The Lamp Behind Books

It may be that I will be losing all of my precious books, the ones too expensive to ship, some of which I can still visualise, being the kind of reader who remembers the content of a book by looking at the spine. I wouldn't call myself a materialist and am not generally attached to things, but those books... The white leather one from Lugano written in French about all the jewelery of the world, significance and symbol in technicolour photos. The one I bought in Japan by Keene that turned out to be related to the kinds of books I bought at college, knowing there would be a day I would want to reread them. "Investments," I thought as I reached for the wallet. The copies I bought from the Strand when I worked there one summer, learning the language of the world, as Caxton, esq., would say. Of course the circumstances of their demise is sadder, they became hostages, &c., and I am reminded of greater values above books as I let them go and hope very much that the person charged with them reaches the freedom of soul that brings thanksgiving. Books are a small price to pay, after all, for a person's happiness, and so I realise as I type that I am willing to let them go in that very hope, that such happiness be reached by them.
After all, when I first lost things, I realised that they may be regained in so many ways. There are always libraries, and the greatest library of the internet, archive.org. I miss memory in spines, but have taken to scribbling in notebooks.
It is necessary to learn how to say goodbye in so many ways in life, and that it pains the heart is always the fortuitous sign that we have not lost it. I returned to reading The Caxtons last night, there not being enough hours in the day for me to read it through in a few sittings. I am so grateful for that book that I do not think that I can express my gratitude adequately. The nameless poetry of a youthful life is one phrase - that may describe myself.
Let us talk about maturing that not all people do at the same time if they do so at all. "Neither man nor wood," we read in The Caxtons, "comes to the uses of life til the green leaves are stripped and the sap gone. And then the uses of life transform us into strange things with other names: the tree is a tree no more - it is a gate or a ship." And then, regret over youth that is the running after mistaken values. "When such feelings as I felt then can agitate us no more: they are mistakes on the serene order of that majestic life which heaven meant for thoughtful men. Our souls should be as stars on earth, not as meteors and tortured comets." The squire continues, "How many years wasted. It would not have been so if at your age I had found out the secret of the saffron bag!" And as he instructs his son, he quotes that adage, "follow my precept not example".



Indeed, many lessons on maturity may be found in works by Victorian authors; it is clear that character was of importance. I was lucky to have had a headmaster who would assess character, too, in his monthly letters to our parents. George Henry Lewes quotes Quintilian's, Quod observatum fere  est celerius occidere festinatam maturitatem, which may be translated as soon ripe, soon rotten to explain the "matured mediocrity following the brilliant promise" of a gifted child; likewise, he writes, the child who did not do so well at school may become a genius. To be a man of the highest class, one must have both receptive and productive qualities. To this, I would add to receive knowledge even from mistakes and produce something constructive from them. During maturity, Lewes writes,"the prudent child turns out an extravagant youth; but he crystallizes once more into prudence, as he hardens with age".
Prudence is often the word into which the Greek παιδεία is rendered. Perhaps it may only be exhibited in number in stable and economically strong countries with long traditions of intellectual culture. In any case, it is a word that has a moral component, not just intellectual, an artistic component, too, one of the sympathy of the arts seeking harmonious ratios. 
It is fitting, then, given this ideal that man is to live up to - having grown out of "mistakes on the serene order of this majestic life" - that Lewes begins his work on Goethe by quoting Quintus Curtius, who speaks of whirling dust covering the landmarks by which directions were set - and in the dearth of terrestrial guide posts, travellers would lift up their eyes to the stars, "to light them on their dim and perilous way. May we not say the same of Literature? From time to  time its pathways are so obscured beneath the rubbish of the  age, that many a footsore pilgrim seeks in vain the hidden  route. In such times it may be well to imitate the Bactrians: ceasing to look upon the confusions of the day, and  turning our gaze upon the great Immortals who have gone  before, we may seek guidance from their light."





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