Columbia Library columns (v.9(1959Nov-1960May))

(New York :  Friends of the Columbia Libraries.  )



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  v.9,no.2(1960:Feb): Page 13  

The Significance of Literary Papers


Remarks at the presentation of the Mark Van Doren papers to

L S A STUDENT of history I am dismayed by the modern
preservation of Papers; as a student of A'lark Van
Doren, I rejoice with you.

It is surprising but true that until fairly recently the written
remains and records of notable achievements were kept, and
housed, and sorted out largely by chance. The collecting activities
of men like Cotton and Ashmole and others in the centuries fol¬
lowing the Renaissance were looked upon as a harmless eccen¬
tricity indulged in by very few. Now we all record and preserve
everything we are concerned in, and the amount of historical
material deemed valuable grows by the cubic mile.

This is due, of course, to our inveterate desire for the history,
the genesis, of every person and every achievement. The practice
is to a certain degree justified, for it may lead to understanding.
But this inherited trait which we owe to the thought of the 19th
century has been reenforced in the 20th by a still more pervasive
belief in the democratic view of reality: every bit of the Real is
thought to be as interesting and important as every other bit; every
fact is equal to every other fact; all biographies, especially, are of
the same surpassing interest. This last addiction was very notice¬
able after the last war, when some of the taxpayer's money went
into writing the histories of all the army posts; the same habit
prompts the solemn "lives" written of banking institutions and
lumber companies.

It is for all this memorializing that we sa\'e the tons of papers
produced by our daily activities. A tale is told of the business firm
which sensibly decided to discard a great mass of its obsolete cor-

  v.9,no.2(1960:Feb): Page 13