Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Books

Regulars might recall a post of mine, A Teacher Remembered - date 25 September (for some reason I can't link to it) - about the death of my old friend and teacher at a near-biblical age. Here's the coda. The other day, I went to his flat to have a rummage among his books and pick out a selection to remember him by. This was, of course, sad - the last visit I shall ever make to a place I had been regularly visiting for so many years - and yet it was no longer his home, his habitat (stage set, I should perhaps say, carefully and elegantly constructed). All that had made it his was gone or going, and only the shell remained - which in months will be another home altogether, framing another life. But the books - or a substantial remnant of them - were still there, and my rummage among them seemed the perfect legacy and the perfect tribute.
Some of his library seemed destined to end up among the sad unwanted - multi-volume Dumas, ditto De Quincey, minor Georgians, volumes of letters and diaries by obscure 18th-century figures (French and English), Pierre Loti, James Elroy Flecker (though I took a very handsome Hassan)... But there was much that, for me, was treasure - volumes by Edward Thomas, Saki, Sir Thomas Browne, a beautiful Emily Dickinson, Katherine Mansfield, Beddoes, Thomas Traherne. These were books that would carry his spirit down to me.
What will remain of us is books? Hardly - but with a person like him, they are a large part of what is left - of the shaping intellectual music that lingers in the minds of those who knew him, and no doubt will die with them. But it is something.


  1. An excellent post and very possibly true... I wonder what anyone would make of my stash of old copies of 'Penthouse'... not a life well-lived I think.

  2. i used to buy my poetry from Daisy Lane Books in Holmfirth - they had a huge range of old hardback 19th Century editions for about £3 each, a clergyman's library, perhaps. i liked to feel i was reading some unknown dead man's collection, as if the very frail but oddly enduring magic of ink on paper held us together in the act of reading.

  3. Sir Thomas Browne! There's a name to conjure with, and a Norfolk man I believe. Apart from the pleasure of his writing, he's a lesson in what makes a good doctor in any age. We pass him on to the next generation as a companion, not a book, imho.