It has been a lot of fun, getting out this special book number. To sit down unhampered by editorial supervision, to air one's opinions, and to clear away a mass of repressions is good for the soul. Of course, it is also an expensive luxury. But then it gives a measure of employment to typesetters and printers' devils, paper makers and the like. And what this country needs is to put money into circulation. It is a matter of self-preservation.
A word about Antiquarian Booksellers. If I may generalize, in America they are good business men rather than good bookmen. I know of about two and one half exceptions to this. High rents, high wages, high cost of living have led the American bookseller to specialize in the "high spot" items. An interesting miscellaneous stock does not pay for its keep in this country. The result is to considerably narrow the vision of the bookseller.
The Bookshop's Contribution to Culture
It has been said that the standard of culture in England is higher than in the United States. If this is true, the lack of the right kind of bookshops is a contributing cause. In the mother country, every town has its antiquarian bookshop where the youth may browse and the scholar linger. It is vastly stimulating to pore over old books; to discover literature in its contemporary form. While a diamond is always a diamond, it is enhanced by its setting. So also with literature. Who can compare the joy of finding a beautiful passage on an old page to the prosaic pleasure of reading it from a cheap reprint?
Picture Keats "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer in the Everyman Edition." You see how ludicrous it is. There is in antiquity, a certain savour which is the salt of life.
Whereas if he has no income apart from his business (like myself) a bookseller must live and make a profit, this end may be relegated to a minor position. A bookseller who is at the same time a book-lover and a bookman, may achieve a dual end; to enjoy his work and his association with books, and to impart some of his enthusiasm and what knowledge he may have to the younger or the less experienced. These objects if pursued make this the most fascinating of professions.
Of course, part of the romance of bookselling is the monetary aspect. While it is a mistake to think that booksellers always make a prodigeous profit, fortune may be lurking around who-knows-what corner. I have said that a copy of Incondita would fetch $25,000. I might find one on a bookstall or in an attic next week, or nex year. Or if not that volume, something else of great value.
5000 Scrawls at One Dollar Each
One of the most exciting experience of my career (I am not yet an old man) was when one of the smaller London booksellers walked into my London shop. He offered me a four volume folio edition of Bacon. "It ought to be worth *5, gov'nor," he said, "but some fool has scrawled all over the margins; so if you want it as it stands, you can have it for twenty-five shillings." The "fool" was Dr. Samuel Johnson; he had "scrawled" some five thousand times, using these volumes as the backbone of his famous dictionary. A dollar per scrawl was not too high a valuation to set upon it, throwing in the book gratis for good measure.
Such incidents unfortunately do not occur every day, nor every week. I have been unusually fortunate in that I have had one perhaps every year which netted me a profit of four figures for a trifling outlay.
Travel is one of the joys of the bookseller. In the passed years, I have travelled on one excuse of another for about eight months of the year, spending four tied down to an office desk. Of course, those four months meant pretty hard routine work. But a trip to Italy on the excuse of buying Italian books, to Germany for Incunabula, or merely around England and Scotland in quest of English works were a refreshing interlude.
The book-collector is debarred from none of the joys. And though he may have less leisure to enjoy them, he has the added pleasure of being able to retain his prize, once it is captured, whereas the unfortunate bookseller must surrender it to the first purchaser.