26 May 2009

School of Night

Muriel Clara Bradbrook ( M.C.) THE SCHOOL OF NIGHT. a study in the literary relationships of Sir Walter Ralegh. Cambridge University Press, 1936.

Current Selling Prices
$100+ ? /£60+ ?

Muriel Bradbrook's book is curiously unfindable but it seems to have established modern research into this shadowy group. It was reprinted in America in 1965 but even that edition has gone to ground. The name of the group is drawn from a satirical and slightly obscure allusion in a passage in Act IV, scene III of Shakespeare's play Love's Labours Lost, in which the King of Navarre says "Black is the badge of hell / The hue of dungeons and the school of night." There is even some doubt whether this is the correct reading (see Wikipedia who report alternatives such as 'Scowl of Night.') A scholarly site called Everything2.com has this on it:-
"An Elizabethan esoteric school founded by Walter Raleigh (a follower of John Dee) and Thomas Harriot, the renowned astronomer and astrologer. Its membership included the Earls of Northumberland and Derby (both alchemists); Sir George Carey; William Warner and Robert Hues (with Harriot known as the 3 Magi); and the poets Marlowe, Chapman, and Roydon. Henry Percy, the 9th Earl of Northumberland, was a driving force and financial backer within the group. Known as the 'Wizard Earl' he was jailed by James I, at the same time as Raleigh, for alleged involvement in the Gunpowder plot and treason.
The school was influenced by the ideas of John Dee and Chapman's poem 'the Shadow of Night' which celebrated the Saturnine, Hermetic melancholia, symbolic of the unconscious, the inspiration of the night and the first stage of alchemy, the Nigredo. Shakespeare knew of the group but never joined and parodied it in his Love's Labour's Lost ...The exact activities of the group were unknown but its ethos was similar to later Rosicrucians and Raleigh is believed to have acted as its main agent in the attempted colonization of America. The group was broken up with the rise of the Stuarts."
Others are more sceptical and see it as a very loose group of freethinkers, atheist and antinomians. It is not listed in Robert Anton Wilson's amazing list of conspiracies, cults and cover-ups 'Everything is Under Control' which has such groups as Potere Occulto and The Priory of Sion. It was the inspiration for a recent fine thriller by Alan Wall 'The School of Night - the story of a present-day researcher who becomes obsessed by connections between Shakespeare's plays and members of the "school". The book so far has no significant financial value, unlike Ms Broadbent's tome which has many wants posted on the web. Membership of the school does not seem to have conferred wealth or fortune--Chapman died in poverty, Marlowe was murdered in a tavern brawl.

Chapman's poem 'Shadow of Night needs to be reprinted. Meanwhile here are these dark, dark lines:-
Never were virtue's labours so envied
As in this light: shoot, shoot, and stoop his pride.
Suffer no more his lustful rays to get
The Earth with issue: let him still be set
In Somnus' thickets: bound about the brows,
With pitchy vapours, and with ebon boughs.
Rich taper'd sanctuary of the blest,
Palace of Ruth, made all of tears, and rest,
To thy black shades and desolation
I consecrate my life; and living moan,
Where furies shall for ever fighting be,
And adders hiss the world for hating me;
Foxes shall bark, and night ravens belch in groans,
And owls shall hollo my confusions
There will I furnish up my funeral bed,
Strew'd with the bones and relics of the dead.
Atlas shall let th' Olympic burthen fall,
To cover my untombed face withal...

Pics from the deathless Caspar David Friedrich.

21 May 2009

Geoffrey Grigson. Legenda Suecana 1953.

A guest post by the estimable Robin Healey on a poetry 'sleeper'--although the severe limitation should alert most punters. Good to see Grigson's 'People, Places, Things and Ideas,' mentioned. This is the sort of book of knowledge that is never published anymore due to the internet. It is easily found, even 4 volumes in a slip-case and costs less than a couple of airport novels. It recalls a more earnest decade, the time of the Brains Trust and Bronowski, and was even published in America. I last saw a set in a St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop in Capitola, California for $5. Due to its weight and unsaleability I had to leave it there. The Grigson tradition carries on with his daughter Sophie who writes cookery books that you can actually cook from. Over to you Robin...

Geoffrey Grigson. LEGENDA SUECANA. Twenty-odd Poems. [Swindon, Wiltshire : Printed for the Author] 1953

Current Selling Prices
$100 -$150-$400 /£60 - £120

Most listeners to the Third Programme or readers of the Listener magazine if polled c1948 to name the most foremost living critic would very likely have nominated Geoffrey Grigson. The forties was truly the decade of this prolific ( in one year he published, I think, 9 books) and versatile broadcaster, fierce critic of poetry and art, anthologist, essayist, and, as a poet, master of precise, incisive observation. But the fifties saw him no less successful ( and a little more prosperous ) and in was in 1953, while engaged in editing an upmarket encyclopaedia, 'People, Places, Things and Ideas,' that he found the money to publish a small book that has now become a great rarity .

My copy of 'Legenda Suecana', subtitled Twenty-odd poems, bears no name of either author or publisher , and the date of publication occurs on the final page, along with the declaration that ‘ twenty-five copies have been printed by the Chiswick Press for the author ‘ . But though this statement is true, it doesn’t tell the full story. Grigson did receive 25 numbered copies himself, but two years ago I discovered another copy of the book containing a note from the publishers, Rainbird and Mclean, revealing that at least 150 more copies had been printed, probably for general distribution. All this would not matter were it not for the fact that the poems that comprise 'Legenda Suecana' chronicle Grigson’s brief adulterous affair with a young Swedish girl he had met while conducting research at the Bodleian Library—and that these revelations of naughtiness and the inevitable pain of rejection are most definitely not the sort of poems that most men would willingly broadcast to the wider world, never mind their wives and relatives.
‘ You smooth my head,
You warmly shift on me,
You move your leg, your thigh,
You ask—O bitch’s, bitch’s,
Question—‘Is it I
Makes you so potent?’…’

At this time Grigson was still married to his second wife, Berta Kunert, though relations had been strained for a while. Anonymity, and the control that Grigson exerted over who received the 25 private copies, offered a certain amount of protection, but if the 150 copies of the book were indeed sold or given away cavalierly by the publishers, it is inconceivable that a poet with so individual a voice could keep the facts of his liaison secret from any devotees of the Third Programme or the Listener who may have acquired a copy. In view of this, perhaps we should conclude that Grigson either didn’t know that so many more copies of his book had been printed, or, if he did, that he didn’t care who found out about his affair.

As it was, at about the same time that Legenda Suecana left the press he met, through 'People, Places, Things and Ideas' (pic left) , Jane McIntire, a young picture researcher twenty-three years his junior. Love blossomed and eventually, he left Berta . By the time the poems that make up Legenda Suecana had been incorporated into his Collected Poems (1963) he and Jane were a well-known couple and she had already embarked upon her sparkling career as a cookery writer .

It was Jane herself who presented me with my copy of 'Legenda Suecana' at a memorial poetry reading in 1986, a few months after Grigson’s death at the age of 80. I cherish this book, particularly as it came from someone intimately associated with the amorous adventures of 1953. For the many admirers of Grigson, 'Legenda Suecana' has become a desirable book –a fact that is reflected in the speed at which any copies disappear from ABE, despite prices that range from £50 to £100. I have never actually found a copy in any bookshop and at present there are none available in ABE.

16 May 2009

George Chapman. Shadow of Night, 1594

The Shadow of Night: containing two poeticall hymnes, devised by G.C. Gent. At London : Printed by R[ichard]. F[ield] for William Ponsonby, 1594.

Current Selling Prices
£10000+ / $15000+

A book I would love to find, one of the earliest emanations of the gothic tradition in literature. A pair of complex neoplatonic poems on night and day--a quarto of 40 pages, it has 2 words in Greek in the title line which transliterate as 'Skia Nyktos'.

I was reminded of it recently when I came across a 1901 auction catalogue of the McKee sale which broke a few price records for rarities of Elizabethan literature. Books of this period were at the time the summum bonum of book collecting and, for a few rich and cultured players, still are. Most of the great books {without even including Shakespeare) require wads of cash not to mention 'realms of gold.' At the MCKee sale in New York 'Shadow of Night' ('very rare') made $230 and Chapman's famous work 'Seven Books of the Iliad of Homer' ('superlatively rare') made $865 and was bought by Pickering and Chatto (still dealing.) To get a fix on prices the great 1600 anthology 'England's Parnassus...Flowers of our Modern Poets' ('fine tall copy' -pictured left) made $230 - it has contributions by Shakespeare, Spenser, Marlowe and Jonson. A copy of this same anthology made $23000 in 1990 and a less than brilliant copy £12000 at Bonham's in 2007. No copy of 'Shadow' has shown up in auction since WW2.

Chapman is, of course, the subject of Keats' sonnet 'On First Looking into Chapman's Homer.' He is said to have written it before breakfast after spending all night reading Homer with a friend and shouting with delight at the felicities of Chapman's translation. Middleton Murry called it "one of the finest sonnets in the English language." You couldn't really get a better review or puff for a book than this:
Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,

And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;

Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told

That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
 Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies

 When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes

 He star'd at the Pacific — and all his men

 Look'd at each other with a wild surmise
 Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

T.S. Eliot called Chapman 'potentially the greatest artist' of the Elizabethan dramatists. The Oxford Companion refers to him as a genius manqué 'whose learning and energy were never sufficiently disciplined...' to be continued with some speculation on his affiliation with the shadowy secret society of freethinkers known as the 'School of Night'...

12 May 2009

A Wonderful Time. Slim Aarons, 1974

Slim Aarons. A WONDERFUL TIME; AN INTIMATE PORTRAIT OF THE GOOD LIFE. Harper & Row, NY, 1974. (ISBN: 0060100168)

Current Selling Prices
$350-$650 /£250-£450

Large book (13 by 10 inches) - likely to be found on the white shelves of Long Island summer mansions and on glass coffee tables in the NY apartments of fashionistas, name droppers, decorators and photobook collectors. Aarons served as a combat photographer in World War II and was awarded a Purple Heart; friend of the famous, lanky and charming, he said "I'm not a master photographer. I'm a journalist with a camera." America's Cecil Beaton, but straight. Surprisingly the book is listed in Vol 2 of Martin Parr's essential 'The Photobook. A History.' Generally the discerning duo eschew coffee table style books and 'Society' snappers. Parr, however, detects a mild satiric note to the photos -'Aarons wields a sharp camera...' By the way, Bailey and Beaton are not to be found in Parr's extensive black books, which is a little harsh on poor Cecil...said to be a rather unpleasant man but with undoubted talent and skill.

The book is mainly colour and black & white photographs showing the estates, interiors and lifestyles of the Rockefellers, the Duchess of Windsor, the Vanderbilts, Lilly Pulitzer, T.S. Eliot, Merle Oberon, Cecil Beaton, Mary Hemingway, Gloria Guinness, Mrs. William Randolph Hearst, Jock Whitney, Truman Capote, Cobina Wright, Howard Hughes, Fleur Cowles and numerous others. Clubs, seaside mansions, pools and vast estates -endless opulence.

Dust jacket notes read: 'A Wonderful Time captures magnificently the life of America's elite from coast to coast, in Bermuda, the Caribbean, and Acapulco. Drawing from thousands of pictures taken since World War II on assignments for Holiday, Town & Country, Harper's Bazaar, Life, Vogue, Travel & Leisure, and other publications, Slim Aarons has put together the best of them--many never before published--with a narrative of his experiences and impressions while photographing American aristocrats on their estates and at play at their favorite resorts...having a wonderful time.' Other places and hangouts included The Myopia Hunt Club, Sugarbush, Snowmass, Bermuda, Jamaica, Acapulco, La Jolla, Nassau, The Exumas, The Bath and Tennis Club, Aspen, Hobe Sound, Montego Bay, The Waldorf. A vanished world. A litany of leisure, privilege and wealth. Dominick Dunne land. Baby you're a rich man too...

VALUE? Possibly a little old game/ vieux jeu in its appeal especially in a time of financial apocalypse. However this may have added to its appeal as its price has recently started to rise with all the cheaper copies that were available a year or more ago having found buyers. This is a book that has sold for over a $1000 but a careful buyer should find one for half that. One seller who has entered the photobook world late and seems to think it's full off mugs to whom money is no object, wants well over a £1000 for a less than fine copy and may have to dream on.
Another Society photographer from a slightly earlier era who is also much wanted is Jerome Zerbe, especially his 1937 privately published work 'John Perona's El Morocco Family Album.' Amazon had a decent one at $1250 but it went. An unpleasant sounding copy is being sold on Amazon for $1300, however it's sale would benefit the Mennonite Central Committee. Another wacky seller who notes that it features New York's pre Jet Set sipping swanky cocktails in 'swank Zebra banquettes' has 4 as new copies at $1800 in custom 'Martini Spill Proof' Mylar. Probably a lucky warehouse find but not one where the luck is being passed on...

OUTLOOK? Better than 2 years back when I first covered this book. I suspect it was published in a large run so it is unlikely to become rare but it will always be wanted, especially with the imprimatur of Parr and Badger. In good times it will sell to the leisured and loaded and in down times it has a bitter sweet nostalgic appeal. The popularity of the TV show 'Mad Men' which covers this era may also be helping its appeal. One of the great coffee table books.

09 May 2009

The Shell Guides 1933-1984 (continued)

Piper’s Oxon appeared in 1939 and immediately demonstrated just how the perfect Shell Guide could be achieved . In so many ways Piper’s book is a masterpiece—from its arresting photographs to its gazetteer entries-- all testify to Piper’s brilliant talent for the obscure fact and the romantic image. Almost immediately it was cased by Faber. Incidentally, C & A.J .Barmby have a reasonably priced copy of a cased Batsford Oxon—all such bound Batsfords being, according to Mawson, ‘ fantastically scarce ‘ ( certainly, I’ve never seen one ).

Nor have I met a spiral bound Batsford ( or even Faber ) Gloucestershire ,but there must have been one, because Faber cased a spiral bound issue in June 1939, just after taking over the series, and these are the books offered for sale on ABE at the moment at prices hovering around £100- £150—Deighton’s being the most expensive, of course. Oddly, my copy, which was published by Faber in 1939, has no spiral binding and is cased using a strange black and grey modernist cloth as if for a library, although the spine lettering is much more like the lettering of a trade binding. Also, it’s in a larger format than the spiral bound books, and has a different quality paper. From this I deduce that it may be the first title in a planned new series by Faber that never took off, possibly due to the War. I’d love to know if anyone else has a similar copy. Incidentally, Gloucestershire is a superb guide, individual and intelligent, as befits the work of H. G. Wells and Rebecca West’s love child , and it’s significant that West was also the friend and biographer of Piper ( his John Piper of 1979 is a most leftfield view of the artist).

Piper and Betjeman toured Shropshire in 1939, expecting their guide to appear within a year, but the war intervened and Shropshire wasn’t published until 1951. Faber opened their great phase of Shell Guide publishing with a visually and verbally striking Guide. With its gaudy jacket in blues and orange by Piper and a wonderfully idiosyncratic, observant text, this is a truly charming title and the only Guide that the two friends wrote together. It is therefore one of the most desired titles of the post-war series. Surprisingly, there is no copy on ABE at present. Expect to pay around £30- £65.

The facts that the Guides didn’t immediately resume in 1945, and that Piper and Betjeman transferred their attentions to the lookalike Murray Architectural Guides in these immediately post-war years, suggests to me that Faber had become disillusioned with the idea of continuing the series. But the splendid appearance of Shropshire in 1951, followed soon afterwards by second editions of Oxon and Gloucestershire, perhaps indicate that the publisher saw a bright future for the Guides as more visually attractive rivals to the rather dull paperback Buildings of England series that had begun to appear in 1951.

For their burgeoning new series Faber opted for a total redesign modelled, probably on Betjeman’s advice, on Piper’s Oxon. So, despite the incorporation of the 1930s features in, for instance, Wiltshire, such as the cod-antiquarian title page and jokey, punning ads at the back, these Guides are real improvements as guides on the early spiral bound examples, for all their obvious charm. The main difference of course is that in the improved economic climate of the ‘ never had it so good ‘ fifties, and early sixties ( as opposed to the recession-hit thirties ) the Guides were printed in larger numbers and therefore are more common today. Copies of Piper’s updated Oxon, Verey’s Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, Stephen Bone’s West Coast of Scotland and Brian Watson’s Devon are comparatively easy to find, although copies with jackets are thinner on the ground. Rarer are Verey’s Herefordshire, with Rutland, by pioneer historical geographer W.G.Hoskins, even rarer.

The sixties was a decade when individual Guides began to expand in size, Faber being ever aware of the threat from the detailed descriptions offered by Pevsner. Titles from the sixties to the mid eighties, when the series finally folded, ironically with the prizewinning Nottinghamshire by Henry Thorold, are far more common and accordingly cheaper. Most can be acquired for anything from £6 to £20,, although, true to form some dealers on the Net try it on.

But even in this last phase some titles are advertised as being more scarce than others. I was never aware that my own Hertfordshire was rarer in hardback. My publishers simply told me that there was a print run of 10,000, and it is entirely possible that a high proportion of the sheets were held back for the paperback edition.

End of this series, thanks Robin - just acquired a battered 'Bucks' from a charity selling through Amazon for a tenner all in. It's the one with the sombre Edward Piper photos (above) - presumably the product of filters and deft darkroom technique. The writer and broadcaster Jonathan Meades in his 2002 piece 'Death to the Picturesque' says of these photos '...he renders the county as though it is perpetually in the throes of an apocalyptic electric storm.' Hard to find good images of the guides on the web, the Piper is a quick scan from my own copy and the Essex is there because it's just down the road (Scarfe also did a good job on Suffolk.)

03 May 2009

Buying or Selling? The Apprenticeship...

JENNINGS: We'll be quite pleased to take fifteen shillings for them. That's what you said they were worth.

MR BARLOW: Ah, if you'd wanted to buy 'em they would be, but if you want to sell 'em -- well, that's different isn't it?

We were visited recently by the young hopefuls from 'The Apprentice'. They had a box of books to sell and we made an offer and they went on to check out another shop in picturesque Cecil Court. Good publicity as the show (featuring Cro Magnon man Alan Sugar) seems to be watched by half the population. The next day our buyer Gill went on a house call and was immediately recognised by the seller who had seen her on telly the night before. At Cecil Court the contestants produced the commonest Bond book - 'Octopussy' and negotiated a price of £100 just for that. Slightly hard to swallow, as it can still be obtained fine/ fine for less than £90.

This reminded me of the above cartoon featuring the famous schoolboy Jennings, his mate and Mr. Barlow, a typically seedy bookseller of yesteryear. Like Jennings the Apprentice crowd didn't seem to have a clear appreciation of how dealers work and either seemed to want (and, oddly, get) full retail price or failing that any old price the buyer might name.

They were also shown doing their research with printed price guides, whereas the Web would probably be quicker and more accurate. They seemed to think that they might find end users for their bric-a-brac in pubs, even selling a skeleton to a toper for £150, also somewhat hard to credit. It was fun to watch and if you have to see reality TV it's probably the best--naked ambition, cunning, bastardry, massive unwarranted egos and the wit and wisdom of the Amstrad knight-- Sir Alan Sugar (in the States it's Donald 'bad hair' Trump.)