The Amenities of Book-Collecting: Ii. Collecting at Home

I

IN the March Atlantic I wrote of the amenities of book-collecting in London, of my adventures in the shops of Bond Street and Piccadilly, of Holborn and the Strand, — almost as though this paradise of the book-collector were his only happy hunting ground. But all the good hunting is not found in London: New York has a number of attractive shops, Philadelphia at least two, while there are several in Chicago and in unexpected places in the West.

Where in all the world will you find so free a buyer, always ready to take a chance to turn a volume at a profit, as George D. Smith? He holds the record for having paid the highest price ever paid for a book at auction: fifty thousand dollars, for a copy of the Guttenberg Bible purchased for Mr. Henry E. Huntington at the Hoe sale; and not only did he pay the highest price, he also bought the largest number of fine books disposed of at that sale.

I have heard his rivals complain that he is not a bookseller in the proper sense of the word, — that he buys without discretion and without exact knowledge. Such criticism, I take it, is only the natural result of jealousy. George Smith has sold more fine books than perhaps any two of his rivals.

There is no affectation of dignity or of knowledge about him, and it is well that there is not. No one knows all there is to know about books; a man might know much more than he — such men there are — and yet lack the qualities which have enabled him to secure and retain the confidence and commissions of his patrons. He is practically the main support of the auction rooms in this country, and I have frequently seen him leave a sale at which he had purchased every important book that came up. He had knowledge and confidence enough for that, and I cannot see why his frankness and lack of affectation should be counted against him. It takes all kinds of men to make a world, and George is several kinds in himself. As I write, the newspapers tell us he is in London attending the auctions there and buying the best, against all comers.

Twenty-five years ago, in London, early in my book-collecting days, I came across a bundle of dusty volumes in an old book shop in the Strand — the shop and that part of the Strand have long since disappeared — and bought the lot for, as I remember, two guineas. Subsequently, upon going through the contents carefully, I found that I had acquired what appeared to be quite a valuable little parcel. There were the following: —

Tales from Shakespeare: Baldwin and Cradock, Fifth Edition, 1831. Lamb’s Prose Works: 3 volumes, Moxon, 1836.

The Letters of Charles Lamb: 2 volumes, Moxon, 1837; with the inscription, ‘To J. P. Collier, Esq. from his friend H. C. Robinson.’

Talfourd’s Final Memorials of Charles Lamb: 2 volumes, Moxon, 1848.

By the way, the last was Wordsworth’s copy, with his signature on the title-page of each volume; and I observed for the first time that the book was dedicated to him. Loosely inserted in several of the volumes were newspaper clippings, a number of pages of manuscript in John Payne Collier’s handwriting, a part of a letter from Mary Lamb addressed to Jane Collier, his mother, and in several of the volumes were notes in Collier’s handwriting referring to matters in the text: as where, against a reference to Lamb’s essay on ‘Roast Pig,’ Collier says, in pencil, ‘My mother sent the pig to Lamb.’ Again, where Talfourd, referring to an evening with Lamb, says, ‘We mounted to the top story and were soon seated beside a cheerful fire: hot water and its better adjuncts were soon before us,’ Collier writes, ‘Both Lamb and Talfourd died of the “Better Adjuncts.” ’

There was a large number of such pencil notes. The pages of manuscript in Collier’s heavy and, as he calls it, ‘infirm’ hand begin:—

‘In relation to C. Lamb and Southey, Mr. Cosens possesses as interesting a MS. as I know. It is bound as a small quarto, but the writing of Lamb, and chiefly by Southey is post 8vo. They seem to have been contributions to an “Annual Anthology” published by Cottle of Bristol.

‘The MS. begins with an “Advertisement” in the handwriting of Southey, and it is followed immediately by a poem in Lamb’s handwriting headed “Elegy on a Quid of Tobacco” in ten stanzas rhiming alternately thus: —

‘ It lay before me on the close grazed grass,
Beside my path, an old tobacco quid:
And shall I by the mute adviser pass
Without one serious thought? now Heaven forbid!’

The next day, Collier copied more of the poem, for on another sheet he remarks, ‘As my hand is steadier to-day I have copied the remaining stanzas.’

On still another sheet, referring to the Cosens MS., Collier writes: —

‘The whole consists of about sixty leaves chiefly in the handwriting of Southey and it contains . . . productions by Lamb, one a sort of jeu d’esprit called “The Rhedycinian Barbers” on the hair-dressing of twelve young men of Christ Church College, and the other headed, “Dirge for Him Who Shall Deserve It.”’ This ‘has no signature but the whole is in Lamb’s young clear hand, and it shows very plainly that he partook not only of the poetical but of the political feeling of the time.
‘The signatures are various, Erthuryo, Ryalto, Walter, and so forth,and at the end are four Love Elegies and a serious poem by Charles Lamb, entitled, “Living without God in the World.”
‘How many of these were printed elsewhere, or in Cottle’s “Anthology,” I do not know. I would willingly copy more did not my hand fail me.
J. P. C.’

Twenty years later, in New York one day, George Smith asked me if I would care to buy an interesting volume of Southey MSS., and to my great surprise handed me the identical little quarto which Collier had many years before found so interesting that he had made excerpts from it. It might not have made such instant appeal to my recollection of my purchase in London had it not been for an inserted note, almost identical with the one on the loose slip in my Lamb volume, obviously in Collier’s ‘ infirm ’ hand, repeating briefly what he had said on the loose sheets in my volumes at home.

Mr. Cosens, the former owner of the manuscripts, had added a note: ‘In 1798 or 1799 Charles Lamb contributed to the “Annual Anthology” which a Mr. Cottle, a bookseller of Bristol, published jointly with Coleridge and Southey.

‘This manuscript is partly in the handwriting of Southey and was formerly the property of Cottle of Bristol.'

Upon investigation I ascertained that the little volume of manuscript verse had passed from Mr. Cosens’s possession into that of Augustin Daly, at whose sale it had been catalogued as a Southey MS., with small reference to its Lamb interest. Although the price was high the temptation to buy was too strong to be resisted; so after many years the small quarto of original poems by Lamb, Southey, and others, and Collier’s description of it, stand side by side in my library. For me the three little poems by Lamb outweigh in interest and value all others. They were labeled ‘Southey Manuscripts, a long time since the property of a Mr. Cottle of Bristol.’

II

The most scholarly bookseller in this country to-day is Dr. Rosenbach, — ‘ Rosy’ as we who know him well call him. It was not his original intention to deal in rare books, but to become a professor of English, a calling for which few have a finer appreciation; but mere scholars abound. He must have felt that we collectors needed some one to guide our tastes and deplete our bank accounts. In both he is unequaled.

His spacious second-floor room in Walnut Street is filled with the rarest volumes. ‘Ask and it shall be given you ’ — with a bill at the end of the month. It is a delightful place in which to spend a rainy morning, and you are certain to depart a wiser if a poorer man. I once spent some hours with the doctor in company with my friend Tinker,—not the great Tinker who plays ball for a bank president’s wage, but the less famous Professor of English at Yale. We had been looking at Shakespeare folios and quartos, and Spenser’s and Herrick’s and Milton’s priceless volumes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when, looking out of the window, ‘Rosy’ remarked, ‘There goes John G. Johnson.’ ‘Oh!’ said my friend, ‘I thought you were going to say John Dryden. It would not have surprised me in the least.’

Don’t expect ever to ‘discover’ anything at Rosenbach’s, except how ignorant you are. ‘Rosy’does all the discovering himself, as when he, a few years ago, found in a volume of old pamphlets a copy of the first edition of Dr. Johnson’s famous ‘Prologue Spoken at the Opening of the Theatre in Drury Lane.’ It will be remembered that this Prologue contains several of the Doctor’s most famous lines: criticisms of the stage, as true to-day as when they were uttered; as where he says, —

‘The Drama’s laws, the Drama’s patrons give. For we that live to please, must please to live.’

It has also the line in which, speaking of Shakespeare, he says, ‘And panting Time toil’d after him in vain.’ Garrick having criticized this line, Johnson remarked, ‘ Sir, Garrick is a prosaical rogue. The next time I write I will make both Time and Space pant.’

The discovery by Dr. Rosenbach of this Prologue shows that the days of romance in book-hunting are not over. It is not to be found in the British Museum. So far as we know, it is the only copy in existence. ‘ Rosy ’ has declined to sell it, although tempting offers have been made, for he is a booklover as well as a bookseller.

That he is a rare judge of human nature, too, is evidenced by a little card over his desk on which is printed the text, —

’It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer; but when he hath gone his way then he boasteth.’— PROVERBS xx. 14.

That is exactly what I did when I secured from him my Robinson Crusoe, the first edition in two volumes, with the third which may not be Defoe’s. It lacks one ‘point’ perhaps: the word ‘apply,’ the last word on page 1 of the preface, is correctly spelled, not spelled ‘apyly’ as in some copies I have seen. The matter, I believe, is not clear. The type may have been correctly set at first and have become corrupted in process of printing, or a few copies may have been so printed before the error, being noted, was corrected. After page 304, of Volume 1, the paper is of thinner and poorer quality than in the pages preceding it. The three volumes are clean, the binding contemporary calf, the folding maps immaculate, and the first two volumes were once the property of ‘Mr. William Congreve.’ Altogether it is a book of which this collector ‘boasteth.’

For some unexplained reason I have never been able to buy as many books from Walter Hill of Chicago as I should like. He is one of the most amiable and reliable men in the business. His catalogues issued from time to time are delightful. He once put me under an obligation which I have not yet repaid and which I want to record.

Several years ago I met him in the streets of Philadelphia and said to him, ‘Hello! what are you doing here? Are you buying or selling?’ ‘Both,’said he; ‘I bought some nice books only a few minutes ago at Sessler’s.’ ‘ Don’t tell me,’ I cried, ‘that Oliver Twist, that presentation copy to Macready, was among them.’ ‘It was,’said he; ‘why, did you want it?’ ‘Want it!’ said I; ‘ I have just been waiting for my bank account to recover from a capital operation to buy it.’ ‘All right,’ said he, ‘I’ll turn it over at just what I paid for it, and you can send me your check when you are ready.’ I was mean enough to accept his offer, and the book is today worth at least twice what I paid.

Yet, come to think of it, several nice volumes, ‘collated and perfect,’ came from him. There is my Vicar, not the first edition, with the misprints in volume 2, page 159, paged 165; and page 95, ‘Waekcfield’ for ‘Wakefield,’ — that came from North,— but the one with Rowlandson plates. And Evelina, embellished with engravings, and wretchedly printed on vile paper; and She Stoops, with all the errors just as they should be,—a printer’s carnival; and I have no doubt there are many more.

Sessler has some unexpectedly fine things from time to time. He goes abroad every year with his pocket full of money and comes back with a lot of things that quickly empty ours. Dickens is one of his specialties, and from him I have secured at least five of the ten presentation Dickenses I boast of. A few years ago quite a number came on the market at prices which to-day seem very low. In my last book-hunting experience in London I saw only one presentation Dickens; but as the price was about three times what I had accustomed myself to pay Sessler, I let it pass.

Sessler studies his customer’s weaknesses — that’s where his strength lies. When I came back from Europe a few weeks ago, I discovered that he had bought for me, in my absence, at the Lambert sale, one item which he knew I could not resist. It was a little penand-ink drawing by Thackeray, the first sketch, afterwards more fully elaborated, illustrating Vanity Fair, where at the end of the first chapter the immortal Becky, driving away from Miss Pinkerton’s school, throws Dr. Johnson’s ‘Dixonary’ out of the window of the carriage as it drives off.

Luther Livingston,1 who enjoys the love and respect of all book-collectors, has graduated from the bookshop to the library. For many years in charge of the rare-book department of Dodd, Mead & Company, and subsequently a partner of Robert Dodd, he has recently been appointed custodian of the choice collection of books formed by the late Harry Elkins Widener and bequeathed by the latter’s mother to Harvard. A more admirable selection could not have been made. A scholar and a gentleman, he brings to his new position just the qualities needed for a post of such distinction.

James F. Drake, in New York, specializes in association books and in first editions of nineteenth-century authors. His stock I have frequently laid under contribution. My Surtees and many other colored-plate books came from him, and first editions innumerable of authors now becoming ‘collected.’

I know of no bibliography of George Moore, but my set is, I think, complete. Many are presentation copies. My Literature at Nurse, a pamphlet attacking the censorship of the novel established by Mudie, which was published at three pence, and now commands thirty dollars, is inscribed to Willie Wilde; while Pagan Poems was a suitable gift to ‘Oscar Wilde with the author’s compliments.’

There is no halt in the constantly advancing value of first editions of Oscar Wilde. That interest in the man still continues is evidenced by the steady stream of books about him. Ransome’s Oscar Wilde, immediately suppressed, Oscar Wilde Three Times Tried, and The First Stone, privately printed by the ‘Unspeakable Scot,’ already difficult to procure, are among the latest.

For books of the moment, published in small editions which almost immediately become scarce, Drake’s shop in Forty-second Street is headquarters; and as my club in New York is near by, I find myself frequently dropping in for a book and a bit of gossip.

III

I take little or no interest in bindings; I want the book as originally published, in boards, uncut, in old sheep or in cloth, and as clean and fair as may be.

I am not without a sense for color, and the backs of books bound in various colored leathers, suitably gilt, placed with some eye for arrangement on the shelves, are to me as beautiful and suggestive as any picture, yet, as one cannot have everything, I yield the beauty and fragrance of leather for the fascination of the ‘ original state as issued.’

Nor am I unmindful how invariably in binding a book, in trimming, be it ever so little, and gilding its edges, one lops off no small part of its value. This fact should be pointed out to all young collectors. They should learn to leave their books alone, and if they must patronize a binder, have slip or pull cases made. They serve every purpose. The book will be protected if it is falling apart and unpresentable, and one’s craving for color and gilt will be satisfied. As Eckel says in his Bibliography of Dickens, ‘The tendency of the modern collector has steadily moved toward books in their original state, — books as they were when created, — and it is doubtful if there will be much deviation from this taste in the future.’

Only the very immature book-buyer will deprive himself of the pleasure of ‘collecting,’ and buy a complete set of some author he much esteems, in first editions, assembled and bound without care or thought other than to produce a piece of merchandise and sell it for as much as it will fetch. The rich and ignorant buyer should be made to confine his attention to the purchase of ‘subscription’ books. These are produced in quantity especially for his benefit, and he should leave our books alone. The present combination of many rich men and relatively few fine books is slowly working my ruin; I know it is. We live in a law-full age, an age in which it seems to be every one’s idea to pass laws. I would have a law for the protection of old books, and our legislators in Washington might do much worse than consider this suggestion.

One other form of book the collector should be warned against, the extraillustrated volume. The extra illustration of a favorite author is a tedious and expensive method of wasting money, and mutilating other books the while. I confess to having a few, but I have bought them at a very small part of what they cost to produce and I do not encourage their production.

I know something of the art of inlaying prints. I had a distinguished and venerable teacher, the late Ferdinand J. Dreer of Philadelphia, who formed a priceless collection of autographs which at his death he bequeathed to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Mr. Dreer was a collector of the old school. He was a friend of John Allan, one of the earliest book-collectors in this country, whose ‘Memorial’ was published by the Bradford Club in 1864. Mr. Dreer spent the leisure of years and a small fortune in inlaying plates and pages of text of such books as he fancied. I remember well as a lad being allowed to pore over his sumptuous extra-illustrated books, filled with autograph letters, portraits, and views, for hours at a time. Little did I think that these volumes, the object of such loving care, would be sold at auction,

Many years after his death the family decided to dispose of a portion of his library. Stan. Henkels conducted the sale. When the well-known volumes came up I was all in a tremble. It seemed hardly possible that any of the famous Dreer books were to come within my grasp; but alas! fashions change, as I have said before. A History of the Bank of North America, our oldest national bank, which enjoys the unique distinction of not calling itself a national bank, went, not to an officer or director of that sound old Philadelphia institution, but to George D. Smith of New York for a song — in a high key, but a song nevertheless.

An Oration in Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia brought close to a thousand dollars; but in addition to the rare portraits and views there were fifty-seven autograph letters in it. Sold separately they would have brought several times as much. Smith was the buyer. Then there came a History of Christ Church, full of most interesting material, as ‘old Christ Church’ is the most beautiful and interesting colonial church in America. Where was the rector, where were the wardens and the vestry thereof? No sign of them. Smith was the buyer.

The books were going and for almost nothing, in every case to ‘Smith.’ At last came the Memoirs of Nicholas Biddle, of the famous old Bank of the United States. Hear! ye Biddles, if any Biddles there be. There are, in plenty, but not here. Smith, having bought all the rest, when he saw me bidding, stopped; the hammer fell, and I was the owner of the most interesting volume in the whole Dreer collection—the volume I had so often coveted as a boy, with the letters and portraits of Penn, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Marshall, and so forth, in all twentyeight of them, and mine for ten dollars apiece,—book, portraits, and binding thrown in. It is painful to witness the slaughter of another’s possessions; it makes one wonder — But that is not what we collect books for.

In the last analysis pretty much everything, including poetry, is merchandise, and every important book sooner or later turns up in the auction rooms. The dozen or fifty men present represent the book-buyers of the world — you are buying against them. When you sell a book at auction the whole world is your market. This refers, of course, only to important sales. At other times books are frequently disposed of at much less than their real value. These sales it pays the book-collector to attend, personally if he can, or better still, to entrust his bid to the auctioneer or to some representative in whom he has confidence. Most profitable of all for the buyer are the sales where furniture, pictures, and rugs are disposed of, with, finally, a few books knocked down by one who knows nothing of their value.

Many are the volumes in my library which have been picked up on such occasions for a very few dollars, which are worth infinitely more than I paid for them. I have in mind my copy of the first edition of Boswell’s Corsica, in fine old calf, with the inscription ‘To the Right Honourable, The Earl Marischal of Scotland, as a mark of sincere regard and affection, from the Author, James Boswell.’ This stands me only a few dollars. In London I should have been asked, and would have paid, twenty pounds for it.

Some men haunt the auction rooms all the time. I do not. I have a living to make and I am not quick in making it; moreover the spirit of competition invariably leads me astray, and I never come away without finding myself the owner of at least one book, usually a large one, which should properly be entitled, ‘What Will He Do with It?’

IV

No book-collector should be without a book-plate, and a book-plate once inserted in a volume should never be removed. When the plate is that of a good collector it constitutes an indorsement, and adds a certain interest and value to the volume.

I was once going through the collection of a friend, and observing the absence of a book-plate, I asked him why it was. He replied, ‘The selection of a book-plate is such a serious matter.’ It is; and I should never have been able to get one to suit me entirely had not my good friend, Osgood of Princeton, come to my rescue.

He was working in my library some years ago on an exquisite appreciation of Johnson, when, noticing on my writing table a pen-and-ink sketch, he asked, ‘What’s this?’ I replied with a sigh that it was a suggestion for a bookplate which I had just received from London. I had described in a letter exactly what I wanted — an association plate strictly in eighteenth-century style. Fleet Street was to be indicated, with Temple Bar in the background. It was to be plain and dignified in treatment. What came was indeed a sketch of Fleet Street and very much more. There were scrolls and flourishes, eggs and darts and fleurs-delis — a little of everything. In a word it was impossible. ‘Let me see what I can do,’ said Osgood.

When I returned home that evening there was waiting for me an exquisite pencil sketch, every detail faultless: Fleet Street with its tavern signs, in the background Temple Bar with Johnson and Goldsmith, the latter pointing to it and remarking slyly, ‘Forsitan et nomen nostrum miscebitur istis.' I was delighted, as I had reason to be. In due course, after discussions as to the selection of a suitable motto, we finally agreed on a line out of Boswell: ‘Sir, the biographical part of literature is what I love most’; and the sketch went off to Sidney Smith of Boston, the distinguished book-plate engraver.

I have a fondness for college professors. I must have inherited it from a rich old uncle from whom I unluckily inherited nothing else, who had a similar weakness for preachers. Let a man, however stupid, once get a license to wear his collar backwards, and the door was flung wide and the table spread. I have often thought what an ecstasy of delight he would have been thrown into had he met a churchman whose rank permitted him to wear his entire ecclesiastical panoply backwards.

My weakness for scholars is just such a whimsy. As a rule they are not so indulgent to collectors as they should be. They write books that we buy and read — when we can. My lifelong friend, Felix Schelling (in England he would be Sir Felix), is more lenient than most. My copy of his Elizabethan Drama, which has made him famous among students, is uncut and I am afraid to some extent unopened. Frankly, it is too scholarly to read with enjoyment. Indeed I sometimes think that it was my protest that led him to adopt the easier and smoother style apparent in his later books, English Literature during the Lifetime of Shakespeare and The English Lyric. Be this as it may, he has shown that he can use the scholarly and the familiar style with equal facility, and when he chooses he can turn a compliment like one of his own sixteenth-century courtiers.

I had always doubted that famous book-index story, ‘Mill, J.S., “On Liberty ”; Ditto, “ On the Floss,” ’ until one day my friend Tinker sent me a dedication copy of his Dr. Johnson and Fanny Burney in which I read — and knew that he was poking fun at me for my bookish weakness — this: —

‘This copy is a genuine specimen of the first edition, uncut and unopened, signed and certified by the editor.

Chauncey Brewster Tinker. No copy is now known to exist of the suppressed first state of the first edition — that in which instead of the present entry in the index, under Pope, Alexander, page 111, occurred the words, “Pope Alexander 111."’ How much more valuable this copy would have been if this blunder — ‘point,’ the judicious would call it — had not been corrected until the second edition.

The work of my office was interrupted one summer morning several years ago by the receipt of a cable from London, apparently in code, which, I was advised, would not translate. Upon its being submitted to me I found that it did not require translating, but I was not surprised that it was somewhat bewildering to others. It read, ' Johnson Piazza Dictionary Pounds Forty Hut.’ To me it was perfectly clear that Mrs. Thrale Piozzi’s copy of Johnson’s Dictionary in two volumes folio was to be had from my friend Hutt for forty pounds. I dispatched the money and in due course received the volumes. Inserted in one of them was a long holograph letter to the Thrales giving them some excellent advice on the management of their affairs. ‘I think it very probably in your power to lay up eight thousand pounds a year for every year to come, increasing all the time, what needs not be increased, the splendour of all external appearance, and surely such a state is not to be put in yearly hazard for the pleasure of keeping the house full, or the ambition of outbrewing Whitbread. Stop now and you are safe — stop a few years and you may go safely on thereafter, if to go on shall seem worth the while.'

Johnson’s letters like his talks are compact with wisdom, and many of them are as easy as the proverbial old shoe. Fancy Sam Johnson, the great lexicographer, writing to Mrs. Thrale and telling her to come home and take care of him and, as he says, to Come with a whoop, come with a call,

Come with a good will, or come not at all.’

I own thirty or forty Johnson letters, including the one in which he describes what she called his ‘menagerie’ — dependents too old, too poor, or too peevish to find asylum elsewhere. He writes, ‘We have tolerable concord at home, but no love. Williams hates everybody. Levet hates Desmoulines, and does not love Williams. Desmoulines hates them both. Poll loves none of them.’

But I must be careful. I had firmly resolved not to say anything in this paper which would lead any one to suspect that I am Johnson-mad, but I admit that such is the case. I am never without a copy of Boswell. What edition? Any edition. I have them all — the first in boards uncut for my personal satisfaction; an extra-illustrated copy of the same for display; Birkbeck Hill’s for reference, and the cheap, old Bohn copy which I thirty years ago first read, because I know it by heart. Yes, I can truly say with Leslie Stephen, ‘My enjoyment of books began and will end with Boswell’s Life of Johnson.’

  1. Mr. Livingston died on Christmas eve, 1914. — THE EDITORS.