BLTC Press Titles

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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

A. Conan Doyle

The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Thomas Carlyle, Rudolf Steiner

The Souls of Black Folk

W. E. B. DuBois

Darby O'Gill and the Little People

Hermenie Templeton Kavanagh

A magnificent farce

by Alfred Edward Newton


As a result of much reading,— and very little thinking; for like Charles Lamb, books do my thinking for me,— I became moved to write a paper on the pleasure of buying and owning books; and, much to my delight, not only was it accepted by a well-known editor, paid for, and published, but people read it and asked for more. It is the first step qui coule, as the French so eloquently say. After the acceptance of my first article my ascent was easy.

I have said that I have always been misunderstood. For example: I never had any education, whereas it is commonly supposed that I have sat, or at least stood, at the knee of some great scholar like Kittredge. The fact is that kindly disposed relatives took me in hand at an early age and sent me from one dame —I had almost said damn—school to another, according to the views of the one who had me in charge for the time being. This is a bad plan.

In like manner, when I grew up I got a job in a bookstore, Porter & Coates's, and a fine bookstore it was; but I never sold any books. I suppose it was early discovered that, though I might take a customer's money, I would never part with the books, never deliver the goods, as it were, and for that reason I was put in the stationery department. I made my first acquaintance with pens, ink, and paper by selling them, and in those days I had no idea what delightful playthings they make. Because I spent a few years at Porter & Coates's, I am supposed to have gained there the knowledge of books that I am credited with.

And later on I was for a time in a banking-house, and a most respectable banking house it was, too : Brown Brothers & Co. — a sort of younger son of Brown, Shipley & Co. of London. There I drew bills of exchange in sets of three: first, second, and third of exchange, I remember they were called. I never became much of a draftsman, but I soon became expert enough to make three separate blunders in a single bill. It took time for these blunders to come to the surface. I made a mistake in June in Philadelphia, and it came to light in Shanghai in December. I used to dread the arrival of a steamer. I did not mind " steamer day " — that meant outgoing mail; what I hated was an incoming post. I can see now the brief notes written in clerkly longhand,— it was before the introduction of typewriters in respectable houses,— " calling attention for the sake of regularity to the error in draft" — number, name, and amount given. I came to know just how long after the arrival of the mail it would be before someone would tell me that Mr. Delano wanted to see me in the back office.

This was the unhappiest time of my life. I can imagine nothing more miserable than to spend the best part of one's life in counting money, especially some other fellow's money. Dr. Johnson, once reproached for his clumsiness in counting money, remarked, "But, Sir, consider how little experience I have had." I had had as little. Then, to make the game more difficult and to add to my misery, I was expected to count it, not only in dollars and cents, but in pounds, shillings, pence, francs, marks, and anything else that the devilish ingenuity of man could contrive. Reflection told me that I not only was in the wrong pew, but in the wrong church as well; I determined to throw up my job and go into business for myself: to do in a wholesale way what I had done at retail. After some years, when I had accumulated a little money, a man, thinking I had much, called on me with a view to selling me an interest in an electrical business. I was told that what was needed was a financial manager; and when upon investigation I discovered that the business was in the hands of the sheriff, I knew that I had not been deceived.

A story of suffering and disaster is usually more interesting than a story of commonplace success. How in time I became the president of an electrical manufacturing company, without knowing a volt from an ampere, or a kilowatt from either, might be interesting to my family, had they not heard it before, but to no one else. It is enough for me to say that by the happiest kind of a fluke I came to have a name not quite unknown in electrical and financial circles, although nothing of an electrical engineer and very little of a financier.

And now in my old age,— for if an electrical business will not prematurely age a man, nothing will,— when I sometimes so far forget myself as to talk of eddy currents and hysteresis, I see that I deceive no one; that I am listened to as an old man is, when for the hundredth time he starts to tell what he thinks is a funny story; for I am known to hate every living mechanical thing with a royal hatred — automobiles especially, with their thousand parts, each capable of being misunderstood. Even a screw-driver fills me with suspicion, and a monkey-wrench with horror.

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