The Hush of a Great Library

Gerald Stanley Lee, The Lost Art of Reading (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1907), pp. 93-94:

The question that concerns me is, What shall a man do, how shall he act, when he finds himself in the hush of a great library, — opens the door upon it, stands and waits in the midst of it, with his poor outstretched soul all by himself before it, — and feels the books pulling on him? I always feel as if it were a sort of infinite crossroads. The last thing I want to know in a library is exactly what I want there. I am tired of knowing what I want. I am always knowing what I want. I can know what I want almost anywhere. If there is a place left on God’s earth where a modern man can go and go regularly and not know what he wants awhile, in Heaven’s name why not let him? I am as fond as the next man, I think, of knowing what I am about, but when I find myself ushered into a great library I do not know what I am about any sooner than I can help. I shall know soon enough — God forgive me! When it is given to a man to stand in the Assembly Room of Nations, to feel the ages, all the ages, gathering around him, flowing past his life; to listen to the immortal stir of Thought, to the doings of The Dead, why should a man interrupt — interrupt a whole world — to know what he is about? I stand at the junction of all Time and Space. I am the three tenses. I read the newspaper of the universe.

The Duke of Aumale’s reading room at Chantilly