Sunday, November 22, 2015


speaking of...

Another week will mark ten years of writing here.  Will I ever stop?  I can’t answer that question, but I do know that the time is not yet.  And I also know that I always regretted the times I did stop, and always rejoiced when I started to write on this page once again (today is such a day).  My love of books and reading has waxed and waned and waxed again, over the years.  I have always written diaries, but I began to write here because of my bookshop.  Then closed the shop.  I loved it and still think of it fondly and often, but I’m so very glad I’m no longer sitting in it from day to day.  Life has opened up in ways I never could have foreseen and I hope this continues indefinitely.  And of course I continue to read, and hope that continues indefinitely too!

Speaking of reading.  As we do around here.  I went away for a painting residency at the end of October and took nearly a carton of books with me.  The residency was three weeks long.  Did I read any of those books?  Among them many old favorites and some brand new can’t-wait-to-read-THIS-ones?  No, no I did not.  I painted and painted and painted some more, and during the dark evenings inside, after painting outside all day in the clear, slanting late-fall sunshine, I turned on a clip light with a full-spectrum lightbulb and kept right on painting.  Then I only wanted to write about those paintings and nature, and my feelings – and how they all intersect – in my diary, and then maybe look at a book about Maine trees and books about bird identification, since I wanted to know more about the birds and trees I’d just been painting and gazing at.  Thus I read much of Forest Trees of Maine, which has terrific color pictures, and browsed in Birds of Maine Field Guide by Stan Tekiela (Adventure Publications 2002) and the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, Eastern Region (Knopf 2003).  And that was it.  I did not open the new book I was most excited to start, M Train by Patti Smith (Knopf 2015).  Or the second new book I was most excited to start, Distant Neighbors: The Selected Letters of Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder (Counterpoint 2015), who have been writing to each other for decades, which I did not know.  And, when the residency ended, and I returned home, I still didn’t want to read anything.  I did pounce on my job-well-done-Sarah gift, a wordless book that arrived in the mail while I was away.  A Yorkshire Sketchbook by painter David Hockney (Royal Academy Books 2012).  I gazed and gazed at this gorgeous little facsimile watercolor sketchbook as if it contained all the most important news of the day.

Speaking of the news of the day.  Everything is almost unbearable, isn’t it?  Terrorist attacks around the world.  Refugees.  Ridiculous political situations in this country and elsewhere.  Guns.  Climate change.  I don’t even know what to say about any of it.  Other than this:  I cannot live an effective (much less happy) life while feeling continually appalled and fearful.  So I take in what I am able to, then take small active steps toward peaceful change, and determine within myself to be at least twice as kind as usual with everyone I encounter in life.  And I keep trying to add to the sum total of beauty and meaning in the world.  By painting, writing - any means necessary.  It seems so futile, but I believe in beauty and goodness and peace and I refuse to stop believing, despite evidence to the contrary.

I’ve been home for well over a week now.  And a few days ago, when I finally had the urge to pick up a book, what was it?  I looked through the massive stack of wonderful reading material that’s been waiting so patiently for some attention from me for months now, and what did I do?  I went back to a familiar bookshelf, gazed at The Letters of Horace Walpole, saw my own bookmark in the middle of Volume XIII, pulled the book off the shelf, carried it off, and began to read once more.  Returning to the drawing-rooms of the eighteenth century, after three weeks of living outside in wild nature, was, in a word, a trip.  He writes about the contemporary scene so beautifully, and I missed him so much!  And I realized again with a shock just how far we’ve come in some arenas, in some countries – here for instance, I, a middle-aged woman, was just able to go and live alone on public land (in a national park), and spend my days exactly as I most wanted to.  Working at my art, wearing what I want – work pants! warm clothes! blaze orange! – making no concessions to anything other than nature and the limits of my own body, skills, and knowledge.  How completely different than the lives of Walpole’s female friends!  Card-playing dowagers, minor royalty, married nieces, and in-laws – I just read about one dying after having thirteen children, for god’s sake.  And yet Walpole’s take on politics and wars and violence is fairly close to my own, and his writing on those subjects, during that volatile time in world history, is full of sketches that sound utterly modern.  More despair on my part – will the human race ever learn?  Anything??  I will answer these questions myself, and I know where the answers are to be found.  Yes.  In art.  In books.  And in the making of these things, and in the experiencing of them.  Not that I have any inside track on what might be the right thing to do in life – far from it!  I wouldn’t presume to speak for anyone else – all I know is what works in my own heart, to keep despair at bay and keep gratitude in bloom.   

Speaking of gratitude.  I have a great deal for the few long-term readers of this blog.  It's been a tremendous pleasure to engage in a shared literary life with like-minded souls, over the past ten years.  As you may know, I am a homebody who enjoys solitude, perhaps too much, and finds it difficult to speak easily about all sorts of things in person, books among them.  As such, writing here has been a great blessing.  Thank you, so very much.  I hope we continue to read and discuss books and life for years to come.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


fall into some good books

For the past several weeks I've been reading everything except the Letters of Horace Walpole, so I think my sojourn in his works is finally finished, at least for the time being.  I want to write more - a lot more - about what it's been like to spend so much time with him, months really, but I don't know when I'll be able to do it.  Because I'm about to go be an artist-in-residence and I don't think I'll be taking a screen of any kind with me, so we may not speak again here for several weeks.  Until then, a bit of housekeeping.  As this blog approaches its tenth birthday, I've been contemplating whether or not to continue with it.  Before anyone panics (not that anyone will...), I'll just say that I'll continue to write when I'm able to, and when I feel like it, since I love writing in my diary, and this blog has always been just a refinement of that handwritten record, slanting necessarily toward the bookish.  I mean, I don't foresee running out of books to talk about, anytime soon!  Great stuff keeps right on being published, especially this time of year.  I remember the excitement I used to feel, when I worked as a buyer in a new-book store, when the fall season got going and all the new books would pour in.  I mean real excitement - seeing books come into the store from the guys in receiving, and getting to handle them before we put them out for sale.  There was always such a good crop.  This year is no exception.  I really cannot wait to get my hands on a copy of Patti Smith's new memoir M Train (Knopf 2015); ditto photographer Sally Mann's memoir Hold Still (Little, Brown 2015), and I've heard so much about Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau 2015) by Ta-Nehisi Coates that I've put that on my list too.  Great books!  They keep right on being written!  I love this.

But that's all in the immediate future, or rather post-residency, since all I'll be doing for the next few weeks is painting, eating, and sleeping.  So, what I've actually read lately - so much, all written by women, after spending all that time in Walpole's world.  I wish I had time to write more in depth about each of these, but for now, a few mini-reviews must suffice. 

First, I tore through Susan Branch's lovely illustrated diary of her early years as a married-then-divorced woman, just beginning to find her way as an artist.  The Fairy Tale Girl (Spring Street Publishing 2015) - I read it twice in one week!  Then browsed through a third time, lingering over my favorite sections.  A true story of love, divorce, feminism, art, and self-discovery.  It's delicious to read about a friend suggesting that she write a book, since:

"People do it all the time."  To which,  "I gave her the 'You're crazy' look - I never saw 'people do it all the time.' I never saw anyone do it."  And, "  Write a book? Regular people didn't write books in 1979.  Margaret Mitchell wrote books, Jane Austen, Julia Child, Harper Lee.  Brilliant people, not normal people.  Whenever it crossed my mind, which was rare, I was quick to rule it out as an option by reminding myself that I wasn't Louisa May Alcott or John Steinbeck, and that's who wrote books." (pp.150-151)

Needless to say (thank you fate, and Susan Branch), she went on to write and illustrate what now comprises a huge stack of books.  Do yourself a favor and pick up this latest charmer.  Its sequel is already written and will be published in the spring of 2016.  Cannot.  Wait.  (Must.  Hate that.) 

Then, I read Elizabeth Gilbert's new book about creativity, Big Magic (Riverhead Books 2015), which is so very quotable - here are a few, relating to the making of art, in whatever medium you choose:

"I believe that enjoying your work with all your heart is the only truly subversive position left to take as a creative person these days.  It's such a gangster move, because hardly anybody ever dares to speak of creative enjoyment aloud, for fear of not being taken seriously as an artist.  So say it.  Be the weirdo who dares to enjoy."  (pp.118-119)     

" soul.  I ask it, "And what is it that you want, dear one?'
  The answer is always the same: 'More wonder, please.'"  (pp.250-251)

"What do you love doing so much that the words failure and success essentially become irrelevant?" (p.259)

She often has a goofy way with words and I find her work so appealing, in part because she's my age, so this is my language she's speaking, generationally.  It's familiar and heartening.  The book as a whole is too short, I thought, but it's not my book, is it.  Worth reading and re-reading, I think.

I also just finished reading Under the Tuscan Sun (Chronicle 1996) by Frances Mayes, and With Malice Toward Some (Simon and Schuster 1938) by Margaret Halsey.  I had never read either of these before, despite their both being massive bestsellers (Mayes, on the New York Times bestseller list for years with this book; Halsey, winning an early National Book Award and selling 600,000 copies of hers).  Both are based on diaries - Mayes compiles her book based on the diary she kept when she and her husband bought and renovated their home in Italy, and Halsey writes her book up as a diary, at the suggestion of her brother-in-law, the Simon of Simon and Schuster, after he received her amusing letters about her and her husband's move to England.  I didn't commit to reading Under the Tuscan Sun in its entirety until I read the following:

"To bury the grape tendril in such a way that it shoots out new growth I recognize easily as a metaphor for the way life must change from time to time if we are to go forward in our thinking.  (p.2)

I won't continue with a review of the entire book, since I've already been going on at such length, and everyone in the world has already read this book anyway!  I will mention that Margaret Halsey's book, however, may no longer be so well known, but is so, so worth seeking out.  She writes in a style that reminds me of Helene Hanff, or Dorothy Parker, or the fictional Mrs. Miniver, or my very favorite, the fictional Mrs. Appleyard - a snappy, kind, intelligent, wry, funny, observant woman.  In this case, observing the English, with a few side trips to Paris and around Scandinavia.

In reading all these books I feel like I've pretty much covered (by accident) the history of women's creativity from the present time back to the 1930s.  Halsey reminds me of the grandmother I never knew, who died before I was born; Mayes reminds me of the women of my mother's generation; Gilbert the women of my own generation; Branch perhaps the secret heart of all of us.

I'll have to leave it there for now, although I could continue.  Because I'm also in the middle of The North Haven Journal, 1974-1979 (North Haven Library 2015) by poet Elizabeth Bishop.  There are worthy lines and scraps of wonderful imagery throughout, but soon I have to pack up and go in search of my own imagery.  The bravery and élan of all of these women (and of Horace Walpole too, come to think of it) will help me to no end in the courage department as I head off to this residency.  Thank the gods and goddesses for great books, where would we be without them!

Thursday, September 24, 2015


the learned gentleman?

September 24.  The British Library informed me, via facebook this morning, that today is the birthday of Horace Walpole.  We must mark the occasion somehow - why not with words.  But little praise - he disliked it so, and often took his friends (and enemies) to task for calling him intelligent or learned: 

"Pray, my dear child, don't compliment me any more upon my learning; there is nobody so superficial.  Except a little history, a little poetry, a little painting, and some divinity, I know nothing.  How should I?  I, who have always lived in the big busy world; who lie a-bed all the morning, calling it morning as long as you please; who sup in company; who have played at pharaoh half my life, and now at loo till two or three in the morning; who have always loved pleasure; haunted auctions - in short, who don't know so much astronomy as would carry me to Knightsbridge, nor more physic than a physician, nor in short anything that is called science.  If it were not that I lay up a little provision in summer, like the ant, I should be as ignorant as all the people I live with.  How I have laughed, when some of the Magazines have called me the learned gentleman!  Pray don't be like the Magazines."  (Volume III p.288)

He couldn't completely deny, though, that he was in fact smarter than the average bear, simply because he read books.  Often.  And couldn't help picking up something along the way.  In particular his wide-ranging nimble vocabulary, which continues to delight me as a reader.  Serendipity we have already discussed.  Likewise junkettaceous.  Other words he invented deserve mention (or re-mention, if I mentioned them already) and should, I think, become common parlance. Shall we write these first boldly just because we are able to do so?  Yes. It amplifies their singularity and magnificence:






immachinality  (relative helplessness where technology is concerned)

writative (as opposed to talkative)

dogmanity (as opposed to humanity)

turnippery (a country establishment, where turnips reside)

bookhood (Shall we use this in a sentence...?  "...a gentleman, who has a better opinion of my bookhood than I deserve."  Volume V p.390)

robberaceously (Again?  "...the door rattled and shook still more robberaceously." - it was not a robber, but rather an earthquake - Volume V p.362)

betweenity (One more - I can't resist, it feels so pertinent!  "I did not use to love September, with its betweenity of parched days and cold long evenings, but this has been all lustre and verdancy: I am sorry it is at its end." Volume VI p.489)

Some of his words had me reaching for a dictionary, in confusion:


And others I recognize and simply admire - writing them out, both in my diary and here, is a pleasure:


Torpid - what a great word!  O Horace Walpole, I will miss you, when I no longer visit you regularly on the page.  Which time approacheth, for I am still mired deep in Volume VIII of his Letters.  I don't want to finish, so I am putting off the inevitable, and besides, the summer backlog of to-be-read books grows ever more insistent.  Yes, it's true, I have been reading Other Things.  But those are for some future discussion.  For today, happy birthday, friend of letters - I won't say learned gentleman - thank you for your words, alive forever on the page.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015


serendipity in action

Do most people know that Horace Walpole coined the word serendipity?  I think it's common knowledge, but I want to mention two - to me - extraordinary examples of serendipity which have befallen my very own self within the last week.  They both involve books.  The first example, just one book.  The second, many.

Instance the first.  Late last week I was a few hours away from home, on my way to hear a well-known painter talk about her work and work habits.  I left early to take my time driving down, and to stop at an art supply store along the way.  After a prolonged visit to the art supply store, I really needed to find a bathroom (tmi?), so I stopped at a nearby bookshop, which I knew had a good bathroom.  Honestly, that was my only intention.  But.  Once inside, I couldn't help glancing around at the books.  Near the bathroom is a table of sale books - you know, publishers' remainders, at reduced prices.  I looked at a few art books.  Then, on a low shelf, the one nearest to the floor, I saw this:

That was truly all I could see of the cover, since it's a very tall book and the top half was cut off from view by the next shelf up.  I didn't even think before I reached down, just something about the manner of the illustration on the cover caught my attention and I had that tug of curiosity to see who the artist was, and what the book was.  Well.  The rest of the story:

I ask you.  Really.  What are the chances of this happening?  Me wandering into a bookshop and lighting upon this particular title, two minutes later? Horace Walpole's Cat by Christopher Frayling (Thames & Hudson 2009), with illustrations by Richard Bentley, William Blake, and (the cover artist I was curious about) Kathleen Hale.  The book opens with a brief chapter on Samuel Johnson's cat Hodge:

And continues with another short chapter about Walpole's dogs, particularly his beloved Patapan:

We then are treated to the complete text, with its variations and history, of Thomas Gray's famous Ode On the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes, written after the death of Walpole's cat Selima, who indeed drowned one sad day in 1747, while apparently reaching for certain things beyond her capabilities.  The first facsimile edition within is illustrated by Richard Bentley, from his edition of 1753:

William Blake also illustrated the Gray poem in 1797-98 and his illustrations are reproduced here in color:

As is the massive Chinese porcelain tub in which Walpole's goldfish lived, and his cat drowned.  The tub was sold to the Earl of Derby at the 1842 Strawberry Hill auction.  It is still at Knowsley, in the possession of the present Earl of Derby:

Also within are Kathleen Hale's previously unpublished watercolors (from 1944) of Gray's poem.  Her cover illustration is indicative of her great style - she was famous for a series of children's books about Orlando, the Marmalade Cat, and lived to a great age (her obituary in The Guardian is fascinating).

But I love this book not only for its images, since the text is wonderful, too - Christopher Frayling ties together a lot of loose strands, in a charming style.  Truly a pleasure to read and ponder.  I was dumbfounded - thunderstruck really - there in the bookshop, over the happenstance - the serendipity - that helped me stumble across this altogether lovely title. 

I was taking the above photos of this book just a few minutes ago - some are (appropriately?) a little fish-eyed since the book is quite large and I was a little too close to it.  Our cat Hodge (Christopher Frayling also named a cat Hodge, by the way) was sitting in the sun-patch next to me, and I couldn't resist taking his picture too:

He looks pleased with it.  But really, who knows.  The book cost ten dollars, by the way.  In other Horace Walpole-related news, I've been reading his Letters for months now, and am still at it.  I'm halfway in to Volume VIII and the going is slow, partly because I stop to take brief notes as I'm reading.  This is my system:   

As I read along I jot notes on a long index card, with the page number, approximate location on the page (top, middle, bottom) and the word or phrase I want to copy into my diary/commonplace book.  When I fill a card, both sides, or finish a volume or major section, or simply whenever I feel like it, I use the card to go back in the text and find all those quotes and words, and write them into my diary.  Then I start a new card.  The card also serves as a bookmark.  This system works for me and doesn't feel too disruptive as I read along (much less so than stopping every time I want to take longer notes).  Why I do this, I don't really know.  I realize it's compulsive, but I've read books this way for years and years, and I like making notes from my reading.  At the very least, my diaries show me exactly what I was reading when, and what I thought of it, since I'll often write opinions about the quotations I've just copied over.  Anyway.  The other night Ryan asked me what I was going to do when I finished reading this set (which is imminent).  And I had to think for a minute.  Since all I want to do is read more Horace Walpole.  I could do just that and take even more volumes of his Letters out of the local research library (an hour away), since they have the massive Yale set of his complete correspondence.  Or, I could abandon Walpole altogether and start in on the huge to-be-read piles in the book room, which I've been adding to all summer.

Speaking of which.  We finally come to the second example of serendipity I experienced recently.  Remember I said there were two?  Long story but will try to keep it short(ish).  Here goes.  Over the weekend, we took a drive. We live on the coast, and there are wonderful peninsulas nearby that offer even more coast, so we often take drives, usually with no plan other than a certain sandwich shop or take-out, at suppertime, near a beach perhaps.  It's a good plan-less kind of plan and has served us well on many a Sunday drive.  To wit, on a back road on one of these nearby peninsulas, this past Sunday afternoon, we drove by a table of stuff on the side of the road, with a sign on it saying "FREE" - and since my husband is never one to pass up a good look-see at a table of free stuff, we pulled over.  He walked back while I waited in the car, in a pleasant reverie involving the beautiful apple tree across the street, which was full of ripe apples.  (I can often resist the siren call of free stuff.  I already have a lot of stuff.)  Ryan put a few things in the backseat of the car, and called out a "Thank you!" to the woman coming out of her house.  He also said, as an afterthought almost, "Thanks for the books, we love books!" since it was indeed some books that he'd just put in our car, among other things.  She said, "There are more in the house, if you want to look!"  Well.  I awoke from my reverie, and we did.  We looked and looked, in her living room, library, and storage room.  When I first started looking, and realized she had some really nice books, I said, "What do you want for these books, what should we pay you?  I can't just take all these!!"  She said, "If you want to talk about money, you'll have to leave.  The books are free.  FREE."  Her tone brooked no discussion.  However, after filling a box and several bags, and telling her I used to have a bookshop and that I still sell books on the side (full disclosure), I had to ask her the same question again, and again she said, "We are moving, you are doing me a huge favor by taking all these books, they are FREE, take as many as you want." Me, in response, "....." (while thinking Okay then, and thanking my lucky stars in general and this wonderful woman in particular, and getting down to the serious business at hand).

We spent about two hours with her and her books, I think, though it might have been less - it felt timeless.  We came away with four cartons and twelve grocery bags full of books, and I suppose I could have taken more, but I did look at everything twice (which I usually do at friends-of-the-library sales or thrift shops), so I do think I saw what there was to see.  Most of the books were really good solid secondhand books, in the fields of history, literature, art, and classics.  The kind I would have been happy to pay money for to stock the shelves of my bookshop, when I had a bookshop.  The kind I am now very happy to sort through, making my usual stacks as I go - sell, keep, give, read someday, read very soon.

Serendipity.  We happened to drive by, and stop.  Ryan happened to utter a truth: We love books.  She happened to ask us in.  We filled the car, then drove on - to the sandwich shop, and then the beach, to watch the sunset and marvel at the twists and turns of fortune.

Monday, August 24, 2015


the fog days

The end of summer.  Ho hum.  For the past week - or ten days, I've lost count - the sun has emerged so infrequently that I'm starting to forget what shadows look like.  Because around here it's been fog, fog, and more fog, slowing everything down, leaving droplets of moisture on window screens, blades of grass, the cat, us, and all the leaves just beginning to turn from green to... sigh... all those other colors.  Curtains are damp.  Books are damp!  Everything, including my brain, feels a little rusty.  I need to dig up the potatoes in the garden, but am waiting for a sunny dry day, which feels like an impossibility right now.  In short (The Letters of Horace Walpole Volume VII):

"I feel all sorts of feelings, none comfortable..."  (p.43)

However, I did not mean to write today about Horace Walpole, even though my reading in his voluminous Letters continues.  And, need it be said, I would not still be reading them for all these months if I didn't find them utterly compelling, and downright great reading.  But:

"...I will now be methodical, for you want information, not a rhapsody on my sensations."  (p.197)

Instead of more words from Walpole let's mention a few forthcoming books.  Because, for three of my favorite authors, publication is imminent!  An exciting state of affairs!  One that gets my brain working again and even puts a spring in my step, when I think about fall and those most wonderful of all wonderful things, new books.  Lots of links forthwith.

First out of the gate, or rather off the press, is volume one of the new illustrated memoir from writer and artist Susan Branch.  It's being printed as we speak and will be available in a few weeks.  The Fairy Tale Girl (Spring Street Publishing 2015) is available for pre-order right now at a reduced price on her website, and if you leave a comment on her current blog post you have a chance to win a copy.  Volume two of her memoir will be coming out in the spring.  To say I am looking forward to reading this, culled from her voluminous diaries, is a wild understatement.  As I've said here before, her charm factor is off the charts.  She is so charming that she should be totally insufferable!  But no!  Instead, like everyone else who reads her it seems, I adore her - she is real and funny and altogether delightful.  I wrote about her last memoir A Fine Romance two years ago, here.  A self-taught watercolor painter, cookbook author, and writer, great appreciator of wonders small and large, self-publishing her own story in her own way.  I can't wait to read her diaries and find out more about how she got this way.

Next, my other favorite painter-writer Vivian Swift has recently been blogging again, after a long time of not doing so, and her new book is due out in the early spring.  But I mention it now because it too is available for pre-order, and besides, it looks too good not to.  The title alone really gets me - Gardens of Awe and Folly: A Traveler's Journal on the Meaning of Life and Gardening (Bloomsbury 2016). I loved her other two books (I wrote about her first book here).  In fact I still browse in them, often.  From the glimpses I've seen on her blog, this new one looks equally wonderful.  She too is a self-taught painter, and her blog is full of really good step-by-step tutorials on how she goes about her business.

Finally, this will surely be a huge bestseller because why in the world wouldn't it be - Elizabeth Gilbert's new book is due out in a few weeks.  Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (Riverhead Books 2015).  I read her facebook page from time to time and love many of the long essays she posts there, along with her little snippets from this book.  I'm really looking forward to reading the whole thing, since I've found that books which bolster creative strength are invaluable when you find yourself, oh, say, facing a blank canvas over and over again.  When I just can't face it (it happens, even though I love it), my favorite thing to do is read about how we humans manage to go on, in art and life, and summon the courage to do the work we are surely meant to do. 

All three of these authors help answer that question, and their books are food for the hungry.  Or, should I say, lighthouses in the fog, to return to the situation at hand...

Monday, August 17, 2015


the dog days

Here we are already - shadows lengthening, crickets singing, summer on the wane.  I am doing end-of-season chores such as having the furnace cleaned, attempting to get on the chimney sweep's fall list, and ordering extra firewood.  A lot of what I wanted to do this summer remains undone, and the mere thought undoes me even a little more.  However, at least I do not have a beloved dog who is mortally ill.  As does Horace Walpole (Letters Volume VI, p.490):

"...I must quit my joys for my sorrows.  My poor Rosette is dying.... I have been out of bed twenty times every night, have had no sleep, and sat up with her till three this morning; but I am only making you laugh at me; I cannot help it - I think of nothing else.  Without weaknesses I should not be I, and I may as well tell them as have them tell themselves."

Dear Rosette.  They went everywhere together, for years.  As he says in an earlier letter, about preparing to bring her to a princess's country house party (p.244):

"...Rosette is fast asleep in your chair, or I am sure she would write a postscript.  I cannot say she is either commanded or invited to be of this royal party; but have me, have my dog."

She even saved his life one night, as chronicled in another letter (p.232):

"You know I always have some favourite, some successor of Patapan.  The present is a tanned black spaniel, called Rosette.  She saved my life last Saturday night, so I am sure you will love her too."

She barked and barked at the roar of a chimney fire, and wouldn't let up until Walpole discovered what the trouble was, summoned aid, and kept the house from burning down (note to self - contact chimney sweep again).

I haven't even gotten yet to the part in the Letters when his French correspondent Madame du Deffand dies, and leaves him (along with her papers) her dog, Tonton.  Oh Patapan, Rosette, Tonton (the last immortalized on a snuffbox, even).  The pathos!  These, added to the descriptions of the deaths of many of Walpole's long-time human friends, bring tears to my eyes as I read.  It's tragic stuff, truly, as Walpole's heart gets broken again and again, it seems.  But love and loss are inseparable, and besides:

"...the evils of life are not good subjects for letters - why afflict one's friends? why make common-place reflections?"  (p.440)

We shall instead smile again as we look forward to the coming weeks, since:

"...September is a quiet month; visits to make or receive are over, and the troublesome go to shoot partridges." (p.393)

While not planning on hunting game birds any time soon myself, I am still in the thick of art exhibits, prime painting weather, and other sundry activities, and hope to return more regularly here soon.  With more words of my own, not Walpole's?  Well, I'm halfway in to Volume VII, with still a few more volumes to go in this set, so I'm sure his name will crop up again.  Until then, please:

"...don't think I write merely to tell you that I have nothing to tell you." (p.252)      

Monday, July 20, 2015


a tale of two titles

I was recently at my book booth, in the antiques mall where I sell my books, and I came across this little gem.  I said to myself, Self, why did you ever put this book out for sale?  Why isn't this book still at home??  I mean, honestly!  So I brought it back home.  And promptly found the book just to the right in the photograph below, already here on a shelf:

But before I get to that, a brief glance inside the charming edition I brought home, of The History of the Modern Taste in Gardening by Horace Walpole, with an introduction by John Dixon Hunt (Ursus Press 1995).  The jacket flap informs us that "Horace Walpole's delightful essay on garden design is perhaps the most famous and influential piece of writing on the English landscape garden."  I don't know about you, but I read this sentence and immediately think, Tell me more, little book...  I haven't read it yet, but glancing through I see that this edition has a great introduction, footnotes, and a very nice frontis portrait of Walpole, to boot:

Now let's return to the mysterious  book hinted at in the first photograph above.  The marbled paste-paper cover (over boards) reminds me of an aerial map of fields, ponds, rural roads, and gardens, appropriately:

The gently aging paper label on the buckram cloth spine has a lovely little printer's flower, too:

And the title page has a hand-colored portrait of Walpole with palm fronds or perhaps laurel leaves...: well as a hand-colored ornament on the first page of Walpole's essay:

Walpole collector (and editor of the Yale edition of Walpole's correspondence) Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis was responsible for this edition, and he includes his own preface and, at the end, a bibliography about this essay.  Its history as a written and published text is most interesting.  Lewis also gives us this darling colophon:

Obviously, in some book purge (to which I am sadly subject to, as if I suffered bouts of a gout-like ailment and needed blood-letting from time to time... ummm... can you tell I've been reading of Walpole's travails with the gout...?), I jettisoned the newer edition in favor of this older one.  But.  I ask you.  They are both quite dear, and are of a size, and seem to sit well on the shelf together, side by side.  So, for keeps, at least for now.

I have other curiosities that Lewis printed, all Walpoliana, and will share them here in the future.  And, yesterday evening I finished Volume V of Walpole's Letters, which continue to interest and delight me (and even bore me - can't have everything!), so we could talk about that as well.  In other news, I will not mention my own gardening pursuits other than to say that the thistles and witch grass are high in the vegetable garden, since I've been neglecting it to go paint while the painting is good.  Speaking of which, on one recent summer day, Ryan and I spent time in Castine visiting (and attempting to paint!) a visiting replica of a French frigate, Lafayette's L'Hermione.  The date of the original frigate (1780) is very close to the date where I am in the Walpole letters - not to mention sneaking into Patrick O'Brian territory - so it was thrilling to see.  I sat on the docks for hours, sketching the complicated rigging in watercolor, and we stayed long into the evening to see her departure and hear the cannon as she saluted.  Absolutely haunting.  Almost ten years ago I wrote about visiting the replica of the H.M.S. Surprise at the Maritime Museum of San Diego, and this recent experience was almost as good as that one!  Ryan made me pose, but I have to say I was a willing subject:

Living history!  Not only in books, but all around, right now!  Get out there, if you can!  Reminds me of Alain de Botton, writing in How Proust Can Change Your Life (p.197), "Even the finest books deserve to be thrown aside."  (Though I prefer to lightly toss, myself.)  Wishing you a joyous summer, friends - au revoir! 

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