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The Haunted Bookshop Christopher Morley

Again the Narrative is Retarded

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I hope that you will write to tell me along what curves your mind is moving. For my own part I feel that we are on the verge of amazing things. Long ago I fell back on books as the only permanent consolers. They are the one stainless and unimpeachable achievement of the human race. It saddens me to think that I shall have to die with thousands of books unread that would have given me noble and unblemished happiness. I will tell you a secret. I have never read King Lear, and have purposely refrained from doing so. If I were ever very ill I would only need to say to myself "You can't die yet, you haven't read Lear." That would bring me round, I know it would.

You see, books are the answer to all our perplexities! Henry Adams grinds his teeth at his inability to understand the universe. The best he can do is to suggest a "law of acceleration," which seems to mean that Nature is hustling man along at an ever-increasing rate so that he will either solve all her problems or else die of fever in the effort. But Adams' candid portrait of a mind grappling helplessly with its riddles is so triumphantly delightful that one forgets the futility of the struggle in the accuracy of the picture. Man is unconquerable because he can make even his helplessness so entertaining. His motto seems to be "Even though He slay me, yet will I make fun of Him!"

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Yes, books are man's supreme triumph, for they gather up and transmit all other triumphs. As Walter de la Mare writes, "How uncomprehendingly must an angel from heaven smile on a poor human sitting engrossed in a romance: angled upon his hams, motionless in his chair, spectacles on nose, his two feet as close together as the flukes of a merman's tail, only his strange eyes stirring in his time-worn face."

Well, I've been scribbling away all this time and haven't given you any news whatever. Helen came back the other day from a visit to Boston where she enjoyed herself greatly. To-night she has gone out to the movies with a young protegee of ours, Miss Titania Chapman, an engaging damsel whom we have taken in as an apprentice bookseller. It's a quaint idea, done at the request of her father, Mr. Chapman, the proprietor of Chapman's Daintybits which you see advertised everywhere. He is a great booklover, and is very eager to have the zeal transmitted to his daughter. So you can imagine my glee to have a neophyte of my own to preach books at! Also it will enable me to get away from the shop a little more. I had a telephone call from Philadelphia this afternoon asking me to go over there on Monday evening to make an estimate of the value of a private collection that is to be sold. I was rather flattered because I can't imagine how they got hold of my name.

Forgive this long, incoherent scrawl. How did you like Erewhon? It's pretty near closing time and I must say grace over the day's accounts.

    Yours ever,

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The Haunted Bookshop
Christopher Morley

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