25 March 2013

Bosschere / Pound '12 Occupations'

Current selling prices  £500+

Collectors of early modernist literature are well aware of the rarest of Ezra Pound’s first experimental ‘ imagist ‘ poetry (Lustra, A Quinzaine For this Yule etc ). But this little pamphlet, a translation of an early work by the Belgium poet and artist Jean de Bosschere  is so scarce that it doesn’t even get a mention in The Young Genius, 1885 – 1920 (2007),David Moody’s monumental first volume,. Nor does it feature in other collections of letters from Pound. However, in the recently published letters to his parents, De Bosschere’s name does crop up several times, though I cannot find a mention of 12 Occupations. Did the translator see it as mere hackwork done to pay the rent of his bedsitter in Kensington ? It seems possible. He must have done a good deal of this sort of thing at the time.

Pound was a famous talent-spotter and De Bosschere was just the sort of multi-talented. artist/writer that he would have nurtured. Having, in 1900 graduated from art college in Antwerp, De Bosschere  paid several visits between 1901 and 1905 to Paris, where he met writers interested in the occult. From 1905 he seems to have supported himself as an art critic until the outbreak of the First World War, and during this period became an admirer of symbolism and of the mystic Catholic writer Paul Claudel. In 1915 he fled the Great War for London where he met, not only Pound, but also fellow Imagist poets like Richard Aldington and John Gould Fletcher, as well as  D.H. Lawrence and Aldous Huxley. His own first collection of poetry ( Beale- Gryne ) had appeared  in 1909 and he continued to write poetry and novels throughout his life, although possibly because most of the latter were seriously weird,  they remained unpublished at his death.

Knowing that Pound was the go-to man in London, the Belgium showed him his work( presumably both his writings and drawings )in 1916. At first, Pound didn’t know what to make of it. , but felt ‘there was something or other figiting around in his carcass, trying to get out in expression‘. De Bosschere himself was a great admirer of the drawings of Lewis and Gaudier.

Pound did however submit the Belgium’s  verse to Poetry and De Bosschere in turn wrote a critique of Pound for The Egoist. In 1917 De Bosschere’s persistence was rewarded when he received a three year contract to illustrate books for Heinemann, including works by Ovid and Wilde.In the following year Pound reported that an exhibition of De Bosschere’s paintings  was coming on in the West End. By 1920 Pound had become a great admirer of his  graphic art and the two men met occasionally in Paris.

De Bosschere’s first novel, Dolorine et les Ombres (1911), had provoked charges of Satanism, and indeed he later gave himself the nickname ‘ Satan ‘.However, the black and white illustrations for 12 Occupations seem more ‘ dark ‘than satanic. One illustration shows a strange bug- like creature turning a machine-tool wheel. In another, a man appears to be operating a contraption for hanging miscreants on the gallows. The accompanying descriptions in French  are strongly declamatory in tone and the  translations are admirably Poundian. Here is a fragment from ‘The Chair and Table-Maker’:

The chair-maker has democratized the throne…
By means of the table, he brings the food half-way to our mouths. For the table is the first floor of the earth, as heaven is its garret.
Oh, admirable work of this man, which delivers the featherless biped from the animality which lives on the earth.
The Greek has not done better for our sublimity.

God knows what Pound thought of the whole undertaking, though no doubt he was glad of the money. For some reason, his name does not appear anywhere in the book, but I doubt if he minded. There is no mention in his letters home of any fee, nor how well the little book sold.

Although 12 Occupations has always been regarded as a rarity in America and the UK, in Europe they get far less excited about it. In 2006 a copy appeared at auction in France with an estimate of 20/50 Euros. In February 2012 Bloomsbury sold a similar copy for £260. The 12 Occupations currently with Peter Harrington at an eye watering £2,250 is signed by the author, who has also hand coloured some of the illustrations. Oddly, on 11 Oct 2012 at Swann Auctions in NYC a dummy version, possibly from the publishers’ archives, made $3120 with a copy of the trade edition. The latter may be the one that Zubal are offering, because it wasn’t there when I first looked a year or so ago.

R. M. Healey  

[ Many thanks Robin - the Bloomsbury 2012 copy,from where the pic above came, was shabby at the edges. This used to be a sleeper, one of the 500 books a good modern first scout was seeking. Not many  sleepers anymore.]

08 March 2013

Invasion of the Pods


Bookride has long had a quarrel with those Books on Demand publishers, with good reason. A few years ago they were as mild irritation that got in the way of the ‘ real ‘ book on Abe. They could be annoying, but you tolerated them. Today the situation is very different. They seem to have taken over the whole of ABE like some giant pulsating fungus out of Quatermass, or those giant PODS from ‘ The Invasion of the Body Snatchers ‘. If this expansion continues they will push out all the real books, just as the replicated human clones from the pods pushed out all the real humans in the film.

Did I say ‘will’? In some cases they already have. Take the other day. For some reason I decided to check out copies of Ackermann’s Repository of the Arts—a publication venerated among design historians and for that reason famously expensive. Less than two years earlier, not long after I had bought a respectable 1809 volume from a bookstall in Ripon market for a bargain £5, I discovered half a dozen good copies at the usual inflated prices of £200 or £300 a piece. When I entered the book title again, there they were, the book clones. I scrolled down until I had gone through the whole list—not a single real copy of the real Repository could I find—all were Repressed Publications/Kessinger/Nabu clones.

Then it occurred to me. Had I and other innocent seekers after real books been responsible for all those other alien life forms that were taking over the world of real books ? Was it possible that whenever an ABE user signals an interest in a particular (often rare) title this triggers a mechanism that registers this interest and relays it to a BOD publisher, who then  reproduce it as a POD book ? How else can you explain why so many titles I have enquired after on ABE have soon after appeared as POD books?  .

Surely too, is it no coincidence that the rise of the POD has coincided with the rise of the postgraduate degree scam, which itself is partly a way by which the polytechnic-turned –universities raise funds, possibly for their crappy libraries? I suppose it could be argued that if you are only interested in acquiring the text of a book, perhaps to aid your postgraduate research, the cost of a POD would be cheaper than paying for a visit to the British Library, if you live in Plymouth or Newcastle. But in the end, if demand for personal copies of rare texts continues to increase there is a real danger that dealers will be discouraged from advertising their copies of these ‘real ‘books online, for fear of having them swamped by the clones. In addition to the Repository, I’ve looked up other titles that I used to see on ABE, and these too seem to have disappeared. Also, bizarrely, some PODS now cost more than the ‘ real ‘ books that they reproduce.

I’d like to quiz Mr Kessinger and his friends about their sales figures. How many PODS do they sell? After that I’d like to meet some of those who have bought PODs of titles that are available as real books, either online or in the hundreds of second hand bookshops that, despite the Internet and Kindle, can still be found throughout the UK. Have they looked for these titles in these bookshops? If not,  why they have rushed into buying a grubby little computer generated body snatcher of a book, barely held together, with misprints, a meaningless cover and smudgy illustrations, for only a little less, in some instances, than the real thing, which they could have had if they’d looked a little further or waited a little longer.

It all reminds me of people who will gladly spend more on a reproduction of a Georgian dining room table in perfect condition than they would on an identical table in the same saleroom that happens to have slight wear. These people are fools.

So I say to anyone tempted to buy a POD, please don’t. Use your brain. Be patient, or  pay the going rate for the real thing. Some of these rarer titles will be good investments, whereas the PODs will never, ever, ever, be worth anything but a few  pence.[R. M. Healey]

Rave on Robin! I second that emotion. Btw that is my distant cousin below...

05 February 2013

Frances Cornford. The Holtbury Idyll

Current selling price $2,000

Anyone who has read an anthology of English poetry will remember the very short poem  which contains the following lines:

             'O fat white woman whom nobody loves
              Why do you walk through the fields in gloves
              Missing so much and so much ?’

It can be found in Poems (1910) the debut collection of Frances Cornford, a member of the famous Darwin family of Cambridge (Charles was her grandfather ),who had just married a young classics don, also confusingly called Francis. He went on to write on Socrates etc., while she published further slim volumes of witty Georgianesque verse that sometimes recalls Betjeman, while the couple, distinguished only by their respective initials (hers were FCD), went on to establish at their home in leafy Millington Road, a refuge for the ‘intelligentsia’  of the sort  that seems peculiar to Cambridge.

‘Fat White Woman‘ was an instant success, but its notoriety was to plague Cornford throughout the rest of her life. Its critics attacked her for presuming that the woman she had viewed from a train was unloved. Housman and Chesterton both parodied the poem —Housman probably for academico- political reasons (Mr Cornford was a rival in classical studies at Cambridge)—Chesterton for socio-religious reasons (as a Catholic he opposed the atheism of Cambridge rationalists among whom the Cornfords moved). Even today, bloggers are divided about the poet’s view of the outside world. Was Cornford an intellectual snob who observed lesser beings from an academic ivory tower, or is there irony in her poem ? Personally, knowing the Darwin set, which still exists in an exiguous form at Cambridge, I favour the former. What is certainly known, but not presumably by the bloggers, is that Poems was not Cornford’s debut volume. This turns out to be The Holtbury Idyll (1908).

The confusion is easy to understand. Google The Holtbury Idyll and you will get nothing. A trawl through abebooks will produce nada. The title isn’t in Copac. Alan Anderson, whose 19 page Bibliography of the Writings of Frances Cornford (a cool £150 from Peter Ellis) has Poems as her debut collection. And yet, flick through Ahearne and you will find The Holtbury Idyll listed under FCD, that is, Frances Crofts Darwin. I think we should trust the word of the Ahearnes, assume that the book does indeed exist, and tick off Mr Anderson for not doing his research.

But it is a puzzle. The University of Cambridge online catalogue failed to turn up a copy. David’s, the best known bookseller in Cambridge, hadn’t heard of it-- even the man who had worked there for 25 years-- though he did say that they had a copy of Poems for sale.  When I remarked to him that a living Darwin might know of it, or even own a copy, he hinted that one who might have information was no longer around, which didn’t exactly help. I mentioned in passing that I couldn’t find a single Darwin in the Cambridge phone book so he suggested that I try Darwin College, which I did. The secretary to the Bursar was friendly and promised to get back to me if she found anyone who could help. I am still waiting.

Other books by Cornford are quite thick on the ground. There are several copies of Poems on Abe that hover at around $70. One that might be nice to have is Spring Morning, which appeared from the Poetry Bookshop in 1915, complete with wood engravings by Gwen Raverat ( another cult figure in smart Cambridge circles ). The Woolfs, doubtless guests at Millington Road,  brought out Cornford’s Different Days   in 1928.Perhaps the biggest puzzle is why the Ahearnes place such a high price on a slim volume (probably a pamphlet ) published by a poet whose work, apart from ‘Fat White Woman’, hasn’t lasted. For $2,000 you could buy a copy of John Gray’s Silver Points or Hilda Doolittle’s first book…Or a lot of other interesting firsts, for that matter.[R. M. Healey]

Many thanks Robin - looking out for that one. It will probably  show up in the library of a relation - a Darwin, Raverat, Wedgwood, Cornford or Keynes. Although the much liked poetry collector Quentin Keynes does not appear to have had one. 

14 January 2013

R.Murray Gilchrist, The Stone Dragon ( 1894)

Current selling price £2,000+.

Until the early 1970s R. Murray Gilchrist (1868 - 1917) was known mainly for some unremarkable regional and other novels together with a few bog standard  topographical  books on Yorkshire  and the Peak District, none of which have ever attracted the attention of collectors. Then, in the 1970s his horror fiction began to be anthologised and before long this Yorkshireman was being hailed as a undeservedly neglected master of the Decadent and Gothic, worthy to rank with some of the greatest masters of the genre. Over the past forty years stories from his debut collection The Stone Dragon have been anthologized more than a dozen times and the book has been reprinted in 1984, 1994 and 2003. Because of this interest demand for first editions of his most acclaimed book has escalated enormously in recent years.

Frustratingly, little is known about the life of Gilchrist. It seems that he was born in Sheffield in 1868, where he attended the grammar school there, and apart from a short sojourn in Paris soon afterwards, he remained in the Peak district for the rest of his short life, living for some time near Holmesfield,  in his mother’s house, the largely Tudor Cartledge Hall, with a male companion, which suggests that he may have been gay. In the early 1890s his ‘Decadent’ tales featured in W. E. Henley’s National Observer, a mainly non-fiction magazine that also published Yeats and Kipling. In 1891, his first novel, Passion the Plaything appeared, but although this and two further novels, Frangipanni (1893) and Hercules and the Marionettes (1894) were not a great critical success, reviewers were much more enthusiastic about his first collection The Stone Dragon which came out in 1894..  Thereafter, Gilchrist was in demand and he published further stories in more mainstream magazines, including The Idler, Pall Mall Magazine and Windsor Magazine.

It has been remarked that the critical neglect of Gilchrist since his death in 1917 has been mainly due to his unevenness as a writer. Writing mainly of his novels one critic of the time described his work as 'incomplete, elliptical, mannered and uncontrolled'. Elsewhere the same critic, after praising the good qualities of one particular novel, condemned him as a writer of 'great moments and appalling weaknesses.' These remarks, which were echoed by other critics, seem to have contributed to Gilchrist’s critical fate.The stories in The Stone Dragon, however, appear to have escaped these critical reservations, despite the fact that some of them share some of the stylistic failings of the novels. It’s the themes treated by Gilchrist in this Decadent fiction that attract the modern sensibility. Stories that address same-sex passion, the lust for youth, and feminism, predominate and it is perhaps no coincidence that the resurrection of Gilchrist followed directly on from the sexual liberation of the nineteen sixties.

In the title story, for instance, the hero has to choose between two women—one boringly conventional and submissive and the other erotic and unconventional, with the stone dragon itself acting as a symbol of emotion frozen for all time, just as in a conventional marriage. Other aspects of gender and sexuality that occupied so many writers and artists of the 1890s (one thinks immediately of Beardsley and Swinburne) are explored with imaginative power in The Stone Dragon and in later collections.

If you want some first or early editions of Gilchrist for a few pounds  his topographical guides are easily available. Most bookshops will stock Ripon and Harrogate (1914) and The Peak District (1911) for around £5 each, though one chancer in East Moseley wants a very silly $244 for The Peak District because it retains its dust jacket ( he must have been reading Tanselle on book jackets !). The bigger prices are reserved for Gilchrist’s novels, a handful of which are available online. One of the cheapest seems to be Damosel Croft at $83 (Peter Ellis), with the undated Pretty Fanny’s Way going for $164.39. Most of the other novels hover around $90.

Not surprisingly, The Stone Dragon claims top spot. There is an wonderful inscribed copy of this 'legendarily scarce' title on sale from Adrian Harrington at a decadent $4,152, but if you have a ‘ horror ‘ of paying over the odds, one dealer in Australia will sell you a copy in only slightly worse condition for $1,250, which seems a bargain to me. Incidentally, if you can somehow find the ‘Colonial ‘edition of the same book it should cost you even less. [R. M. Healey]

Many thanks Robin. This is a book I have never seen although one customer has a copy down Bexhill way. Must
check him out when next in God's waiting room.