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! 

Thanks much for the link, Sarah, it never entered my mind that Walpole and Voltaire had crossed paths - now I want to find out more.

I love that you 'found' a treasure in your book booth which led to another and wonderful they are too. That marbling is interesting, almost as if the orange was accidentally dropped in! It could almost be an aerial view of Minn/St. Paul...

That ship must have been a real painting challenge, all those sails and ropes. Hope your summer continues to be nice and full of good things!

Wishing you the same, Julé... and yes, the rigging was diabolical to try to paint! I told Ryan, if a sailor ever looks at my sketches I will be in trouble, since some of the lines go precisely nowhere.

Walpole has a very high opinion of Voltaire, early on - considers him an actual genius - but comes to believe that Voltaire squanders said genius on literary and social fights that should be beneath him. His name crops up from time to time throughout the letters, though I think they only wrote to each other twice.

More on the next rainy day - I am nearly finished with Volume VI - many other books still waiting in the wings too. Meanwhile summer is waning! Too soon, too soon!
Last October I watched the Hermione as she sailed out of the port of Bordeaux and towards you on her maiden voyage across the Atlantic. La boucle est bouclée!
Oh, how great, Lesley! Isn't she a beauty... I wanted to go to Nova Scotia and see her again, but it wasn't in the cards! I will always remember seeing her leave Castine harbor, just after nine p.m., rigging and masts and spars faintly lit, until she was just a huge silhouette against the deep blue night. Shivery wonderfulness.
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