HOLDING A BIT OF REAL HISTORY IN OUR HANDS…
(…seems a more meaningful thread of connectivity than anything provided by today’s technologies)

This is the time of year when we go through an annual ritual of rummaging through a trove of accrued books (a fraction of what was once a much larger personal library), to clear out less valued or redundant ones to which we no longer have any firm attachment; and, more importantly, to make more room for any new additions that might be made in the coming year. While this might seem to be a tedious annual chore, it isn’t. Far from it because, besides briefly quieting a spouse’s grumblings about all that bookish “clutter”, it’s a time-out moment when we get to renew acquaintance with old and much enjoyed “friends”.

Naturally, it’s a process which takes a certain amount of time because of the leisurely pace it requires. After all books are not personal effects one can casually discard like worn out old shoes…or old blue jeans. Even those we no longer want may have a value to someone else…so they end up in boxes for donation to various organizations which might have good use for them. But because this trove of printed matter is massed in three-deep stacks on the floor of a large back closet, and on the few available shelves there, this triage effort often resembles an archeological dig and, as with all such “digs”, we now and then do find a forgotten treasure, long set aside and somewhat dusty, buried deep within that mass of later acquisitions.

This time, we’ve retrieved a small leather-bound remnant of a former two volume set, a second edition, of a French translation from the Greek of Homer’s Iliad (the Trojan War). The second volume of that set, it’s still in relatively good condition (despite a loose front cover panel), with its pages still firm and crinkly, and otherwise hardly affected by time… some two hundred and seven years of time…because it was published in Paris, France, in 1809.

It’s an interesting thread of connectivity because, for one thing, Napoleon was at the peak of his imperial power in Europe when it was published, for another, one of our great-great grandsires was actually soldiering in Napoleon’s armies at the time as a military doctor and surgeon, only to be later exiled to Martinique after Napoleon’s fall from power, then emigrating to the Republic of Texas, before ending up in St. Louis, Missouri, to become a highly respected doctor and surgeon there, and becoming an American citizen in 1849… some forty years after its publication. It was also the same year another grandsire of ours was born in Poolesville, Maryland, later also ending up in St. Louis, Missouri, to become a rich and prominent banker there…also some forty years after its publication.

Both of these family threads were later to become connected by marriage.

Yet there is another thread of connectivity here, because ultimately this little book then ended up in the hands of our late Swiss step-mother, inscribed with her name on the fly-leaf, and dated Paris, 1929, when she was a student at its university there. She may have bought that set at the time from one of those famed book-stalls along the Seine, because there’s a price mark in the upper corner of that fly-leaf…F5…five francs …not a small sum in those days…yet not extravagant either. That thread, however, extends somewhat further back because, some fifteen years before its publication, one of her grandsires was the commander of the royal Swiss Guards guarding the royal family there, when an irate mob of the Revolution stormed the Tuilleries Palace. As she once put it, being Swiss, they were too stubborn to surrender, and too dumb…to run, so they stood…and fought almost to the last man.

Well, we don’t know who then owned this small book in the 120 years between its publication in 1809 and when it came into our step-mother’s possession in 1929, or what happened to the other volume of that set, but, holding that bit of real history in our hands today seems a more meaningful thread of connectivity than anything provided by today’s technologies.

Meanwhile, we’ll continue with our digging. Who knows what other threads of connectivity we might find in it.

CENTURION