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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