From The Buying of Books, originally published in the February 1922 issue of The Atlantic:
One book I should like to buy if I could get my hands on it; only in this case I should want the identical, individual book; it is a particular copy of Pope’s Essay on Man. Somebody must still have that particular bookâ€”or has it been ingloriously fed to the flames long ago? How or why I should ever have hit upon Pope’s Essay on Man is a mystery; but it was the first serious book I read, as a boy. Up to that time I had read chiefly Beadle’s ‘Dime Novels’; but these I had just abandoned, because I had grown so familiar with Dick Dead-Eye that I knew what he was going to do before he did it, and so I could not see the use of reading anything more about him. But Pope was different. For some time after I read the Essay on Man, I regarded the acquaintance with it as the one infallible sign of an awakened mind. What led me, later, to discard this criterion was the fact that, so far as I could learn, no person among my acquaintances had read it; and I got tired of being the only awakened mind in a town of four thousand people.
Which leads me to say (the subtle connection will appear in a moment) that some books I buy because they minister to my pride. I am not a scholar. But sometimes I have imagined that, if anyone had caught me young enough and encouraged me hard enough, I might have been. This pleasant illusion I keep up by buying certain books. There are the Loeb Classics, for instanceâ€”with the Greek text of Plato’s dialogues and Sophocles’s dramas, and other such light stuff, on one page, and the English on the other. I amuse myself sometimes by trying to make some of the Greek words fit into the English. But that is not what I have these books for. I have them so that somebody may come into my study some day, and pick one of them up, and turning the pages thoughtfully, may say, ‘What a whale of a man this Patton is!’ I have not realized largely yet on my investment in these books, since nobody has actually done this. But it may happen any time.