Wednesday, September 26, 2012


A Monster Bookcase

A friend gave me a copy of James Hurnard: A Victorian Character. Being Passages from The Setting Sun. Selected and Arranged by G. Rostrevor Hamilton (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1946). No one would call Hurnard (1808-1881) a great poet; at his best, as early reviewers noted, he reminds one of Cowper or Crabbe. But he is a personality of considerable charm, and the book is a gem. I will be posting excerpts from it in days to come. Here is the first installment, from Hamilton, pp. 33-34, with some lines added by me at the end from the 3rd edition of The Setting Sun (London: Saml. Harris & Co., 1878), pp. 119-120:
One thing I long had set my heart upon,
And had determined staunchly to possess
Whenever I obtained a settled home.
This shadowy object of my aspirations
Was nothing other than a monster bookcase,
With folding doors of glass, to hold my treasures:
For I had been affected from my youth
With a propensity to purchase books—
Cheap if I could; if not, at any price—
And I had many now to store away.
At length I found the object of my wishes;
A noble bookcase, worth a kingly ransom.

At first Louisa entered gentle protest
Against so large a piece of furniture.
She fancied it would spoil our dining-room;
She had not seen it, and she feared the worst;
Imagination magnified the evil;
But soon she yielded when she saw how strongly
My heart was set upon my noble purchase.
Polished anew and slendered to my wishes,
When fitted to its place she gazed upon it
With admiration equal to my own.
Thus do we please each other and are pleased;
And I have filled it with my dear old books,
Companions of my solitary years.
Right glad am I to see their shining ranks.
My books are my especial worthy friends,
That never take offence if they are slighted.
The best of friends are seldom always pleased;
A random speech, or unintentioned act,
Will sometimes wound the sensibilities
Even of kindred hearts and gentle natures.
But who can quarrel with a favourite book?
Always when I have read a work that pleased me
I never am content till I possess it.
I like to have it near me to refer to;
It is to me a transcendental pleasure,
After the lapse of half a century,
To read a book familiar to my boyhood,
But never re-perused since those bright days.
It seems to bring one's childhood back again,
And give once more the feelings of my youth,
Reviving faded pictures of the mind
With all the freshness of old favourite scenes.

Lonely in life, secretive in my habits,
Living unknown to my contemporaries,
I have not had my intellect refreshed
By sweet colloquial contact with great minds.
My books have been my principal companions;
Reading has been my chief delight of life:
Thus have I communed with the mighty dead
Until my soul was knit to theirs in love;
Not without hope that in the life to come
We might converse as kindred spirits may.
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