Size Matters

The recent post at Mindful Pleasures about Alberto Manguel’s The Library at Night also mentioned his [Brian’s] own collection of a ‘mere few thousand books’ compared to Manguel’s ‘obsessive 30,000, ten thousand more than even Susan Sontag was able to amass.’ Sontag’s, in turn, is comparable with William Gass’s 20,000 books.

There are some rather wonderful quotations along these lines in this Spring’s edition of The Book Collector:

Augustine Birrell’s delightfully stern remark: ‘To be proud of having two thousand books would be absurd. You might as well be proud of having two top-coats. After your first two thousand difficulty begins, but until you have ten thousand volumes the less you say about your library the better Then you may begin to speak.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Edmund Gosse on the other hand stated, ‘The man that has two or three thousand books can be familiar with them all; he that has thirty thousand can hardly have a speaking acquaintance with more than a few.’

. . . . . . . . . . . .

When the sizes of private libraries are discussed, I am pleasantly reminded of the disgusted exclamation of J. E. B. Mayor, the longest-serving professor of Latin at Cambridge to date, who suspected with horror that some of the football men at St John’s ‘had libraries of fewer than 2000 books.’

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