George Snipe was an ardent book-lover, and sat in the smoking car in a state of suspended ecstasy. He had been invited out to Mandrake Park to visit the library of Mr. Genial Girth, the well-known collector of rare autographed books. Devoted amateur of literature as he was, George’s humble career rarely brought him into contact with bookish treasures, and a tremulous excitement swam through his brain as he thought of the glories he was about to see. In his devout meditation the train carried him a station beyond his alighting place, and he ran frantically back through the well-groomed suburban countryside in order to reach Mr. Girth’s home on time.
They went through the library together. Mr. Girth displayed all his fascinating prizes with generous good nature, and George grew excited. The palms of his hands were clammy with agitation. All round the room, encased in scarlet slip-covers of tooled morocco, on fireproof shelves, were the priceless booty of the collector. Here was Charles Lamb’s “Essays of Elia,” inscribed by the author to the woman he loved. Here was a copy of “Paradise Lost,” signed by John Milton. Here was a “Hamlet” given by Shakespeare to Bacon with the inscription, “Dear Frank, don’t you wish you could have written something like this?” Here was the unpublished manuscript of a story by Robert Louis Stevenson. Here was a note written by Doctor Johnson to the landlord of the Cheshire Cheese, refusing to pay a bill and accusing the tavern-keeper of profiteering. Here were volumes autographed by Goldsmith, Keats, Shelley, Poe, Byron, DeFoe, Swift, Dickens, Thackeray, and all the other great figures of modern literature.
Poor George’s agitation became painful. His head buzzed as he surveyed the faded signatures of all these men who had become the living figures of his day-dreams. His eye rolled wildly in its orbit. Just then Mr. Girth was called out of the room, and left George alone among the treasures.
Just at what instant the mania seized him we shall never know. There were a pen and an inkpot on the table, and the frenzied lover of books dipped the quill deep in the dark blue fluid. He ran eagerly to the shelves. The first volume he saw was a copy of “Lorna Doone.” In it he wrote “Affectionately yours, R. D. Blackmore.” Then came Longfellow’s poems. He scrawled “With deep esteem, Henry W. Longfellow” on the flyleaf. Then three volumes of Macaulay’s “History of England.” In the first he jotted “I have always wanted you to have these admirable books, T. B. M.” In “The Mill on the Floss” he wrote “This comes to you still warm from the press, George Eliot.” The next book happened to be a copy of Edgar Guest’s poems. In this he inscribed “You are the host I love the best, This is my boast, Yours, Edgar Guest.” In a copy of Browning’s Poems he wrote “To my dear and only wife, Elizabeth, from her devoted Robert.” In a pamphlet reprint of the Gettysburg Speech he penned “This is straight stuff, A. Lincoln.” But perhaps his most triumphant exploit was signing a copy of the Rubaiyat thus: “This book is given to the Anti-Saloon League of Naishapur by that thorn in their side, O. Khayyam.”
By the time the ambulance reached Mr. Girth’s home George was completely beyond control. He was taken away screaming because he had not had a chance to autograph a copy of the “Songs of Solomon.”