I love old things with soul.
Old, soulful, worn but still purposeful objects from another time and place that have been loved before. I am drawn to certain of these things by an irresistible force of nature.
One of these soulful old things beckoned to me yesterday. I was out for my usual Saturday walk, a random meandering through neighbourhood streets and parks — when I decided to peek inside a local consignment shop.
The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, edited by Sidney Colvin.
I picked it up, feeling its gentle weight in my hand. The leather was so soft. I don’t think I’d ever held a leather bound book before.
I turned open the cover and let the pages fall open to a natural, familiar place — perhaps a favourite passage of the previous owner. My eyes landed on these words:
“If you had seen the moon last night! It was like transfigured sunshine; as clear and mellow, only showing everything in a new wonderful significance. The shadows of the leaves on the road were so strangely black that Dowson and I had difficulty in believing that they were not solid, or at least pools of dark mire.”
The moon! Now I was drawn into this little book’s spell. I was vaguely aware of the chatter of people moving behind me in the shop, but their voices blurred into the background, while the space encircling me and this small leather book was ‘clear and mellow.’
How old was this book? I gingerly turned a few wispy pages near the front. 1912, over a century ago, about the same age as my house. You know, I have a lovely old bookcase in my hundred year old house that might like to hold this hundred year old book.
By now I could feel the leather becoming warm underneath my hand. I was already starting to feel attached. I felt reluctant to put it back down on the table, in case another browser saw the error of my ways and quickly picked it up, thinking I’d passed it over. I didn’t actually know if the book had any collectible value. All I could feel was its heart value.
I flipped through a few more pages, considering whether this book and I were meant to go home together. I then turned to the introduction and read these few words:
“The circumstances which have made me responsible for selecting and editing the correspondence of Robert Louis Stevenson are the following. He was my closest friend.”
His closest friend. That was enough. My decision was sealed. This book was a personally curated collection of letters, a labour of love from an old friend, to show the ‘richness of his nature’ and repay him for ‘inestimable’ affection and confidence.
With the warm soft feel of leather in my hands, the age and grace of the binding, the lure of the words inside, and the compelling introduction, I had no choice. The serendipity of the moment was also clear. This book had chosen me to be its next steward.
Robert Louis Stevenson was an author — a novelist, essayist, poet and travel writer. All of the things I aspire to be, an identity I hope to chisel, over this next phase of my life. Perhaps because it seems such an honour to touch and improve someone else’s life, including across time and in another place. Which makes me recall an old saying: when the student is ready, the teacher appears. I look forward to reading this old leather bound book and learning from a great teacher.