Draft of 2007.11.07 ☛ 2015.03.20
From Gerald Stanley Lee’s Crowds, 1913. Read it aloud, as with all of Lee, every damned word of it, aloud, until you get it right, until it’s in your blood and bones and mind and you can see the world he saw back then, right now:
There is a boy at this very moment with strings and marbles and a nation in his pocket, a system of railroads—a boy with a national cure for tuberculosis, with sun-engines for everybody—there is a boy with cathedrals in him too, no doubt or some boy like young Pinchot, with mountainsful of forests in his heart.
This is what Mr. Carnegie himself would like to do, but with his big, stiff, clumsy libraries trailing their huge, senseless brick-and-mortar bodies, their white pillars and things, about the country, unmanned, inert, eyeless, all those great gates and forts of knowledge, Coliseums of paper, and with the mechanical people behind the counters, the policemen of the books, all standing about protecting them—with all this formidable array, how can such a boy be hunted out or drawn in, or how would he dare go tramping in through the great gates and hunting about for himself? He could only be hunted out by people all wrought through with human experience, men and women who would give the world to find him, who are on the daily lookout for such a boy—by some special kind of eager librarian, or by disguised teachers, anonymous poets, or by diviners, by expert geniuses in boys. If Mr. Carnegie could go about and look up and buy up wherever he went these men who have this boy-genius in them, deliver them from empty, helpless, mere getting-a-living lives; and if he could set these men, and set them about thickly, among the books in his libraries—those huge anatomies and bones of knowledge he has established everywhere, all his great literary steel-works—men would soon begin to be discovered, to be created, to be built in libraries … but as it is now….
Gentle Reader, have you ever stood in front of one of them, looked up at the windows, thought of all those great tiers, those moulds and blocks of learning on the shelves; and have you never watched the weary people that dribble in from the streets and wander coldly about, or sit down listless in them—in those mighty, silent empires of the past? have you never thought that somewhere all about them, somewhere in this same library, there must be some white, silent, sunny country of the future, full of children and of singing, full of something very different from these iron walls of wisdom? And have you never thought what it would mean if Mr. Carnegie would spend his money on search parties for people among the books, or what it would mean if the entire library, if all the books in it, became, as it were, wired throughout with live, splendid, delighted men and women, to make connections, to establish the current between the people and the books, to discover the people one by one and follow them to their homes, and follow them in their lives, and take out the latent geniuses, and the listless engineers and poets, and the Kossuths, Cæsars, the Florence Nightingales…?
And thank you, Barbara, for finding this for me tonight.