1915 Catalogue Foreword
[In place of the usual Foreword, Mosher reprints Pater’s “Conclusion” to his Studies in the History of the Renaissance which is prefaced by the following note:]
In place of a Foreword of my own I am minded to reprint the original text of Walter Pater’s famous Conclusion to the first edition of his Studies in the History of the Renaissance, 1873. It was cancelled when he issued a second edition in 1877 and the work became known from that time on as The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry. The third edition in 1888 saw the Conclusion restored with a footnote as follows:
“This brief ‘Conclusion’ was omitted in the second edition of this book, as I conceived it might possibly mislead some of those young men into whose hands it might fall. On the whole, I have thought it best to reprint it here, with some slight changes which bring it closer to my original meaning. I have dealt more fully in Marius the Epicurean with the thoughts suggested by it.”
These “slight changes” are found in my recent edition (1912), but many of us hark back to that earlier version as the one containing the glorious gospel of “art for art’s sake” as first set forth, even as the Lady Beauty was once beheld, “quite naked and quite alone.”
T. B. M.
1916 Catalogue Foreword
“Oh Youth what a star thou art!”
At the outset I only wanted to make a few beautiful books and to that end could think of nothing more suited to my purpose than what I have chosen; the things I loved and desired others to love– Torch-bearers who in turn will
” . . . follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.”
For those who love books, especially for those who care for my editions, I cannot at the end of twenty-five years and the beginning of my twenty-sixth as a publisher, I say, I cannot but think of my first volume in 1891–George Meredith’s Modern Love–and with it connect as the last bead on a rosary, my final volume issued in 1915, Sir Richard Burton’s The Kasidah. Within this space lies a long sunlit level, life’s middle distance: beyond it one seems to see uplift those lambent peaks and sunset skies that my dear and honoured master, Walt Whitman, beheld, calmly content to abide “the coming hour.” There was so much in life worth living, there is so much that yet remains!
“What I possess, I see far distant lying,
And what I lost, grows real and undying.”
So it is I am following up old clues of association in that most beautiful farewell of any poet know to me when I get a glimpse of Goethe who
“. . . . at Weimar, toiling to the last,
Completed Faust when eighty years were past.”
Again I am compelled to listen by the splendid peroration of our greatest New England poet:
“What then? shall we sit idly down and say
The night hath come; it is no longer day?
The night hath not yet come; we are not quite
Cut off from labor by the failing light;
Something remains for us to do or dare;
Even the oldest tree some fruit may bear;
Not Oedipus Coloneus, or Greek Ode,
Or tales of pilgrims that one morning rode
Out of the gateway of the Tabard Inn,
But other something, would we but begin;
For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.”
Many other subjects I might discuss with my friends–the little clan who love the Book Beautiful,–but there is just enough space available to mention one very insistent issue of to-day. Frequently I have been asked why I do not take up the cause of vers libre. I answer that when its practitioners come near to the greatest of all vers libristes of the Past –Blake–Whitman–Arnold–Henley–I am prepared to accept their work as of an art that surpasses classic art. I do accept the Great Companions, formal or free. Until their equals reappear I feel that it were better to depart with Thyrsis–
“The bloom has gone, and with the bloom go I,”
rather than remain an unwilling guest at a feast such as these sciolists of their empty day offer us; a banquet far other than the one described in Shelley’s noblest prose or, as Landor expressed himself when he said concerning his own divine verse:
“I write as others wrote on Sunium’s height.”
Like Richard Jefferies, as one man viewed him, I could wish to be associated in the thoughts of all booklovers as a follower and believer in “that small band of initiates who, from the beginning, have laboured to bring mankind the precious gift of Life.”
THOMAS BIRD MOSHER.
1917 Catalogue Foreword
“When half-gods go, the gods arrive.”
It is with regret that owing to the excessive advance in the price of paper, I am no longer able to send out my unique Catalogues as in former years. Instead, I have preferred to put all possible value into the books I publish. I am determined that whatever else is forced upon me, The Mosher Books shall not suffer deterioration. Since retrenchment has to be made I feel it is rightly placed where, save from the advertising standpoint, the loss will be least felt by my clientele.
Far beyond any words of my own I am sure I could not offer you this decreased Catalogue with a greater message of truth and beauty than I find in Professor Barrett Wendell’s prolegomena to A Literary History of America,–a book recalling Emerson’s oracular utterance in more ways than one and destined long to survive the impermanence of most contemporary criticism:
“Somewhere in the oldest English writings there is an allegory which has never faded. Of a night, it tells us, a little group was gathered about the fireside in a hall where the flicker of flame cast light on some and threw others into shadow, but none into shadow so deep as the darkness without. And into the window from the midst of the night flew a swallow lured by the light; but unable by reason of his wildness to linger among men, he sped across the hall and so out again into the dark, and was seen no more. To this day, as much as when the old poet first saw or fancied it, the swallow’s flight remains an image of earthly life. From whence we know not, we come into the wavering light and gusty warmth of this world; but here the law of our being forbids that we remain. A little we may see, fancying that we understand,–the hall, the lords and the servants, the chimney and the feast; more we may feel,–the light and the warmth, the safety and the danger, the hope and the dread. Then we must forth again, into the voiceless, unseen eternities. But the fleeting moments of life, like the swallow’s flight once more, are not quite voiceless; as surely as he may twitter in the ears of men, so men themselves may give sign to one another of what they think they know, and of what they know they feel. More too; men have learned to record these signs, so that long after they are departed, others may guess what their life meant. These records are often set forth in terms which may be used only by those of rarely special gift and training,–the terms of architecture and sculpture, of painting and music; but oftener and more freely they are phrased in the terms which all men learn somehow to use,–the terms of language. Some of these records, and most, are of so little moment that they are soon neglected and forgotten; others, like the fancied story of the swallow, linger through the ages. It is to these that we give the name of literature. Literature is the lasting expression in words of the meaning of life.”
To you who have bought and loved my books, and know what they have signified during twenty-five years, I need give no stronger assurance as to the tenor of my way than is set forth in these solemn affirmations. To believe that Literature is the lasting expression in words of the meaning of life, has been and will ever remain an ideal as long as I am permitted to publish at all.
And when the curtain comes down for the last time I want not a few half-wearied spectators and a fast emptying house, but a still appreciable audience.
“I know the night is near at hand,
The mist lies low on hill and bay,
The autumn leaves are drifting by,
But I have had the day.”
THOMAS BIRD MOSHER.
1918 Catalogue Foreword
“I am determined that whatever else is
forced upon me my books shall not suffer
When I said this in my last year’s Foreword I knew that another year would come and I should print a new Catalogue. That time having arrived I must either confess it is too far out of joint to set aright, or proceed to justify my adventure. But why doubt or hesitate? Enough, then, to continue the uncharted course, with smaller output of new titles and decreased list of older titles, yet with the glory of going on, “whatever befall. . . . .
For the end I know is the best of all.”
No American could wish to ignore our Present Crisis. We all realize that we are n the midst of a conflict that may make of any life “a track of dust and dead leaves that merely led to the fountain.” Conceivably, but while earth lasts, not actually! Elsewhere I have spoken of Literature as an indissoluble entity, enduring as the soul of man. Even “the bitterness of seeing so much of the beautiful in thought and expression spurted over with the life-blood of Democracy,” must not blind us to the imperishable vision of spiritual resurrection and a world to come. True, dear Horace Traubel, we have “always the weariness of time!” and, as you so exquisitely expand your symbolism, “always the refreshment of eternity!” confronts us.
How connect these sayings with what I have tried to offer year after year? Suppose I say that it is in thoughts like these that I ever found rest and joy: that in Books has been laid up for me just such very present help in time of trouble, and in which all of us must in some form or other come to put our trust. Whether my publications bear me out, or not, I am far from discussing them in detail here and now. But, can you deny these affirmations?
“There’s an unrelenting something that runs through the race and won’t let a man give up, and the race that has most of it wins.”
“There are many ways of breaking through the veil of the many to the One. And whoever finds for himself such a way recovers hold upon that thread of primitive mysticism which is the vital and fertile element in all religion.”
“From the vision and voice at Damascus, and the tremendous words uttered from the midst of the seven golden candlesticks over the Greek sea, down to times not yet ended, the mystical presence still slides and shines. Gleams and echoes of it linger on the Roman roadside by the Domine Quo Vadis, on the hall of the Round Table at Winchester, on the clearing in the woodland where the Merciful Knight drew rein before the crucifix; and again and yet again it has returned, a voice and a vision, to such as at any time believed they saw and heard it.”
And is it not in this Vision and this Voice which Literature has defined for us that we get “the lasting expression in words of the meaning of life?”
THOMAS BIRD MOSHER.
1919 Catalogue Foreword
“THE LOVE OF THE BEST BOOKS”
There are times, and these assuredly are of them, when one comes to feel that the “gentleman of cultivated mind and broad intellectual experience,” who wrote an editorial friend a while ago, was not so far wrong as the advertising pages of current literary journals would indicate. It is enough, perhaps, if I quote the following passage from this letter:
“The mass of printed matter that is being turned off the presses is nothing short of appalling. Every day adds to the accumulation of the world’s books. The spectacle suggests a question as to the wisdom of buying books at all. From your advantageous viewpoint as an observer of the constantly changing conditions of the world, will you be so good as to tell me why I should buy books?”
The answer was what many of us believe to be true and of good report which by my own publications I feel I am helping to sustain; even in these days of doubt and indecision, inadequate help and supplies almost impossible to obtain of a quality I have always adhered to in my bookmaking. There are, indeed, self-imposed limitations which, as they seem to me, are all the more binding. These limits I find set out by my friend, Mr. John L. Foley, who, in a recent essay, asked, “if you wanted an education who could help you?” and then has this to say:
“Charles Lamb, in his vacations from the dull clerk’s life he had to lead in London, used to go down to Oxford just to walk around beneath its dreaming towers, to imagine himself a student within those ivyed walls. But he had the best of that justly famous university, ‘the mother of lost causes,’ in his heart and mind; he had the love of the spirit of learning, –the love of the best books.”
“The love of the best books” includes then the book in itself, for I have ever assumed that the content of the book would be on the highest level of prose or poetry as may happen.
There is another point noted by the editor in replying to the “gentleman of cultivated mind and broad intellectual experience”:
“Public libraries have great usefulness in promoting taste for reading. But as a substitute for owning books, they will satisfy no one except him who is willing that all his friends should live in barracks under public supervision, to be visited only by permission of a public functionary, the hours of communion defined and restricted, and the friend to be sent back to the bunkroom at the end of a stated term.”
Hence we must make of our books our deepest and most lasting friendships, and this can only be done by buying and not borrowing from a library. First and last then, it is quality and not quantity, completed by private ownership. Let me end with what I think you will admit is a beautiful exposition of my belief:
“There is a verse in one of the Psalms: ‘Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into the darkness.’ Lover, friend, acquaintance. Your individuality is the centre, round it and near it is the little circle of love–those who are your nearest and dearest. Round that is a large concentric circle of friends, and then round that is a very large circle of acquaintances. All the people you know are lovers, friends, and acquaintances. I say the same thing about books. Certain books you love, and they are the special books, the books you want to read every year, the books you would not be without, the books you would keep at all costs. Find the books that you love, and then find your friends among books.”
THOMAS BIRD MOSHER.