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On Some Books And Their Associations
by [?]

New books can have few associations. They may reach us on the best deckle-edged Whatman paper, in the newest types of famous presses, with backs of embossed vellum, with tasteful tasselled strings,–and yet be no more to us than the constrained and uneasy acquaintances of yesterday. Friends they may become to-morrow, the day after,–perhaps “hunc in annum et plures” But for the time being they have neither part nor lot in our past of retrospect and suggestion. Of what we were, of what we like or liked, they know nothing; and we–if that be possible–know even less of them. Whether familiarity will breed contempt, or whether they will come home to our business and bosom,–these are things that lie on the lap of the Fates.

But it is to be observed that the associations of old books, as of new books, are not always exclusively connected with their text or format,–are sometimes, as a matter of fact, independent of both. Often they are memorable to us by length of tenure, by propinquity,–even by their patience under neglect. We may never read them; and yet by reason of some wholly external and accidental characteristic, it would be a wrench to part with them if the moment of separation–the inevitable hour–should arrive at last. Here, to give an instance in point, is a stained and battered French folio, with patched corners,–Mons. N. Renouard’s translation of the Metamorphoses d’Ovide, 1637, ” enrichies de figures a chacune Fable ” (very odd figures some of them are!) and to be bought ” chez Pierre Billaine, rue Sainct Iacques, a la Bonne-Foy, deuant S. Yues.” It has held no honoured place upon the shelves; it has even resided au rez-de-chaussee,–that is to say, upon the floor; but it is not less dear,– not less desirable. For at the back of the “Dedication to the King” (Lewis XIII. to wit), is scrawled in a slanting, irregular hand: ” Pour mademoiselle de mons Son tres humble et tres obeissant Serviteur St. Andre. ” Between the fourth and fifth word, some one, in a smaller writing of later date, has added ” par ” and after “St. Andre,” the signature ” Vandeuvre.” In these irrelevant (and unsolicited) interpolations, I take no interest. But who was Mlle. de Mons? As Frederick Locker sings:

Did She live yesterday or ages back?
What colour were the eyes when bright and waking?
And were your ringlets fair, or brown, or black,
Poor little Head! that long has done with aching![1]

“Ages back” she certainly did not live, for the book is dated “1637,” and “yesterday” is absurd. But that her eyes were bright,–nay, that they were particularly lively and vivacious, even as they are in the sanguine sketches of Antoine Watteau a hundred years afterwards, I am “confidous”–as Mrs. Slipslop would say. For my theory (in reality a foregone conclusion which I shrink from dispersing by any practical resolvent) is, that Mile. de Mons was some delightful seventeenth–century French child, to whom the big volume had been presented as a picture-book. I can imagine the alert, strait-corseted little figure, with ribboned hair, eagerly craning across the tall folio; and following curiously with her finger the legends under the copper “figures,”–“Narcisse en fleur,” “Ascalaphe en hibou,” “Jason endormant le dragon,”–and so forth, with much the same wonder that the Sinne-Beelden of Jacob Cats must have stirred in the little Dutchwomen of Middelburg. There can be no Mlle. de Mons but this,–and for me she can never grow old!


[1] This quatrain has the distinction of having been touched upon by Thackeray. When Mr. Locker’s manuscript went to the Cornhill Magazine in 1860, it ran thus: