Wednesday, September 30, 2015


A Beautiful Little Book

Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011), A Time of Gifts (1977; rpt. New York: New York Review Books, 2005), pp. 114-115 (ellipses in original):
All these kindnesses were crowned with a dazzling consummation. I had said that my books, after the lost diary, were what I missed most. I ought to have known by now that mention of loss had only one result under this roof ... What books? I had named them; when the time came for farewells, the Baron said: "We can't do much about the others but here's Horace for you." He put a small duodecimo volume in my hand. It was the Odes and Epodes, beautifully printed on thin paper in Amsterdam in the middle of the seventeenth century, bound in hard green leather with gilt lettering. The leather on the spine had faded but the sides were as bright as grass after rain and the little book opened and shut as compactly as a Chinese casket. There were gold edges to the pages and a faded marker of scarlet silk slanted across the long S's of the text and the charming engraved vignettes: cornucopias, lyres, pan-pipes, chaplets of olive and bay and myrtle. Small mezzotints showed the Forum and the Capitol and imaginary Sabine landscapes: Tibur, Lucretilis, the Bandusian spring, Soracte, Venusia ... I made a feint at disclaiming a treasure so far beyond the status of the rough travels ahead. But I had been forestalled, I saw with relief, by an inscription: "To our young friend," etc., on the page opposite an emblematic ex libris with the name of their machiolated Baltic home. Here and there between the pages a skeleton leaf conjured up those lost woods.

This book became a fetish. I noticed, during the next few days, that it filled everyone with feelings of wonder akin to my own. On the second evening — Rosenheim was the first — placed alongside the resolutely broached new diary on the inn-table of Hohenaschau, it immediately made me seem more exalted than the tramp that I actually was. "What a beautiful little book!,"awed voices would say. Horny fingers reverently turned the pages. "Lateinisch? Well, well ..." A spurious aura of scholarship and respectability sprang up.

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