Collectors and Collecting

Bolles, Edwin C.


"Collegisee Juvat -- A Few Remarks by a Collector's Wife"

A Few Remarks by a Collector's Wife"

"Collegisee Juvat -- A Few Remarks by a Collector's Wife"

A Few Remarks by a Collector's Wife"



It is undoubtedly delightful to be an enthusiast in the noble art which the essayist has praised. But it presents a different aspect to the members of his own family. Too often the dust (not Olympian) falls to the care of his wife; and of that there is always enough to collect-for removal. It is not true that she is a natural foe to collecting, for she looks with unqualified pleasure on the collections of her friends and neighbors, deriving great comfort from the multitude of their afflictions. Her own enthusiasm is very properly modified by the nature of the objects collected;- whether large or small, antique gems or musty pamphlets, ormolu clocks or high-flavored pipes--and somewhat also by the dimensions of her house. Then it makes a difference to her whether the craze takes a mild


form, such as that to which the essayist confesses, or whether his "field is the world," and the disease is chronic and the taste is omnivorous. The essayist quotes the old saying, "A man's foes are those of his own household." Allow a word in palliation of this domestic offence; and consider, as another side to the picture, when he says " You have never begun to live till you have begun to collect," how, under these home conditions, "the other half lives."

Judge also if in your opinion, the hope of immortality would be brighter to the dear ones of the family, if they had the confident assurance of an endless extension of the Collector's art. I have no doubt that the destitution of the family of Palissy the potter who sacrificed everything to his ambition, and even threw the last piece of his furniture into the kiln for firing his beloved clay, finds some parallel in the home of the Collector of the present day. They who must live with the Collector deserve our sympathy if they are not in haste to take up their cross in cheerful faith, and look with unclouded satisfaction at the irony of fate which leaves a family to starve while posterity exalts the


Collector to fame. We hear that Stow, the London antiquary of Elizabeth's day, spent all his life and substance on his researches, only to become at last the "King's bedesman" and to die in poverty. His family, if he had one, must have found little comfort in musing over the many details of city annals and the numberless quaint epitaphs which he accumulated. To them a little contemporaneous "taffy" would have been more acceptable than this wealth of ancient "epi-taphy."

The Collector's family may be very depraved in taste to prefer bonnets or bicycles, fine linen or china, house decorations or furniture, to the treasures of the junk-shop or the paper-mill. But early in their united life they learn that their desires must be held in check, and that the self-denial of woman is not a virtue of a bygone age. If the house be small, they must be contented with the least possible space for themselves and their belongings, to make room for these expanding and delightful "collections." May they not be pardoned if they do not always welcome with an unforced smile the little surprises of boxes and bundles of rarities creeping into


the house with Mephistophelian subtlety, and demanding new cabinets and shelves in the overcrowded rooms? No objection must be made to giving the new-comers the place of honor, upstairs, downstairs, or even in my lady's chamber. Is there anything more expressive of child-like trust and innocence than the Collector's faith in space! He is never chilled in his enthusiasm by the size of his abode. If he lives in a cabin, he collects for a palace. And like Artemus Ward in the Civil War he is zealous and patriotic enough to sacrifice to his principles his wife and all her relatives! If a Collector's family is so heartless as to be unsympathetic to his absorbing craze, let the members of it accept the fact, first, last, and all the time, that they have no rights of domestic occupation which he is bound to respect!

Again, the essayist has referred to the beautiful Law of Order which his art inspires and obeys. You must bear in mind that this only applies to the show collection. What of the vast store of material in the attic, the cellar, the closets and every available corner, awaiting the owner's leisure and attention. "Ah! mum," said my own Bridget once,


"this house is jist crawlin' with books and things, and I don't know what to do wid 'em! Cudden't some of these trashes be burnt up?" What wife, though in her heart she agreed with Bridget, would ever dare, while divorce laws exist, to propose such a house-cleaning? She has no difficulty in believing that "the intellect of universal man has been devoted to the manufacture of the exact thing in question." How these " books and things " multiply, with a fecundity only symbolized by the reptilian collections of Egypt, in Pharaoh's day!

Moreover, after long experience and blasted hopes, the Collector's family may be pardoned if at last it loses faith in the mercantile value of these wonderful accumulations. But then, a true collector is never mercenary or utilitarian. He works for an art, not for a profit, which might tempt his wife and daughters into extravagance. No one knows better than he the value of money--to buy more of his darling "treasures." Fortunes may have been made in postage-stamps and autographs and rare books, and Lord Timothy Dexter did become rich by sending warming-pans to the tropics. Is there any such golden


goal for the average collector? Woman's feeble brain cannot understand how there can be, since she is told that articles of such great value are invariably picked up "almost for a song." According to her husband's own claim, he is a more successful patron of the bargain-counter than she is herself. Such treasures for a trifle put Moses and the green spectacles to the blush. As the spider for the fly, so does the wary dealer lie in wait for the innocent victims of the collecting craze. He is so fortunate in finding something unique in their line, so interested to complete their special set of specimens at so slight a cost! And the deluded man believes that the world will esteem these things as highly as he does, and pay its own hardly- earned money to obtain them! Sir Isaac Newton Gale, whom visitors to , will remember for his unique collection of broken bottles and tin cans, was always fond of discoursing on the enormous sums which had been offered for it, and which he had refused. The noble admiral at Majorca, who thought his specimen worth the whole French fleet, is not exceptional in his color-blindness to values. As a speck before the


eye may obscure the sun, so does the concentration of the Collector's mind on his peculiar hobby destroy his view of every other thing. We may not refuse to commiserate the clergyman who had the bilious attack because he did not secure his prize; but shall we forget the nervous prostration and heart failure which would probably have come upon his family if he had succeeded ?

There is nothing more to say of the ethical relations of Collecting, since the essayist has confessed its inevitable tendency to kleptomania. The wife of one whose honesty has never been questioned, will not soon forget the base suspicion cast upon her in London, when she was examining the old Herbarium of Linnaeus, kept at Burlington House. The Curator had gone out of the room for a moment, leaving her alone with her husband and the sacred plants. It was with a high moral tone that the good man exhorted her not to yield to a passion which he knew she felt, and refrain from stealing a specimen as a relic!

But Collecting is even worse than immoral -it is untidy! Who ever knew a Collector who did not war to the death against a dustbrush


or a broom ? In his eyes the dust of ages is to be preferred to the decent work of house-cleaning; while moths and book-worms are the associates which he cultivates in practice, if not in principle.

One advantage of Collecting, which the essayist has forgotten to mention, may receive a word of allusion. This is the convenience of moving collections, when one changes place of residence or when a fire breaks out in the immediate neighborhood. This, with other particulars which have been mentioned, determine the conditions on which only the true non-utilitarian Collector should be allowed to exist. He must be a bachelor with a large and certain income, and must occupy an elastic and permanent abode. Then, with an unbounded faith in Providence, a Methuselah life, and the fire department always on call, he may attain success. Otherwise let any would-be Collector and his impedimenta be consigned to their appropriate place -the nearest museum.

After a long experience with Collector's hobbies (not my own) I can truly say, that if the disease cannot be entirely cured, the department of Microscopy seems to me the


best, on account of the minuteness of its objects, into which its ravages can be turned. Or an accumulation of rare gold and silver coins may be allowed, if a sound Savings Bank be adopted as a cabinet in which to deposit them.

While you stand in admiration at the energy, enthusiasm, self-sacrifice and persistence which Collecting inspires, do not fail to give a passing thought to the many great and varied virtues which it has encouraged in A Collector's Wife. P.S.- A woman must have a postscript. This is mine: "DON'T!" MARGARET B. BOLLES.