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    Non Libri Sed Liberi

    by Kenneth Grahame
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    It will never be clear to the lay mind why the book-buyer buys books.
    That it is not to read them is certain: the closest inspection always
    fails to find him thus engaged. He will talk about them -- all night
    if you let him -- wave his hand to them, shake his fist at them, shed
    tears over them (in the small hours of the morning); but he will not
    read them. Yet it would be rash to infer that he buys his books
    without a remote intention of ever reading them. Most book lovers
    start with the honest resolution that some day they will ''shut down
    on'' this fatal practice. Then they purpose to themselves to enter
    into their charmed circle, and close the gates of Paradise behind
    them. Then will they read out of nothing but first editions; every day
    shall be a debauch in large paper and tall copies; and crushed morocco
    shall be familiar to their touch as buckram. Meanwhile, though, books
    continue to flaunt their venal charms; it would be cowardice to shun
    the fray. In fine, one buys and continues to buy; and the promised
    Sabbath never comes.

    The process of the purchase is always much the same, therein
    resembling the familiar but inferior passion of love. There is the
    first sight of the Object, accompanied of a catching of the breath, a
    trembling in the limbs, loss of appetite, ungovernable desire, and a
    habit of melancholy in secret places. But once possessed, once toyed
    with amorously for an hour or two, the Object (as in the inferior
    passion aforesaid) takes its destined place on the shelf -- where it
    stays. And this saith the scoffer, is all; but even he does not fail
    to remark with a certain awe that the owner goeth thereafter as one
    possessing a happy secret and radiating an inner glow. Moreover, he is
    insufferably conceited, and his conceit waxeth as his coat, now
    condemned to a fresh term of servitude, groweth shabbier. And shabby
    though his coat may be, yet will he never stoop to renew its pristine
    youth and gloss by the price of any book. No man -- no human,
    masculine, natural man -- ever sells a book. Men have been known in
    moments of thoughtlessness, or compelled by temporary necessity, to
    rob, to equivocate, to do murder, to commit what they should not, to
    ''wince and relent and refrain'' from what they should: these things,
    howbeit regrettable, are common to humanity, and may happen to any of
    us. But amateur bookselling is foul and unnatural; and it is
    noteworthy that our language, so capable of particularity, contains no
    distinctive name for the crime. Fortunately it is hardly known to
    exist: the face of the public being set against it as a flint -- and
    the trade giving such wretched prices.

    In book-buying you not infrequently condone an extravagance by the
    reflection that this particular purchase will be a good investment,
    sordidly considered: that you are not squandering income but sinking
    capital. But you know all the time that you are lying. Once possessed,
    books develop a personality: they take on a touch of warm human life
    that links them in a manner with our kith and kin. Non angli sed
    Angeli was the comment of a missionary (old style) on the small human
    duodecimos exposed for sale in the Roman market-place; and many a
    buyer, when some fair-haired little chattel passed into his
    possession, must have felt that here was something vendible no more.
    So of these you may well affirm Non libri sed liberi; children now,
    adopted into the circle, they shall be trafficked in never again.

    There is one exception which has sadly to be made -- one class of men,
    of whom I would fain, if possible, have avoided mention, who are
    strangers to any such scruples. These be Executors -- a word to be
    strongly accented on the penultimate; for, indeed, they are the common
    headsmen of collections, and most of all do whet their bloody edge for
    harmless books. Hoary, famous old collections, budding young
    collections, fair virgin collections of a single author -- all go down
    before the executor's remorseless axe. He careth not and he spareth
    not. ''The iniquity of oblivion blindly scattereth her poppy,'' and it
    is chiefly by the hand of the executor that she doth love to scatter
    it. May oblivion be his portion for ever!

    Of a truth, the foes of the book-lover are not few. One of the most
    insidious, because he cometh at first in friendly, helpful guise, is
    the bookbinder. Not in that he bindeth books -- for the fair binding
    is the final crown and flower of painful achievement -- but because he
    bindeth not: because the weary weeks lapse by and turn to months, and
    the months to years, and still the binder bindeth not: and the heart
    grows sick with hope deferred. Each morn the maiden binds her hair,
    each spring the honeysuckle binds the cottage-porch, each autumn the
    harvester binds his sheaves, each winter the iron frost binds lake and
    stream, and still the bookbinder he bindeth not. Then a secret voice
    whispereth: ''Arise, be a man, and slay him! Take him grossly, full of
    bread, with all his crimes broad-blown, as flush as May; At gaming,
    swearing, or about some act That hath no relish of salvation in it!''
    But when the deed is done, and the floor strewn with fragments of
    binder -- still the books remain unbound. You have made all that
    horrid mess for nothing, and the weary path has to be trodden over
    again. As a general rule, the man in the habit of murdering
    bookbinders, though he performs a distinct service to society, only
    wastes his own time and takes no personal advantage.

    And even supposing that after many days your books return to you in
    leathern surcoats bravely tricked with gold, you have scarce yet
    weathered the Cape and sailed into halcyon seas. For these books --
    well, you kept them many weeks before binding them, that the
    oleaginous printer's-ink might fully dry before the necessary
    hammering; you forbore to open the pages, that the autocratic binder
    might refold the sheets if he pleased; and now that all is over --
    consummatum est -- still you cannot properly enjoy the harvest of a
    quiet mind. For these purple emperors are not to be read in bed, nor
    during meals, nor on the grass with a pipe on Sundays; and these brief
    periods are all the whirling times allow you for solid serious
    reading. Still, after all, you have them; you can at least pulverise
    your friends with the sight; and what have they to show against them?
    Probably some miserable score or so of half-bindings, such as lead you
    scornfully to quote the hackneyed couplet concerning the poor Indian
    whose untutored mind clothes him before but leaves him bare behind.
    Let us thank the gods that such things are: that to some of us they
    give not poverty nor riches but a few good books in whole bindings.
    Dowered with these and (if it be vouchsafed) a cup of Burgundy that is
    sound even if it be not old, we can leave to others the foaming grape
    of Eastern France that was vintaged in '74, and with it the whole
    range of shilling shockers, -- the Barmecidal feast of the purposeful
    novelist -- yea, even the countless series that tell of Eminent Women
    and Successful Men.
    If you're writing a Non Libri Sed Liberi essay and need some advice, post your Kenneth Grahame essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

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