There were pools of light among the stacks, directly beneath the bulbs which Philip had switched on, but it was now with an unexpected fearfulness that he saw how the books stretched away into the darkness. They seemed to expand as soon as they reached the shadows, creating some dark world where there was no beginning and no end, no story, no meaning. And if you crossed the threshold into that world, you would be surrounded by words; you would crush them beneath your feet, you would knock against them with your head and arms, but if you tried to grasp them they would melt away. Philip did not dare turn his back upon these books. Not yet. It was almost, he thought, as if they had been speaking to each other while he slept.
Books do not perÂish like huÂmankind. Of course we comÂmonÂly see them broÂken in the habÂerÂdashÂer's shop when onÂly a few months beÂfore they lay bound on the staÂtionÂer's stall; these are not true works, but mere trash and newÂfanÂgleÂness for the vulÂgar. There are thouÂsands of such gewÂgaws and toys which peoÂple have in their chamÂbers, or which they keep upÂon their shelves, beÂlievÂing that they are preÂcious things, when they are the mere passÂing folÂlies of the passÂing time and of no more valÂue than paÂpers gathÂered up from some dunghill or raked by chance out of the kenÂnel. True books are filled with the powÂer of the unÂderÂstandÂing which is the inÂherÂitance of the ages: you may take up a book in time, but you read it in eterÂniÂty.
Is Dust immortal then, I ask'd him, so that we may see it blowing through the Centuries? But as Walter gave no Answer I jested with him further to break his Melancholy humour: What is Dust, Master Pyne?And he reflected a little: It is particles of Matter, no doubt.Then we are all Dust indeed, are we not?And in a feigned Voice he murmered, For Dust thou art and shalt to Dust return. Then he made a Sour face, but only yo laugh the more.
For when I trace back the years I have liv'd, gathering them up in my Memory, I see what a chequer'd Work Of Nature my life has been. If I were now to inscribe my own History with its unparalleled Sufferings and surprizing Adventures (as the Booksellers might indite it),I know that the great Part of the World would not believe the Passages there related, by reason of the Strangeness of them, but I cannot help their Unbelief; and if the Reader considers them to be but dark Conceits, then let him bethink himself that Humane life is quite out of the Light and that we are all Creatures of Darknesse.
The embrace of present and past time, in which English antiquarianism becomes a form of alchemy, engenders a strange timelessness. It is as if the little bird which flew through the Anglo-Saxon banqueting hall, in Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, gained the outer air and became the lark ascending in Vaughan Williams's orchestral setting. The unbroken chain is that of English music itself.