Book Chats on Loss.
"They told me Heraclitus......”.Last updated here August 2020.
Appraising and dispersing the library of a customer, perhaps just recently deceased, and often via a grieving widow or children, can be an unenviable task.
Of an acquaintance....often a relief to the berieved. But of John Pain, my personal friend who passed away February 21st 2016....surely the most difficult of all....?
What are the ethics and standards one invokes?
In my case, after forty years of friendship, it is simply this.....to do as one would wish of a colleague, having entrusted him with the dispersal of one's own collection.
So, it was with an initially heavy heart, that one embarked on the sad task of dispersing my colleague's library.
Two criteria: 1). As above, and 2). to get the collection back in use, even though this meant dispersal to the four winds. In this case a technical scientific collection....a working library in fact.
So, it was with some surprise, that, just by chance while in the middle of it all, I came across a copy of “Unposted Letters Concerning Life and Literature”, by John O'London. 1924. London. George Newnes.
Herein, on page 84, the touching, two thousand year old, lament of Callimachus (left above) for his friend Heraclitus (right), and so nobly rendered into English by William Johnson Cory.......
“They told me Heraclitus, they told me you were dead.
If ever two quatrains touched the spot, these are they.
They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed.
I wept as I remembered how often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking.......and sent him down the sky.
And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
A handful of grey ashes, some time ago at rest,
Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;
For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take".
Am I sad now the job is done?
No, I am not.
Was it Hazlett who observed:
“Actions pass away and are forgotten, or are discernible in their effects. Only words are the things that last forever”.
And so now, after four years, each of these hundred odd volumes has now embarked on a new life, bearing the inscriptions and annotations of their former owner....a journey that now takes them and him into other libraries and other homes.
Resquiescat in Pace, old friend. You are not forgotten.