Richmal Crompton on writing for children

Today, when fully formed adults from around the world queue patiently at the portal to  Platform 9 ¾ at  King’s Cross Station to have their photograph taken beside the Harry Potter luggage trolley, it’s worth reading another and better children’s writer, the one-time Classics teacher and creator of William, Richmal Crompton, as she explains in an article in the October 1952 issue of The Writer, how she began her career as a writer for adults.

‘I submitted the first one to a women’s magazine and the editor, accepting it, asked for another story about children. I remember that I racked my brains, trying to invent a different set of children from the ones I had already used, and it was with a feeling of guilt and inadequacy that I finally fell back again on the children of the first story. Asked for a third story about children, I wrestled once more with the temptation to use the same set of children, succumbing to it finally with the same sense of guilt. When I had written the fifth story I said to myself: “This must stop. You must find a completely different set of children for the next story.” But somehow I didn’t and gradually the ‘William’ books evolved. They were still, however, regarded as books for adult reading, and I think it was not till the last war that they found their way from the general shelves to the children’s department in the bookshops. And even now I receive letters from adult—even elderly –readers…

…if you are writing about children for children, you must be able to see the world around you as a child sees it. To “ write down” for children is an insult that a child is quick to perceive and resent. Children enjoy assimilating new facts and ideas, but only if the writer is willing to rediscover these facts and ideas with the children, not if he hands out information from the heights of adult superiority. I think the fact that the ‘William’ stories wer4e originally with no eye on a child-reading public has helped to make them popular with children…The plots are not specially devised for children, but I think that if there’s anything I the story that children don’t understand they just don’t worry about it. Children, too, seem to like a series of stories dealing with the same character—especially if it’s a character  with which the normal child can identify itself…

In those early days I saw myself as a budding novelist and wrote the William stories —rather carelessly and hurriedly—as pot-boilers. The history of the pot-boiler, by the way, is an interesting one. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, Hans Andersen’s fairy tales, Stevenson’s Treasure Island were all written as pot-boilers…Stevenson would have been surprised to know that after his death the story that people connected most readily with his name would be Treasure Island…

Continue reading

Walter Jerrold’s book collecting habits: A second peep into Autolycus of the Bookstalls (1902)

Jot 101 Farringdon road books 1966In our first Jot on Jerrold’s book we were rather harsh. We felt that he was too easily pleased by his discoveries among the book barrows and second hand bookshops. However, some of his adventures do shed some light on the second hand book trade in London around the turn of the nineteenth century. The book stalls in New Cut he describes may have gone, but selling books from street stalls has changed little since then. The only exception to this appears to be the methods of the veteran Jeffrey of Farringdon Road, who, if you asked what his ‘best price’ was had the habit of tearing the book in question in half before your startled eyes( see previous Jots).

Take the penultimate chapter of Autolycus entitled ‘The Twilight of the Gods ‘. Jerrold begins his anecdote by setting the scene for a discovery:

‘The scene is the New Cut, a few yards from where it turns out of the Westminster Bridge Road. We are standing at a regulation costermonger’s barrow, laden with a great variety…of literary wares…The air is heavy with the nauseating smell from a nearby cook-shop, of which the windows, steam clouded from within, bear in bold type, this simple legend: “ What are the wild waves saying? Come and get a good dinner for sixpence!” Continue reading

The Collection of William White / third and final part

This Jot deals with the final three writers that the bibliomaniac William White collected during his lifetime. Two of them– Emily Dickinson and Nathanael West –were American. Ernest Bramah was British.

 Jot 101 William White third part Bramah pic

Firstly, White admits that his own collection of Dickinson cannot compete with that housed in the Jones Library, Amherst, Massachusetts, her home town. For instance, he only managed to acquire second impressions of the poet’s Poems ( 1890), Poems: second series (1891) and Poems: third series (1896), all of which were brought out by Roberts Brothers of Boston. Today, Abebooks have all three of these first editions at an eye-watering £42,000 the lot. White also owned the first English edition of Poems (1890) which was printed from American sheets of the seventeenth edition with a cancel title page. Today, Abebooks has a copy priced at   £2,100.

White declared that the rarest and most expensive of his Dickinson books was a second edition (1915) of The Single Hound: Poems of a Lifetime (1914), which was edited by Dickinson’s niece, Martha Dickinson Bianchi. Abebooks has this first at £1,700.

Ever the scholar, White also felt a need to collect the various biographies of Dickinson, the best of which was George Frisbie Whicher’s This was a Poet ( 1938). One of the principle experts on the poet seems to have been Thomas H. Johnson, whose Poems of Emily Dickinson (1955) and Letters of Emily Dickinson (1958) were praised by White as ‘scholarly productions in every sense of the word’. Mr Johnson also wrote an ‘ excellent ‘ biography.

For some reason White next chose to collect Nathanael West, the novelist who died at just 37 following a car smash and whose best book is possibly Miss Lonelyhearts. According to White, West’s other three novels, The Dream Life of Balso Snell, A Cool Million and The Day of the Locust, were in `1965, being reassessed and accordingly were becoming more sought after, but White managed to buy first editions  of them for very reasonable prices. Characteristically, he also felt a need to buy all the reprints, all three of the lives of West and several translations. Today, we might agree with White that West’s appeal is likely to remain ‘limited ‘.

The happy accident that led to White’s decision to collect the works of Ernest Bramah, the English author of the Kai Lung series, was his wife’s discovery of him in anthologies published by Dorothy L, Sayers. Because few Americans knew anything about him, including the Librarian of Wayne State University, White was able to acquire sixteen of the first editions for little more than the $3 he had shelled out for Bramah’s first book—English Farming (1894), which the vendor had catalogued under ‘agriculture’. Continue reading

Collecting on a Professor’s salary Part two.

William White was a professor of Journalism and American Studies, which may partially explain his academic interest in certain American writers, but we at Jot HQ are at a loss to understand why he spent time and good money assembling a collection of the work of such a mediocre American novelist as John Marquand. In his account of how he came to do so, White seems a little embarrassed, as if he needed to justify his ‘ affection ‘ for a novelist ‘not of the first rank ’. And when he brings in the opinion of another critic to support his case, he further mystifies us. According to T. G .Rosenthal, Marquand ‘never achieved greatness but was an excellent entertainer’. Talk about damning with faint praise. The status of Marquand as a novelist is unlikely to alter in the coming years. Today, most of his first editions can be bought for a few pounds, although Do Tell Me, Doctor Johnson , at £60, and The Late Lord Apsley ( according to White the best thing he wrote) at £90 are exceptions. Maybe it was the journalist in White that saw merit in Marquand. But ever the completist, he could not pursue his prey with half measures:Jot 101 Hemingway pic

‘ I have just about every first edition of his forty novels, collections of short pieces, books he wrote introductions for, and pamphlets plus reprints, English editions, and translations—275 volumes, not counting periodical appearances…’

In a previous blog on White as a collector we have seen how admiration for a writer, such as Housman, could become an overweening obsession bordering on mild insanity. This confession concerning Marquand only confirms this view. Continue reading

Book Collecting on a Professor’s Salary 1

Jot 101 A.E.Housman pic

Found in a copy of The Private Library for July 1965 at Jot HQ archives is an account by an American professor of Journalism and American Studies called William White of his adventures in book collecting spanning three decades. The six writers in which he specialised as a collector were Housman, Hemingway, Marquand, Emily Dickinson and Nathaniel West, and if his account is to be believed he seems to have been a scholar-collector of rare persistence and dedication.

Not for him the Caxtons and Renaissance incunabula that occupied the energies of collectors like Paul Getty. White wasn’t interested in beating other wealthy men to acquire beautiful or ancient rarities. He deliberately chose writers who weren’t particularly fashionable and therefore expensive, though it could be argued that Hemingway and Dickinson might fit into this category. The remaining four writers, however– two English and two American– were comparatively inexpensive to collect. Though he doesn’t make it clear whether he collected the works of these writers because they were cheap to collect or because he was particularly interested in their work.

White begins his account by discussing his collection of Housman (above). We learn that he became interested in the poet and scholar soon after he died. His first purchase was the boxed edition of A Shropshire Lad and Last Poems dated 1929 from the private Alcuin Press in Chipping Campden, which as a graduate student in California he paid for in instalments. The price in the late 1930s was $17.50. Pretty soon White had contracted the collecting bug, which he justified by rightly arguing that there was only one way to do serious bibliographical research: ‘own the books’. Even allowing for White’s bibliomania, the description of his Housman library after thirty years of collecting is mind- blowing: Continue reading

Collected books that appeared a hundred years ago. No 1) The Red House Mystery by A.A.Milne

Jot 101 Red House MysteryMost readers know A. A. Milne as the creator of Winnie-the-Pooh, Eeyore, and Tigger, but four years before these characters appeared Milne published his one true detective novel, The Red House Mystery (1922).

By 1922 the forty-year old had become best known as a playwright and writer of screenplays for the cinema, as well as being  a prolific contributor to Punch, where his gently humorous style gained him many fans. Thus the appearance of The Red House Mystery must have been welcomed by a growing number of his admirers as something of a novelty. Here was a comic writer trying his hand at a genre that was becoming increasingly popular in what later became known as ‘The Golden Age’ of crime fiction.

Milne’s debut proved immediately popular. The well known critic Alexander Woollcott even went so far as to call The Red House Mystery ‘one of the best mystery stories of all time.’ The action was set (where else?) in a country house party hosted by Mark Ablett and attended by a handful of minor characters. At some point Robert, Ablett’s black sheep of a brother, who was living in Australia, turns up and before long is found shot dead in the head. Another guest, Tony Gillingham, appoints himself a latter day Sherlock Holmes and with the help of his friend as Dr Watson, this pair of amateur sleuths get to work on what appears to be a very puzzling crime indeed.

Milne was a graduate in mathematics from Cambridge and so it comes as no great surprise that at the centre of the book is a logic puzzle, but Raymond Chandler, who twenty-two years later was to demolish the raison d’etre of the Red House Mystery in The Simple Art of Murder, had serious reservations regarding the credibility of the plot. To him the novel was:

‘ an agreeable book, light amusing in the Punch style, written with a deceptive smoothness that is not as easy as it looks . Yet however light in texture the story may be, it is offered as a problem of logic and deduction. If it is not that, it is nothing at all. There is nothing else for it to be …’ Continue reading

The Complete Philanderer by Rex Stout Part two.


Method continued

9) Play the extremes. Either melt here, overwhelm her with a wistful tenderness that would thaw the arctic, or go 100% bestial. It is often effective to switch from one extreme to the other, but requires practice. The happy medium is not worth a damn.

Raw Material.

By this Stout is referring to the type of ladies to search out and where to find them.

‘ I appreciate that many of you will be limited by the available supply, but in cities of over 100,0000 population a wide range offers itself, and even in smaller communities it is surprisingly what can be uncovered by a roving intelligence and an active spirit. The main thing is good leads. It is of course unethical to get them by display ads in the newspapers or by using sandwich men or throwaways, but it is also unnecessary. A little ingenuity and persistence will keep you going. Some hints:  In New York, work the better bars, and when you see a good one spill a sidecar on her dress and insist on paying for it. In Chicago, haunt the railroad stations, for all the best material reaches instinctively for a time-table upon arriving at the age of consent.

Some practitioners, when working up raw material and testing a lead, give very little consideration to any other element  than the Receptivity Quotient. Such a man is not, properly speaking, an amorist at all; he is merely a careerist. Sooner or later he will find his sensibilities blunted, his ability to synchronize permanently lessened, and his heart going back on him. In the long run, year in and year out, you will find that in appraising raw material it will produce the deepest satisfaction and the highest type of success to adhere rigidly to the AAA standards: Continue reading

A Maggs Catalogue for 1909

As we on Jot 101 have remarked before, the catalogues of antiquarian booksellers are often a reflection of the tastes or fashion of the time among collectors. Books which today might be downgraded for various reasons were once highly prized, especially in first edition form. Writers who were once the height of fashion are now almost forgotten, while firsts by ‘ classic ‘ authors, though often sought after over many decades, do not always retain their monetary value in real terms. The catalogue issued by Maggs Brothers in 1909, which we recently unearthed in the archives at Jot HQ, is a case in point. Although the craze for ‘modern  first editions ‘  had not really taken off , books by ‘ modern ‘ writers like  William Morris and Oscar Wilde were beginning to be seen as modern classics and were priced accordingly. Classic ‘ Romantic ‘ authors, like Keats and Shelley, have always kept their value, but the prices of  works by Charles Lamb have dipped in real terms since 1909, mainly due to the baleful influence of the critic Frank R. Leavis. The rise and rise of Jane Austen since 1909, mainly due to various TV and film adaptations, is probably unique among English novelists. In contrast compare the prices of work by George Meredith, then at the height of his popularity, but hardly read at all today.


Jot 101 Maggs catalogue 1909 cover 001


Books on certain sports have also become more sought after today. Not surprisingly, there is nothing on football or rugby, which were comparatively modern in origin, but plenty of rare material on cricket, horse-racing, angling, boxing and hunting. Of these only books on tennis and cricket, which are perhaps more popular today, seem to have increased in value.


With such a catalogue sometimes it’s good to play ‘Fantasy Book Buying ‘. This involves going back in time and seeking out bargains that one might have bought with our present day knowledge. Let’s start with Oscar Wilde. The great playwright and gay icon had only been dead for nine years, so wasn’t as appreciated as he is now. Continue reading

Wise words on values from an Edwardian book collector

Jot 101 The Private Library cover 001

A.L.Humphreys was a miscellaneous writer and bibliophile whose knowledge of books and book collecting surpassed that of most dealers and librarians. In The Private Library (1897 ) he has sound and revealing things to say, and although, as one reader has inscribed in pencil on the title –page of our copy, ‘ since 1897 many views expressed here have been superceded ‘, Humphreys is still worth reading.  One of his wisest chapters is entitled ‘ Book Values ‘. Here are some of the highlights from it:


‘…It would be impossible to tell all the causes which go toward determining the value of a book and which cause it to fluctuate in price. There is but one way to arrive at a reliable knowledge of book values, and that is to begin stall-hunting as soon as you leave school or college and continue until past middle age, absorbing information from stalls, from catalogues, and from sale-rooms. The records of prices at which books have been sold in the auction rooms, and which are regularly issued, are useless in the hands of an inexperienced person. To make up your mind on Monday that you are going to begin a career of successful bargain-hunting and book collecting is only to be defrauded on all the other five remaining days. Experience must be bought, and an eye for a good copy of a book, or for a bargain of any kind, only comes after years of practice…


According to Clement1), there are two sorts of rarity in books; the one absolute, the other conditional or contingent. There are rare editions of very common books. There are books of almost common occurrence in public libraries, which are rarely seen in the market. A book or an edition of which but very few copies exist is called ‘ necessarily rare;’ one which is only with difficulty to be met with—-however many copies may be extant—he calls ‘ contingently rare. ‘ Continue reading

Ransome on review copies, book stalls and bookshops

Jot 101 Ransome on book reviews Wych Street 1901We have seen ( previous Jot) how, in his first book, Bohemia in London, the young Arthur Ransome was happy to confess his bibliophilia. He seemed to love second hand books more than brand new ones, but he hated the practice of selling unwanted books ( whether new or second hand, he doesn’t say) given as gifts ending up on bookseller’s shelves. Certain people feel no guilt about doing this; they assume, wrongly, that they will never be found out, but if the gift is inscribed there is a reasonable chance that the bibliophile who gifted the book will discover it in some bookshop or bookstall eventually.


What is far more reprehensible, however, is the sense of betrayal felt by someone who having taken into their home a friend, colleague or relation down on their luck, discovers that this lodger has been stealing books from their shelves to sell to book dealers. This wouldn’t have happened to the impoverished young Ransome, of course, but it did happen to the comparatively well-off Geoffrey Grigson while editor of New Verse.Grigson, like Ransome in his time, would’ve been sent dozens of books to review each week, most of which he would have sold to second hand booksellers. Other books for review he would have kept for his own collection, particularly those published by fellow poets he particularly admired, such as Auden, MacNeice and Wyndham Lewis. Grigson also held regular parties for his New Versecontributors at his home in Keats Grove, and it is more than likely that on these occasions he would have asked some of his guests to sign the review copies he had retained for his own use. It is equally, likely, of course, that a grateful guest would have presented a signed copy of his book to Grigson.


Whatever the circumstances, Grigson must have assembled a decent collection of books, including ‘modern firsts’ at Keats Grove.  And it was at Keats Grove that Grigson and his American wife Frances first met the young Ruthven Todd, ‘an unemployable, persistent, rather squalid-looking tall, grey oddity ‘ who wrote poetry and  turned out to be a book thief. At one point he actually showed Grigson a copy of MacNeice’s Blind Fireworksinscribed by the poet to his wife. This could only have come from the library of MacNeice himself. Anyway, a few years later Grigson and his wife moved to Wildwood Terrace, not far from the Old Bush and Bush, and it was here that Todd turned up again, this time to take up the offer of bed and board for 10 shillings a week. Unfortunately, Todd couldn’t even afford this negligible sum, so he took to stealing from Grigson’s bookshelves.  The whole sorry story, as Grigson tells it in Recollections,is distinctly farcical:


‘…a bookseller whose shop I frequented in Cecil Court..…told me he had just bought ten shillings’ worth of books in one of which was a letter addressed to me. I was in that shop again some weeks later: the bookseller had bought more books—always ten shillings’ worth or thereabouts—from the same seller, in one of which this time was my signature, and the seller was—Ruthven Todd. Between us we kept the arrangement going for some time. Ruthven bought the books to Cecil Court, the bookseller paid him the required ten shillings. Ruthven with scrupulous regularity paid the ten shillings to me wife, and I went down to Cecil Court, and retrieved the books, for ten shillings… We never taxed the Innocent Thief with his theft, this generous creature who seldom came to see us without some present, paid for God knows how, for the children . Continue reading

Arthur Ransome on second hand books


Years before he achieved fame as the author of Swallows and AmazonsArthur Ransome published his first book, Bohemia in London(1907), which is now very sought after, copies Jot 101 Bohemia in London coverin  collectable condition fetching £500 or more.

At the time he was working as a poorly paid journalist, but as Bohemia strongly suggests, he was spending most of his salary gathering material for this book by mingling with Bohemian types of all kinds mainly in pubs in and around Chelsea, where he lived. He was also buying second hand books. One of the opening anecdotes of his chapter on bookshops and bookstalls concerns the copy of Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy that he acquired for 8/- from a book dealer in central London. At the time he had just  a few shillings  in his pocket and was planning to visit a restaurant on the way home to his digs. He ended up spending everything he had on him which meant carrying the two heavy volumes under his arms, going hungry that evening and having to walk home, rather than taking an omnibus or Underground train. Ransome also doesn’t give many details about the edition of the Anatomy, but we can be fairly sure that at 8/- it wasn’t a very early edition and certainly not a first.

The appeal of such an old fashioned tome to someone with an addiction to such treasures reminds us of Lamb’s essay entitled ‘ Old China ‘ in which his sister Mary, in the guise of Bridget, recalls the acquisition of a folio Beaumont and Fletcher that her brother  had ‘ dragged home late at night  from Barker’s in Covent-garden ‘ to their home in Colebrooke Row, Islington in the early 1800s.

‘ Do you remember how we eyed it for weeks before we could make up our minds to the purchase, and had not come to a determination  till it was near ten o’clock f the Saturday night, when you set off from Islington, fearing you should be too late —and when the old bookseller with some grumbling opened his shop and by the twinkling taper ( for he was setting bedwards ) lighted out the relic from his dusty treasures—when you lugged it home, wishing it were twice as cumbersome —and when you presented it to me —and when you were exploring the perfectness of it ( collating you called it )—and while I was repairing some of the loose leaves with paste, which you patience would not suffer to be left till day-break—was there no pleasure in being a poor man ?’   Continue reading

The Care of Books

Jot 101 care for books bookworm

Found at Jot HQ the other day—The Private Library—an attractively bound volume of 1897 by the antiquarian A(rthur) L. Humphreys, author of  How to Write a Village History, Old Decorative Maps and Charts and the Berkshire Book of Song, Rhyme and Steeple Chime.

Among the various interesting things he has to say about books in general is his section on ‘The Care of Books ‘. These observations may be listed in a number of sub-headings which could appear thus:-

1) Anecdotes by Andrew Lang.

‘…( Sir Walter ) Scott was very careful; he had a number of wooden dummies made, and, when a volume was borrowed, he put the dummy in its place on the shelf, inscribing it with the name of the borrower. He also defended his shelves with locked brazen wires. ‘ Tutus clausus ero’ ( “ I shall be safe if shut up “) , his anagram, was his motto, under a portcullis…Housemaids are seldom bibliophiles. Their favourite plan is to dust the books, and then rearrange them on fancy principles, mostly upside down. One volume of Grote will be put among French novels, another in the centre of a collection of sports, a third in  the midst of modern histories…The diversity of sizes, from folio to duodecimo, makes books very difficult to arrange where room is scanty. Modern shelves in most private houses allow no room for folios, which have to lie, like fallen warriors, on their sides.’

2) Heat and dust as enemies of books.

‘Mr Poole , a very experienced American librarian…made an experiment in the upper gallery of a library, and found that—“ while the temperature of the floor was 65* Fahr., that of the upper gallery was found to be 142*. Such a temperature dries up the oil of the leather and burns out its life. Books cannot live where men cannot live.”

In London particularly dust, smoke, and soot get at books and do great damage. To have the top edges gilded is an excellent way to prevent dust getting into the leaves. Books which have roughly trimmed tops harbour dust much more readily, and it is with great difficulty removed from such…Books should not be either swung together

or beaten together. The carpet in a library should not reach the wall, or right to the cases, but should fall short so as to be removed when required to be cleaned…’ Continue reading

Destroyed manuscripts— horror stories to chill the blood




Found at Jot  HQ,  the pamphlet published by Winfred A. Meyers ,a well known dealer in autograph letters and manuscripts, containing  the talk she gave at the ABA Book Fair  at Albemarle Street, London, in 1961 on  ‘ How to Collect Autograph Letters and Manuscripts ‘.


Meyers sets off by making a good case for collecting autograph letters from a historical point of view. She argues that a letter or set of letters may help a ‘professional’ scholar piece together episodes in the life of a particular person, possibly solving a puzzle that has perplexed other scholars for years; letters can also immediately connect an amateur with the author of a work in that person’s library. So far,  so good. These are obvious benefits of collecting autograph letters. Meyers then comes to the horror stories of letters and historical documents lost, irretrievably damaged through neglect, or deliberately destroyed. What she tells us is indeed a litany of terrible losses:

‘…it is amazing after what has befallen letters and documents in the not so distant past, how much has survived. The rats that gnawed the letters from Elizabeth’s favourite courtier, at Belvoir Castle; the parish registers that turned into solid glue in the wet cellars of another stately home; Somerset House in 1840 sending the Exchequer Accounts of Henry VIII and the Secret Service Accounts of Queen Elizabeth to the waste paper merchant: the old India Office turning out the records of the Indian navy to the paper mills; the French Revolutionaries destroying and dispersing the papers of the Monarchy, and the restored Monarchy destroying the papers of the French Revolutionaries; the British army destroying the White House papers in 1812; the Southern States destroying their records before the advancing Union Army in the Civil War; the Sinn Feiners’ destruction of Dublin Castle records; the salvage drives and bombing of two wars; the mouldering records in a pigsty at Arundel Castle; the toy-drum and lampshade-makers’ part; Cassandra Austen tearing up the letters of her sister Jane, and George Washington’s widow tearing up all George’s letters to her and a terrible story I just heard of a collection of Emily and Charlotte Bronte letters that were torn up only last week…’ 

Continue reading

William Barnes Rhodes: the banker as bibliophile

Epigrams Rhodes title 001Found among papers at Jot HQ is this distinctly battered copy of volume one of Select Epigrams(1797) by William Barnes Rhodes, a rather interesting writer. Our copy lacks boards, has its title, but lacks one leaf (pages 29 and 30), three leaves (pages 57 – 62 ) , part of page 73 and pages 159 – 188. These omissions don’t exactly add to the appeal of what is left, but the incomplete book is worth reading, not least for its defects.


For one thing, anyone encountering the volume for the first time, as your Jotter did, would assume that the book consisted of one volume only. This is because someone, for whatever reason, has seen fit to erase the words IN TWO VOLUMES and VOLUME ONE from the title page. We know that our copy is the first volume because the contents of volume two from the Bodleian Library, has been digitalised and appears online. It is not known why volume one has not been digitalised in the same way. Incidentally, both volumes of the first edition are currently for sale through abebooks, but the bookseller has erroneously declared that the first edition is the ‘sole edition’, when in fact a second edition, was brought out in 1803 by William Miller, who published Washington Irving’s Sketch Book in 1820.

William Barnes Rhodes, like Charles Lamb, had a full-time job as a clerk while he pursued a literary career, but while Lamb worked at the East India House in the City, Rhodes, who was born in Leeds in 1772, obtained in 1799 a post at the Bank of England, just down the road from Lamb. It is intriguing to speculate whether the two men ever met. It is very likely, given their respective avocations, but Rhodes does not feature in Lamb’s correspondence. Interestingly, in 1823 Rhodes was promoted to the office of Chief Teller at the Bank, just two years before Lamb took early retirement from East India House.

Like Lamb too, Rhodes was interested in the theatre, though we don’t know if he was a great playgoer. He was evidently a well-paid official. At the great Roxburghe sale in 1812, when one of only two copies of Boccaccio’s Decameron dated 1471 fetched well over £2,000, and other fabulous books and manuscripts did equally well, Rhodes made large purchases of theatrical material. It was on the eve of this famous sale that the Roxburghe Club was formed by a group of leading bibliophiles. It is not known if Rhodes became a member, but he would have been interested in the objectives of this coterie. We are not aware of the actual contents of his library, but we do know that it was sold in 1825. Perhaps Rhodes sensed that his demise was near and wanted to provide for his new wife, who he had married that same year. He died a year later aged just 54. Continue reading

Farewell to True Bookshops

This rather plaintive cri de coeurfrom the pen of someone called John F. X. Harriott (1933 – 90), whose Periscope column was The Tablet’s renowned voice of common-sense’ for many years, is a very slim (just ten pages) pamphlet brought out in 1987 by

Farewell to True Bookshops cover pic 001

the Rocket Press under the aegis of Jonathan Stephenson, a private publisher from Blewbury and Oxford book dealer Robin Waterfield.

When he wrote the original Tablet piece on which he based his booklet Harriott was in his mid-fifties and had evidently been a lover of second hand bookshops for many years, but was becoming aware that the book trade was changing for the worse. His piece is partly a hymn of praise to the old school book dealers he had known and partly a diatribe on new bookshops. He begins by describing an encounter with the kind of bookshop ‘which used to grace every town in the kingdom but is now as rare as a coach and four’.

‘…Rooms of books unfolded one upon another, and staircases of books wound upwards into dark mysterious attics. There was that marvellous smell of cricket bat oil and dusty bacon. …The bookseller…was ancient and sallow and far beyond any human intercourse. We crept about him silently, pulling out handfuls of ripe nineteenth and twentieth century first editions, old childhood favourites, books of Victorian instruction to prospective travellers abroad, and lowering to the floor tremendous theological tomes which took up the challenge at the end of St John’s gospel…’

In contrast, Harriott declares:

‘ the newest of all bookshops…sell nothing but piles of ill-written, ill-spelled, ill-bound non-books from America….They do not invite one to buy good books because they are cheap, but to buy books simply because they are cheap. Such shops have no dark corners, no winding staircases, no smell of antiquity, no ripening booksellers or collectors poring over their catalogues. Instead they have neon lights and rows of paperbacks in alphabetical order and a computer to tell the customer that everything worth reading is out of print. They are savage places where there is always a keening wind and moans of spiritual hunger troubling the air.’


So far, so goodish, but he is not comparing like with like. Second hand bookshops have a place, but new bookshops obviously have a function too. Harriott  also doesn’t explain why new bookshops in the UK are importing all their stock from the USA, or why American writers should adopt the Queen’s English. Or why no American book is likely to be worth reading. This is not a very intelligent approach.  But then our Catholic friend goes a bit off-track. Continue reading

Patience Strong

Jot 101 Patience Strong Calendat pic 001Found amongst a pile of books at Jot HQ, the pocket-sized ‘Patience Strong ‘Quiet Corner ‘calendar for 1955 with its sepia photographs of ‘ picturesque ‘ spots in England. We had almost forgotten that publishers still used sepia photographs as late as this, but then remembered the lifeless and dispiriting photographs of landscapes and empty streets in Arthur Mee’s ‘King’s England’ series of county guide books. No wonder the county   guides  published by Shell from 1934 were regarded as such a welcome change from these  dreary volumes. Mee’s totally predictable descriptions of towns and villages in each county were matched by Strong’s trite and cliché-ridden verse formatted as prose in her calendar and exemplified  in ‘ The Sunlit Way ‘which accompanied a traffic-free photo of a ‘ quiet corner of old Warwick ‘ on the page for January 1955.

The Sunlit Way

‘May the way that lies ahead be lit with sunny gleams—and prove to be the road to the fulfilment of your dream…And may it lead you to the place where lost hopes are restored—where love is true and life is good and faith has its reward.’

Tumpty-tum …tumpety tum

England’s Treasures (October)

‘All along the roads of England treasures can be seen. Little old world villages with church and pond and green . Gems of beauty—cherish them and guard them jealously—and let no vandal touch the sacred scenes of history.’

Not sure about the scansion there, Patience.


The Glorious Month (May)

May is the month of bloom and blossom.

     May is the month of song and light.

Of tulips by the garden path

      And hawthorn hedges, snowy white.

May brings the bluebells to the wood

      And paints the cowslips by the stream.

May makes this sad old bad old world

      As lovely as a poet’s dream.


Which poet would that be?
Continue reading

Max  Beerbohm and The Age of Improvement

In a recent Jot we looked at the way Sir Max Beerbohm ‘ improved ‘ certain books in his library by adding illustrations to them or altering their printed illustrations to make a point about the authors. Some of these books were inscribed to him by the authors, but that didn’t seem to bother Beerbohm. On occasion he would also add false inscriptions from famous people, such as Queen Victoria.

The source of information concerning these amusing interventions may have been the catalogue of ‘ The Library and Literary Manuscripts of the late Sir Max Beerbohm ‘that Sotheby & Co issued to accompany the sale of the author and artist’s library on 12 and 13thDecember 1960. Beerbohm had died in (  ) and his widow followed him on (  ).

Anyone wishing to obtain some idea of Beerbohm’s literary likes and dislikes could hardly do better than to study this catalogue, which is profusely illustrated. It is quite obvious that he didn’t take to Rudyard Kipling and the feeling was probably mutual.

Jot 101 Beerbohm Kipling improvement 001

Here is a description of Lot 136.

KIPLING ( RUDYARD) BARRACK-ROOM BALLADS and other verse; the illustration on the title-page altered by Max Beerbohm  into a portrait of Kipling, blood dripping from his red fingernails; signature of Beerbohm and an inscription: ‘H.M.B. from F.H.H. on fly-leaves, original cloth.                                                                                                                            8vo 1892

And here is Lot 137.

KIPLING (RUDYARD)  A Diversity of Creatures , Max Beerbohm has introduced a pen-and-ink caricature portrait of Kipling, behind bars, into the design facing the title-page, and under the author’s name has written: ‘the Apocalypic (sic) Bounder who can do such fine things but mostly prefers to stand ( on tip-toe and stridently) for all that is cheap and nasty’; pen-scoring on last page, original limp red calf gilt                                                                                                                                                                                                               8vo Macmillan and Co., 1917

And Lot 139

Le Gallienne (Richard) RUDYARD KIPLING, A CRITICISM, inscribed on fly-leaf by the author : ‘ For Max from Dick. June 1900’, the portrait of Kipling altered by Max Beerbohm into a bitterly satiric caricature, and the title changed from ‘ Rudyard Kipling ‘ to ‘Rudyard Kipling’s soul’, original cloth, the leaf bearing the portrait detached and fore-edge frayed. 8vo 1900.

And lot 239

To the frontispiece of Frederick Whyte’s A Bachelor‘s London(1931), which features a drawing by Josephine Harrison entitled ‘ The House of the Light that Failed ‘, Beerbohm has added a pencil caricature of Kipling and four lines of verse parodying the poet:

Fred Whyte ‘e done me bloody proud,

So to Je’ovah Thunder-browed

Says I, “ O Jah, be with me yet,

Lest I forget, lest I forget.” 
Continue reading

Some literary curiosities inspired by Aubrey Dillon Malone’s  Stranger than Fiction (1999)


James Allen, an American  robber, left orders that after he died a copy of his autobiography, which had appeared in 1837,  be bound in his own skin and presented to one of his victims, John A. Fenno, as a sign of his remorse. After his death Fenno’s family bequeathed it to the Boston Athenaeum, where it can now be viewed.


The first poem published under the name of Dylan Thomas ( ‘His Requiem’) wasn’t his own but was copied from The Boys Own Paper. It was only after Thomas had become famous that this plagiarism was reprinted as a curiosity piece.


Mark Twain reviewed his own book, The Innocents Abroad, anonymously in 1869.


The smallest book ever printed was the 1985 reprint of the children’s story ‘Old King Cole’ by the Gleniffer Press of Paisley in Scotland. It measures 0. 9 cm high and the pages can only be turned by a needle. Eighty-five copies were printed, one of which can be bought through Abebooks for $1,045.


The eccentric French novelist George Perec (1936 – 82) wrote a book called La Disparition ( The Disappearance) in 1969 which didn’t use the letter ‘e’.  The English writer Gilbert Adair translated the text as A Void in 1995, replicating the non-‘e’ format.  Perec also wrote a novel which contains no other vowels except‘ e’. The first edition of La Disparitionis hard to find, but there is a copy of the 1979 edition in Abebooks priced at a very reasonable £205 !!


The bibliophile Maurice Hamonneau has bound a copy of  Hitler’s Mein Kampf in, appropriately enough, skunk skin. He also has a copy of All Quiet on the Western Frontbound in a First World War uniform.


In 1996 a book by a joker called Richard Ferguson called WhatMen Know About Women appeared which consisted of 200 blank pages.


Richard Templeton’s novelty item, The Quick Brown Fox (1945 ) contains 33 sentences all of which contain 26 letters of the alphabet. A copy of this very short book can be had online for a mere $10.


Jerzy Andrzejewski’s The Gates of Paradise (1960 ) has no full stops until the very last page of the book, which contains 40,000 words.


American Lord Timothy Dexter’s A Pickle for the Knowing Ones(1802) has no punctuation whatsoever. However, in 1838 he added a page onto the book which contained various grammatical appendages, such as colons, semi-colons, commas, exclamation marks etc. These, he suggested were for readers to scatter throughout the book. No copies of the first or 1838 editions of this rarity can currently be found for sale online. Continue reading

Ninety Years Ago : Christmas Books in 1930

Inspired by the Christmas edition of the Bookman for 1930 here is a heart warming fable about certain books and their rise in value over the years. It concerns Stephen, a precocious bookworm who later became a journalist on the TLS, his father, mother and sister Bessie and the new books that he decided to give them on Christmas Day in 1930. Like Covid hero Colonel Sir Thomas Moore, Stephen is still with us and the three books for which he paid little more than £2 10s in 1930, having raided his piggy bank for the purpose, are now worth more than £10, 000 !

PaterGreene Name of Action

Stephen was gazing around the bookshop to see what Pater might like and found a book with the word action in its title. As he knew that his father enjoyed adventure stories he bought a copy of The Name of Actionby someone called Graham Greene, who he’d never heard of. Unfortunately, Pater agreed with the novelist, who later condemned this book as being ‘of a badness beyond the power of criticism…the prose flat and stilted ‘ and consequently failed to finish reading his son’s gift, which was placed in the family bureau bookcase and never taken down again. Luckily, in 2020 Stephen’s grandson James, a book dealer by profession, discovered it ninety years later while visiting his granddad on his 100thbirthday. He looked it up in Abebooks and to his delight discovered that there were three or four copies of Greene’s hated novel, all of which, like his granddad’s copy, were in pristine condition. One of these was priced at $9,321 !




Peter was aware that his mother loved reading travel books and also liked the first novel of this young chap called Evelyn Waugh, so when he found a copy of Waugh’s travel memoir, Labels among all the books on Africa and Asia in the travel section he bought it for her. His mother was delighted with her present and over the next few years read it two or three times from cover to cover. Luckily, despite its use, the book managed to stay in good condition and James, on the hunt for further modern firsts in the bureau bookcase, found his late great aunt’s  copy, which he discovered was worth around $2,500 , according to Abebooks.


Looking around the shop for a book that Bessie might like Stephen immediately rejected those books that were likely to be unsuitable for the eight-year old sister, such as Rupert in Trouble againby Mary Tourtel and Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Little Pig. After some time he found a small pile of limited edition copies of Dream Daysby Kenneth Grahame all of which had been signed by the author and the illustrator Ernest Shepard. Although this book turned out to be more expensive than the two others he had bought, he knew that Bessie loved The Wind in the Willowsand Pooh Bear, so he gritted his teeth and bought the thing. Unfortunately, he had overestimated his sister’s interest in the whimsical side of Kenneth Grahame. Dream Daysturned out to me nothing like as funny as The Wind in the Willowsand eventually ended up in that bureau bookcase. Book dealer James found this too and was delighted to report back to his granddad that the book his ungrateful sister had returned to him was worth about £500. Continue reading

Walter Jerrold as book collector

Autolycus of bookstalls 001We at Jot 101 had not imagined the travel writer and biographer Walter Jerrold ( 1865 – 1929 ) to be a frequenter of second-hand bookstalls, but there he is as an unabashed collector of ‘unconsidered trifles ‘ in  Autolycus of the Bookstalls (1902), a collection of articles on book-collecting that first appeared in The Pall Mall GazetteDaily News, the New Age, and Londoner.

But as we already knew him as a biographer of Charles Lamb we should have known better, and indeed he mentions Lamb several times in his book. Jerrold’s range as a bibliophile was wider than Lamb’s, but he seems to have been particularly drawn to writers of the Romantic period. He wrote about collecting Thomas Hood, Cobbett, Coleridge, Southey, and Rev Sydney Smith, while also mentioning books on Oliver Cromwell and Ruskin. In addition, he appears to have rather liked association copies of all dates, and boasted that he had ‘snapped up ‘volumes bearing the signatures of Cardinal Manning, George Eliot, Sydney Smith and Thomas Noon Talfourd at ‘Metropolitan stalls’ in recent years. Jerrold was also tickled at the idea of buying books that had been displayed in the windows of very unliterary shops—in one particular instance an ‘ oil and colourman’s shop in the Seven Dials’, where a first of Ruskin’s Political Economy of Art and a Tennyson signed by George Eliot rubbed shoulders with ‘ soap, soda, pickles and jam ‘. Finding literary treasures in unlikely stores was probably more common in Jerrold’s time than it is now, although your Jotter does recall his first entry into collecting back in 1968, when he found an odd volume of the fifth edition of Johnson’s Dictionary and a battered early edition of Gay’s Fables, complete with nice copper plates, in the window of a car mechanic’s shop opposite Sketty Library in Swansea, along with spanners and a grease gun. After negotiating with the mechanic he secured the two tomes for just 2/6 ( 12p ).

Jerrold favoured ‘ Booksellers’ Row ( aka Holywell Street, off the Strand ), a disreputable  area cleared for the construction of Aldwych c 1900, from where he moved to ‘ that newer Booksellers’ Row which has sprung up in Charing Cross Road ‘, itself a product of slum clearance a little earlier. He also ( in passing ) mentions the stalls in Farringdon Street, for so many decades dominated by the Jeffrey family (see earlier blog in Bookride) , and Aldgate, in addition to the New Cut opposite Waterloo station. The two latter sites went many years ago and following the demise of George Jeffrey, the Farringdon bookstalls, where a lucky punter a few decades ago bought an early sixteenth century scribal copy of a work by Sir Thomas More for a few pounds, folded within a year or so. Today the only surviving ‘Booksellers’ Row ‘ is in Charing Cross Road. Continue reading