Magazine article The Spectator

Global Warning

Magazine article The Spectator

Global Warning

Article excerpt

If you would like to see the kind of outat-elbow tweed jackets once beloved of schoolmasters before they discovered the joys of earrings and the like, and still by far my preferred apparel, you must go to provincial book fairs.

They are smaller and less frequented than they used to be. It is a strange thing, but I am now usually at the lower end of the age spectrum of the people who attend the events that I enjoy. I have the not altogether unsatisfying impression that civilisation is collapsing around me. Is it my age, I wonder, or the age we live in?

I am not sure. Civilisations do collapse, after all, but on the other hand people grow old with rather greater frequency.

There are two types of people who attend provincial book fairs: the tweeded pedants, of whom I am one, and the nylon-padded monomaniacs, who tend to smell unwashed and who collect books on (say) road building or double-decker buses of the world.

But we are all eyed with something approaching malevolence by many of the booksellers. They have all, I think, read, marked and inwardly digested that short but very great late Victorian work, The Enemies of Books, by William Blades. It has wonderful plates, including one of John Bagford, shoemaker and biblioclast, and another of a charwoman burning a Caxton in a fireplace. In a series of chapters on the destroyers of books that resembles a great chain of being, and that rises from the inorganic forces of destruction, fire and water, to those of insects and other vermin, and proceeds via bigotry to human boys, especially those aged between six and 12, and female servants who would clean books -- 'Dust! …

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