Saturday, December 01, 2007

Curbing the urge to purge

The campaign is over, the Ruffin symposium is over, Thanksgiving is over, it's December already. I'm in a maintenance mood; took a load of books to the PTA Thift Shop today to clear out space for the ones stacked on the floor. I rarely buy books for their long-term value; they're to be read, or at least read at, and available for research. Some, to be sure, I need to have around for unexplainable reasons--old grad school books mostly. But more often, when I feel pretty certain I'm not going to need a book again, it's no pain to give it away.

I almost gave away my Everyman's Library copy of Thomas Browne's Religio Medici and Other Writings. But as I landed on the last page, I decided I wasn't ready to part with it:

Think not thy time short in this World since the World itself is not long. The created World is but a small parenthesis in Eternity, and a short interposition for a time between such a state of duration as was before it and may be after it. And if we should allow of the old Tradition, that the World should last Six Thousand years, it could scarce have the name of old, since the first man lived near a sixth part thereof, and seven Methuselas would exceed its whole duration. However to palliate the shortness of our Lives, and somewhat to compensate our brief term in this World, it's good to know as much as we can of it, and also so far as possibly in us lieth to hold such a Theory of times past, as though we had seen the same. He who hath thus considered the World, as also how therein things long past have been answered by things present, how matters in one Age have been acted over in another, and how there is nothing new under the Sun may conceive himself in some manner to have lived from the beginning and be as old as the world; and if he should still live on, 'twould be but the same thing.

--"Christian Morals," sec. XXIX

Virginia Woolf in her own way suggests why I might want to hold on to old Thomas Browne.

Accustomed as we are to strip a whole page of its sentences and crush their meaning out in one grasp, the obstinate resistance which a page of Urn Burial offers at first trips and blinds us. . . . He is an amateur . . . has no call to conciliate his reader. . . . Here we approach the doubtful region--the region of beauty. . . . But why beauty should have the effect upon us that it does, the strange serene confidence that it inspires in us, none can say. Most people have tried and perhaps one of the invariable properties of beauty is that it leaves in the mind a desire to impart. Some offering one must make; some act we must dedicate, if only to move across the room and turn the rose in the jar, which, by the way, has dropped its petals.

--"Reading" (1919)

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