Page 51 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 2

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s i d o r e
e y e r
The enemies of books are many. The blind elements of nature
have at all times sought to tear down what man has endeavored
to build up. Books have been destroyed in chance conflagrations
and sunk as cargo into the depths of the sea. But more persistently
and therefore more destructively, rain has caused paper and
binding to rot; extremes of climate have disfigured print as well
as cover; mildew and dust, neglect and ignorance have all been
contributing factors to the deterioration of priceless volumes.
There are also the small, living creatures who wage constant war
against the letters. There are rats, mice and countless vermin,
bookworms, termites and surface feeders, the
stegobium paniceum
(drugstore beetle), the
blatta germanica
, the psocids, the
and the more modestly-named cockroach and
silverfish. Modern exterminating devices are employed to contend
with these, but William Blades’ advice, offered in his classic,
Enemies of Books
, is still the best: “The surest way to preserve
your books in health is to treat them as you would your own health
and children.”
But the greatest enemy of books has been man himself. Against
the diseases which afflict books and libraries man’s ingenuity has
been able to discover remedies; but what remedy can there be for
the havoc wrought by
homo sapiens
? The bombing of Strasbourg
in 1870, for example, destroyed original documents and unique
records relating to the career of Gutenberg. In December 1941,
the Japanese destroyed an invaluable library in Manila. Writing
over one hundred and fifty years ago, Isaac D ’Israeli said, in his
Curiosities of Literature:
The literary treasures of antiquity have suffered from the malice of men as
well as that of time. It is remarkable that conquerors, in the moment of
victory or in the unsparing devastation of their rage, have not been satisfied
with destroying
, but have even carried their vengeance to
The destruction of books seems to be an ancient custom, and
it has been followed by the enemies of western civilization and of
Israel before our very eyes with thoroughness, system and all the
*This essay is part of a larger study which the author hopes to publish in the
near future.