Tribute to Balzac / Balzac Mania

Found – this handsomely printed card (in its original envelope) with a poem addressed to Balzac’s American bibliographer William H. Royce by a minor American poet Alfred Antoine Furman. Furman is unknown to Wikipedia but produced a small body of poetry including, in 1918, some American poems on World War 1. Royce worked for the well known New York book dealer Gabriel Wells in the 1920s. Wells was a major player in rare books and manuscripts at the time at the time.  Wells and Royce shared a deep interest in Balzac (it was Wells who saved Balzac’s house at Passy from destruction), and during this time the firm became the centre of the sale of Balzaciana. Royce himself assembled a major collection of Balzac material. His Balzac library was sold and his papers were donated by his daughters  to Syracuse University.  Balzac collecting was at its height at the time and lavish editions of his work (in English) were produced. Furman’s poem has Balzac as the greatest author ever ‘…the figure of a genius so supreme/ The ages show no equal.’ It is hard to imagine an American rare book dealer paying for the preservation of a European writer’s house in our time..although a few could afford it. The poem reads:




Balzac is still held in high esteem as a writer, although he has been surpassed in renown by Proust and possibly Hugo. Few people now plough through all 90 volumes of his Comédie Humaine. One great fan was the playwright (and artist ) August Strindberg, himself a writer of world class – he described reading La Comédie Humaine as like living a second life, the highest praise. He credited Balzac with giving him ‘..a kind of religion – which I would like to call non dogmatic Christianity.’

The manuscripts of George Bernard Shaw

3e5c4065586acf3e602e984d11e6506f--george-bernard-shaw-vintage-surfIn The Book Handbook for 1947 F.E.Lowenstein, the biographer of G. Bernard Shaw, quotes from an article published in The Daily Sketch of 3rd November 1941 which recounted how in 1928 American bookseller Frank Glenn headed a syndicate of dealers which bid in London for some Shaw MSS.

“…Shaw unblushingly mentioned £5,000 at first with the remark that ‘you cannot buy the writings of a genius for a farthing ‘ . But eventually he must have come down, for the group obtained some manuscripts for £400. Now a single item has been sold for £500.”

This notice caused Bernard Shaw to write a letter to the paper, which was duly printed in the issue of 12th November. Here is an extract:

“ Allow me to warn Mr Glenn and all who it may concern that I have never sold a manuscript in my life, nor autographed an edition for sale, nor even a single copy to be auctioned at a bazaar.

“…The transaction to which Glenn refers no doubt arose out of the enterprise of somebody who, having obtained specimens of my handwriting from some correspondence on which he had engaged me, imitated it as best he could in pages from my published works, had photostats made of them and sold them as Shaw manuscripts.

“No such manuscripts had ever existed, as I write for the Press in Pitman’s phonetic script (without reporting contractions) which is then translettred on the typewriter by another hand and sent to the printer.

I have presented a few pages of the Pitman script to public libraries with a fancy for such relics ( I kept ten pages of St Joan picked at random for this purpose ), but the rest have been ruthlessly torn up and are not available even for the waste paper war salvage”. Continue reading

A warning for all collectors of manuscripts

Boerhaave picA snippet featured in the miscellany Medley dated October 1936 comes from ‘Ripley’ in the Sunday Express. It concerns the famous Dutch physician Dr Herman Boerhaave (1668 – 1738), ‘founder of clinical teaching’ and called by some ‘The father of physiology’:

“When he died his effects were sold by auction, and among his manuscripts was a sealed book for which there was a heated scramble. It was sold for £2,000 in gold, and when opened was found to contain all blank pages except one on which the doctor had written:

 “Keep your head cold —your feet warm, and you’ll make the best doctor poor “

I wonder if there are similar instances of bibliomaniacs fighting at auction for a particular sealed manuscript or printed book with annotations by an eminent, and perhaps controversial, person. Information welcome.



Needwood Forest – The axeman cometh…

Cottage in Needwood Forest (Joseph Wright)

Found a few years ago in a job lot is this manuscript copy of a poem which ranks among the most famous ‘local’ poems in the English language. Needwood Forest was published privately in Lichfield in 1776 by one Francis Noel Mundy, a Derbyshire squire alarmed by plans to cut down and enclose much of the large Staffordshire forest he had known since his childhood.

Continue reading