A scare-crow for lovers

I walked into my bodega some weeks ago — I didn’t say I wasn’t warned — and it was papered with red paper hearts with lacy edges. It’s the time appointed for love to seethe and burn at the edges. By the fifteenth the steam and grease rising from the griddle will’ve warped and spotted the red paper hearts with the lacy edges. The candy’ll cede its prominence to shamrocks and we’ll forget that we forgot to get flowers.

            Valentine’s Day has it right; professions of love should be acute; who could stand more? Propertius is as good a poet as any to take as our first warning: his love for his Cynthia is from the start confounded and oppressive:

tum mihi constantis deiecit lumina fastus
et caput impositis pressit Amor pedibus
donec me docuit castas odisse puellas (I.1.3-5)

then he cast my steady arrogant gaze down
and Love squashed my head with his feet
till he taught me to spurn chaste girls

Pound saw and seized this in his Homage to Sextus Propertius (London: Faber & Faber, 1934):

The harsh acts of your levity! Many and many.
I am hung here, a scare-crow for lovers. (XI.1.1-2)

Love-poems, love stories — the real fictitious ones, not these mythic letters from lovers — are catalogues of misery. My bitterness aside, this is a reality: the great majority of writing on love proffers failures of love, failures to love. Why, take our current president, who fell in line with his fascist forebear to boast of amorous failure: “I moved on her, and I failed. I’ll admit it… I did try and fuck her… I moved on her very heavily… I moved on her like a bitch. But I couldn’t get there.”

            Even when we get there — when Salome’s seven veils rise and fall in front of us — there is misery. Wilde makes his Herod choke with gory lust (Salome. London: Elkin Mathews & John Lane; Boston: Copeland & Day, 1894):

Ah, thou art to dance with naked feet!  ’Tis well! ’Tis well! Thy little feet will be like white doves. They will be like little white flowers that dance upon the trees…. No, no, she is going to dance on blood! There is blood spilt on the ground. She must not dance on blood. It were an evil omen… What is it to me? Ah! look at the moon! She had become red. She has become red as blood… (53)

The murderous king overlooks the monstrous menstruation before he is brought low to pay for his want.

            Blood seems to bubble up in the face of love. Take the tragic love of Jack and Ennis in “Brokeback Mountain” (Annie Proulx. Close Range. London: Fourth Estate, 1999).

Proulx. Close Range. Title.jpg

No need to recount the spit and grunting in the tent, rather the reunion in

“the fourth summer since Brokeback Mountain came on”: “they seized each other by the shoulders, hugged mightily, squeezing the breath out of each other, saying, son of a bitch, son of a bitch, then, as easily as the right key turns the lock tumblers, their mouths came together, and hard, Jack’s big teeth bringing blood, his hat falling to the floor, stubble rasping, wet saliva welling, and the door opening and Alma looking out for a few seconds at Ennis’s straining shoulders and shutting the door again…” (294-5).

Jack dies changing a tire (no need to look for metaphor) and “by the time someone came along he had drowned in his own blood” (311).

            From blood we come, naturally, to the end, to death. Patti Smith’s Just Kids (New York: Ecco, 2010) opens with Robert Mapplethorpe’s death: “I was asleep when he died” (xi). Smith promised Mapplethorpe on his death-bead she’d write the collection of memoirs. The whole thing is tinted grey. We learn about Mapplethorpe’s infected nipple. In the final chapter, “Holding Hands with God,” Smith tells us that when she heard on the telephone that Mapplethorpe had been hospitalized with AIDS-related pneumonia, “I drew my hand instinctively to my belly and began to cry” (265). She was pregnant. Later she recalls a story told her by Mapplethorpe’s patron Sam Wagstaff, who also died with AIDS:

“‘Peggy Guggenheim once told me that when you made love with Brancusi, you absolutely were not allowed to touch his beard.’” (269)

These moments of levity in the face of hideous decline are all printed in violet ink. The book is studded with Mapplethorpe’s photos. Smith calls them “the corporeal body of the artist”(ix). His self-portraits are little moments of love that is, at last at least, requited.

Protesting AbeBooks — *UPDATED*

As of today, we’re taking part in the widespread protest mounted by antiquarian booksellers against AbeBooks (owned by Amazon). The form of this protest is to put one’s books “on vacation” on AbeBooks (AB), which is to say, they are not listed for sale.

The proximate cause is the decision by AB no longer to support sellers in the Czech Republic, South Korea, Hungary and Russia. I wish, frankly, that I knew who started the protest; at this point we can do little more than claim to have joined a movement.

Opacity is much of the problem. AB did not initially provide the sellers with a reason. When pressed by the press (thanks, guys!) AB attributed the decision to a payment processor ceasing operations in those countries. Whether genuine cause or mere pretext, this ought to have been communicated to the sellers straightaway.

With the exception of South Korea (although they have banned Japanese books in the past), these countries have grim histories (and present policies) of banning books. AB isn’t banning books, but it is restricting their sale after having made themselves central and even indispensable to commerce. This “royal prerogative” of corporations — to make and unmake industries and places — needs to be examined and ought to be curtailed.

We have long known that AB is owned by Amazon. That has always been a source of discomfort to us because of Amazon’s role (not responsibility — role) in dismantling long-established systems of bookselling. Because we are a youngish bookshop without a large stable of clients, we felt that we ought to sell via AB because it is large and international. We were approached by AB at a book-fair as part of a bid to improve the quality of booksellers, and so we joined about two and a half years ago.

As we discussed whether to take part in the protest, I confess that I was hesitant (David was decisive): we are junior to other booksellers, we are just now getting established at our new location, the holiday season is coming up, we have no good alternative to AB. These are insufficient reasons, and David and I therefore stand with our colleagues — those in the countries affected and some 460 others who have mounted this protest — against this action.

J. Rosenberg, senior cataloguer
D. Johnson, proprietor

AbeBooks Protest.jpg


AB has now reversed its position — or, at least it has immediately reversed its decision, and promises to facilitate these booksellers indefinitely. Consequently, we have returned to AB.


~ Dedicated to my Sister, General of the Avant-Garde ~

It snuck up on me, but we have a lot of Samuel Beckett in the shop. None of it’s signed by the man himself, so perhaps I gave it short shrift. As I catalogued it, I realized that I know so little of his work. Just as Fitzgerald’s work suffers because so many are made to read Gatsby at a tender age, so too does Beckett’s oeuvre suffer from Godot-fatigue. Some of it is grand, some humble. Grandest of all, probably, is Beckett’s first appearance in print — at twenty-three, oy vey — in Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress with Letters of Protest by G. V. L. Slingsby and Vladimir Dixon (Paris: Shakespeare and Company, 1929).

Beckett’s is the first contribution in the collection, entitled “Dante… Bruno. Vico.. Joyce” [sic, and often “corrected”]. It shows a twenty-three-year-old (oy vey) deep in thrall to James Joyce, for whom Sylvia Beach put the Exagmination together. He finds in Joyce’s published work broadly, and in Finnegans Wake in particular, a strong whiff of the thinking of the Enlightenment philosopher Giambattista Vico. Beckett shows himself very much the precoque, the alumnus of Trinity College, Dublin, the English lecturer at the Ecole Normale Supérieur. His erudition is perhaps never again so bald.

From 1929 we have a silence through the thirties, attenuated by the first American edition (New York: Grove press, 1957) of his first novel, Murphy (orig. London: Routledge, 1938).

It is our first flash of Beckett’s sardony. Take for example a passage selected at random: “Miss Dew was now experimenting with quite a new technique. This consisted in placing her offering on the ground and withdrawing to a discreet remove, so that the sheep might separate in their minds, if that was what they wanted, the ideas of the giver and the gift” (101). It’s drily funny, and deeply sensitive to what would later be called mentality; even though this is narrative, Miss Dew’s view and voice are communicated. The form is recognizable enough, but the take on the peculiarity — not yet absurdity — of human behavior in the late interwar years is reminiscent of Waugh’s Scoop, which came out in the same year.

After the success of Godot (1953), Beckett had a wide berth with publishers; people would see (and perhaps buy) avant-garde fiction — plays and prose. Calder and Boyars and Faber and Faber served, perhaps somewhat grittingly, as the disseminators of his work in England. The prices of their books — Faber’s Play (1964) was 9/6-, Calder’s Imagination Dead Imagine (1965) was 8/6- for a mere fourteen pages in card wraps — were astoundingly high. One cannot imagine that the print runs were large.

But this is not a musing about print-runs (must it be about anything? Surely Beckett wouldn’t mind.) but about Beckett as an engine of the avant-garde. Not only did his publishers — Grove sold his work in America — struggle with the appeal of the work, but with the work itself.  Take, for example, his 1976 Footfalls, which is as much a work of choreography as it is of theater. Mounted in honor of his own seventieth birthday, it is much more eccentric typographically and prosaically than his earlier work.

What becomes clear, indeed, as one leafs through Beckett’s work, is the extent to which he succeeded in stepping out of the Joycean avant-garde and into his own; the advance-guard cannot embrace the rear-guard. The sheer joy in wordplay — which often thrums through the early work; one thinks of course of Love’s Labours Lost — so clearly visible in Godot, is eclipsed by the choreographic possibility of the “script”. This is nowhere clearer, perhaps, than in the assemblage of pieces under the title of Eh Joe & Other Writings (Faber, 1967).

From Act Without Words II.

From Film.

Eh Joe (originally broadcast on BBC television in 1966) is the most verbal of the pieces, but as the original voice of the woman, Nancy Illig, describes, “the voice becomes a technical device, on a par with the dolly”. Beckett sought monotony and quiet, almost a dissolution of the words rather than the sparkling precision demanded in earlier works. The other writings are Act Without Words II and Film, both without dialogue. They recall nothing so much as the guideline-art (or rule-art) of Sol LeWitt, which began in 1968; LeWitt illustrated a piece by Beckett in Harper’s Bazaar in 1969. If a play is typically a dialogue between its author and its performers, Act Without Words II and Film are rather dialogues between Beckett and the technical staff — grips and dollies, director and cinematographer and stagehand. Here Beckett is very much the creator of “performance” rather than “drama” per se; not a new or even a particularly controversial claim, but in the context of his written output, it is, hopefully, an interesting rhetorical exercise. The relationship between books and performance art is rich and fruitful but it is often more documentary than instructional. Since Beckett himself never performed (that I know of; I’d be fascinated to know of exceptions) he needed a means of conveying his conceptions to others. As such, he will perhaps irrevocably be thought a playwright (inter alia), but the term is very much too narrow to be accurate.


To close, the “resolution” of a “mystery.” Legendarily, Beckett had at the same time as Godot another play ready to mount: Eleuthéria (written as early as 1946).

Godot was simpler to mount, and so was more appealing to Roger Blin, who directed the première. Over time, Beckett came somewhat to disdain Eleuthéria (“Freedom” in Greek), and buried it. In 1985, Barney Rosset, the legendary publisher at Grove Press (which nearly exclusively printed Beckett’s work in America), was pushed out; Beckett offered to allow him to publish the text — in a new English translation — as a gesture of kindness, but then balked. Rosset held off, but when Beckett died in 1989, he began to pursue the project anew.

Michael Brodsky produced the translation for Rosset’s new imprint Foxrock — named for Beckett’s birthplace in the outskirts of Dublin — and, after considerable wrangling with the French executor of Beckett’s literary estate (a French edition was issued, almost out of spite, before this English-language edition of 1995). In addition to the ordinary trade edition (some thousands, according to Rosset’s collaborator John Oakes), there was a limited edition of 250 hors de commerce signed by Rosset and…

Well, no bookseller that I know of (including my benevolent and all-knowing employer, Mr. D. Johnson) could figure out the other two signers’ identities. I wrote to Professor Stanley Gontarski, the leading expert on Beckett, who provided the introduction to the volume, whether his was one of the signatures. Very kindly and rapidly, he replied in the negative but forwarded my query to Mr. Oakes, now publisher of OR Books, who confirmed: “the three signatures are Barney Rosset… myself, and Dan Simon, then the co-publisher of Foxrock and now publisher of Seven Stories Press.” There we have it!


(I extend my sincere thanks to Prof. Gontarski and to Mr. Oakes for their generous assistance.)





Springtime's for Aubrey

What’s one to do when certain that an author one loves would hate one? Waugh’s lampooning of Americans who speak and write sentences like that one is consistent and lethal. I’d fail Wilde’s tests, and Scott Fitzgerald would give me a cutting name — Rosefell, maybe, or Blandberg. Worst of all, I think, as a potential friend to the deceased authors I love is my unshakeable feeling that some books — pieces of music, plays, paintings — are seasonal. Rameau is the composer of autumn to me, and I always crank up the Schubert around this time of year. In the same gust comes Beardsley, who was such a finely tuned instrument of taste and manners that I’d surely snap the needle.

Dowson, Ernest. The Pierrot of the Minute. A dramatic phantasy in one act. Illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley. London: Leonard Smithers, 1897.


Pope, Alexander. The Rape of the Lock. An heroi-comical poem in five cantos. “Embroidered with nine drawings by Aubrey Beardsley.” London: Leonard Smithers, 1896.


Symons, Arthur (ed.). The Savoy. Illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley (et al.). Three volumes comprising all issues (eight). London: Leonard Smithers, 1896.

These three publications of the English belle époque speak lustily of the mood of the time. Everywhere the word “decadence” — falling down from — rose from lips but it is hard to see whence. From the bloat of Victorian corsets? From the mutton chops overdone? No, this era of cool, far outpacing the 1950’s hips, is bolstered by erudition rather than by disregard. Elvis wasn’t covering the songs Purcell or of Tallis.

Let’s take the items in their turn. Pierrot is a stock character of commedia dell’arte, a sad naïf sick in love, a clown in makeup only.

Beardsley mostly declowns him, leaving him only in a comic sack, its creases stippled, giving way to Picassoey reductions of the figure.

He has been rescued by Beardsley from the sappy sad-sack and launched into his modern form, the melancholy-clown-as-artist. Pierrot becomes the Everydecadent, so scarcely distinguishable is he from the other members of Beardsley’s menagerie.

The infinite erudition of Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy seems to have resurfaced.

The Rape of the Lock must have seemed like an Aesthetic manifesto from the past; indeed, had it not been printed at Smithers’s press one would seriously inquire why.

Symons and Beardsley, Shaw, Verlaine, Gosse — all were the heirs of Pope’s burlesque. Tongues occasionally emerge from cheeks — as in Beardsley’s Lysistrata drawings — but broadly, these illustrations are aimed at the connoisseur.

It is typical of the movement to label Beardsley an embroiderer; we think immediately of William Morris and Wilde’s gay costumery.

Turning finally to The Savoy, a vast edifice of the era — though Symons is at pains to claim “we are not Realists, or Romanticists, or Decadents. For us, all art is good which is good art” (vol. I, p. [5]) — the full whack of the movement hits us.

The balance of erudition and frippery is easy to mock from our so-post-caring roosts, but it so much informs the titans of the early twentieth century (This Means Waugh!) that it demands our attention. Even Beardsley turns out to have something of the Pope in him, as made clear in his illustrated poem on a virtuosic barber:

How came it then one summer day
Coiffing the daughter of the King,
He lengthened out the least delay
And loitered in his hairdressing?

The Princess was a pretty child,
Thirteen years old, or thereabout.
She was as joyous and as wild
As spring flowers when the sun is out.

He gold hair fell down to her feet
And hung about her pretty eyes ;
She was as lyrical and as sweet
As one of Schubert’s melodies.

Three times the barber curled a lock,
And thrice he straightened it again ;
And twice the irons scorched her frock,
And twice he stumbled in her train.

            (Vol. II (no. 3), p. 92, “The Ballad of a Barber”)

Yes, it is pretty, but prettiness is no crime. Perhaps it is flip but no more so that Pope’s Lock, just of a different cast. It sings with genuine melody. With Beardsley’s frontispiece illustration and his macabre little tail-piece, it winks, too.

Surely Springtime is the time of frip and of play, the maypole and the carnival. Shaking off the winter of Victoria, dour and gray, Beardsley humanizes our (great-)great-grandfathers, shows us their pretensions and their foibles. For that he will always be welcome to me as the days come finally to equinox.

Feast Your Eyes

To feast is human. It is nearly always, nearly everywhere the case. Gluts, whether caused by the slaughter of an animal, or by the harvest or some other windfall, are unavoidable, and those who possess the excess capitalize on it by sharing it in some way (surely this is the origin of capitalism). Feasts, therefore, tell us a great deal about a culture. How is food shared? When, where and by whom? How are the occasions for feasting marked? What is eaten? (Consider: the Greeks camped on the shores of Troy for a decade, yet Homer does not feed his heroes fish!) Nowadays, the anthropology and archaeology of feasting are fields of academic inquiry and debate, precisely because they yield such insight into a culture. Yet for much of the early history of printed books, this discussion was confined almost exclusively to Christian feasts, though “feast” is taken in its primary sense: a sacred rite, a metonym for a holiday. Enter Jean (probably) Muret:

Muret 2.jpg

Traité des Festins. Paris: Guillaume Desprez, 1682. First edition.

Like all good thinking minor nobility of the age of Louis XIV, Muret begins by defining his subject:

“Le Festin n’est autre chose qu’un assemblée de diverses personnes, qui sont invitées pour manger ensemble, & se divertir pendant le repas”
the Feast is nothing but a gathering of various people invited to eat together and to entertain one another during the meal (p. 1, A1r)

This may seem banal, but it is novel. Muret sees the feast as a phenomenon that links various kinds of human endeavor, and often the most significant. Although there is considerable attention given to Christian feasts — the entire last chapter, for example — Muret conceptualizes feasting as a category with wide application. He discusses feasts for births and weddings, military feasts, holy feasts, funerary feasts, coronation feasts and so forth. How do these differ? By holding these previously disparate sorts of “assemblées de diverses personnes” up against one another, he uncovers their common traits. The survey is typological but also chronological; it is larded (forgive the pun) with references to classical (mostly Roman) feasts; this gave rise to the title of its second manifestation in 1715 (Dissertation sur les festins des anciens Grecs et Romains…). How wise it is to see continuities in these rituals that might otherwise seem to be paragons of specificity.

For all this the book might be revolutionary enough, but it goes further. From these traverses across types of feast, Muret draws general precepts about feasting itself. There are sections on guest-lists and table-wares, but also on taking exercise before feasts (especially hunting; a nobleman’s adumbration of later anthropological theories of feasting vis à vis slaying a mammoth or a boar), and the all-important pre-feast bath. As such, this stands at the beginning of a vast category of literature — one that we often think of as beginning rather later — on the mores of entertaining and of hospitality more generally. What La Varenne did for the preparation of the food in the Cuisinier françois some thirty years earlier (1651), Muret did for the reciprocal end: consumption.

Muret 1.jpg


Duodecimo (6” x 3 3/8”, 153mm x 86mm): binder’s blank, ā8 b2(–b2) A8 B4 C8 D4 … T8 V4 X6 Y2 (Y2 blank) [octavo $4, quarto $2; –ā1]. 137 leaves, pp. [18], 230, [24], 2 blanks.



Untraveled Persia

In 1633 the Benedictine Abbey of Muri, near Basel, was flourishing under Dom Johann Jodok Singisen. His abbacy (1594-1644) saw the creation of a library over the porch of the abbey church. Into that library came a little vellum volume, telling of a distant land, to warm the hands of a black-habitted monk:

Note the ownership inscription at the bottom: "Mn'rÿ Muren."

Johannes de Laet. Persia seu Regni Persici Status. Variaque Itinera in atque per Persiam: cum Aliquot Iconibus Incolarum. Leiden: Elzevir, 1633.

De Laet was one of the founding members of the Dutch West India Company, corollary to the more infamous East India Company; the WIC had dominion over West Africa and the Americas. De Laet never went to Persia, but his learning was wide. A student of Joseph Scaliger, he deciphered and published an early history of Brazil, published a book on gems modelled on Theophrastus’ and edited Pliny’s Natural History. In brief, he was one clever fellow, and he thought New York was swell, so we count him as a Friend of the Shop.

Persia is split into two parts: de Laet’s own musings on the country — its topography and climate, mores, history, κτλ. — and a compendium of eleven other travelers’ accounts. I’m now reading Robert Byron’s Road to Oxiana — a gift to me from book-man plenipotentiary and Friend of the Shop, Thos. W- - - — and my mind’s eye is awash with visions of traceried mihrabs and minarets.

Imagine what the Benedictine monk at Muri must have thought when looking at the fantastical costumes he saw, reading of proskynesis and Mohammed and mosques. Heathenry! Or, perhaps, how lovely to wear feathers on one’s head. The engravings, executed by Cornelis Claeszoon Duysend, doubtless contributed to the publication of a second issue that same year; our copy, happily, belongs to the first issue.

Trimmed down to fit in the hand — our copy preserves a folded deckle-edge, giving a sense of the original sheet size

— one can imagine a monk slipping this into the fold of his habit and in his cell muttering the names of implausible places — Firusabad, Schiraz, Hispahan, Bestân, Ardshir — like inchoate prayers.

This book combines the two great genres of travel-writing, the arm-chair and the saddle-back, to arrive at a work of real erudition and insight. De Laet draws on the 1600 account of the Portuguese traveler Pedro Teixeira, which is itself a translation, more or less, of Mir Khwand’s 1497 Gardens of purity in the biography of the prophets, kings and caliphs, which is itself a compilation of… In short, we oughtn’t to malign De Laet’s work simply because he never went to Persia. By offering the autoptic accounts of others — from the mid-XVc Venetian traveler Giosafat Barbaro through to the Dutchman Nicholas Hem, whose journey was only published some ten years prior — he offers the reader both perspective and immediacy. His Latin is vigorous and clear, and he writes with the dispassion of a man who has no desire to travel thither.

Persia bellowsed the monks’ furnaces until the abbey at Muri was dissolved in 1841. Its library was dispersed, and this little volume found its way to the cantonal library of Aargau, where, most cruelly, it was stamped as a “Doublette” and, presumably, “de-accessioned,” as libraries getting rid of books wish to call it. Fortunatus et ego deos qui novi persicos.

Small octavo (4 5/16” x 2 1/4”, 111mm x 57mm). A-Aa^8 [$5]. 192 leaves, pp. 1-2 3-30 31 32 33 34 35 36-72 73 74-119 120-121 122-137 138-139 140-192 193-194 195-374, [8], 2 blanks.

The Dormancy Blog I

It's been... four months since we posted anything here. We've decamped from our phenomenal space at 1082 Madison alongside the incomparable Crawford Doyle. Our books are in sad little boxes. We too are sad little boxes, all bookless.

Hopefully our dormancy won't be too long, but in the meanwhile, I think we'd be well to post here weekly. It won't, as before, be about our own books, since they're dormant, but we hope to provide entertainment and edification all the same. We'll call it The Dormancy Blog.

Dante at Christmas

Now that it’s Advent, if you like, or the Christmas season (if you’re in marketing), one’s thoughts turn to family and the giving of tokens of affection. It’s easy to be cynical, as Tom Lehrer was in his Christmas Carol, but I prefer to be solemn and joyous, if I can muster it. If you’re not contemplating the Christ-child, you can at least take the time from work and contemplate, well, something else. It seems to me that, on balance, most old books have been gifts within families; this is quite significant. I have elsewhere outlined my theory of The Book’s Progress:

1. A book is loved and desired and bought.
2. A book is passed down, and loved for being loved by the donor.
3. A book is passed down and number of times, and becomes set-decoration, or, more optimistically, a hollowish token of beauty and erudition.

There are, of course, exceptions. Perverse as it may seem, I spend a little too much time thinking what I would rescue from the shop were there a fire. My answer isn’t our most valuable or the rarest or the most consequential, it is, though, the most constant and potent source of joy to my eye:

Dante Alighieri, ed. Baldassare Lombardi. La Divina Commedia di Dante Alighieri col comento del P. Baldassare Lombardi M.C. Ora nuovamente arrichito di molte illustrazioni edite ed inedite. Five volumes. Padua: Tipographia della Minerva, 1822.

Bound in contemporary vellum, stab-bound, the spines and covers are extra-gilt, with jolly red for title-piece and deep deep blue for number-piece. When we bought it, it was nearly coal-black, but with great timidity — perhaps temerity? — we cleaned it Elgin-marbles-style (i.e., with good sense), and now it truly glows.

Dante is, of course, a natural subject for Christmas (no in-laws–hell-fire jokes, please); so much of the narrative of descent and ascent is likened to birth and redemption. More poetically (than Dante?), I can see these volumes flickering in the light of a fireplace, their bow liquid at their heels.

A gift-inscription on the first free end-paper of each volume reads:

Margaret Lindsay
from her Affectionate
Grandmama — 
Rome 31st December
1838 — 

What a delightful gift to have received on one’s Grand Tour. But who was this Margaret Lindsay, and who her Affectionate Grandmama? Margaret Lindsay was born 31 December 1824 (what a fourteenth birthday present!), and received this set from her maternal grandmother, Lady Trotter (Margaret (née Gordon), wife of Sir Coutts Trotter, 1st Bt.); her paternal grandmother (the Hon. Mrs. Robert Lindsay (Elizabeth, née Dick)) had died in 1835. In 1846 Lindsay married her cousin Alexander Lindsay, who would in 1869 become the 25th Earl of Crawford and 8th Earl of Balcarres. The Earldom of Crawford is among the oldest in the United Kingdom. The 25th Earl and his son together built up the Bibliotheca Lindesiana, which at the turn of the twentieth century was one of the foremost private libraries in Europe. The present item does not bear a bookplate of the Lindesiana, perhaps because it remained in the personal collection of the countess. There are pressed flowers in the middle volume.

It is not hard to imagine why the countess held these books close, perhaps passing them to one of her daughters.

In the face of all the Tickle-Me-Elmi and Ex-boxes, let us all hope to receive books of beauty, and to give them to our daughters and granddaughters.

Qu(e)er(y)ing the Book.

It’s pride month in New York, and there is as much to be proud of as there is to mourn. We look to fiction especially for the sensitive treatment of gay sadness; but can we move past Giovanni’s Room and Maurice? Amidst all the lists and listicles of best gay books, I seldom see anything beyond fiction — but there’s more to see. Here, offered with pride, are three queer books.

  1. Hockney, David. Hockney’s Alphabet. Edited by Stephen Spender. London, Faber and Faber for the Aids Crisis Trust, 1991. Numbered 223 of an edition of 250 of a total edition of 300, signed by (most of) the contributors.


Hockney and Spender assigned a letter of the alphabet (plus the ampersand, reserved for T.S. Eliot) to twenty-six notable writers; Spender edited the contributions and Hockney illustrated each letter. The concept is simple but the execution is exceedingly fine. The full list of contributors is stunning (in alphabetical order of subject; those with a † against their names had not signed the book before its issue): Stephen Spender, Joyce Carol Oates, Iris Murdoch, *†Paul Theroux, †Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer, Seamus Heaney, Martin Amis, Erica Jong, Ian McEwan, Nigel Nicolson, Margaret Drabble, Craig Raine, William Boyd, V.S. Pritchett, Doris Lessing, William Golding, Arthur Miller, †Ted Hughes, Kazuo Ishiguro, Julian Barnes, John Updike, Susan Sontag, †Anthony Burgess, Douglas Adams, Patrick Leigh Fermor; additionally: †T.S. Eliot (&), †C.C. Bombaugh (“Alphabetical Alliteration”) and John Julius Norwich (chose Bombaugh’s contribution). *Our copy is additionally signed by Paul Theroux.


Amis contributes a bluntly sensitive essay for “H,” which I reproduce in full:

H is for Homosexual by Martin Amis

When I was nine or ten, my brother and I obliged a slightly older boy – Billy – on a deserted beach in South Wales. It didn’t last very long, and my brother and I took turns, but our wrists ached all day. These few minutes – later totemized by a friend as ‘Martin’s afternoon of shame with Billy Bignall’ – represent my active homosexual career in its entirety. But the memory leads on to another memory: the nausea and despair I experienced when, at the age of thirteen, I saw my Best Friend walking from the games field with his arm over the shoulders of another boy.

I wish I understood homosexuality. I wish I could intuit more about it – the attraction to like, not to other. Is it nature or nurture, a predisposition, or is it written in the DNA? When I think about it in relation to myself, it is not the memory of Billy Bignall that predominates, but the other memory, somehow expanded, so that its isolation and disquiet become something lifelong. In my mind I call homosexuality not a ‘condition’ (and certainly not a ‘preference’). I call it a destiny. Because all I know for certain about homosexuality is that it asks for courage. It demands courage.

The other two are photography books, and need few words.


2. Goldin, Nan. The Other Side 1972-1992. NY: Scalo, 1993. First English-language edition.


3. 21st Editions. Journal of Contemporary Photography. Volume 3 (The Clandestine Mind). Photographs by John Dugdale. Trade edition. Numbered 76 of an edition of 110, 100 of which are for sale, of a total edition of 165. Signed by Dugdale, Robert Olen Butler (contributing poet), Morri Creech (contributing poet) and John Wood (editor) on limitations page.


Dugdale established the John Dugdale Studio of 19th C Photography and Aesthetics to explore the techniques and ethos of earlier photography. He lost nearly all of his eyesight as a symptom of HIV, and reverted to older methods of picture-making.


As we celebrate queerness this month and every month, let us consider queer aesthetics — what they are, whether they are, and how they came to be. Yes, there is the loud narrative of homoeroticism, to which Dugdale is keenly attuned, but there is more: Hockney’s playfulness, Goldin’s oiliness and her subjects’ various takes on beauty. Altogether these books fragment and refract the monolith of a queer aesthetic, proving that it is not unto itself but entwined with other aesthetics. Queer aesthetics do not fit into a ghetto; Dugdale and Goldin are essentially opposite. Let us take this into account as we celebrate and mourn.

A Well-Connected Dictionary

Johnson’s Dictionary, sub Aristocracy:

Aristo'cracy. n.s. [ἄριστος, greatest, and κρατέω, to govern.] That form of government which places the supreme power in the nobles, without a king, and exclusively of the people.

Books survive best in environments of benign neglect, which is why so many old books bear aristocratic associations. This is not to cast aspersions on the intellectual attainments of the aristocracy; indeed, it is these very attainments that bring books into aristocratic houses in the first place. Yet such ardor is seldom maintained through the generations, and so the books, much to our gain, become heirlooms and then set-decoration for the good life, the thick couch of dust preserving their gilt edges.

Though American publishers would come to outstrip their English counterparts by the middle of the XIXc, they lagged rather pointedly before. Thus English books were prime desiderata of the American upper classes. And so we come to:

Johnson, Samuel. A Dictionary of the English Language: in which the words are deduced from their originals, and illustrated in their significations by examples from the best writers. To which are prefixed, A History of the Language, and An English Grammar. Four volumes. London: Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, Paternoster-Row; J. Johnson; W.J. and J. Richardson; J. Walker; R. Baldwin; F. and C. Rivington; T. Payne; R. Faulder; W. Lowndes; G. Wilkie and J. Robinson; Scatcherd and Letterman; T. Egerton; P. Wynne; J. Stockdale; Crosby and Co.; J. Asperne; Ogilvy and Son; Cutchell and Martin; Lackington, Allen, and Co.; Vernor and Hood: [sic] J. and A. Arch; Cadell and Davies; S. Bagster; J. Harding; J. Mawman; R.H. Evans; Blacks and Parry; J. Hatchard; J. Booker; W. Stewart; T. Ostell; Payne and Mackinlay; R. Phillips; E. Mathews: and Wilson and Spence, York; 1805. Ninth edition, corrected and revised.

Truthfully, this is not a distinguished edition. It is the first to bear John Aikin’s Life of Dr. Samuel Johnson, but… 

1805 is a year of consequence for the Johnsonian, as it is then that the first American edition, printed in Philadelphia, appeared. But by 1819, the London edition of the same year was more desirable to a prominent American abolitionist named Lewis Tappan.

Lewis Tappan.

Lewis Tappan.

Tappan (1788-1873) famously represented and secured the freedom of the Africans who were enslaved and transported on La Amistad, whose mutiny in 1839 so advanced the cause of abolition in America. (Tappan was also instrumental in the founding of Oberlin College, the first in America to accept black students.) In 1819, not yet so prominent, he paid the vast sum of $20 (some $350 in current money; the value in sterling, £4.18.9 before duties, is about $900 in current money) to have his brother-in-law, Colonel Thomas Aspinwall, the U.S. Consul in London, purchase and send these four volumes. Tappan very helpfully recorded all this on the second free end-paper of vol. I:

Lewis Tappan,/ April, 1819/ Bought in London by/ Colonel Aspinwall/ Cost £3.13.6 st[erlin]g/ ex[port?] 1. 4. 6/––––/£4.18.0/ or/ $16.33/ Duties 2.69/ ––––/ 19.02/ c. item[?] 98/ [curlicued] ––––/ $20./ 4 vols.

This would soon be small change to Tappan, who in 1841 established the Mercantile Agency. He hired lawyers of repute — including Abraham Lincoln, another prominent abolitionist — to help assess the creditworthiness of those who wanted to borrow money; this would eventually become the great credit firm Dun & Bradstreet.

Susanna Aspinwall Tappan, looking Byronic.

The Aspinwall-Tappans (Lewis Tappan married Susanna Aspinwall) were also a literary family — leaving aside their relation to Benjamin Franklin. Lewis Tappan’s son, William Aspinwall Tappan, was a friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson (who solicited a poem for the Dial) and used to take long walks with Thoreau. Tappan’s daughter, Mary Aspinwall Tappan, lived on an estate in the Berkshires, and on this estate was a cottage in which Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote Tanglewood Tales for Boys and Girls. The estate was named Tanglewood after the book. Miss Tappan donated it in 1937 to the Boston Symphony Orchestra for its summer festival of the same name.

Our Dictionary sits prettily at the nexus of this mid-XIXc artistic community, but its history continues, thanks to a laid-in letter from a later owner, Edward Augustus Bowen. Dated July 14, 1924, Bowen (Tappan’s grandson through his daughter Lucy Maria Tappan) writes to his nephew, Henry Chandler Holt, giving the volumes to Holt’s newborn daughter, Susanna Aspinwall (†2002). There is a rough draft on the of the letter on the back of an invitation card to the high-society wedding of Sarah Tod Bulkley (to Francis F. Randolph) on 3 November (1923); there does not seem to be a connection to the Bulkleys (other than that Bowen was invited to their wedding) — it was perhaps merely a scrap of paper to hand.

The Bowens of Woodstock, Connecticut are an old American family of English and Welsh descent, established in Connecticut already in the early XVIIc. Their “Cottage” — Bowen’s letter notes that it was once called Roseland Cottage, but was called Roseland after the arrival of Ellen Holt in the 1860’s — in Woodstock, CT was a center of upper-class New England summer life, hosting vast Fourth-of-July celebrations and at least four presidents, as well as Henry Ward Beecher and Oliver Wendell Holmes among others.

Henry Chandler Bowen, father of Edward Augustus Bowen.

The Holts, too were prominent; George Chandler Holt, Bowen’s brother-in-law (Henry Chandler Holt’s father), was a federal judge for the Southern District of New York, appointed by Theodore Roosevelt.

One ought really to be fined for dropping so many prominent names; sua culpa, sua culpa, sua maxima culpa. Still, the present item is the product of the network of these prominent families, a palimpsest of the reception of the most English of texts into American high society.


Octavo (9 1/8” x 5 1/2”, 231mm x 141mm).
Vol. I: binder’s blank, π2(–π1) a8 2a4 b-k4 l4(–l4) B4 C-3G8 3H6, binder’s blank [$2; quarto quires $1]. 470 leaves, pp. [2], 1 2-15, [1], i ii-lxxxvi, [848]. Two engraved plates: a frontispiece and a plate to face the Life.
Vol. II: A2(–A1, ±A2) B-3L8 3M2 [$2]. 451 leaves, pp. [1], blank, [899], [1].
Vol. III: A2(–A1) B-3L8 3M4 [$2]. 453 leaves, pp. [1], blank, [904].
Vol. IV: A2(–A1, ±A2) B-3A8 3B8 (–3B8) 3C-3M8 [$2]. 456 leaves, pp. [1], blank, [910].


Lord Byron: Sex God

Despite his club-foot, Lord Byron really got around (apologies). I don’t know whether he was a genuinely accomplished lover, but it hardly matters in his designation as an erotic deity; the man knew how to write a love-poem.

Byron, Lord George Gordon Noel. Hebrew Melodies. London: John Murray, 1815. First edition, first printing. 

The first poem in the collection need only be quoted in part:

She walks in beauty, like the night
  Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And of all that’s best of dark and bright
  Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow’d to that tender light
  Which heaven to gaudy day denies. (B2r)

How could any one resist such lines? Change, if you will, “She” to “He”, “her” to “his” – it doesn’t do too much damage to the sonority – and you have a poem that can be recited to your love, wherever on the gender spectrum he or they may sit. What happens next, which is not the purview of this flimsy Web-log, is up to you, but the saying will ennoble and enflame both you and your audient(s).

Of further interest – doubtless after the chocolate soufflé that you must remember to order before the entrée has fallen – is the provenance of our copy: it belonged to Francis L. Randolph, Byron’s bibliographer. Randolph used it as an exemplar of the first state (i.e., first edition, first printing) of the collection. Included with the volume is a type-script of Randolph’s notes with some manuscript annotations.


The Hebrew Melodies are true lyric poems, having been set to the music of Isaac Nathan in April of 1815; the lyrics, as it were, were published in the present item in summer of the same year (as the date of the advertisements at rear confirms). Convinced by Lady Caroline Lamb, his mistress, to collaborate with Nathan, Byron attributes the decision to write the poems to his friend (and banker) the Hon. Douglas Kinnaird. If you have a good clear voice, sing it to your love.


Octavo (8 3/4” x 5 9/16”, 222mm x 142mm). binder’s blank, A4 B-D8 E4 F4 G2, binder’s blank; 38 leaves; pp. [8], 53, blank, [10], [4]; half-title A1r, title A2r, note A3r, contents A4r, half-title B1r, Murray advertisements E4r-v, half-title for  Works of the Right Hon. Lord Byron. printed by T. Davison F1r, title for The Works of the Right Hon. Lord Byron Vol. I published by Murray F2r, half-title for Works… (identical to F1r) F3r, title for The Works… Vol. II F4r, Murray advertisements (dated “June, 1815.”) G1-2.


It’s official: Sea-Weed is Not Dull. Impediment to swimming I know thee well, but how little I knew thee till I saw thee nature-printed.

Johnstone, William Grosart & Alexander Croall. The Nature-Printed British Sea-Weeds: A History, accompanied by figures and dissections, of the algæ of the British Isles. Four volumes. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1859-1860.

Nature-printing is transacted by placing a flattish specimen (sea-weed, fern, lace) between a steel plate and a lead plate, rolling the two together and stereotyping the lead plate. The result: detail and fidelity, especially to the size of the original specimen (which can hardly be helped). As a result, the plates are raised in the exact proportion of the specimen itself.

Henry Bradbury at the age of twenty-four adapted (adopted?) the process from Alois Auer, who was forever bitter that he was plagiarized (though there are XIIIc examples of nature-printing…). At twenty-nine, in the year the final volumes of The Nature-Printed British Sea-Weeds appeared, Bradbury committed suicide, despairing of the stain to his name. The death of its prime mover and the huge cost of the process limited the number of books printed with the technique to perhaps half a dozen within England. The polychromy and the range of textures in the prints is staggering. Sit Bradbury terra levis.

Quarto (9 7/16” x 6 3/16”, 240mm x 156mm).
Vol. I: a4 b4 B-AA4 BB2 [$1]. 102 leaves, pp. i-ix x-xii xiii xiv-xv, blank, 1 2-188 [= xvi, 188]. 71 plates.
Vol. II: a4 b2 B-CC4 DD2 [$1]. 108 leaves, pp. [1], blank i-vii viii-ix, blank, 1 2-203, blank [= ii, x, 204]. 69 plates.
Vol. III: a4 b2 B-CC4 [$1].106 leaves, pp. i-vii viii ix x-xi, blank, 1 2-200 [= xii, 200]. 54 plates.
Vol. IV: a4 b4 B-SS4 TT2 [$1]. 170 leaves, pp. i-vii viii ix x-xiv xv, blank, 1 2-324 [= xvi, 324]. 26 plates.

A Big Old Good Book

In the year 1800, Thomas Macklin published a huge bible.

[Bible in English.] The Old [and] The New Testament Embellished With Engravings from Pictures and Designs by the Most Eminent English Artists. Six volumes. London: Printed for Thomas Macklin, by Thomas Bensley, 1800. First edition.

It remains the largest bible ever printed (by letter-press; there’s a Hawaiian bible that’s much larger that was printed via a rather ingenious wheel fitted with rubber stamps). Embellished is an apposite descriptor; in the title it refers to the 70-odd engravings taken from painters such as Joshua Reynolds and Henry Fuseli, but it is a much more sumptuous production than that.

Reynolds's Holy Family. After his painting now at the Tate Gallery

Thomas Macklin caused a new type-face to be designed and paper to be made expressly for this edition, whose subscribers included most of the Royal Family. The cost to Macklin was reportedly over £30,000 (embellished, indeed). Much of the cost will have been in the production of the plates. At least he didn’t have to pay for a translation (King James took care of that).

Our set was bound by Charles Hering, the London bookbinder who was in several ways the successor of Roger Payne, the greatest English bookbinder of the late eighteenth century. He was patronized especially by Earl Spencer. Lord Byron through rather highly of him. The binding is embellished too, bound in straight-grained deep blue morocco with a dense gilt border, gilt inside dentelles running around all four sides of the paste-downs, and refined gilding to the spine with its six pairs of raised bands.

The present item is in certain ways unusual. First, the list of subscribers follows the text rather than precedes it, as is usual. Second, the text itself occupies five volumes rather than the six called for by the table of contents. Third, the sixth volume contains most of the plates en bloc, instead of having them integrated with the text as is usual. Thus, the set is six volumes in five, plus one. The half-title and title-page of volume six are used at the beginning of volume six (the plates), so nothing is missing. This was doubtless the preference of the original purchaser, who had it so sumptuously bound. A fourth point is the foot-notes, or rather their lack. At the lower edge of several pages foot-notes in a smaller type are to be found, commenting on the text, but nearly are cut off. Oddly, at least one page preserving a deckle edge at the bottom (5Z1 in vol. I) contains a cut-off foot-note, which appears to be unevenly inked. I find it difficult to believe that Hering or his customer would have trimmed the book, whose raison d’être, it might be said, is vastness. Was there an even larger-paper format destined, perhaps, for subscribers? Certainly some copies listed boast slightly larger dimensions than ours, though many cataloguers measure the size of the book rather than of the text-block, which is the dimension of true import. The bibliographies and library catalogues do not mention foot-notes.

Also of interest is the book-plate in all six volumes of George Alexander Baird, of Stichill (1861-1893).

The heir to a great coal and iron fortune built by his grandfather, Baird attended Eton for a year and Magdalene, Cambridge for two, but his great interest was horse-racing. Under the name Mr. Abington (or Squire Abington), Baird was a gentleman jockey, breeder and owner. Baird’s father died in 1870, and the young lad was famously spoiled by his mother. He spent his leisure time in the stables (looking, as a Freudian would doubtless say, for a father-figure) and once he came of age used his inheritance to fund his racing and a gallant lifestyle that drew attention from the British and American press; this only intensified when he took up with actress Lillie Langtry (better known for her affair with Edward VII when he was Prince of Wales).  He came to America in 1893 (it is fanciful to hope that he brought this bible with him) and fell ill while prize-fighting in New Orleans, where he died in the St. Charles Hotel. All this was followed with breathless articles in the New York Times, which make for good reading, e.g.:

At first it was believed that he was suffering from a heavy cold, which he contracted when he seconded Jim Hall in his fight with Fitzsimmons. It developed shortly into pneumonia. High fever followed, and his temperature has been as high as 106º. Two female nurses remain constantly by his side, besides his faithful valet, William Monk, and his private secretary, “Ed” Bailey. For two days now he has been delirious, and has taken scarcely any food. Whenever his valet enters the room the Squire in his delirious state jumps up and calls for his clothes, and if it were not for the valet holding him in bed he would injure himself. 

    March 18, 1893 (the day of his death).


Folio (18 1/2” x 14 11/16”, 470mm x 373mm).
Vol. I: π-2π2 A-7E2, binder’s blank [$1; +D2; –2M]. 281 leaves, pp. [viii], [554].
Vol. II: binder’s blank, π2 7F-13I2 [$1]. 240 leaves, pp. [iv], [676].
Vol. III: π2 †A-†8E2 [$1]. 334 leaves, pp. [iv], [664].
Vol. IV: π-2π2 †8F–†13G2 [$1]. 300 leaves, pp. [vi], [594].
Vol. V: binder’s blank, π2 ‡A-‡8S2 ‡8T2(–‡8T2) a-b2, binder’s blank [$1]. 365 leaves, pp. [iv], [718], [8].
Vol. VI: binder’s blank, π2, 67 plates, binder’s blank. 2 leaves, pp. [iv].

De libribus perditis

A book is missing. It’s unique: Truman Capote’s own copy of In Cold Blood, signed by him. 

As an object it’s nothing to look at, so what galls me is that I must have sung its praises to someone, who then took it. I’m not a bookseller, really, and my credibility as a bibliographer is shaky; I trade on my enthusiasm for the books in this shop, and I do my very best to explain and transmit that enthusiasm. What a shame, then, if that same enthusiasm is to blame for the disappearance of In Cold Blood.

Bibliophiles are evangelists for the incomparable, irreplaceable physicality of books. Today I was working on Macklin’s 1800 folio bible (about which more when I've done with it), the largest ever printed by letterpress, bound by Hering (who was admired by Lord Byron) in blue straight-grained morocco. I’m lucky. But most books aren’t – weren’t, even – like this gilt monster. What’s so special about mass-market edition-bound books?

When I was abroad, my father put my books into storage. Once I returned, I retrieved them and found them ruined by damp, water (different from damp) and rodents. They bore the imprint of the milk-crates in which they had been lain. I had nothing of value, nothing a bookseller would value, but these books limned my mind’s progress from its earliest. My copy of Charlotte’s Web with my feeble first-grade pencil signature broke apart. The copy of Little Men given me by my grandmother stank and rotted. The very first rare book I’d bought ($5 at Housing Works on Crosby Street), an 1850 Paradise Lost with flowers pressed in, turned a putrid color and went to pieces. I stood over them and wept, the closest I ever hope to come to losing a child.

I’m not sure my tale of woe has anything to do with the lost Capote, though both are awfully sad. Having books means having books to lose.

A Ducal Voyage

Booksellers cherish provenance, and yet they are so often the engines of its destruction. I’m not sure that I’ve anything more profound than that to say on the matter, but if one’s going to rejoice in something, one must acknowledge one’s hypocrisy in the rejoicing, lest one be a hypocrite.

First, let’s sing the praises of the book itself.

Dampier, William. A New Voyage Round the World. Describing particularly, The Isthmus of America, several Coasts and Islands in the West Indies, the Isles of Cape Verd, the Passage by Terra del Fuego, the South Sea Coasts of Chili, Peru, and Mexico; the Isle of Guam one of the Ladrones, Mindanao, and other Philippine and East India Islands near Cambodia, China, Formosa, Luconia, Celebes, &c. New Holland, Sumatra, Nicobar Isles; the Cape of Good Hope, and Santa Hellena. Their Soil, Rivers, Harbours, Plants, Fruits, Animals and Inhabitants. Their Customes, Religion, Government, Trade, &c. Three volumes. London: Printed for James Knapton. Vol. I: fifth edition corrected, 1703; vol. II: third edition, 1705; vol. III: second edition, 1709.

First man to circumnavigate the globe thrice (a stretch, but a long stretch) and first Englishman to land deliberately on New Holland (present day Australia – oi, oi, oi!), William Dampier was a buccaneer promoted to the captaincy of a Royal Navy ship largely on the strength of the first volume of this book (which was originally published in 1697 as a stand-alone account). His accounts of the Southern Hemisphere – Brazil, Chile, China, Vietnam, Australia – gripped the nation so much so that he went on two further circumnavigations to satisfy their curiosity.

The influence of the work cannot be overstated. It contains the first natural historical observations on (and illustrations of) the species of Australia, and these helped to shape Darwin’s theories of evolution by natural selection. Its analysis of global currents and winds informed the explorers that succeeded him. Its Nachleben is equally literary: Dampier is mentioned by name in Gulliver’s Travels (and it seems quite clear that the Yahoos are taken from his description of the Hottentots); Alexander Selkirk, who was a likely model for Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, was a crew-member on Dampier’s 1703 voyage; and Simon Hatley, who shot an albatross as a sailor aboard another of Dampier’s voyages, is immortalized in Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Shouldn’t that be enough? Now to the provenance of the volumes. Behold: the full and florid signature of George Spencer, 4th Duke of Marlborough (1739-1817) along with the date.

The stature of Marlborough need hardly be rehearsed. Blenheim Palace is the only non-royal non-episcopal palace in England; just outside of Oxford, it is magnificent, and its library, called Sunderland after one of the secondary titles of the Duke (usually used as a courtesy title by the heir apparent: the Earl of Sunderland), was once one of the greatest in England. The fifth Duke, George Spencer-Churchill, was a noted bibliophile. Yet by the time of the seventh Duke (grandfather of Sir Winston Churchill), the finances of the estate were precarious, and he sold off pictures, furniture and books –  including the present volumes – 

to reverse his fortunes, which was not achieved until the marriage of his grandson, the ninth Duke, to Consuelo Vanderbilt, heiress of the Vanderbilt railroad fortune.

Second, a bookplate with the arms of the Wharton family (that’s a maunch, a stylized sleeve):

It is difficult to ascertain which Wharton’s bookplate is found in the volumes, and whether he was the owner before or after the Duke of Marlborough, in whose library it remained from 1779-1882. If before, it belongs to Thomas Wharton, M.D. of Old Park Hall, County Durham (†1714, son of Thomas Wharton, M.D., who was instrumental in ending the 1666 plague of London). The shape of the shield with its characteristic “ears” as well as the style of the engraving does point to an eighteenth-century date. If after, it belongs to a descendant of Thomas Wharton, Henry Wharton of Highfield, Canterbury, New Zealand (b. 1844), who will perhaps have bought it at the Quaritch sale of 1885-6. It would seem that the placement of the bookplate in vol. I respects the placement of the Duke’s signature, whereas the other two bookplates are centered on the page. The strong association of the work with the Antipodes would have made it attractive to the New Zealander.

We purchased it (in the interest of full disclosure) on the East End of Long Island, whither it came from some Gold Coast Mansion, no doubt.


Vol. I: A-Mm8 Nn4 [$4; –A1]. 284 leaves, pp. [10], I II-VI, 1-384 387-550, [4] [=xvi, 548, 4]. Three engraved folding maps, one engraved map. Collated perfect with British Library copy (303.h.22).

Vol. II: A4 B-M8 N4 Aa-Hh8 Ii4 Aaa-Ggg8 [A]4 [a]4 [B]4 [b]4 [C]4 [c]4 [D]4 [d]4 [E]4 [e]2 [$4; –Ii3; Ddd3 mis-signed as “Dd3”]. 258 leaves, pp. [8], 1-184, 21-132, [4], 31-112, [76]. Four engraved folding maps. The third and fourth maps (before 31 [Aaa1]) are reversed; otherwise collated perfect with British Library copy (303.h.23). 

Vol. III: A8 a4 B-M8 2A-O8 [$4; –A1, 2A1; H4 mis-signed as “G4”]. 212 leaves, pp. [24], 1-162, [14], [16], 21-198, [10]. Two engraved folding maps, thirty-one engraved plates (14 in part I, 17 in part II). British Library copy (303.h.24(1) and (2)) has plates of part I out of order; the present item is correct; else collated perfect.

Speak-Easy Christmas

Christmas approaches, even here in our Aladdin’s cave of books. We’re still working, but really we’re “working” as the rain keeps the punters at the Met and old friends drop by. We’ve set out cheese, nuts, chocolate and ten or so bottles of rare or unusual whiskies; not one but three people today have called us a speak-easy. Fine. This set me thinking of Hirschfeld, and two glories we have in the shop, which rank high on the list of Books I Don’t Want To Go.

The first is the link:

Hirschfeld, Al. Manhattan Oases. New York’s 1932 Speak-Easies. Text by Gordon Kahn. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1932. First edition. Signed.

Prohibition, the result of the eighteenth amendment to the Constitution, had been in swing (or whatever the opposite of swinging is) for over a decade when Al Hirschfeld and Gordon Kahn (who would later become a HUAC piñata) collaborated to chronicle and to send-up the culture of speak-easies and the men who ran them.

Hirschfeld’s caricatures are much more restrained, on the whole, than his later work for which he is perhaps better known. Kahn’s text is often savage, describing filth, corruption and disgusting cocktails. The years between the beginning of the Great Depression and the repeal of Prohibition must have been difficult ones.


Flash forward nine years, when the economy is rebounding, unemployment has dropped, and the U.S. hadn’t yet entered the second world war:

Hirschfeld, Al. Harlem As Seen by Hirschfeld. Text by William Saroyan. NY: The Hyperion Press, 1941. First edition.

Here Hirschfeld’s jubilance and sharp eye are on full view. Shrewdly observed, though sometimes veering toward stereotype, the drawings capture the Harlem of jazz myth (and a little bit of Bali). They were Hirschfeld's favorites of his own work; they were framed and hung in his apartment on the Upper East Side.

Bibliographically, our copy is of some interest. Issued in an edition of 1,000, ours is numbered 5 and signed by Hirschfeld.

Most unusually, though, ours it also dated: “November 24 1941”, twelve days before the official date of publication: 6 December 1941, the day before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In that light, the date of signing is halcyon, the quiet before the storm. Our copy must have been quickly put away, for it is in remarkable shape: it has the publisher’s card-board slip-case (with the copy number neatly inked to the case’s spine) and the original glassine dust-wrapper. The inside is fresh and clean, a time capsule from the days before the war; I can think of no better.

Was Creation on a Saturday?

As we’re now only ten days away from Christmas, I write today on Marshall’s Chronological tables:

Marshall, Benjamin and William Lloyd. Chronological Tables In which are contain’d not only all the chief things of Sacred History from the Creation of the World till Christ’s Time, but also all other the most Remarkeable Things of those times that are recorded in any of the Antient Writers now extant. For the Church Matters, They, are chiefly collected out of the Holy Scriptures: but not without such additions as are to be had out of Josephus. For the Other Matters, They are taken partly out of Africanus and Georgius Syncellus; and partly out of Eusebius, and St Jerom: not without consulting the most learned Joseph Scaliger; and those most eminent Chronologers of our own Country, Arch-Bishop Ussher and Sr John Marsham, and Mr Dodwell. But immediately as to Church Matters, for them we are most particularly indebted to the present Lord Bishop of Worcester: as well in what is contain’d in the Tables before, as also but more especially in the Appendix which his Lordship hath added in the end of the Third, and is continued in the Whole Fourth Table. All these Tables were compiled, and are here represented together. Eight sheets in four. Oxford: At the Theater [viz. Oxford University Press], 1712-1713 [1713].

These four magnificent tables, each composed of two sheets of super royal paper (ca. 25” x 17”) pasted long-end to long-end (thus 34” x 25”), chart the events – births, reigns, occurrences and the like – of the whole ancient Western world from Creation to the birth of Christ.

Benjamin Marshall was a domestic chaplain to the William Lloyd (1627-1717), Bishop of Worcester. Lloyd worked for many years to revise the chronology of James Ussher (1581-1656), Archbishop of Armagh, which established the creation at 6 pm on Saturday, 23 October 4004 B.C.; these tables also contain a calculation according to the Alexandrian Septuagint (LXX), which takes the year of creation as 5260. It is unclear to what extent Lloyd and Marshall worked together; Lloyd wrote the whole of the lengthy appendix on the life of Christ and the decades following his death (the second half of table 3 and all of table 4). Because some sources for the dates are extra-biblical, the tables ultimately become a chronology of the whole ancient world: Egypt, Assyria, Greece, Sicyon, Troy, Macedon, Rome all correlated with the bible by column. A major goal of the project was to establish the correct (fixed) dates for the major Christian festivals. Lloyd focused on the nativity (set as 25 December, 4 before A.D.), and calculated from years before and after A.D. (i.e., the traditional year of Christ’s birth, set by Dionysus Exiguus). Thus the tables mark the beginning of the calendar of festivals that governs much of the world today. Lloyd was mocked for his Ussherism, but he was a man of profound learning; the British Library has correspondence between Lloyd and Isaac Newton on the subject of the lunar year. The scale of the project’s ambition matches its product’s size.

For a detailed treatment, see Scott Mandelbrote, “‘The doors shall fly open’: Chronology and Biblical Interpretation in England, c. 1630-1730” in The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in England, c. 1530-1700, edd. K. Killeen, H. Smith, R.J. Willie, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 176-195, esp. 192-195.

ESTC T93609.