Read BOOKS AND BOOKLOVERS of The Booklover and His Books , free online book, by Harry Lyman Koopman, on ReadCentral.com.

The booklover is distinguished from the reader as such by loving his books, and from the collector as such by reading them. He prizes not only the soul of the book, but also its body, which he would make a house beautiful, meet for the indwelling of the spirit given by its author. Love is not too strong a word to apply to his regard, which demands, in the language of Dorothy Wordsworth, “a beautiful book, a book to caress peculiar, distinctive, individual: a book that hath first caught your eye and then pleased your fancy.” The truth is that the book on its physical side is a highly organized art object. Not in vain has it transmitted the thought and passion of the ages; it has taken toll of them, and in the hands of its worthiest makers these elements have worked themselves out into its material body. Enshrining the artist’s thought, it has, therefore, the qualities of a true art product, and stands second only to those which express it, such as painting and sculpture; but no other art product of its own order, not the violin nor the jewel-casket, can compare with the book in esthetic quality. It meets one of the highest tests of art, for it can appeal to the senses of both beauty and grandeur, either separately, as in the work of Aldus and of Sweynheym and Pannartz, or together, as in that of Jenson.

Books have doubtless had their lovers in all ages, under all their forms. Even the Assyrian clay tablet, if stamped with the words of poet or sage, might have shared the affection which they inspired. So might the papyrus roll of the Egyptian, and so does even to-day the parchment book of the middle ages, whenever its fortunate owner has the soul of a booklover. From this book our own was derived, yet not without a break. For our book is not so much a copy of the Roman and medieval book as a “substitute” for it, a machine product made originally to sell at a large profit for the price of hand-work. It was fortunate for the early printed book that it stood in this intimate if not honored relation to the work of the scribes and illuminators, and fortunate for the book of to-day, since, with all its lapses, it cannot escape its heritage of those high standards.

Mr. John Cotton Dana has analyzed the book into forty elements; a minuter analysis might increase the number to sixty; but of either number the most are subsidiary, a few controlling. The latter are those of which each, if decided upon first, determines the character of the rest; they include size, paper, and type. The mention of any size, folio, quarto, octavo, twelvemo, sixteenmo, calls up at once a distinct mental picture of an ideal book for each dimension, and the series is marked by a decreasing thickness of paper and size of type as it progresses downward from the folio. The proportions of the page will also vary, as well as the surface of the paper and the cut of the type, the other elements conforming to that first chosen.

Next to size, paper determines the expression of a book. It is the printing material par excellence; but for its production the art could never have flourished. It is as much preferred by the printer as parchment was by the scribe. Its three elements of body, surface, and tint must all be considered, and either body or surface may determine the size of the book or the character of the type. A smooth surface may be an element of beauty, as with the paper employed by Baskerville, but it must not be a shiny surface. The great desideratum in modern paper from the point of view of the book-buyer is a paper that, while opaque and tough, shall be thin enough to give us our books in small compass, one more akin to the dainty and precious vellum than to the heavier and coarser parchment. It should also be durable.

Type gives its name to the art and is the instrument by which the spoken word is made visible to the eye. The aims in its design should be legibility, beauty, and compactness, in this order; but these are more or less conflicting qualities, and it is doubtful if any one design can surpass in all. Modern type is cleaner-cut than the old, but it may be questioned whether this is a real gain. William Morris held that all types should avoid hair-lines, fussiness, and ugliness. Legibility should have the right of way for most printed matter, especially children’s books and newspapers. If the latter desire compactness, they should condense their style, not their types.

A further important element, which affects both the legibility and the durability of the book, is the ink. For most purposes it should be a rich black. Some of the print of the early masters is now brown, and there have been fashions of gray printing, but the booklover demands black ink, except in ornaments, and there color, if it is to win his favor, must be used sparingly and with great skill. We are told that the best combination for the eye is ink of a bluish tint on buff-tinted paper; but, like much other good advice, this remains practically untried.

Illustrations have been a feature of the book for over four hundred years, but they have hardly yet become naturalized within its pages. Or shall we say that they soon forgot their proper subordination to the type and have since kept up a more or less open revolt? The law of fitness demands that whatever is introduced into the book in connection with type shall harmonize with the relatively heavy lines of type. This the early black-line engravings did. But the results of all other processes, from copper-plate to half-tone, conflict with the type-picture and should be placed where they are not seen with it. Photogravures, for instance, may be put at the end of the book, or they may be covered with a piece of opaque tissue paper, so that either their page or the facing type-page will be seen alone. We cannot do without illustrations. All mankind love a picture as they love a lover. But let the pictures belong to the book and not merely be thrust into it.

The binding is to the book what the book is to its subject-matter, a clothing and protection. In the middle ages, when books were so few as to be a distinction, they were displayed sidewise, not edgewise, on the shelves, and their covers were often richly decorated, sometimes with costly gems. Even the wooden cover of the pre-Columbian Mexican book had gems set in its corners. Modern ornamentation is confined to tooling, blind and gilt, and inlaying. But some booklovers question whether any decoration really adds to the beauty of the finest leather. It should be remembered that the binding is not all on the outside. The visible cover is only the jacket of the real cover on which the integrity of the book depends. The sewing is the first element in time and importance. To be well bound a book should lie open well, otherwise it is bound not for the reader but only for the collector.

It cannot be too often repeated that properly made books are not extremely costly. A modern book offered at a fancy price means either a very small edition, an extravagant binding, or what is more likely, a gullible public. But most books that appeal to the booklover are not excessive in price. Never before was so much money spent in making books attractive for the publisher always has half an eye on the booklover and while much of this money is wasted, not all is laid out in vain. Our age is producing its quota of good books, and these the booklover makes it his business to discover.

In order to appreciate, the booklover must first know. He must be a book-kenner, a critic, but one who is looking for excellencies rather than faults, and this knowledge there are many books to teach him. But there is no guide that can impart the love of books; he must learn to love them as one learns to love sunsets, mountains, and the ocean, by seeing them. So let him who would know the joys and rewards of the booklover associate with well-made books. Let him begin with the ancients of printing, the great Germans, Italians, Dutchmen. He can still buy their books if he is well-to-do, or see them in libraries and museums if he belongs to the majority. Working down to the moderns, he will find himself discriminating and rejecting, but he will be attracted by certain printers and certain periods in the last four hundred years, and he will be rejoiced to find that the last thirty years, though following a decline, hold their own not by their mean but by their best with any former period short of the great first half-century, 1450-1500.

Finally, if his book-love develops the missionary spirit in him, let him lend his support to the printers and publishers of to-day who are producing books worthy of the booklover’s regard, for in no other way can he so effectually speed the day when all books shall justify the emotion which more than five hundred years ago Richard de Bury, Bishop of Durham, expressed in the title of his famous and still cherished work, the Philobiblon.