Gordon N. Ray (1915-1986), professor of English at the University of Illinois from 1946 to 1960 and president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation from 1963 to 1985, was one of the major book and manuscript collectors of his time. His two great Morgan Library catalogues, on English and French book illustration, are monuments both to his collecting and to his scholarship. Over the years he wrote a number of essays and addresses on book collecting, the book trade, libraries, and the role of books in life. Some of them have become famous, while others are not well known; all are perceptive and eloquent statements, full of literary allusions and touches of humor. Books as a Way of Life brings together virtually everything of this kind that he wrote; the result is an appealing and important book that has come to be regarded as a classic contribution to the literature of the book world.
From “Books as a Way of Life” —
“On such an occasion as this I should not forget to mention that book-educated people of the sort I have been describing are rarely dogmatic. They tend instead to regard the world from what George Eliot in Daniel Deronda whimsically calls ‘a liberal-menagerie point of view.’ This state of mind infuriates the fierce partisan, but it enlivens social intercourse, and it holds out hope for the glorious day when mankind will cure itself of the plague of politics. The ‘literature of power’ is above politics, having understanding as its aim rather than victory, and the books that embody it are thus a potentially unifying force in a divided world.”
From “The Private Collector and the Literary Scholar” —
“. . . I had better end with a letter written to Mr. Walter Rideout in 1953 by Augustus Mencken, the brother of H. L. Mencken, after receiving Mr. Rideout’s acknowledgment of copies of Sherwood Anderson’s letters to Mencken:
‘My brother asked me to send you his thanks for your kind letter of August 18 and to tell you that he is delighted to hear that you find the material he sent you of interest. . . . I might say that in your case it would give him real pleasure for sad to say very few of those he has helped in the past have seen fit to send him a letter of thanks. He was greatly pleased with your very courteous one.’
This letter is a final reminder that courtesy, consideration, and good will remain the solvent in dealings between collector and scholar, as they are in so many other difficult relations of life.”