Wednesday, December 02, 2009

"a good Booke"

The Anatomy of Bibliomania
Holbrook Jackson
(Image from eBay)

Perhaps some of my readers will remember a previous post on a quote from Milton's Areopagitica:
[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.
In that post, I wondered how embalming the life-blood would keep it for "a life beyond life," but earlier in the same passage, Milton writes:
For Books are not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a potencie of life in them to be as active as that soule was whose progeny they are.
However the embalming metaphor might work, Milton clearly believes in the power of books, and those who want to read the entire passage and discover its greater power can go to paragraph 3 of Areopagitica, available in Thomas H. Luxon's Milton Reading Room.

Or one can turn to other books for possible allusions to Milton's passage. I've recently come upon two in Holbrook Jackson's Anatomy of Bibliomania. In a section on the "Diversity of Cures" provided by books, Jackson refers to Richard De Bury's observation that even obsolete books can "heal the pectoral arteries with the gift of eloquence," to which Jackson adds:
Nor need we wonder at him, for a book is no dead thing.
Obviously an allusion to Milton's remark . . . though Jackson cites Browning's Ring and the Book (i, 89-90):
. . . The thing's restorative
I' the touch and sight.
These various points occur on pages 300-301 of Jackson's own book of books, but an earlier page also contains a possible allusion to Milton. On page 291, in a section titled "Preservatives and Prophylactics," Jackson cites Thomas Frognall Dibdin's Bibliophobia (page 78) for his quote from a translation of Payne Fisher's mixed passage:
Men timely die, and Princes day by day
Moulder to dust: but Books will live for aye,
And re-embalm us in the coldest day!
I take it the "us" whom books "re-embalm" are the authors, and that the meaning here is similar to Milton's . . . which may suggest that the translator was being influenced by Milton in rendering into English that mixed Latin passage from Fisher's Elogia Sepulchralia:
Miramur perisse Homines? Monumenta fatiscunt (Anson), and Nescia Musarum sed monumenta mori (Ovid)
The English translation appears rather free, so I doubt that Milton was being directly influenced by the original Latin in Ovid.

I don't know if these blog entries of mine are at work embalming my own life-blood for "a life beyond life," but for the nonce readers can at least see from the image above that Jackson's own two-volume 1930 work has done its job of preserving his life-blood and is still available in relatively good condition:
Faint shelfwear with little or no chipping to jacket edges, spine of jacket toned, unclipped. Previous owner's bookplate on free endpaper. Water stain to bottom edge of the jacket of Volume 2, has bled red from jacket.
Though it appears that some of that red life-blood has bled a bit . . .

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At 1:30 PM, Blogger Sperwer said...

"Jackson refers to Richard De Bury's observation that even obsolete books can "heal the pectoral arteries with the gift of eloquence"

I wonder what Arnold was reading before that scene in Pumping Iron when he gets his pecs working in an alternating rhythym that would have put poor Gypsy Rose Lee and her pasties to shame.

At 5:37 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

That must have been some throbbing, pulsating rhythmic verse indeed, Sperwer.

Better than bellowing on stage like some sort of beast . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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