The love affairs of a bibliomaniac by eugene field


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The determination to found a story or a series of sketches on the

delights, adventures, and misadventures connected with

bibliomania did not come impulsively to my brother. For many

years, in short during the greater part of nearly a quarter of a

century of journalistic work, he had celebrated in prose and

verse, and always in his happiest and most delightful vein, the

pleasures of book-hunting. Himself an indefatigable collector of

books, the possessor of a library as valuable as it was

interesting, a library containing volumes obtained only at the

cost of great personal sacrifice, he was in the most active

sympathy with the disease called bibliomania, and knew, as few

comparatively poor men have known, the half-pathetic,

half-humorous side of that incurable mental infirmity.
The newspaper column, to which he contributed almost daily for

twelve years, comprehended many sly digs and gentle scoffings at

those of his unhappy fellow citizens who became notorious,

through his instrumentality, in their devotion to old

book-shelves and auction sales. And all the time none was more

assiduous than this same good- natured cynic in running down a

musty prize, no matter what its cost or what the attending

difficulties. ``I save others, myself I cannot save,'' was his

humorous cry.
In his published writings are many evidences of my brother's

appreciation of what he has somewhere characterized the

``soothing affliction of bibliomania.'' Nothing of book-hunting

love has been more happily expressed than ``The Bibliomaniac's

Prayer,'' in which the troubled petitioner fervently asserts:

``But if, O Lord, it pleaseth Thee

To keep me in temptation's way,

I humbly ask that I may be

Most notably beset to-day;

Let my temptation be a book,

Which I shall purchase, hold and keep,

Whereon, when other men shall look,

They'll wail to know I got it cheap.''

And again, in ``The Bibliomaniac's Bride,'' nothing breathes

better the spirit of the incurable patient than this:

``Prose for me when I wished for prose,

Verse when to verse inclined,--

Forever bringing sweet repose

To body, heart and mind.

Oh, I should bind this priceless prize

In bindings full and fine,

And keep her where no human eyes

Should see her charms, but mine!''

In ``Dear Old London'' the poet wailed that ``a splendid Horace

cheap for cash'' laughed at his poverty, and in ``Dibdin's

Ghost'' he revelled in the delights that await the bibliomaniac

in the future state, where there is no admission to the women

folk who, ``wanting victuals, make a fuss if we buy books

instead''; while in ``Flail, Trask and Bisland'' is the very

essence of bibliomania, the unquenchable thirst for possession.

And yet, despite these self-accusations, bibliophily rather than

bibliomania would be the word to characterize his conscientious

purpose. If he purchased quaint and rare books it was to own

them to the full extent, inwardly as well as outwardly. The

mania for books kept him continually buying; the love of books

supervened to make them a part of himself and his life.

Toward the close of August of the present year my brother wrote

the first chapter of ``The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac.''

At that time he was in an exhausted physical condition and

apparently unfit for any protracted literary labor. But the

prospect of gratifying a long-cherished ambition, the delight of

beginning the story he had planned so hopefully, seemed to give

him new strength, and he threw himself into the work with an

enthusiasm that was, alas, misleading to those who had noted

fearfully his declining vigor of body. For years no literary

occupation had seemed to give him equal pleasure, and in the

discussion of the progress of his writing from day to day his eye

would brighten, all of his old animation would return, and

everything would betray the lively interest he felt in the

creature of his imagination in whom he was living over the

delights of the book-hunter's chase. It was his ardent wish that

this work, for the fulfilment of which he had been so long

preparing, should be, as he playfully expressed it, a monument of

apologetic compensation to a class of people he had so humorously

maligned, and those who knew him intimately will recognize in the

shortcomings of the bibliomaniac the humble confession of his own


It is easy to understand from the very nature of the undertaking

that it was practically limitless; that a bibliomaniac of so many

years' experience could prattle on indefinitely concerning his

``love affairs,'' and at the same time be in no danger of

repetition. Indeed my brother's plans at the outset were not

definitely formed. He would say, when questioned or joked about

these amours, that he was in the easy position of Sam Weller when

he indited his famous valentine, and could ``pull up'' at any

moment. One week he would contend that a book-hunter ought to be

good for a year at least, and the next week he would argue as

strongly that it was time to send the old man into winter

quarters and go to press. But though the approach of cold

weather increased his physical indisposition, he was not the

less interested in his prescribed hours of labor, howbeit his

weakness warned him that he should say to his book, as his much-

loved Horace had written:

``Fuge quo descendere gestis:

Non erit emisso reditis tibi.''

Was it strange that his heart should relent, and that he should

write on, unwilling to give the word of dismissal to the book

whose preparation had been a work of such love and solace?

During the afternoon of Saturday, November 2, the nineteenth

instalment of ``The Love Affairs'' was written. It was the

conclusion of his literary life. The verses supposably

contributed by Judge Methuen's friend, with which the chapter

ends, were the last words written by Eugene Field. He was at

that time apparently quite as well as on any day during the fall

months, and neither he nor any member of his family had the

slightest premonition that death was hovering about the

household. The next day, though still feeling indisposed, he

was at times up and about, always cheerful and full of that

sweetness and sunshine which, in his last years, seem now to have

been the preparation for the life beyond. He spoke of the

chapter he had written the day before, and it was then that he

outlined his plan of completing the work. One chapter only

remained to be written, and it was to chronicle the death of the

old bibliomaniac, but not until he had unexpectedly fallen heir

to a very rare and almost priceless copy of Horace, which

acquisition marked the pinnacle of the book-hunter's conquest.

True to his love for the Sabine singer, the western poet

characterized the immortal odes of twenty centuries gone the

greatest happiness of bibliomania.

In the early morning of November 4 the soul of Eugene Field

passed upward. On the table, folded and sealed, were the memoirs

of the old man upon whom the sentence of death had been

pronounced. On the bed in the corner of the room, with one arm

thrown over his breast, and the smile of peace and rest on his

tranquil face, the poet lay. All around him, on the shelves and

in the cases, were the books he loved so well. Ah, who shall say

that on that morning his fancy was not verified, and that as the

gray light came reverently through the window, those cherished

volumes did not bestir themselves, awaiting the cheery voice:

``Good day to you, my sweet friends. How lovingly they beam upon

me, and how glad they are that my rest has been unbroken.''

Could they beam upon you less lovingly, great heart, in the

chamber warmed by your affection and now sanctified by death?

Were they less glad to know that the repose would be unbroken

forevermore, since it came the glorious reward, my brother, of

the friend who went gladly to it through his faith, having

striven for it through his works?


Buena Park, December, 1895.

The Chapters in this Book






















At this moment, when I am about to begin the most important

undertaking of my life, I recall the sense of abhorrence with

which I have at different times read the confessions of men famed

for their prowess in the realm of love. These boastings have

always shocked me, for I reverence love as the noblest of the

passions, and it is impossible for me to conceive how one who has

truly fallen victim to its benign influence can ever thereafter

speak flippantly of it.

Yet there have been, and there still are, many who take a seeming

delight in telling you how many conquests they have made, and

they not infrequently have the bad taste to explain with

wearisome prolixity the ways and the means whereby those

conquests were wrought; as, forsooth, an unfeeling huntsman is

forever boasting of the game he has slaughtered and is forever

dilating upon the repulsive details of his butcheries.
I have always contended that one who is in love (and having once

been in love is to be always in love) has, actually, no

confession to make. Love is so guileless, so proper, so pure a

passion as to involve none of those things which require or which

admit of confession. He, therefore, who surmises that in this

exposition of my affaires du coeur there is to be any betrayal of

confidences, or any discussion, suggestion, or hint likely either

to shame love or its votaries or to bring a blush to the cheek of

the fastidious--he is grievously in error.

Nor am I going to boast; for I have made no conquests. I am in

no sense a hero. For many, very many years I have walked in a

pleasant garden, enjoying sweet odors and soothing spectacles; no

predetermined itinerary has controlled my course; I have wandered

whither I pleased, and very many times I have strayed so far into

the tangle- wood and thickets as almost to have lost my way. And

now it is my purpose to walk that pleasant garden once more,

inviting you to bear me company and to share with me what

satisfaction may accrue from an old man's return to old-time

places and old-time loves.

As a child I was serious-minded. I cared little for those sports

which usually excite the ardor of youth. To out-of-door games

and exercises I had particular aversion. I was born in a

southern latitude, but at the age of six years I went to live

with my grandmother in New Hampshire, both my parents having

fallen victims to the cholera. This change from the balmy

temperature of the South to the rigors of the North was not

agreeable to me, and I have always held it responsible for that

delicate health which has attended me through life.
My grandmother encouraged my disinclination to play; she

recognized in me that certain seriousness of mind which I

remember to have heard her say I inherited from her, and she

determined to make of me what she had failed to make of any of

her own sons--a professional expounder of the only true faith of

Congregationalism. For this reason, and for the further reason

that at the tender age of seven years I publicly avowed my desire

to become a clergyman, an ambition wholly sincere at that time--

for these reasons was I duly installed as prime favorite in my

grandmother's affections.

As distinctly as though it were but yesterday do I recall the

time when I met my first love. It was in the front room of the

old homestead, and the day was a day in spring. The front room

answered those purposes which are served by the so-called parlor

of the present time. I remember the low ceiling, the big

fireplace, the long, broad mantelpiece, the andirons and fender

of brass, the tall clock with its jocund and roseate moon, the

bellows that was always wheezy, the wax flowers under a glass

globe in the corner, an allegorical picture of Solomon's temple,

another picture of little Samuel at prayer, the high, stiff-back

chairs, the foot-stool with its gayly embroidered top, the mirror

in its gilt-and-black frame--all these things I remember well,

and with feelings of tender reverence, and yet that day I now

recall was well-nigh threescore and ten years ago!

Best of all I remember the case in which my grandmother kept her

books, a mahogany structure, massive and dark, with doors

composed of diamond-shaped figures of glass cunningly set in a

framework of lead. I was in my seventh year then, and I had

learned to read I know not when. The back and current numbers of

the ``Well- Spring'' had fallen prey to my insatiable appetite

for literature. With the story of the small boy who stole a pin,

repented of and confessed that crime, and then became a good and

great man, I was as familiar as if I myself had invented that

ingenious and instructive tale; I could lisp the moral numbers of

Watts and the didactic hymns of Wesley, and the annual reports of

the American Tract Society had already revealed to me the sphere

of usefulness in which my grandmother hoped I would ultimately

figure with discretion and zeal. And yet my heart was free;

wholly untouched of that gentle yet deathless passion which was

to become my delight, my inspiration, and my solace, it awaited

the coming of its first love.
Upon one of those shelves yonder--it is the third shelf from the

top, fourth compartment to the right--is that old copy of the

``New England Primer,'' a curious little, thin, square book in

faded blue board covers. A good many times I have wondered

whether I ought not to have the precious little thing sumptuously

attired in the finest style known to my binder; indeed, I have

often been tempted to exchange the homely blue board covers for

flexible levant, for it occurred to me that in this way I could

testify to my regard for the treasured volume. I spoke of this

one day to my friend Judge Methuen, for I have great respect for

his judgment.

``It would be a desecration,'' said he, ``to deprive the book of

its original binding. What! Would you tear off and cast away

the covers which have felt the caressing pressure of the hands of

those whose memory you revere? The most sacred of sentiments

should forbid that act of vandalism!''

I never think or speak of the ``New England Primer'' that I do

not recall Captivity Waite, for it was Captivity who introduced

me to the Primer that day in the springtime of sixty-three years

ago. She was of my age, a bright, pretty girl--a very pretty, an

exceptionally pretty girl, as girls go. We belonged to the same

Sunday-school class. I remember that upon this particular day

she brought me a russet apple. It was she who discovered the

Primer in the mahogany case, and what was not our joy as we

turned over the tiny pages together and feasted our eyes upon the

vivid pictures and perused the absorbingly interesting text!

What wonder that together we wept tears of sympathy at the

harrowing recital of the fate of John Rogers!

Even at this remote date I cannot recall that experience with

Captivity, involving as it did the wood-cut representing the

unfortunate Rogers standing in an impossible bonfire and being

consumed thereby in the presence of his wife and their numerous

progeny, strung along in a pitiful line across the picture for

artistic effect--even now, I say, I cannot contemplate that

experience and that wood-cut without feeling lumpy in my throat

and moist about my eyes.

How lasting are the impressions made upon the youthful mind!

Through the many busy years that have elapsed since first I

tasted the thrilling sweets of that miniature Primer I have not

forgotten that ``young Obadias, David, Josias, all were pious'';

that ``Zaccheus he did climb the Tree our Lord to see''; and that

``Vashti for Pride was set aside''; and still with many a

sympathetic shudder and tingle do I recall Captivity's

overpowering sense of horror, and mine, as we lingered long over

the portraitures of Timothy flying from Sin, of Xerxes laid out

in funeral garb, and of proud Korah's troop partly submerged.

My Book and Heart

Must never part.

So runs one of the couplets in this little Primer-book, and right

truly can I say that from the springtime day sixty-odd years ago,

when first my heart went out in love to this little book, no

change of scene or of custom no allurement of fashion, no demand

of mature years, has abated that love. And herein is exemplified

the advantage which the love of books has over the other kinds of

love. Women are by nature fickle, and so are men; their

friendships are liable to dissipation at the merest provocation

or the slightest pretext.
Not so, however, with books, for books cannot change. A thousand

years hence they are what you find them to-day, speaking the same

words, holding forth the same cheer, the same promise, the same

comfort; always constant, laughing with those who laugh and

weeping with those who weep.
Captivity Waite was an exception to the rule governing her sex.

In all candor I must say that she approached closely to a

realization of the ideals of a book--a sixteenmo, if you please,

fair to look upon, of clear, clean type, well ordered and well

edited, amply margined, neatly bound; a human look whose text, as

represented by her disposition and her mind, corresponded

felicitously with the comeliness of her exterior. This child was

the great-great-granddaughter of Benjamin Waite, whose family

was carried off by Indians in 1677. Benjamin followed the party

to Canada, and after many months of search found and ransomed the


The historian has properly said that the names of Benjamin Waite

and his companion in their perilous journey through the

wilderness to Canada should ``be memorable in all the sad or

happy homes of this Connecticut valley forever.'' The child who

was my friend in youth, and to whom I may allude occasionally

hereafter in my narrative, bore the name of one of the survivors

of this Indian outrage, a name to be revered as a remembrancer of

sacrifice and heroism.

When I was thirteen years old I went to visit my Uncle Cephas.

My grandmother would not have parted with me even for that

fortnight had she not actually been compelled to. It happened

that she was called to a meeting of the American Tract Society,

and it was her intention to pay a visit to her cousin, Royall

Eastman, after she had discharged the first and imperative duty

she owed the society. Mrs. Deacon Ranney was to have taken me

and provided for my temporal and spiritual wants during

grandmother's absence, but at the last moment the deacon came

down with one of his spells of quinsy, and no other alternative

remained but to pack me off to Nashua, where my Uncle Cephas

This involved considerable expense, for the stage fare was three

shillings each way: it came particularly hard on grandmother.

inasmuch as she had just paid her road tax and had not yet

received her semi-annual dividends on her Fitchburg Railway

stock. Indifferent, however, to every sense of extravagance and

to all other considerations except those of personal pride, I

rode away atop of the stage-coach, full of exultation. As we

rattled past the Waite house I waved my cap to Captivity and

indulged in the pleasing hope that she would be lonesome without

me. Much of the satisfaction of going away arises from the

thought that those you leave behind are likely to be wretchedly

miserable during your absence.

My Uncle Cephas lived in a house so very different from my

grandmother's that it took me some time to get used to the place.

Uncle Cephas was a lawyer, and his style of living was not at all

like grandmother's; he was to have been a minister, but at twelve

years of age he attended the county fair, and that incident

seemed to change the whole bent of his life. At twenty-one he

married Samantha Talbott, and that was another blow to

grandmother, who always declared that the Talbotts were a

shiftless lot. However, I was agreeably impressed with Uncle

Cephas and Aunt 'Manthy, for they welcomed me very cordially and

turned me over to my little cousins, Mary and Henry, and bade us

three make merry to the best of our ability. These first

favorable impressions of my uncle's family were confirmed when I

discovered that for supper we had hot biscuit and dried beef

warmed up in cream gravy, a diet which, with all due respect to

grandmother, I considered much more desirable than dry bread and

dried- apple sauce.

Aha, old Crusoe! I see thee now in yonder case smiling out upon

me as cheerily as thou didst smile those many years ago when to a

little boy thou broughtest the message of Romance! And I do love

thee still, and I shall always love thee, not only for thy

benefaction in those ancient days, but also for the light and the

cheer which thy genius brings to all ages and conditions of


My Uncle Cephas's library was stored with a large variety of

pleasing literature. I did not observe a glut of theological

publications, and I will admit that I felt somewhat aggrieved

personally when, in answer to my inquiry, I was told that there

was no ``New England Primer'' in the collection. But this

feeling was soon dissipated by the absorbing interest I took in

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