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The Haunted Bookshop Christopher Morley

Titania Learns the Business

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"We had to beat Germany, yes, but the absurdity lies in the fact that we had to beat ourselves in doing it. The first thing you'll find, when the Peace Conference gets to work, will be that we shall have to help Germany onto her feet again so that she can be punished in an orderly way. We shall have to feed her and admit her to commerce so that she can pay her indemnities--we shall have to police her cities to prevent revolution from burning her up--and the upshot of it all will be that men will have fought the most terrible war in history, and endured nameless horrors, for the privilege of nursing their enemy back to health. If that isn't an absurdity, what is? That's what happens when a great nation like Germany goes insane.

"Well, we're up against some terribly complicated problems. My only consolation is that I think the bookseller can play as useful a part as any man in rebuilding the world's sanity. When I was fretting over what I could do to help things along, I came across two lines in my favourite poet that encouraged me. Good old George Herbert says:

    "A grain of glory mixed with humblenesse
    Cures both a fever and lethargicknesse.

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"Certainly running a second-hand bookstore is a pretty humble calling, but I've mixed a grain of glory with it, in my own imagination at any rate. You see, books contain the thoughts and dreams of men, their hopes and strivings and all their immortal parts. It's in books that most of us learn how splendidly worth-while life is. I never realized the greatness of the human spirit, the indomitable grandeur of man's mind, until I read Milton's Areopagitica. To read that great outburst of splendid anger ennobles the meanest of us simply because we belong to the same species of animal as Milton. Books are the immortality of the race, the father and mother of most that is worth while cherishing in our hearts. To spread good books about, to sow them on fertile minds, to propagate understanding and a carefulness of life and beauty, isn't that high enough mission for a man? The bookseller is the real Mr. Valiant-For-Truth.

"Here's my War-alcove," he went on. "I've stacked up here most of the really good books the War has brought out. If humanity has sense enough to take these books to heart, it will never get itself into this mess again. Printer's ink has been running a race against gunpowder these many, many years. Ink is handicapped, in a way, because you can blow up a man with gunpowder in half a second, while it may take twenty years to blow him up with a book. But the gunpowder destroys itself along with its victim, while a book can keep on exploding for centuries. There's Hardy's Dynasts for example. When you read that book you can feel it blowing up your mind. It leaves you gasping, ill, nauseated--oh, it's not pleasant to feel some really pure intellect filtered into one's brain! It hurts! There's enough T. N. T. in that book to blast war from the face of the globe. But there's a slow fuse attached to it. It hasn't really exploded yet. Maybe it won't for another fifty years.

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The Haunted Bookshop
Christopher Morley

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