The Oldest Thing I Own

The oldest thing I own is a book called The Pleasures of Life by Sir John Lubbock published in 1887.

The electronic version can be found here if you’re interested. It’s a vanity piece written by someone with far too much money and time on his hands. Sir John was looking for answers. He thought he had found them, so he wrote them up in book form. While I admire and encourage his search for truth, Sir John Lubbock and I don’t see eye to eye on some things. I do agree with this quote from this treasured little book of mine: “Not only does a library contain infinite riches in a little room, but we may sit at home and yet be in all quarters of the earth.”

I’m not sure where I picked up this volume nor why, but I’ve had it for as long as I can remember. It’s a small 4.5″ x 6.5″ book with 292 pages, a definitive, capital “THE END” on the last page, and a woodcut print in the front of a shepherd in a valley. The pages are lovingly stitched together and it’s hand bound in soft, natural suede with gold leaf print on the cover, spine and back. It is from the era of printing where they didn’t slice the edges so that one would have to have a letter opener handy when reading a book in order to separate the pages. All of the pages of this book have been split open, some with great care, others with reckless abandon. I don’t recall if I had to split any pages when I read it or not, but they are all open now, so that Sir John Lubbock’s words can freely enter into the world.

I don’t think my copy is worth anything. I’ve taken no pains to preserve it. The suede on the spine has become hard with age and it’s splitting. Some of the pages have come loose and are barely sticking together. To be honest, I’m glad that my copy is in such disrepair. I don’t like owning things of value since they come with responsibility. I would not want to be responsible for preserving the only one of its kind. I’m assuming there are other copies of The Pleasures of Life out there since someone actually took the time to put it on the internet in its electronic form, but I haven’t looked. I haven’t given all that much thought to Sir John since he’s found a place in my library. To be perfectly honest, if it were just a paperback, I wouldn’t own it. I own the book because of the feel of it, the look, the handcrafted love put into the publishing of this book and not for anything having to do with what’s contained therein.

I feel mildly guilty that I own this book since I’ve read it but once and someone else might derive greater pleasure (of life) from reading it than I, but Sir John’s tome sits on a shelf in my room collecting dust most of the time. Still, I love this book.

I love this book because it proves that words are eternal. The very fact that Sir John’s sentences still exist is encouraging. It would be nice if something I’ve written was lovingly collected into such a beautiful little package as this to live on after I’m gone. I can think of no better fate for my words than to still exist 124 years from now. If someone wrote something like this thing I’m writing now about a little collection of my words in the year 2135, even if they don’t agree, even if the words are collecting dust on shelf, I can think of no better honor. Cheers, Sir John Lubbock. You are immortal.

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