A spirit of friendliness and companionship radiates from a good book - a geniality to be not only felt, but cultivated and enjoyed. The friendship of man is sometimes short-lived and evanescent, but the friendship of books abideth ever. Paraphrasing "Thanatopsis":
"For our gayer hours They have a voice of gladness, and a smile And eloquence of beauty, and they glide Into our darker musings, with a mild And healing sympathy, that steals away Their sharpness, ere we are aware."
Truly, a book for every mood, and a mood for every book.
The true measure of a book is not "How well does it entertain," but "How much help does it give in the daily struggle to overcome the bad with the good," and as one makes friends with muscle-giving authors the fancy for light-minded acquaintances among books gradually wears away. Although different tastes require special gratification in certain directions, yet some few books must have place in every well-balanced library. First always, the Bible, with concordance complete for study purposes, a set of Shakespeare in small, easily handled volumes, a set of encyclopaedias, and a standard dictionary. Then some of the best known poets - Milton, Spenser, Pope, Goldsmith, Burns, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, the Brownings, Byron, Homer, Dante, etc., with Longfellow, Riley, and some others of our best-loved American poets - for though we may not care for poetry we cannot afford to deny ourselves its elevating influence; standard histories of our own and other countries; familiar letters of great men which also mirror their times - Horace Walpole, Lord Macaulay, etc.; essays of Bacon, Addison, DeQuincey, Lamb, Irving, Emerson, Lowell, and Holmes; and certain works of fiction which have stood the test of time and criticism, with Dickens and Thackeray heading the list. Indulgence in all the so-called "popular" novels of the day, like any other dissipation, profits nothing, and vitiates one's taste for good literature at the same time. Therefore, hold fast that which is known to be good in novels, with here and there just a little spice of recent fiction; for man cannot live by spice alone, which causes a sort of mental dyspepsia which is very hard to overcome.
An appetite for "complete sets" is a perverted one which usually goes with a love for the shell of the book rather than its meat. It is better far to prune out the obscure works and buy, a few at a time if necessary, the best known works of favorite authors, than to clutter up one's bookshelves with volumes which will never be opened. Partial sets acquired in this way can be of uniform edition and gain in value from those which are left in the shop.
Books, like our other friends, have an added attraction if tastily clothed. Good cloth bindings, not too ornate or strong in color, are substantial and usually best for the home library. Real leather bindings of morocco or pigskin are rich and suggestive of good food within, but imitation leather must join other domestic outcasts. Though it may look well at first it soon shows its quality of shabby-genteel. Calf has deteriorated because of the modern quick method of tanning by the use of acids, which dries the skin and causes it to crack. Books in party attire of white paper and parchment and very delicate colors are not good comrades, for the paper cover which must be put on to protect the binding is a nuisance, while without it "touch me not" seems to be written all over the book. Our best book friends are not of this kind, but permit us to be on terms of friendly intimacy with them, receiving as their reward all due meed of courteous treatment. There can be no true reverence for books in the heart of the vandal who leaves marks of disrespectful soiled fingers on their pages, turns down their leaves, and breaks their backs by laying them open, face down.
Their paper should be of a good quality, not too heavy, and the type clear, both of which conditions usually obtain in an average-priced book. Their housing has much to do with their preservation. Dampness is, perhaps, their deadliest enemy, not only rotting and loosening the covers, but mildewing the leaves and taking out the "size" which gives them body. An outside wall is always more or less damp, and for this reason the bookcase must stand out from it at least a foot, if it stands there at all, and preferably at right angles to it. Dust is also an insidious enemy, from which, in very sooty, dirty localities, glass doors afford the best protection. These must be left open occasionally to ventilate the case, for books must have air and light to keep them fresh and sweet and free from dampness, but not sun to fade their covers. Intense artificial heat also affects them badly, wherefore, the upper part of the room being the hotter, cases should never be more than eight feet high, the use of window seat and other low cases having very decided advantages, apart from their decorative value. Whatever the design of the case - and, of course, it must harmonize with the other wood of the room - its shelves must be easily adjustable to books of different heights, standing in compact rows and not half opened to become permanently warped and spoiled. Varnished or painted shelves grow sticky with heat and form a strong attachment for their contents. The bookcase curtain is useful more as a protection against dust than as an art adjunct, for there is nothing more delightful to the cultivated eye than the brave front presented by even, symmetrical rows of well-bound volumes, so suggestive of hours of profitable companionship. All the books must be taken down frequently and first beaten separately, then in pairs, and dusted, top and covers, with a soft brush or a small feather duster.
"The true University of these days is a Collection of Books," and one's education cannot begin too early.