I just discovered that Open Library (“One web page for every book.”) has a blog, and it has an entry that will upset any bibliophile, The Enemies of Books by George Oates:

I learned a new word today: biblioclast, or destroyer of books. Found it on the frontispiece of The Enemies of Books by William Blades.
As you can see from its Table of Contents — Fire, Water, Gas and Heat, Dust and Neglect, Ignorance, The Bookworm, Other Vermin, Bookbinders, Collectors & Servants and Children — the author, William Blades, has spotted elemental, entomological and occupational enemies, even as far back as 1880.
John Bagford, “shoemaker and biblioclast,” appears in the chapter about Collectors. He apparently “went about the country, from library to library, tearing away title pages from rare books of all sizes,” intent on creating a key to the history of printing, but detaching key bibliographic information from parent works. You can see glimpses of The Bagford Fragments on the British Library’s website.

He has a touching quote from the conclusion, “A Reverence for Old Books,” beginning: “It is a great pity that there should be so many distinct enemies at work for the destruction of literature, and that they should so often be allowed to work out their sad end. Looked at rightly, the possession of any old book is a sacred trust, which a conscientious owner or guardian would as soon think of ignoring as a parent would of neglecting his child….”


  1. I was just having a bath – with a book – and fell asleep – book destroyed – it was meant for a cull anyway – felt so sorry.

  2. You have betrayed your sacred trust!

  3. So LH has revealed himself to be a bibliodule, iconodule being what the iconoclasts called the opposition.

  4. michael farris says

    This is probably not the best time to mention the book burning party I once co-hosted….
    I will say that librarians and booksellers (both of which destroy books on a routine basis) understood the rationale and symbolism far better than most other sane people did.

  5. Did you hear about the Halloween Bible Burning at the Amazing Grace Baptist Church last year?
    They’re doing it again this year.
    Rub your eyes, clean your glasses, but you read it right. A Baptist Church is burning bibles. Non-KJV bibles, that is. That’s because any other translation is a perversion. According to Ronald Reagan(?).

  6. marie-lucie says

    Halloween Bible burning
    Amazing indeed! What is the “TR” that they are not burning? (it is something connected with the KJV and some earlier versions, which will escape destruction). And they are burning quite a variety of other books too. Meanwhile, they have a “Bible-making trailer” on the spot, in which they put together Bibles for distribution (from photocopies ? to replace the burned volumes?). And they are serving both barbecued and fried chicken.
    Actually, all this was planned for last year’s event. There may have been some unpleasantness at the time, because next Halloween should see both “burning” and “tearing” of books, in various locations: many local fire codes forbid open burning, especially bonfires of hundreds of books, but on the other hand “tearing” is a more physically satisfying activity for a crowd than just looking at a fire.

  7. The TR is the Textus Receptus.

  8. We will be serving Bar-b-Que Chicken, fried chicken, and all the sides.

    Fried chicken is their loss leader. In the modern world, even the crazies know that craziness has entertainment value. And that many people won’t buy anything without an inducement.
    I trust the eats are free. Coleslaw is probably one of the sides. Hat, there’s no escaping Kohl.

  9. It’s weird that people of that kind should be so fanatically comitted to the work of Erasmus and the KJV translators, who were not exactly fundamentalists, much less fanatics.

  10. marie-lucie says

    I keep wanting to say “biblioblast”.

  11. Yeah, apparently they rained last year, and the fire code didn’t permit the bonfire inside, so they had a bible-burning/-tearing.
    And BBQ chicken.

  12. It’s weird that people of that kind should be so fanatically comitted to the work of Erasmus and the KJV translators, who were not exactly fundamentalists, much less fanatics.
    That’s coz’n of how they don’t know crackerjack about history, for instance where Erasmus was comin’ from. The Bible tells all the history they want to know – tales of ressentiment and come-uppance.

  13. Bathrobe says

    I’m surprised that more spectacular biblioclastic activities, such as the Nazi burning of books, the Chinese burning of books and burying of scholars (焚書坑儒), and the Mongol siege of Baghdad and destruction of its Grand Library (when supposedly “the waters of the Tigris ran black with ink from the enormous quantities of books flung into the river”), haven’t been mentioned yet…

  14. Bathrobe says

    More tangentially, the destruction of Vietnam’s state records by the Ming Chinese, as a particularly vicious way of destroying that country’s independence.

  15. michael farris says

    The extreme KJV people have some really …. interesting ideas.
    My favorite is the minority idea that the KJV is now the most authoritative complete bible and translations into other languages should be done from it and not the original Hebrew/Aramaic/Greek.
    I used to have some links to people claiming just that but they disappeared as even other members of the KJO movement rejected that idea as too extreme and settled on the TR position.

  16. Burners of books are merely exercising their right to be… well, inflammatory. It’s symbolic, but it’s the censors who work quietly in private that one should really worry about.

  17. I just this morning took down an old (1950s) Mentor paperback of Ortega y Gasset’s Revolt of the Masses to refresh my memory of its premises. When I opened it to read it it fell to pieces in my hands. The cover came off first then the yellowing pages started coming unglued from the binding and became in a matter of seconds 145 individual free-flowing pages–freed at last–pieces of some of these pages cracking loose and turning to dust–books like people turn to dust when they finally die–unless they are burned at the stake like witches first. And books can be witches–even holy books can be deemed witches by the edicting priests. I am currently using various glues and Scotch tapes trying to put this old paperback back together again. Yes, a Humpty-Dumpty effort, but I’ve got all the pages superglued back together and soon I’ll reattach the cover and have a brand new old paperback. I could have gone on and gotten a brand new edition of the book–but that’s not my speed–I grew up with a city librarian grandmother and a brother whose first job on a big Dallas newspaper was as its book page editor. And having a brother as a big-city newspaper’s book page editor meant when you went to his house there was a big wooden box with a lid on it on his front porch. Everyday after the postman knocked twice, that box was filled with books publishers wanted my brother to review–new books, reprintings, revised classics, etc. My brother would say, help yourself to any books in that pile you’re interested in. My grandmother’s library had an old Scotsman who rebound her books for her. He was in the library basement and I remember sitting down there watching this man rebind books many a day my mother dropped me off at the library for my grandmother and her books to babysit me. Bookbinding then was an art. This old Scotsman had his gluepot always bubbly hot and his glue brushes and his pieces of matching papers and his liquid paper for patching up tears and leather and board bindings–even softbacks–and spines, even marblized flyleafs–no book in those days was ever burned or even sold in library sell offs. My grandmother even saved old newspapers and magazines.
    I still have a book on my shelves I accidentally spilled a whole cup of Joe on a decade ago. You can’t even unstick its coffee-glued pages–yet I can’t throw it out–
    I’m a bibliophiliac–whaaaa? Burn me!
    ur fiend

  18. J.W. Brewer says

    I can’t muster a link right now, but a story a month or so back in the Wall St. Journal began with the eyecatching sentence: “In June of 1945, with memories of Nazi book-burning still vivid, a group called the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada excommunicated Rabbi Mordecai M. Kaplan, after which they burned his newly published Sabbath Prayer Book.” (Rabbi Kaplan founded the “Reconstructionist” style of Judaism, which sounds pretty darn heterodox, and I assume his prayer book reflected that heterodoxy.)

  19. never heard of the Open Library before, thanks for link. Strange that their blog cannot, as far as I can tell, be discovered from the main page.

  20. I burnt a copy of Fascinating Womanhood, once. Couldn’t bear either to have it or to put it back into circulation, so I tossed it into the fire. So I understand the impulse.

  21. michael farris says

    At the book burning party I hosted, the bulk of the fire (well over 90 %) were harlequin paperbacks, acquired free from a used book store that knew and approved of what was going to happen to them. While they were sitting in my room I ended up reading a few and found them to be pretty ….. strange and I found it hard to imagine who really enjoyed them. What surprised me was how utterly …. chaste they were (I understand things are different now in the romance market).
    They actually ‘disposed’ of several times the number burned in a typical month, they just got many more times that kind of book than they could resell.
    Actually the idea behind the party was to burn books you like (as a display of commitment to the ideas within and not the physical objects) but most attendees were too broke or too emotionally attached to their physical books (many of which were still needed and might be hard to replace) to make that part a success.
    While here, paperback books make _awful_tinder, it was hard keeping the fire going.

  22. There’s a whole category of book (“mass market”) which is destroyed if not sold. Most books the publisher or distributor wants back to try to sell again, but mass market books they just don’t want at all*, and you tear off the front cover and send it back for the refund. In theory you destroy the coverless book, but in any case it’s fraud to sell it without a cover. Many mass market books are classics for the student market — working at the bookstore I got two Shakespeares and an Orwell.
    So anyway, Harlequins, like some Shakespeare, are in the category of books that must be burned.

  23. book destroyed – it was meant for a cull anyway – felt so sorry.
    Just out of curiosity, Sashura, did your mother and father accept that kind of excuse?

  24. working at the bookstore I got two Shakespeares and an Orwell.
    Back in my bookstore-worker days, I got a whole raft of books, some of which I still own—Amado novels, several volumes of the Edel bio of James, I forget what all. I’m very glad I don’t care about the kinds of physical perfection book collectors care about; I’d rather the cover weren’t missing, but hey, it’s a free book.

  25. We were (at long last) reshelving and reorganizing books in our house last weekend. We get rid of a few duplicates and totally unwanted items. They will go to a good cause. The only one that I personally discarded with any vehemence was The Professor and the Madman. I didn’t even think of burning it, though.

  26. The Professor and the Madman? Why? I just got this second hand as The Surgeon of Crowthorne.
    Dropping a book in water or spilling coffee on it shouldn’t ruin it completely if you wipe it off right away and let it dry under a couple volumes of the SOED.
    Those books from the sixties that turn yellow with the pages falling out are harder to fix. Older paper from before the war is better, since it had some rag content, and back then they tended to sew the pages together in signatures. Also the process changed so the paper had more acid content, which in time degrades the paper and changes the color. I’ve had some limited success with water soluble clear glue, and wrapping the book in wax paper to keep it together while the glue dries. Wax paper doesn’t stick to glue or chemically bond with paper pulp (like silk or plant material). Sometimes you can get it to hang together long enough to read it one more time.

  27. paperback books make _awful_tinder, it was hard keeping the fire going.
    It may just be the shiny covers that inhibit it from burning. Milk cartons are excellent, as is plain newsprint, but any ink-covered, shiny advertising material that comes through the letter box is hopeless.

  28. My wife recently implemented a bookshelf limitation policy whereby if I buy a book I have to get rid of a book that takes up the same amount of bookshelf space. Luckily here in Austin we’ve got Half-Priced Books, which has to be the best thing ever. They pay you a decent price for your books, so there’s actually a great motivation to get rid of books. The best thing about them (all of a sudden I’m plugging HPB) is that if you wander around the aisles for a bit you realize how few books places like Barnes & Noble or Borders actually carry, how narrow their selection is, because HPB doesn’t get paid by publishers to ‘prominently display’ books or anything (common practice at full-price bookstores).
    What a great place. And they’ve got loads of foreign-language books, too, thanks to the highly mobile population of foreign students at the university here. In December I picked up a Czech-English dual-language edition of Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, an author-vetted Polish translation of The History of Polish Literature by Czesław Miłosz, a brand-spanking-new edition of Kafka’s Der Prozeß, a couple of easy Hebrew readers from about 1960 … the list goes on. And none of them cost more than $3.00.
    Sorry for the peon, but I’ve sworn not to buy any books this year (and read all the ones I’ve got), so I’m going through a bit of HPB withdrawal…

  29. The Professor and the Madman? Why? I just got this second hand as The Surgeon of Crowthorne.
    Maybe you will enjoy it. I was highly allergic to the writing, which came across as an American trying to fake a British “accent” in honor to be worthy of his lofty British subject matter. I was surprised to learn that the author was a Brit.

  30. marie-lucie says

    The Professor and the Madman
    The writing is a bit on the precious side, and is meant to be read slowly, I think. But I found the book enjoyable.

  31. j. del col says

    Canetti’s Auto-da-Fe features a bibliodule who immolates himself along with his library. The book was banned by the Nazis.

  32. A Brit imitating a Brit imitating and American? After the beatles / Rolling Stones invasion, they say that American singers started sounding like British singers imitating black American blues singers. I wouldn’t be surprised of a longer (four-stop) chain can be found.

  33. “A Brit imitating an American imitating a Brit?”
    — is what I meant to write.

  34. “in order to be worthy of”
    — is what I meant to write.
    And I never thought he was imitating an American imitating a Brit. I think he was a Brit imitating a different sort of Brit, and doing it so badly (in my view) that for a time I guessed him to be American.

  35. Canetti’s Auto-da-Fe features a bibliodule who immolates himself along with his library.
    A paean to Canetti, then.

  36. So, erm, nobody here is attempting to identify the language of the glosses (wipe your glosses with what you know?). I won’t be, either, but I’ll get out my Arabic Stuff and refer the post to my Arabic calligraphy teacher (I’m sure he doesn’t do African languages, either….but he might pass it on.) But I’m signing in here to commend in the strongest possible language, making manuscript facsimiles available online in colour, and in the highest feasible resolution. It is a pleasure to see these pages. Crappy black-and-white uploads of microfilm/fiche are so depressing. I feel I can see the manuscript. And that is worth so much. Sorry. It is just beautiful to see.

  37. I agree, that’s one reason I posted it—it’s just gorgeous to look at.

  38. & if you douse your manuscript in the bath, it’ll probably come out…not “unscathed”; but perfectly legible for centuries to come. Even papyrus ones (I’ve forgotten the details now, but DAN BROWN (yup, ‘im) had some unlikely clue or other about a papyrus [as I recall it] manuscript fragment which got erased in some circumstances or other. I did the experiment, and found it worked ONLY WITH WATER-SOLUBLE “INKS”. When I did it with actual ferro-gallic ink it was as permanent as it should be. So the dozy “author” was full of what’s-it. Sorry. Is that actionable? If anybody wants details, I only ask that that person cite for me the bits of whatever book in question (I’m not reading or skimming again just to find it); and I’ll be happy to re-do and document the experiment. B^)

  39. marie-lucie says

    Are we still on “Biblioclast”, or on the African manuscript?

  40. Michael Farris says

    marie-lucie, please get with the program. We’re discussing ski terminology in Burmese.

  41. Are you saying that Dan Brown was wrong about something?

  42. The writer of The Surgeon Of Crowthorne, which I enjoyed, is
    Simon Winchester, who is married to the former NPR producer Setsuko Sato, lives in New York and on a small farm in the Berkshires. His interests include letterpress printing, bee-keeping, astronomy, stamp-collecting, model railways and cider-making.
    In the 1970s he used to report on Northern Ireland on BBC radio, where he was always referred to as “Simon-Winchester-of-the-Guardian”.

  43. marie-lucie says

    I guess The Surgeon of Crowthorne must be the British title, on the analogy of The Vicar of Wakefield and others. People who pick it up hastily would expect some kind of Victorian novel.

  44. Oy vey, Simon Winchester!

  45. I think it was worth Simon Winchester writing that book, Language, just to have your review of it.

  46. That was an enjoyable review, wasn’t it? My blood was up!

  47. It was terrific. Like Ali against Liston.

  48. Thank you, Hat. I was beginning to wonder if it was all a bad dream.

  49. I’m actually enjoying The Surgeon of Crowthorne, but of course not nearly as much as I enjoyed Hat’s review. Winchester won me over when he used the word louche on Page 6. He seems knowledgeable about London in the way someone who had lived there would be; reading the first chapter is like walking abound London with someone who lives there telling you a story about it. It is totally possible to get immersed in the story and forget the act of reading and turning pages. It’s always nice to find an author who can do that.

  50. marie-lucie says

    Hat’s review was not about that book, but about another one by Winchester.
    What is the context of the word louche? Given the discussions of the meaning of this word some time ago (its negative connotations in French and rather positive ones in English), what does the author mean? I seem to remember descriptions of a rather unsavoury part of London, which would be consistent with the French meaning.

  51. My guess is that louche came into English via authors and Bohemians who had gone slumming in Paris and were bragging about the sleazy dives bars they went to there. It’s probably a Twenties thing. I remember seeing the word used in parody in something by Thurber or Benchley written around 1950, so it was probably already a familiar mannerism or cliche by then.

  52. Contemporary US use of louche in quotation near end of this blog post

  53. marie-lucie says

    JE, I think you must be right about the origin of the English (or at least American) meaning of “louche”.
    From the blog post that Ø referred to: “louche, sly, sexy, so dark and downtown in sensibility”
    To me as a French speaker, louche does NOT connect a “downtown sensibility”, but more sleazy sailors’ bars where the “sexy” tone comes from tired prostitutes, not healthy young “hotties”.

  54. The word “bousingo”/ “bousingot” / “bouzingo” I’ve mentioned elsewhere (the self-designation of rowdies, political radicals, and writers during early July Monarchy, especially the ones who rebelled in 1832) comes specifically from a term for a sailor’s dive bar and also designates a kind of sailor’s cap and simple “noise” or “ruckus”. And the womenfolk of early bohemia were definitely not nice girls and often were prostitutes on the side prostitutes; the sexual attitudes of 1830 French bohemians were all to close to those of 1950s American frat boys and junior officers in the military. No at all liberated, and a definite double standard. In fact the male bohemians seem to have been baffled by the female bohemians’ motives, since they didn’t act like wives, mothers, virgins, or prostitutes, which were the categories they were aware of.

  55. What is the context of the word louche?
    An area of London where the eponymous surgeon’s murder was committed.

    In Victorian London, even in a place as louche and notoriously crime-ridden as the Lambeth Marsh, the sound of gun-shots was a rare event indeed. The Marsh was a sinister place, a jumble of slums and sin that crouched, dark and ogre-like, on the bank of the Thames just across from Westminster; few respectable Londoners would ever admit to venturing there. It was a robustly violent part of town as well – the footpad lurked in Lambeth, there had once been an outbreak of garrotting, and in every crowded alley there were the roughest kinds of pickpocket.

    After four more pages describing the area’s loucheness, we get down to the nitty gritty details about any possible salaciousness.

    Lambeth Marsh was also, as it happened, just beyond the legal jurisdiction of both the cities of London and Westminster. It belonged administratively, at least until 1888, to the county of Surrey – meaning that the relatively strict laws that applied to the capital’s citizens did not apply to anyone who ventured, via one of the new bridges like Waterloo, Blackfriars, Westminster [no comma] or Hungerford, into the wen of Lambeth. The village thus became fast known as a site of revelry and abandon, a place where public houses and brothels and lewd theatres abounded, and where a man could find entertainment of all kinds – and disease of all varieties – for no more than a handful of pennies. To see a play that would not pass muster with the London censors, or to be able to drink absinthe into the small hours of the morning, or to buy the choicest of pornography newly smuggled from Paris, or to have a girl of any age and not be concerned that a Bow Street Runner, or her parents, might chase after you – you ‘went Surreyside’, as they said, to Lambeth.

    As far as the problems Hat pointed out with the subsequent book, in The Surgeon of Crowthorne a collection of Latin words published as a Dictionarius was noted as early as 1225, Thomas Elyot’s 1538 Latin-English dictionary is called the “first book to employ the English word dictionary in its title”, and the anecdote about Samuel Johnson says, “One woman even disparaged Johnson for failing to include obscenities.” So maybe the first book had a more attentive editor.

  56. Sashura, did your mother and father accept that kind of excuse?
    books weren’t allowed in the bathroom when I lived with parents. It’s an English thing I sometimes give in to.

  57. Should we add puppies (and some grown-up dogs), e-readers and the Readers’ Digest to enemies of books? And should beaches be considered as friends of books (if you don’t play chess)?
    A friend of mine got an ибук (ebook, sounds obscene in Russian, we always giggle) with several thousand Russian books on it which made me feel so old-fashioned with my heaving shelves.
    And, are ebooks (readers) bath-proof?

  58. you ‘went Surreyside’, as they said, to Lambeth.
    Anyone who’s watched the boat race, from Putney to Mortlake, – Bertie Wooster, for example – can tell you that the banks of the Thames are known as Middlesex (N. bank) and Surrey (S. bank) after the counties in which they are (or were, in the case of Middlesex) located. One of the worst things that happened during the 1970s is the abolition of Middlesex, a great cricket club and the county of my birth, whose name lives on in places like Jamaica.

  59. I live in a Middlesex County, although if you read the fine print you will learn (as I just did) that in some sense this one has been abolished, too.

  60. An international conspiracy to abolish Middlesex.

  61. An international conspiracy to abolish Middlesex.

  62. marie-lucie says

    If “Middlesex” disappeared from the map of England (why?), what replaced it?

  63. Eccentricsex or Deviantsex.

  64. It was some kind of bureaucratic reshuffling of local government, in 1974. They abolished several counties: Rutland, the smallest county, was one; the lake district counties, Westmoreland and Cumberland,were merged into Cumbria. There were more; it was very upsetting. Middlesex was “absorbed” into Greater London on one side and other adjoining counties on its outer side.
    There’s a Wikipedia piece called Historic counties of England with more detail.

  65. It was some kind of bureaucratic reshuffling of local government, in 1974. They abolished several counties: Rutland, the smallest county, was one; the lake district counties, Westmoreland and Cumberland,were merged into Cumbria. There were more; it was very upsetting. Middlesex was “absorbed” into Greater London on one side and other adjoining counties on its outer side.
    There’s a Wikipedia piece called Historic counties of England with more detail.

  66. Counties no longer have counts, if I’m not mistaken.

  67. Until the census comes around.

  68. William Tyndale, one of the pre-KJV translators into English, was big on book-burning — of his own book. When the Bishop of London denounced Tyndale’s translation, Tyndale’s friend, a merchant named Packington, bought all available copies for the bishop, who duly burned them. The adverse publicity against the bishop was excellent for Tyndale, and he was able to use the money to prepare his improved second edition and distribute it widely in England.
    Counties never had counts; they have earls. Who, when they marry, marry countesses. But the only thing the earl has ever had to do with his county is to be girt with its sword and to take the third penny (that is, 1/3 of all governmental revenues). Actual control of the county has always been in the hands of the sheriff, whose title in Latin is vice-comes, viscount.
    The counties of Britain have not been abolished. They are no longer the basis of local government divisions, that’s all. Geographically they remain as they have been since Domesday Book, except for a few adjustments made in the 19th century that merged some irregular boundaries and detached county parts (shades of Quine!) into the county they were embedded in — which is how Tolkien was born in Worcestershire in a locality which is now part of Warwickshire.

  69. Good lord. There’ll always be an England.

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