Sunday, June 12, 2016

For the Love of Old Books (Part 1) (with text correction 1/10/18)

(Left to right) A Window in Thrums by J.M. Barrie, no date; The Origin of Freemasonry: The 1717 Theory Exploded by Brother Chalmers Izett Paton, 1871; La Sœur De Gribouille by La Comtesse De Ségur, Illustrated by H. Castelli, 1914 (French); The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1906.
(All photographs can be clicked for enlarged views)

"When the English publishers read "A Window in Thrums" in manuscript they thought it unbearably sad and begged me to alter the end. They warned me that the public do not like sad books. Well, the older I grow and the sadder the things I see, the more do I wish my books to be bright and hopeful, but an author may not always interfere with his story, and if I had altered the end of "A Window in Thrums" I think I should never have had any more respect for myself..."
- Excerpt from the introduction to A Window in Thrums, by J.M. Barrie (included in the photo above).


It's already summer here in New Mexico; most days are dry and dusty, the others oppressively humid. But, I'm not complaining really. Considering all the recent flooding in Europe and all the freak meteorological occurrences elsewhere - and all the misfortune and mayhem "natural disasters" entail -  the weather here is the least of my concerns. (Blessed Be, however, to those of you who have struggled and are still struggling with the effects of Mother Nature. Try to remember that our Mother is sick now; she can't help it.)

And, so it's summer... I've yet to see any (beloved) hummingbirds, but, every now and then I see a lizard darting across the wall out back. I've also recently detected a certain singular high-pitched, drill-like sound in the air outside my window: one lone cicada calling out in its weird, mysterious language; like some tiny ambassador from another planet attempting to arouse its extraterrestrial brethren who still lie submerged underground... as they have been for many years! Now, there's a seed for a science fiction story in search of an author.

Well, okay, it's probably already been written... as have so very many other things; written down and published, in some way or another, only to be irretrievably lost or discarded, burnt or buried... left rotting in some basement... or (even) sunken and dissolving at the bottom of a salty sea. Those are the less fortunate fates of many of the world's books. But, there are happier tales; that is, there are some unsung humans who passionately strive to save them. No, we're not bona fide Book Collectors with a regiment of criteria regarding what is deemed "valuable" or not-so-valuable... we're just people who love the look, feel, and smell of an old book between our paws... love the magic of an antiquated embellishment or illustration... and the history inherent in each and every printed word, regardless of its foreign origin.

(Left to right) Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus by "Mrs. Shelley" (in one volume), 
no dates apart from the October 15,1831 preface; Gartenlaube Kalender (Garden Arbor Calendar) 1910illustrated with graphics, engravings & photographs, (German);
Little Folks Astray by Sophie May, illustrated,1871. 

As it happens - and the reason this post appears here - I've spent the last week or so reacquainting myself with my own humble collection; a collection which has spent the last few years secreted away in stacks of boxes. In reality, I have nowhere else to put them. And, finally, It occurred to me - and, no, this was not a pleasant realization - I may never have a place to put them. Moreover, they are presently my only "assets." All (misfortunate) things considered - and, trust me, I will spare you all of that - it likewise occurred to me that the time has come, perhaps, to "liquidate."

No, I've not, as of yet, made any decisions. But, as I haven't had the presence of mind to mentally do much else these days - apart from ruminate (i.e., worry) - I decided I might fill the gap with another "interlude" post, which, at the same time, might serve as a visual - and personal - record...

...which might read: "...she lived, she died, and she loved old books!"

(Left to right) (bottom row only) Gartenlaube Kalender (Garden Arbor Calendar) 1910 (interior view); Chateau and Country Life in France by Mary King Waddington, illustrated,1908; Poems and Essays by Oscar Wilde, illustrated by Donia Nachshen,1934.

I know, I know... it certainly does appear as if this old girl is stalling (yet again) with her Love series. The present post should have been a very long and involved discussion on the implications of a "third gender." Trust me, I've done all the homework it's possible to do on the topic... and, although daunting, it will be dealt with. But, unbeknownst to anyone - apart from a clever observer - I have been uploading musical selections that are relative to that post, and, in my own sly way, will continue to do so. Patti Smith (inset right, found here), for instance, (whose selections may be replaced by the time this post appears) is an example. No, it's not that Patti is "third gender"... but, her gender-bending bravery is surely worthy of (at least) a footnote in the history of "genderfluidity"... as is feminism in its truest, humanist sense. And, make no mistake, Patti was, and still is, a Lover (as all poets are). In fact, one might categorize the whole of humanity in this simple, effective manner. There are the Lovers... and, then, there's everybody else. I am a Lover... and I'd like to think that everyone reading this blog is one, too.

Then again, I often refer to myself (and some other Lovers) as failed Romantics... but, this is not exactly true. We have not failed... everybody else has!  ;-)

(Left to right) Mrs. McLerie by J.J. Bell,1904; (upper) Mother ("special edition") by Kathleen Norrisillustrated by F.C. Yohn,1912; (lower) Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, illustrated by August Henkel,1924; A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (no date).

For the moment, however, the source of our passion will be confined to books... specifically old and, in this case, physically petite books; in most instances no larger than 7 inches (19 centimeters) in length. The sort of book that could so easily fall through the cracks of time... and the sort that is my favorite. I have quite a collection... a poor-man's collection - some are pristine, many are not - but, they are rich in loveliness and historical content none-the-less.
I've photographed a small selection of them... which now appear here. The rest  - many too fragile to withstand the recording process - are patiently awaiting my attention. All of them are awaiting my final verdict regarding their fate, but, not even that factor concerns us here. I will remark on a few of them (in the "Notes" section)... random observations with no particular rhyme or reason... and then I will be off again... trying to pull my life back together before the summer is gone... and, yes, yes, trying to get back to some real blogging!

The Fairy Land Of Science by Arabella Buckley, Illustrated,1879?

The Eiffel Tower illuminated
in the colors of the LGBT flag.
It's a funny - or not-so-funny - old world we live in. Today the headlines (translatable) inform me that yet another delusional maniac has destroyed the lives of over a hundred innocent human victims on a misguided whim. Seems like it's an everyday occurance. Perhaps, the most we can hope for is that a few of our slim, bound (or unbound), written "records" will transcend the laws (and/or the self-appointed "lawmen") of atrophy, death, and destruction.

Update (June 27) on the headline (above): The Orlando Nightclub Shooting now has a Wiki page (from which the photo of the Eiffel Tower - inset, left - was found). The bottom line is: "On June 16, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency John Brennan told the Senate Intelligence Committee that his agency was 'unable to uncover any link' between Mateen and ISIL, calling the shooting a 'lone wolf' attack."

Meanwhile, we have this story: Omar Mateen’s Alleged Male Lover Claims Orlando Nightclub Shooting Was Act Of ‘Revenge'...


Random Notes

(Left to right) first leaf of La Sœur De Gribouille by La Comtesse De Ségur;
Familiar Features of the Roadside by F. Schuyler Matthewsillustrated,1897.

"The use of simple and direct language, and incidents taken from la comtesse’s own childhood, brought her immediate success with children. Comtesse de Ségur represented a psychologist, teacher, sociologist and observer of real life. Some of the paragraphs in her stories where controversial due to the excessive violence in beatings administrated to some of the characters, especially children. Her publisher, Hachette, asked her numerous times to cut paragraphs filled with cruelty, but the writer replied that those scenes were part of history - indeed many were autobiographical - and she could not possibly remove them."

- Excerpt from La Comtesse’s Writing Career by Bianca McHale.


Well, as I mentioned, I hadn't looked at my treasure-trove of old books in years, but, for whatever reason, the Comtesse De Ségur's little red book - La Sœur De Gribouille - (with gilt lettering) always stood out in my memory as a real "find". Not that I had the slightest comprehension of who the author was or what the book was about - illiteracy, in terms of any language apart from English, being a working-class American tradition - but, its mysteriousness made it all the more attractive. The most I could make out was that it had to do with somebody's sister - The Sister Of Gribouille - while, in my antiquated French-English dictionary, "gribouiller" means "to scrawl." But, it didn't matter that I couldn't read the little book... it was filled with wonderful engravings! On the other hand, if "every picture tells a story" the story seems to be a rather dark, unhappy tale; I'm not sure about the "sister", but it certainly seems Gribouille is quite dead by the story's end.

Of course, years later, with the internet at my command, one would imagine the identity of this little book would be revealed. Alas, no; the French Wiki entry for La Sœur De Gribouille has no (sidebar) translation. But, I did learn a bit about it's author, the Comtesse de Ségur (inset, left), who was, in fact, Sophie Rostopchine; a Russian by birth, who migrated with her parents to Paris in 1817. To make a long story short, she married Eugène Henri Raymond, Count of Ségur, a mere two years later. Apparently, it was not the happiest of unions, despite the fact that it produced 8 children. It's a familiar tale: a woman renders herself cow-like - in her husband's eyes - after bearing (far) too many (of his) children... at which point, the husband (now appalled) wanders off to another pasture. That story.

She was 59 years of age when she began writing and, as it was, her stories were children's stories... yes, even the grim (?) tale of Gribouille. Unfortunately, the stories which flowed from her pen were heavily moralistic, possibly influenced by her conversion to Roman Catholicism. Moreover, if the quote (above) tells us anything, the Comtesse had a peculiar, almost Sadeian predilection for corporeally punishing her wee characters. However, considering her popularity at the time - and Les Malheurs de Sophie (The Misfortunes of Sophie or Sophie's Misfortunes) is still selling well today - she certainly knew how to entertain!

La Comtesse died in Paris in 1874 at the age of  74. Another article about her can be found here.


A spread from Chateau and Country Life in France; illustration: "Old gateway, Valognes."

"... We have had a last walk and flânerie this morning. We went to the Hospice, formerly a Benedictine convent, where there is a fine old gateway and courtyard with most extraordinary carving over the doors and gate - monstrous heads and beasts and emblems alongside of cherubs and beautiful saints and angels. One wonders what ideas those old artists had; it seems now such distorted imagination. We walked through some of the oldest streets and past what had been fine hotels. but they are quite uninhabited now. Sometimes a bric-à-brac shop on the ground-floor, and some sort of society on the upper story, but they are all neglected and tumbling down. There is still splendid carving on some of the old gate-ways and cornices, but bits of stone and plaster are falling off, grass is growing between the paving stones of the court-yards, and there is an air of poverty and neglect which is of curious contrast to the prosperous look of the country all around..."

- Excerpt  from Chateau and Country Life in France by Mary King Waddington,1908.

"Day after day I sat in my garden watching the aeroplanes flying over my head, and wishing so hard that I knew what they knew. Often I would see five in the day, and one day ten. Day after day I watched the men of the commune on their way to join their classe. There was hardly an hour of the day that I did not nod over the hedge to groups of stern, silent men, accompanied by their women, and leading the children by the hand, taking the short cut to the station which leads over the hill, right by my gate, to Couilly. It has been so thrilling that I find myself forgetting that it is tragic. It is so different from anything I ever saw before. Here is a nation—which two weeks ago was torn by political dissension—suddenly united, and with a spirit that I have never seen before."

-  Excerpt from A Hilltop on the Marne by Mildred Aldrich, 1915, found here.


As it happens, while one enjoys hoarding books, it's rarely possible to actually read them all. But, while reviewing my collection this time around, I actually did take the time to skim through a few of the less fragile ones, and found, for the most part, I enjoyed them.

One might expect that Chateau and Country Life in France would be a dry, tourist's guide of no historical import. It was after all, written by the bourgeois American wife of a French diplomat - and, for a short time, Prime Minister of France - Mary King Waddington. In other words, apart from superficial remarks about the scenery, weather, fashion, tea parties, and the like, one would hardly expect to find anything of remarkable content or interest. But, Addington's observations, although spare, are rarely trite, and, even when questionable, are related in a charming manner.

In other words, although she may have stupidly misconstrued much of her experience, she did so without malice. And, often - if only by accident - she relates some intriguing facets concerning late 19th century life in France. That being said, her views are conventional and we are rarely made wiser regarding the overall "big picture". Take, for instance, her horrifying account of the death of a child from an impoverished family. We discover that, in her eyes, the worse aspect of the child's death was that it's body could not be given a proper burial service because it had never been baptized. Moreover, we learn that the child's father (and I quote): "... was not only an unbeliever, but a mocker of all religion. When his last child was born he had friends over, from some of the neighboring villages, who were Freemasons (they are a very bad lot in France); they had a great feast and baptized the child in red wine."

But, apart from the impressively graphic baptism in red wine, this paragraph tells us nothing beyond the wholly biased aside regarding the Freemasons: "they re a very bad lot in France." As she never mentions the Freemasons again, we have no corroborating background information to support her statements, and it's this vagueness that, for the most part, mars what could've been an actual (satisfying) record. So, yes, the book is interesting and has some lovely illustrations, but, in the end, we are presented with only one person's myopic point of view... and, often, an infuriatingly naïve one!

On the topic of American women living abroad, a contrasting example might be found in another small book I discovered buried in one of the boxes: A Hilltop on the Marne, written by journalist Mildred Aldrich - and documents a short period of her life in the French countryside during World War I. Aldrich's account was, in part, based on her journals, and her letters to Gertrude Stein * - the famous American literary genius (and Lesbian) who also resided in France - so it's quite a different story. For one thing, Adrich was unmarried, past the age of 60, and lived alone in her house "La Creste" in a small town outside of Paris overlooking the Marne river. Her experience was not only less conventional than Waddington's, emotionally it was more profound; she was not only devoted to her adopted country, it was there that she lived out the remainder of her life. Before her death, in 1928, she received the French Legion of Honor for her bravery in the decisive Battle of the Marne, along with her help in establishing America's alliance with the war effort.

(Left) A Hilltop on the Marne by Mildred Aldrich, 1915;
(right) Die weissen Rosen von Ravensberg (The White Roses of Ravensberg) by
Eufemia von Adlersfeld-Ballestrem,1900. (Note: There were 2 German silent films adapted from the this novel.)

"Well, I am reconciled to living a long time now - much longer than I wanted to before this awful thing came to pass - just to see all the mighty good that will result from the struggle. I am convinced, no matter what happens, of the final result. I am sure even now, when the Germans have actually crossed the frontier, that France will not be crushed this time, even if she be beaten down to Bordeaux, with her back against the Bay of Biscay. Besides, did you ever know the English bulldog to let go? But it is the horror of such a war in our times that bears so heavily on my soul. After all, “civilization” is a word we have invented, and its meaning is hardly more than relative, just as is the word “religion.”

There are problems in the events that the logical spirit finds hard to face. In every Protestant church the laws of Moses are printed on tablets on either side of the pulpit. On those laws our civil code is founded. “Thou shalt not kill,” says the law. For thousands of years the law has punished the individual who settled his private quarrels with his fists or any more effective weapon, and reserved to itself the right to exact “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” And here we are today, in the twentieth century, when intelligent people have long been striving after a spiritual explanation of the meaning of life, trying to prove its upward trend... and governments can still find no better way to settle their disputes than wholesale slaughter..."

- Mildred Aldrich, from A Hilltop on the Marne, found here.

* (1/10/18 - This is a corrected version of the text which originally appeared here. I've just discovered that over an entire line of copy went missing - (now in boldface) - without which the book's authorship was erroneously attributed to Gertrude Stein. (!) I have no idea how I missed it till now. Sorry for the confusion.


Advertising spread from Gartenlaube Kalender 1910.

"Most of German society as it was in the early 19th Century had vanished by 1900. The pace of urbanization was huge. Berlin was a provincial backwater in 1860. By 1910 it was one of the great metropolitan centers of the world, and it came through migration. Germany was an enormous magnet for people who wanted a good life in Eastern Europe – from Poland, from Russia, who were escaping from other regimes. They went to Berlin, went to Hamburg, went to the southwest of Germany to the great cities of the wine land, and grew this extraordinary labor force, working class, bourgeoisie, business class, that created more wealth per capita than any other country in Europe."

- Excerpt from Germany at the Turn of the Century, by Jay Winter.

"After 1850, the states of Germany had rapidly become industrialized, with particular strengths in coal, iron (and later steel), chemicals, and railways. In 1871 it had a population of 41 million people, and by 1913 this had increased to 68 million. A heavily rural collection of states in 1815, the united Germany became predominantly urban. During its 47 years of existence, the German Empire operated as an industrial, technological, and scientific giant, gaining more Nobel Prizes in science than any other country.

In the First World War, German plans to capture Paris quickly in autumn 1914 failed, and the war on the Western Front became a stalemate. The Allied naval blockade caused severe shortages of food. Germany was repeatedly forced to send troops to bolster Austria and Turkey on other fronts. However, Germany had great success on the Eastern Front; it occupied large Eastern territories following the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. German declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare in early 1917 was designed to strangle the British; it failed, because of the use of a trans-Atlantic convoy system. But the declaration—along with the Zimmermann Telegram—did bring the United States into the war. Meanwhile, German civilians and soldiers had become war-weary and radicalised by the Russian Revolution."

- From the Wiki entry: German Empire (1871-1918).

"Die Gartenlaube... was the first successful mass-circulation German newspaper and a forerunner of all modern magazines. Its complete title translates into English as "The Garden Arbor - Illustrated Family Journal", but throughout its history it was known simply as "Die Gartenlaube". It was founded by publisher Ernst Keil and editor Ferdinand Stolle in Leipzig, Germany in 1853. Their objective was to reach and enlighten the whole family, especially in the German middle classes, with a mixture of current events, essays on the natural sciences, biographical sketches, short stories, poetry, and full-page illustrations.

Founded by radical liberal publisher Ernst Keil, it was committed to the creation of a national democratic unity government and an enlightened population. The promotion of bourgeois values contrasted with the decline of aristocratic norms. During this period Die Gartenlaube was also noted for a neutral to positive view of Jews, with occasional articles on Jewish family life. 

... Austrian composer Johann Strauss II even published a waltz dedicated to its readers, with the English title "Gartenlaube Waltz", in 1895."

- Excerpt from the Wiki entry for Die Gartenlaube.


Possibly one of the most unique little books in my collection are two which are, in fact, not books at all, but a strange combination of a modern "Daily planner" and a hard-cover magazine: the Gartenlaube Kalenders (Garden Arbor Calendars), 1910 and 1912. It took me a while to finally identify the calendars - and even now I'm only guessing - but it seems they were somehow tied-in with the weekly German publication Die Gartenlaube, which was the successful brainchild of publisher (and liberal) Ernst Keil; the calendars were possibly published as an annual supplement.

Of course, by the time my issues came into being, Ernst Keil had died, and both the magazine and the calendars changed hands; they were now referred to as being published by "Ernst Keil's nachfolger (August Scherl)" - "nachfolger" (meaning successor) - "August Scherl" being a right-wing nationalist.

During the latter half of Die Gartenlaube's long run (1853 - 1944) it was eventually acquired by industrialist (and Nazi sympathizer) Alfred Hugenberg, and finally by a Nazi publishing house; whereupon the magazine lost readership and folded. The Calendar, on the other hand, seems to have only been in circulation from 1891 to 1921.

A spread from the 1912 Garden Arbor Calendar featuring
the art of Fritz Wildhagen.

That being said, I think the Garden Arbor Calendar from 1910 - even in the hands of August Scherl - still reflects some of Ernst Keil's original vision. The combination of graphic styles and techniques was truly ahead of its time. There are black and white engravings and line drawings, B/W and full color photographs - up to an including four full-color reproductions of paintings which have actually been "tipped" on to special pages made of a blue cover-stock. There are also, of course, the illustrated calendar pages themselves which are meant to be written in, and numerous advertisements for everything from hotels to cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals to camera equipment, bicycles, etc. As for the articles themselves, they range anywhere from full color spreads of orchid arrangements to a novella (The Flying Dutchman) by George Engel (whose "non-Aryan" books were eventually burnt) to an article by Ludwig Geiger, featuring a photograph of his newly invented seismograph**... and numerous other articles, poems and stories. All in all we're presented with a what seems to be evidence of a strong, diverse culture and a sophisticated, affluent society.

I haven't mentioned my 1912 edition because, sadly, it's in a more fragile (crumbling) state. The binding has fallen away from the cover. The pages are unlikely to fall out though; they've been sewn together with a fine wire! But, while retaining the diversity and character of the earlier version, the 1912 edition somehow lacks the sparkle of the former. It's still filled with engaging graphics, etc., but one can't help but sense a premonition of the darkness to come. Keep in mind that in a mere two years the July Crises*** would come to pass, and with it the beginning of the first World War.

Another spread from the 1912 Garden Arbor Calendar
featuring the article: Über den Tanz (About the Dance).

In any event, the Garden Arbor Calendars are special little books... but, while researching them, I jotted down a few lines that came into my head which I'll (tentatively) add here:

War - the sport of Kings - divides the world, and the world suffers for it.

Culture unites the world.

* Ludwig Geiger, himself, had an interesting story. I'll excerpt some of it from an article found here which includes a reference to (possibly) the 1910 article found in the Calendar.

"Geiger had gone to Samoa without a Swiss passport, but he convinced the occupation authorities that he needed to contact a Swiss Consul. In March 1915, Geiger left Samoa on a New Zealand naval ship, and was carried to Vancouver, Canada, the nearest Swiss Consulate. He convinced the Consul about his Swiss nationality and returned to Europe. There, the French authorities arrested him, because they believed that he was a German spy. He was transported to the Swiss border, was again arrested by the Swiss, and he came before a Swiss military tribunal because he had not followed the calling up for the Swiss mobilization at the beginning of World War I. Finally, Geiger managed all these problems, but he lost as a foreigner the possibility to work as a seismologist in post-war Germany. Because he also could not find an equivalent position in Switzerland after the war, Ludwig Geiger joined his brother’s pharmaceutics factory and he became a successful manager of an international company. 

In 1910 and in parallel with his inversion work with Wiechert, Geiger developed the basic formulas for locating earthquakes by using the absolute travel times of seismic phases and known travel-time curves..."

** Trust me, if you can get through this monstrous Wiki entry, you can do anything! But, if nothing else, the entry proves the tragic (and farcical) aspects of politics, the mechanisms of war, and the threat posed by miscommunication. Moreover, it illustrates that the pawns in all of this - the soldiers and their families, and the civilians - are the only real losers regardless of who is declared the victor.


  1. A very fitting post for an interlude -- old books. I have a place in my heart for old books -- I have a modest collection of old tobacco-related books collected over the past 40 years and then a larger collection of old sci-fi/fantasy first editions. And then a smattering of mysteries and 'esoteric' books.

    I know how hard it must be to consider parting with them.

    I have enjoyed the post immensely....more please!

    1. Hi Bob. I'm so glad you liked the post! But, then, I kind of thought you might!

      I'm sure you have a great collection!

      There's a bit more to come with this post, however... but, you will get your wish, because there's enough material for another... which, as it happens, fits the general theme.

      Old books seem to transport one on a metaphysical level. They whisper about where they've been... you don't even have to read them. ;-)