Friday, February 23, 2007


Grubbers among bookstalls

It's still cold here today, but yesterday and the day before the first little intimations of spring were in the air - an actual warmth to the sun, a softening of the general atmosphere - and all of a sudden I find myself feeling absurdly hopeful about everything. Even though the fundamentals remain the same.

I started reading a most interesting and amusing little book this morning, The Book-Hunter by John Hill Burton, edited by J. Herbert Slater, author of How to Collect Books, et al (Routledge, London, no date, circa 1890). I think I remember picking this up in Boston last spring at Brattle, but I can't quite remember (I'm sure it's in this blog somewhere, though). Well, I'm finally reading it. Aside from the usual female-exclusionary language, which the lady booklover must cope with, albeit testily, if she wants to read books such as these, the book is generally delightful, though a bit florid in style: "Ere we have done I shall endeavour to show that the grubber among bookstalls has, with other grubs or grubbers, his useful place in the general dispensation of the world." (p.33) The book is split into four sections: His Nature, His Functions, His Club, and Book-Club Literature. Chapters within these sections include: A Vision of Mighty Book-Hunters, The Prowler and the Auction-House, The Desultory Reader or Bohemian of Literature, The Gleaner and His Harvest, Pretenders, The Roxburghe Club.

I knew nothing about John Hill Burton when I started reading, and by the time I'd finished the introduction I found myself with a burning desire to know something - so I turned to the invaluable reference book in the bookcase behind my desk, the book that never lets me down where books about books are concerned. It is in fact called Books About Books: A Bio-Bibliography for Collectors, by Winslow L. Webber (Hale, Cushman & Flint, Boston 1937), and every book about books I've ever needed to know something of has, so far, been listed in it. It is essentially my personal want-list. Webber tells us that Burton (1809-1881) was among other things Royal Historiographer of Scotland, this book was originally published in Edinburgh in 1863, and that "From early manhood, Burton was a book-collector. His library, which he catalogued and sold in 1880, comprised some ten thousand volumes." (p.43) Also - the first edition of The Book-Hunter was limited to just 25 copies. Cushman lists it as scarce, and says we can expect to pay $35 if we are lucky enough to find a copy. I'm sure prices have changed since 1937, but I'm too indolent to check the book sites right now. And I'm busy reading.

Somewhere, high up on my bookshelves, I have a copy of Burton's "The Scot Abroad". You've made me want to get it down and re-read it.
Ooh, Lesley - that sounds great! These darn books, one's simply never enough - there's always The Next One - and given my penchant for travel narratives, I think I'd like to read this, too. Thanks for the alert.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?