Monday, 31 December 2012

From one Author to Another

It is always exciting to find a book inscribed by its author, even more exciting when the book is inscribed to another author. This makes the book far more interesting than just another 'signed' copy or one inscribed to an unknown person who just happened to attend a book signing. Of course, to dream of finding a copy of 'Moby Dick' inscribed by Melville to Nathaniel Hawthorne or of 'Frankenstein' inscribed by Mary Shelley to Byron is to indulge in the wildest of fantasies, but setting the sights at a much lower level it is possible to find interesting associations.

Browsing on the shelves of the High Barn Library reveals only a few examples, but these all have a special resonance.

The earliest we obtained was a copy of Walter de la Mare's 'Memoirs of a Midget' (in fact No. 1 of the limited Collins edition) inscribed by the author to Wilson Follett, who was his American publisher and author of 'Modern American Usage' and editor of the collected editon of Stephen Crane's works. In this copy de la Mare has transcribed in ink his lovely poem 'The Moth', included in 'The Veil and other Poems'.

Also included is a typed letter, dated 1923, to Follett signed by de la Mare thanking him for his assistance in seeing the book through its proofs and assisting with its success in America. This was a serendipitous find in Blackwell's antiquarian bookshop in its glorious one time home of Fyfield Manor near Oxford.

Another lucky find was in the excellent Petersfield Bookshop in Hampshire. This was a copy of Arthur Machen's 'The Children of the Pool', inscribed by Machen in September 1936 to Oliver Warner, who wrote widely on naval battles and was the author of works on Nelson and General Wolfe.

The Powys brothers were all great inscribers of books and signed copies of their works turn up frequently.

I choose one from our Powys collection - a copy of Elizabeth Myers' 'Good Beds - Men Only', presented after her death by her husband Littleton Powys to Walter de la Mare.

This copy came from the library of Walter de la Mare sold by the recently closed Oxford bookseller Robin Waterfield, where we spent many happy hours browsing.

The name of William Beveridge is often in the news. He was the architect of the so-called Welfare State, the set of social reforms introduced by the post war Labour Government in the UK. Helen Thomas, the widow of Edward Thomas wrote a memoir of her time with the poet.

This was published in the volume 'World Without End' and Helen inscribed the copy in our collection to Sir William Beveridge.

One of the great editors of Victorian fiction was Everett F Bleiler (1920-2010), who worked at Dover Publications for over 20 years, editing editions of the works of many supernatural fiction writers, including J Sheridan Le Fanu, Mrs J H Riddell, Arthur Conan Doyle and others. These attractive Dover paperbacks were early additions to the High Barn Library.

Bleiler was also the author of the monumental 'Guide to Supernatural Fiction', published by Kent State University Press and which provides plot synopses of thousands of ghost stories contained in over 1700 books identifying themes, motifs and genres.

Our copy was presented by its author to Sam Moskowitz and contains a generous tribute from Bleiler to Moskowitz, who was born in the same year as Bleiler and became a leading proponent and editor of science fiction. He also edited several volumes of the previously uncollected sea stories of William Hope Hodgson.

Finally, something very different. The Doves Press, over the period 1900-1916, produced some of the most beautiful books ever made, under the direction of T J Cobden Sanderson and Emery Walker, who was responsible for the type faces, based on 15th century Venetian models. Famously Sanderson threw the majestic type into the River Thames after he fell out with Walker, in order to prevent its further use by his former partner.

One of the simplest and most beautiful of the books produced by the Doves Press was Ruskin's 'Unto This Last'. Our copy of this book was presented by Emery Walker, its designer, to Robert and Sylvia Lynd.

Robert Lynd was born in Belfast and became a prominent Republican, joining the Gaelic League (at a meeting of which he met Sylvia), and was a supporter of Sinn Fein. Settling in Hampstead, the Lynds became prominent literary hosts entertaining J B Priestley, Hugh Walpole, Victor Gollancz and James Joyce amongst others. My first encounter with Robert Lynd's writing was in my teens when I read his excellent introduction to Algernon Methuen's 'Anthology of Modern Verse 1900-1920', published in 1924.

And so it comes full circle, from a poetry anthology bought in the sixties, to a work of Ruskin printed in a masterpiece of the private press movement with connections to James Joyce and Irish republicanism. So many connections - and all in one printed book.

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Thursday, 1 November 2012

2012 Reading List

In order of reading, these are the books I have read in 2012, with brief comments and my own star ratings.
'Our Mutual Friend', Charles Dickens, ****, excellent mystery novel with good characters and atmospheric descriptions.
'Death and the Future Life in Victorian Literature and Theology', Michael Wheeler, *****, fascinating account of the Victorian view of death, judgement, Heaven and Hell, using, amongst others, as examples 'Our Mutual Friend' and 'In Memoriam'.
'Little Dorrit', Charles Dickens, ****, again an excellent novel, full of incident and characterisations.
'The Grid Book', Hannah B Higgins, ***, descriptions and history of various grids, from bricks to printing, gridirons, nets and screens.
'American Fantastic Tales', Volume 1, Peter Straub (ed), ****, covers the period from Poe to the Pulps, a good selection.
'Dombey and Son', Charles Dickens, ****, Florence Dombey wins through against stern father. Child dearh of Paul Dombey as sentimental as you can get, but very powerful.
'Dickens: a Biography', Claire Tomalin, *****, superb biography, sets out her thoughts on the Nelly Ternan relationship.
'The Infinity of Lists', Umberto Eco, *****, wonderfully illustrated book with essays on various kinds of lists in literature, from Homer's list of ships in 'The Iliad', to Calvino's 'Invisible Cities'.
'The Arcades Project', Walter Benjamin, ****, massive compilation of notes from Benjamin's alternative history of Europe, as evinced by the Parisian arcades.
'Walter Benjamin's Archive', ***, catalogue of fragments from Benjamin's collection, with good introductory essay.
'Le Fanu's Ghost', Gavin Selerie, ***, overview of links between the Sheridans and J Sheridan Le Fanu, with extracts from books, poems etc.
'Darwin - a Life in Poems', Ruth Padel, ****, well annotated set of poems by Darwin's great grand-daughter tracing Darwin's life.
'The Old Curiosity Shop', Charles Dickens, ****, the dearh of Little Nell possibly the best moment in this very fine novel.
'I am Providence', S T Joshi, ****, massive two volume biography of H P Lovecraft', full of detail.
'American Fantastic Tales', Volume 2, Peter Straub (ed), ****, covers the period from the 1940s to the present; particular favourite 'Stone Animals' by Kelly Link.
'Curfew and other Eerie Tales', Lucy M Boston, ***, competent collection of ghost stories, the title story the best.
'David Copperfield', Charles Dickens, ****, the early chapters are the best, the relationship between David and Agnes becoming tedious as the book nears its conclusion.
'Strange Epiphanies', Peter Bell, ****, atmospheric supernatural stories, evoking the spirit of place with suitably nasty endings.
'Empire of Shadows', George Blake, ****, the epic story of Yellowstone, covering its exploration and development.
'Chief Joseph, Guardian of the People', Candy Moulton, ****, good history of the Nez Perse indians and their great leader, who finally surrendered after a 1500 mile retreat from the Wallowa Valley in Oregon to near the Canadian border.
'Lost Places', Simon Kurt Unsworth, ***, interesting ghost stories, but marred in places by poor style and far too explicit content.
'The Lakotaa and the Black Hills', Jeffrey Ostler, ***, good account of the relationship between the Lakota Sioux and the Black Hills and their continuing fight to regain their sacred land.
'Hard Road West', Keith Heyer Meldahl, *****, superb account of the geology along the gold rush trail to California. Well illustrated with many maps and cross sections.
'The Best Read Man in France', Peter Briscoe, ***, a bookseller in LA fights to prevent a collection of rare books being broken up to be digitised at the library he sold them to.
'Magic for Beginners', Kelly Link, ***, strange stories with unusual events and references back to Lovecraft and other fantasy writers.
'The Dewey Decimal System', Nathan Larson, **, crime novel set in a post terrorist New York. Violent and poorly written.
'The Pale King', David Foster Wallace', ****, unfinished novel about work in an IRS examination center in Peoria, Illinois. Full of detail about bureaucratic procedures, with some brillianr passages.
'The Fountainhead', Ayn Rand, ****, the struggles of architect Howard Roark against the forces of concensus in architecture. Roark battles to preserve his artistic integrity.
'Anthem, Ayn Rand, **, dystopian novel about a society in which all individuality has been subsumed to the collective will and the word 'I' does not exist. The hero breaks free.
'A Certain Slant of Light', Peter Bell, ****, good ghost stories in the M R James tradition with varied setttings.
'Reading Joyce', David Pierce, ***, helpful guide by a former teacher of Joyce, which includes some autobiographical material as well as good criticism.
'Paradise Lost, Smyrna 1922, the Destruction of Islam's City of Tolerance', Giles Milton, ****, harrowing account of the history of Smyrna culminating in its burning by the Turks.
'Safe Area Gorazde', Joe Sacco, excellent graphic novel about events in Bosnia between 1990 and 1995. The author spent time in the city after the conflict and talked with many survivors. The author is scathing about the role of the UN peacekeepers.
'Bleak House', Charles Dickens, ****, re-read and again much enjoyed. Esther Summerson ultimately becomes tiresome.
'Mudie's Circulating Library and the Victorian Novel', Guinevere L Girest, *****, excellent history of Mudie's who dominated book distribution from the 1840s to the 1890s and whose insistence on the 3 volume novel set the fashion for many writers.
'The Haunting of Lamb House', Joan Aiken, ***, tells the story of three inhabitants of Lamb House at Rye, the best part being that about Henry James written in his style.
'E Nesbit's Tales of Terror', Edith Nesbit, good ghost stories, the best being 'Man Size in Marble'.
'Three Miles Up and other Strange Stories', Elizabeth Jane Howard, ****, the title story of a canal journey into a strange landscape is the best, but all are well written.
'We Are for the Dark', Robert Aickman, ****, collaboration between Aickman and Elizabeth Jane Howard, with each contributing three stories. Aickman's 'The Trains' is the best.
'Adventures of Augie March', Saul Bellow, ***, chronicles the early life of Augie, born in Chicago as he passes from job to job and woman to woman. Some good passages, particularly when the commonplace events of today are contrasted with Greek heroic legend, but I would not be tempted to read more Bellow.
'Dark Entries', Robert Aickman', ****, good atmospheric strange stories in which individuals find themselves in strange threatening locations. The best is 'Bind Your Hair' in which a woman becomes embroiled in pagan rituals in the Northamptonshire village her fiancee has taken her to to meet his parents.
'Powers of Darkness', Robert Aickman, ****, the best story is 'The Wine Dark Sea', set on a Greek island.
'Sub Rosa', Robert Aickman, ****, more atmospheric stories, particularly good are 'Never Visit Venice' and 'The Houses of the Russians'.
'Alone in Berlin', Hans Fallada, ****, a powerful novel set in 1940s Berlin as Otto Quangel and his wife mount their own resistance campaign against Hitler.
'Cold Hand in Mine', Robert Aickman, ****, another good collection, with the best story 'The Hospice'.
'Tales of Love and Death', Robert Aickman, ***, one or two very weak stories such as 'Growing Boys', but 'Residents Only' and 'Wood' compensate.
'Illusions', Robert Aickman, ***, the best story is 'The Fetch'.
'The Attempted Rescue', Robert Aickman, ***, Aickman's account of the first 30 years of his life. A bit self-absorbed.
'A Great Idea at the Time', Alex Beam, ****, a very good book about the Great Books project of the University of Chicago in the 1950s.
'Double Fold', Nicholas Baker, ***, a book about libraries and the assault on paper in the latter part of the 20th century. Very hard-hitting against the Library of Congress and the British Library.
'Nazi Germany and the Jews Vol 1, The Years of Persecution 1933-1939', Saul Friedlander, ****, a detailed history of this period and showing the indifference of all European nations to Hitler's policies.
'The Beetle', Richard Marsh, ***, a supernatural thriller that gets a bit tedious at times.
'18 Bookshops', Anne Scott, 3***, short essays on bookshops, both old and contemporary.
'Nazi Germany and the Jews Vol 2, The Years of Extermination 1939-1945', Saul Friedlander, ****, the conclusion of this massive study.
'Dolly - A Ghost Story', Susan Hill, **, a rather poor story.
'The Quark and the Jaguar - Adventures in the Simple and the Complex', Murray Gell-Mann, ***, a study of complex adaptive systems that loses its way a bit. Good discussion of quantum mechanics.

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Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Mr Mudie and his Circulating Library

No serious collector of 19th century fiction can be unaware of the preponderance of novels originally published in three volumes. The so called 'three deckers', now relatively scarce and hence often prohibitively expensive, were once the staple reading of whole swathes of the newly emerging middle class. But they did not buy them; they were borrowed, a volume at a time from one of the circulating libraries and, more likely than not from one of those run by Charles Edward Mudie (1818-1890).
From the 1840's to the 1890's Mudie's Select Library determined the reading habits of two generations of readers. Such was Mudie's power that an author's career probably depended on his or hers work being selected by the library. Confident that Mudie would take the book, publishers could then print runs of the work in their thousands, with a very high percentage going straight to Mudie's library at a discount price. Subscribers to the library, at a cost of one guinea per year, could then borrow a volume at a time. This arrangement suited authors, publishers and readers.

In London, readers flocked to Mudie's massive emporium on New Oxford Street, where armies of employees would rapidly find the desired volumes selected from Mudie's list.

In the large provincial towns there were more branches of Mudie, who also supplied books to local independent circulating libraries, where the same arrangements applied.
It was possible to purchase three deckers from Mudie, but they were very expensive and only the wealthy would have been able to add them to their private collections. Typically, the work would appear in a cheap single volume edition a year or so after first publication in three volumes. The genius of Mudie's modus operandi was that essentially three subscribers would be reading one book at the same time; hence three times the profit. He could also negotiate massive discounts with the publishers given the quantities he ordered; he took 500 copies of the first edition of Darwin's 'Origin of Species' and 3,000 sets of the 3 volume 'Mill on the Floss' by George Eliot, though a typical order for an established writer would be 1,500 sets.
There were dissenting voices. Many argued that the straitjacket of three volumes led to over-long novels full of irrelevant sub-plots; conversely it was argued that the luxury of three volumes allowed generous margins and large font sizes essential for the elderly reader. Also Mudie, being a deeply religious man, appled selection criteria to his library that eliminated all books except those that could be 'safely read to the servants'. As the century neared its end the clamour for change was irrestistible; from authors, eager to try out new forms of shorter novel and frustrated by Mudie's arbitrary censorship, publishers keen to break Mudie's near monopoly and, perhaps most compellingly, from the new free public libraries springing up all over Britain.
In 1894, Mudie and his great contemporary competitor W H Smith agreed to end the three volume format and almost immediately, as a publishing form, it disappeared. From this time almost all novels first appeared in single volume editions; more rarely in two volumes. However, today, amongst the most desirable of nineteenth century books for the collector are the great three volume first editions of writers such as Thomas Hardy, J Sheridan Le Fanu and Anthony Trollope. Since these were borrowed in profusion, copies in fine condition are extremely scarce.

The High Barn Library has only one or two direct links back to Mudie. Volumes 1 and 2 (only) of a three volume set of Le Fanu's 'The Tenants of Malory' respectively bear on their front boards the distinctive yellow labels of Mudie's New Oxford Street Select Library and of Noyes's Circulating Library at Chippenham, supplied by Mudie.

The fate of Volume 3 is unknown. These date from 1867, when Mudie's power was at its height. However, there are two other complete three deckers on our shelves: Anthony Trollope's 'Ralph the Heir' (1871) and Mrs Ward's 'The History of David Grieve' dating from 1894 right at the end of Mudie's dominance.

The firm of Mudie continued into the 1930s but at a much reduced level, finally closing its doors shortly before the Second World War. However, W H Smith, who had established a monopoly on railway book stalls (rashly spurned by Mudie) in the mid nineteenth century, continue as a major book seller, but not, as originally, a lending library.
Subscription libraries had originated well before Mudie entered the scene, certainly by the early eighteenth century, but it was the sheer scale of Mudie's operations from the 1840s on that drove most competitors out of business. In the 1860s, for example, Mudie was increasing his stock at the rate of 170,000 volumes a year. It was estimated that Mudie's patrons comprised about half of the total number of families sufficiently educated to enjoy novel reading. Mudie's list did contain all types of reading matter - history, science, travel, theology, for example - but over no field did he exercise such absolute control as novel writing, and, from an artistic point of view, it can only be hoped that this level of control is not repeated in the future.
A wonderful history of Mudie's Circulating Library is contained in the study 'Mudie's Circulating Library & the Victorian Novel' by Guinevere L Girest (David & Charles, 1970). It makes fascinating reading and throws great light on many aspects of Victorian authors and their works. I am sure that, had Mudie demanded four voulmes per novel, we would now be enjoying Anthony Trollopes's 'The Four Clerks' rather than 'The Three Clerks', whose adventures so conveniently fall into three volumes.
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Friday, 26 October 2012

Edith Nesbit's Tales of Terror

In the excellent anthology 'The Supernatural Omnibus' edited by Montague Summers (which I acquired at an early age) are to be found two ghost stories under the name E Nesbit. These are 'Man Size in Marble' and 'John Charrington's Wedding'. In the former, the recumbent effigies of two knights rise from their tomb in a lonely church on All Saints' Eve and terrify to death the story's heroine Laura, who is found with the alabaster finger of one of the knights clutched in her hand. (Needless to say, the finger is subsequently found to be missing from the knight's effigy.) In the latter, John Charrington, determined to claim his bride on their wedding day, keeps his appointment even though he was killed in an accident some hours before the wedding. The strange nature of the groom at the wedding service is chillingly described; after the service the couple depart in their wedding carriage. The bride, of course, is subsequently found dead from shock and fright.

Strange that such harrowing stories came from the pen of Edith Nesbit, much better known as an author of childrens' books, including the much filmed and televised 'The Railway Children'.

I was reminded of these stories on a recent short trip to Romney Marsh, that strange part of Kent where sea and land merge across lonely shingle beaches and isolated churches cling to islands of pasture land slightly elevated above the surrounding flats.

It was at one such church, St Mary in the Marsh, that Edith Nesbit forced her way into our holiday, for here she is buried; there is an inscription to her in the church and outside, over her grave, a wooden memorial fashioned by her husband.

She lived the latter part of her life in nearby St Mary's Bay.

But it is in nearby Brenzett church where lie the knights who inspired her most famous ghost story.

In this church two John Fagges (father and son) lie side by side, dying in 1639 and 1646 respectively.

The little finger of the right hand of the front figure has been clearly repaired and it was this feature that Edith Nesbit captured in her story where the terrified Laura breaks off the knight's finger in her struggle. Brenzett is the setting for the story and Edith Nesbit captures something of the atmosphere of remote Romney Marsh churches. Laura's housekeeper in the story is called Mrs Dorman. When we first visited Brenzett the church was locked. We returned a couple of days later to find it opened for cleaning/flower arranging. This was being carried out by a Mrs Dorman, who was pleased to tell us that she shared a name with the housekeeper of the story. Or maybe she was just another of Edith Nesbit's ghosts sent to allow us to disturb the slumbers of the sleeping knights, who, at first sight were safely lying on their marble bed. But I would not wish to return on All Saints' Eve.

Edith Nesbit was not a prolific writer of ghost stories. Hugh Lamb edited a slim volume, published by Methuen in 1983, containing seven stories.

Perhaps the most impressive of the other stories is 'The Violet Car', in which a car takes supernatural revenge on a man who had earlier caused it to be driven off the edge of a cliff.

By a strange coincidence BBC Radio are broadcasting a series of Edith Nesbit's ghost stories in the week beginning October 29th, spanning All Saints' Eve. Let's hope the recumbent knights are not listening.

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Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Casual Wait - Further Musings from the Daughter of a Mad Book Collector

Despite all the indifferent to bad reviews, I still want to read JK Rowling’s "The Casual Vacancy". However, with no desire to start reading the 500 page tome straightaway, today I reserved a copy at Cambridge Central Library. Now, according to their online catalogue the book isn’t actually on the shelf yet but is ‘on order’. The system is clever enough to allow me to reserve it for when it does arrive – though to my horror, I discovered that I am in a queue with 102 people ahead of me. Considering that you’re allowed to have the book at home for 3 weeks this means that – assuming people borrow it for the maximum period – it will be at least 6 years before I can check it out. Of course, taking into account the book’s not inconsiderable length, plenty of people will need longer than 3 weeks to read it and will be more than happy to incur the modest daily fine the library charges. In other words it might take up to a decade before I start reading it! Now the library might decide to order more copies considering the demand is so high – though I note that there are still 126 holds on "Fifty Shades of Grey" so they haven’t quite kept ahead of trends in adult fiction (or perhaps, just aren’t willing to succumb to it).

Now there is another option for getting a copy of "The Casual Vacancy" without going down the Amazon or Waterstone’s route. I just might find it in one of the many charity shops that line Cambridge’s Mill Road before it gets to the library, and if so, I’m unlikely to pay more than £1 for it. (In fact you can buy a whole set of Harry Potters for not much more than that in the RSPCA shop.) A recent scan of books in Salvation Army and Arthur Rank Hospice indicates that it takes around 4 years for books to make it into one of the 3 for £1 book boxes. For example, I picked up a copy of Heather O’Neill’s "Lullabies for Little Criminals" (publ. 2008) the other day, and recent publications by John Grisham, Jeffrey Archer, and Jodi Picoult are never hard to find. "One Day" was first published in 2009 and you can easily spot its distinctive orange cover in nearly every charity shop, but according to the library catalogue, there are reservations on every copy in the Cambridgeshire area (except in fact for St Neot’s, where the large-print format is available). So, will "The Casual Vacancy" arrive in the charity shop or the library first? We’ll have to wait and see …

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Sunday, 16 September 2012

Wise After the Event

One of the pleasures of book collecting is compiling a catalogue of the books in your collection. Another pleasure is comparing your own collection with those of other collectors.

One of the greatest catalogues of a private library is the Ashley Library Catalogue, listing in 11 handsome volumes the collection of Thomas J Wise, one of the foremost bibliographers and collectors of his day.

The first volume of Wise's catalogue was published in 1922; the last in 1936.

In these volumes, Wise's library of some 7,000 volumes is described in detail with many photographs. This library was perhaps the greatest collection of classic English literature ever assembled by a private individual, being particularly strong on restoration drama, romantic poets and nineteenth century writers. Many manuscripts were contained within the collection, which was very strong on Browning, Shelley, and Swinburne. The collection also contained Bronte manuscripts and letters, which Wise had procured from Charlotte's husband Arthur Bell Nicholls, at the time living in his native Ireland, in one of his great collecting coups.

It is on Page 52 of Volume XI (containing later additions to the collection) that we find perhaps the most astonishing item in the whole catalogue.

This is a book published in 1934 with the hardly attention-grabbing title of "An Enquiry into the Nature of Some Nineteenth Century Pamphlets" by the, then relatively little known John Carter and Graham Pollard. This book threw a bombshell into the normally sedate world of bibliographical scholarship with its unmistakable message that the most respected bookman of the day, Thomas J Wise, member of the Roxburghe Club and eminent bibliographer of Ruskin, Swinburne, Pope, the Brontes and others, was a common forger. That Wise included this exposé in his catalogue is tribute either to a monumental ego or to an inability to distinguish truth from fiction in his own life.

What Carter and Pollard set out to show in their book was that a number of rare pamphlets which had entered the market, mainly via the main auction houses, in the early twentieth century were, in fact, forgeries and had been printed not at their stated dates of early to mid nineteenth century but no earlier than the late nineteenth century. It was also shown that the source and authentication of many of the pamphlets could be traced back to Thomas J Wise.

The first of Wise's forgeries appeared in 1887 and over the next 20 years or so Wise and his collaborator Harry Buxton Forman (editor of the definitive edition of Shelley's works) produced some 100 forgeries. The particular genius of Wise and Forman was to produce works that could quite reasonably have been printed at their stated dates, but nevertheless had not been, the classic example being Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "Sonnets from the Portugese", where letters between Elizabeth Browning and Mary Mitford suggest the possibility of an early private printing anticipating the first published edition.

Wise dutifully produced the missing volume, dating it 1847, some 50 years earlier than its actual date of production. Then, as the most eminent bibliographer of the day he could provide impeccable authentication of the pamphlet.

The production of forgeries dried up in the early twentieth century but Wise (who held a stock of the print runs) could judiciously release copies on to the market (normally via third parties totally unaware of their true nature) and pocket the profits.

Wise's malpractice could have been exposed some 30 years earlier, when Cook and Wedderburn were compiling their monumental 39 volume Library Edition of the works of John Ruskin. They questioned the authenticity of some 'early' Ruskin pamphlets, such as "The Scythian Guest" and "The Queen's Gardens". However they stopped short of attempting an identification of the true source of these publications.

Carter and Pollard's work provides a riveting story of bibliographic detection, bringing to bear a variety of arguments, such as type faces that had not been cut at the stated date of publication and the use of wood pulp paper, when only rag paper should have been available. They also noted the remarkably fine condition of the pamphlets, belying their supposed age. The argument that the pamphlets were forgeries was irrefutable; the identification of Wise as the forger was not explicitly made but was abundantly clear to the discerning reader.

The scandal hit the national dailies, with Wise writing a brave letter of defence to "The Times". The great and the good of book collecting, such as Edmund Gosse, leapt to his defence, challenging the young upstarts Carter and Pollard. But all to no avail; Wise's reputation was irretievably ruined and he died three years later.

It is all a sad commentary on the obsessive desire of collectors to acquire unique and precious items for their collection. Wise was fully acquainted with this obsession and tapped into it ruthlessly. The idea probably began when, on behalf of the Shelley Society, Wise and Forman produced facsimiles of genuine Shelley pamphlets in limited numbers for Society members. These were printed by the respectable firm of Richard Clay at Bungay in Suffolk and must have looked very much like their genuine counterparts. From this, it was perhaps a small step to extend this practice to produce the forged pamphlets, Wise and Forman's unrivalled scholarship being able to provide all the fake provenance needed for the hungry collector. There is no evidence suggesting the printers were part of the plot; they just printed as demanded by a pillar of the literary establishment.

Wise's methods were audacious. He would, for example, anonymously place a pamphlet at auction and then commission two separate bidders (unknown to each other) to bid for the pamphlet on his behalf. The high price made would guarantee notice of the 'find' in the book collecting world and Wise would, of course, be called on to authenticate the item, all the time having a box full of other copies at home. Over subsequent years these other copies could then be released onto the market to satiate the desire of collectors for these rare and unique items.

Since Carter and Pollard's work was published, studies into the extent
of Wise's activities have continued.

In 1983 Scolar Press published in two handsome volumes a reprint of the original "Enquiry" and a sequel to the enquiry by Nicholas Barker and John Collins. In the sequel the story is brought up to date and the authors confirm the number of Wise/Buxton forgeries at of order 100. With minimal printing costs and print runs of possibly 20 to 30 per pamphlet, the stock of forgeries represented an extremely lucrative venture for the pair as they were drip fed into an all too gullible market for rare books.

One of Wise's most famous victims was one of the great American collectors, the Chicago business man John Henry Wrenn. Over many years Wise procured rare books for Wrenn, including up to 100 examples of forged pamphlets, bought in good faith by Wrenn. The Wrenn collection of some 6,000 books was the firsr rare book collection acquired by the University of Texas at Austin.

The letters between Wise and Wrenn were published in a handsome volume in 1944, edited by Fannie E Ratchford, Librarian of the Rare Books Collection at the University of Texas and they make fascinating reading, as Wise tempts Wrenn with yet one more amazing newly discovered Shelley, Ruskin or Browning pamphlet. Of course, without Wise's unmatched bibliographical knowledge, Wrenn could never have assembled such a wonderful collection of genuine rarities and Texas would be all the poorer. And, of course, Wrenn died never knowing the extent to which he had been cheated by his friend. As time passes, attitudes change and, perhaps not unsurprisingly, to modern eyes the inclusion of so many Wise forgeries in the Wrenn Library adds considerably to its lustre.

Following Wise's death his library was purchased by the British Library (where it still resides) for £66,000. It was only then that another, perhaps even more unsavoury, practice of Wise was revealed. It was found that dozens of defective books in Wise's collection originally missing pages or plates had been completed by the removal of the relevant pages from the copies in the British Museum Library. The equivalent copies in the British Museum were found to have been skilfully plundered to complete the Ashley Library copies. Checks at Austin, Texas showed that a not inconsiderable number of volumes purchased by Wrenn had been similarly completed with stolen leaves. Of course, with his reputation, Wise would have had unlimited access to the remotest rare book stacks in the British Museum and armed with razor blade and ruler could carry out his thefts.

There are two excellent biographies of Wise.

In 1946, Wilfred Partington's study "Thomas J Wise in the Original Cloth" was published by Robert Hale and in 1992, Scolar Press published John Collins' "The Two Forgers", a dual biography of Wise and Forman. Both are highly readable accounts and leave you gasping at the sheer audacity of the forgers.

A comprehensive bibliography of all Wise's publications (both genuine and forged) is provided by William B Todd in his "Thomas J Wise Centenary Studies", published by the University of Texas in 1959.

And, of course, forgery and theft aside, Wise was a great bibliographer and editor. With J A Symington he produced the Shakespeare Head Bronte in 19 volumes.

He produced bibliographies of Borrow, the Brontes, Browning, Byron, Conrad, Dryden, Keats, Landor, Pope, Ruskin, Stevenson, Swinburne, Tennyson and Wordsworth and a host of other publications, many beautifully produced volumes in small numbers, such as obsure letters of Ruskin or the Bronte Juvenilia (the originals of which he ruthlessly pillaged and distributed to friends invoking the eternal anger of Bronte scholars).

We found, to our surprise after purchasing our own set of the Ashley Library Catalogue, that it bore the ink signature of the great forger in Volume IX.

But, as with all things Wise, we must consider whether that signature is really his or just one more illusion left by this master of literary deception.

The Ashley Library was named after the suburban London road in Highgate where Wise lived when he commenced his collection.

The photograph above is a photograph of the road taken by my father-in-law Norman Webster accompanied by my future wife (then aged 10) in 1960. (It was from my father-in-law that I first acquired knowledge of the amazing story of Thomas J Wise.)

But it was at Wise's next house in Heath Drive, Hampstead (shown below) that the collection reached its glorious zenith.

Strange to think that in these typically suburban environs, one of the greatest private collections of English Literature was assembled and one of the most daring of literary crimes was planned. And even stranger to think that in his own library catalogue Wise (ever the most scrupulous of bibliographers) listed the very book that provided the evidence of these crimes.

Google Street View shows the house on Heath Drive to be remarkably unchanged since my father-in-law's photograph was taken. Perhaps, in the still hours of the night the floor boards softly creak beneath the phantom footsteps of its former owner in forlorn search for his lost library.

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Saturday, 30 June 2012

Timber Lodges in the Wilderness

In the opening scenes of Stanley Kubrick's marvellous film of Stephen King's "The Shining", while the credits roll, a car winds its way along a road curving up a mountain pass past a lake with snow clad peaks framing the view, to the accompaniment of a haunting musical score. Eventually, the car's destination appears - a large timber clad structure set in front of a mountain steeply rising behind the building. Kubrick has used some topographical licence here: the road is the sublime 'Going to the Sun' road, traversing Glacier National Park in Montana from the east, as it passes St Mary Lake. The building, 'The Overlook Hotel' of the novel, is Timberline Lodge on the flanks of Mount Hood in Oregon, south of Portland.

Timberline Lodge, built in the 1930s, is one of a number of lodges built in National or State Parks to attract the rich and famous as the wonders of the Rocky Mountains and the American West became destinations for the traveller. There is something, however, inherently other-worldly about these strange fantasy buildings erected in remote places for the enjoyment of wealthy tourists. Strip away the milling people offloaded from cars and bus tours, the souvenir shops and restaurants and you are left with a vulnerable building set in a wild landscape, subject to all the forces that a wilful nature can conjure out of the elements of wind, water and, as in "The Shining", the demonic. Kubrick made a good choice: having visited Timberline Lodge on a recent trip to the American North West, I would not wish to spend a night alone there, in spite of its fabulous lobby and wonderful views.

Timberline Lodge was one of three romantically situated lodges we visited on a recent trip to the north west of the USA. On the west side of Glacier National Park is Lake Macdonald Lodge (1913-14) set on the shores of the lake that shares its name and looking towards the towering mountains on the other sides of the lake.

Bears are no strangers here and it was on a walk up to Avalanche Lake (one of the most beautiful spots we have seen) that we had our own close encounter of the grizzly kind.

The journey south from Glacier to Yellowstone, oldest and grandest of all the National Parks, is idyllic - along Paradise Valley following the Yellowstone river upstream through a landscape of huge skies, rolling prairie and snow clad mountains on all sides in the distance.

Yellowstone itself was called 'wonderland' by Lieutenant Cheyney Douane of the Second US Cavalry, one of its first and most intrepid explorers. In his own words "It is grand, gloomy and terrible; a solitude peopled with fantastic ideas, an empire of shadows and of turmoil". These words inspired the author of a recent excellent study on Yellowstone, George Black, to name his book "Empire of Shadows".

We spent three days in Yellowstone, nowhere near enough to explore all its wonders. It is as if nature has decided to present in one region her best and most wonderful displays - towering mountain ranges, sublime waterfalls, exquisite valleys, majestic canyons and, of course, the 10,000 geysers, spouting, fuming, boiling, simmering in every conceivable form, hot springs of deepest aquamarine, opal and turqouise, and Yellowstone Lake, surely one of the most beautiful expanses of water on the planet.

"Empire of Shadows" is a wonderful book and provides a detailed account of the early explorers of the region and the background to the decision to create the National Park in 1872. The Blackfeet and other indian tribes apparently shunned the region, perhaps more because of its inherent inhospitability rather than due to any feelings of spiritual dread. Modern day tourists, however, pack into its key sites, and the last of our lodges was in the Upper Geyser Basin, where Old Faithful keeps to its 91 minute cycle, observed by large crowds. The Lodge is a fantastic structure, with a lobby seven storeys high, one of the largest timber framed hotels in the United States. Here we had a coffee and brought to an end our all too brief exploration of the grandeurs of one of the world's truly great wilderness regions.

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