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"...to occupy an inch of dusty shelf..."

Washington Irving, from his essay, "A Colloquy in Westminster Abbey":
How much, thought I, has each of these volumes, now thrust aside with such indifference, cost some aching head! how many weary days! how many sleepless nights! How have their authors buried themselves in the solitude of cells and cloisters; shut themselves up from the face of man, and the still more blessed face of nature; and devoted themselves to painful research and intense reflection! And all for what? to occupy an inch of dusty shelf—to have the title of their works read now and then in a future age, by some drowsy churchman or casual straggler like myself; and in another age to be lost, even to remembrance. Such is the amount of this boasted immortality. A mere temporary rumor, a local sound; like the tone of that bell which has just tolled among these towers, filling the ear for a moment—lingering transiently in echo—and then passing away like a thing that was not.
Fascinating (and timeless) thoughts on the fleeting temporality of books. I would have loved to hear what Irving would have thought about self-published ebooks.

(Via Quid plura?, which has some fine reflections on Irving's estate, Sunnyside.)

October 8, 2012 in Books | Permalink


Do you think his observations about a self-published ebook would be much different though? If anything, the ebook is even more ephemeral, but the "painful research and intense reflection" (love that!) would be the same for the poor author.

Just once, I'd love to spend a day inside your mind. I think I'd be a better writer and thinker if I could.

Posted by: Paul Lamb at Oct 8, 2012 5:58:05 PM

I appreciate your interest, though you wouldn't find much there other than obscure song lyrics, obsolete baseball trivia and half-baked political ideas.

Further on in that essay, Irving writes: "They have made everyone a writer, and enabled every mind to pour itself into print, and diffuse itself over the whole intellectual world. The consequences are alarming. The stream of literature has swollen into a torrent—augmented into a river—expanded into a sea." He was referring to common paper and the printing press, which obliterated the use of parchment and papyrus by slow-writing scribes, and by implication the slow, deliberate art of learned writing. He was appalled back then, and would undoubtedly be infinitely more appalled now.

Posted by: Pete at Oct 9, 2012 8:55:50 AM