Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Winter reading plans

I've veered away from Dante, temporarily (hoping to read The Divine Comedy this year) and plowed straight into the Essays of Montaigne instead. I've only been reading a few pages each evening and I'm getting nowhere fast, with nearly nine hundred pages in the fat softcover edition of the complete essays published by Stanford University Press. The translator's preface alone took up one evening. Though Donald M. Frame says some wonderful things about Montaigne, so the preface is well worth reading, don't get me wrong:

"To accept the human condition is to accept our two parts, body and soul, not as slave and master but as relatively equal parts that should be friends. We are neither a body nor a soul, but both; neither brutes nor angels..."


"Wisdom, goodness, and happiness depend on our treating ourselves not with complacency and laxity, but with a measure of fairness and kindness. The golden rule must work both ways. Only if we accept our limitations without rancour can we recognize the privilege and dignity of being human. ... Montaigne strives repeatedly in his final pages to compress this into a formula: ... 'It is an absolute perfection and virtually divine to know how to enjoy our being rightfully.'"

I just need to read all the rest of the Essays to reach these final pages myself, to earn them as a reader. No skipping ahead allowed. Some of the passages are heavy going, frankly - I read a few sentences and think What?? and have to go back and re-read. It bends my brain a bit. Partly because of Montaigne's own extensive revisions, which are marked with letters (A, B, C) and are integrated throughout the text. He often contradicts himself because he's changed his mind ten years later about his original statement, and he uses classical stories, epigrams, and allusions to illustrate his various points, so the prose often resembles a dense thicket. It's worth it, obviously, to hack through the thickets in order to read his descriptions and insights into human nature, via his observations about his own nature.

Montaigne aside, two bookdealers-and-bloggers in Maine have recently ascended to high office (for whatever that's worth). Ian and I have just become president and vice-president, respectively, of the Maine Antiquarian Booksellers (Booksellers' ? - oh, that all-important apostrophe...) Association. Well, that's what comes of attending these meetings. Ian says he favors the "benevolent dictatorship" as a leadership style. Lead on, Macduff!

One more note, today: self-titled "recovering bibliomaniac" Jerry Morris recently started a new blog, Biblio Researching, and he features some delicious eye candy for those inclined toward love for bookish ephemera (that would be us). Do check it out.

Congradulations V.P.! That should get some business knocking at your door. Ian's blog mentions things left in books, which remindes me of a nice suprise when I purchased a 1926 edition Daughters of The Middle Border by Hamlin Garland (Wis. author) in a used bookshop in Menomonie, Wis. It was a nice poem type written on a piece of paper (now having yellowed with age)by a woman who apparently was a neighbor or resident of the author. I emailed Keith Newlin,Department of English
University of North Carolina at Wilmington, who is currently writing a biography on Hamlin Garland. He advised that she is likely a resident of Garland's home town, West Salem, Wis. Neshonoc is the cemetary
in which Garland is buried.

The poem reads as follows (formating here may have been alterd):

At Hamlin Garland's Grave
Died: March 5, 1940

Back where the hills, the once beloved hills,
May keep eternal watch, he lies at rest
Today. Life's trail has circled from the west
And brought him home again: so time fulfills
The measures of human urges and wills
The inherent desires of those whose outbound quest
Leads them afar, but keeps them ever blest
With love of that first home among the hills.

Now in Neshonoc's burial place he lies,
While in surrounding fields the whispering green
Of growing corn ripples with softened sheen
Beneath the placid blue of cloud-flecked skies.
Son of the Middle Border - "earth to earth"
Returns in death to the land of his birth.

Martha Fay Shuman

Longfellow might have approved of this poem... the last two lines are particularly mellifluous. Thanks for posting it, Steven -
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