“What shall I do with all my books?” Churchill asked in Thoughts and Adventures. It is a question we should all ponder—while there is still time.
In the November 1st issue of National Review, Neal B. Freeman writes a touching and sensitive appreciation of the library of the late William F. Buckley, Jr.: an eclectic mix, from tomes on the harpsichord to biographies of Elvis Presley, from books inscribed to him to feverishly marked-up books relating to Buckley’s own writing, to the classics he admired. Because he had not thought to leave specific instructions, his library was broken up, scattered to the winds—and not everything in it reached an appreciative owner.
More practically, Freeman serves to remind anyone who has what Lord Morley considered “a few books” (5000+) to plan for their disposition. He certainly reminded me. Over the winter I am going to draft very specific directions for the disposal of my library, subject by subject from Churchill’s Malakand Field Force t0 my complete run of Classics Illustrated comics. I will try not to let them go to waste.
For time, the churl, is running, and we must all recognize it. Neal Freeman ineffably conveys a sadness, for so many of us who loved and admired Bill, at the scattering of his library—remindful of what Churchill wrote about his old colleague, Arthur Balfour:
I saw with grief the approaching departure, and—for all human purposes—extinction, of a being high uplifted above the common run. As I observed him regarding with calm, firm and cheerful gaze the approach of Death, I felt how foolish the Stoics were to make such a fuss about an event so natural and so indispensable to mankind. But I felt also the tragedy which robs the world of all the wisdom and treasure gathered in a great man’s life and experience and hands the lamp to some impetuous and untutored stripling, or lets its fall shivered into fragments upon the ground.