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Again the Narrative is Retarded

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Roger had spent a quiet evening in the bookshop. Sitting at his desk under a fog of tobacco, he had honestly intended to do some writing on the twelfth chapter of his great work on bookselling. This chapter was to be an (alas, entirely conjectural) "Address Delivered by a Bookseller on Being Conferred the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters by a Leading University," and it presented so many alluring possibilities that Roger's mind always wandered from the paper into entranced visions of his imagined scene. He loved to build up in fancy the flattering details of that fine ceremony when bookselling would at last be properly recognized as one of the learned professions. He could see the great auditorium, filled with cultivated people: men with Emersonian profiles, ladies whispering behind their fluttering programmes. He could see the academic beadle, proctor, dean (or whatever he is, Roger was a little doubtful) pronouncing the august words of presentation--

A man who, in season and out of season, forgetting private gain for public weal, has laboured with Promethean and sacrificial ardour to instil the love of reasonable letters into countless thousands; to whom, and to whose colleagues, amid the perishable caducity of human affairs, is largely due the pullulation of literary taste; in honouring whom we seek to honour the noble and self-effacing profession of which he is so representative a member----

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Then he could see the modest bookseller, somewhat clammy in his extremities and lost within his academic robe and hood, nervously fidgeting his mortar-board, haled forward by ushers, and tottering rubescent before the chancellor, provost, president (or whoever it might be) who hands out the diploma. Then (in Roger's vision) he could see the garlanded bibliopole turning to the expectant audience, giving his trailing gown a deft rearward kick as the ladies do on the stage, and uttering, without hesitation or embarrassment, with due interpolation of graceful pleasantry, that learned and unlaboured discourse on the delights of bookishness that he had often dreamed of. Then he could see the ensuing reception: the distinguished savants crowding round; the plates of macaroons, the cups of untasted tea; the ladies twittering, "Now there's something I want to ask you-- why are there so many statues to generals, admirals, parsons, doctors, statesmen, scientists, artists, and authors, but no statues to booksellers?"

Contemplation of this glittering scene always lured Roger into fantastic dreams. Ever since he had travelled country roads, some years before, selling books from a van drawn by a fat white horse, he had nourished a secret hope of some day founding a Parnassus on Wheels Corporation which would own a fleet of these vans and send them out into the rural byways where bookstores are unknown. He loved to imagine a great map of New York State, with the daily location of each travelling Parnassus marked by a coloured pin. He dreamed of himself, sitting in some vast central warehouse of second-hand books, poring over his map like a military chief of staff and forwarding cases of literary ammunition to various bases where his vans would re-stock. His idea was that his travelling salesmen could be recruited largely from college professors, parsons, and newspaper men, who were weary of their thankless tasks, and would welcome an opportunity to get out on the road. One of his hopes was that he might interest Mr. Chapman in this superb scheme, and he had a vision of the day when the shares of the Parnassus on Wheels Corporation would pay a handsome dividend and be much sought after by serious investors.

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The Haunted Bookshop
Christopher Morley

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