Books which will never
by J. C. Philpot
There are books which will never die; and the
reason is because they contain in themselves, we will not say the elements
of immortality, for nothing is immortal below the skies, but what we may
term the seeds of an ever self-renewing life. In the literary as in the
vegetable world, there is a wonderful and almost infinite quantity and
diversity of growth. Thus there are annuals and perennials, shrubs and
trees, books, though few in number, which have the knotty strength of the
oak—and books, but much fewer still, which have the enduring life of
There are also plants fair to the eye, but, like the
poisonous nightshade, bearing deadly fruit to the taste; and there is a
fungus growth, the product of a corrupt press, spreading itself far and wide
to taint the blood of the rising generation with principles of infidelity
There never, perhaps, was an age in which there was so
large an amount or so great a variety of books on every subject which can
exercise or instruct or delight the human mind; and as with men, so with
books, every year adds its thousands to the already existing population. Yet
out of this countless progeny of books—how few survive even their birth,
dropping, as if stillborn, from the press—how few attain to youth or
manhood—how more rarely still do any reach a vigorous old age, or, as if
they had drunk at the fount of life, renew their youth like the eagle. One
in a thousand may outlive a century, but all the rest, at different stages
of their life, sink into the tomb of perpetual night.
But amid this general decay, this mortality and death
among the books, almost as certain and as sweeping as mortality and death
among men, a few works never die, and for the reason which we have already
given—that they contain in themselves the seeds of an ever self-renewing
life. It does not lie within our province to notice those productions of
human genius, either in dead or living tongues, which are handed down from
age to age to instruct or delight generation after generation; but the same
principle which we have laid down will apply to all books, whether worldly
or religious, which have won to themselves an enduring inheritance.
There is in them all that appeal to the common principles
of our nature, that meeting of the needs, the sorrows, the desires, the
aspirations, the hopes, the fears, the feelings and passions of the human
bosom, which, vivified by the power of genius in works worldly and
secular—or lighted by fire from heaven in books spiritual and
religious—renders them independent of all the mutations of thought and time,
and makes them virtually imperishable. This is what we mean when we speak of
them as containing in themselves a self-renewing life.
But though the death among the books would, if duly
recorded, be the largest and most wearisome of all obituaries, yet, after
all, strange though it may appear to say so, their mortality is more
apparent than real, and a greater benefit than an injury to general society.
Books, like men, naturally and necessarily grow old; and how would the busy,
laboring, active, and thriving commercial world, fare if all its manifold
and intricate business were carried on by old men instead of the middle aged
So with books. New books are needed, as young men are
needed, to carry on the business of life; and as the father survives in the
son, who is better adapted for fresh modes of business, so the old book
survives in the new work which is better suited to the habits and feelings
of modern thought. Old geographies, old histories, old cyclopaedias, like
old almanacs and old directories, become necessarily obsolete and
practically worthless; and so similarly thousands of books die a natural
death, and perish of sheer decay.
And who would wish them to live, or stretch forth his
hand to save them from a deserved death? In this world, corrupt as it is,
few things really die but what ought to die. Who would wish to snatch from
death and oblivion, what is alike corrupt and corrupting? Multitudes of
so-called religious books are no more worthy of preservation than the tales
and novels which fill the shelves of a railway bookstall; and therefore
justly perish as being as much founded on false principles in religion as
novels are on false principles of human conduct and life.
Now contrast with these abortive productions of the
modern religious press—our old, our grand, our noble, our blessed Bible. How
many works have been written against it in every age to overthrow its claims
to inspiration as the word of the living God; and how every argument which
learning could suggest, or research discover, or malice aim, or ingenuity
invent, or wit point, has been hurled against the Scriptures of the Old and
New Testament. But where are they all? Dead, buried, and forgotten. We may
apply to them the words of the prophet—"They are dead, they shall not live;
they are deceased, they shall not rise; therefore have you visited and
destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish." (Isa. 26:14.) Who now
reads the works, or even knows the names of Hobbes, Collins, or Tindal, men
who in their day were like Strauss, Renan, and Colenso in ours, deadly
opponents of the inspiration of Scripture—Goliaths of Gath—in their own and
their admirers' opinion?
But God has made their memory to perish, while the grand
old Bible stands, like him of whom it testifies, the word of God, which
lives and abides forever. Such, also, will be the fate of those infidel
books and their infidel writers that are making their little stir in our
day, and with their great swelling words do but foam out their own shame.
God will do unto them as unto the Midianites; as to Sisera, as to Jabin, at
the brook of Kishon, who perished at Endor; they became as dung for the
But, as distinct from such books as these and their
native kindred, which in a more subtle form spread abroad the same
principles, and therefore perish, justly perish as under the blight of an
eternal frown, we seem to have some reason to mourn over the death and
dissolution of many works of a past age which seemed worthy to live. How
many books, for instance, of the old Puritan writers are now dead and
forgotten; and yet, as we read the writings, so edifying and so instructive,
of Owen, Sibbes, Goodwin, etc., we almost wonder that the church of Christ
could ever let them die.
But either from lack of spirituality in the church
itself, or from their style not being suited to the present age, or their
not being ready at hand, how rarely are these masterpieces of sanctified
intellect read either by our ministers, or our people. Thus there seems
to be a term of life even to the best of books. Slowly but surely they sink
into the grave, and if some struggle on a little longer than their brethren,
it is only to be borne in the end to one common cemetery.
Whence, then, comes it to pass that any resist the
common doom? It will be found that if any survive the general
dissolution—and we know there are those which have outlived centuries—it is
only those which, as we have said before, contain in themselves the elements
of a self-renewing, and, therefore, indestructible life.
No author has ever survived his own day who has not been
gifted with a vivid, original, and life-like style—for what is wearisome to
read, is soon not read at all.
Such an author is never dull, never prosy, never
commonplace, never confused, never unintelligible. The buoyancy of his style
is remarkable, and bears his books up so that they never become wearisome.
Seasoned with heavenly salt, and enlivened with the most sprightly and
original sallies of wit, they possess a peculiar freshness, so that they
become neither dry nor moldy.