BAXTER'S PROCRUSTES





Baxter's Procrustes is one of the publications of the Bodleian

Club. The Bodleian Club is composed of gentlemen of culture, who

are interested in books and book-collecting. It was named, very

obviously, after the famous library of the same name, and not only

became in our city a sort of shrine for local worshipers of fine

bindings and rare editions, but was visited occasionally by

pilgrims from afar. The Bodleian has entertained Mark Twain,

Joseph Jefferson, and other literary and histrionic celebrities.

It possesses quite a collection of personal mementos of

distinguished authors, among them a paperweight which once

belonged to Goethe, a lead pencil used by Emerson, an autograph

letter of Matthew Arnold, and a chip from a tree felled by Mr.

Gladstone. Its library contains a number of rare books, including

a fine collection on chess, of which game several of the members

are enthusiastic devotees.



The activities of the club are not, however, confined entirely to

books. We have a very handsome clubhouse, and much taste and

discrimination have been exercised in its adornment. There are

many good paintings, including portraits of the various presidents

of the club, which adorn the entrance hall. After books, perhaps

the most distinctive feature of the club is our collection of

pipes. In a large rack in the smoking-room--really a superfluity,

since smoking is permitted all over the house--is as complete an

assortment of pipes as perhaps exists in the civilized world.

Indeed, it is an unwritten rule of the club that no one is

eligible for membership who cannot produce a new variety of pipe,

which is filed with his application for membership, and, if he

passes, deposited with the club collection, he, however, retaining

the title in himself. Once a year, upon the anniversary of the

death of Sir Walter Raleigh, who it will be remembered, first

introduced tobacco into England, the full membership of the club,

as a rule, turns out. A large supply of the very best smoking

mixture is laid in. At nine o'clock sharp each member takes his

pipe from the rack, fills it with tobacco, and then the whole

club, with the president at the head, all smoking furiously, march

in solemn procession from room to room, upstairs and downstairs,

making the tour of the clubhouse and returning to the smoking-

room. The president then delivers an address, and each member is

called upon to say something, either by way of a quotation or an

original sentiment, in praise of the virtues of nicotine. This

ceremony--facetiously known as "hitting the pipe"--being thus

concluded, the membership pipes are carefully cleaned out and

replaced in the club rack.



As I have said, however, the raison d'etre of the club, and the

feature upon which its fame chiefly rests, is its collection of

rare books, and of these by far the most interesting are its own

publications. Even its catalogues are works of art, published in

numbered editions, and sought by libraries and book-collectors.

Early in its history it began the occasional publication of books

which should meet the club standard,--books in which emphasis

should be laid upon the qualities that make a book valuable in the

eyes of collectors. Of these, age could not, of course, be

imparted, but in the matter of fine and curious bindings, of hand-

made linen papers, of uncut or deckle edges, of wide margins and

limited editions, the club could control its own publications.

The matter of contents was, it must be confessed, a less important

consideration. At first it was felt by the publishing committee

that nothing but the finest products of the human mind should be

selected for enshrinement in the beautiful volumes which the club

should issue. The length of the work was an important

consideration,--long things were not compatible with wide margins

and graceful slenderness. For instance, we brought out

Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, an essay by Emerson, and another by

Thoreau. Our Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam was Heron-Allen's

translation of the original MS in the Bodleian Library at Oxford,

which, though less poetical than FitzGerald's, was not so common.

Several years ago we began to publish the works of our own

members. Bascom's Essay on Pipes was a very creditable

performance. It was published in a limited edition of one hundred

copies, and since it had not previously appeared elsewhere and was

copyrighted by the club, it was sufficiently rare to be valuable

for that reason. The second publication of local origin was

Baxter's Procrustes.



I have omitted to say that once or twice a year, at a meeting of

which notice has been given, an auction is held at the Bodleian.

The members of the club send in their duplicate copies, or books

they for any reason wish to dispose of, which are auctioned off to

the highest bidder. At these sales, which are well attended, the

club's publications have of recent years formed the leading

feature. Three years ago, number three of Bascom's Essay on Pipes

sold for fifteen dollars;--the original cost of publication was

one dollar and seventy-five cents. Later in the evening an uncut

copy of the same brought thirty dollars. At the next auction the

price of the cut copy was run up to twenty-five dollars, while the

uncut copy was knocked down at seventy-five dollars. The club had

always appreciated the value of uncut copies, but this financial

indorsement enhanced their desirability immensely. This rise in

the Essay on Pipes was not without a sympathetic effect upon all

the club publications. The Emerson essay rose from three dollars

to seventeen, and the Thoreau, being by an author less widely

read, and, by his own confession commercially unsuccessful,

brought a somewhat higher figure. The prices, thus inflated, were

not permitted to come down appreciably. Since every member of the

club possessed one or more of these valuable editions, they were

all manifestly interested in keeping up the price. The

publication, however, which brought the highest prices, and, but

for the sober second thought, might have wrecked the whole system,

was Baxter's Procrustes.



Baxter was, perhaps, the most scholarly member of the club. A

graduate of Harvard, he had traveled extensively, had read widely,

and while not so enthusiastic a collector as some of us, possessed

as fine a private library as any man of his age in the city. He

was about thirty-five when he joined the club, and apparently some

bitter experience--some disappointment in love or ambition--had

left its mark upon his character. With light, curly hair, fair

complexion, and gray eyes, one would have expected Baxter to be

genial of temper, with a tendency toward wordiness of speech. But

though he had occasional flashes of humor, his ordinary demeanor

was characterized by a mild cynicism, which, with his gloomy

pessimistic philosophy, so foreign to the temperament that should

accompany his physical type, could only be accounted for upon the

hypothesis of some secret sorrow such as I have suggested. What

it might be no one knew. He had means and social position, and

was an uncommonly handsome man. The fact that he remained

unmarried at thirty-five furnished some support for the theory of

a disappointment in love, though this the several intimates of

Baxter who belonged to the club were not able to verify.



It had occurred to me, in a vague way, that perhaps Baxter might

be an unsuccessful author. That he was a poet we knew very well,

and typewritten copies of his verses had occasionally circulated

among us. But Baxter had always expressed such a profound

contempt for modern literature, had always spoken in terms of such

unmeasured pity for the slaves of the pen, who were dependent upon

the whim of an undiscriminating public for recognition and a

livelihood, that no one of us had ever suspected him of

aspirations toward publication, until, as I have said, it occurred

to me one day that Baxter's attitude with regard to publication

might be viewed in the light of effect as well as of cause--that

his scorn of publicity might as easily arise from failure to

achieve it, as his never having published might be due to his

preconceived disdain of the vulgar popularity which one must share

with the pugilist or balloonist of the hour.



The notion of publishing Baxter's Procrustes did not emanate from

Baxter,--I must do him the justice to say this. But he had spoken

to several of the fellows about the theme of his poem, until the

notion that Baxter was at work upon something fine had become

pretty well disseminated throughout our membership. He would

occasionally read brief passages to a small coterie of friends in

the sitting-room or library,--never more than ten lines at once,

or to more than five people at a time,--and these excerpts gave at

least a few of us a pretty fair idea of the motive and scope of

the poem. As I, for one, gathered, it was quite along the line of

Baxter's philosophy. Society was the Procrustes which, like the

Greek bandit of old, caught every man born into the world, and

endeavored to fit him to some preconceived standard, generally to

the one for which he was least adapted. The world was full of men

and women who were merely square pegs in round holes, and vice

versa. Most marriages were unhappy because the contracting

parties were not properly mated. Religion was mostly

superstition, science for the most part sciolism, popular

education merely a means of forcing the stupid and repressing the

bright, so that all the youth of the rising generation might

conform to the same dull, dead level of democratic mediocrity.

Life would soon become so monotonously uniform and so uniformly

monotonous as to be scarce worth the living.



It was Smith, I think, who first proposed that the club publish

Baxter's Procrustes. The poet himself did not seem enthusiastic

when the subject was broached; he demurred for some little time,

protesting that the poem was not worthy of publication. But when

it was proposed that the edition be limited to fifty copies he

agreed to consider the proposition. When I suggested, having in

mind my secret theory of Baxter's failure in authorship, that the

edition would at least be in the hands of friends, that it would

be difficult for a hostile critic to secure a copy, and that if it

should not achieve success from a literary point of view, the



extent of the failure would be limited to the size of the edition,

Baxter was visibly impressed. When the literary committee at

length decided to request formally of Baxter the privilege of

publishing his Procrustes, he consented, with evident reluctance,

upon condition that he should supervise the printing, binding, and

delivery of the books, merely submitting to the committee, in

advance, the manuscript, and taking their views in regard to the

bookmaking.



The manuscript was duly presented to the literary committee.

Baxter having expressed the desire that the poem be not read aloud

at a meeting of the club, as was the custom, since he wished it to

be given to the world clad in suitable garb, the committee went

even farther. Having entire confidence in Baxter's taste and

scholarship, they, with great delicacy, refrained from even

reading the manuscript, contenting themselves with Baxter's

statement of the general theme and the topics grouped under it.

The details of the bookmaking, however, were gone into thoroughly.

The paper was to be of hand-made linen, from the Kelmscott Mills;

the type black-letter, with rubricated initials. The cover, which

was Baxter's own selection, was to be of dark green morocco, with

a cap-and-bells border in red inlays, and doublures of maroon

morocco with a blind-tooled design. Baxter was authorized to

contract with the printer and superintend the publication. The

whole edition of fifty numbered copies was to be disposed of at

auction, in advance, to the highest bidder, only one copy to each,

the proceeds to be devoted to paying for the printing and binding,

the remainder, if any, to go into the club treasury, and Baxter

himself to receive one copy by way of remuneration. Baxter was

inclined to protest at this, on the ground that his copy would

probably be worth more than the royalties on the edition, at the

usual ten per cent, would amount to, but was finally prevailed

upon to accept an author's copy.



While the Procrustes was under consideration, some one read, at

one of our meetings, a note from some magazine, which stated that

a sealed copy of a new translation of Campanella's Sonnets,

published by the Grolier Club, had been sold for three hundred

dollars. This impressed the members greatly. It was a novel

idea. A new work might thus be enshrined in a sort of holy of

holies, which, if the collector so desired, could be forever

sacred from the profanation of any vulgar or unappreciative eye.

The possessor of such a treasure could enjoy it by the eye of

imagination, having at the same time the exaltation of grasping

what was for others the unattainable. The literary committee were

so impressed with this idea that they presented it to Baxter in

regard to the Procrustes. Baxter making no objection, the

subscribers who might wish their copies delivered sealed were

directed to notify the author. I sent in my name. A fine book,

after all, was an investment, and if there was any way of

enhancing its rarity, and therefore its value, I was quite willing

to enjoy such an advantage.



When the Procrustes was ready for distribution, each subscriber

received his copy by mail, in a neat pasteboard box. Each number

was wrapped in a thin and transparent but very strong paper

through which the cover design and tooling were clearly visible.

The number of the copy was indorsed upon the wrapper, the folds of

which were securely fastened at each end with sealing-wax, upon

which was impressed, as a guaranty of its inviolateness, the

monogram of the club.



At the next meeting of the Bodleian, a great deal was said about

the Procrustes, and it was unanimously agreed that no finer

specimen of bookmaking had ever been published by the club. By a

curious coincidence, no one had brought his copy with him, and the

two club copies had not yet been received from the binder, who,

Baxter had reported was retaining them for some extra fine work.

Upon resolution, offered by a member who had not subscribed for

the volume, a committee of three was appointed to review the

Procrustes at the next literary meeting of the club. Of this

committee it was my doubtful fortune to constitute one.



In pursuance of my duty in the premises, it of course became

necessary for me to read the Procrustes. In all probability I

should have cut my own copy for this purpose, had not one of the

club auctions intervened between my appointment and the date set

for the discussion of the Procrustes. At this meeting a copy of

the book, still sealed, was offered for sale, and bought by a non-

subscriber for the unprecedented price of one hundred and fifty

dollars. After this a proper regard for my own interests would

not permit me to spoil my copy by opening it, and I was therefore

compelled to procure my information concerning the poem from some

other source. As I had no desire to appear mercenary, I said

nothing about my own copy, and made no attempt to borrow. I did,

however, casually remark to Baxter that I should like to look at

his copy of the proof sheets, since I wished to make some extended

quotations for my review, and would rather not trust my copy to a

typist for that purpose. Baxter assured me, with every evidence

of regret, that he had considered them of so little importance

that he had thrown them into the fire. This indifference of

Baxter to literary values struck me as just a little overdone.

The proof sheets of Hamlet, corrected in Shakespeare's own hand,

would be well-nigh priceless.



At the next meeting of the club I observed that Thompson and

Davis, who were with me on the reviewing committee, very soon

brought up the question of the Procrustes in conversation in the

smoking-room, and seemed anxious to get from the members their

views concerning Baxter's production, I supposed upon the theory

that the appreciation of any book review would depend more or less

upon the degree to which it reflected the opinion of those to whom

the review should be presented. I presumed, of course, that

Thompson and Davis had each read the book,--they were among the

subscribers,--and I was desirous of getting their point of view.



"What do you think," I inquired, "of the passage on Social

Systems?" I have forgotten to say that the poem was in blank

verse, and divided into parts, each with an appropriate title.



"Well," replied Davis, it seemed to me a little cautiously, "it is

not exactly Spencerian, although it squints at the Spencerian

view, with a slight deflection toward Hegelianism. I should

consider it an harmonious fusion of the best views of all the

modern philosophers, with a strong Baxterian flavor."



"Yes," said Thompson, "the charm of the chapter lies in this very

quality. The style is an emanation from Baxter's own intellect,--

he has written himself into the poem. By knowing Baxter we are

able to appreciate the book, and after having read the book we

feel that we are so much the more intimately acquainted with

Baxter,--the real Baxter."



Baxter had come in during this colloquy, and was standing by the

fireplace smoking a pipe. I was not exactly sure whether the

faint smile which marked his face was a token of pleasure or

cynicism; it was Baxterian, however, and I had already learned

that Baxter's opinions upon any subject were not to be gathered

always from his facial expression. For instance, when the club

porter's crippled child died Baxter remarked, it seemed to me

unfeelingly, that the poor little devil was doubtless better off,

and that the porter himself had certainly been relieved of a

burden; and only a week later the porter told me in confidence

that Baxter had paid for an expensive operation, undertaken in the

hope of prolonging the child's life. I therefore drew no

conclusions from Baxter's somewhat enigmatical smile. He left the

room at this point in the conversation, somewhat to my relief.



"By the way, Jones," said Davis, addressing me, "are you impressed

by Baxter's views on Degeneration?"



Having often heard Baxter express himself upon the general

downward tendency of modern civilization, I felt safe in

discussing his views in a broad and general manner.



"I think," I replied, "that they are in harmony with those of

Schopenhauer, without his bitterness; with those of Nordau,

without his flippancy. His materialism is Haeckel's, presented

with something of the charm of Omar Khayyam."



"Yes," chimed in Davis, "it answers the strenuous demand of our

day,--dissatisfaction with an unjustified optimism,--and voices

for us the courage of human philosophy facing the unknown."



I had a vague recollection of having read something like this

somewhere, but so much has been written, that one can scarcely

discuss any subject of importance without unconsciously borrowing,

now and then, the thoughts or the language of others. Quotation,

like imitation, is a superior grade of flattery.



"The Procrustes," said Thompson, to whom the metrical review had

been apportioned, "is couched in sonorous lines, of haunting

melody and charm; and yet so closely inter-related as to be

scarcely quotable with justice to the author. To be appreciated

the poem should be read as a whole,--I shall say as much in my

review. What shall you say of the letter-press?" he concluded,

addressing me. I was supposed to discuss the technical excellence

of the volume from the connoisseur's viewpoint.



"The setting," I replied judicially, "is worthy of the gem. The

dark green cover, elaborately tooled, the old English lettering,

the heavy linen paper, mark this as one of our very choicest

publications. The letter-press is of course De Vinne's best,--

there is nothing better on this side of the Atlantic. The text is

a beautiful, slender stream, meandering gracefully through a wide

meadow of margin."



For some reason I left the room for a minute. As I stepped into

the hall, I almost ran into Baxter, who was standing near the

door, facing a hunting print of a somewhat humorous character,

hung upon the wall, and smiling with an immensely pleased

expression.



"What a ridiculous scene!" he remarked. "Look at that fat old

squire on that tall hunter! I'll wager dollars to doughnuts that

he won't get over the first fence!"



It was a very good bluff, but did not deceive me. Under his mask

of unconcern, Baxter was anxious to learn what we thought of his

poem, and had stationed himself in the hall that he might overhear

our discussion without embarrassing us by his presence. He had

covered up his delight at our appreciation by this simulated

interest in the hunting print.





When the night came for the review of the Procrustes there was a

large attendance of members, and several visitors, among them a

young English cousin of one of the members, on his first visit to

the United States; some of us had met him at other clubs, and in

society, and had found him a very jolly boy, with a youthful

exuberance of spirits and a naive ignorance of things American

that made his views refreshing and, at times, amusing.



The critical essays were well considered, if a trifle vague.

Baxter received credit for poetic skill of a high order.



"Our brother Baxter," said Thompson, "should no longer bury his

talent in a napkin. This gem, of course, belongs to the club, but

the same brain from which issued this exquisite emanation can

produce others to inspire and charm an appreciative world."



"The author's view of life," said Davis, "as expressed in these

beautiful lines, will help us to fit our shoulders for the heavy

burden of life, by bringing to our realization those profound

truths of philosophy which find hope in despair and pleasure in

pain. When he shall see fit to give to the wider world, in fuller

form, the thoughts of which we have been vouchsafed this

foretaste, let us hope that some little ray of his fame may rest

upon the Bodleian, from which can never be taken away the proud

privilege of saying that he was one of its members."



I then pointed out the beauties of the volume as a piece of

bookmaking. I knew, from conversation with the publication

committee, the style of type and rubrication, and could see the

cover through the wrapper of my sealed copy. The dark green

morocco, I said, in summing up, typified the author's serious view

of life, as a thing to be endured as patiently as might be. The

cap-and-bells border was significant of the shams by which the

optimist sought to delude himself into the view that life was a

desirable thing. The intricate blind-tooling of the doublure

shadowed forth the blind fate which left us in ignorance of our

future and our past, or of even what the day itself might bring

forth. The black-letter type, with rubricated initials, signified

a philosophic pessimism enlightened by the conviction that in duty

one might find, after all, an excuse for life and a hope for

humanity. Applying this test to the club, this work, which might

be said to represent all that the Bodleian stood for, was in

itself sufficient to justify the club's existence. If the

Bodleian had done nothing else, if it should do nothing more, it

had produced a masterpiece.



There was a sealed copy of the Procrustes, belonging, I believe,

to one of the committee, lying on the table by which I stood, and

I had picked it up and held it in my hand for a moment, to

emphasize one of my periods, but had laid it down immediately. I

noted, as I sat down, that young Hunkin, our English visitor, who

sat on the other side of the table, had picked up the volume and

was examining it with interest. When the last review was read,

and the generous applause had subsided, there were cries for

Baxter.



"Baxter! Baxter! Author! Author!"



Baxter had been sitting over in a corner during the reading of the

reviews, and had succeeded remarkably well, it seemed to me, in

concealing, under his mask of cynical indifference, the exultation

which I was sure he must feel. But this outburst of enthusiasm

was too much even for Baxter, and it was clear that he was

struggling with strong emotion when he rose to speak.



"Gentlemen, and fellow members of the Bodleian, it gives me

unaffected pleasure--sincere pleasure--some day you may know how

much pleasure--I cannot trust myself to say it now--to see the

evident care with which your committee have read my poor verses,

and the responsive sympathy with which my friends have entered

into my views of life and conduct. I thank you again, and again,

and when I say that I am too full for utterance,--I'm sure you

will excuse me from saying any more."



Baxter took his seat, and the applause had begun again when it was

broken by a sudden exclamation.



"By Jove!" exclaimed our English visitor, who still sat behind the

table, "what an extraordinary book!"



Every one gathered around him.



"You see," he exclaimed; holding up the volume, "you fellows said

so much about the bally book that I wanted to see what it was

like; so I untied the ribbon, and cut the leaves with the paper

knife lying here, and found--and found that there wasn't a single

line in it, don't you know!"



Blank consternation followed this announcement, which proved only

too true. Every one knew instinctively, without further

investigation, that the club had been badly sold. In the

resulting confusion Baxter escaped, but later was waited upon by a

committee, to whom he made the rather lame excuse that he had

always regarded uncut and sealed books as tommy-rot, and that he

had merely been curious to see how far the thing could go; and

that the result had justified his belief that a book with nothing

in it was just as useful to a book-collector as one embodying a

work of genius. He offered to pay all the bills for the sham

Procrustes, or to replace the blank copies with the real thing, as

we might choose. Of course, after such an insult, the club did

not care for the poem. He was permitted to pay the expense,

however, and it was more than hinted to him that his resignation

from the club would be favorably acted upon. He never sent it in,

and, as he went to Europe shortly afterwards, the affair had time

to blow over.



In our first disgust at Baxter's duplicity, most of us cut our

copies of the Procrustes, some of us mailed them to Baxter with

cutting notes, and others threw them into the fire. A few wiser

spirits held on to theirs, and this fact leaking out, it began to

dawn upon the minds of the real collectors among us that the

volume was something unique in the way of a publication.



"Baxter," said our president one evening to a select few of us who

sat around the fireplace, "was wiser than we knew, or than he

perhaps appreciated. His Procrustes, from the collector's point

of view, is entirely logical, and might be considered as the acme

of bookmaking. To the true collector, a book is a work of art, of

which the contents are no more important than the words of an

opera. Fine binding is a desideratum, and, for its cost, that of

the Procrustes could not be improved upon. The paper is above

criticism. The true collector loves wide margins, and the

Procrustes, being all margin, merely touches the vanishing point

of the perspective. The smaller the edition, the greater the

collector's eagerness to acquire a copy. There are but six uncut

copies left, I am told, of the Procrustes, and three sealed

copies, of one of which I am the fortunate possessor."



After this deliverance, it is not surprising that, at our next

auction, a sealed copy of Baxter's Procrustes was knocked down,

after spirited bidding, for two hundred and fifty dollars, the

highest price ever brought by a single volume published by the

club.





AN APPEAL TO CONGRESS FOR IMPARTIAL SUFFRAGE DAVE'S NECKLISS facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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