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Anne Bosworth Greene, in the January Forum, writes so ingenuously of "What the Sailors Read" that her tale inspires comment in the same spirit even if grossly apart from reality. Her fancy took fire at a project for ship libraries that originated with a literary discussion in an Oxfordshire garden. It has attained, under the tutelage of a "canny but sympathetic little Scotchman" to actual experiment and its particulars afford novel refreshment.
Far from exploring the educational solemnities of this marine innovation. Mrs. Greene takes her delight in its practical arrangements and curious statistics. For instance, economy in ship space makes the location of the library a ticklish problem. The passengers' smoking room has been found a poor place because the passengers inevitably borrow the books. While the lower gyro room, as the Scotchman said, is "way down, ye know". Resort is usually had to the working alleway although narrowness bothers here. The librarian has to be a man whose profane tasks are not too arduous and one for whom the printed page has a "slight glimmering of interest", sometimes a night steward, sometimes a ship's carpenter, or a baggage steward, or a master's clerk.
And the books that are read? There must be a deal of truth in tales of the ocean's monotony, for one "wiper's" list ran thus: Froude, "Life and Letters of Erasmus". Kipling's "Captains Courageous", Russell, "Select Essays", Hazlitt's "Table Talk", Shakespeare's Histories, with excerpts also from Tennyson and Coleridge.
Only a slight play of the fancy can now create a new vision of the sailor's leisure. The bunks, rising shelf on shelf, each own its feeble light, and its prostrate Conrad with open book. Thus is the tedium of the long "road to Mandalay" bridged for the men who know the starkness of Kipling's and Stevenson's enchanted seas. And Pegasus unchained is a new lure to the "sober men and true attentive to our duty". The romance of the picture cannot be denied.
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