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A MAN (or a woman) is the most interesting thing in the world; and next is a book, which enables one to get at the heart of the mystery; and although not many men can say why they are or what they are, any man who publishes a book can, if he is on good terms with his publisher, secure the use of a little space to tell how the book came to be what it is.
Some years ago a very learned friend of mine published a book, and in the introduction warned the "gentle reader" to skip the first chapter, and, as I have always maintained, by inference suggested that the rest was easy reading, which was not the case. In point of fact, the book was not intended for the "gentle reader" at all: it was a book written by a scholar for the scholar.
Now, I have worked on a different plan. My book is written for the "tired business man (there are a goodly number of us), who flatters himself that he is fond of reading; and as it is my first book, I may be permitted to tell how it came to be published.
One day in the autumn of 1913, a friend, my partner, with whom it has been my privilege to be assosociated for so many years, remarked that it was time for me to take a holiday, and handed me a copy of the "Geographical Magazine." The number was
devoted to Egypt; and, seduced by the charm of the illustrations, on the spur of the moment I decided on a trip up the Nile.
Things moved rapidly. In a few weeks my wife and I were in the Mediterranean, on a steamer headed for Alexandria. We had touched at Genoa and were soon to reach Naples, when I discovered a feeling of homesickness stealing over me. I have spent my happiest holidays in London. Already I had tired of Egypt. The Nile has been flowing for centuries and would continue to flow. There were books to be had in London, books which would not wait. Somewhat shamefacedly I put the matter up to my wife; and when I discovered that she had no insuperable objection to a change of plan, we left the steamer at Naples, and after a few weeks with friends in Rome, started en grande vitesse toward London.
By this time it will have been discovered that I am not much of a traveler; but I have always loved London - London with its wealth of literary and historic association, with its countless miles of streets lined with inessential shops overflowing with things that I don't want, and its grimy old book-shops overflowing with things that I do.
One gloomy day I picked up in the Charing Cross Road, for a shilling, a delightful book by Richard Le Gallienne, "Travels in England." Like myself, Le Gallienne seems not to have been a great traveler — he seldom reached the place he started for; and losing his way or changing his mind, may be said to have
arrived at his destination when he has reached a comfortable inn, where, after a simple meal, he lights his pipe and proceeds to read a book.
Exactly my idea of travel! The last time I read "Pickwick" was while making a tour in Northern Italy. It is wonderful how conducive to reading I found the stuffy smoking-rooms of the little steamers that dart like water-spiders from one landing to another on the Italian Lakes.
It was while I was poking about among the old book-shops that it occurred to me to write a little story about my books when and where I had bought them, the prices I had paid, and the men I had bought them from, many of whom I knew well; and so, when my holiday was done, I lived over again its pleasant associations in writing a paper that I called "Book-Collecting Abroad." Subsequently I wrote another,- "Book-Collecting at Home," — it being my purpose to print these papers in a little volume to be called "The Amenities of Book-Collecting." I intended this for distribution among my friends, who are very patient with me; and I sent my manuscript to a printer in the closing days of July, 1914. A few days later something happened in Europe, the end of which is not yet and we all became panic-stricken. For a moment it seemed unlikely that one would care ever to open a book again. Acting upon impulse, I withdrew the order from my printer, put my manuscript aside, and devoted myself to my usual task - that of making a living.
Byron says, "The end of all scribblement is to amuse." For some years I have been possessed of an itch for "scribblement"; gradually this feeling reasserted itself, and I came to see that we must become accustomed to working in a world at war, and to realizing that life must be permitted to resume, at least to some extent, its regular course; and the idea of my little book recurred to me.
It had frequently been suggested by friends that my papers be published in the "Atlantic." What grudge they bore this excellent magazine I do not know, but they always said the "Atlantic"; and so, when one day I came across my manuscript, it occurred to me that it would cost only a few cents to lay it before the editor. At that time I did not know the editor of the "Atlantic" even by name. My pleasure then can be imagined when, a week or so later, I received the following letter:
DEAR MR. NEWTON:
Oct. 30, 1914.
The enthusiasm of your pleasant paper is contagious, and I find myself in odd moments looking at the gaps in my own library with a feeling of dismay. I believe that very many readers of the "Atlantic" will feel as I do, and it gives me great pleasure to accept your paper.
Shortly afterward, a check for a substantial sum fluttered down upon my desk, and it was impossible that I should not remember how much Milton had
received for his "Paradise Lost," - the receipt for which is in the British Museum, and draw conclusions therefrom entirely satisfactory to my selfesteem. My paper was published, and the magazine, having a hardy constitution, survived; I even received some praise. There was nothing important enough to justify criticism, and as a result of this chance publication I made a number of delightful acquaintances among readers and collectors, many of whom I might almost call friends although we have
Not wishing to strain the rather precarious friendship with Mr. Sedgwick which was the outcome of my first venture, it was several years before I ventured to try him with another paper. This I called "A Ridiculous Philosopher." I enjoyed writing this paper immensely, and although it was the reverse of timely, I felt that it might pass editorial scrutiny. Again I received a letter from Mr. Sedgwick, in which he said:
Two days ago I took your paper home with me and spent a delightful half-hour with it. Now, as any editor would tell you, there is no valid reason for a paper on Godwin at this time, but your essay is so capitally seasoned that I cannot find it in my heart to part with it. Indeed I have been gradually making the editorial discovery that, if a paper is sufficiently readable, it has some claim upon the public, regardless of what the plans of the editor are. And so the upshot of my deliberation is that we shall accept your paper with great pleasure and publish it when the opportunity occurs.