Yes, ma’am, salvation for their little, stunted minds

From Christopher Morley’s Parnassus on Wheels:

I don’t pay much over fifty cents for books as a rule, because country folks are shy of paying much for them. They’ll pay a lot for a separator or a buggy top, but they’ve never been taught to worry about literature! But it’s surprising how excited they get about books if you sell ’em the right kind. Over beyond Port Vigor there’s a farmer who’s waiting for me to go back—I’ve been there three or four times—and he’ll buy about five dollars’ worth if I know him. First time I went there I sold him ‘Treasure Island,’ and he’s talking about it yet. I sold him ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ and ‘Little Women’ for his daughter, and ‘Huck Finn,’ and Grubb’s book about ‘The Potato.’ Last time I was there he wanted some Shakespeare, but I wouldn’t give it to him. I didn’t think he was up to it yet.”

I began to see something of the little man’s idealism in his work. He was a kind of traveling missionary in his way. A hefty talker, too. His eyes were twinkling now and I could see him warming up.

“Lord!” he said, “when you sell a man a book you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue—you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night—there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book I mean. Jiminy! If I were the baker or the butcher or the broom huckster, people would run to the gate when I came by—just waiting for my stuff. And here I go loaded with everlasting salvation—yes, ma’am, salvation for their little, stunted minds—and it’s hard to make ’em see it. That’s what makes it worth while—I’m doing something that nobody else from Nazareth, Maine, to Walla Walla, Washington, has ever thought of. It’s a new field, but by the bones of Whitman it’s worth while. That’s what this country needs—more books!”

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