Bindings

A few years ago your Jotter invited that celebrated expert on the Western tradition in book binding , Mirjam Foot, to give a talk on bindings to the local literary society. She was then married to the late Michael Foot ( not that Michael Foot, but M.R.D. Foot, the great authority on the SOE as well as William Gladstone , who very likely would have been more to the taste of her audience), but this distinction didn’t have the effect of filling the hall that I had hired. My idea in asking her was an attempt to educate literary types on a subject that few bibliophiles know anything about. I was also keen to discover if any of the audience might recognise the lady with the slight Dutch accent as the woman who for years helped man book stalls at garden fetes in that particular corner of north Hertfordshire. The talk seemed to go well, though I am still not sure whether any of those who heard it could understand what she was talking about with such authority.

I was reminded of Professor Foot when I came upon the section of Slater’s Book Collecting which dealt with bindings. After discussing with great enthusiasm the exquisite and sumptuous bindings created in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by great craftsmen for the super rich Popes, kings and aristocrats on the European continent, Sadler turns with less enthusiasm to England, where the art of fine binding had not progressed anything like as far. Presumably in a book aimed at middle and upper middle class  collectors he was aware that the average lover of decorated bindings was not likely to encounter any of the class of European bindings he had drooled over in most book stalls or auction hoses here in the UK—at least at prices they could afford. Indeed, Slater is a tad sniffy at the quality and innovation shown by binders ‘ up to the reign of Elizabeth ‘.

‘We seem to have persisted in the use of clumsy oak boards or stiff parchment covers, and when a really choice and expensive binding was required , it took the form of embroidered silks and velvets. Queen Elizabeth herself was very expert in this method of ornamentation, which continued to exist, in all probability, simply because it was fashionable.

The first English bookbinder of any repute was John Reynes, a printer who lived in the reigns of Henry VII and VIII. Specimens of his work are very rare, though, when compared with the French bindings of the same date, they appear miserably inferior. The truth is that England was—and, indeed, is —much behind some other countries in everything relating to bibliography, and binding in particular. 

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More gems from Scorn with Extra Bile edited by Matthew Parris (1998)

Pop music

This man has child-bearing lips

Joan Rivers on Mick Jagger

You have Van Gogh’s ear for music

Billy Wilder on Cliff Osmond

Wood Green shopping centre has been committed to vinyl

New Musical Express on the pop group Five Star

Bambi with testosterone

Owen Gleiberman on Prince in Entertainment Weekly.

Television and movies

A vacuum with nipples

Otto Preminger on Marilyn Monroe

It’s like kissing Hitler

Tony Curtin on kissing Marilyn Monroe

The face to launch a thousand dredgers

Jack de Manio on Glenda Jackson in Women in Love

As wholesome as a bowl of cornflakes, and at least as sexy.

Dwight Macdonald on Doris Day

This was Doris Day’s first picture; before she became a virgin

Oscar Levant on Doris Day in Romance on the High Seas.

A face unclouded by thought

Lillian Hellman on Norma Shearer

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Cycling on the ‘Continong’ in 1906

Two things that jump out from a cursory glance at The Continong by the pseudonymous Anar de la Grenouillere, F.O.N.S., of which a file copy of the fourth edition of 1906 was found at Jot HQ the other day, is first the rather forced facetious tone of its advice to travellers to France, and secondly the predominance of references to cyclists.

In 1894, when The Continong  first appeared, the motor car had only been around for a handful of years and so presumably the author did not feel it necessary even to acknowledge its existence. But by 1906, when many more manufacturers were producing cars, this rise in traffic is not acknowledged in this ‘revised and updated ‘edition. Touring France for the English speaker was still all about railways or, in Paris, ‘buses and trams  ( though not the Metro, although this had been established by 1906)  possibly walking, horse-drawn ‘cabs’ but most of all, cycling. Compared to the four pages devoted to railways and three on cabs and cabbies, the author provides fifteen pages of advice for cyclists.

The first few pages of this advice are devoted to what to expect on arriving in France. British cyclists are urged to join the TFC (Touring Club de France) which was founded in 1890. For a mere five shillings a year, benefits include a Handbook, and the exemption of duty on their cycles, and for a few extra francs a Year-book containing a list of over 3,000 approved hotels, at which members enjoy a privileged position as to charges, a Year-book for foreign countries and a book of ‘skeleton tours’ for the whole of France and adjoining countries. Incidentally, a compulsory requirement for cycles being ridden in France and elsewhere on the continent was a name-plate ‘bearing the name and address of the owner (and) attached to the machine’. This seems to have been the equivalent of a car licence plate, which back then became a legal required for motor vehicles in 1903. Again, this suggests that cycles were seen as the predominant form of personal transport, at least in France.

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The Aetherius Society

Francois Strachan, editor of the Aquarian Guide (1970) ,  in her summary of the Aetherius Society is pretty accurate:

‘Metaphysics, Flying Saucers, Spiritual Healing, the Coming of the Next Master, the Space Message, Yoga, Magic, Karma and Reincarnation…these are some of the occult subjects dealt with by The Aetherius Society, whose President, George King, is himself a renowned Western Yoga Master…’

Well, perhaps not totally accurate. Metaphysics, Yoga and Karma are not strictly ‘ occult subjects ‘. However, it’s true that this mish-mash of discrete topics were, and perhaps still are, part of what Aetherius is all about , and judging from its presence online the society is thriving. 

And Strachan is also right in regarding the ‘ Reverend ‘ George King, or ‘Dr’ George King, DD, Th. D or sometimes George King D. Sc, D. Litt, or even George King, D Sc., Th. D  as the presiding genius of the Society.

It all came about like this. One sunny day in May 1954 George King, a London cabbie, was washing dishes in the kitchen of his flat in Maida Vale when he suddenly became aware of a strange Voice. It didn’t come from within him, he later declared,  but was an exterior presence, and it said to him in English:

    ‘ Prepare Yourself. You are to Become the Voice of Interplanetary Parliament.’

King later called this ‘The Command’ and although he hadn’t a clue what this Interplanetary Parliament was, and despite knowing nothing about Flying Saucers or beings from Outer Space, he paid serious heed to this Command. Soon afterwards a being from Venus which he dubbed Aetherius, visited him and explained what King was expected to do. He was to act as a conduit for messages from the Gods of Space. In the following year King set up The Aetherius Society to promote the wisdom of highly evolved intelligences from other planets ‘. 

King’s background may have had some influence on his conduct. Born in Wellington, Shropshire in 1919, even as a boy King was interested in spiritual matters. At some point he became a Quaker and during the Second World War declared himself a Conscientious Objector, replacing military service with service as a Fire Officer during the Blitz. At about this time he became interested in yoga and practiced it for 8 – 10 hours a day—not for its health benefits, but for its spiritual qualities. During the ‘fifties, according to the Aetherius promotional material, ‘he honed his psychic abilities and entered some of the highest states of consciousness it is possible to achieve on earth’ as a Western Yoga Master.

The HQ of the Aetherius Society since 1958 has been at 757, Fulham Road, not too far from Parsons Green Underground station The premises were modest at first, but as the funds rolled in during the hippy era of the mid sixties, the floor space expanded and before long Mr King and his cronies had added a George King Chapel from which the Blessed Leader received messages from Outer Space. In the seventies the Reverend Doctor, at some point christened ‘ The Metropolitan Archbishop ‘, moved to California, where he died in 1997 aged 78. He left behind him a loyal following in many countries and several books (some hardly more than pamphlets) many of which can still be bought online. Titles include Jesus Comes Again, This is the Hour of Truth, Become a Builder of the New Age, Visit to the Logos of Earth: a True Contact with the Lords of the Flame, You are Responsible and Contacts with the Gods of Space. The blurb of the latter extols the virtues of ‘this fascinating book (which) explains the seemingly unexplainable, introducing an array of mind-blowing spiritual revelations on subjects including life beyond Earth, UFO’s, mediumship, Karma, reincarnation, Atlantis, Lemuria, Maldek, Cosmic Missions, Ascended Masters, life after death, spiritual energy, holy mountains, spiritual ecology, prophecy, and even the future of life on Earth !’ Also available are issues of King’s magazine, Cosmic Voice, dating back sixty years.

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Slater on does and don’ts, fads and fashions,  in book collecting

J. H. Slater was often scathing about certain types of printed book and the dealers/collectors who handled them. However, he was positive concerning which books ought to be valued by collectors. Here are some of his views on what bibliophiles should avoid and what they must appreciate.

Privately printed books.

Slater was not a fan of this class of book.

Privately printed books are those which are issued either from a private press or for the benefit of private friends. They are never published in the ordinary acceptation of that term and cannot be bought at first hand. A good collection of these is of course difficult, though by no means impossible, to acquire; and for the benefit of those who may wish to devote themselves to this department –uninteresting though it undoubtedly is—Martin’s Privately Printed Books ( 1834, 2nd ed.,1854—in 1 vol. 8vo, is readily available . Many of these so- called ‘ books ‘ consist of single sheets of letterpress; others, on the contrary, are more pretentious….

Early printed American books.

‘Early printed American books, or those which in any way relate to the American Continent, provided only they were published during the 16th or 17th centuries, have lately become exceedingly scarce. In June 1888 one small quarto tract, bound in one volume, brought £66by auction, a record entirely surpassed by the preceding lot, which, consisting of twelve similar tracts only, brought no less a sum than £555. These prices of course are highly exceptional; but so great is the desire to obtain books of this class that the amounts in question, exorbitant though they may appear to be, were perhaps not excessive.’

Slater goes on to urge collectors not to pass by books printed in America, or indeed Scotland, before 1700.

‘In both cases it is probable that the specimen offered for sale will have a most unprepossessing exterior , and in some instances the price asked may be small. This frequently happens, since the more uneducated class of dealerscommence by valuing a book from its appearance (since) ….there is nothing about books of this kind which looks valuable. It is no disparagement to the trade as a whole to say that some booksellers, particularly those who carry on business in small provincial towns, are absolutely ignorant of anything more than the first principals of their trade, and it is out of them than bargains are made…

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Politicians

In view of the forthcoming General Election, here is a selection of remarks on British MPs published by ex-MP Matthew Parris in his ‘Scorn with Extra Bile’ (1995 and later editions).

He lied and lied and lied.

Guardian headline on the news that former Tory Minister Jonathan Aitkin had withdrawn his libel case against the paper, 1997.

Jail Him!—Aitkin: serial liar, cheat, coward. His marriage is over and he faces a £2 million legal bill. It is not punishment enough. He must be sent to jail…he is unfit to mop the floor in a soup kitchen. He is not just a failure as a politician. He is a failure as a human being.

The Mirror on Aitkin.

Mr Aitkin was duly tried and sentenced to 18 months in prison. Here he ‘ got religion’. He is now a minister at St Matthews church, Stoke Newington. By declaring himself bankrupt he managed to avoid paying the enormous costs awarded against him, though the Guardian suspected him of having more resources than he admitted to.

A semi-house trained polecat.

Michael Foot on Norman Tebbit.

In March 2022 Mr Tebbit ( aka ‘ the Chingford skinhead ‘ ) retired from politics aged 90.

…He was always the sort of Socialist who would do anything for the workers except like them.

Bruce Anderson on Roy Hattersley in The Spectator.

Apparently Hattersley has written three ‘ novels ‘ and several biographies. He retired from politics and is little heard of nowadays.

Harold Wilson was one of the men who ruined post-war Britain. He was a small posturing visionless politician, personally pleasant to his friends and even his enemies, amusing, irreverent and apparently kind. But his public work was a long strung-out disaster, overlaid by the impression at the time that it was at least dextrously accomplished.

Hugo Young, the Guardian, 1995.

The Bertie Wooster of Marxism

Anonymous, about Tony Benn.

A rather harsh verdict on the former Viscount Stansgate, whose son Stephen inherited the title that his father renounced. It’s hard to imagine Bertie Wooster swapping champagne for copious mugs of tea.

A perfectly good second-class chemist, a Beta chemist…she wasn’t an interesting person, except as a Conservative…I would never, if I had amusing, interesting people staying, have thought of asking Margaret Thatcher.

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The Early English Presses

Our old lawyer friend and bibliophile J. H. Slater seems to have been particularly attracted to English incunabula as well as some early sixteenth century books, such as those printed by John Day. It was the latter who printed the early editions of the great John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments, otherwise known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. By some good fortune your Jotter picked up, for the ridiculous sum of £50, a nice copy of the second and best edition of this very famous book, possibly in its original binding, and dated 1570, on one of Mr George Jeffries stalls in the Farringdon Road around 1988. Less than a month later a copy of a later edition, in a larger format but without a title page, was secured at the same establishment for the equally low price of £25. Such bargains were not uncommon features of the Farringdon Road stalls, at least in the period that your Jotter frequented them regularly, which was throughout the eighties and early nineties. It is quite possible that Slater himself acquired early English books there in the 1880s and 90’s, though the Jeffries family, who may have run the stalls back then, did not specialise in antiquarian books.

The rarity of fifteenth century books coming to light unexpectedly on bookstalls or in junk shops at any time is highlighted by Slater:

‘…a single discovery of a hitherto unknown book of the fifteenth century acquires an importance proportionate to the exceptional nature of the occurrence; and though the book hunter never despairs, he knows only too well that such rarities fall only to fortunate mortals like the French bibliophile Resbecq, whose extraordinary luck was proverbial , or to those whose ignorance is so dense that they seem provided , as compensation, with more than a fair share of attractive power. It seems a pity that the unappreciative should often obtain chances which are denied to those who could utilise them to advantage, but it is often the case. The merest tyro sometimes experiences a success which the experienced bibliophile sighs for in vain…’ 

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Books to buy in late Victorian Britain

J. H. Slater, a lawyer by training, who became the doyen of late Victorian writers on rare books, deserves to be far better known than he is. It is scandalous, for instance, that someone with so much influence and practical discernment  has no Wikipedia page ). He often comes across as  a grumpy, somewhat world-weary and cynical guide to the world he knew so well. Though occasionally inspirational ( particularly on incunabula ), his observations on the second hand book trade in general were often shocking when he made them, and continue to be distressing to many collectors today. Take some of the comments in his chapter entitled ‘ books to buy ‘.

‘ Few collectors, who are not specialists, care very much for the utility of their libraries; in many cases, indeed, it is not a question of utility at all, but of extent, though I apprehend that no one would wish to crowd his shelves with rubbish merely for the sake of filling them. As an immense proportion of the books which have been published during the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries clearly come under that category, the collector has much to avoid, and stands in need of considerable experience to enable him to make a selection…’

Such a statement might be regarded as sacrilegious to many collectors who feel that any writing that has reached the stage of publication must, ipso facto, be worthy of respect. The fact that a book printed in the sixteenth century has survived into the twenty-first doesn’t mean that it is worth collecting. The often argument that such a book reflects the morals, taste or intellectual climate of the time is not a valid one. Discernment must be another factor and that can only be acquired through knowledge and scholarship, or ‘experience ‘,as Slater goes on to argue.

Slater cites the example of Naude, the seventeenth century bibliophile whose method of purchasing, was ‘ if not unique, was at any rate, uncommon’.

‘His favourite plan was to buy up entire libraries, and sort them at his leisure; or when these were not available in the bulk , he would, as Rossi relates, enter a shop with a yard measure in his hand, and buy his books by the ell. Wherever he went, paper and print became scarce: ‘ “ the stalls he encounters were like the towns through which Attila had swept with ruin in his train”  

Then there was the notorious bibliomaniac Rev. Richard Heber (1773 – 1833 whose great wealth was spent on a vast library that occupied eight houses in Britain and the Continent. His dictum was ‘ no gentleman can be without three copies of a book, one for show, one for use and one for borrowers ‘. In 1834, after his death, the sale of his books occupied 202 days, and in the words of Slater, ‘ flooded the market with rubbish —a worthy termination to a life of sweeping and gigantic purchases, made in the hope of acquiring single grains of wheat among his tons of worthless chaff’.

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The Encyclopedia of Insulting Behaviour  (Anonymous 1981).

Forget the Season of Good Will. Behaving insultingly is much more fun. Over Christmas why not try out some of these stunts.

Abroad.

Insist on paying for everything in sterling.

Ask for local delicacies and leave them on your plate.

Drink Guinness or Scotch everywhere.

Wear your military decorations at all customs checks

Order a cup of tea at 9.00 p.m. in a pavement café on a Saturday night and sit over it for as long as you dare.

Wave back at policemen who whistle at you and wave their truncheons. ( Have your number plates covered in mud first!)

In banks

If there isn’t a queue form one by asking the cashier as many questions as you can think of  until the people get fed up and either go out or move to another window.( Questions about holiday money just before Christmas are always a success.) 

If there is a queue make it longer by writing your cheque incorrectly. Get the date wrong. Write another name by mistake and appear to see the fraud, enter a huge sum, say £10,000, and then change it to £10.00. Drop your pen, or lose it in your handbag while this is going on.

On the Beach.

Play your transistor very loud, but play Radio 3.

Take elaborate picnics with iced wine and proper cutlery, especially if you’ve noticed that everyone else is eating corned beef out of a tin.

At Christmas

Refuse to give any guests a drink on the grounds that it’s for their own good not to drink and drive. Have plenty of soft drinks to offer them though. Then pour yourself a large Scotch on the grounds that you aren’t going anywhere and don’t have to worry.

Send no Christmas cards at all.

Send the television set to be serviced on Christmas Eve.

Fill the children’s stockings with ‘useful presents’—O level revision cards, that sort of thing.

Turn up the television when the carol singers arrive and turn off the lights until they go away.

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Association copies

Hedda Hopper

Having pre-booked an event on ‘ association copies ‘ at a book fair, not knowing exactly what this would entail, I was looking forward to a scholarly disquisition on the subject ranging over the centuries, from the sixteenth to the twentieth. Perhaps I’d be shown association copies containing comments and marginalia by genuinely important figures such as Charles Darwin or Samuel Johnson, or perhaps J.M.W Turner or Oscar Wilde. So imagine my disappointment when I discovered that the event would consist of one of the dealers visiting three of the stalls at the Fair, including his own, and picking out a book from each of the stalls  to illustrate the three type of ‘association’ copies. O, well, I thought, the three young people who had also booked looked excited by the prospect, so perhaps I’d wait to see what might happen.

The first type of association copy, we were told, was when a book bore the signature of a famous person, plain and simple. No presentation and no annotations, just the signature on a flyleaf, or whatever. In this case it was the signature of the future George V on a book about the monarchy. So far, so boring. Our guide moved on .The next type of association copy, we were told, was one containing an inscription  presented by someone associated with the book in question . In this case it was the illustrator Arthur Rackham inscribing a book he had illustrated to someone close to him. I can’t remember who this was. The third and last type, and in theory, the most appealing, was a book containing a comment of great interest by its author on someone to whom it had been presented. In this case it turned out to be a very barbed comment by the bitchy Republican showbiz ‘ celebrity gossip’ and failed actress  Hedda Hopper ( aka Elda Furry ) on her arch enemy, the  liberally-minded  Democrat and gifted actress Olivia de Havilland .I cannot recall the actual words used by Mrs Hopper, but they undoubtedly elevated the art of sarcasm to a new level of bitchiness. Unlike the other two association copies, I did find this particular one appealing, in a rather perverse way, but was less impressed by the four figure price attached to it, especially as both protagonists are rather forgotten figures today.  

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Nicolaus Claudius Peiresc: scientist and antiquary as bibliophile

Austin Dobson, himself a learned bibliophile and antiquary, was evidently a great admirer of the seventeenth century savant and bibliophile , Nicolaus Peiresc, as his anthologies De Libris (1911) and A Bookman’s Budget ( 1917) demonstrate. In the latter Dobson quotes his biographer Gassendi on Peiresc’s generosity as a lender of books:

‘ He sought books, not for himself alone, but for any that stood in need of them. He lent an innumerable company, which were never restored; also he gave a world away…of which he could hardly hope ever to get the like again\: Which he did when learned men had occasion to use them.’

Nor, Dobson added, was Peiresc content to be an ideal lender; he was also an ideal borrower:

‘ Such books as he borrowed ( Gassendi continues) , being neglected by their owners and ill-bound, he delivered to his binder to be restified and beautified, viz. when their subject matter or rarity  deserved that cost; so that having received them , ill-bound, and ill favoured  he returned them trim and handsome.’

Nor did Peiresc shrink from marking or annotating his books. Here’s Gassendi again:

‘He was not therefore of their mind, who having gotten fair Books, are afraid to blot them  with such lines ( underscorings) , or marginal notes: for he esteemed those Books most highly, into which he could insert most notes; and therefore he commonly caused all his Books , when they were in quires, to be washed over with Alum-water, and when he foresaw their margents would not be large enough he caused white paper to be bound between the printed leaves.’

What was the purpose of alum-water? Well, since antiquity alum (typically aluminium sulphate) had been used as a mordant ( a drying agent ) in dyeing fabrics. In paper-making a solution of it was used to strengthen paper and make it less vulnerable to damp and therefore to mould growth. Presumably, Peiresc was aware of this property of alum and saw its use as contributing to the longevity of the paper on which his notes were written. This would make sense at a time when libraries were often damp, which environment contributed to the destruction of books through the growth of mould.

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Books burnt in the Great Fire of London

The Great Fire of London, which claimed most of the medieval and Tudor city in the summer of 1666, including St Paul’s Cathedral and the Guildhall, also destroyed the centre of the London book trade, Paternoster Row, which lay just south of St Paul’s . Doubtless there are many anecdotes concerning the efforts of booksellers and bibliophiles to rescue books before they were consumed. In exploring the smoking ruins of the city John Evelyn noted that the vaulted roof of St Paul’s had smashed  into St Faith’s church, ‘ which being filled with the magazines of books belonging to the Stationers, and carried thither for safety, they were all consumed, burning for a week following ‘. But the anecdote that most intrigues your Jotter has to do with Samuel Pepys, who buried his prize ‘Caxtons’ in his garden to protect them. That the diarist was a genuine bibliophile is obvious to anyone who has visited the Pepys Library in Magdalene College, Cambridge, but how many are aware of his interest in the earliest years of printing in England ? One wonders if Pepys’s ‘ Caxtons’ still form part of this library, and if they do, which books are they ?

Perhaps lesser known are the books which perished, either in whole or in part, in the conflagration. One of the most famous must be the Third Folio of Shakespeare, which was published in 1664. Apparently, many copies of it were still being warehoused when the fire broke out. We don’t know exactly how many volumes were stored in this warehouse, but we must assume that all of them were destroyed and that the only the volumes that survived were those that had already been sold. One of these is currently for sale at an eye-watering price . Not too long ago another copy ( perhaps the same one)  made a high price at Cheffins in Cambridge. I know because I was at the sale. 

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John Harris junior (1791 – 1873)—facsimile artist 

One of the more extraordinary figures in the art world of the early nineteenth century was not really an artist in the true sense of that word. He was not an imaginative  ‘creator’ of art, nevertheless in the annals of the British Museum, where he worked for much of his life, John Harris, in the words of a contemporary, was ‘ probably unrivalled ‘ in the curious field in which he chose to work. Harris was a ‘facsimile artist ‘, which meant that today he would be classed as a ‘conservator ‘. At the British Museum his job was to repair or replace sections of books where pages were missing or damaged and in this he was so expert that contemporary reports state that his facsimile work was entirely indistinguishable from the original’.

In his book conservation activity Harris worked almost entirely in pen and ink. He would trace the piece of missing text from another copy of the same book and apply the tracing onto old paper using a pen and black ink. Once completed, the facsimile text would be incorporated into the damaged book. Whole pages were sometimes replaced this way and although Harris signed his work ‘ by I.H. junr. ‘ it has fooled some scholars.

Harris’s accomplishments began a fashion for such facsimile work in the nineteenth century’s bibliomania. When such exacting work became too difficult for Harris, his   son replaced him as a facsimile artist at the British Museum. But there were other very skilful artists who were doing similar work. The current exhibition on ‘ Fakes and Forgeries ‘ at the Folger Shakespeare Library in the USA features a copy of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales printed by Caxton in which sixteen pages of missing text were replaced in facsimile, probably  by the printer and bibliographer William Blades, who had carefully studied Caxton’s typefaces.

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Rare book anecdotes from J. H. Slater’s Book Collecting

In Book Collecting ( 1892) J. H. Slater, that doyen of the rare book trade in late nineteenth century England, provides some wonderful anecdotes, the best of which  concerns a certain Mr Day, ‘ a well-known book hunter of the earlier part of the present century’:

‘One day, upon removing some books at the chambers of Sir William Jones, a large spider dropped upon the floor, upon Sir William with some warmth said “ Kill that spider, Day! Kill that spider!”  “ No”, said Mr Day, with that coolness for which he was so conspicuous, “I will not kill that spider, Jones: I do not know if I have a right to do so. Suppose, when you are going into your carriage to Westminster Hall, a superior being, who perhaps may have as much power over you as you have over this insect, should say to his companion, ‘ Kill that lawyer!’ Kill that lawyer!’ How should you like that? I am sure to most people a lawyer is a more noxious insect than a spider.” 

Slater evidently did not suffer fools gladly, and believe me back then, as now, there was a good deal of nonsense talked (and written) by so called bibliophiles. is chock full of Slater’s withering observations on his fellow dealers and collectors, of which one of the most withering can be found in his chapter on the venerable Elzevir Press.

 It seems to be an almost universal belief that all the works issued from the Elzevir press are small in bulk, and various terms, more or less foolish, have been invented by careless or incompetent persons to give expression to this idea. One of them, and perhaps the most hideous of them all, is “ dumpy” twelves. In the first place, works issued from the Elzevir press in 12mo are perfectly symmetrical in shape, and not at all dumpy; and, secondly, many books are in 4to and some even in folio…The amateur must avoid being misled by the poetical effusions which from time to time make their appearance, and which for the most part are written by persons who know nothing whatever of the subject…’

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When writers attack

We at Jot 101 are always looking for new examples of bilious, scornful or downright libellous remarks. A number of collections have been scoured and selections made, but in Matthew Parris’s Scorn with extra bile ( 1998) we seem to have found a truly impressive collection of insults, including a very well known one from my own uncle, the first Baron Riddlesden ( aka Denis Healey ).

Some of the better insults are, alas, too long for inclusion, but here are some by writers that are equally entertaining, but pithier. There is also a hilarious semi-parody of the somewhat overrated children’s writer A.A. Milne by Dorothy Parker (photo above).

…an umbrella left behind at a picnic.

George Moore on W. B. Yeats.

A church lit but without a congregation to distract you, with every light and line focused on the high altar. And on the altar, very reverently placed, intensely there, is a dead kitten, an eggshell, a bit of string.

H.G. Wells on a book by Henry James.

A hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tried out a few of the old proven ‘ sure-fire’ literary skeletons with sufficient local colour to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.

William Faulkner on Mark Twain

I wish her characters would talk a little less like the heroes and heroines of police reports

George Eliot on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I cannot abide Conrad’s souvenir shop style and bottled ships and necklaces of romanticist clichés.

Vladimir Nabokov on Joseph Conrad

Tell me, when you are alone with Max, does he take off his face and reveal his mask ?

Oscar Wilde on Max Beerbohm.

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Everybody’s Rebound: sustainability in the 1940s

156 Charing Cross Road

Found in a pile of books here at Jot HQ—a paperback copy dated 1943 of Agatha Christie’s Poirot Investigates. It’s exactly the same size as a Penguin, but was in fact published for the British Publishers Guild by John Lane at The Bodley Head. These ‘Guild Books’ were originally designed to rival Penguins, which were dominating the paperback market at the time. However, they never proved as popular and the Guild later folded.

But this particular Guild Book is different from most others in the series in that the original covers have been removed and replaced by what appears to be brown salvaged card. There is a panel for the title which is rubber-stamped, underneath which is a triangle bearing the legend ‘ EVERYBODY’S REBOUND’ 1/6. There then follows an explanation of what ‘Everybody’s Rebound was trying to achieve.

This is a rebound copy of a book worth reading published by a well-know publisher.

We are rebinding books such as this, in order that as many books as possible may do their job twice and so help the vital “ Save Paper “ Campaign.

If you have any books of any kind, and in any condition, that you can spare send or bring them to us and we will make you the highest cash offer.

                                         EVERYBODY’S BOOKS

                                    156, Charing Cross Road, W.C.2.

It is questionable whether this or any other book ‘rebound ‘ by Everybody’s Books was ‘ worth reading ‘. What is not in dispute is the merit of salvaging paper at a time of shortage. The thinking seems to have been that at a time when reading was an important way of distracting people from the War ( after all, the sales of poetry went sky high during the conflict), any means of giving damaged  paperbacks a new lease of life was worth doing. Better to rebind a coverless book than print a new edition using paper which was a scarce resource. What was not revealed was whether hardbacks without covers could be saved in the same way. Nor was there any indication as to when this Guild Book was rebound. An inscription on the inside cover shows that a certain Ann Seabrook owned the book in September 1948, and as paper salvage continued until 1950, the rebinding  may have occurred around 1948.

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Antiquities in peril at the British Museum: the Portland Sale, the destruction of the Vase and a similar act of vandalism at the Fitzwilliam

As habitués of auctions, we at Jot 101, are always interested in historic ones. It is interesting to note how prices of lots back then compare to recent prices fetched. Were there ‘ sleepers ‘ in past times, as there are now ? 

In Austin Dobson’s A Bookman’s Budget we find the author quoting a passage from  Rosalba’s Journal (1915) on the sale in April 1786 of ‘ The Portland Museum’ , consisting ( in the words of the Skinner and Co., the auctioneers ) of:

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‘ shells, corals, minerals, insects, birds’ eggs, agates, crystals, china. snuff boxes, coins, medals, seals, prints, drawings, jewels, and precious stones…’

These and other treasures had been collected by the Duchess of Portland over a long period and were housed at her late dwelling-house in ‘Privy Garden’, where the sale took place. In the words of Rosalba:

‘It occupied about thirty days and included 4,156 lots. One of the buyers was Horace Walpole ‘ who secured a head in basalt of Jupiter Serapis’  and an illuminated Book of Psalms, both of which he forthwith installed in the Beauclerk closet at Strawberry . Another item was a unique set of Hollar’s engravings, in thirteen folio volumes. This fetched £385; but the prices generally were far below what they would have been in our time. Rembrandt’s etchings, for example, went for 28s., Chelsea china ( 28 pieces for 30s. The gem of the sale was the blue and white glass Vase, or Sepulchral Urn, thought to have once held the ashes of Alexander Severus, which had been discovered near Rome in a sarcophagus under the Monte del Grano. Until 1770 this marvel of the ceramic art had remained in the possession of the Barberini family, being subsequently acquired by Sir William Hamilton, British Plenipotentiary at Naples, from whom, through his niece, Miss Hamilton, one of Queen Charlotte’s Ladies in Waiting, the Duchess purchased it for £1,800. Henceforth it became known as the Hamilton or Portland Vase. At the sale it was bought in by the third Duke for £1,029, and deposited by his son in the British Museum. Here it was smashed to pieces in February 1845 by a drunken workman; and was afterwards most ingeniously and successfully pieced together by Mr Thomas Doubleday.’ 

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Gilbert Harding’s Treasury of Insult

Gilbert Harding

When we last discussed the late great broadcasting personality Gilbert Harding we focused on how his studied rudeness was in most cases utterly defensible. He ensured that those people who annoyed him and were duly given the treatment they deserved, were the same kind of people that were likely to annoy most other thinking people. Thus he became a sort of hero to many who could only fantasise about emulating  Harding’s rudeness. 

There is a general perception today that Harding  reserved this brutal honesty for TV and radio appearances, but like so many ‘ celebrities ‘ of our own times, he added to his earnings by bringing out books that encapsulated the Harding personality. In a previous Jot we looked at a book of his musings on the inanities of everyday life. This time we are going to pick some of the best bits from Harding’s Treasury of Insult (1953), which is not so much an anthology of invective as  a distinctly superior miscellany of quotations and anecdotes from the sixteenth century to the nineteen  fifties. .

Some of the extracts are prefaced by a piece of Harding scorn. Others need no such introduction. We will begin with what we now call the ‘ hospitality sector’. Harding’s love of dining out and his attraction to pubs was almost wholly responsible for his corpulence, which led to his suddenly death in a taxi aged just 54 ?

We could start with Dr Tobias Smollett, the eighteenth century novelist:

‘The bread I eat in London is a deleterious paste, mixed up with chalk, alum and bone ashes; insipid to the taste and destructive to the constitution. The good people are not ignorant of this adulteration; but they prefer it to wholesome bread because it  is whiter than the meal of corn; thus they sacrifice their taste and their health, and the lives of their tender infants to a most absurd gratification…I shall conclude this catalogue of London dainties, with that table-beer, guiltless of hops and malt, vapid and nauseous; much fitter to facilitate the operation of a vomit, than to quench thirst and promote digestion…’

As Smollett pointed out, shoppers and diners knew about adulteration, but it took a German chemist, Dr Frederic Accum, to tell the whole shocking story in his classic expose, Death in the Pot (1820). Nowadays, of course, we much prefer wholemeal bread to the white loaves made by the infamous Chorleywood process that gave us ‘Mother’s Pride ‘, which though it contained none of the deleterious additives detailed by Smollett and Accum, doubtless tasted little better than eighteenth century white bread. 

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John Symonds’ on E. V. Rieu’s translation of Homer’s The Odyssey

Found in a paperback reprint ( 1952) of Rieu’s translation of The Odyssey is a typewritten carbon copy of a letter to the translator from John Symonds, the biographer of Aleister Crowley,  dated 22nd September 1961. Alongside it is Rieu’s handwritten reply to Symonds from his home at Hurst Avenue in north London, dated six days later.

Such items are rare. Editors rarely reply to letters from readers. I once received a very long typed reply from the poet and writer on art, Edward Lucie- Smith, not long after his Penguin anthology of contemporary poetry came out. I can’t recall exactly what I objected to, but I think it was something to do with the fact that Lucie-Smith had had the audacity to include a comparatively young poet — Geoffrey Hill—while excluding a veteran of the Auden generation, Geoffrey Grigson. I must have made a cogent case because Lucie-Smith’s friendly reply was much longer than my original letter to him.

John Symonds Crowley biography

Symonds’ letter to Rieu turned on an objection, not to the quality of the translation, but to the character of Odysseus. Here is the letter in full:-

Dear Sir,

‘ Some years ago I bought your versions of THE ODYSSEY and THE  ILIAD, and put them on a shelf beside my bed, intending one night to begin reading them, and thus fill a literary gap. And there they remained until this month when I took down THE ODYSSEY, removed the paper wrapper, felt the fine blue cloth binding, gazed at the clear print and began reading.

Splendid and immortal yarn! But what a barbarian Odysseus is. He is like a comic-strip superman of the Daily Mirror. And then I came to Book XXII which you describe in your introduction as ‘ the magnificent climax ‘. What is magnificent about it ? The cruelty of Odysseus appalled me. Merciless butcher, without charity! He won’t even spare the tearful women. The horror described on page 324 made me feel sick and I flung the book into the fireplace.

I shall apply myself, somewhat warily, to THE ILIAD. 

Yours truly,

John Symonds.

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Austin Dobson’s famous ‘ lost books ‘

In his Bookman’s Budget ( 1917) the writer and book collector Austin Dobson asks why early copies of certain famous books are so thin on the ground.  One of the books he has in mind is the first edition of Walton’s Compleat Angler, ‘ very few ‘ of which ‘ are in existence now ‘.

‘that little octavo of 246 pages, price eighteen pence, Printed by T. Maxey for Rich. Marriott in St Dunstan’s Church-yard, Fleet Street’ in 1653 ‘.

Dobson fancifully speculates that the copies of this first edition:

 ‘were worn out in the pockets of Honest Izaak’s  ‘Brothers of the Angle’, or left to bake and cockle in the sunny corners of wasp-haunted alehouse windows, or dropped in the deep grass by some casual owner, more careful for flies and caddis-worms, or possibly for the contents of a leathern bottle, than all the ‘ choicely-good ‘ madrigals of Maudlin the milk-maid’ .

Possibly so, as The Compleat Angler, may have been seen by anglers as a book of practical or technical advice rather than a work of rare literary qualities. It is certainly true that many a rare tome has been neglected by bibliophiles who ought to know better. When I interviewed Germaine Greer back in 1999, she shocked my by confessing that some of her more valuable old books ended up eaten by insects or ruined by the heat of the Italian sun while left on the window sills of her Tuscan villa.

Ale spilt over first editions in taverns doesn’t do them much good either. Vade mecums such as firsts by Walton can be left out in the rain, ruined and subsequently thrown away. There is possibly a whole book to be written on valuable tomes that were badly cared for and afterwards chucked out.

But Dobson isn’t just thinking about Walton’s masterpiece.

‘ That other eighteenpenny book, put forth by Nath. Ponder at the Peacock in the Poultrey near Cornhil’ five and twenty years later—The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World, to That which is to come ‘; why is it that there are only five or six copies, none quite perfect, now extant, of which the best sold long since for more than £1,400? ‘

One copy, Dobson declared, was placed in a ‘ great library’ ( presumably the British Museum), but the others have ‘ all gone’. It could be that they, like Walton’s Angler, were regarded as practical guides and therefore were not valued as, say, a volume of poetry might be. Or were the editions small enough for copies to be ‘ dog-eared out of being?

We don’t know, of course. What we do know is that an exceedingly rare copy of the Compleat Angler was sold by Sotheby’s not too long ago with an estimate of £60,000 – £80,000 on it. It was an octavo, and as Dobson notes, it had an engraved title page and contained ten very cute engravings of fishes in the text and a double page of sheet music by the eminent composer Henry Lawes. This ‘ choice copy’ was once owned by the amateur chess player and collector of books on chess, Rimington-Wilson ( 1822 – 87). The most recent owner was Armin Goyder (1908 – 97), a businessman and Blake enthusiast.

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