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“Thanks to Books”

12 May

On a recent trip to Place of Hawks in Sauk City, Wisconsin, April Derleth gave me a scrapbook to scan for material to add content to the Newsletter of The August Derleth Society. One of the items wasn’t suitable for the newsletter, but it’s perfect for a blog entry. I scanned it and append the content below; the original was an eight page pamphlet with a single staple card cover.

Thanks to Books

There they are, waiting and silent. They neither urge, nor call, nor press their claims. Mutely they are ranged along the wall. They seem to be asleep, yet from each one a name looks at you like an open eye. If you look their way or reach a hand toward them they do not call out, nor are they insistent. They make no demands. They wait until advances are made to them; then for the first time they open up. First, when there is quiet about us, peace within

us; then we are ready for them. Some evening on returning from a tiresome round of duties, some day when one is weary of his fellow men, or in the morning when clouded and heavy with dream-laden sleep,—only then is one ready for books. You would like to hold a parley and yet be alone. You would like to dream, but in music. With the pleasurable presentiment of a pleasant experiment you go to the bookcase a hundred eyes, a hundred names silently and patiently meet your searching glance as the slave women of a seraglio look to their master, humbly awaiting the call and yet blissful to be chosen. And then, as the finger gropes about on the piano to find the key for a hidden melody, gently it yields to the hand, this dumb white thing, this closed-violin — in it all the voices of God are locked up. You open up a book, you read a line, a verse; but it does not ring clear at the moment. ‘Disappointed, you put it back almost roughly, until you find the right book for the moment. Then suddenly you are seized, you breathe rapidly and as you carry it away to the lamp, The Book, the happily chosen volume glows, dazzles with an inner light. Magic has been done; from delicate clouds of dreams there stalks forth phantasmagoria. Broad vistas open up and your vanishing senses are lost in space.

Somewhere a clock ticks. But it does not penetrate in this self-circumscribed time. Here the hours are measured by another unit. These are books which travelled through many centuries before their word came to our lips; there are new books, just born yesterday, just yesterday begotten out of the confusion and necessity of a beardless boy, but they speak magic languages and one like the other soothes and quickens our breathing. While they excite they also comfort; while they seduce they also soothe the open mind. Gradually you sink down into them; there come repose, vision and a calm suspense in their melody in a world beyond this world.

You leisure hours, carrying us away from the tumult of the day; you books, truest and most silent companions, how can we thank you for your ever present readiness, for this eternal lifting, elevating influence of your presence! What have you not been in the darkest days of the soul’s solitude, in military hospitals and army camps, in prisons and on beds of pain! You who have always been on the watch, have given dreams to men and a bit of tranquillity in moments of unrest and torture. God’s gentle magnet, you have always been able to draw out the soul into its own sphere if it were lost in everyday routine. You have always in all periods of gloom widened the inner heaven within us to something greater.

Little fragments of eternity, quietly ranged along the plain wall, you stand there unpretentiously in our home. Yet when the hand frees you, when the heart touches you, you break through the everyday prosy surroundings; your words lead us as in a fiery chariot up from pettiness into the eternal.

— By Stefan Zweig

Translated by Dr. Theodore W. Koch. Librarian of Northwestern University.

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