Friday, 5 August 2016

20 November 1880 - 'How to Form a Small Library' by James Mason - Part Two

We agreed, you may remember, to aim at accumulating a library of fifty books. Now what these fifty are to be is a nice question, for a great deal depends on the character and education of the people who are to read them.

The poet Southey once drew out a "list of a gentleman's necessary library," and the works he put on it were the Bible, Shakespeare, Spenser's "Faerie Queen," Sidney's "Arcadia," the works of Sir Thomas Browne, the works of the Re. Cyril Jackson, Walton's "Complete Angler," Clarendon's History, Milton, Chaucer, Jeremy Taylor, South's Sermons, and Fuller's "Church History." These are all good books, and one of Southey's scholarly tastes might think his bookshelves completely furnished with nothing else; but it is doubtful whether we, who are less sedate, would care for five books out of the whole thirteen.

Perhaps the poet would have been as little satisfied with the following "list of a girl's library;" but if you, girls, are pleased, that is enough.

The longer I think about the fifty, the smaller the number seems to be. Let none of you run away with the impression that a little book-case can contain all the literature of worth in the world. Even had you ten times that number you might well heave a sight at the consideration of the number of works of beauty and glory of which you have not so much as turned over the leaves.

Many of our books will be necessary ones, but others I shall mention only "on approval." They are recommended, certainly, with all the enthusiasm with which one introduces his best friends; but if a girl desires to read other books, then those others are likely to do her most good, so let her buy them, after taking counsel with some friend whose judgment she respects.

In selecting the fifty I have tried to put it to myself in this way; Suppose I were Mary, or Kate, or Alice, and banished - of course for nothing at all - to a desert island, what books would I carry with me of a useful and fairly representative kind, so  that the time might be pleasantly and profitably spent till remorse attacked my oppressors and urged my recall? Here they are:-

The first is the Bible, the best of books and a library in itself. "Turn it, and turn it again," says an old writer, "for everything is in it." The Bible should form the keynote of every collection, and all the rest should be in harmony with it. Get a good edition, with notes, and strongly bound, so that it many stand constant handling.

Whoever sets a high value on the Bible will welcome every aid to the understanding of its sacred pages. The best of all helps in this way is "Cruden's Concordance," of which there are several cheap and serviceable editions to be had.

Of other religious books to be placed beside the Bible and the Concordance, we shall choose five. The first is the "Pilgrim's Progress," the work of the "prince of dreamers." No other book in the English language, the Bible alone excepted, has, as everyone knows, obtained so constant and so wide a sale.

Besides prayer-book and hymn-book, you should have a good manual of daily devotional reading. Bogatsky's "Golden Treasure" is an old favourite, and one of the best of those recently published is "The Daily Round." The "Book of Praise," edited by Lord Selbourne, is one of the best collections of sacred poetry. With the concordance, I ought to have mentioned the new Companion to the Bible, published at 56, Paternoster-row, a little book, with much information on scriptural subjects. The Bible Handbook of Dr. Angus is also of great value.

We have now decided on seven books, but perhaps we have gone ahead too fast. We should, maybe, have begun by speaking of what are strictly utility books, books not for reading but for reference. These form a good solid foundation for a library.

There must be a Dictionary of your own language, of course, and let it be the best you can afford to buy. When you get it, too, use it, and never fall into the lazy habit of making a guess at a word whose meaning you do not know. As a supplement to the dictionary, you must have a good work on English Grammar; including, if possible, a sketch of the history of the language. When on the look out for this at your second-hand bookseller's, do not buy the first that offers merely because you have not patience to wait till another turns up. The best and most satisfactory purchases are often only to be made by waiting.

Next comes a Dictionary of Dates, which will give you in a disjointed fashion the history of the world. To this should be added the "Elements of History," and from it you will gain a correct idea of the orderly progress of events.

A Dictionary of Biography cannot be done without; neither can a Gazetteer, and we can as little dispense with an Atlas. Let these books be of recent date; give the cold shoulder indeed on every occasion to antiquated books of reference. They are little better than waste paper.

You must now narrow your views, and having what will represent in a general way the places, the biography, and the notable events of the whole world, invest in a History of your own country; it must be the best your purse can afford. But stay, we said that when speaking of the dictionary. It is, indeed, a rule applicable to every book bought for your library.

Whose history should it be? Why, my friend, if I were to name an author for this, or for many another of these books, it would be of small use. If we had started with the understanding that you were going to buy them all new it would have been different. As it is, you must take the best that present themselves, and ma fortune send you a happy choice!

A Handbook of English Literature will come in nicely now, giving short notices and specimens of all the famous authors who have adorned the past. This is a most interesting branch of study, one rich in everything that can enlarge the mind and improve the heart. There is none better than the Handbook of Dr. Angus, and its companion volume, "Specimens of English Literature."

An Atlas and Geography you must possess; Milner's Geography, new edition, by Keith Johnston, is the best. Add next a Guide to your own town or county, so that you may take an intelligent interest in your own immediate neighbourhood.

In Biography there is an immense number of books one would like to have, and all the more so because in biography we have one of the most valuable aids in the formation of character; but we must be satisfied with three. There is Plutarch's "Lives" to start with, a readable, medicinal, invigorating book, which is not to be spared from the smallest library. When I name it I always remember how Alfieri, the great tragic poet of Italy, read it with such enthusiasm that he was afraid the people in the next house would think he was mad. The second is Boswell's "Life of Johnson," and let the third be some collection of the lives of eminent women.

Amongst volumes of Essays we may select as many as we did of biographies. The first are those of Lord Bacon, a book containing a great fund of useful knowledge and displaying a more intimate acquaintance with human life and manners than perhaps an other. "It may be read," says the great Scotch philosopher, Dugald Stewart, "from beginning to end in a few hours, and yet, after the twentieth perusal, one seldom fails to remark in it something overlooked before." Then there is the "Spectator" or Addison and Steele, an inexhaustible mine of humour, invention, and good counsel; last of all, we must have the Essays of Lord Macaulay.

What about Poetry? Now we feel pinched, indeed, for room, and filled with alarm lest we should not be compelled to make another shelf. Let us begin by getting a good general Collection of English Poetry. There are several good ones to be had, books which will familiarise us with the names and highest efforts of the chief writers of verse of our land.

We must next make the acquaintance of the ancient heroic world by purchasing and reading Pope's translation of Homer. The defects of this translation have often been pointed out, but its merits, too, are great. The only objection which you who are so gentle-minded are likely to find with it is one that belongs to the subject, and not to either the poet or his translator; the Iliad, at any rate, has rather much fighting in it.

The next whose works you must buy is Shakespeare, the greatest dramatic poet in the world. Then comes Dante, in whom the Middle Ages found a voice, and of Dante the most readable translation is Cary's. We must not forget the gentle Spenser either, or Milton, and these are all the poets I shall insist upon. They are five of the greatest of the great. Read them, and as you do so thank heaven for having sent such genius to brighten, elevate, and purify the lives of men.

But you may wish to add other poets, for one is sometimes most in love with lesser lights. Choose, therefore, three others, whom you please. Cowper, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Longfellow, and Scott might be suggested, as pray don't forget the "holy George Herbert."

How are we getting on now? We have named thirty-five books in all, and after enumerating fifteen more shall be at the end of our tether.

To fiction we shall devote five books. One will be "The Vicar of Wakefield," and this by the way, you may meet with bound up in the same volume with Goldsmith's Poems, and some of his dramatic and miscellaneous works. Thus you will increase your collection without infringing the rule as to the fifty. The remaining four should be one story by Scott, one by Dickens, and one by Thackeray - say "Pendennis," "David Copperfield," and "Vanity Fair," and one favourite - you will yourself name who he is to be. What! No? You ask me to choose, do you? Then, I say, a good translation of Grimm's "Fairy Tales,"  for the enjoyment of which all happy people can never grow too old. These will supply more nourishment to the imagination than half the novels in Christendom.

This will be a delightful corner of our library, but we must not be too much taken up with it. The rule, as somebody says, should be this - "Mix light reading with serious reading, so that the one shall not engross nor the other weary."

Good Letter-writing is a rare accomplishment, and one book may be named as a model in this department. Critics of most opposite tastes, Southey, Jeffrey, Robert Hall, have all pronounced the poet Cowper the most charming of letter-writers. An edition of his selected letter, with memoir, and notices of his correspondents, is published at the office this paper.

In Science we must have something, and the most charming work in this line I know of is white's "Natural History of Selbourne." Get it by all means, and it will teach you, as it has already taught many, to be a close observer of nature and an enthusiast for rural life. Add to this one work of a thoroughgoing character on any science for which you have a decided taste; botany, zoology, astronomy, or anything else.

Now we come to miscellaneous books, and of these you would do well to have three at least; a Dictionary of Quotations, a Book of English Proverbs, and a Collection of Anecdotes. These are all food for thought, and most valuable for such as know how to use them.

Of "home books" you must have three also. Let one be a sensible work on Cookery, another a book on Domestic Management, and the third a Guide to the Preservation of Health and the cure of simple ailments. These all treat of subjects belonging to the sphere of woman, and you will relish the poets none the less for knowing the best way to boil potatoes, lay the fire, or bind up your little brother's cut finger.

An almanack is hardly to be reckoned in our list, being usually of pocket size; but if a book, let it be "Whitaker's Almanack," the completest and best.

You are musical, of course; so your forty-ninth book - for we have really come to the forty-ninth - should be a thoroughgoing treatise on the Theory of Music, another special subject for girls.

And the fiftieth; what is that to be? What should it be but THE GIRL'S OWN ANNUAL? Modesty makes the Editor insist that I should put it last, but we all know how high a place it deserved to hold. It is true that all our other books differ from THE GIRL'S OWN ANNUAL in this, that they may be had in one volume, whereas, in the course of time, there is no saying how many volumes our magazine may grow. "But," says Mary, "never mind that; we shall shut our eyes to the peculiarity you have mentioned, and, whatever number of volumes we possess, we shall always reckon them just as one book." Thank you, Mary; you are a very nice example of women's ingenuity.

Now our library is complete. Complete, at least,  for the present; for, as I said before, the appetite for books grows by what it feeds on. In these fifty books you have a little collection representing the best thought of all time, and containing an immense store of the most useful information, and no one who possesses it can fail to lead a happy intellectual life- a life, too, that may exercise some good influence in the world.

But never forget that many of the books just named are not of necessity the right ones for you. I hope you will in the end let them all rank with your best friends; but never, no, never, form a library on a plan suggested by somebody else without regard to your own inclinations. If a library is worth anything, it should faithfully represent the tastes and aspirations of its owner. It should be such that a stranger coming in and looking at it might say with confidence either, "There are many points of contact between that girl's mind and mine;" or, "I am sure that girl and I will never get on, for she cares for nothing that I like and likes nothing I am keen upon."

You may say that we have made our library hold more books than we can ever hope to read. I do not think so; but what matter if we have? To own more books than we can read, is one of the conditions of intellectual growth. Our minds expand even by the contemplation of the subjects we cannot master and the authors with whom we can never hope to grow familiar.

Having started your collection, keep it in good order. Keep everything in order, but especially your books. Have them neatly arranged according to size, placing the biggest on the bottom shelf as ballast. Were your library larger, I would recommend placing books by subjects; but you will be able to run over the whole fifty in a minute, so it is not necessary, and I expect you to handle them so often that you will be able to pick them out blindfolded in the dark.

Keep a catalogue, and whenever you bring home a book enter it; and whenever you lend one enter it also, with the date and the name of the friend who has borrowed it.

On the subject of lending, do not cease from indulging in this kindly practise, because of some unhappy experiences. I  sometimes think there is a great deal of false delicacy shown in not asking the borrower to return a book when one thinks she has had it long enough.

It has been suggested that at Christmas one should devote some time to searching for borrowed books and returning them to the owners. This would certainly add another charm to the festive season.

Enter all the books you borrow in an appendix to your catalogue. This is a useful practice, and in the course of time you thus secure an interesting record of all the books which have passed through your hands.

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