Saturday, May 16, 2015


hiding in plain sight

What led me into this Horace Walpole madness, anyway... I found myself wondering this afternoon (nearly finished with Volume II of his Letters).  Oh yeah, it was that charming David Cecil book I read many weeks ago, Two Quiet Lives.  The second Life in the book describes Horace Walpole's friend, the poet Thomas Gray.  My examination of Gray led to my reexamination of Walpole, which may continue indefinitely.  But back to Gray for a moment.  I would have sworn I had nothing else by or about Thomas Gray in this house, unless it was his most (his only?) famous poem, the oft-quoted and -misquoted Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard, perhaps contained in some fat English poetry anthology.  But I would have been wrong.  For today I was rifling through some books I haven't looked at in ages, namely a section in my shelves devoted to printers, printing, and fine press books of interest.  Many of these are thin, and once tucked into the shelves, near-invisible.  I pulled out one such, a diminutive hardback, about forty pages long:     

Isn't that a nice paper cover?  The black cloth spine has the gently faded title spelled out in gilt, but inside, the title page is much more readable.  In fact, it's a lovely piece of typography altogether, almost a hymn to legibility:

An Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard by Thomas Gray, printed at the Southworth Press in Portland, Maine, in 1930.  Number 91 of 990 copies printed.  The introduction by famed bookman John T. Winterich takes up half the book, and speaks much of Johnson and Boswell and briefly of Walpole, who loved this poem and first ushered it into print for his friend.  Fred Anthoensen's fine presswork continues inside, with little block illustrations (woodcuts? they don't feel like engravings...) in varied colors throughout:

I see from my bookseller's code inside the back cover that I bought this book in 2006 for six dollars.  And then promptly tucked it into my scant accumulation of admired books by Maine printers and promptly forgot about it.  Well, tonight I'm going to do what this little book is asking me to do - set aside Walpole's Letters for a few moments - the book is so slender that's all the time it will take - and read it.  Of course the other thing this book is asking me:  What else on those bookshelves have you completely forgotten about...?

Just beautiful, in such a sunny way.
The poem itself is full of what Walpole calls "gloomth" (such a great gothicky word), but I have always been fascinated by memento mori, and in fact find such things oddly comforting. The sun is breaking through this morning, here - I hope the same for you, dear Antony!
Such a pretty book. I love the illustrations. Isn't great to find such a treasure on your own shelves? I do that fairly often having completely forgotten about a good many of the books I have accumulated!
Stefanie, when my husband and I moved into our house some years back we had to move soooo many books. Then I closed my bookshop a year or so later and again moved tooooons of books. I found, during these perambulations, that I owned FOUR COPIES of one particular book. I kept buying it and setting it aside, and forgetting about it, apparently! I think I gave one away, put one out for sale, and still have two. Thanks for your comment!
What a beauty! I can practically feel the texture of that paper under my fingers. Nice page layout too setting it off with the use of white space. Design like this always makes me think - 'too bad William Morris never could stand to leave a millimeter of blank page'.

May you find more forgotten treasures…
Thanks, Julé - I am going to spend more time with my fine press books soon. I know there are other things waiting to be rediscovered and I want to share some of them here. Walpole-related, of course, but others too. I also love a lot of white space around text, when I read. I used to do some letterpress printing and it was the same story there. Rives BFK and huge white margins around Garamond type. Bliss.
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