Today I made a decision to do something necessary, yet it was a wrench. I decided to give away my copy of the 1608 Commelin edition of Tertullian’s works.
I bought it over the internet, years ago. In those days we had no PDFs online. The only way to get hold of the detailed apparatus, found in early editions, of the works of Tertullian was to venture onto the market and buy copies.
Indeed most Tertullian scholars have little collections of early editions; the 1539 of Rhenanus, the 1545 Paris edition, the 1550 of Gelenius – if they could find one – and the 1583 Pamelius edition, high-point of the counter-reformation scholarship.
My Commelin is a reprint of the Pamelius. It is still bound in the original ornate white leather binding, a bit battered after the centuries but perfectly sound. The book itself has clearly seen little use.
I got it from a German book dealer. It arrived in a big yellow Deutsche Post box – for it is a folio volume, and some two inches thick. And in that box it has remained; for, like most people, I live in a little house and I have no bookshelves suitable for folio-sized volumes. There seemed no point in taking it out, merely to expose it to dust.
Also it would need to rest on its side. I knew better than to stand it on end, thereby placing the whole weight of this heavy volume on its ancient stitching. Where to put it?
This has been the question for many years. I have seldom opened it. Once it sat in a cupboard, inside its box. For the last couple of years, or maybe more — how quickly the years pass these days, without my being aware of them — it has sat, big and obtrusive, atop a set of bookshelves that I constructed myself in younger days.
No more. Today I decided that it was time for us to part. I can’t sell it. I don’t know the rare books market, and I don’t live near any dealers. I could post it, and get it back, and do all that; but I do not care to, and I should certainly be taken advantage of.
Instead I have agreed with a fellow Tertullian scholar to donate it to him. He will treasure it, I am sure. Tomorrow I shall take it to the post office and send it on its way.
It has long been my policy not to keep a book unless I believe that I will read it again, or, in the case of reference books, have use of it in future. This is particularly essential for novels, for which most of us have a tyrannous appetite. Unless you have some similar policy, you will quickly find your book cases, and then your house, filled with books which you have no appetite to read. I have a pile in the corner of one room, to which I assign books that I believe I will not read again; and, if after a suitable period, a book is still there then I dispose of it. I took two bags full of books to a charity shop yesterday, in fact.
It is harder to know what to do with scholarly books that we no longer need. Some have donated their books to libraries; yet I know too much about libraries and their practices to suppose that any such donation would be more than temporary.
Let us accept the fact that one day they must go on, and let us donate them freely to our fellow workers. They will value them; and we need not grieve at their departure, knowing that they go to serve another as they have served us.
For one day all of our books will pass into the hands of others. Rough hands will pull at our shelves and throw our treasures into boxes, most of which will perhaps end up in some second-hand shop. The little paperbacks we bought at college, once fresh and bright as we ourselves then were, now foxed and yellowed, and which have accompanied us through life, and are almost friends to us, will end up in some second-hand shop. If they are lucky they will pass into the hands of one whom we might have been pleased to call friend.
Sic transit gloria. For the world and all that is in it are always passing away.
But the Christian has hopes of more than this from life! He can thank God for Good Friday. And so can all of us, if we sign up with them.
NOTE: Annoyingly WordPress deleted a large section of this post when I posted it. I will try to recover it from memory.