Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Neither a Borrower Nor a Lender Be

There are few greater pleasures than reading a wonderful book -- except, perhaps, that of persuading a friend to read it also. But do you actually lend him your copy? And if you do, will you ever see it again? Anatole France seems to have been skeptical, but his well known advice betrays that he is also part of the problem:

"Never lend out books, because no one ever returns them. The only books I have in my library are books that other folk have lent me. "

I no longer lend books because at my age I have trouble remembering to whom I've lent them. Perhaps incribing a book curse (like this one from the monastery of San Pedro, Barcelona) on the flyleaf might jog a book borrower's conscience:

"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 aloud for mercy, and let there be no surcease to this agony till he sing in dissolution. Let bookworms gnaw his entrails...and when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him forever."

Just a gentle hint, you know. Unfortunately, all of my friends are about the same age as I am. So even if they intend to be honorable, they probably can't remember where the book came from. (Okay, I finally found a replacement copy of C.S. Lewis and the Church of Rome. Not that I'm bitter or anything.)


Enbrethiliel said...


Speaking of C.S. Lewis, here is something he has written on this very issue:

"Yes," my friend said. "I don't see why there shouldn't be books in Heaven. But you will find that your library in Heaven contains only some of the books you had on earth."

"Which?" I asked.

"The ones you gave away or lent."

"I hope the lent ones won't still have all the borrowers' dirty thumb-marks," said I.

"Oh yes they will," said he. "But just as the wounds of the martyrs will have turned into beauties, so you will find that the thumb-marks have turned into beautiful illuminated capitals or exquisite marginal woodcuts."

I think of that whenever I hesitate to lend someone a book! =P

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

That's lovely! Where is the quote from?

Enbrethiliel said...


I'm not sure. I found it in C.S. Lewis on Joy, a small collection of excerpts from his works. Strangely enough, it is the only passage quoted there without a citation. =S

I'm sorry. I wish I could be of more help!

TS said...

because at my age I have trouble remembering to whom I've lent them

I use, and I add 'tags' (such as "aaronBorrowed") that remind me who has a given book.

Anonymous said...

My grandfather had that quote (the one from the monks) hand-copied and thumb-tacked to the most prominent of his bookcases. And he wouldn't lend any of his thousands of books.

However, he had no objection to anyone who wanted to coming over and reading all day several days in a row, as long as they didn't required him to be sociable.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

I love your grandfather -- sight unseen!

Matthew Elam said...

The quote is from Lewis' scraps, which I assume means it was written on a scrap piece of paper and collected by his estate after his death, and is published in God in the Dock.

I write this on the wrapping paper of every book I give away or lend. I've decided it is better to just give books away since no one will ever return the lent ones anyway. It is better to be a cheerful giver than a grumbling lender.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...


And thank you for sharing the source of the quote.