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nothing that ruins books more quickly than an indifference to their well-being; and unless our volumes are constantly placed in their proper position, that is upon their feet, they will age speedily and visibly both inside and out.
• The surest way to preserve your books in health is to treat them as you would your own children,' wrote that great bibliophile, William Blades; and the care which should ever be bestowed upon ancient volumes cannot be too strongly emphasised. And it is not only 'ancient' volumes that require attention. Cloth bindings are hardly so durable as leather, and without proper care a library of modern books can be reduced to wreckage in a year. It is just as easy to provide proper accommodation for one's books, wherever one may be living, as it is to provide comforts for oneself. Treat your books well and they will last you all your life, giving pleasure every time that you may take them in your hands. Remember also that although one may judge the propensities of a collector from the titles of his volumes and his character from their contents, yet there is nothing which indicates his habits so surely as the external appearance of his books. Whenever we enter the library of a book-collector we can gauge at once the depths of his feelings towards books, let alone the extent of his bibliographical knowledge.
Surely no man is such a giant among his fellows that he may allow the life-works of the greatest geniuses of this world to be spurned underfoot ? "Take thou a book into thine hands,' wrote Thomas à Kempis, 'as Simeon the Just took the Child Jesus into his arms to carry him and kiss him.'
What true book-lover could find it in his heart wantonly to injure a good book ? '... as good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book,' wrote Milton in that oft-quoted passage in his Areopagitica ; 'who kills a Man kills a reasonable creature, God's Image ; but hee who destroyes a good Booke, kills Reason itselfe, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the Earth ; but a good Booke is the pretious life-blood of a master spirit, imbalm’d and treasur'd up on purpose to a Life beyond Life.'
It is not only the critic who destroys books, for neglect may approach dangerously near to wanton destruction. At the least, he who regards not the welfare of his books is an accessory before the fact of their destruction. “Books,' says that veteran bibliophile M. Octave Uzanne, ‘are so many faithful and serviceable friends, gently teaching us everything through their persuasive and wise experience. Surely if good books are so much to us, such a great part of our lives, it behoves us to respect them not a little. Have they not taught us, guided us, advised us, soothed us, and amused us from our youth up? And is it meet that we should repay their constant friendship with indignity ?
'Thou, whosoever thou art that studiest in this book, wrote an unknown book-lover many centuries ago upon the margin of a favourite volume, 'take heed to turn the leaves lightly and smoothly, that thou mayest avoid tearing them on account of their thinness; and seek to imitate the example of Jesus Christ who, when He had gently opened the book of Isaiah and read it with attention, at length closed it reverently and returned it to the minister.
On this subject of shelving we can speak from experience, for we have provided proper accommodation for a thousand to three thousand volumes in three temporary abodes. It takes a little time, a fair amount of trouble, and an outlay of two or three pounds; but when once accomplished such shelving is a thing of no small pride to oneself, and the object of a good deal of admiration by one's friends. Briefly, the plan we have always adopted is to erect shelves of pine or deal stained brown, nine inches wide and five-eighths or three-quarters of an inch thick, along the entire walls of our sanctum. It is firmly made and will last a lifetime, yet it can readily be taken to pieces in a few minutes.
1 It may be that you are contemplating the erection of shelves for your books ? If so, perhaps the writer's experience may save you some little time and trouble. But if your treasures are already housed in a manner fitting, then he will claim your indulgence and ask that you be so good as to skip the next few pages,
In erecting such shelving the first thing to do is to estimate how many feet of it you will require. On an average one foot will contain ten octavo or quarto volumes or six folio ones. There should be ten inches between the shelves for octavos, twelve inches for quartos, and fourteen inches for folios : while at the bottom you may have a shelf sixteen inches in height for such large folios as you may acquire or already possess. Should the huge folios (almost folissimos) published by the Record Commission in the early years of the nineteenth century fall within the category of your collecting activities, you will require one shelf at least no less than nineteen inches in height. If only for the sake of your peace of mind we would strongly advise you not to begin collecting early Spanish antiphonaries, such as you may see in the Escurial; for these are frequently six feet high and four feet wide, and are really out of place in the small domestic library. We forget for the moment their precise dimensions in millimetres.
It is a mistake to have the top shelves too high. Not to speak of the inconvenience of having to stretch upon tip-toe or mount a chair in order to obtain a volume, your books will be subjected to a higher temperature the nearer they are to the ceiling. Blades, in his 'Enemies of Books,' is emphatic upon this point. “Heat alone,' he says, 'without any noxious fumes is, if continuous, very injurious to books; and, without gas, bindings may be utterly destroyed by desiccation, the leather losing all its natural oils by long exposure to much heat. It is, therefore, a great pity to place books high up in a room where heat of any kind is used, for it must rise to the top, and if sufficient to be of comfort to the readers below is certain to be hot enough above to injure the bindings.'
Gas is one of the greatest enemies of books, the sulphur in the gas fumes attacking the leather bindings readily, so that in time they are reduced to tinder. So if gas be the illuminant in your study, see to it that no volume of yours be above the level of the burner. In any case the highest shelf should not exceed six feet from the ground. We have long adopted five feet six inches as the maximum for comfort and convenience. For similar reasons of temperature, the bottom shelves should be six inches above the floor.
As to the actual length of the shelves, if constructed of wood five-eighths of an inch thick when planed, they should not exceed two feet two inches in length between supports. If made longer they will gradually bend in the middle under the weight of the books and soon look unsightly. But if made of three-quarter-inch wood, they may well be three feet long.