Saturday, September 05, 2009

Burrowing into borrowed Holbrook Jackson

Holbrook Jackson
(1874 - 1948)
(Image from Wikipedia)

I initially learned of Holbrook Jackson from my cyber-friend the Maverick Philosopher, Bill Vallicella, who seems to have learned of Jackson from another acquaintance in the cybersphere, that "praiser of time past" Michael Gilleland. Memes travel fast in cyberspace, but Holbrook travels 'slow', for Bill first blogged about Jackson on August 7, 2007. I read the post, taking merely cursory notice. Only when he blogged again, on August 23, 2009, did I sit up and take notice sufficient to get myself interested enough to order the book by Jackson that both Bill and Michael were praising.

Jackson apparantly had a somewhat messy personal life, for he set up house in 1908 with the wife of his friend Alfred Richard Orage, a British 'intellectual' whom he had met in a Leeds bookshop eight years earlier and with whom he had founded the Leeds Arts Club in 1903. At the time, Jackson was working in the lace trade and Orage was employed as a school teacher, but both had separately left Leeds by 1906 or 1907 to work as journalists in London, where their lives remained temporarily intertwined as they together bought and edited The New Age, a literary magazine with socialist leanings. Jackson and Orage moved in the same radical circles but seem to have parted ways after the latter's wife left him for Jackson without the then still ambiguous sanction of divorce. That, anyway, is what I have managed to piece together from the unutterably reliable Wikipedia.

The book praised by Bill and Michael was The Anatomy of Bibliomania, and quite a lot of it can be viewed online at Google Books, but the true book lover will want to personally heft its entire 668 pages, as I have been doing for the past two days since it arrived. I have reached only page 20, but let me borrow what Bill quoted two years ago from some 19 pages further along:
My purpose in the following work is to discourse of the nature, excellences, uses, and diseases of books, and particularly to anatomize this humour of Bibliomania, through all his parts and species, as it is an habit, or a disease; and philosophically and medicinally to show the causes, symptoms, signs, expressions, meanings, manifestations, eccentricities, vanities, impudences, and, where expedient, the cures, for 'tis plain to conceive that it is often a genial mania, less harmful than the sanity of the sane, and most happy when endemic with moderation in the constitution of a man.

In doing so, I have described and opened up, as by a kind of dissection, not only those peccant humours (some of them) which have given impediment to the proficiency of learning and occasion to the traducement of the love of books, but also those more robust passions which are proper to bibliophilia: wherein, if I have been too plain, it must be remembered, fidelia vulnera amantis, sed dolosa ocula malignantis ['Faithful are the wounds of a lover, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.' Proverbs xxvii, 6]: to be true to any subject without frankness is impossible. These methods and motives at this present have induced me to make choice of the subject. (page 39)
As Bill observes, "It is indicative of the leisurely pace of this work that this explanation of purpose is to be found only after 39 pages of close print." This leisurely pace, I might add, appears to be in marked contrast to the apparently frenetic pace of Mr. Jackson's life . . . from what I can glean of it. My own life is far too frenetic for my sedentary tastes, but such are the circumstances of those who must make their way in this world, so I will perhaps be too quickly reading what ought to be perused in a manner "conducive to slowing down, taking one's time, and enjoying the moment," as Bill suggests. He himself is reading Jackson that way, for two years after those words, Bill has quoted further along in the book in his post on how "a youth spent cultivating the delights of study pays rich dividends as the years roll on" by drawing upon the interest accumulated from an intellectual fund saved up against the potential mental debilities of old age. I again borrow from Bill's hard work of typing:
No labour in the world is like unto study, for no other labour is less dependent upon the rise and fall of bodily condition; and, although learning is not quickly got, there are ripe wits and scholarly capacities among men of all physical degrees, whilst for those of advancing years study is of unsurpassed advantage, both for enjoyment and as a preventative of mental decay. Old men retain their intellects well enough, said Cicero, then on the full tide of his own vigorous old age, if only they keep their minds active and fully employed; [De Senectate, 22, tr. E. S. Shuckburgh, 38] and Dr. Johnson holds the same opinion: There must be a diseased mind, he said, where there is a failure of memory at seventy. [Life, ed. Hill, iii, 191] Cato (so Cicero tells us) was a tireless student in old age; when past sixty he composed the seventh book of his Origins, collected and revised his speeches, wrote a treatise on augural, pontifical, and civil law, and studied Greek to keep his memory in working order; he held that such studies were the training grounds of the mind, and prophylactics against consciousness of old age. [Op. cit. 61-62] (pages 120-121)
I am not in the same league as Cato, Cicero, or Dr. Johnson, nor of Bill or Michael, and I fear that my own poor memory indicates what Johnson termed "a diseased mind" . . . though not from want of trying to hone razor sharp my mental skills over the years. I do try, and as I told my wife the other day, "Mine is a second-rate mind that occasionally does some first-rate work." If I recall correctly, I was referring to an upcoming article of mine on Don Quixote for Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society, in which I had to analyze some Spanish . . . and I don't know Spanish. Bold and audacious of me, I admit. Bodacious, even, like this vaunting of mine via periphrastic apophasis. But a man's reach should exceed his grasp, else what's a noetic haven for? But let us return to Jackson, borrowing from Michael Gilleland's post of July 23, 2007, wherein he quotes:
I close this volume and affirm that bookmen, men of letters, students, and all manner of passionate readers are a species apart finding their sustenance in the printed word as plants imbibe air and fishes animalculae; they do not look upon life with their own eyes, but through the eyes of books as through an optical glass, magnifying, intensifying, distorting or glorifying, according as they fancy it; or sometimes they eschew all common affairs and use books as kaleidoscopes to make for their own delight fantastic patterns which they use as substitutes for life. They become natives of a world of books, creatures of the printed word, and in the end cease to be men, as, by a gradual metastasis, they are resolved into bookmen: twice-born, first of woman (as every man) and then of books, and, by reason of this, unique and distinct from the rest. (page 333)
Who would have guessed that Jackson was "born again"! But he does appear to have been baptized in the word . . . or, rather, words. But if you infer that the man was about to dam up his own verbal stream, then think again, for by his reference to closing "this volume," Jackson meant merely Part 15, for the book goes on another 17 parts, unto Part 32, and finishes with the end of its index 335 pages later!

As for me, I have reached only page 20 -- already noted above -- but I will continue to burrow . . . and borrow.

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