Fin du siecle: Jacinto’s Paris library.

The Prince of Good Fortune decided then to retreat to bed . . . with a book. And for a moment, he stood in the middle of the Library, considering his thirty thousand volumes, which sat there with all the pomp and majesty of Learned Men in Council, then turned his gaze on the tumultuous piles of new books that waited in corners on the carpet for the repose and recognition of the ebony shelves. Dully twirling his moustache, he made his way at last to the section devoted to the Historians: he scrutinized centuries and sniffed out nations; he was briefly drawn to the splendor of the Byzantine Empire; he peered into the French Revolution, but recoiled, disappointed;

he peered into the French Revolution, but recoiled, disappointed

he ran an uncertain hand over all of vast Greece from the creation of Athens to the destruction of Corinth. Then he brusquely turned to the row of Poets, shining in their bright Morocco leather bindings, revealing in golden letters on their spines, in their bold or languid titles, the content of their souls. However, he was not drawn to any of those six thousand souls either and withdrew, disconsolate, to the Biologists. So dense and tightly packed were the Biology shelves that my poor Jacinto took fright as if confronted by an inaccessible citadel. He rolled the ladder further along and escaped up to the heights of Astronomy; he selected stars, relocated worlds; a whole Solar System collapsed with a roar. Bewildered, he came down the ladder and started searching through the piles of new, as yet unbound works, in their light combat dress of paper. He picked them up, leafed through them and flung them down; in order to extricate one volume, he demolished a whole tower of doctrines; he leaped over Problems and trampled on Religions, and glancing at a line here, poring over an index there, he interrogated them all and found all wanting as he drifted aimlessly, tumbling from one great wave of tomes to the next, unable to stop, in his eagerness to find a book! Then he crouched down in the middle of that vast room, all courage gone, studying those book-lined walls, that book-laden floor, his thirty thousand volumes, and he did not even have to taste them to feel absolutely sated, stuffed and nauseated by their oppressive abundance. After a while, he returned to the pile of crumpled newspapers, glumly picked up an old copy of Diario de Noticias, and with that under his arm, went up to his room to sleep and forget.

— Jose Maria Eca de Queiros, The City and the Mountains, trans. Margaret Jull Costa


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