Books and Bookmen, by Andrew Lang

Ghosts in the Library

Suppose, when now the house is dumb,

When lights are out, and ashes fall —

Suppose their ancient owners come

To claim our spoils of shop and stall,

Ah me! within the narrow hall

How strange a mob would meet and go,

What famous folk would haunt them all,

Octavo, quarto, folio!

The great Napoleon lays his hand

Upon this eagle-headed N,

That marks for his a pamphlet banned

By all but scandal-loving men, —

A libel from some nameless den

Of Frankfort — Arnaud a la Sphere,

Wherein one spilt, with venal pen,

Lies o’er the loves of Moliere. 3

Another shade — he does not see

“Boney,” the foeman of his race —

The great Sir Walter, this is he

With that grave homely Border face.

He claims his poem of the chase

That rang Benvoirlich’s valley through;

And THIS, that doth the lineage trace

And fortunes of the bold Buccleuch; 4

For these were his, and these he gave

To one who dwelt beside the Peel,

That murmurs with its tiny wave

To join the Tweed at Ashestiel.

Now thick as motes the shadows wheel,

And find their own, and claim a share

Of books wherein Ribou did deal,

Or Roulland sold to wise Colbert. 5

What famous folk of old are here!

A royal duke comes down to us,

And greatly wants his Elzevir,

His Pagan tutor, Lucius. 6

And Beckford claims an amorous

Old heathen in morocco blue; 7

And who demands Eobanus

But stately Jacques Auguste de Thou! 8

They come, the wise, the great, the true,

They jostle on the narrow stair,

The frolic Countess de Verrue,

Lamoignon, ay, and Longepierre,

The new and elder dead are there —

The lords of speech, and song, and pen,

Gambetta, 9 Schlegel 10 and the rare

Drummond of haunted Hawthornden. 11

Ah, and with those, a hundred more,

Whose names, whose deeds, are quite forgot:

Brave “Smiths” and “Thompsons” by the score,

Scrawled upon many a shabby “lot.”

This playbook was the joy of Pott 12 —

Pott, for whom now no mortal grieves.

Our names, like his, remembered not,

Like his, shall flutter on fly-leaves!

At least in pleasant company

We bookish ghosts, perchance, may flit;

A man may turn a page, and sigh,

Seeing one’s name, to think of it.

Beauty, or Poet, Sage, or Wit,

May ope our book, and muse awhile,

And fall into a dreaming fit,

As now we dream, and wake, and smile!

3 Histoire des Intrigues Amoureuses de Moliere, et de celles de sa femme. (A la Sphere.) A Francfort, chez Frederic Arnaud, MDCXCVII. This anonymous tract has actually been attributed to Racine. The copy referred to is marked with a large N in red, with an eagle’s head.

4 The Lady of the Lake, 1810.

The Lay of the Last Minstrel, 1806.

“To Mrs. Robert Laidlaw, Peel. From the Author.”

5 Dictys Cretensis. Apud Lambertum Roulland. Lut. Paris., 1680. In red morocco, with the arms of Colbert.

6 L. Annaei Senecae Opera Omnia. Lug. Bat., apud Elzevirios. 1649. With book-plate of the Duke of Sussex.

7 Stratonis Epigrammata. Altenburgi, 1764. Straton bound up in one volume with Epictetus! From the Beckford library.

8 Opera Helii Eobani Hessi. Yellow morocco, with the first arms of De Thou. Includes a poem addressed “LANGE, decus meum.” Quantity of penultimate “Eobanus” taken for granted, metri gratia.

9 La Journee du Chretien. Coutances, 1831. With inscription, “Leon Gambetta. Rue St. Honore. Janvier 1, 1848.”

10 Villoison’s Homer. Venice, 1788. With Tessier’s ticket and Schlegel’s book-plate.

11 Les Essais de Michel, Seigneur de Montaigne. “Pour Francois le Febvre de Lyon, 1695.” With autograph of Gul. Drummond, and cipresso e palma.

12 “The little old foxed Moliere,” once the property of William Pott, unknown to fame.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57