Sunday, December 11, 2011


A Word about Bookstalls

Salad for the Solitary. By an Epicure [Frederick Saunders] (New York: Lamport, Blakeman & Law, 1853), pp. 301-302:
A word about bookstalls—establishments which, humble in themselves, have been the resort in past days of many a true son of genius. Our collective literary spoils are not exclusively to be found garnishing the shelves of the library, or the bookseller’s store; there are sundry other interesting little nooks and corners in the wide world as attractive to the real book-worm as the honeypot to bees, where learned personages seek their literary aliment, and with as eager an appetite.

Book-stalls were the cheap literature of a former age. Ben Jonson was probably a haunter of them when a working brick-layer, he used to be seen with a trowel in one hand and a book in the other. Lackington was a constant frequenter of these lowly depositories of literary wares. The amusing anecdote of his book versus a leg of mutton, which his spouse commissioned him to purchase, his process of reasoning the matter, and final decision in favor of the food intellectual, reveals the first glimpses of his character. Charles Lamb relates a somewhat similar story of his purchase of a folio, "Beaumont and Fletcher," at a bookstall. He had marked it longingly, but was delayed by want of money. He almost daily passed the place to see if the book was there, fearful lest it should be gone. At length, late one Saturday night, having mastered the necessary sum—thirteen shillings—off he set to the shop, never dreaming of the possibility of its being shut. Finding this the case, and the worthy proprietor gone to his nocturnal repose, he was not yet, however, to be baulked of his prey, for he presently commenced a rapping at the door, sufficient to have awakened the seven sleepers. The bookseller came out, at length, in the direst alarm, half-clad, and grumblingly took the thirteen pieces of silver in exchange for the twin dramatists, whom the delighted author carried away in high exultation and rapture.
Cornelis Springer (1817-1891), Bookstall

Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

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