Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Last Chance To See Cruikshank's Greenwich Hospital In Original Boards

By Stephen J. Gertz

Take a good look at the book above. It is likely the first and last time you have  seen or will ever see  Greenwich Hospital, A Series of Naval Sketches, Descriptive of the Life of a Man-O-War's Man. By an Old Sailor. With Illustrations by George Cruikshank (1826) in its original boards. According to the ABPC Index, the last time a copy in the  publisher's hardcover issue came to auction was sixty-eight years ago in 1944.

A rare book? More like an astonishment.

Billy Culmer and the Goose.

Rumor and whispers accompanied this extremely rare volume at the recent Olympia Book Fair in London. It was immediately pounced upon, and the trail of tears leaving the Sims Reed booth presented a hazard to attendees who risked slipping on the path of disappointment trod by chagrined dealers who, alas, were too late to seize this amazing copy of the satiric memoirs of a British navy man in and around the Old Royal Naval College and Hospital, established at Greenwich in 1694.

Scud Hill.

According to Cohn's catalogue raisonné of Cruikshank, the book was "Originally published in four parts, and then in pink paper picture boards, with woodcuts on the top and bottom covers duplicated from those in the text...In the original parts the work is of the utmost rarity, while in the original boards it is extremely scarce. [Re]Bound copies are much more usual."

Wildly popular upon its publication the book wasn't read so much as mauled, and since Cohn wrote in 1914 rebound copies have become the rule broken only when lightning strikes.

Crossing the Line.

Of George Cruikshank (1792-1878), little need be added here beyond the fact that he followed his father, Isaac Cruikshank, into the trade and was the successor to Thomas Rowlandson; he was the greatest caricaturist of his era, known as "the Modern Hogarth." 

Flying Artillery or A Horse Marine.

The pseudonymous Old Sailor who wrote the text is, however, another matter.

The Point of Honor.

"Matthew Henry Barker (pseud. the Old Sailor, 1790–1846), sailor and writer...served in the Royal Navy...After retiring from the service in 1813, he commanded a hired armed schooner...and was employed ... in carrying dispatches to the English squadrons on the southern coasts of France and Spain. On one occasion he fell into the enemy's hands and was detained for some months as a prisoner of war. In 1825 he became editor of a West India newspaper and was afterwards employed, from 1827 to 1838, in a similar capacity at Nottingham... 

Sailors Carousing; or a peep in the Long-Room.

"Under the pseudonym the Old Sailor, Barker wrote a number of lively and spirited sea tales, very popular in their day. These included such works as Land and Sea Tales (1836); Topsail-Sheet Blocks, or, The Naval Foundling (1838), which ran into several editions; The Naval Club, or, Reminiscences of Service (1843); and The Victory, or, The Wardroom Mess (1844). He was naval editor of the United Service Gazette and a frequent contributor to the Literary Gazette, the Pictorial Times, and Bentley's Miscellany, the last at the time under the editorship of Charles Dickens, who came to value the consistent quality of the contributions of ‘the old Sailor’. Barker was a friend of George Cruikshank, who illustrated seven of his works. One of the most attractive of these was the reprint of a series of sketches originally published in the Literary Gazette as ‘The Life of a Man-of-War's Man’. The volume edition was called Greenwich Hospital (1826) and was a great success with the public, going into an almost immediate reissue. Two other of his works illustrated by Cruikshank were Tough Yarns (1835), which he dedicated to Captain Marryat, and Nights at Sea (1852). He was also a chief contributor to Cruikshank's Omnibus.

"Barker felt that his publishers were less than generous with him, and the situation became worse as his sea tales fell out of fashion. He was married, but had increasing difficulty in supporting his family. He died, in poverty, on 29 June 1846" (Oxford DNB).

Woodcut, rear board.

Originally costing one  guinea (21 British shillings, i.e. £1 1s), Barker could comfortably support his family for a lifetime on what this book in original boards now fetches.

Title page, with offset from frontispiece.
The Old Royal Naval College and Hospital in vignette background.

[CRUIKSHANK, George, artist]. AN OLD SAILOR [pseudonym of M.H. Barker]. Greenwich Hospital. A Series of Naval Sketches, Descriptive of the Life of a Man-O-War's Man. By an Old Sailor. With Illustrations by George Cruikshank. London: James Robins and Co., 1826.

First edition. Quarto (11 1/4 x 8 3/4 in; 284 x 222 mm). iv, 200 pp. Twelve hand-colored engraved plates, including frontispiece.  Sixteen text woodcuts.

Publisher's original pink-paper printed and pictorial boards.

Cohn 53 (1924 ed).

Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.

1 comment:

  1. Believe it or not my Grandfather, way back in 1917, was one of the last to be commissioned through the College.
    He broke his back as he was flour bombing his canteen in France, by ignoring a Church steeple!
    Looks as if he and his cronies were well suited to the antics as illustrated above :-)


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