The Moving Finger Writes

Pete, we’ve got that book you sent Nickie. Did she meet you in Perth? Mary, that bag of books on Edith Wharton you gave someone as a gift—and wrote the fact in big letters all over the outside of the bag—came in. The recipient didn’t send us any books on Edith Wharton in it, but did apparently, from the looks of the bag, used it as a little portable bookcase for books about 20th century American authors.

I’ve, er, kind of mentioned, stringbean cheesecake, that you want to be careful with what you send to the Book Fair. There are certain nosy passersby—Uncle Blogsy, for example—who will actually read what you’ve written in the front of the book. Or even on the outside of the bag. (I admit the full-bag inscription from Mary is singular: still, it was a smallish bag and completely white, with no logo on it, just begging for inscription.)

Two of the donors this year gave us over a thousand books each, each with their name, and the place and date they read the books. If I wanted to put the books in chronological order, I could map out their travels, both physically and intellectually. One of the two went further, also noting when she re-read the books and, in at least one case, when she read the book to her children.

One never knows, of course, what books the donors KEPT, so I may not be getting the whole story. Doog, if you sent Pipsy more than one book, she only sent the one to me. It’s the one where you spoke about how much the two of you resembled each other in your intellectual pursuits. I’m assuming that you were well-matched enough that you sent Pipsy other books that I haven’t seen. That one books of poems might, of course, have been the one that proved you were NOT suited, and thus was the only one you inscribed to Pipsy, but I hope you won’t let me know that. Allow me to keep my illusions, Doog.

Also of course, there are times when you can’t prevent a book you inscribed from falling into my hands. I have two gift books of poetry published by Thomas Mosher in 1904. Mosher published nice little books in Portland, Maine: some people collect them and some people deride them as “nice little books”. These two are William Blake’s Songs of Innocence, and George Meredith’s Modern Love.

In Modern Love, someone has made a few random notes, two which look like messages to a recipient: “Passion–a noble truth on fire”, and “The Desire of God—a flame-white secret forever.” A third seems to be five lines of poetry, either a quotation or the beginning of a verse of one’s own. These are not unusual things to find in a book of poetry.

Blake, however, inspired a note headed “John from Lucy, Christmas, 1907.” The handwriting is similar to the handwriting of that line about the Desire of God. Blake meant something at least to Lucy, and, I hope, to John as well. She has filled the page.

“In memory of a certain late afternoon in a Paris Café where we found together for the first time ‘The Little Black Boy”, “Tiger, tiger burning bright” and “Spring”. Surely all of us may say with Blake, ‘The Angel that presided at my birth said ‘Little Creature, formed of joy and mirth, Go, love without the help of anything on earth.’, although many of us take the whole journey and are unaware of the ‘little creature’ as our companion. If you ask the Water Baby and Rehtom and Rehtaf, they will tell you that they were not born, the one in June 1906, and the other two in June 1907, but on September 24, 1884 and May 4, 1884. Yes! The ‘Little Creature’ in each of us turns to Blake, but before the page is turned, this child of joy has slipt his hand into that of the silent, questioning, dream child, whom we have hailed as companion from the first days of our journey.”

Doog, how come you never write stuff like that?

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