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Among My Books
I love my books. They have afforded me so much pleasure and real enjoyment in life that I would not part with my taste for reading for all the millions of a Rockefeller.
Books are read for various purposes - information, entertainment, inspiration or relaxation. They are a mental panacea for all the ills to which flesh is heir; in leisure, traveling, sickness or sorrow - there is cheer and solace to be found in some volume.
It is with keen satisfaction that I look back and think of the numberless hours spent in their perusal and browsing in old shops - with what delight I always took up a fresh tome and how gratified if it proved worthy of preservation.
The one thing that grieved me most about them was when some good friend would borrow and fail to return a copy I had read and, perhaps, marked and valued beyond any other that could be purchased.
I, somehow, always wanted to retain the special book I had read. It became companionable, sort of reverential with the thrill of possession and personal to me. There was a friendly bond of familiarity established and I could identify passages easily that had interested me, whereas a new one was not the same. People who do not care specially for books cannot understand this. A book to them is either for reference or something to devour and finish as soon as possible and then cast aside.
It is not now necessary to purchase twenty volumes to obtain the one particular copy you want. "Sets" are no longer fashionable as shelf decorations, which is fortunate, as there is no author whose work as an entirety is worth reading.
Apropos of this, Ambrose Bierce once told me that when in London, the publishers kept after him for material all the time. He said they would print anything he offered, even his laundry list if he had sent it, and there are many wash bills of authors printed.
Fads in first editions and choice, expensive bindings simply create and encourage artificial conditions for the special purpose of obtaining high prices. The story is told of a woman who purchased all her volumes bound in blue, irrespective of the subjects treated in them.
I have long since devoted my attention to the contents of books rather than their exterior dress or other marks of distinction and am perfectly willing to share a good thing, especially if beneficial, with the rest of humanity; in fact, that is one of the great pleasures of knowledge and possession. I believe with George Macdonald that "If instead of a gem, or even of a flower, we could cast the gift of a lovely thought into the heart of a friend, that would be giving, as the angels, I suppose, must give."
Many lists of the best books have been issued, but with the "Bible," "Imitation of Christ" by Thomas à Kempis, "Dissertations" of Epictetus, "Meditations" of Aurelius, "Essays" of Montaigne, Bacon and Emerson; Shakespeare, Thoreau's "Walden" and Bryant's "Collection of Poems"- these ten volumes as reading matter, a person could lead an ideal life, from a literary standpoint.
Great character builders are "Resources" by Kirkham; "The Human Machine," Bennett; "Every Man a King," Marsden; "Power of Truth," Jordan; "Do Something," Kaufman, and "Self-Measurement," Hyde. No man can read these without being better, no woman without being stronger.
After the ancient classics come that charming lot of old English essayists - Lamb, Macaulay, Hazlitt, Hunt, Swift, Addison, Johnson and De Quincey; the Germans - Heine, Goethe and Richter; the French - Saint Beuve, Lamartine and Daudet; Maeterlinck, the Belgian; Stevenson and Carlyle, the extreme of Scotchmen; Tolstoi and Turgenieff, Russians; Matthew Arnold, Ruskin, Walter Pater, Symonds, Carpenter, the Englishmen; Sheehan, Sharp and Yeats, Irishmen, and our own Benjamin Franklin, Hawthorne, Lowell, Alger and Reverend Spalding.
The Journals of Maurice de Guerin, Amiel, Bashkirtseff and that entitled "Journal of a Recluse," Boswell's "Johnson" and Evelyn's "Diary"; the Letters of St. Francis and St. Augustine, and those delightful studies of nature by Burroughs, Thoreau, Whitman, Muir, Mitchell, Jefferies, White, Walton, Mabie and Van Dyke.
Books that entertain as well as afford much pleasurable reading and are full of culture, sentiment and refinement are "Humor of the Underman," Francis Grierson; "In the Key of Blue," Symonds; "Miscellaneous Studies," Walter Pater; "Ecce Puella," Sharp; "Winged Destiny," Fiona Macleod (Sharp) ; "Iolaus" or "Towards Democracy," Carpenter; "The Book of Tea," Okokura; "Gitanjali," Tagore; "Under the Cedars and Stars," Sheehan; "Prose Fancies," Le Gallienne; "Peace and Happiness," Lord Avesbury; "Laurus Nobilis," Vernon Lee; "Sesame and Lilies," Ruskin; "Virginibus Puerisque," Stevenson; "Wisdom and Destiny," Maeterlinck; "Glimpses of Truth," Spalding; "De Flagello Myrter," Garnett; "Friendships of Women" and "Genius of Solitude," Alger; "The Celtic Twilight," Yeats; "White Hyacinths," Hubbard; "Dreams," Schreiner; "Reveries of a Bachelor," Mitchell; "Sketch Book," Irving; "In a Club Corner," Russell; "Autocrat of the Breakfast Table," Holmes; "Earth to Heaven," Vaughan; "Fantastics and Other Fancies," Hearn; "Kakemono," Edwards; "Musical Sketches," Polko; the prose of Edward Rowland Sill; "Beside Still Waters," Benson; "My Musical Memories," Haweis; "Strenuous Life," Roosevelt; "Memoirs," Moore; "The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft," Giessing; "Adventures in Life and Letters," Monahan; "Studies in Shakespeare," Richard Grant 'White, and "Characters and Events of Roman History," Ferrero.
Or, those touching upon nature like "Field and Hedgerow," Jefiries; "Birds and Poets," Burroughs; "Dreamthorp," Smith; "Natural History Selbourne," White; "Social Life of Insects," Fabre; "In the Sierras," Muir; "Under the Trees," Mable; "My Study Window," Lowell; "Specimen Days," Walt Whitman; "Complete Angler," Walton; "Little Rivers," Van Dyke; Audubon's "Life"; "Outdoor Papers," Higginson; "Gray Days and Gold," Winter; "The Hive," Maeterlinck; "Kinship of Nature," Carman; "Poetic Interpretations of Nature," Shairp; "Country By-Ways," Sarah Orne Jewett, and "Adventures in Contentment," Grayson.
In drama one should familiarize himself with: Aeschylus, "Prometheus Bound"; Sophocles, "Antigone"; Euripides, "Medea"; Aristophanes, "The Clouds"; Shakespeare, "Hamlet," "Romeo and Juliet," "Merchant of Venice" and "King Henry the Fourth"; Goldsmith, "She Stoops to Conquer"; Sheridan, "Rivals" and "School for Scandal"; Lytton, "The Lady of Lyons"; Moliere, "Tartuffe" and "The Misanthrope"; Racine, "Phèdre"; Corneille, "The Cid"; Rostand, "Chantecler"; Goethe, "Faust"; Lessing, "Minna Von Barnhelm"; Schiller, "Wilhelm Tell"; Hauptmann, "The Sunken Bell"; Ibsen, "Ghosts" and "The Doll's House"; Strindberg, "Swan White"; Gogol, "The Inspector-General"; Lope de Vega, "Star of Seville"; Calderon, "Mayor of Zalamea"; Maeterlinck, "The Blue Bird"; Shaw, "Man and Superman"; Kennedy, "The Servant in the House"; Browne, "Everywoman"; Noyes, "Rada"; Synge, "Riders to the Sea"; d'Annunzio, "Francesca da Rimini"; Roberts, "The Foot of the Rainbow"; McGroarty, "The Mission Play," and the farces of Wm. D. Howell, "The Mouse Trap"; Henry James, "Daisy Miller," and John Kendrick Bangs, "A Proposal Under Difficulties" - in these suggestions may be found action, passion, character and humor in all the phases of comedy and tragedy. I have omitted those dramatists whose eternal ironical search of vice and cynical analysis of problems of lust are nothing more nor less than sensational literary dissections catering to unhealthy, morbid appetites.
It is not the province of this paper to touch upon novels or general literature. Suffice it to say that for pure diction and analysis, I consider Henry James our foremost American novelist, with Marion Crawford and Wm. D. Howells close seconds. I remember one time congratulating a foreigner on his correct use of the English language. He informed me he had acquired it by reading the works of Henry James.
Those who are familiar with California authors have much admiration for them. All the world knows of Ambrose Bierce, Bret Harte, Joaquin Miller, Mark Twain, Charles Warren Stoddard, John Phoenix and John Muir, but how few have read the "Outdoor Philosophy" of Kirkham, "Comfort Found in Good Old Books" of Fitch, "Meditations" of Griggs, "The Ephebic Oath," McAdie; "Training of the Human Plant," Burbank; Poems of Sill, Realf, Markham, Sterling, Coolbrith, Cheney, Bashford and Smith, or a host of other writers of whom the State may well be proud, whose work and reputations promise much for the literary future of the commonwealth.
Many entertaining volumes may be found in psychology, economics and sociology which are not touched upon here. I do not enter upon a full narration of my choice of books, but most of them are tender, sympathetic, optimistic studies of nature and human nature, available to all, that will afford one, of a reciprocal character, an extended knowledge and fuller achievement of the subtle truths, duties and doctrines underlying life. There is no more satisfactory thing in existence than to enjoy the good things the Lord has provided for us and to know and understand our own kind.
"Without a love for books, the richest man is poor."