The beuk chronicles

I did not lie to gentle reader when I said, nearly a month ago, that I was “likely to become more ebullient again after Easter.” It was indeed likely, though my discomfiture, amounting almost to a “writer’s block,” evaporates more slowly. Only narcissistic writers have blocks, of course, & I’ve noticed even they have them only for unpaid work. The exception would be holy persons, who have little to say in the first place, & that little carefully considered, as “yea, yea; nay, nay.” But it is hard to imagine a person of saintly disposition starting a blog of any sort. A Twitter account, maybe.

Well, spring has reached the Greater Parkdale Area, or may have done after a prolonged occupation of the Province of Ontario by Arctic air. Up here in the High Doganate, while indulging the writer’s block, I have been spring cleaning. Following advice we gave to the rest of the world (Girolamo Savonarola & I) to make a “bonfire of your vanities,” I set about removing a selection of luxurious, but pointless things, that were crowding my immediate environment. Many of these had been obtained originally by serendipity from flea markets, Sally Annes & the like, & to them they were returned, satchel by satchel. Five cumbersome articles of furniture were identified & cleared, at risk to my enfeebled back (twenty years since I slipped a disc, & my spin-bowling days were over).

A fair part was inherited a few years ago, when my dear parents, through their own aged enfeeblements, had suddenly to move from their house. Sentiment had prevented me from parting with e.g. redundant kitchen equipment, or large accumulations of my ancestors’ artistic impedimenta, added to my own. The High Doganate has less than 600 square feet, counting the balconata. There is no space for a pack rat, here. I waxed ruthless.

Nostalgia for the irrecoverable past is a natural part of the conservative outlook, but a time comes for one last loving look, then “rise & be on our way.” I am persuaded that everything is anyway sustained in the memory of God; that nothing is lost. In moments I have sensed this: the immortality even of the tiniest events & objects; the impossibility of eradicating what has happened. We have been moving through the “time capsule” of this world, & will move outside, yet it will not cease to have been there, when we leave only our dust behind.

That balconata faces west, & I have glimpsed by now several thousand sunsets, each unique. They were more beautiful than anything I own, yet not one could I keep. My primitive attempts to capture something of the colours with a brush on paper (the old tin palette from my Great Aunt Alice has been retained) came to nothing more than exercise. But a useful exercise: to learn, by degrees, how much greater is God, & how little one is, beholding.


On the email list that preceded this blog, I would irritate my friends by persistently misspelling the word “book” as “buke.” This was in order to suggest the Scots pronunciation, but a genuine Scotsman has since proposed that “beuk” would be a more appropriate misspelling.

By weight, I would guess that more than 90 percent of my possessions have been & continue to be beuks, & beukcases. There were about 10,000 of these things accumulated in the house from which I was removed, about the beginning of this century; three-quarters of those had to be abandoned. I had long shared with Cicero a certain notion of domestic bliss: that a home should consist of a library, in a garden. But in the normal condition of modern life, this is not possible, or not possible for long. Modern man is a nomad again; a high-tech nomad.

Many of these beuks I had never read, & would never have the opportunity to read, given the length of one human life, but possessing them I was possessed by the belief that such a fine library would be a delight to generations after my own. In my time I would lay down the basic structure, lay in the classics across the fields with which I was acquainted; & my children’s children would grow up surrounded by beuks, & add knowingly to the collection. Since late adolescence I have had a clear idea of how beuks should be typographically designed, printed, & bound, along with snooty bibliographical positions. Not one in those ten thousand was a cheap paperback.

Aheu, it is gone, except the part that was most important & familiar to me; & with the passage of time this has been shrinking, overall. Two beuks out for every one in, by estimate, through the last decade. After this latest round of de-acquisition, I have noticed how Catholic the collection has become; my Anglicana retained only where it was also beloved English literature. The point has almost been reached, when each surviving beuk is too precious to part with.

They are, in a sense, live things. Coleridge, admittedly often on drugs, noted once how the spines on his beuks seemed present to him as the bellies of living, winged creatures, containing the shades of men long dead. Though down to one room, towards the end of his life, he could not separate himself from such angelic companions.

When the hearth was built into the old Idler Pub, we had an inscription set into the concrete, in brass letters reading, Hae nobis propriae sedes. It was from Virgil: “Here we have found a suitable abode.”

So many of these beuks have been with me for decades, now. The very pages are coloured with personal associations, & I recall for instance the pain of shipping many from continent to continent in my wandering youth.

There was an incident last month when I was donating a significant clump to a second-hand dealer who, while making mildly insulting remarks about how unsaleable they were, threw one onto his trash pile so roughly that the spine, already weakened by use, was finally broken.

I kept my silence.

The dealer noticed from my eyes that I was very angry. I explained that I had not brought these beuks for the money, but in the hope they would find good new homes; that nothing I had brought him was “junk.” His store was among the few places left where suitable new keepers might be found for my orphans, & I would have left his shop happily without a penny from him, so long as I knew he would care for them, & price them instead of tossing them away.

Crimine ab uno disce omnes.