Friday, 29 April 2011

Our First Tour in Search of the Picturesque

In a previous essay, I wrote about the tours in quest of the picturesque undertaken by the leisured classes around the end of the 18th century, in response to the works of William Gilpin and others.

Thomas West's "Guide to the Lakes", first published in 1778, advised the traveller on where to go and what to see and, in particular, Thomas West identified 'Stations', or specific locations from which the most sublime views were revealed.

Further help for the traveller was provided by way of a set of maps of the lakes published in 1794 by Peter Crosthwaite. These maps marked the Thomas West stations and provided helpful advice on what could be seen from them.

A helpful geocacher has provided grid references for the Thomas West stations as part of a geocaching puzzle so the task of finding the stations is even easier than in Thomas West's day, when travellers were advised to look for such markers as a picturesque ash or a distinctive boulder to guide them on their way.

Thus educated, we set off with GPS in hand to visit the four stations on Coniston Water. Actually, there are only three stations that can be visited on foot, the fourth being actually on the lake. The first three are all on the east side of the lake, looking over the lake to the grand prospect of Coniston Old Man and Dow Crags.

The Stations are identified on Crosthwaite's map as shown below:

It was a beautiful Saturday morning in spring and we anticipated a calm progression following the narrow road around the east side of the lake and marvelling as the vistas opened out in front of us. However, the sublimity of our experience was somewhat jarred as the day we chose was that of the "Coniston 14 plus", a road race being run by several hundred around the lake. Weaving our way through the runners we did manage to reach the three stations.

Station 1 is located at Nibthwaite at the southern end of the lake. Unfortunately, there is now no public access to the lakeside at this point and so we hurried on to Station 2. This is situated on National Trust land adjacent to Peel Island and the station is reached after a short walk through woodland, which leads to an elevated position from which magnificent views of the lake and Coniston Old Man are obtained.

The views today may be compared to those shown in an aquatint in Thomas West's "Guide".

Station 3 is nearer the northern end of the lake and is again on National Trust land. This station is near to Brantwood, the home of John Ruskin from 1872 to 1900, who supposedly bought the house on the strength of its situation without having actually seen it. Maybe he had a copy of Thomas West's "Guide".

This view may be compared with that from a similar point given in J B Pyne's "Lake Scenery of England" (1859):

and with the view from Brantwood:

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Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The Leaning IKEA Bookcase - Further Musings from the Daughter of a Mad Book-collector

My IKEA bookcase (model 'Vallvik') used to stand tall and straight in the entrance hall of my small Manchester apartment. When I walked through the door after a day’s work I would be greeted by six shelves of heavy duty art books that I had accumulated throughout my curatorial career. Working at Tate Britain we were given three free catalogues each year and, by making sure that all the books I took out of the Tate Library were returned on time, the librarian treated me with a certain amount of favouritism and gave me first pick of any duplicates which were sent to the Gallery. I soon amassed a huge collection of monographs and exhibition catalogues – characteristically of art books they had heavy-duty paper with spines a good two inches thick. I arranged them in the bookcase by artist and then by exhibition catalogue and, when I was feeling very methodical, by art movement. Gradually the shelves swelled with books and the ornaments I had arranged on the middle shelf were moved into a box so that more books could take their place. The IKEA bookcase is particularly good for its tall shelves – art books tend to tower over every other genre. In this age of austerity when everything from chocolate bars to tins of sweetcorn are getting smaller art books continue to get bigger and bigger, and no exhibition is complete without a doorstop of a fully illustrated book.

Now installed in my Cambridge house the bookshelf can no longer cope with the heavyweight glossy paper so desired by publishers of art and auction catalogues and, as the photo shows, it impressively leans to one side. Attempting to move it back to the centre the bookcase creaks as if in tremendous distress. I’ve also given up a bit on my ordering and numerous books are out of order – reference books rub shoulders with catalogues published by the giants of the art publishing world, Taschen and Thames & Hudson. Yet I feel confident that the bookcase will continue to support my library until we move house again. In the meantime I will exercise a certain amount of caution and listen out for any signals of anguish from the wooden shelves.

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Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Wordsworth and his Publisher, a Bookplate and an Inscription

Barely had the ink dried on my recent musings on bookplates, when a visit to a local bookshop (one of the old school and one of the finest not just in this area, but in any area) turned up five volumes each bearing the bookplate of William Wordsworth, the books stated to be from his library at Rydal Mount near Grasmere in the Lake District, the poet's home from 1813 to his death in 1850.

The five volumes were all published by Edward Moxon and dated between 1838 and 1846. Further, four of the volumes contain a hand written inscription by Moxon presenting the books to William Wordsworth Jnr. (the poet's son).

The volumes are Moxon editions of Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Massinger and Ford, Chaucer and Sheridan.

Edward Moxon (1801-1858) was a poet turned publisher, who started his own publishing business in 1830.

One of his early successes was an edition of Samuel Rogers' popular poem "Italy", with fine steel engravings by Turner. It was these engravings that the young Ruskin enthused about when he was given the book as a present. This was followed up by the equally fine "Poems" by Samuel Rogers in 1834.

Wordsworth and Moxon were to become firm friends and in 1835 Wordsworth entrusted the publishing of his books to Moxon, which led to an increase in sales and more fame for both poet and publisher. Moxon, from his publishing house on Dover Street, London, was now the publisher of choice for many poets of the day, including Tennyson, and it was in 1857 that the first edition of the incomparable "Moxon Tennyson" appeared with illustrations by the Pre-Raphaelites - Millais, Holman Hunt and Rossetti, their only collaborative book project.

Moxon regularly stayed with the Wordsworths at Rydal Mount and the two travelled together to Paris on one occasion. Moxon also visited the Pyrennes with Wordsworth's children. The ageing Wordsworth must have recognised a kindred spirit in the energetic and talented publisher (very different, one imagines, from the publishers he had suffered before).

The letters of William Wordsworth (edited by Ernest de Selincourt and published in handsome volumes by Oxford University Press) contain many letters to Moxon, often thanking him for parcels of books which have arrived at Rydal Mount. For example, on July 28th 1838, Wordsworth writes:

"The parcel of Books arrived during my absence, and I have not yet had time to do more than glance at it. Mrs W began to thank you, which I do also, on my own part, for your kindness to my Son, who, we are most happy to hear, is shaking off the sad effect of his Fever."

Then again, on December 11th 1838:

"Very many thanks for your valuable present of Shakespeare and Jonson, they are handsome books and I hope will repay you .."

So, there we have it - bookplates of England's finest romantic poet, presentation inscriptions to Wordsworth's son from the poetry publisher of the day and Wordsworth's fulsome thanks for the gifts in his published letters. A bibliophile's day to treasure.

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Sunday, 10 April 2011

Bookplates and the DIspersed Library

Unless you are a Samuel Pepys or Thomas Jefferson then it is almost inevitable that, however fine your library, there will come a day when it will be divided, sold, given away or otherwise dispersed. This is not necessarily a bad thing, since out of the debris of once coherent collections emerge new private libraries and new material for the great public collections. It is an endless recycling that is the wellspring of the collector's joy as long sought after books appear at auction, in bookshops and on on-line book sites.

Many collectors mark their books in some way to identify their ownership. This may be by a simple signature, or by the inclusion of a personal bookplate normally affixed to the front pastedown. First edition fetishists may recoil in horror at the thought of an otherwise pristine copy being defaced in this way, but to a true booklover such symbols of ownership become a new trail to explore. They also make a tangible connection between you and that other owner - you have both handled (and hopefully read) this very copy.

Over the course of our collecting life, both by chance and design, many books with interesting bookplates, or other signs of ownership, have found their way onto the shelves. Here is a sample:

The bookplate of John Quinn in Arthur Machen's "The Three Imposters" (John Lane, 1895). This bookplate was designed for Quinn by Jack Butler Yeats. Quinn was an American lawyer and eminent collector of modernist works. He was a patron of many literary figures, including W B Yeats, Ezra Pound and James Joyce, from whom he puchased the manuscript of "Ulysses" (now in the Rosenbach Museum, Philadelphia). Quinn also successfully defended Joyce's "Ulysses" against obscenity charges. So, I now have in my hand a book from a collection that contained the manuscript of "Ulysses". Could it get much better?

The bookplate of novelist Dennis Wheatley in Forrest Reid's "Walter de la Mare: A Critical Study" (Faber and Gwyer, 1929). Wheatley's library was sold by Blackwell's in 1979 and this was Item 1806 in their catalogue.

The bookplate of comedian Barry Humphries in Arthur Machen's "Ornaments in Jade" (Alfred A Knopf, 1924).

Two for the price of one - the bookplate of novelist Hugh Walpole's Brackenburn Library and that of art historian and curator John Gere in J Sheridan Le Fanu's "Wylder's Hand (Hutchinson, no date). A pencil note by Gere says that this copy was purchased at the Christie's sale of Walpole's library on 11/2/46.

The bookplate of Harold Hulme Brindley, naturalist, in M R James' "Ghost Stories of an Antiquary" (Edward Arnold, 1904). Brindley knew James at Cambridge and this copy contains a manuscript letter from MRJ to Brindley as well as illustrations of the scenes in the stories pasted into the book by Brindley, making it a very special copy - far from a pristine first but infinitely more interesting.

The bookplate of John and Myfanwy Piper in John Ruskin's "Modern Painters" (George Allen, 1888).

The bookplate of Isambard Brunel (son of the engineer) in John Ruskin's "Stones of Venice" (Smith Elder, 1851)

The bookplate of John Brent, antiquary and novelist in Henry Rowlands' "Mona Antiqua Restaurata" (Dublin, 1723).

The bookplate of Vincent Starrett, bibliophile, author and Sherlock Holmes afficionado, in his own book "Penny Wise and Pound Foolish" (New York 1929). This bookplate was designed by the illustrator Gordon Browne (son of H K Browne ('Phiz')).

The bookplate of bibliophile, collector and writer about books, Holbrook Jackson, loosely inserted in the copy of James Joyce's "Storiella as She is Syung" (Corvinus Press, 1937), presented by the owner of the press, Viscount Carlow, to Jackson when he visited the press on 12th April 1938. Interestingly, Viscount Carlow has written a suitable presentation inscription to Jackson in ink on a preliminary blank page, but Jackson, perhaps in deference to the beauty of the book, did not paste in his bookplate.

John Ruskin's Brantwood bookplate in Mrs Oliphant's "The Makers of Florence" (Macmillan 1877). Care is needed with Ruskin bookplates since, after the dispersal of his library, it is almost certain that some bookplates purporting to be Ruskin's were printed and inserted in books not from his library to increase their value. The story is told in James Dearden's "Facets of Ruskin". The example shown dates from circa 1890 and probably indicates Ruskin ownership of this book.

It has become a standard exercise now to try to compile lists of books in authors' libraries long dispersed. In our collection we have books with such lists for James Joyce's Trieste library, Ruskin's library, Lewis Carrol's library and H P Lovecraft's library.

There are recent books on Oscar Wilde's library and even Hitler's private library.

It was in Peter L Stern's superb bookshop in Boston that I had in my hand H P Lovecraft's copy of M R James' "A Thin Ghost and Others" with both Lovecraft's bookplate and his signature. Sadly I replaced it on the shelf to await another traveller in the realms of phantom libraries, or, to be perfectly honest, we couldn't afford it.

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Thursday, 7 April 2011

The Pleasure of Bookcases

A library may be defined as a collection of books, but unless these are heaped in piles on the floor, it is, of necessity, a collection also of bookcases. A bookcase has been defined, somewhat prosaically, as a piece of furniture used to store books. Further, this will almost always be a system of horizontal shelves with books standing upright with their spines facing outwards. This has not always been the case as the book has evolved from the papyrus roll to the modern codex and conventions for shelving have suffered similar adaptation. To those thirsting for more, the story has never been better told than in J W Clark's magisterial "The Care of Books", whilst a more accessible version is provided in Henry Petroski's "The Book on the Bookshelf".

Musing on such matters prompted me to take a tour of our own library and try to summarise how the bookcases and shelves in our house have responded to the constant influx of books over a reading life.

This series of articles began with the Wernicke bookcase of my childhood. There are four such bookcases in the house, with their up and over glass windows and these are good for housing self-contained special collections (in our case, Bronte, Ruskin and ghost stories).

The problem with most Wernicke bookcases is that their shelf sizes tend to limit their contents to octavo and small quarto volumes. Larger books need something different and we found this, initially, in a Victorian mahogany bookcase, which had a wonderfully deep and high bottom shelf and several narrower shelves.

However the time came when our books demanded something more than second-hand bookcases, however elegant, and so we embarked on building our own shelving, from floor to ceiling in, first, a room dedicated to books and, now, in several rooms and corridors. These shelves are exclusively built from planks of parana pine with shelves supported from the uprights by simple metal brackets.

To avoid shelves sagging under the books, wood of order one inch thick is needed with shelf spans never more than four feet. Now, the shelves can be spaced according to the books, a bibliophile's dream! As to shelf width 9 inches is normally fine; we, do, however, use 12 inches for one of the bays, for larger volumes and 6 inches for paperbacks and our collection of 'World's Classics'.

Another input to our book space came when the Carnforth Bookshop closed its short-lived branch on Church Street, Lancaster, when, as the shop was being cleared, we hired a van and took some of their shelving (we also have some Borders shelving,following their recent demise in the UK).

In recent years, we have become aware of the excellent IKEA Billy Bookcases and several of these have migrated from the local store into our house. A great attribute of these is that you can affix glass doors to them and they do then present a very handsome appearance, particularly several side by side.

Again, with adjustable shelf height and deep shelves there are not many book sizes that they cannot accommodate. I have mixed feelings about books behind glass, but on balance keeping dust away from a book is probably the single greatest act of kindness you can bestow on a cherished volume. Books on open shelves require dusting along their top surfaces at least once a year to prevent build up of mould. And just in case you think I am paranoid see "The Enemies of Books", by William Blades.

It only remains to draw attention to one or two of the other bookcases that live in odd corners and accommodate particular micro-collections.

Deep library shelving, with adjustable height using Tonk's Studs ....

A rotating bookcase, perfect for Baedecker and Thorough Guides ....

Another rotating bookcase ......

And yet one more ......

A 1960's 'White Wood' bookcase from Heelas in Reading (the first bookcase we actually bought ....)

And finally a display cabinet, with the upper part used for a small special collection.

The question may arise as to what happens when literally there is no space for a single extra book, let alone bookcase. Moving is probably the best fix.

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