Saturday, November 13, 2010

Robert Louis Stevenson's Nights: Part Three: A Simple Ramble

Robert Louis Stevenson (b. November 13, 1850-d. December 3, 1894)

Had Robert Louis Stevenson been born in 1950 rather than 1850, I can't help but think, what with his preference for long hair, velvet coats, bohemian ways and youthful pranks, that he would have found his way into the popular music scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s buying his velvet jackets in Carnaby Street and bumping into Freddie Mercury perhaps. With his bon vivant cousin Bob, they could have created a music group, The Jekyll and Hydes, or Louis and the Lighthouses, or maybe even The Skerryvores. Or perhaps Louis would have been a folk singer/songwriter along the lines of Nick Drake. Well, Louis might have been a hundred years ahead of his time, but he was still inescapably in it, and though he dabbled in music, creating small pieces for his flageolet, it was the written word that flowed through him, the written word that continues to be read.

Being the 160th anniversary of Robert Louis Stevenson's birthday, I thought I would post this simple piece of music I wrote, inspired by RLS.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Septimus and the Magician, A Fable: Part 2

fter the show, Signor Mortiz, followed by Septimus and the monkey, found the dressing room of his impostor. There was a bowl of fruit, a bottle of spirits, and the man's street clothes and overcoat. He noticed a banana in the bowl and handed it to the monkey who climbed into the one good chair and deftly peeled the fruit and consumed it with a swiftness that made Mortiz momentarily think of how expensive a monkey would be as a pet. Septimus looked at the monkey and then at Signor Mortiz with a tinge of sadness in his expression, so Mortiz located the food his impostor had been feeding Septimus and he was soon crouched over his bowl, his attention slightly agitated by the strange antics of this long-armed creature sitting where the impostor used to sit.

Mortiz lit a cheroot and began to inspect the clothes, threadbare and worn at the edges, but tailored of very high quality materials. He discovered a number of folded papers, letters and cards in a pocket, and squinting at one of the calling cards through the smoke trailing up to his eyes, he coughed as he read the name: William McGlaughlin Esq. Turning to the monkey who was by now showing his teeth and grabbing his big toe with much glee, Signor Mortiz bent down and looked into the face of the monkey and a depressing weight of recognition washed over him, for he could see his father's eyes. He had not recognized his father on stage what with the fake beard, heavy make-up, wig and top hat worn to resemble the real Signor Mortiz, his son. The question as to whether his father had recognized him as he mounted the stage was the question that began to dominate his thoughts.

Signor Mortiz sat heavily upon a three-legged footstool and looked at the folded papers, letters and cards. The papers were mostly unpaid bills and letters demanding payments for various amenities. The calling cards were of two varieties, one in his father's name and one in the name of Signor Mortiz. His eyes read "Senior" Mortiz, and he let them drop to the dusty floor. . . .

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Robert Louis Stevenson's Nights: Part Two, Parenthetical and Digressional

When Robert Louis Stevenson lived in Bournemouth during the years 1884-1887 he would often stay with Sidney Colvin when visiting or passing through London. Colvin, being the Keeper of the Prints at the British Museum, had the great fortune of living in a house provided for this position, a living quarter which flanked the Museum itself. It was no doubt where Louis was staying when he dropped by Walter T. Spencer's bookshop in 1885--but a short walk away from the British Museum--dripping with rain and suffering from a leaky shoe. Many years later, when established in the South Seas, he wrote a poem for Colvin called To S.C. It became part of the posthumous collection Songs of Travel and Other Verses arranged by Colvin and published in 1895 by Chatto & Windus. In the poem he shifts his thoughts from his tropical surroundings of his island home and recalls the fond memories of being a guest at Sidney Colvin's home at the British Museum, a home which Louis would refer to in letters and conversation as "the Monument" and here as "the many-pillared and the well-beloved":

To other lands and nights my fancy turned -
To London first, and chiefly to your house,
The many-pillared and the well-beloved.
There yearning fancy lighted; there again
In the upper room I lay, and heard far off
The unsleeping city murmur like a shell;
The muffled tramp of the Museum guard
Once more went by me; I beheld again
Lamps vainly brighten the dispeopled street;
Again I longed for the returning morn,
The awaking traffic, the bestirring birds,
The consentaneous trill of tiny song
That weaves round monumental cornices
A passing charm of beauty. Most of all,
For your light foot I wearied, and your knock
That was the glad réveillé of my day.

One of Colvin's colleagues at the British Museum was Richard Garnett (1835-1906) a scholar whose life was wholly bound up with the British Museum from the year 1851, when he entered the Museum as an assistant in the Library, to his later years as the Keeper of the Printed Book. Colvin in his Memories and Notes of Persons and Places, 1852-1912, recalled Garnett with this description:

The most genially quaint of erudite men, the most helpful, the most smiling and queerly attractive to look at in spite of his stained teeth and bristling russet stubble of a beard, he was not, I suppose, a trained bibliographer in the full modern sense, but had a vast and varied practical knowledge of books and the most indefatigably obliging courtesy in helping all those who sought his help in their studies. Sedulous as he was in every museum duty, Garnett found time for a vast amount of reading and much miscellaneous critical and biographical writing outside his official work, and has left with all his colleagues a memory at which we cannot forbear to smile, but which we affectionately esteem and honour none the less. (pp. 208-209)

An interesting description which seems to suggest he was mildly eccentric. In Garnett's Times obituary the term vita umbratilis is referred to describe his career and it is doubly apt when considering he laboured beneath the umbrella-like protective dome of the Reading Room. Someone who was connected with the Museum from time to time was T. E. Lawrence--who could possibly be seen as eccentric in some ways as well. In an introduction to a reissue of one of Garnett's books, Lawrence wrote of him and the Reading Room of the British Museum:

The Reading Room, his province, is wise, rich, sober, warm, decent (even dingy), industrious; but it lacks humour, it lacks polish, and all that crackling display of surface virtue which comprehends smartness, and is much more. Consequently, because the Museum was hushed, Dr. Garnett would be--on paper--lively. Because the great ceiling coved so solemnly overhead, he would be flippant. Because his readers were so deadly serious, he would be sprightly. . . His dealings throughout the open hours were with living people, inquirers all, whether they were great scholars with minds so deep in the well of learning that never could they be raised to the life of day, or simple souls who had perhaps not heard of Sanchoniathon or Vopiscus. People would sidle up to him at his desk to ask for the best book upon caterpillars, for a Keats manuscript, to know how many protons might be in a cubic foot of Bessemer steel. The Library is the ultimate reference book of the world, and its presiding genius the Index.

Lawrence interestingly mentions in an aside, that the British Museum was an ideal place for umbrellas to find a home: "Incidentally this is the best place in London to lose an acquired or embarrassing umbrella. It costs no more than the pain of carrying off a brass disc; and that's not all loss, for there is one special pattern of slot machine in which these discs perform miracles." This little piece of advice from 1924 has left me with the image of T. E. Lawrence handing over an unwanted umbrella to the man at the door in red cuffs and lapels, and being handed a numbered brass disc, and has equally left me with the question of just what slot machine he was referring to.

The reference to an 'acquired' umbrella brings to mind poor Leonard Bast in E. M. Forster's Howards End, while the reference to an 'embarrassing' umbrella brings to mind the well-known and humorous undergraduate essay by Robert Louis Stevenson on The Philosophy of Umbrellas:

The falsity and the folly of the human race have degraded that graceful symbol to the ends of dishonesty; and while some umbrellas, from carelessness in selection, are not strikingly characteristic (for it is only in what a man loves that he displays his real nature), others, from certain prudential motives, are chosen directly opposite to the person’s disposition. A mendacious umbrella is a sign of great moral degradation. Hypocrisy naturally shelters itself below a silk; while the fast youth goes to visit his religious friends armed with the decent and reputable gingham. May it not be said of the bearers of these inappropriate umbrellas that they go about the streets ‘with a lie in their right hand’?

A passage near the end of that funny essay is perhaps too good to pass up:

‘Not the least important, and by far the most curious property of the umbrella, is the energy which it displays in affecting the atmospheric strata. There is no fact in meteorology better established—indeed, it is almost the only one on which meteorologists are agreed—than that the carriage of an umbrella produces desiccation of the air; while if it be left at home, aqueous vapour is largely produced, and is soon deposited in the form of rain. No theory,’ my friend continues, ‘competent to explain this hygrometric law has been given (as far as I am aware) by Herschel, Dove, Glaisher, Tait, Buchan, or any other writer; nor do I pretend to supply the defect. I venture, however, to throw out the conjecture that it will be ultimately found to belong to the same class of natural laws as that agreeable to which a slice of toast always descends with the buttered surface downwards.’

Light verse addendum:

I came across this saying in Putnam's Complete Book of Quotations, Proverbs and Household Words by W. Gurney Benham:

Rainy days will surely come,
Take your friend's umbrella home.

And this from a book of comic verse:

The Rain
The rain it raineth every day,
Upon the just and unjust fellow,
But more upon the just, because
The unjust hath the just's umbrella.

This last verse could be a companion to Robert Louis Stevenson's in his A Child's Garden of Verses:

The Rain
The Rain is raining all around,
It falls on field and tree,
It rains on the umbrellas here,
And on the ships at sea.

And on a personal note, my wife recently referred to umbrellas in a blogpost and quoted a verse of mine written in the early 1980s. I had been reading quite a bit of nonsense verse and cautionary tales, the work of Lear, Belloc, Carroll et al., and I wrote a flurry of light verse--or nonsense-- in that vein. Since I have digressed upon umbrellas, I shall leave with two verses of mine:


Umbrellas were once made of feathers you know,
With two you could almost fly.
Like that girl from Trieste, in that strong north-west,
Who was swept up into the sky.
And when she looked down, she saw with a frown,
Her parents were waving goodbye, goodbye,
Her parents were waving goodbye.

Umbrellas are good in all sorts of weathers,
They can even be used as a boat.
Like that boy from Madras,
To impress a fine lass,
Crossed a stream like a knight o'er a moat.
And together they travelled, the stream that unravelled,
And off in the sunset did float, did float,
And off in the sunset did float.

-ralph patrick mackay

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Alexander McCall Smith Interview

This past week we had the great pleasure of listening to an audio interview of Alexander McCall Smith--one of my wife's favourite novelists--on CBC radio. He was attending the Writers at Woody Point Festival in Gros Morne, Newfoundland. It was such a fun interview that I wanted to make a link to it here. Enjoy: Interview with Alexander McCall Smith at CBC radio with Shelagh Rogers, host of The Next Chapter.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Robert Louis Stevenson's Nights: Part One

Colvinian Preamble
In an essay found in his collection: Memories and Notes of Persons and Places 1852-1912 (London: Edward Arnold, 1921), Sir Sidney Colvin (1845-1927), who had been Slade Professor of Art at Cambridge, director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and later, the Keeper of prints and drawings at the British Museum, reflected upon the nature of the latter position which he held for many years:

For one thing, it is a chief part of his duty to win regard and confidence of private collectors, to help and stimulate them in their pursuits, putting his knowledge at their disposal but making them feel the while that their prime, their binding, duty is to acknowledge such help by destining their collections in the long run to enrich the institution which he serves. It is open to a collector to do one of three things with his treasures after his death: leave them intact to his heirs: leave them to be dispersed by auction, or leave them to enrich some public gallery or museum. . . .The third offers the reward of the permanent recognition which will await his name as that of an enlightened amateur and national or civic benefactor. It is the value and excellence of this last reward which those public guardians of such things whom he may count among his friends are bound with all their power to impress upon him. (p.205).

Colvin was referring to prints, etchings, paintings and other works of art, but it made me think about rare book librarians, books and their collectors. The three choices Colvin mentions are equally applicable to them, and this made me think of the rather interesting dynamic between the specialist—Museum Keeper, or Rare Books Librarian—the seller—Bookseller or Auction house—and the passionate collector. The specialist and the seller seem to have a symbiotic relationship for they benefit from each other in the moment, but they are also competing for the endgame, as they both may be hoping that the collector will think of them when the legal will is made and the decisions of what to do with a collection—whether books or art, or both—are ultimately made. I imagine auction houses win out a great deal of the time—cash flow, it seems, is always in demand, even for the wealthy—therefore keeping collectors and sellers—new and old—taking part in that particular cycle of life. Once a collection, or specific work of art or book, goes to a museum or special library collection, however, collectors and sellers must think that the stock of possibilities has decreased. This must be more truly felt in the world of art when a certain work is donated to a museum thereby diminishing the prospects for private hands.

The rarefied atmosphere at the top-end of art and book collecting is not one familiar to me at all, but it is interesting to read about on occasion. In looking into Robert Louis Stevenson's life, I returned to a memoir of a bookseller who did inhabit that rarefied air somewhat, Walter T. Spencer. His memoir, Forty Years in my Bookshop, edited with an introduction by Thomas Moult (London: Constable & Company, 1923), is an attractively printed and bound issue (Robert Maclehouse and Co., University Press, Glasgow) and somewhat resembles the issues from the publisher T. N. Foulis in its typography, paper and binding, the edges untrimmed and the top edge gilt. Walter T. Spencer's father ran a picture shop that sold prints, drawings and paintings and the son grew up working in the shop, which was a good grounding for opening his own business in the month of June 1883 at 27 New Oxford Street, London. Unlike many booksellers who had to move from location to location , he was fortunate or wise in his choice of location, for he writes: "But through all these changes and chances in this great city I am, I think, one of the few, among booksellers, at any rate, that have pitched an unmoved tent." He describes New Oxford Street as: "a sort of Mecca for the pilgrimage of bibliophiles and picture-hunters, autograph collectors and antiquaries. Here, for long absorbing hours, time has no meaning and the clock ticks in neglect."

I imagine New Oxford Street has changed a great deal over the years, and is not quite what it was, but there is the rather extraordinary James Smith & Sons, a firm which began in 1830 and has been at 53 New Oxford Street since 1857, a visual touchstone for the Victorian Age. One can imagine Sherlock Holmes and Watson rubbing shoulders with Prince Florizel and Col. Geraldine surrounded by sword sticks, dagger canes, Malacca canes, Irish Blackthorns, riding crops, umbrellas and walking sticks of all types. It is quite likely that Spencer being fairly close, purchased an item or two from the firm. Sidney Colvin, Robert Louis Stevenson were also likely customers, although I have to wonder if Louis ever did use an umbrella; certainly not a tightly rolled version so common with bowler hats. I rather imagine he just used a large brimmed bohemian hat and got wet.

Spencer dealt not only in books--mostly of contemporary writers, but of the upper-shelf variety--but also in letters, manuscripts, and personal items connected with authors, as well as prints, drawings and pictures, specifically of the artists who illustrated Charles Dickens. He comes across as keen as Col. Mustard in the library with a paper knife, for he was certainly one to seek out such items for sale. His memoir is no doubt a book well-known to English booksellers and is interesting for the bibliographic gleanings and period values and prices of various books, and it is enjoyable for its many anecdotes and stories of unusual customers and authors. Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) dropped by his shop on one occasion in 1885, stereotypically dripping from the rain. His shoe, he told Spencer, had suffered a leak. The bookseller settled the author in a chair to dry out and provided brandy and water. Spencer relates this story of his visit:

I thought it would interest Mr. Stevenson to see a catalogue I had just issued, in which the first edition of his "New Arabian Nights" (two volumes, published in 1882) was listed at 8s 6d. in the original cloth. A moment earlier he had been depressed by the sight on my shelves of some sixty copies of the book, a library surplus which I had purchased from Mudies for a shilling a volume. I can see now the change on his face as he looked up from the catalogue.
"But, Mr. Spencer," he said wistfully, "no-one asks about first editions of my books, do they?"
Poor Stevenson's lack of self-confidence was never justified, for the book gradually increased in price, moving to four guineas, to six, to eight. At the sale of Colonel Prideaux's library I gave 47 pounds for a copy. But neither R. L. S. nor I, as we sat there talking on that rainy day, ever thought I should live to see the day when, knowing how limited is the edition, I had to bid 101 pounds, as I did in 1921, for a book which, thirty-seven years earlier, I had priced at 8s6d. A record experience, surely, in a bookseller's own lifetime.

I imagine that Spencer's 'record experience' has no doubt been broken many times by modern booksellers. The present value of the two volume first edition does not seem to be too high considering a supposedly small print run. In reviewing the online sites, there was a recent listing for the Chatto & Windus first issue, first state for $2500. The New Arabian Nights was Robert Louis Stevenson's first collection of fiction, but not his first attempts in that area. Some of his stories from the early 1870s were destroyed, but a few survived such as the story, When the Devil Was Well which eventually found its way to a typographer in 1921 when The Bibliophile Society of Boston issued a limited edition with an introduction by William P. Trent. It seems to run in the $100 to $150 range. If possession is not a requirement, you can read it here.
Colvinian Serendipity
During the 1870s, Robert Louis Stevenson was still emotionally, psychologically, and financially tethered to his parents, and when his father heard of his son's confessed atheism, RLS was sent to stay with relatives in Suffolk. This minor rift led to the wonderful and important meeting with Sidney Colvin.

Mrs. Frances Sitwell--married, 34 years of age--was staying with the said relatives in Suffolk and was very impressed with RLS and so invited her good friend Sidney Colvin, then at Cambridge, to come and meet him. Colvin wrote of this first meeting, he was twenty-eight, and Louis was twenty-three:

I had landed from a Great-Eastern train at a little country station in Suffolk, and was met on the platform by a stripling in a velvet jacket and straw hat, who walked up with me to the country rectory where he was staying and where I had come to stay. I had lately been appointed Slade Professor at Cambridge; the rectory was that at Cockfield, near Bury St. Edmunds; the host was my much older colleague Professor Churchill Babington, of amiable and learned memory; the hostess was his wife, a grand-daughter of the Rev. Lewis Balfour of Colinton, Midlothian; the youth was her young first cousin by the mother's side, Louis Stevenson from Edinburgh. The first shyness over I realized in the course of that short walk how well I had done to follow the advice of a fellow-guest who had preceded me in the house--to wit Mrs. Sitwell, my wife as she came later to be. She had written to me about this youth, declaring that I should find him a real young genius and urging me to come if I could before he went away. I could not wonder at what I presently learnt--how within an hour of his first appearance at the rectory, knapsack on back, a few days earlier, he had captivated the whole house-hold. To his cousin the hostess, a woman of a fine sympathetic nature and quick, humorous intelligence, he was of course well know beforehand, though she had never seen him in so charming a light as now. With her husband the Professor, a clergyman of solid antiquarian and ecclesiastical knowledge and an almost Pickwickian simplicity of character corresponding to his lovable rotund visage and innocently beaming spectacles--with the Professor, "Stivvy," as he called his wife's young cousin, was already something of a favourite. (Memories and Notes, pp. 102-03).

There was a rapport between the two young men, so much so that a year later Colvin was backing Louis's membership in the Savile Club. Started in 1868 by Auberon Herbert, The Savile Club's initial principles were "(1) A thorough simplicity in all arrangements and (2) The mixture of men of different professions and opinions." (The Gentlemen's Clubs of London by Anthony LeJeune and Malcolm Lewis, Dorset Press: 1984; p. 260.) It was ideally suited to Louis's talent of conversation, storytelling, and conviviality for the long communal dining table provided an environment for robust and creative interaction while the members and guests lunched or dined on what was considered rather casual or simple fair, roast beef. Their cold apple tart might have interested Mycroft Holmes, but not the garrulous nature of the club. It was first known as the 'New Club" but upon moving to a house on Savile Row, they adopted the street name. It moved again in 1882 to a house in Piccadilly and then again in 1927 to Brook St. where the club resides today. Robert Louis Stevenson was familiar with the Savile Row and Piccadilly locations. Edmund Gosse who was introduced to RLS by Sidney Colvin recalled in an essay in his book Sihouettes (1925): "Sir Sidney Colvin, ever since 1871 an officer of the club, of which he is still a trustee, is undoubtedly its present father. Young members are sometimes persuaded to believe that he was its founder as well, the initials S. C. being confidently pointed to." (p. 378). The initials for 'social club' and 'soldalitas convivium' as Gosse pointed out at the beginning of his essay would have backed up that fanciful claim. Gosse recalls fond memories of his experiences at the club:

The conversations in the 'eighties in which the two Stevensons--R. L. S. and his wonderful cousin R. A. M. S.--took the predominant part, were not so vociferous nor so purely anecdotal. Day after day, these met at the luncheon-table with, to name only the dead, Andrew Lang, W. E. Henley, William Minto, H. J. Hood, sometimes Coventry Patmore and Austin Dobson. . . .The talk was not noisy when these men met in the absolute liberty of 15 Savile Row, but it was worthy of the finest traditions of eager, cultivated communication. (p. 380).
His dashing cousin Robert Allan, 'Bob', Stevenson, was a handsome, adventurous figure, an artist, a talented musician, attractive to women, and full of fantastic stories and concepts. He was instrumental in introducing RLS to the bohemian aspects of Paris and the south of France, and it was his idea which inspired the initial stories in RLS's New Arabian Nights. . . .

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Anecdotage: Arthur Machen, Ernest Benn, A. L. Greening and the Stage

In discussing the two publishers Greening & Co. and Ernest Benn in recent posts, memories of Arthur Machen were aroused. Arthur Machen was a "reader" for Ernest Benn in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and upon being let go of this position at age 70, Benn commissioned a short novel from him for 50 pounds. Machen was not a young man, and yet he managed to finish the novel called The Green Round for this rather lukewarm-hearted commission and it was eventually published in 1933. Benn wanted it for his Ninepenny Novelist series. In a letter to his friend Colin Summerford, Machen wrote:

"Poor Uncle Ernest. What he will say to The Green Round, I do not know. Gollancz told me that Sir Ernest was a man absolutely without religion; but I trust that this is not the case. He will want consolation." (quoted on page 149 of Arthur Machen: a Biography by Aidan Reynolds and William Charlton).

The book did not sell well. This was not unusual for Machen. For another commission for The Faith Press, he wrote The Great Return which was published in 1915. This too did not sell at all well. A few years later, Machen was browsing in a bookshop and came across a large dusty stack of the title. Reynolds and Charlton in their biography relate that: "The bookseller had not sold one for a long time, but when Machen told him who he was, he had not the heart to charge him for a copy." (ibid., p. 116).

The trial of Oscar Wilde created a backlash among publishers towards any type of literature which could possibly be considered decadent, and though Machen's works were not, he suffered from this reluctance, making the last half-decade of the 1890s a rather challenging period. Machen eventually tried his hand as an actor. He made his debut in 1901 and became a strolling player with Sir Frank Benson's company. An interesting crossover, writing to acting. Arthur Greening, the publisher, had been involved with light theatre, variety, musicals, and he switched over to publishing. I have yet to find if Machen ever met Greening but I rather doubt they would have gotten along. Different fish altogether. The only connection I have found so far, is the journalist and hack writer, T. W. H. Crossland who was involved with Greening and edited an edition of Hudibras for the publisher. Crossland reviewed books for various periodicals, and was a rather malicious enemy of Machen. He always referred to him as "MacHen".

Like anyone involved with the theatre, there are stories and anecdotes galore. Arthur Machen had his store as well. Reynolds and Charlton quote from O. B. Clarence's autobiography No Complaints, where he describes Machen's initial steps as a strolling player: "It pleased him [Machen] later on to make one of the crowd in several of the productions. I remember him among the rioters in Coriolanus. We were all brandishing clubs and shouting ourselves hoarse--'Down with him. Traitor', etc., and there at the back stood Machen muttering softly in mild disapproval of Coriolanus--'Down with him. Traitor. Oh, yes, distinctly traitor, oh impossible fellow.' Before long, however, he was shouting with the best." (ibid., p. 84).

Machen seems to have found his footing--and possessed natural talent--for in 1907 playing Sir Daniel Ridgeley in Pinero's His House in Order, in such small venues as Market Driffield, Hexham, and Ledbury, he was quite a comic turn. Reynolds and Charlton write: "Whenever Machen appeared, there were howls of mirth--'by the end of the show there was an old fellow in the front row who was reduced to nothing but a rattle and a wheeze and an agony in the region of the ribs'. There must have lived about Ledbury then a dreary long-winded, long-bearded bore ejecting moral sentiments in a pompous voice. Years later members of the company were still calling Machen 'The Ledbury Pet.' " (ibid., p.93).

Septimus and the Magician: a Fable

uring the mid-nineteenth century, the talented magician and ventriloquist, Signor Mortiz, travelled the North American continent charming audiences--to the chagrin of most clerics--and made a great name for himself. The Great Signor Mortiz became a name that any householder in any city would be familiar with. The great magician and ventriloquist, however, began to discover that impostors were living off his reputation, travelling in advance of him on his own circuit, calling themselves by his name and even using his advertising handbills. Some purported to be his son, others to be his nephew, but the majority of these impostors pretended to be the very man himself. It became commonplace, upon arriving in a city for a show, to be served with unpaid bills for food, lodging, clothing and other amenities, bills left unpaid by his impostors. The vexatious nature of these demands and the damage to his reputation were becoming much more than a nuisance, they were threatening his very means of existence.

One day, after leaving the constabulary office in a mid-western town after having explained he was not responsible for the unpaid bills there, he stopped to light a cheroot, and looking down to toss away the spent match, he noticed a rather tame old tom cat, a handsome thing he had to admit, and upon closer inspection, sporting seven toes on each front paw. It was at this moment that Signor Mortiz--his real name was really Walter McLaughlin--thought of employing this unusual feline as an accomplice. What is a necromancer without a cat he thought? And how could his impostors manage to duplicate his very unusual assistant. Looking down, he asked the cat if he would like to join Signor Mortiz on his travels and see a bit of the world, meals included. The Tom cat tilted his head and scratched his side with his hind leg in response, so Signor Mortiz threw his voice and replied on behalf of the cat that indeed that was an appealing offer and he would very much enjoy a bit of travel.

And so it was that Signor Mortiz made up new handbills advertising "Signor Mortiz and Septimus, the seven-toed cat."

But a year later, Septimus disappeared. Mortiz had been extremely careful in the security of his feline companion, but somehow he was outwitted. A month later, he found himself in a city jail, with numerous unpaid bills. The jailer was chuckling at his newspaper and wandered over to poor Signor Mortiz to show him that the real Signor Mortiz had entertained John Jacob Astor at a special event for the rich man at his home, and that it said Septimus the seven-toed cat dined on filet mignon. Signor Mortiz responded by saying he was the real Signor Mortiz. The jailer asked, "But where is your cat, Sir, where is your cat?"

After entertaining the police constables with his ability to throw his voice, Signor Mortiz was finally released and following up the newspaper article, he arrived at his imposter's advertised show the following week at The Egyptian Theatre. He found himself a seat at the extreme right of the stage and was appalled by the lack of talent of this impostor, and the degradation of his good name. Rising to his feet, Signor Mortiz made his way to the small staircase at the side of the stage and made his way up. He called out the name of his cat, and Septemus immediately sprang over to his true companion and wrapped himself around his pant leg. Addressing the audience, he told them that this man was not who he pretended to be, and throwing his voice into Septemus, the cat announced the other man an impostor. At this the audience roared with laughter. Signor Mortiz swept his large cape dramatically from his shoulders and approaching the impostor who was trying to get the house management to do something about his unwanted intruder, threw his cape over the impostor and with a puff of smoke, Signor Mortiz transformed this impostor into a monkey. Giving the monkey a large sheet of paper and a piece of charcoal, the monkey scrawled, to the astonishment of the audience, the words "Applause for the Magnificent Signor Mortiz," which Signor Mortiz held up for the audience to see. The crowd responded inspiring the monkey to a flurry of awkward imitation, and Signor Mortiz took his bow, deeper, longer and with more relish than he had ever experienced before, so much so, that he wondered if he were dreaming.

{inspired by the life of Signor Blitz, the real Signor Mortiz}

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Publisher's Devices: Houghton, Mifflin and Company: Tout Bien ou Rien

Like James and John Harper of Harper & Brothers, Henry Oscar Houghton , born in Sutton, Vermont in 1823, had his beginnings in the printing trade. Coming from a family that struggled financially, he began his printers apprenticeship at the age of 13. Later, when he wished to attend University, he used his trade skills to finance his studies by working for a printer in Burlington, Vermont. Even though he had worked while attending courses, he still had a debt of $300 owed to the University upon his graduation in 1846. Working for a Boston printing firm, Freeman & Bolles, he worked off his debt and began to establish himself in the world. In 1848 he was given the opportunity to enter into partnership with the firm, but the required investment money was difficult to raise. Just as the deadline for his investment was coming due, and it looked like he would have to pass on the opportunity, good fortune stepped in by way of a family connection and upon telling him the story, the friend provided the needed shortfall, and the printing firm was established in 1849 as Bolles & Houghton. One of their important clients was the publisher Little, Brown and Company who were well known at the time for their publishing of law text books, and books of essays, and speeches. The proprietor, James Brown, owned a building on the Charles River in Cambridge, and offered it as a new location for Bolles & Houghton's expanding printing business, which they accepted, and moved their business from Boston to this newly renovated building. Upon the retirement of Bolles, the printing firm became H. O. Houghton & Company at the "Riverside Press" in 1852. The press was kept running not only by Little, Brown and Company, but also by the important client of Ticknor & Fields who published many of the best American writers of the day.

So, Henry Oscar Houghton, born of humble origins, had established himself as an emerging businessman by the age of 30. One would think that a printing firm would be enough of a challenge, but upon meeting the interestingly named Melancthon M. Hurd, a printer with common interests and ideas to those of Houghton, they decided to embark on another venture, a publishing firm which would use the Riverside Press as their printer; in 1864, Hurd & Houghton was formed. Houghton made a trip to England in 1864 to seek out master printers and binders to employ in his expanding business, and while there, had a publisher's device, or monogram (two "h's" interlocked) designed by Miss Charlotte Whittingham, the daughter of the Chiswick Press proprietor, Charles Whittingham II (1795-1876). It shows that Houghton was seeking out connections with the very best printers. Whittingham had five children who in various capacities, worked for their father's Chiswick Press. The daughters Charlotte and Elizabeth were artists who designed monograms, embellishments, borders, head and tail pieces for the press. It was Charlotte who married Benjamin Franklin Stevens who also became a partner in the Press for a number of years; Stevens, an American born in 1833 in Barnet, Vermont but a few counties south of Houghton's birthplace, had followed his brother to England to work in his bookselling business. Benjamin and his brother Henry Stevens went on to become well-known bibliographers. According to B. F. Stevens's obituary in the New York Times, March 7, 1902, he married Charlotte Whittingham in 1865. Looking at G. Manville Fenn's Memoir of Benjamin Franklin Stevens (London: Printed at the Chiswick Press, 1903 for private distribution), B. F. Stevens first met Charlotte in 1862 when he was invited to visit at their country home by Charles Whittingham whom he had befriended through his brother. I cannot find a reference to Houghton ever crossing paths with Stevens while he visited the Chiswick Press, but it would have made an interesting meeting. The proverbial small world as they discovered that they both came from the same area back in Vermont and had both attended University in Burlington.

In 1878, Melancthon Hurd retired, and Houghton went into partnership with the publisher James Osgood & Co., which was the successor to the well-known Ticknor & Fields, and later, Fields, Osgood & Co. The new firm was named Houghton, Osgood & Co. This business move brought Houghton the wonderful back list of fine American writers which had been published by Ticknor & Fields and their successors, all good to keep his prized Riverside Press running. It was only two years later, in 1880, that Osgood retired. It was at this moment that Houghton brought in George Harrison Mifflin as full partner in the business calling the firm, Houghton, Mifflin & Co. Unlike Houghton, Mifflin had come from a wealthy background and began his relationship with Houghton by working in the counting room of the Riverside Press, and later, in charge of the Bindery. He became a partner in Hurd & Houghton in 1872 and worked his way up in various capacities.

Henry Oscar Houghton's Riverside Press was, in our modern terminology, Houghton's important and cherished "brand" which he protected by making sure everything was of the highest quality. They issued the "Riverside Classics" and the name came to be known for quality and substance. Horace Elisha Scudder recounts in his excellent memoir of Houghton, entitled Henry Oscar Houghton: a Biographical Outline (Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1897)--from which a great deal of the information here is derived--that Houghton told him once that "'Riverside'. . . is like a diamond which I can hold up before my eyes, and turn it this way and that, and let the light fall on it, and see it sparkle." Scudder realises that in Houghton's publishing and printing business he "was building an institution; he was creating something which should have an organic life of its own." (p. 92).

Publisher's Device
Having recently looked over McKerrow's book and other items on printers marks, I can see the possible influence of certain Parisian printers devices from around the 1490s upon the design used for the Riverside Press of Houghton, Mifflin & Co. The border structure with lettering and the detailed cut for the image can possibly find their inspiration in the printer's devices of Antoine Caillaut or André Bocard among others. The motto "Tout Bien Ou Rien" was a one that appealed to Houghton for it fit nicely with his strong feelings of the importance of perfection and hard work, and if one was going to do something, it should be the best possible. He had used the motto for his personal bookplate and it started to be used in his publisher's device in the 1880s.

Sources cite that the original inspiration for the design of the publisher's device was one of the illustrations by Elihu Vedder for the fine edition of Edward Fitzgerald's translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam published by Houghton, Mifflin & Co. in 1894. Sidney L. Smith--who seems to be known now for his bookplate designs--was given the design job, and though perhaps inspired by the Vedder illustration, it certainly feels informed by the historical precedence of Parisian printer's marks. The first example (from a late 1890s edition of Out of the East by Lafcadio Hearn) with the text border, the heavy cut, the classical figure with the double-piped instrument or aulos, the oil-lamp or lucerne of classical antiquity, the image of a printing press, the meandering stream or river, the shield with the initials of the publishing firm, the tree of knowledge, and the rising sun combine to create an image of a certain density and heaviness which harkens back to a much earlier age and would not be too out of place with printer's devices from Paris in the 1490s.

The second example, (from a 1920 issue of Charles Eliot Norton's translation of Dante's Divine Comedy) is the work of Bruce Rogers who worked for firm between 1895-1912; it retains the essential elements, but there is a much more open feel, with a cleaner aesthetic appeal, the old border design and the sun having been dropped. The lucerne in the foreground becomes more of a focal point, and the shield with the firm's initials is also much more prominent, while the motto is placed on a banner draped in the tree and the choice of typography, although not modern, is slightly updated.
The third example (from Editorials by Lafcadio Hearn edited by C. W. Hutson, 1926), breaks free from the original design, shifting the tree to the side and having the figure sitting on a classical plinth. The shield is now the bearer of the motto and the lucerne is even more prominent. Though more overtly classical in its allusions, it has a much more contemporary feel within its compact, clean circular design. This device is also blind-stamped on the upper board of this particular edition, but upon looking closely, it is a slightly different, and later cut, the figure poorly executed. (There are many other variations of the device such as can be found here, here, and here.)

In 2007, Houghton Mifflin acquired Harcourt publishers and is now known as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Their device retains a semblance of the piper, Arion-like, riding a dolphin.

Friday, July 30, 2010

A Chumley's, New York, Update

Chumley's, the historic bar and eatery in New York City, suffered a collapse in 2007 and is in the process--long process--of being redeveloped. I wrote about a visit to Chumley's with my wife and brother-in-law in 2004 on this blog--you can find the posts by clicking on the label at the bottom of this post. Recently, I was wondering how much progress has been made, and I found a couple of interesting blogs: Jeremiah's Vanishing NewYork blog has some updates and photos dealing with Chumley's; and this quite new blog post over at Daytonian in Manhattan . The work on the roof looks promising, but there seems to be a long way to go.

Photo to the left: sitting at the bar of Chumley's raising a glass to Fitzgerald & Co. during our impromptu, and fortunate, afternoon visit. Photo Right: a portion of Chumley's door at 86 Bedford.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Swan and the Cat: Variation on the WillowWay

I have used my wife's photographs of one of the exquisite swans taken on the Avon River in Stratford, Ontario and created a variation of the music piece I came up with for my previous video, the WillowWay. The cat, also quite beautiful, was fearless, curious and obviously well-kept--though apparently out and about that day. Whether it was the same day as my wife captured the pictures of the swan I shall leave to your imagination.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Lafcadio Hearn and the Milky Way: The Tanabata Festival

June 27th was the 160th anniversary of Lafcadio Hearn's birth, and I have been thinking about his life and work over the last days. He was born on the then British-ruled Ionian Island of Lefkcada in 1850 of a Greek mother and an Anglo-Irish father, and abandoned essentially by both at the age of seven and overseen by a paternal Great Aunt, a Mrs. Brenane, in Wales. He never did see his younger brother or his parents ever again. He was sent to a Jesuit school in Northern France, and also to a Catholic school in Durham where he lost the sight of an eye in a school-yard game gone awry. At the age of 16, he left this school and made his way to London where for a number of obscure years he managed to survive poverty and isolation, years so painful to memory that he never did elaborate on them. At age 19 he made his way to New York, one of many penniless emigrants, and though a wanderer in the United States and in the Caribbean, he did finally discover a place where he felt at home, Japan. [I have written briefly about how he first came to visit the country here.]

He died there in September 1904 with a fine reputation as a teacher and writer. The first book published posthumously was his The Milky Way and Other Studies and Stories (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1905). It was published in October of 1905, and is made up of essays and stories, many of them having been published in the Atlantic Monthly over the last year. The title story first saw print in that periodical in August 1905 (vol. 96, p. 238) and concerned the subject of the Japanese festival of Tanabata.

The seventh day of the seventh month is the Tanabata Festival, and although in Japan it is now the wee hours of the following day, and many Japanese are perhaps dreaming of the previous day and evening festivities, I thought I would make a link to the essay by Lafcadio Hearn. It is an excellent essay with a good selection of poetry and he ends it with his characteristic style of writing and a mild example of his idiosyncratic use of punctuation which was so often a challenge to his editors--and their typesetters.

The Romance of the Milky Way by Lafcadio Hearn.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Tipped In, or, The Capart Conjecture

I enjoy coming across older volumes with paper spine labels, rare though these occasions are, for it offers the possibility of finding a spare label pasted in at the back of the book. This anticipation is, I realize, a small bibliographic pleasure, one that to a non-bookish type would likely be incomprehensible, but there is something satisfying in finding a stand-in label tipped in between the endpapers, crisp, complete and unblemished by age, biding its time like some treasure stored in a tomb.

Looking over my books, I realize how few in my possession have paper labels, and of those, less than half have spare labels at the back. Jean Capart's The Tomb of Tutankhamen translated by Warren R. Dawson and published by George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1923, is a book I have had since the late 1970s and though the dust-wrapper is brittle, darkened, chipped and suffers some loss at the head and foot of the spine, it has kept the paper spine label in decent shape. The books I have that could use a fresh label, lack them. It seems an axiom--at least a Chumley one--that if you have a copy with a spare tipped in at the back, it probably doesn't need replacing.

It would be an interesting cabinet type of book collection if a collector sought out only books with paper spine labels. A collection of books made up of only books with paper spine labels and spares tipped in, would be a very unusual and curious cabinet collection.

A note on the book: The cover image is a photograph of Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon pasted down on the upper panel of the dustwrapper. The photograph, also reproduced within, was taken by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth of Belgium whom Jean Capart had accompanied to the opening of the tomb of Tutankhamen. Jean Capart named the Foundation Egyptologique Reine Elisabeth after this most interesting Queen.

Looking at pictures of Jean Capart, one could conjecture that he could have been a possible influence on Agatha Christie in her characterization of Mr. Hercule Poirot. It seems unlikely though. I imagine many Belgium men of the period were well-dressed, had interesting mustaches, bow ties and spectacles. The fictional detective first appeared in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, published in late 1920, many years before Agatha Christie became involved with the younger archaeologist Max Mallowan. The latter must have come in contact with Capart at some time in his career but that is probably where this fanciful notion can be played out. But then again, Capart was fairly well-known, having published a number of books on Egyptian Art in the first decade of the new century. I guess it is just my own Capart Conjecture.

The picture to the right of Jean Capart is of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth of Belgium.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Willow Way

Using some of my original--and quite amateur--photographs of swans on the Avon River in Stratford, Ontario, I strung them together to create a narrative of sorts. The acoustic guitar piece, The Willow Way, my modest tune, was influenced by the recent death of one of the Stratford swans.

I had never used video software before but I was moved to combine the photographs and the music and I came up with this simple short multi-media piece. I recorded the music direct to the computer on my acoustic guitar--much in need of new frets--hence the rather thin sound quality. I am sure I can come up with a few more excuses to cover my production failings. Anyway, I hope it has some redeeming features. Enjoy.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Clement Yung: Bookman

An old Montreal book scout, Clement Yung, had been much on my mind recently. Why does someone from one's past enter into the conscious mind and preoccupy one's thoughts with memories of distant days? I can't say. Perhaps it was because I was rereading some of the Arthur Machen books he had sold me a long time ago. But, then again, he had been in my thoughts prior to my reaching for the books, being perhaps the stimulus towards that revisitation.

Having left Montreal over 7 years ago, I had lost touch with him, and since he was in my thoughts, I decided to look him up on the Internet in the hope of perhaps reconnecting and reliving the past. It was sad news to discover he had died on May 9th.

We were mildly competitive book scouts in the 1980s; I rarely scooped him. His superior knowledge made for a quicker eye-hand coordination. If I did come away the better at a sale, it was because I was lucky, turning left instead of right upon entering a sale room for instance. In the 1990s when I sought out the refuge of a regular paycheck in library work, we kept in touch and he was often a great help. Originally from England, he was well-known in Montreal as a knowledgeable book scout, unusual for his English accent, his colourful clothes and his independent competitive spirit--and in his early years for his astounding ability to carry boxes of books on a bicycle. I regret having lost touch. My thoughts are with you Clement.

Clement Yung (1946-2010)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Publisher's Devices: Harper & Brothers: Passing the Torch

Harper & Brothers can trace its roots to 1817 when, James and John Harper--true "partners" in the printing trade--having completed their apprenticeships, opened their own business called J. & J. Harper. They were initially job printers, John being know as the better compositor and James the better pressman. The first book to have their name on the title page was a book they printed for the publisher/bookseller, Evert Duychinck, Seneca's Morals by Way of Abstract. To Which is Added, a Discourse Under the Title of, an After-Thought by Sir Robert L'Estrange. Their first book as a publisher was an issue of Locke's Essay Upon the Human Understanding, an edition of 500 copies. The names Evert Duychkinck, Richard Scott, J. & B. Seaman and a few others were included on the title page as subscribers for agreeing to each take 100 copies for sale. A smart way of covering their production costs. The title pages of their early published works are quite elegant, clean and classical, the lines of type in upper case, alternating in larger and smaller sizes. There is no use of publisher's devices at this time. They changed their name in 1833 to Harper & Brothers, and the rest is quite a history. One source says that the firm came across the motto for their publisher's device as early as the 1830s, but I cannot find examples of it being used in their early imprints. It seems to become fairly common from the 1870s, and may have been a result of the improvement in printing presses. It seems cylinder presses which began in 1875 greatly aided the use of engraved cuts in the printing process.

Looking at a few older Harper & Brothers books, I found a number of variations on their device, and no doubt there are many others. Having no Greek, I always casually interpreted their motto according to the image, which seemed fairly straightforward, the handing on of the flame of knowledge. But with light research into various sources on Harper & Brothers, the quote is traced back to Plato's Republic, Book 1, and refers to a torch race at a Festival in honour of a Thracian Goddess: "Running in the race they pass the torch one to another." Harper & Brother's private office fitted out in the 1870s, had the words of George William Curtis inscribed over the chimney, a hearth motto for the office which is apparently a paraphrase of the house motto: "My flame expires, but let true hands pass on / An unextinquished torch from sire to son."

The device in the upper left corner is from an 1876 edition of Wilkie Collins. The torch, or "fax" in classical literarture, is described in the Harper Dictionary of Classical Literature and Antiquities by T. H. Peck (New York, 1898) as: "The torch. The description of poets and mythologists, and the works of ancient art, represent the torch carried by Diana, Ceres, Bellona, Hymen, Phosphorus, by women in bacchanalian processions, and, in an inverted position, by Sleep and Death." (p. 664) The switch to a vertical device with a modified shield comes from a book published in 1906. The third image with what is likely laurel leaves with a more rustic torch is from a Harper & Brothers imprint from 1924. The fourth is from 1942 and the crown of leaves surrounds a torch that hearkens back to the original of 1876.

In 1962 the firm merged with Row, Peterson & Company to form Harper & Row. They kept the image of the torch alive in their modified publisher's device seen on the right. Even today, as HarperCollins, they have retained the torch in their device. A lengthy history of torch bearing there.

In The House of Harper: A Century of Publishing in Franklin Square by Joseph Henry Harper (1912)--from which I gleaned much of the information here--there are two anecdotes--out of many--that come to mind. The first is rather a sad story about the horse the brothers employed to run the presses when they were in their start-up years before they had advanced to steam. This horse for many years went around in circles to run the presses, with a midday break for its lunch. When they retired the horse to their father's farm, it would go in circles around a tree in the pasture, and at midday return to the barn for feeding, then return to the tree to continue its circular endeavors. The second story has the hallmark of the apocryphal but could possibly be true. John Kendrick Bangs, an author much connected with Harper, told the story of how his father and a good friend having left their club after a late dinner, came across a rather forlorn looking man leaning on a lamp post, his hat in the gutter. His father retrieved the hat and upon receipt, the man thanked him with magnanimous and eloquent courtesies. When his father inquired of the man's name, the man said with dignity, "Mr. Edgar Allan Poe." His father responded by saying that was very interesting as his name was "Tay" and his friend's name was "Toe", to which the afflicted author responded in kind, before walking off into the night, that they were well met, for together they made Potato. Poor old Poe. Speaking of Poe, in 1838, Harper & Brothers published one of his works, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. It must be one of the contenders for the longest subtitles on record. On first look, the layout of the typography detracts from the visual appeal of the title page, but on second look, it does seem to mimic a nautical vessel, and was likely a creative intention, the compositor doing the best they could with a seemingly intractable book title. The original imprint can be read here.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Publisher's Devices: Greening & Co. Ltd.: One Crowded Hour

Greening & Co., Ltd. Books by this British publisher are probably a bit thin on the ground here in Canada, though most libraries and book dealers have probably handled them from time to time. I only have one copy, an imprint in their Lotus Library Series, The Kreutzer Sonata by Count Tolstoy, a revised translation by Ivan Lepinski, and published in 1911, a late issue from this publisher whose first issue was published in 1897. It is pleasantly bound in purple cloth with blindstamp designs of stylised lotus flowers. The title page sports a decorative border including their device, a stylised lotus blossom pictured here. The initials at the bottom right hand corner of the decorative border are W. G. M. which belong to W. G. Mein who I have to presume was the artist of the device itself. I came across Mein's name listed as the illustrator of a volume I mention below from a Greening & Co. catalogue from 1908. The Lotus Library consisted of works by de Musset, Louys, Gaboriau, Gautier, de Maupassant, Daudet, and Zola among others. Not knowing the history of this publisher, I began some light research and I started to form an idea of their place in the London publishing industry of the turn of the last century. Their advertisements at the back of many of their volumes reveal quite a bit: Popular Shilling Editions of L. T. Meade, Marie Corelli and Baroness Orczy among others; series such as Popular Fiction, Half-Crown Novels, Cheaper Fiction, and Popular Sixpennies. They also issued a series called the Masterpiece Library with books by the likes of Dumas, Beckford and Prosper Merimeé. Then there was their English Writers of To-day series with books on Algernon Charles Swinburne, Brett Harte, George Meredith, Hall Caine, Rudyard Kipling and Arthur Wing Pinero, and the above mentioned Lotus Library series. There was a book by Dan Leno and a book about Harry Lauder with advertisements for Lipton's Teas and Bovril. A few titles in their Court Series of French Memoirs including Recollections of Léonard: Hairdresser to Queen Marie Antoinette which sounds like a work of fiction but is evidently a true memoir.

Popular fiction titles by truly forgotten popular authors of the day included some interesting ones: The Pottle Papers; A Modern Christmas Carol (A "Dickensy" Story); Seven Nights with Satin; The Dupe; An Act of Impulse; A Doctor in Corduroy; A Suburban Scandal; The Loafer; The Cigarette Smoker; A Romance in Radium; The Weaver's Shuttle; The Woman in Black; Mad? (An Exciting Story of Predestination); The Tragedy of the Lady Palmist; The Puppets' Dallying; In the World of Mimes. 

There was an emphasis on the theatrical arts--even with much of the fiction--and a hint of the Yellow Book in their offerings, an afterglow of the aesthetic and decadent movements, which made me think the owner may have had an interest, or a past, in the theatre. One example being their book, Oscar Wilde, the Story of an Unhappy Friendship by Robert H. Sherard, (1905) a reprint of a book that was originally privately printed in 1902 and well-known for being the first biography of Wilde after his death in 1900. Another book on the theatrical side is Some Notable Hamlets of the Present Time by Clement Scott, with an appreciation of Mr. Clement Scott by L. Arthur Greening, and The Art of Elocution and Public Speaking by Ross Ferguson, with an introduction by George Alexander, and dedicated by permission to Miss Ellen Terry.

They also published various choices of literature such as Hudibras by Samuel Butler. This edition, with an introductory note by T. W. H. Crossland was issued with 12 illustrations after Hogarth and available in either Foolscap 8vo cloth, top-edge gilt, with bookmark, 2s. net, or in Leather, top-edge gilt, with bookmark at 3s. net. The Bookseller had this to say about it: "a most interesting reprint of Butler's celebrated poem in a form which strikes us as being entirely appropriate. The size of page, type and margin are both delightful to the eye of a booklover, and pleasantly reminiscent of the little volumes of the 17th century. While the fine paper, and the dozen excellent reproductions of Hogarth's well-known plays, the portrait of Butler himself, and the neat, artistic binding, make it, in its way, a miniature Edition de Luxe." Their range in production went from very cheap popular editions which probably disintegrated with use in the library systems, to the finer quality productions such as this Hudibras or another book by that C. Ranger Gull, The Adventures of Ulyssess, the Wanderer: an Old Story, Retold. Illustrated by W. G.Mein and issued in an edition de luxe, demy 8vo, printed on antique handmade paper, and bound in Half Japanese vellum, cloth sides, gilt lettered, gilt top; limited to 110 copies signed by the author, 5s. net.

The Scarlet Pimpernel, the novel that Baroness Orczy had been trying to publish for a few years, was first issued by Greening & Co., Ltd. in 1905 after the play based on the novel had become popular with the theatre going public. Although Greening & Co. published a number of Orczy titles, Hodder & Stoughton later bought the rights to the novel The Scarlet Pimpernel from them.

I was delighted to finally come across an interesting account of L. Arthur Greening written by Cecily Close. Greening's rather peculiar history and the story behind his name makes for interesting reading. Though he had a fairly long and varied career--ending up in Australia--I imagine that it was those early years of the 1890s and the first decade of the next century that "Greening" truly felt he was in the very beating heart of life. I can imagine him in his old age, a pipe in hand, warm embers on the way to a cold dottle, quoting lines of verse from Sir Walter Scott's novel Old Mortality--lines quoted as anonymous but written by Thomas Osbert Mordaunt:

Sound, sound the clarion, fill the fife!
Throughout the sensual world proclaim,
One crowded hour of glorious life
Is worth an age without a name.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Wells's William Clissold, or the dusty penumbra of pen wielders (not to mention Benn's T'ang Horse)

I found this publisher's advertising ephemera resting between the leaves of a 1923 Doubleday Page & Company book of one of Wells's contemporary writers. I've had the book for thirty years but have never read the edition, having read Penguin and Pan paperback copies of the title. This advert which mimics the leaf of a book in size and paper type, and possibly made to be tipped into other books, had been sitting there undisturbed for perhaps over 70 years. When I was younger I actively sought out books by Wells but I never got as far as his later works. The World of William Clissold seems a world away. When this three decker novel--an anachronism by the 1920s surely--came out in 1926 on three successive months, September through November, it was the book of the season, much discussed and commented on. (Makes me wonder how the British Lending Libraries dealt with this three-decker; could a patron take all three at the same time, all 885 pages of it, or only one volume?) The critical views by the likes of J. M. Keynes and Conrad Aiken among others were not good, though H. L. Mencken's critical opinion was not unfavourable. Considering the supposed autobiographical nature of much of the book, it didn't keep this protean force from later writing his autobiography proper, Experiment in Autobiography: Discoveries and Conclusions of a Very Ordinary Brain (Since 1866) in two volumes (414 pages) and published by Victor Gollancz and The Cresset Press in 1934.

Time, it seems, has swept much of Mr. Wells's work into the dusty penumbra of pen wielders, for it is unlikely that many people read this or most of his later works these days. I can't say I have. (Although I have to admit the advert does create a small frisson of interest--who could resist that puff of "Great" by the Daily Chronicle.) Not a novel that immediately comes to mind when asked to name a few of his works. It is his early books, the scientific romances and short stories and some of the novels like Kipps, Tono-Bungay, Ann Veronica and The History of Mr. Polly and perhaps through Colin Wilson's influence, that late work The Mind at the End of Its Tether, which still hold some interest.

The publisher of this work, Ernest Benn Ltd., had its roots in trade journal publishing. Ernest Benn's father's J. W. Benn and Brothers publishing company was later registered in 1897 as Benn Brothers Limited, and in the 1920s, they decided to develop a separate book department which eventually became Ernest Benn Limited. Their publisher's device, was a stylised T'ang Horse, supposedly influenced by their publishing of The Catalogue of the George Eumorfopoulos Collection (there is the limited edition 11 volume set presently listed on ABE at more than $27,000 US) which had many illustrations of art from the Far East. Ernest Benn Ltd, with managing director Victor Gollancz, purchased T. Fisher Unwin in 1926 which brought a wonderful assortment of authors and their backlists, including H. G. Wells. His new novel, The World of William Clissold was the first original Wells they issued. A hefty debut that was heavily promoted. If they lost money on Clissold, they no doubt recovered it from the sales of their edition of his short stories and their small 24 volume edition of his works.

Victor Gollancz left the company in 1927 to start his own publishing business. Sir Ernest Benn was an individualist capitalist of the right, while Gollancz was decidedly more to the left. With H. G. Wells and his views on world society and the future, an after dinner conversation between the three of them would have been an occasion to eavesdrop. Might make a good play by the likes of Tom Stoppard. Then again, it does seem like so much water under the bridge what with our modern world a swirl with a superabundance of fresh-minted words.

The World of William Clissold having been published in 1926, seems to be on the cusp of copyright freedom so it may not be too long before we can peruse it digitally--all 885 pages of it.

Ernest Benn Ltd. was acquired by the old British firm, A. & C. Black Publishers in 1984, which was in turn acquired by the Bloomsbury group in 2000. But another big fish little fish story of the modern publishing world.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Publisher's Devices: Among the Leaves

I have always found publisher's devices to be of interest. Their origins are of course derived from the early printer's devices, the best known being the anchor and dolphin of Aldus Manutius, much adapted through the ages. Others such as those of the Antwerp printer, Christopher Plantin, and the Estienne family of printers originally out of Paris, used latin phrases along with their images much like those in heraldry. Plantin used labore et constantia, while the Estienne family used noli altum sapere, sed time. Most of the major University presses have their own phrases and devices which are fairly recognizable and common to the eye, but it is the lesser known nineteenth and twentieth century publisher's devices that I find more interesting.

Having recently looked at two books at random sitting on the same shelf, I couldn't help notice the similar Latin phrase used. The folia inter folia of the MacMillan Company of Canada comes from a book published in 1934 (J. B. Priestley's English Journey) while the inter folia fructus comes from a book published in 1935 by D. Appleton-Century Company (Stephen Leacock's Mark Twain.) The image of the tree, an iconographic deep-rooted mainstay, along with the open book, another stalwart image, are also used in these devices. The MacMillan woodcut is much more rustic and reflects the Thoreau MacDonald Ryerson Press style which was perhaps the self-conceived and projected image of Canada at the time. The choice of maple leaves was a simple one.

It is unlikely that one would see the phrases, Leaves among the leaves, and Fruit among the Leaves used by publishers today, but they still hold a charm and reflect their period. The date 1933 listed on the book in the D. Appleton-Century device is the year when D. Appleton merged with The Century Publishing Company.

Both books, as stated on the copyright page, were printed in the United States of America. It seems the actual printing for MacMillan of Canada was handled by American printing companies--at least during this period. Although some publishers, mainly British, listed the name of the printer either on the reverse of the title page, or along the bottom of one of the rear free endpapers, many printers are anonymously listed in the basic phrase, Printed in the United States of America, or Printed in Canada. To see the changes in publishing from when printers were the acme of the creative process of publishing, to the present time when they are but anonymous jobbers, makes me wonder what changes are coming to publishing in the next hundred years. For someone who won't be around at that time, such anticipations may be fruitless; or perhaps I should say, non inter folia fructus(?)

addendum: Looking at another MacMillan of Canada book published in 1928 with the same woodcut publisher's device, I notice that at the bottom of the copyright page the printer is listed as The Hunter-Rose Company, Limited. A little info can be found here on this old Canadian printer/publisher.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Knights of the Umbrella and the Bundle: Thoreau's A Yankee in Canada

When I worked at the Atwater Library and Computer Centre, Maynard Gertler had his office for Harvest House (1960-1995) on the upper floor. I remember his interesting trestle tables and a large bookshelf between holding copies of his printed books. The tables had the feel of being hand-made, by him. I sort of envisaged him hewing the wood on his farm across the border in Ontario. An interesting robust man with a wealth of life experience. My casual conversations with him always left me wanting to know more. The questions I now have about the artists who did cover work for him would have been more timely when I had only to knock on his door, or stop him in the hallway, but I was too busy then with jobs and university for extra bibliographical pursuits of that nature. Timing in life can sometimes be everything. When Maynard closed his office in the mid-nineties, he sold his business to the University of Ottawa Press and his archives were sold to Queen's University in 2008. A general overview of his publishing house can be found at The Historical Perspectives on Canadian Publishing.

The volume pictured above, A Yankee in Canada by Henry David Thoreau, sports cover art by Allan Harrison. It is an early Harvest House issue from 1961 with an introduction by Maynard Gertler who edited the volume. The edition I have is in wrappers, fairly heavy paper stock, the cover title printed in alternating blue and orange which gives it a period feel. It is listed on the title page and on the back cover as "An Emulation Book". The source edition is cited as coming from the Montreal Public Library's Gagnon Collection and thanks are given to the curator Mr. Jules Bazin.

Allan Harrison was directly inspired by the text in his choice of image for the cover. Thoreau writes of his predilection for travelling light, no valises and carpet-bags for him:

The perfection of travelling is to travel without baggage. After considerable reflection and experience, I have concluded that the best bag for the foot-traveller is made with a handkerchief, or, if he studied appearances, a piece of stiff brown paper, well tied up, with a fresh piece within to put outside when the first is torn. That is good for both town and country, and none will know but you are carrying home the silk for a new gown for your wife, when it may be a dirty shirt. A bundle which you can carry literally under your arm, and which will shrink and swell with its contents. I never found the carpet-bag of equal capacity, which was not a bundle of itself. We styled ourselves the Knights of the Umbrella and the Bundle; for wherever we went, whether to Notre Dame or Mount Royal, or the Champs-de-Mars, to the Town Major's or the Bishop's Palace, to the Citadel, with a bare-legged Highlander for our escort, or to the Plains of Abraham, to dinner or to bed, the umbrella and the bundle went with us; for we wished to be ready to digress at any moment. We made it our home nowhere in particular, but everywhere where our umbrella and bundle were. (pp. 47-48)

Seems very modern. Paul Theroux and Henry Thoreau would probably see eye to eye on this travelling light business. Although, upon reflection, Paul Theroux certainly has more in common with the far-flung over-seas adventures of Thoreau's contemporaries, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Washington Irving than with the almost centripetal adventures of Thoreau who never ventured too far from home.

This brief foray into Canada East in 1850 at the age of 33 with his friend, the poet Ellery Channing, is still interesting to read. His knowledge of nature is evident in his observations of the countryside along the St. Lawrence river from Montreal to Québec. His contrary views on religion, government and the military can be seen in his reflections that in Canada East there was a great emphasis on military and religious display. Troops were parading on the Champs de Mars in Montreal and on the Plains of Abraham in Québec to what he felt to be an overt display of Government power. (If Thoreau had visited Montreal in the early 1860s during the American Civil War he would have witnessed a great deal more with the influx of Grenadier Guards and Scots Fusilier Guards.) Thoreau writes perhaps presciently:

In the streets of Montreal and Quebec you met not only with soldiers in red, and shuffling priests in unmistakable black and white, with Sisters of Charity gone into mourning for their deceased relative,--not to mention the nuns of various orders depending on the fashion of a tear, of whom you heard,--but youths belonging to some seminary or other, wearing coats edged with white, who looked as if their expanding hearts were already repressed with a piece of tape. In short, the inhabitants of Canada appeared to be suffering between two fires,--the soldiery and the priesthood. (pp. 106-107)

When, upon returning to Montreal, he ascended Mount Royal to take the view of the surrounding landscape and remarked the 46 year old tomb of Simon McTavish . From Thoreau's description, it seems the mausoleum was still visible although it had been vandalised as early as 1816. The classical column which was erected behind the mausoleum by his nephews, the MacGillvray brothers, is not specifically mentioned by Thoreau but it was still standing till 1940. I read recently that Montreal planned to renovate the area, where for the last fifty years or more, the burial site has been lost to sight and generally forgotten. Hopefully there is now a history plaque placed at the area north of Peel Street and Pine Avenue, where the monument resided. (It is unfortunate that his tomb is not part of the Mount Royal Cemetery where so many of Montreal's historic figures reside, but this wonderful cemetery was only developed in the late 1840s and the first burial in 1852.) It is perhaps a cautionary tale. One of the wealthiest men in Canada at the time and his monument forgotten, while an obscure nature writer with his umbrella and his bundle, has world renown.

addendum: I found this biking blog which has pictures of some of the redevelopment of the Peel Entrance to Mount Royal which looks very nice.