Building Upon the Foundations


Across Time and Space…

“No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man

is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine:  if a

Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse,

as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor

of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans

death diminishes me, because I am in-

volved in Mankinde; And therefore

never send to know for

whom the bell tolls; It

tolls for thee”.

– John Donne


You may recognize these words, either from the phrase “for whom the bell tolls” being a part of popular vernacular or because you’ve read Ernest Hemingway’s novel of that name.  Until I picked up that book to read recently, I’d forgotten that the phrase had originated with John Donne (my favorite author – after Alexander Pope, of course).

We could easily and happily spend some time together discussing Donne and his meditations on the interconnectedness of humanity, laid out in Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII.  However, this humble newsletter is not the place in which to embark upon such a journey; rather, I wanted to share some thoughts with you which have been swimming around in my head lately.

I’m sure many of you have experienced the sense of delight when, in reading through a book or passage, you have a moment of “ah-ha!  I’ve encountered this idea before.”  As readers, we sometimes make the fatal error of assuming that every book is an island – when in fact, the opposite is true.

The great authors have all joined together, hand in hand, down through the ages, to share ideas and build upon each other’s foundations in order to share their collective experiences – and the wisdom gained thereby – with us.

(Ernest Hemingway Collection/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston)
(Ernest Hemingway Collection/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston)

Hemingway inspired by John Donne.  Sylvia Plath inspired by Hemingway.  Countless others in between.  While reading up on Washington Irving last week I discovered that not only was he one of the first American writer to earn  acclaim in Europe (along with James Fenimore Cooper), he also was an inspiration and source of encouragement to Herman Melville, Longfellow, Edgar Allan Poe, Walter Scott, Lord Byron, and Charles Dickens.  Who was a source of inspiration to Leo Tolstoy and George Orwell, who inspired…we could go on and on.

Not only are we connected in time but also in space.  Ideas, ever since man travelled, have crossed political boundaries.  Today, we can share thoughts and ideas without leaving our chairs via the internet, but we have always shared with our fellow men the world over.

Japan.  Thailand.  Edinburgh.  London.  China.  Over the past two weeks, these are place to which I’ve posted books which have been purchased online from Swan’s Fine Books, from people around the world.  Books such as the poetry of T.S. Eliot and Seamus Heaney; books containing old steel engravings highlighting Shakespeare’s works; even a first edition Huckleberry Finn.  Ideas cross cultural and linguistic boundaries, they leap from one man to another and then shimmer within that man’s mind and then shoot off in another direction.  And are handed down to others….living and growing and impacting future generations.

The books we carry here at our shop are embodiments of those ideas handed to us in time and space, born out of the sweat of the author wrestling with his or her creative genius, bound by the exacting printer and delivered to us by the great publishing houses.  And we all are the fortunate, the oh-so-lucky ones who can walk into the shop and pluck this treasure from the shelf, bring it home, peruse it at our leisure, and absorb into ourselves those ideas.

So – my thanks to those who have gone before.  And my thanks to all of you, for visiting the store either online or in person, to partake with us of this great feast of literature, this great adventure of ideas.