Dawn Powell (1896–1965). Whither. Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, 1925.
The American writer Dawn Powell wrote sixteen novels, of which Whither was her first. However, following its publication, she disowned it, and went around to bookstores and bought up all the copies she could find. Thus, she always called her second novel, She Walks in Beauty (1925), her first. She refused to acknowledge Whither in her official biography; her friend Hannah Green recalled that, some thirty-five years after the book’s publication, Powell was not pleased when Green found a copy in a secondhand bookstore. Consequently, Whither with its dust jacket is very rare, with only two known copies, and any inscribed copy, such as this one, rarer still.
Powell’s books cover two subjects: small town American life in the Midwest, where she grew up, and the sophisticated and literary life of New York City, of which she was very much a part, including spending considerable time in speakeasies. Whither describes a small-town girl in her twenties living in a New York City rooming house, trying to become a writer, and it has an unconvincing happy ending. But because it is so autobiographical, it will be fascinating to anyone interested in Dawn Powell’s life, which her biographer, Tim Page, has so admirably described.
I have collected Dawn Powell for many years, and others have described my collection as the best in private hands. I greatly admire her writing, which I find both moving and hilarious. When Dawn Powell died, virtually all of her books were out of print and she was unknown. However, after Gore Vidal commented that, along with Mark Twain, she was “the best American comic novelist,” she has been brought back into print, including as volumes in the Library of America.
Daniel R. Coquillette
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. Don Quixote. Translated by T. Smollett, 3 vols. New York: David Huntington, 1815.
The focus of my recent collecting has been illustrated editions of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, and I have many. But none mean more to me than this tiny three-volume edition.
My father went to college only because he won one of the (then) new Conant Scholarships, designed to open Harvard up to “a different kind of student.” He was penniless when he arrived from Iowa in 1935. He had to go hungry on Saturday nights, because he could not afford to “dress for dinner” at the residential house where he could otherwise eat for free because of the scholarship. He saved nickels to take my mother out for a Coca-Cola on dates.
After my father’s death, while going through the few books he bought at college with money he could not really afford to spend, my wife discovered these three little volumes. So my father loved Cervantes, too!
Bruce J. Crawford
Charles Dickens. “A Dinner at Poplar Walk,” in The Monthly Magazine, or British Register of Politics, Literature, Art, Science, and the Belles Lettres. London: A. Robertson, 1833.
Provenance: The Alain de Suzannet-Kenyon Starling-William Self copy.
Many first attempts in the literary arts are remarkably modest, with little foreshadowing of fame. Charles Dickens’s first appearance in print was so tentative as to now be rarely written of, largely forgotten, and extant in just a few copies in private hands.
“A Dinner at Poplar Walk” is a humorous sketch of a party: a wealthy old bachelor is forced to spend an evening with disagreeable relatives and make a speech. Dickens, years after this story appeared in the Monthly Magazine, said that he left the manuscript “stealthily one evening at twilight, with fear and trembling, into a dark letter-box, in a dark office, up a dark court in Fleet Street.” Published in the December 1833 number of the Monthly Magazine, Dickens was nonetheless never paid for his story—in fact, he had to pay two shillings and sixpence to a bookseller in the Strand to get a copy of his own story in print.
Dickens’s story isn’t a great piece of writing: it’s inferior to both the work of his contemporaries and, of course, to the great fiction that he would soon produce. But despite its shortcomings, the sketch is inspirational. It reminds me that we all made a start at one time and that all artistic and scholarly success began with that first attempt.
Robert P. Davis
Lady Maria Clutterbuck (pseud. Catherine Hogarth Dickens). What Shall We Have for Dinner? Satisfactorily Answered by Numerous Bills of Fare for from Two to Eighteen Persons. Fourth edition. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1856. Binding by David Chivers of Bath.
Provenance: Mrs. William Vernon Harcourt, wife of the chancellor of the exchequer under Prime Minister William Gladstone.
The first edition of What Shall We Have for Dinner? appeared in 1851, although no copies are recorded. Lady Maria Clutterbuck’s husband, Charles Dickens, wrote the Introduction under the pseudonym of Lord Clutterbuck. Catherine Dickens’s pseudonym was taken from the name of the character she was to play in Used Up, one of her husband’s amateur theatrical productions.
The last edition of this work was published after their marital separation, a notorious scandal over the period 1857–59 consequent to Charles becoming enamored of the young actress, Ellen Ternan. The evidence, i.e., the multiple editions of Catherine’s work, belies Charles Dickens's claim, at the time of their separation, that his wife was an incompetent manager. Catherine Dickens’s menu books have survived.
William Vernon Harcourt (1827–1904), and his near contemporary, Charles Dickens, had both worked for the Morning Chronicle. In all, this is a rare book with an interesting association, by a famous woman and unrecognized author.
My personal collection of books associated with Charles Dickens is focused almost exclusively on his last and incomplete novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Like many collectors, I occasionally come across an item so fascinating to me, such as this book, that I make it part of my collection, even though it is somewhat out of scope.
Olga Anna Duhl
Marguerite de Navarre. L’Heptaméron. Paris: Benoît Prevost, 1559.
As a scholar specializing in the late medieval and early Renaissance period, I collect first editions of sixteenth-century French and Latin literary works. The book on view is a rare copy of the first complete edition of Marguerite, sister of French king Francis the 1st, Duchess of Alençon, and Queen of Navarre’s best-known narrative, the Heptaméron. Inspired by Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron, this is a collection of novellas set in an open-ended frame story, which offers conflicting opinions on a variety of topics, such as love, marriage, friendship, and religion. Due to the author’s death in 1549, however, the storytelling stopped on the seventh day instead of the projected ten, which would have reflected the narrative structure of the Decameron. The first printed edition, published in 1558 by Pierre Boistuau, deviated considerably from the original manuscript. In 1559 Claude Gruget restored the tales to their initial structure and form, adding some of his own compositions, and entitled them the Heptaméron (from the Greek “hepta”=seven), to indicate the number of storytelling days.
Worth Keeping: Selected from The Congregationalist and Boston Recorder, 1870–1879. Boston: W. L. Greene & Co., 1880.
I discovered that a critical source for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter (1850) was the novel The Salem Belle (1842)—and I also found, through archival work, that the author of this latter book was Ebenezer Wheelwright. I discussed these finds in my book, The Threads of The Scarlet Letter (2003). Wheelwright’s name is not printed in The Salem Belle or in his later novel Traditions of Palestine (1863). However, I recently discovered, with the help of the online catalog of The Congregationalist Library & Archives, that his name, “Eben Wheelwright,” is printed in one book, the posthumous collection Worth Keeping. He had contributed “A Solemn Scene in the Ministry of Mr. Finney,” with his authorship disclosed in The Congregationalist and Boston Recorder of October 4, 1876; that piece, slightly revised and retitled “Mr. Finney in a Moment of Peril,” appears in this 1880 collection. Finally, the anonymous author emerges from his anonymity.
A new edition of The Salem Belle—properly credited to Ebenezer Wheelwright—will be published by Penn State University Press in 2016, with my introduction and annotations.
Isaac ben Solomon Abu Sahula (b. 1244).
משל הקדמוני :ספר סופר אמרי שפר נקרא משל הקדמוני אותו העיר האיש מ”א“יר בכמר יעקב פרענצוני גם הוא מוגה אף אם הוגה מאחיהו השילוני (The Fable of the Ancient. A book of beautiful sayings named the fable of the ancient).
In June of 1990 I received a phone call from Judy Lowry of the Argosy Book Store and the auction house Swann. It was to alert me to an important Jewish fable book coming up at auction, this edition of Meshal ha-Kadmoni (The Fable of the Ancient.) It is the third edition of the first illustrated book in Hebrew on any subject.
At that time I had a large collection of fable books but nothing in Hebrew. Being a collecting completest and remembering the words of Grolier member William Barlow from his 1983 talk at the Library of Congress, where he said that book collecting is “the triumph of rationalization over reason,” I bought the book and began the search for more Hebrew editions.
The Hebrew fable collection now numbers some 400 items and a book on the subject is forthcoming. Scholars tell me it may be the most extensive analysis ever done on the use of fables in Jewish writing.
David H. Lowenherz
Robert Frost. High school senior year Physics notebook. Lawrence, MA, 1892. Unpublished.
This is the earliest known Frost manuscript notebook, pre-dating Notebook No. 1 described in Robert Fagan’s The Notebooks of Robert Frost (Harvard University, 2007). A series of eight physics experiments conducted by Frost while studying at Lawrence High School, covering specific gravity, density, compressibility of air, etc., it was discovered in a school closet by a Miss Alice Hainsworth in the neighboring town of Methuen, close to Frost’s hometown (after San Francisco) of Lawrence, MA. Further into the notebook, on two pages, is a remarkably early manuscript documenting the relationship between the young Robert Frost and his high school sweetheart and future wife, Elinor White. Many scholars attribute Frost’s early exposure to and interest in poetry to Elinor, and on these pages, in Elinor’s handwriting, is a transcription of Robert Browning’s poem, “Incident in the French Camp,” beginning, “You know, we French stormed Ratisbon: / A mile or so away, / On a little mound, Napoleon, / Stood on the storming day.”
David N. Redden
Alfred Austin (1896–1913). A selection of autograph letters signed, sent between 1890 and 1896, by Austin to Violet Maxse, later Lady Edward Cecil, and later still, Viscountess Milner.
An astonishing and somewhat inappropriate correspondence between a British poet laureate, writer, politician, polemicist, and gardener and an exceptionally beautiful aristocratic girl, beginning when Austin was 55 and Violet was 18. Austin, infatuated from the moment he met her, writes Violet ardent letters in a style he calls “arrested poetry,” in some cases advising her to destroy his letters (she did not). Many pages bear the stains and shadows of violets, which the author of “The Garden That I Love” had strewn through the letters. At other times Austin asks her to return manuscripts of his latest writings he had sent her to read (again, she did not). This selection is derived from a substantial archive (ca. 1,000 pages) of Austin’s letters and autograph drafts of plays and poems.
Other remarkable men developed their own “cult” for Violet. These included Georges Clemenceau, Rudyard Kipling, Edward Burne-Jones and Cecil Rhodes. She married, firstly, Lord Edward Cecil, whose father, Lord Salisbury, as prime minister, appointed Austin poet laureate, and when Edward died, Viscount Milner, the secretary of war in the World War I war cabinet. (Violet’s only child died in that war.) Daphne du Maurier has described Violet as the “most formidable woman in England.”
Shirley McNerney Rendell
Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, Marquise de Sévigné (1626–1696). A portion of an autograph letter to her daughter, Madame de Grignan, aux Rochers, mercredi 15e août.
The celebrated ėpistoliėre, whose letters to her daughter are a classic of French literature, was in fine form on the day she wrote this one as she was anticipating a visit from her within mere days. (Madame de Sévigné’s letters are so cherished that they were often cut up, as valuable literary souvenirs.)
I love this piece and I especially love the person who gave it to me—my future husband. I suppose you could call it a courting gift. We had just met. My date (Kenneth W. Rendell) was astonished that I was reading something as esoteric as the letters of Madame de Sévigné, in French. I was amazed that he had even heard of her. Amazement turned to wonder when one day he presented me with a fragment of one of her letters. Her pen! Her handwriting! Her voice! On this half page we read that she has just gone to get the post from Paris and there was a letter from ma bonne (her daughter). I was hooked, on him and on collecting.
My collection eventually grew to include letters by many interesting women of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, especially French women. I was able to acquire other letters by Madame de Sévigné, some running to several complete pages, but none ever replaced this morceau in my heart
Francis J. Sypher, Jr.
Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837–1909). Poems and Ballads. London: Edward Moxon & Co. [John Camden Hotten’s issue], 1866.
Provenance: Noted bibliophile John Quinn.
Poems and Ballads presents Swinburne’s most characteristic writing, rich with classical inspiration. Moxon published the book in July 1866, but soon suppressed it when reviewers assailed its sensuality. Hotten purchased Moxon’s stock, canceled the title-page, and issued the volumes with a new title-page bearing Hotten’s imprint, but still in the original green cloth binding with Moxon’s name on the spine and monogram on the front cover. The collector John Quinn (1870–1924), whose library was sold at Anderson Galleries in 1923–24, penciled in this copy: “This is the genuine Moxon Edn … a rarity.”
As a student at Columbia I became interested in Swinburne. I bought this first edition especially for Quinn’s bookplate, with its evocative Irish scene by Jack Butler Yeats (initials among stones at right). But I soon discovered—as Quinn evidently did not realize—that the apparent Moxon title-page is a fake, with defective serifs and different line spacing, inserted to replace Hotten’s title. However, Hotten’s half-title was retained, thus letting the cat out of the bag, since Moxon had issued his volumes with no half-title.
Anne H. Young
Some/thing #3, Vol. 2, No. 1, Winter 1966. David Antin and Jerome Rothenberg, eds.
This important “little magazine” of poetry and art was published during a time when little magazines were frequently the voice of the counterculture. A special “Vietnam Assemblage” issue, it features a cover by Andy Warhol and is described as “an overall structure made up of words, a language trap to close—with a state, a process, a system—something afflicting & evading all of us.” The cover is a sheet of real glue-backed, perforated stamps that can be easily torn out and pasted on anything. The contents include works by Charles Bukowski, Allen Ginsberg and Denise Levertov, among many others.
This is my favorite from my collection of 1960s mimeograph and serial publications produced in New York City. It showcases work from an artist I admire who embraced the literary imagination and made it his own. Whether the viewer decides the cover is an extension of Warhol’s “Death and Disaster” series or another of his recycled images attests to the fact that it always takes two to make a book: the creator and the reader.