“This is Probably Worthless…”

The title of this post is an exact transcription of what a college professor of mine wrote next to one of the books on the “bibliography” page of a term paper I wrote. The maligned book in question was “Ridpath’s History of the World” by John Clarke Ridpath. Doubtlessly, my professor – who had a very well-formed and well-considered view of what the scholarly sources for classical history were – had never heard of this title. So, how did I, a humble student, come to find a copy of it? Well, that’s a long story, but maybe not too long for a quick blog post…

I’ve written before that I was fortunate to have grown up in a house and family where reading was encouraged and highly valued. We lived in a small, two bedroom house where, when my younger brother arrived, a smaller “den” was also converted into a bedroom. In spite of the small space there, would you believe this house also had a library? Well, it didn’t always have a library. Until the summer after my fourth grade school year, my older brother and I were roommates in the house’s second bedroom. That summer, my dad converted the north end of our basement into two small furnished rooms for my older brother and me. Did this mean that my little brother was promoted to the second bedroom upstairs? Of course not; that room became “The Library, with bookshelves along all four walls and two reclining chairs. (one of these chairs is still in use at my house today, though it’s probably on its last legs now – not quite as bad as Martin Frazier’s chair on tv – no duct tape is involved yet! – but getting close) Where all these books were stored in that small house before this? I couldn’t begin to remember or even guess…

Anyway, on the bottom shelf on the north wall sat the slowly disintegrating nine-volume set of “Ridpath’s History of the World.” And I’m not kidding when I say disintegrating. they were close to sixty years old already, with pages yellowed and the binding somewhat crispy and fragile, and tiny pieces flaking off at the merest touch. One could even say they were well on their way to the condition that the books languishing under the custodianship of the Eloi in the movie, The Time Machine, were in…

How did my family come to possess these volumes? Well, another momentous event of my very young life was when our neighbors down the street had a garage sale before they moved. The loot acquired by us from this event was considerable and varied, including a croquet set with a missing ball and mallet, golf clubs for dad – who I don’t remember ever playing golf – and various other knick knacks. The prize for me – and maybe it was purchased at least partly with me in mind, given my predilection for ancient history – was this set of books.

They must have really been something to look at when they were new. They were illustrated, with meticulous indices of “plates” (which was a new word to me at the time) and intricate drawings, one of which that I particularly remember was that of “the races of the world” or some such impossibly specific (as modern scholars would acknowledge today) categorization. I remember taking volume two (dealing primarily with Greece and Rome) to college with me since I was a history major/classics minor. I can’t specifically remember my reaction to my professor’s summary dismissal of this volume in my bibliography, but I’m sure my feelings must’ve been hurt by this.

I was reminded of these books recently since, in the aftermath of our ice storm this week here in Central Indiana, the library (still enduring at my mom’s house) suffered some minor water damage when an ice dam had formed on the roof/eaves allowing melting snow and ice to accumulate and pool, seeping into the roof and leaking into the house. I am going to have to see if I can locate these books and revisit them once more. Do I still have one at my place? I might. The others may have already been stored away with some older books in mom’s garage that were intended to be given away. I’m also curious what paper it was that elicited this “slander” upon Mr. Ridpath’s work. I shall go on a quest and let you know…

Oh well, just some random thought this Sunday morning. “Thanks for listening.” 🙂

-Jay

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1 Comment

  1. July 15, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    […] Another favorite campaign of his was against “This wholesale use of nouns as adjectives!” An example he particularly hated was “personality conflict.” Did he really expect us to go around saying, “She and I have a conflict of personalities,” or “our personalities are in conflict?” I don’t know.  What I DO know, however, that at least his eccentricities got me thinking more about parts of speech and how they are used. Sadly I’m still not that polished, but I often think about my days in his Roman History class when I’m writing. In fact, this was the same professor who wrote “This is probably worthless…” next to a book in a bibliography for one of my papers (which I blogged about before). […]

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