History Lost: The Turning Of A Page
At 11:36 AM CDT today, my wife called me. She and our youngest were performing their weekly recycle and she had stumbled onto something unusual.
"Honey, come down here now! There are books, lots of books! Somebody just dumped them here! You've got to hurry before they come and take them away to the recycle area for paper!!"
I immediately excused myself for an early lunch and headed over. It was a short two mile drive and when I arrived, I found my wife almost waist-deep in books; so to speak.
There were four waist high bins of books, bins normally reserved for waste papers and such. Three were filled to overflowing and the fourth was roughly half full. She stood there with books in both hands, looking at me. "Honey, why? Why would someone throw these away?"
I had no answer.
I began slowly, picking up one then another, trying to read the title and author on the spine. Wherever these came from, the former owner had a love affair with American History. As I have the same love, I became interested, then excited as I looked over one then another. A large portion of them dealt with the Civil War and the various battles, titles that read like a history exam: Appomattox, Gettysburg, Sherman, Grant, Lee. Most were in the forty year old range, published in the 1970's or so. Some were older yet, moving back a decade at a time.
Then I laid my hands on one whose title I could not see, as it was turned away from me. Its cover looked old; worn from hands touching it. As I grasped it and picked it up, turning it over to read the title I was stunned.
"The Faith Of Our Fathers" by Rev. James Gibbons. Publish date? 1879. Nearly 140 years ago this book was published and here it lay, in a pile of books destined for destruction within hours. As I gently opened it, I found an inscription, although it took a bit to decipher the beautiful script, written no doubt by goose quill pen and ink long years ago:
"To my niece, this little book is affectionately presented in the fervent hope that a prayerful perusal of its pages may lead her to a knowledge of the truth." March 22, 1879.
This book, which by 1917 had been published in 83 editions with some 1,400,000 copies by that time, reached its 111th printing by 1980. To say it has had an impact on the world would be a bit of an understatement.
And yet, here it lay, discarded forgotten useless.
I continued to dig into the box and found another old book, its cover gray whether with age or intent I was not sure. As I picked it up I saw the name B. Franklin emblazoned on the cover. B. Franklin? As in Benjamin Franklin? I looked closer. No, not a book by B. Franklin but one which has a statement by him on the cover.
"Look upon your hands! They are stained with the blood of your relations!"
The book is "A Century of Dishonor" by Helen Hunt Jackson. First published in 1881, this 1885 edition in fine shape was another discard; tossed upon the scrap heap of America as useless. This book is a treatise in the disgraceful handling of the Native American peoples beginning with the 1871 Indian Appropriations Act which made the entire Indian Nation a ward of the country.
Once published, Ms. Jackson sent a copy of the book to each and every member of Congress... at her own expense. So strongly did she feel about the poor handling of these once great tribes that she desired to remove the stain upon this nation by a century of dishonor.
I have never heard of this book but I look forward to delving into it shortly.
Time and again, my wife and I found books that were of interest, were old, were important. A copy of "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman" was there. Then another old appearing book came to light.
An 1898 copy of "The Field, Dungeon and Escape" by Albert D Richardson. First published in 1865 by Richardson (who worked at the New York Tribune which was owned by Horace Greeley - remember that name?) and tells the tales of a Union war correspondent behind the Confederate lines including time spent in various Southern prisons as a prisoner of war.
How? Why? Where? These and other questions flitted through my mind as I looked at one then another of these books, trying to determine which ones I would rescue and take home with me and which ones I would leave here to their own destiny. And as I searched, I became upset, then ill. I mean literally ill at the thought of these books left here to be destroyed.
And that's when it hit me: our country has turned a page away from the written word. No longer are books valued, treasured, desired; today's generation seem to prefer, by and large, the electronic versions of books. I can see the draw, I suppose: one can carry hundreds of them with them at any and all times of the day, picking and choosing on a whim what they might read next. And from a publishing standpoint it is immensely more cost effective to not have to print new textbooks or reading books, no paper you see.
A library can consist of a few gigs of data or whatever you call the memory these days. No longer does one have to have space, shelves and room to house a collection. For some, I can see where they would enjoy that.
Not me. I love to walk into my library at home, the first I have ever had that has the ability to showcase my books together, all at once. Nearly a thousand tomes I have in my own personal library now and I will be adding some to it today. I love to walk into the darkened room, flip on the lights, standing there looking at the various sections I have for history, non-fiction, fiction, children's and other sub-categories within each genre. Looking at my special sections for autographed books and collectible copies including one which is an author's edition, limited to ten copies worldwide. It and all of these others mean something to me, to hold a book in my hands and open it and inhale the knowledge contained within its pages like a delectable fragrance. To close my eyes and know that within its covers lies a person, a person who thought enough of their thoughts to pursue its getting published and all of the struggle that entails.
I treasure books. I do not understand those who inherit their family's assorted library of carefully collected works and think so little of them as to throw them away like yesterday's garbage. For that, I feel ill. I am sick at heart for the loss of who knows how many other wonderful works which have ended up like these, with no one there to save them. Left to lie out in the weather until someone comes to drag them away to the pit.
As I browsed through these books a bookmark fell out of one of the older tomes. After picking it up and looking at it, I decided to call the number of the "Used and Rare" bookstore advertised there. A couple of rings and an answer. I detailed what we had found, almost pleading with the gentleman on the other end of the phone to come down here and rescue these poor books. I supplied the age of some of them, titles and content in hopes of their finding a new home.
There was no interest: none. It was as though I was completely wasting the time of this person to offer him, the presumed owner or worker of an antique book shop the hundreds of books lying here, their destiny unknown.
He could not have cared less. Is this how our country feels about anything "old", not new, presumed useless? If so, then how long will it be until I am on that same heap?