Monday, July 20, 2015


a tale of two titles

I was recently at my book booth, in the antiques mall where I sell my books, and I came across this little gem.  I said to myself, Self, why did you ever put this book out for sale?  Why isn't this book still at home??  I mean, honestly!  So I brought it back home.  And promptly found the book just to the right in the photograph below, already here on a shelf:

But before I get to that, a brief glance inside the charming edition I brought home, of The History of the Modern Taste in Gardening by Horace Walpole, with an introduction by John Dixon Hunt (Ursus Press 1995).  The jacket flap informs us that "Horace Walpole's delightful essay on garden design is perhaps the most famous and influential piece of writing on the English landscape garden."  I don't know about you, but I read this sentence and immediately think, Tell me more, little book...  I haven't read it yet, but glancing through I see that this edition has a great introduction, footnotes, and a very nice frontis portrait of Walpole, to boot:

Now let's return to the mysterious  book hinted at in the first photograph above.  The marbled paste-paper cover (over boards) reminds me of an aerial map of fields, ponds, rural roads, and gardens, appropriately:

The gently aging paper label on the buckram cloth spine has a lovely little printer's flower, too:

And the title page has a hand-colored portrait of Walpole with palm fronds or perhaps laurel leaves...: well as a hand-colored ornament on the first page of Walpole's essay:

Walpole collector (and editor of the Yale edition of Walpole's correspondence) Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis was responsible for this edition, and he includes his own preface and, at the end, a bibliography about this essay.  Its history as a written and published text is most interesting.  Lewis also gives us this darling colophon:

Obviously, in some book purge (to which I am sadly subject to, as if I suffered bouts of a gout-like ailment and needed blood-letting from time to time... ummm... can you tell I've been reading of Walpole's travails with the gout...?), I jettisoned the newer edition in favor of this older one.  But.  I ask you.  They are both quite dear, and are of a size, and seem to sit well on the shelf together, side by side.  So, for keeps, at least for now.

I have other curiosities that Lewis printed, all Walpoliana, and will share them here in the future.  And, yesterday evening I finished Volume V of Walpole's Letters, which continue to interest and delight me (and even bore me - can't have everything!), so we could talk about that as well.  In other news, I will not mention my own gardening pursuits other than to say that the thistles and witch grass are high in the vegetable garden, since I've been neglecting it to go paint while the painting is good.  Speaking of which, on one recent summer day, Ryan and I spent time in Castine visiting (and attempting to paint!) a visiting replica of a French frigate, Lafayette's L'Hermione.  The date of the original frigate (1780) is very close to the date where I am in the Walpole letters - not to mention sneaking into Patrick O'Brian territory - so it was thrilling to see.  I sat on the docks for hours, sketching the complicated rigging in watercolor, and we stayed long into the evening to see her departure and hear the cannon as she saluted.  Absolutely haunting.  Almost ten years ago I wrote about visiting the replica of the H.M.S. Surprise at the Maritime Museum of San Diego, and this recent experience was almost as good as that one!  Ryan made me pose, but I have to say I was a willing subject:

Living history!  Not only in books, but all around, right now!  Get out there, if you can!  Reminds me of Alain de Botton, writing in How Proust Can Change Your Life (p.197), "Even the finest books deserve to be thrown aside."  (Though I prefer to lightly toss, myself.)  Wishing you a joyous summer, friends - au revoir! 

Wednesday, July 08, 2015


hasty trifles

"To send you empty paragraphs when you expect and want news is tantalising, is it not? Pray agree with me, and then you will allow that I have acted very kindly in not writing till I had something to tell you."

From The Letters of Horace Walpole, Volume V (p.102).  I took it with me on my annual June island painting trip, and worried that I wouldn't have enough to read, so sure was I that I would read at least fifty pages a day, and my island trip was ten days long.  I also brought a book of Mary Oliver's poetry, and Charles Hawthorne's little book on painting, the same two I always bring with me whenever I go anywhere for long.  I did read most of those, for the umpteenth time, but forgot, as I am wont to do, that when I am painting intensively (for this is what my island time is for, looking and looking and painting and painting) - especially this time of year when the daylight lasts so long - that I have little energy remaining for anything else.  (Such a long sentence, sorry about that.  And now, too many parentheses to boot.)  Anyway, on-island, I read from Walpole during just two evenings.  One rainy day, however, I did arrange a still-life of books in a bookcase, Volume V among them, and painted him into my painting.  So I don't regret carrying him along, but I truly thought I would have made much more headway by now.  It's well into July and I am only two-thirds of the way in.  And not reading much else, I might add.  I did find some good books at the local Goodwill last weekend, but haven't started them, and don't actually plan to do so until I finish the Walpole set, whenever that might be.  No local library sales of note, either, and sluggish sales at the antiques mall where I sell my books, so not much to report there either.  Book news I have little to none.  Art news, however... my solo painting show from June is over, and around 30 paintings (!!!) now have new homes.  The gallery has re-hung what's left of the show with some of my new work for the month of July.  In short, my cup runneth over.  Needless to say I will soon be buying more art supplies.       

That's all my news, for now.  Scant post, I know, about not much, written too quickly.  Walpole comes to mind yet again, when he calls his own letters "...the most hasty trifles in the world..." (p.83) and then twits his friend Thomas Gray, the "real" genius, for not writing more.  To which Gray replies (courtesy of a footnote p. 84):

"...whenever the humour takes me, I will write, because I like it; and because I like myself better when I do so.  If I do not write much, it is because I cannot."

Isn't that good practical advice, and a hopeful example, for a writer of any kind?  The same certainly goes for me - trifles or otherwise.

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