Books contain many joys and pleasures. One of those joys is the discovery. Often the discovery is the realization that a book exists that you have not heard of. Then there is the joy of finding the book at a great price. All that precedes the delight of the content.
Gilbert Highet was a scholar and a gentleman of the old school. He was a classicist, writer, academic, and above all, a teacher. And, not surprising, he was a lover of great books. Speaking of books, he said, “These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but ‘minds’ alive on the shelves.” Concerning the life of the mind, he wrote, “The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning.”
Born in Scotland, educated in England and Scotland, he taught Greek and Latin at Columbia University. He was, no doubt, in his time a dying breed. People, Places, and Books was one of the many books that Highet wrote. This book grew out of a series of radio broadcasts that he did on great books. In the opening essay of this book, he writes, “Reading books is a pleasure. But if it is a pleasure to read books, it is also a pleasure to talk about them. I suppose it is a way of reliving the pleasure the book gave us originally, when we first ate it and digest it….People who talk about books have a perpetual pleasure, and often anincreasing pleasure as their taste grows finer, their memory richer.”
The essay this is taken from is titled “Henry Fowler: Modern English Usage.” Highet says that Modern English Usage is one of his favorite books. He goes on to describe the oddities of Henry Fowler the man and some of the insights of Henry Fowler the linguist. I have a rather recent edition of Modern English Usage, which probably contains little of the original author’s work. Now, my never ending quest for books will include finding an original 1926 version of the book.
I picked up People, Places, and Books when I was at Wheaton College a few weeks back. We were helping Nicholas get moved in to his apartment, but we had the occasion to go visit the Wade Center. This wonderful place contains many artifacts, letters, and books that belonged to the Inklings, particularly C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. The Wade Center even has Lewis’ actual wardrobe that inspired his Narnia series. There is a small selection of books for sale at the Center. This one was a mere $3.00. I think that was a steal.
Earlier in the summer, I found another steal. It is also another book by a now-forgotten scholar who also wrote about books and authors. The book is Regionalism and Beyond: Essays of Randall Stewart, edited by George Core.
Randall Stewart (1896-1964), born in Tennessee, was part of the large circle of literary scholars and teachers that were taught and influenced by the Fugitive Poets and Agrarians of Vanderbilt University. Stewart himself was a graduate of Vanderbilt in 1917 and later went back there to teach. He was well versed in Southern literature and even wrote a book about it. He was also an expert on Nathaniel Hawthorne. His teaching duties carried him to major universities such as the University of Oklahoma, the University of Idaho, Yale University, Brown University, and then back to Vanderbilt. Regionalism and Beyond is a collection of essays about literature. Most of the essays are about either Hawthorne or Southern literature.
I first became familiar with Stewart some years back when I discovered his outstanding book American Literature and Christian Doctrine. (Surprisingly, used copies of this out-of-print book are rather cheap on Amazon.) Anyone who is a Christian and who pretends to be well versed in American literature either knows this book or is excluded from my company.
Back to the book of essays: I found Regionalism and Beyond at an antique store in Franklin, Tennessee. It was a mere $8.00. I found it hard to believe that a book published by the near-by Vanderbilt about a Vanderbilt scholar in a bookish town like Franklin would have such a treasure at such a cheap price. Just as Stewart’s teaching journeys carried him far from home, this book now is a treasured volume here in Arkansas.