Saturday, April 22, 2017
It was a pleasure to see the frontispiece of Arthur Machen’s edited book A Handy Dickens of 1941 appearing in Dale Nelson’s guest post of 8 April. What a warm hearted depiction of Dickens’ characters is displayed in this coloured pen and ink sketch, featuring recognisable or generalised Dickensian characters in their glory. Surely the artist’s affectionate vignettes of Dickens’ imaginative world - with nods to nineteenth century illustrators - would be a delight for all to enjoy? The publishers, Constable loved it. But Arthur Machen, the editor of the book, had nothing good to say about this illustration by the famous artist Edward Ardizzone.
Machen complained in a letter of 2/11/1941 to Montgomery Evans, his friend from the USA and strong advocate of Machen’s writings, that the work “does not strike me as altogether admirable. But I gather from Constable, the publishers, that Ardizzone is it.” He developed his view in another letter (of unclear date) to the same recipient that “Ardizzone’s title page is rubbish, but it seems agreed that his silly scrawls and smears are magnificent.” The artist was asked by the publishers to select some episodes from the extracts chosen by Machen to produce a composite title page. Machen noted that Ardizzone “has carefully avoided using any one episode which appears in the selection.”
Machen goes on in a letter to John Gawsworth of 30/10/1941 to write that “Ardizzone has excelled himself. He has changed the title to ‘A Handy Dickens’. The designs are not original, they are what I should call rough recollections of Phiz, covered with a pale pink wash.”
Certainly the gothic arch in the centre of the illustration favours the use of the letter ‘A’ rather than the word ‘The’. Was it important that the ‘The Handy Dickens’ title ended up as ‘A Handy Dickens’, and can one accept Machen’s view that the illustrator acting alone had the power to do this?
Machen felt strongly about the frontispiece. He also felt strongly that the publishers missed a trick by bringing out the book three or four days before Christmas and in doing so failed to cash in on Christmas sales.
In defence of Machen one can see that the illustration did not meet his precise requirements in what would be his final book as a content editor and preface writer. Maybe an author is allowed to be tetchy about the presentation of his last book (Machen was 77 when this work was published).
Machen is very hard on Edward Ardizzone. One can imagine he was too busy undertaking his duties as War Artist in 1941 to fulfil the precise brief of producing an immaculate frontispiece to A Handy Dickens. He had much other business to attend to. Did it really matter that the frontispiece did not map on to the episodes selected by Machen? Taken as a whole, despite dark street corners and apparent prison gates, the sketches Ardizzone produced for the frontispiece to A Handy Dickens are serene in a time of global war. Perhaps some notion of serenity was what he wished to see, and also share with readers, at that time of conflict.
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
In his prefatory note to Nathan Van Patten’s The Lost Bookplate of Arthur Machen (Greenwood Press, 1949), Vincent Starrett refers to Machen’s bookplate as “one of the great rarities in its field.” Starrett mentions a letter from August 15, 1922, in which Machen notes his bookplate “dates from the early nineties. I think I have now only one book containing it, and the plate itself disappeared long ago.” Van Patten asserts that the bookplate’s designer is G. P. Jacomb Hood, who produced the etching used as the frontispiece for Machen’s translation of The Fortunate Lovers, published by George Redway in 1887. At the time when Van Patten’s booklet was published, only three copies of Machen’s bookplate were known to exist: : 1) one in Machen’s copy of The Great God Pan, referred to by Machen in a letter to Starrett dated November 1, 1923, whereabouts unknown; 2) one in Machen’s copy of M. P. Shiel’s Shapes in the Fire, which was owned at the time by Adrian Goldstone; and a copy of the bookplate, presumably loose, cataloged by Thomas Thorp, a bookseller, in 1922, whereabouts also unknown.
A fourth example of Machen’s bookplate was reproduced in Steve Eng’s essay “M. P. Shiel and Arthur Machen: Parallels in Life and Literature” in Reynolds Morse’s M. P. Shiel in Diverse Hands: A Collection of Essays (Reynolds Morse Foundation, 1983). This example of the bookplate is taken from Machen’s copy of the John Lane edition of Shiel’s Prince Zaleski, which at the time belonged to Shiel enthusiast John D. Squires. Machen’s copy of Prince Zaleski was unknown until Squires acquired it from Massachusetts bookseller Harold M. Burnstein in March of 1980. This copy of Prince Zaleksi is part of the Squires’ archive currently being cataloged by noted bookseller Lloyd Currey.
Years later, Squires correctly identified the designer of Machen’s bookplate as Herbert Jones, the chief librarian of Kensington from 1887 to 1924. In email to Caermaen, the Friends of Arthur Machen, dated September 28, 2010, Squires discusses downloading a copy of Artists and Engravers of British and American Book Plates: A Book of Reference for Book Plate and Print Collectors by Henry Walter Fincham (Keagan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co., Ltd., 1897), a resource clearly not available to Van Patten in 1949. Squires states, “At page 51 [the reference] lists various bookplates designed by Herbert Jones, London, including for Arthur Machen, ‘Two Varieties,’ signed on the plate ‘HJ.’”(Van Patten had mistakenly read the initials on the bookplate reversed as “JH.”) Squires also wonders, “Is anyone aware of any further examples of the bookplate? Or what distinguishes the ‘Two Varieties,’ which Fincham noted?”
While recently helping Lloyd Currey identify some typscripts of Shiel stories that resemble screen treatments, I wrote Ray Russell at Tartarus Press to see what insights he might have, inadvertently forwarding him an email exchange between Lloyd and I about Machen’s bookplate and the fate of the books in Machen’s library. This turned out to be entirely fortuitous. While Ray didn’t know anything about the Shiel typescripts, he did have information regarding the whereabouts of Machen’s books: “Those books [Machen] owned at his death stayed in the family, and I remember seeing in Janet Machen’s library a number of such volumes. I am sure these are still with the family. However, he obviously disposed of books at various times in his life, some of which ended up in the hands of US collectors.” More importantly, Ray disclosed the discovery of a fifth example of Machen’s bookplate: “The Friends of Arthur Machen recently received, as a gift, Machen’s own copy of Parker’s Gothic Architecture, which we have now donated to the British Library. It was inscribed to Machen by his father, and had Machen’s bookplate, and was obviously very personal—but there was an entry from a bookdealer’s catalogued tipped in to show that it had been sold for 5s during Machen’s lifetime.”
Excited by the prospect of getting to see images of this example of Machen’s bookplate, which is still unknown to most Machen enthusiasts, I wrote Sharon Agar, a metadata specialist at the British Library, to see if she might be able to send me scans from the book. Thanks to Sharon and her colleagues at the St. Pancras location, the images below have been made available for us to enjoy. The book in question is John Henry Parker’s An Introduction to the Study of Gothic Architecture published in 1874 by James Parker and Company. As his father’s inscription indicates, Machen received this book as a Christmas present in 1876 when he was just fourteen years old in the Lower Fourth at Hereford Cathedral.
|“Arthur Ll. Jones. Machen / (from his father) / 1st in Lower Fourth / Hereford Cathedral / School Xmas 1876.”|
As Ray was reading over an initial draft of this post, he suddenly recalled that UK bookseller Neil Parry had acquired two copies of Machen’s bookplate, both loose, in either the late 1980s or early 1990s. Neil and I are old friends, and I immediately sent him an inquiry to confirm Ray’s claim and learn if these bookplates were still in Neil’s possession. Neil quickly confirmed that he did once own two copies of Machen’s bookplate. On a whim many years ago, he had written a well-established UK dealer who specialized in bookplates and was amazed when the dealer responded to his inquiry by offering him two copies of Machen’s bookplate. Although Neil sold these bookplates to collectors a while back, he recalled an interesting detail about them: “I can confirm that the two plates were slightly different, the colour of one was of light green and the other brown.” Could this variation in color account for the “two varieties” of Machen’s bookplate listed in Fincham’s reference book? Without seeing them or additional examples of Machen’s bookplate, we will probably never know for certain.
To bring things full circle, after hearing from Neil, I wrote my colleague, Jim Kuhn, associate director at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, to see if he could confirm John Squires’ assertion that Machen’s copy of Shapes in the Fire resides in the Center’s Adrian Goldstone collection. Although the Ransom Center has five first editions of Shapes in the Fire, including a copy with Shiel’s own bookplate, Machen’s copy with his bookplate is not among their holdings. Jim, however, did send scans of two additional previously unknown examples of Machen’s bookplate that are in the Adrian Goldstone Collection. One is cataloged as a “proof” of the bookplate, and the other, seen in a black and white snapshot of book inscribed by Machen in 1923, is cataloged as an “unknown bookplate.” (The images Jim shared cannot be reproduced, but the items are described in the list of the Center’s Adrian Goldstone holdings in container 19.5, along with the typed manuscript of Van Patten’s booklet.)
Are there even more extant copies of Machen’s bookplate floating around in the ether? Almost assuredly there are, and ideally the collectors and curators who “rediscover” them will continue to share them with those of us who love Machen’s work and all things related to him.
Monday, April 10, 2017
A quick note here to call attention to a recent publication by Le Visage Vert: a new single-author critical volume on Arthur Machen. It is by Sophie Mantrant, an associate professor and lecturer at the University of Strasbourg. It is called Arthur Machen et l'art due hiéroglyphe. It has a lengthy introduction, followed by five sections of five chapters each (and each section also contains a short conclusion). The volume closes with a more general concluding chapter, an extensive bibliography, and an index. The main thrust of the book's argument is that Machen's texts evoke a re-enchantment with the world in disenchanted times, and that Machen accomplishes this through the art of the hieroglyph, which give the mysteries of the universe in a symbolic language. A fine produced volume, as usual. Order via this link (scroll down).
Saturday, April 8, 2017
In “The Novel of the Black Seal,” an indication that something strange is happening in Professor Gregg’s rural residence “‘in the west of England, not far from Caermaen,’” is provided by the removal of a dusty bust of the English statesman William Pitt from its customary place atop a 15-foot cupboard and its placement on the scholar’s desk. Miss Lally is puzzled by Gregg’s evasiveness about the matter. We learn eventually that Gervase Cradock, horribly transformed, moved the bust by means of a “slimy, wavering tentacle” extruding from his supine body. Gregg’s horrible surmises have been fulfilled.
Having read, sometimes reread, all of Dickens’s novels except Dombey and Son, I have been making up that deficiency just now. I’ve discovered that, before being placed on Professor Gregg’s cupboard and then moved by Gervase, the bust of Pitt was an ornament in proud, mammon-worshipping Mr. Dombey’s house. It is mentioned four times in Dickens’s novel, in Chapters 5 (twice), 8, and 51. In Chapter 8 we read that it is “about ten feet from the ground” and “near the bookcase.” In Chapter 51 it is “upon the bookcase.” This suggests that it has been moved.
I don’t suppose that Machen derived the idea specifically of a moved bust of Pitt from Dickens’s novel, but I imagine that the Pitt-bust itself was placed in Machen’s mind by one or other of his readings – I imagine there were more than one – of Dombey and Son. That Machen was a great reader of Dickens is well-known. It’s his preface that begins A Handy Dickens. Overt references to Dickens appear in other things by Machen, and perhaps further instances of (likely) unconscious allusions to Dickens will come to light.
|A Handy Dickens (1941)|
Monday, April 3, 2017
At the Bristol Artist Book Event over the weekend of 1-2 April 2017, the Bookartbookshop were displaying a fine press edition of selections from The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa. Passages from the work had been hand-set and hand-printed on items of ephemera and presented in a box in an edition of 80, 50 of which were for sale.
The project was the work of Tim Hopkins at what he describes as his “back bedroom letterpress”, using a small, table-top Adana printer. It had been the work of many nights and days, sometimes using type so small that a magnifying glass was required in the setting of it. This is an inspired and extraordinary tribute to Pessoa's book, echoing the way his work was written on fragments of paper and kept in a chest. There will be an exhibition of the book's contents from 6- 20 April at the bookshop.
The edition has, not surprisingly, sold out before publication (mostly to libraries), but the bookshop also offered “relics” from the project – pieces that hadn’t made it in into the completed sets. It was a delight to sift through the box of these and select a few - well, all right, rather more than a few.
Here were Pessoa's words printed on a label from a bottle of port wine, a sheet from an old accounts ledger, the backs of maps and old photographs, filing cards, postage stamps, and other mysterious pieces of paper whose provenance and purpose was cryptic. The text, already strange and haunting, acquires a new lonely and bittersweet quality when it is read in this form. Each piece seems to carry within it hints of an untold story or a set of extra associations and possibilities.
There may possibly still be some relics left, though not, I suspect, for long. After that each of these Pessoan paper talismans will be leading its own life: and who knows where they may end?