RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1867. Cut or uncut. Athenæum. Journal of Literature, Science, and the Fine Arts No. 2045 (5 January): 18-19.

REVISION HISTORY: Scanned, OCRed, corrected and edited by John van Wyhe 12.2006. RN4


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CUT OR UNCUT.1

Down, Bromley, Kent Jan. 1, 1867.

I was glad to see in your paper of the 15th ult. that you have allowed "A Great Reader" to protest against books being sold uncut. He is obliged to own that many persons like to read and cut the pages at the same time; but, on the other hand, many more like to turn rapidly over the pages of a new book so as to get some notion of its contents and see its illustrations, if thus ornamented. But "A Great Reader" does not notice three valid objections against uncut books. In the first place they sometimes get torn or badly cut, as may be seen with many books in Mudie's Library;2 and I know a lady who is habitually guilty of cutting books with her thumb. Secondly, and which is much more important, dust accumulates on the rough edges, and gradually works in between the leaves, as the books vibrate on their shelves. Thirdly, and most important of all, for those who not merely read but have to study books, is the slowness in finding by the aid of the index any lost passage, especially in works of reference. Who could tolerate a dictionary with rough edges? I have had Loudon's 'Encyclopaedia of Plants' and Lindley's 'Vegetable Kingdom' in constant use during many years, and the cloth binding is still so good that it would have been a useless expense

1 This letter was written in response to: 'A great reader'. 1866. Cut or Uncut. Athenæum (15 December): 803. Text
Darwin's letter was reprinted in The Times (7 January 1867): 8. See Correspondence vol. 15, pp. 1-3.

2 Mudie's Select Library, New Oxford Street, London, a subscription lending library.

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to have had them bound in leather; nor did I foresee that I should have consulted them so often, otherwise the saving of time in finding passages would have amply repaid the cost of binding. The North Americans have set us the example of cutting and often gilding the edges. What can be the reason that the same plan is not followed here? Is it mere Toryism? Every new proposal is sure to be met by many silly objections. Let it be remembered that a deputation of paper-manufacturers waited on Sir R. Peel, when he proposed to establish the penny postage, urging that they would suffer great loss, as all persons would write on notepaper instead of on letter sheets! It is always easy to suggest fanciful difficulties. An eminent publisher remarked to me that booksellers would object to receiving books cut, as customers would come into their shops and read them over the counter; but surely a book worth reading could not be devoured in this hasty manner. The sellers of old books seem never to object to any one studying the books on their stalls as long as he pleases. "A Discursive" remarks in your paper that booksellers would object to books being supplied to them with their edges cut, as they would thus "relinquish an obvious advantage in palpable evidence of newness."1 But why should this objection be more valid here than in America? Publishers might soon ascertain the wishes of the public if they would supply to the same shop cut and uncut copies, or if they would advertise that copies in either state might be procured, for booksellers would immediately observe which were taken in preference from their counters. I hope that you will support this movement, and earn the gratitude of all those who hate the trouble and loss of time in cutting their books, who lose their paper-cutters, who like to take a hasty glance through a new volume, who dislike to see the edges of the pages deeply stained with dust, and who have the labour of searching for lost passages. You will not only earn the gratitude of many readers, but in not a few cases that of their children, who have to cut through dry and pictureless books for the benefit of their elders. CHARLES DARWIN.

1 'A discursive'. 1866. Cut or uncut. Athenæum (22 December): 848. Images.


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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

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