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The Pleasures of Extra-Illustration
from Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac by Eugene Field

Very many years ago we became convinced---Judge Methuen and I did---that there was nothing new in the world. I think it was while we were in London and while we were deep in the many fads of bibliomania that we arrived at this important conclusion.

We had been pursuing with enthusiasm the exciting delights of extra-illustration, a practice sometimes known as Grangerism; the friends of the practice call it by the former name, the enemies by the latter. We were engaged at extra-illustrating Boswell's life of Johnson, and had already got together somewhat more than eleven thousand prints when we ran against a snag, an obstacle we never could surmount. We agreed that our work would be incomplete, and therefore vain, unless we secured a picture of the book with which the great lexicographer knocked down Osborne, the bookseller at Gray's Inn Gate.

Unhappily we were wholly in the dark as to what the title of that book was, and, although we ransacked the British Museum and even appealed to the learned Frognall Dibdin, we could not get a clew to the identity of the volume. To be wholly frank with you, I will say that both the Judge and I had wearied of the occupation; moreover, it involved great expense, since we were content with nothing but India proofs (those before letters preferred). So we were glad of this excuse for abandoning the practice.

While we were contemplating a graceful retreat the Judge happened to discover in the "Natural History" of Pliny a passage which proved to our satisfaction that, so far from being a new or a modern thing, the extra-illustration of books was of exceptional antiquity. It seems that Atticus, the friend of Cicero, wrote a book on the subject of portraits and portrait-painting, in the course of which treatise he mentions that Marcus Varro "conceived the very liberal idea of inserting, by some means or another, in his numerous volumes, the portraits of several hundred individuals, as he could not bear the idea that all traces of their features should be lost or that the lapse of centuries should get the better of mankind."

"Thus," says Pliny, "was he the inventor of a benefit to his fellow-men that might have been envied by the gods themselves; for not only did he confer immortality upon the originals of these portraits, but he transmitted these portraits to all parts of the earth, so that everywhere it might be possible for them to be present, and for each to occupy his niche."

Now, Pliny is not the only one who has contributed to the immortalization of Marcus Varro. I have had among, my papers for thirty years the verses which Judge Methuen dashed off (for poets invariably dash off their poetry), and they are such pleasant verses that I don't mind letting the world see them.

In justice to the Judge and to myself I should say that neither of us wholly approves the sentiment which the poem I have quoted implies. We regard Grangerism as one of the unfortunate stages in bibliomania; it is a period which seldom covers more than five years, although Dr. O'Rell has met with one case in his practice that has lasted ten years and still gives no symptom of abating in virulence.

Humanity invariably condones the pranks of youth on the broad and charitable grounds that "boys will be boys"; so we bibliomaniacs are prone to wink at the follies of the Grangerite, for we know that he will know better by and by and will heartily repent of the mischief he has done. We know the power of books so well that we know that no man can have to do with books that presently he does not love them. He may at first endure them; then he may come only to pity them; anon, as surely as the morrow's sun riseth, he shall embrace and love those precious things.

So we say that we would put no curb upon any man, it being better that many books should be destroyed, if ultimately by that destruction a penitent and loyal soul be added to the roster of bibliomaniacs. There is more joy over one Grangerite that repenteth than over ninety and nine just men that need no repentance.

And we have a similar feeling toward such of our number as for the nonce become imbued with a passion for any of the other little fads which bibliomaniac flesh is heir to. All the soldiers in an army cannot be foot, or horse, or captains, or majors, or generals, or artillery, or ensigns, or drummers, or buglers. Each one has his place to fill and his part to do, and the consequence is a concinnate whole. Bibliomania is beautiful as an entirety, as a symmetrical blending of a multitude of component parts, and he is indeed disloyal to the cause who, through envy or shortsightedness or ignorance, argues to the discredit of angling, or Napoleonana, or balladry, or Indians, or Burns, or Americana, or any other branch or phase of bibliomania; for each of these things accomplishes a noble purpose in that each contributes to the glory of the great common cause of bibliomania, which is indeed the summum bonum of human life.

I have heard many decried who indulged their fancy for bookplates, as if, forsooth, if a man loved his books, he should not lavish upon them testimonials of his affection! Who that loves his wife should hesitate to buy adornments for her person? I favor everything that tends to prove that the human heart is swayed by the tenderer emotions. Gratitude is surely one of the noblest emotions of which humanity is capable, and he is indeed unworthy of our respect who would forbid humanity's expressing in every dignified and reverential manner its gratitude for the benefits conferred by the companionship of books.

As for myself, I urge upon all lovers of books to provide themselves with bookplates. Whenever I see a book that bears its owner's plate I feel myself obligated to treat that book with special consideration. It carries with it a certificate of its master's love; the bookplate gives the volume a certain status it would not otherwise have. Time and again I have fished musty books out of bins in front of bookstalls, bought them and borne them home with me simply because they had upon their covers the bookplates of their former owners. I have a case filled with these aristocratic estrays, and I insist that they shall be as carefully dusted and kept as my other books, and I have provided in my will for their perpetual maintenance after my decease.

If I were a rich man I should found a hospital for homeless aristocratic books, an institution similar in all essential particulars to the institution which is now operated at our national capital under the bequest of the late Mr. Cochrane. I should name it the Home for Genteel Volumes in Decayed Circumstances.

I was a young man when I adopted the bookplate which I am still using, and which will be found in all my books. I drew the design myself and had it executed by a son of Anderson, the first of American engravers. It is by no means elaborate: a book rests upon a heart, and underneath appear the lines:

Ah, little Puritan maid, with thy dear eyes of honest blue and thy fair hair in proper plaits adown thy back, little thought we that springtime long ago back among the New England hills that the tiny book we read together should follow me through all my life! What a part has that Primer played! And now all these other beloved companions bear witness to the love I bear that Primer and its teachings, for each wears the emblem I plucked from its homely pages.

That was in the springtime, Captivity Waite; anon came summer, with all its exuberant glory, and presently the cheery autumn stole upon me. And now it is the winter-time, and under the snows lies buried many a sweet, fair thing I cherished once. I am aweary and will rest a little while; lie thou there, my pen, for a dream---a pleasant dream---calleth me away. I shall see those distant hills again, and the homestead under the elms; the old associations and the old influences shall be round about me, and a child shall lead me and we shall go together through green pastures and by still waters. And, O my pen, it will be the springtime again!

 

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