flourish in the matter of pointing out the best one hundred or best one thousand–the only true three foot or five foot shelf–and the inevitable excellent series which “everyman” should possess? It comes, as we view it ourselves, that one has to decide first of all which of two widely diverse courses of reading one should take,–the practical , dry-as-dust necessary routine book of facts–or follow on the starry track of those “precious minims” which find us young and always keep us so. Are we reading for business purposes or for that wider outlook which Literature alone has power to bestow? If, for the former, then the biblia-a-biblia of Charles Lamb’s amused contempt; the half hours with the worst authors as Edward FitzGerald put it; the books reeking with self-help are the ones required. If, on the other hand, we are assured of somewhat else than mere commercial values, then, by the intensive method, we must turn to the little parcels of man’s bequests to Time–the lifeblood of the ages garnered in prose and verse–such as I have long ago given my heart to and would by what I publish persuade you along the same sunlit road.
I can never rid myself of what was bequeathed me by one who has since found peace beyond all words of passionate welcome and farewell, the little book which, more than all else Ruskin has written, is seen now –a lifetime later–to be the true gospel of righteousness in reading and how we are to set about finding it. For me as for countless others the words from it read like passages from an old road-book of travel toward the Celestial country: a pilgrimage of the soul begun, if we will to have it so, in early youth, and our journey continuing as our days go on–“till end be ended, and till ceasing cease.”
“For all books are divisible into two classes: the books of the hour, and the books of all time. Mark this distinction–it is not one of quality only. It is not merely the bad book that does not last, and the good one that does. It is a distinction of species. . . . A book is essentially not a talked thing, but a written thing; and written, not with a view of mere communication, but of permanence. . . . The author has something to say which he perceives to be true and useful, or helpfully beautiful. . . . Now, books of this kind have been written in all ages by their greatest men,–by great readers, great statesmen, and great thinkers. These are all at your choice; and Life is short.”
So, you see, in the final summing up, it is by the intensive method, and it is in a narrow field we are charged to cultivate to our utmost “the sanguine seed” of the Everlasting. Far from having completed the work of my garden I feel as if I had only begun its cultivation; that the fruits I offer are specimens in earnest of what I would develop to the still deeper measure of my intent.
Ruskin has sometimes been called old-fashioned, and his philosophy, if he had any, antiquated. The man who claimed Rossetti and Morris for friends may safely be trusted to stand in his lot at the end of his days and of our days as well! Even if what he said about books may in some small degree be open to question, I can never for one moment turn from his impassioned pages without a renewed belief in the truth as God gave it him to utter and, as I hope, for us all to accept.
This, too, was the man who in his splendid years of maturity, speaking of the ancient architecture and the expressive beauty of Switzerland ruined by commercial greed, said that one of the few reasons which consoled him for growing old was that he could
“remember the time when the sweet waves of the Reuss and Limmat (now foul with the refuse of manufacture) were as crystalline as the heaven above them, when her pictured bridges and embattled towers ran unbroken round Lucerne; when the Rhone flowed in deep-green, softly dividing currents round the wooded ramparts of Geneva; and when from the marble roof of the western vault of Milan, I could watch the Rose of Italy flush in the first morning light, before a human foot had sullied its summit, or the reddening dawn on its rocks taken shadow of sadness from the crimson which long ago stained the ripples of Otterburn.”
THOMAS BIRD MOSHER.
1914 Catalogue Foreword
[Richard Le Gallienne’s “Thomas Bird Mosher–An Appreciation” appears in place of Mosher’s usual Foreword.]