Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Echoes of the Ages

Greetings, once again, friends, kin, near relations, strangers, critics, and enemies alike. You are reading Everyday Magic. If this is not the blog you were trying to reach, my apologies - you somehow typed the wrong URL. If I may say so, however, you might find it worth your while to read on. I've actually got a really good story for today.

I have had a momunental experience as I rambled through the Social Sciences section today. This afternoon, here in the Harold B. Lee Library (from whence I now write), I handled the oldest book it has ever been my privelage to encounter. It was a very aged thing, wearing away at the bindings, barely keeping it's long-since yellowed pages together. I could not at first locate a date within, so I had thought to simply put it away and move on. As I was about to shelve it, however, I caught sight of the library catalogue label on the spine - and couldn't suppress a gasp. This book - a collection of heroes and characters from Greek antiquity - was published in London, England... in 1774. 1774! I couldn't believe my eyes. I was holding a work of non-fiction literature that was 237 years old... older than my grandparents, my great grandparents, my great-great grandparents... something to the tune of four or five "greats" on the prefix.

I was suspended for some time in a state of awe. I withdrew the book again from the shelf, carefully examining the pages and cover with a sort of profound revrence. The inside cover held two labels - one with stamped the crest of the Royal Family (the lion and the Unicorn) that read "Haud Muto Factum" (Latin for "nothing comes from being mute"); the other depicting a tall sailing ship with the words "Ex Libris" ("from the books") printed above. Within the cover was written the name John J. Kest. My mind immediately started going a mile a minute. Who was John Kest? He wasn't the author... so perhaps an owner of the book? What did tall ships have to do with anything? What did the author and the printer and Kest think about the Americas? Did any of them realize that revolution was but a year away?

A veritable treasure trove - and right there in a college library. I remained with the book for some time, looking it over and enjoying its presence. I was reluctant to shelve it again and return to my usual work. However, even after I had left the bookshelves, visions of John Kest and sailing ships and antiquitous books danced before me, and my hands smelled of the dusty vellum cover for an hour afterwards.

I was reminded of this poem by Emily Dickinson:

A precious, mouldering pleasure 't is
To meet an antique book,
In just the dress his century wore;
A privilege, I think,

His venerable hand to take,
And warming in our own,
A passage back, or two, to make
To times when he was young.

His quaint opinions to inspect,
His knowledge to unfold
On what concerns our mutual mind,
The literature of old;

What interested scholars most,
What competitions ran
When Plato was a certainty.
And Sophocles a man;

When Sappho was a living girl,
And Beatrice wore
The gown that Dante deified.
Facts, centuries before,

He traverses familiar,
As one should come to town
And tell you all your dreams were true;
He lived where dreams were sown.

His presence is enchantment,
You beg him not to go;
Old volumes shake their vellum heads
And tantalize, just so.

I have experienced the action of this poem firsthand today. I certainly believe that last stanza - "His presence is enchantment, you beg him not to go... old volumes shake their vellum heads and tantalize just so." That said, I think I can truly proclaim that I have been both fully tantalized and unwittingly enchanted today. I was glad to make the aquaintance of such an ancient friend, and I can promise that I will certainly be back to see him again very soon.

Many thanks, and keep smiling! 'Til next we meet...

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