Tuesday, August 29, 2017


Zeal of Learning

George Gissing (1857-1903), The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft ("Spring," XIII):
There must be several men of spirit and experiences akin to mine who remember that little book-shop opposite Portland Road Station. It had a peculiar character; the books were of a solid kind—chiefly theology and classics—and for the most part those old editions which are called worthless, which have no bibliopolic value, and have been supplanted for practical use by modern issues. The bookseller was very much a gentleman, and this singular fact, together with the extremely low prices at which his volumes were marked, sometimes inclined me to think that he kept the shop for mere love of letters. Things in my eyes inestimable I have purchased there for a few pence, and I don't think I ever gave more than a shilling for any volume. As I once had the opportunity of perceiving, a young man fresh from class-rooms could only look with wondering contempt on the antiquated stuff which it rejoiced me to gather from that kindly stall, or from the richer shelves within. My Cicero's Letters for instance: podgy volumes in parchment, with all the notes of Graevius, Gronovius, and I know not how many other old scholars. Pooh! Hopelessly out of date. But I could never feel that. I have a deep affection for Graevius and Gronovius and the rest, and if I knew as much as they did, I should be well satisfied to rest under the young man's disdain. The zeal of learning is never out of date; the example—were there no more—burns before one as a sacred fire, for ever unquenchable. In what modern editor shall I find such love and enthusiasm as glows in the annotations of old scholars?

Even the best editions of our day have so much of the mere school-book; you feel so often that the man does not regard his author as literature, but simply as text. Pedant for pedant, the old is better than the new.

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