Monday, October 01, 2007


Leaves from a dusty bookshelf

I've been rootling around on my shelves of old booksellers' catalogues again, and I thought this week I'd post a few highlights. Starting with a bang, here's Maggs Bros. Catalogue 569, English Verse and Dramatic Poetry from Chaucer to Burns, from 1932:

It's 290 pages long, plus an index, and contains 1071 items - now that's a catalogue! And what a catalogue it is, with detailed descriptions and even some brief commentary from the compilers, as they list fine reprints as well as first or early editions of Spenser, Philip Sidney, Christopher Marlowe ("Not unjustly styled, the father of English dramatic poetry."), of course Shakespeare (I particularly covet a Doves Press edition of the Sonnets "in full crimson levant morocco, sides decorated with floral design in gold of flowers and leaves forming a wide border..." for a mere £60), Ben Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, John Donne ("His Poems cover an extraordinary range in subject, and are throughout marked with a strange originality almost equally fascinating and repellant."), Milton, Samuel Butler ("The wittiest of English poets, and at the same time one of the most learned, and what is more, one of the wisest."), Addison and Steele, and on and on. The big names are all well and good and properly awe-inspiring, but what really makes fascinating reading are the oddball single items. Here's one early on, Item No. 21:

Did I mention the catalogue is profusely illustrated with title pages? My Ladies Looking Glasse. Wherein may be discerned a Wise Man from a Foole, a good Woman from a bad: and the true resemblance of vice, masked under the vizard of virtue, by Barnabe Rich. Thomas Adams, London 1616. First edition. Small 4to. Full morocco, g.e., by Riviere. £95. "A fine tall copy of an extremely rare piece." Sure sounds like a handy book. We're still trying to sort out wise men from fools, four hundred years later. Where is it now, I wonder? Still in stock at Maggs, perhaps? And the last of my questions - why, I ask you, don't my computer font choices include a long s (what is usually called, in old type, "an s that looks like an f")? It really should. The antiquarian in me is affronted.

A bit of Maggs trivia: the title page states that their telegraphic & cable address was "BIBLIOLITE, LONDON." Good to know. Just the kind of thing to bring up in casual conversation. With other bibliophiles.

News from the weekend - I finally have a compost pile at home. I just spent a good part of the last two days up to my elbows in the garden, ripping out weeds and gone-by produce, piling it all up in a nifty little enclosure Ryan came up with, and lacing it with peat moss. It's cooking as we speak. I'm very excited about this. I must order seed catalogues soon. And a hallway update, from the new house: we still have thirty boxes of books sitting there, already collecting dust, I noted this morning. The rest of the place has come together pretty well - I also washed and hung more curtains this weekend, and even had time to sit out in the sun reading one afternoon. I just read, for fun, A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena De Blasi (Ballantine 2003), which was some pretty sweet-tasting escapist froth, and now I'm in the middle of Venetian Dreaming by Paula Weideger (Atria 2002), which desperately needs an editor (What happened, Simon & Schuster, what happened??) but is still interesting in an-intelligent-woman-traveling-in-Italy kind of way.

More catalogues all week, thanks for reading - lately I've been watching my blog stats and I know where you live. And work, those of you who are reading blogs at your places of employment. On your lunch breaks, I'm sure.

'a good Woman from a bad: and the true resemblance of vice, masked under the vizard of virtue,'

Where has this book been all my life?
It should have been on the shelf right next to "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" - different era, same idea...
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