Sunday, January 25, 2009

To My First Follower

Oh dear. It seems I have a "follower." Whose usage is this?! It seems to me an awful noun, that word, to have it tethered to so slight a thing as this. My hope is that only a friend is meant. That is my assumption. I could guess at the identity behind the coded name, but I will not. Rather, I'll simply say, "welcome" and "thanks."

Seeing that anonymous "icon" pop up on my screen reminds me of my purpose, or at least of my better purpose, in taking this gab up again after I left off elsewhere. There I wrote as a way to participate, to support and promote a business I love and a place, a very special place, that has given me good reason to be grateful. But here? As I just said, my motives were clouded somewhat when I started this two days ago. Emotion made me impetuous and habit made me write. But now? Tonight I think I am writing for that reader, that singular friend, kind enough to subscribe, if that's the word, or at least to be seen to do so. As I have written just today, I have need of my friends.

But where then am I asking you to go with me? And why? How 'bout this: if you are there, and not just a gesture -- much appreciated if just that -- if someone is actually reading as I write, and excusing me what passes for my style, as I can not manage another without the restraint of retail or some other, proper object, then I will try not to talk so much about and to myself. I will rather write of books, but my books now, my friends, the companions of my mind, my teachers, my superiors.

They are all around me as I write. To my left sits Isaac Beshevis Singer. At his father's court I can introduce you to wise men and women long since vanished from the world like so much smoke. In his stories you will find the tragedy of the last Century, the mysticism of of an ancient People, often as not framed in New York apartment windows, and an English made richer in translation than any language of which I have command. And because these are my shelves, and narrow, next to him, for reasons only of space, P. G. Woodhouse is piled; Psmith and Jeeves and Blandings all higgledy-piggledy, some books facing out and some facing in to keep the stacks from bowing. And just to the other side of Singer rest the works of Muriel Spark, all sharp as nettles and just as stinging.

You see? My library, such as it is, is no better organized, no more thought out, than this thing I do now, in writing this. But, in it's small way, my library is rich with unlikely possibilities, strange bedfellows, and much that may be unknown to you. Do you know Julian Green? He sits between Henry and Graham. You may know them already -- Graham is the Greene with the final "e" -- but you may not know Julian Green. He was an American and the first man not a Frenchman elected to the Académie française.

And Nicholas Mosley? You might know him, but what of dear old Francis King? Or Robert Liddell? Kawabata is famous still, I should hope, as is Naguib Mahfouz, but have you ever heard of little Daisy Fellowes? Or Coleman Dowell?

There are so many friends I never get to introduce at work. Their books are out of print, or if in print, available only to those who might use them for research, a legitimate use, I admit, but hardly a fond one. Poor old Arthur Hugh Clough, or Coventry Patmore, when were they last turned to with an open heart or the hope of simple pleasure?

That I am no scholar, is here, for once, not an embarrassment but a pleasure. I have no theory to support, no reason to make claims or assert anything beyond my own gladness in addressing someone, some new or familiar friend, on behalf of just my own reading, my own books!

Again I say, welcome! I hope this will prove to be a conversation worth having. Whenever I can I will shut up and let my friends speak for themselves. I hope you will like them, as I do. They are so much better at this than I have any hope of being.

And so the last word tonight to William Cowper, from his poem, Friendship:

"If every polished gem we find,
Illuminating heart and mind,
Provoke to imitation,
No wonder friendship does the
That jewel of the purest flame,
Or rather constellation."


  1. I like the word "follower" despite its slightly culty overtones. I've called my follower box "Distinguished Colleagues" because I like the idea that we're all in some virtual Senior Common Room somewhere exchanging bons mots over the port... sadly this says more about me than the other bloggers!

  2. Dearest Distinguished Colleague,

    Thank you for this. I will bring the cigars.