10 October 2008

The Association Copy

We have a classic 'association copy' up on Ebay right now--Guy Burgess's copy of the immortal Algernon Cecil's 1927 offering 'British Foreign Secretaries.' Guy the Spy was at Eton at the time with the world before him, however in a close reading of his annotations to this book one can dimly discern the future traitor--as the poet (AE) observed 'In the lost boyhood of Judas / Christ was betrayed.' As an association copy it is not quite up there with Crowleys' copy of the I Ching (sold by M.Stone to LZ axeman Jimmy Page) or Lord Lucan's copy of 'Mein Kampf' (sold by us in 2002.) What exactly is an association copy? The unstoppable John Carter offers a perfect defintion in his 'ABC for Book Collectors.'
“This term, often scoffed at by laymen, is applied to a copy which once belonged to, or was annotated by, the author; which once belonged to someone connected with the author or someone of interest in his own right; or again, and perhaps most interestingly, belonged to someone peculiarly associated with its contents.'
Lay persons are no longer scoffing at the term and association copies have become a fascinating and lucrative byway of book collecting. The Burgess book is described as follows by our erudite cataloguer Tom Adair.
Algernon Cecil, British Foreign Secretaries, 1807 – 1916: Studies in Personality and Policy (London: G Bell & Sons, 1927)


This remarkable survival is the copy of Algernon Cecil’s 1927 book about British foreign secretaries owned by the infamous Cambridge spy Guy Burgess. The front free endpaper bears the inscription: ‘Guy Burgess / Eton 1929’. Burgess was seventeen or eighteen and preparing to take up his place at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Inconspicuous enough at first glance – a plain, dark blue hardcover without dustwrapper, a little worn about the edges – the book harbours a wealth of fascinating annotations in the hand of the young intellectual. There are many sentences in the book which Burgess has placed a pencil line under or alongside, such as the observation that Canning, foreign secretary during the Napoleonic Wars, ‘[as] he had a difficulty in understanding the value of a code amongst nations, so he had a difficulty in understanding the obligations of code amongst men’. Elsewhere, Burgess notes well the observation that the Earl of Clarendon (1850s foreign secretary) ‘betray[ed] himself by a kind of fatalism rather than a fund of resourcefulness [so that in the end] he proved somehow unable to take control of the situation, with the inevitable result that it took hold of him’. It is indeed remarkable that the vast bulk of Burgess’s annotations involve criticisms if not outright damnations of character.

There are also, at the bottom of some pages, Burgess’s own thoughts where he is moved to agree or disagree with the author. For example, in response to the claim that, in the lead-up to the First World War, ‘The Russian Government … was quite as inconsiderate of the fate of Europe as the German’, Burgess has written, ‘Not the government, only the war office, for the Tsar was entirely pacific, if weak’. And, annoyed by Lord Grey’s sentiment that ‘Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait point’, Burgess writes, ‘This seems a very poor reason for going to war!’. Not just acuity of mind is evident in these notes, but so too is the hauteur of the intellectual snob: ‘Anything more absurd than this point of view can hardly be imagined,’ he writes at one point.

Four years or less after making these notes Burgess was introduced to Kim Philby and his subsequent career as a spy is well-known. The popular perception of Burgess as a bloated and aging cynic shut up in a Moscow apartment is pitiably at odds with the fresh and precocious six-former so engaged with British history in this book.'

So far although the book has reached its reserve of $149 it has not gone on and has no watchers. Twice that price would be cheering but with most markets in meltdown one takes what one can get....


Anonymous said...

'In the lost boyhood of Judas / Christ was betrayed.'
Housman? Housman? Housman? Housman?
You'd better read books before you sell them if you believe that.
I claim my free copy of the Clarendon Press Letters of A.E.Housman.
Meamwhile, back in the real world...

Bookride said...

If i didn't make the occasional mistake I wouldnt get any comments, it was George Russell--someone shouted AE across a crowded room and I thought they meant Housman. 10% off to to that man the next time he spends £100. N

Dinesh Kumar A P said...

Good Post. Readers can see more and buy here in India: http://www.thestorez.com/associate-grisham-john-0099536994.html