George Gissing (1857-1903), The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft
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Hopelessly out of date.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 The zeal of learning is never out of date; the example—were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.