I Trust That You Will Forgive the Late Fines
Filed under Library News: Archives & Research Collections
George Washington may never have told a lie, but he apparently borrowed two books on 5 October 1789 from a library in New York City and never returned them. Here at McMaster, we haven’t had quite a dramatic case of overdue books. It would have been difficult for Washington to borrow books from the University Library since he died in 1799, almost 90 years before the founding of our university. Nonetheless, if Washington in his posthumous state showed up at our circulation desk wanting to borrow our books, we’d have good reason to be skeptical and not to issue a library card in his name.
Two long overdue books were recently returned to us, although we have no record that they were ever taken out of the University Library: Emma Goldman, Anarchism and Other Essays (HX844.G6 cop. 1) and Peter Kropotkin, Modern Science and Anarchism (HX915.K95). Both are signed autographed copies, and for that reason alone, given the stature of the authors as the foremost anarchists of their time, the books have a certain caché and market value.
The person who borrowed the two books has the same name as a famous British singer and song writer, but in order to protect the guilty, we won’t reveal the person’s name. The delinquent borrower of the books has written a letter addressed to the Rare Book Librarian: “The two books enclosed came into my possession sometime in the 1960’s when I worked for Ken Blackwell [the Russell Archivist] in the early days of the Bertrand Russell Archives. I don’t recall the details, but I expect I had borrowed them with the some sort of staff privilege and was comparing them to a list of titles in Russell’s own library. At any rate they migrated with me when I left and I came across them only recently while culling my own collection.”
The borrower apologizes profusely for his oversight and hopes that we won’t levy a fine. We appreciate the return of the two books after a period of 50 years, and we will have them relocated for shelving in Archives and Research Collections. However, we remind the borrower of the medieval curse from San Pedro’s monastery in Barcelona: “For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not, this book from its owner, let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with palsy, and all his members blasted. Let him languish in pain crying out for mercy, & let there be no surcease to his agony till he sing in dissolution. Let bookworms gnaw his entrails [. . .] when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him forever.”
by Carl Spadoni