Friday, March 09, 2007


Back to books about books

Since life at the shop is less than newsworthy of late, and this blog has been image-free for far too long, I thought over the next week I'd post a few pictures of some books from my personal collection of books about books. I have a special antique bookcase at home, one that sits up on small turned legs and looks like a miniature highboy for books, and I keep it full of one particular subset of books about books: books about books that announce themselves as decorative or charming or diminutive or otherwise noteworthy in some way other than merely their contents. Some are borderline precious, or sweet, but I don't hold this against them. Their intent is friendly, and in fact I have come to consider them as friends. Here is the first:

This specimen is seven and a half inches high, bound in dark green cloth, bright gilt lettering on the spine and front cover, Ballads of Books edited by Brander Matthews (Dodd, Mead 1899). I bought this in a large lot at an auction in 2000. Matthews collected verse from the usual suspects: Andrew Lang, Austin Dobson, Charles Lamb, Edmund Gosse, and the like, but also from more unexpected sources such as Ben Jonson, Horace, Leigh Hunt, Henry Vaughan, and Robert Southey. (Also many writers I've never ever heard of, and am likely to never hear of again.) Most poems within are many stanzas long, and are rife with Poetic Language, but here's a straightforward short ditty from Robert Burns (p.31):

The Bookworms

Through and through the inspired leaves,
Ye maggots, make your windings;
But oh, respect his lordship's taste,
And spare the golden bindings.

According to the side-note, "Burns saw a splendidly bound but sadly neglected copy of Shakespere (sic) in the library of a nobleman in Edinburgh, and he wrote these lines on the ample margin of one of its pages, where they were found long after the poet's death." Where, I ask you, could one come across information such as this, if not in a book such as this.

Reminds me of a little book I have entitled, Lyrics from a Library by Clinton Scollard (such a bookish name). The spine is cracked and the edges are worn. This book's been well-read over the years. It has a Portland, Maine imprint, 1917. Thomas Bird Mosher is the publisher and it has an anchor interwtwined with rope for a logo (in red) on the cover page. The colophon states:

Four hundred and fifty copies of this book printed on Van Gelder hand-made paper and the type distributed in the month of October MDCCCCXVII

It appears to be hand sewn and you can see the watermarks on the pages.

Some of the poems' titles are
The Book-Lover
On a Copy of Keats' "Endymion"
The Bookstall
A First Edition
A Bookman's Pleasures
Alas, for the Fleet Wings of Time
A Forgotten Bard
Threnody in May
The Birth of the Sonnet

Here's "A First Edition"

A most exclusive clan are we,
Proud of our peerless pedigree;
Will Caxton fathered us, a man
Shaped somewhat on the clerkly plan,
But one of whom we're fond withal,
Industrious and not prodigal.
Now comely, now unkempt, we show--
Octavo, duodecimo!
But whether dimmed or bright our page,
We glow to know our lineage.
Black-lettered first, clear-lettered last--
The present, or the golden past--
We stand content our fame upon
From fly-leaf through to colophon.

As among all patricians, fine
And fair ensamples of our line
Arouse our self-complacency;
Viz., Caxton's priceless Malory;
A Tyndale Bible (choicer none!);
A Shakespeare in full folio done;
A song that tells of Paradise
Which Milton saw with darkened eyes;
And that rare "find" of later vein,
The little liber, Tamerlane!

And now a world of warning, ye
who seek our constant company!
Unless your purses, plethoric, hold
The round and clearly-minted gold,
Abjure us, shun us, lest the night
Creep on ye, and pale candle-light
Find ye by us comforted,
And slipping supperless to bed!

I'm going to try to use "plethoric" in a conversation today. Or maybe I'll try to slip it into a review.
Hi Ed, thanks for stopping by! And I don't have this little book, so thanks too for letting me know of its existence. Mosher is affectionately known (as you probably know) as The Portland Pirate, for his charming disregard for copyright issues. His books are usually lovely. Hotly collectible, too, in bookish circles.

I'm still waiting for my Tamerlane. Where, oh where, is it, I wonder?
It's true these classic old books about books are the only place to find those interesting little nuggets that are forgotten or ignored today.
Hi Sarah,
I'm not a big poetry reader but I do dip a bit. This one caught my eye. I love the image and idea behind the poem.

A Happy Birthday

This evening, I sat by an open window

and read till the light was gone and the book

was no more than a part of the darkness.

I could easily have switched on a lamp,

but I wanted to ride this day down into night,

to sit alone and smooth the unreadable page

with the pale gray ghost of my hand.

-- Ted Kooser
Hey Quillhill - I don't know about you, but I am deeply enamored of the minutiae of book-lore. To what purpose, I wonder - perhaps only for pleasure. A fine reason. Thank god my WASPy soul lets me just enjoy it.

Hi Jodi - thanks for sending along the Kooser poem, it's lovely. I haven't read much of his work, but I will now. Simple and moving.

I'm wondering if you've gotten your books by now - I hope so...

I'm a Mosher Press collector, and I'm particularly interested in the book club that used to meet in the Bangor area: The DeBurians. Saw your notes on a Mosher book. Get in contact with me at

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