Thursday, May 17, 2018

 

focus


A bit of unfinished business, for posterity, or rather for us kindred book-lovers.  A kind note arrived from the far side of the world, via the comments then with a clarifying follow-up, from long-time friend-in-books Antony, after he read my post from early May about the blue Leary's price mark in the Longfellow set I bought from bookseller Barbara Falk.  Antony informs me that page 198 of Christopher Morley's book of essays Off the Deep End (Doubleday, Doran 1928) adds focus to the blurry picture.  Thank you!  Excellent!  I went to find my own copy, which I have not read in many years, and turned to that page, and the essay Ex Libris Carissimis, and followed along:

"...Leary's old bookstore in Philadelphia, where I first learned something of the pleasures of book-hunting.... Compared to most of Leary's alumni I am a mere freshman; it is only a little over twenty years since I bought my first Leary book as a boy of sixteen.  Mr. A. Edward Newton, at the celebration dinner given in the store, was bragging that it was forty-seven years since he made his first purchase there, a copy of White's Selborne, and there are many of Leary's bibliophiladelphians far more veteran than he.  But for him, as for me and innumerable others, Leary lit the lamp.... Though the Caliph Newton's little copy of Selborne, when he showed it to me, did not seem a genuine Leary trove because it antedated the days of the little price-figure written in blue pencil with a slanting dash above it - Philip Warner's hand, I believe.  That, for us of the later generations, is the sterling stigma of Leariana."

Bibliophiladelphians.  I ask you.  And now one of our bookstore clerks has a name, Philip Warner.  Not just any clerk, however.  He appears in passing in Morley's books - Plum Pudding and The Haunted Bookshop - and in the essay Gentles, Attend! (printed as a scarce broadside essay from 1920, relevant parts of which are available to read on the google machine for free if you don't happen to have a copy of Christopher Morley's Philadelphia hanging around, p.93).  Morley informs us in that essay that Philip Warner of Leary's is:

"...a man of strict serenity, righteous heart and fluent mind, a man of logic, a man of pity and easy bowels.  A man of whom it is said: "He is always out at lunch,(") and therefore a man placable by oyster stew or a dozen of doughnuts such as may be found at Johnson's Doughnut Shop, Chestnut Street, north side between 9th and 10th.  This is the optimus maximus of booksellers.  He will do as I bid him: I hold him to the hollow of my palm.  An he do not comport himself with charity, I will make him the villain of a bookshop melodrama."

Echoes upon echoes from the old days.  But not all that old, in truth.  I remember Barbara Falk telling me she attended a lecture that Morley gave, when he was getting on in years and she was quite young.  Then I met her, when I was young and she was 80-ish.  Only a few degrees of separation!  It's lovely (and the kind of melancholy I savor most) to contemplate these days gone by, as I continue to add bookplates into my books.  As I work my way along, I am particularly enjoying the timeless vagaries of alphabetical order.  In the poetry shelves, Patti Smith comes just after James Schuyler and Sir Philip Sidney and just before a gorgeous old set of Spenser's Faerie Queene (Oxford's Clarendon Press edition in dust jackets).  I haven't begun the literature section yet and expect more of the same there - the new and the old and the middling, sitting companionably together.  But Morley?  Well.  He has entire shelves all to himself.

Comments:
I had never heard of Christopher Morley until I began reading your blog years ago and began searching for books you mentioned. I was hooked from the start and gradually acquired copies of his books, which I love. Reading Morley is reading for comfort, like drinking good tea with the smell of cookies baking in the oven while chatting with an old friend.
I am forever grateful to you for introducing me Christopher Morley and so many other writers whose work I may never have discovered on my own.
 
Thanks so much for your kind comment. Morley can be cozy indeed. Although I tend to admire his melancholy side just as much, if not more. And a lot of his writing has more than a bit of acid served alongside the sweet. "John Mistletoe" used to be one of my all-time favorites, but it's been years now since I last read it. I'll have to revisit it and see if it still rings as true for me as it once did! I hope so! I love how unashamedly bookish he was. So plainly smart, and right in the center of things - writing, publishing, magazines, book clubs, the theater, bookshops of course - he was a real bookman. No one else quite like him...
 
““If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.”

 
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