Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Booktryst Goes On Christmas Retreat

by Stephen J. Gertz

As usual, Booktryst migrates south for the winter. This year team Booktryst decided to go the southiest. It's not like we wanted to avoid Christmas and retreat as far away from the North Pole and Santa as we possibly could. We simply wanted to go someplace where the opportunities for Christmas shopping were non-existent. 

So, we followed a flock of terns anxious to escape the Arctic and here we are: stranded on an ice floe somewhere in the Ross Sea.

Despite my insistence that we carry only analog communications equipment, Booktryst contributor Alastair Johnston (at rear with flag) unfortunately brought along an iPad. Oh, he of little faith had little faith in fruit juice cans connected by string, my preferred method of telephonics.

Thus we were able to do a little last-minute Christmas shopping. On the J. Peterman website I (at far left) picked up a pair of pants after reading the pitch:

James Dean's Jeans.
James Dean was born on February 8, 1931 in the Seven Gables apartment house in Marion, Indiana. It was originally the apartment house of the eight gables but then Clark moved out, went to Hollywood, and the rest is movie history.

James Dean made movie history, too. In Giant, he wore a pair of blue jeans as insouciant as Dean was impudent. They hung on his hips like a louche gigolo hangs on a woman of means: intently with serious nonchalance. When his jeans spoke they said, "Come with me to the Casbah," apparently influenced by Charles Boyer in Algiers. And when Dean's jeans spoke, people listened. Then ran. Talking blue jeans?

But when showered with black gold, as they were when Dean as Jeff Rink finally hit a gusher, they took on an little something extra, not unlike the jeans that Jed Clampett wore when he discovered Texas Tea in his swamp while hunting for dinner.

It's called swank. They smelled of money. Big money. Giant money. The dollar that ate Cleveland kind of money.

They also smelled of Elizabeth Taylor. But that's another story. And of Rock Hudson. But you really don't want to hear that one.

James Dean's Jeans

A solid 13.5 ounces per square yard of soft yet durable 3x1 work-grade right hand twill cotton denim.

Front scoop pockets with panache to spare, separate watch pocket on the right spells élan, and spade-shaped back pockets for those who dig pockets in spades. Pickaxe-shaped zipper placket for the picky. Six suspender buttons - two metal shank outside on the back and four regular inside on the front - and the classic V notch in the back, and crotch for easy access.

Seams are double stitched with a heavy weight cotton thread. Bartacks at stress points for added durability. Classic mood indigo, the hue of choice for dapper Duke Ellington.

When James Dean said in Rebel Without A Cause, "You're tearing me apart!" he was referring to his soul. His jeans were indestructible.

Men's even sizes: 32 through 46.

Alastair picked-up a pair of oven mitts from Gloves R' Us, which, trumping Amazon's Drone Delivery service, conveyed them via carrier pigeon that dropped them in his lap. Top that, Jeff Bezos! Alastair, who'd planned on giving them to his consort, The Duchess, instead ripped open the box and put the oven mitts on; baby, it's cold outside! Yes, it's cold in the South Pole but not so cold that a hot  portable stove can't turn your hands into sirloin steaks with grill marks.

As you can see, we all bought J. Peterman Arctic Dusters.

100% waxed cotton canvas, finished to repel water, snow,  and women you're trying to make a good impression on. Black lining throughout (mustard lining inside top and sleeve strictly Grey Poupon). Antique brass J. Peterman logo snaps at center front, outside plackets, inside pocket, chin strap, and inside leg strap; outside legs are on their own. Hidden zipper down center front for clandestine action. Snap flap welt pockets at waist with accessory whip to keep the welts fresh.

Men's sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL and XXXL (size matters).

Booktryst will return after the holiday season, presuming our team is rescued from a future certain to include a frozen end.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Scarce Rare Book That Spawned "It's A Wonderful Life" Offered At $15,000

by Stephen J. Gertz

George said, “give me just one good reason why I should be alive.”

The little man made a queer chuckling sound. “Come, come, it can’t be that bad. You’ve got your job at the bank. And Mary and the kids. You’re healthy, young, and—”

“And sick of everything!” George cried. “I’m stuck here in this mudhole for life, doing the same dull work day after day. Other men are leading exciting lives, but I—well, I’m just a small-town bank clerk that even the army didn’t want. I never did anything really useful or interesting, and it looks as if I never will. I might just as well be dead. I might better be dead. Sometimes I wish I were. In fact, I wish I’d never been born!”

The little man stood looking at him in the growing darkness. “What was that you said?” he asked softly.

“I said I wish I’d never been born,” George repeated firmly. “And I mean it too.”

So begins The Greatest Gift: A Christmas Tale, a 4,100 word novella by American author, editor, and noted Civil War historian Philip Van Doren Stern (1900-1984), who began writing it in 1939 and finished in 1943. Publishers treated it as coal in their Christmas stockings; Stern could not find a home for the book. And so he privately printed it in a twenty-one page edition of 200 7.5 x 5.5 inch signed copies bound in orange wrappers and distributed them to friends for Christmas 1943.

It was ultimately published by David McKay in New York in 1944 with illustrations by Rafaello Busoni. Stern sold the magazine rights to Reader's Scope, which published the story in its December 1944 issue, and to Good Housekeeping, which published it under the title The Man Who Was Never Born in its January 1945 issue (on the streets in December 1944).

It was optioned by RKO studios for film adaptation in 1944. Ultimately produced by director Frank Capra's Liberty Films and released in 1946 under the title It's A Wonderful Life, the movie is now an American Christmas classic. But this, the true first edition of the book that started it all, has become quite scarce. Just in time for Christmas, however, a copy has come into the marketplace. Offered by Royal Books in Baltimore, the asking price is $15,000.

OCLC records seven copies of this edition in institutional holdings worldwide, with 193 copies theoretically left. But they appear to have left with Elvis, and, like the King (but more reliably reported), copies are only occasionally sighted this side of the heavenly veil. According to ABPC there has not been a copy seen at auction within at least the last thirty-seven years. A copy was offered in 2011 by Mullen Books in Pennsylvania. Who knows when another will surface?

Those for whom the screenplay to It's a Wonderful Life is a sacred text will be disappointed to learn that its protagonist, George Bailey, is George Platt in The Greatest Gift. There is no Bedford Falls. There is no Mr. Potter. And there is no Clarence Odbody, Angel-2d Class, just a mysterious, unnamed little man:

"He was stout, well past middle age, and his round cheeks were pink in the winter as though they had just been shaved…He was a most unremarkable little person, the sort you would pass in a crowd and never notice. Unless you saw his bright blue eyes, that is. You couldn’t forget them, for they were the kindest, sharpest eyes you ever saw. Nothing else about him was noteworthy. He wore a moth-eaten old fur cap and a shabby overcoat that was stretched tightly across his paunchy belly. He was carrying a small black satchel. It wasn’t a doctor’s bag - it was too large for that and not the right shape. It was a salesman’s sample kit, George decided distastefully. The fellow was probably some sort of peddler, the kind who would go around poking his sharp little nose into other people’s affairs."

In what will likely be a major bah humbug to Wonderful Life fans and horrifying to those who may not believe in Santa but definitely believe there's a war on Christmas, the unnamed little man does not earn his wings when a Christmas tree bell rings, nor is there any mention of heaven or angels. The Greatest Gift is a secular story with a Rod Serling twist at its end. You're traveling through another dimension: there's a signpost up ahead: your next stop: a Twilight Zone Christmas.

You can read the full text of The Greatest Gift here.

VAN DOREN STERN, Philip. The Greatest Gift. A Christmas Tale. New York: Privately Printed for Distribution to His Friends, Christmas, 1943. First edition, limited to 200 copies, each signed by the author. Octavo. 21 pp. Orange wrappers with printed title label. Near fine.

With the exception of Clarence's note card, images courtesy of Royal Books, with our thanks.

Monday, December 16, 2013

You Won't Believe This Incredible Art Edition Of James Joyce's Ulysses

by Stephen J. Gertz

James Joyce completed his novel, Ulysses, on October 30, 1921. Ninety years later, on October 30, 2011, Charlene Matthews, the Los Angeles-based book artist and bookbinder recently the subject of a profile in Studios magazine, began work on an extraordinary edition of the book, based upon Sylvia Beach's true first edition with all its typos included.

Two years later, on October 30, 2013, she completed it: the entire text of Ulysses - all of its approximately 265,000 words in eighteen episodes - transcribed by hand onto thirty-eight seven-foot tall, two-inch diameter poles: Ulysses as a landscape to physically move through; the novel as literary grove, Ulysses as trees of of life with language as fragrant, hallucinatory bark, and trunks reaching toward the sky.

Each pole has sixteen 'cels' comprised of four pages, a total of sixty-four pages per pole.  The first cel has the first line in it and then Matthews measured down 9" and wrote that line in the next cel and so on, with the last cel containing the last line on the pole. The whole totals thirty-eight poles.

I talked to Charlene Matthews about the piece, which I've observed in progress since she began. Our interview follows.

SJG: This project involved an extraordinary amount of work and time. What inspired you to begin?

CM: I had to do a sculptural piece for an art show Doug Harvey was doing at the Shoshanna Wayne Gallery.  So I wrote a J.G.Ballard short story (Say Goodbye to the Wind) on a pole I had in the back yard for years  which I hate to say was not very good.  I liked how it looked and I liked the idea of taking the words out of the book and putting them onto an object, I stayed with the pole.  I went through my book collection and found Ulysses.  Nothing else would do but IT, and I had never read it.

Key to the poles.

SJG: Did you have any idea when you began just how all-consuming it would turn-out to become?

CM: I knew the project would take me a while, I researched poles and pens and jumped in. As problems occurred I solved them, like how to write and turn the pole smoothly, how to write without twisting my back, how to exercise my hands to keep them from cramping, how to sand the pole just so to accommodate smooth writing.  The eventual  get-up I rigged was pretty amusing. I also began mapping the characters' movements on my walls.

All typos included, as well as flaws in the medium.

SJG: What is the over-riding theme here? What was/is your intent? In short (from a philistine perspective), what's the point?

CM: Initially I envisioned just a large group of poles standing around with writing on them.  But as I was writing, I had visions of the poles being exhibited in many ways, I am going to publish a small edition book of these drawings this year.  Some of them are pretty basic, most are pretty out there ( Irish Jig Dancers, energy windmills, mirrors etc.).

Also, as I was writing my eyes would look at my process and get memorized in the patterns made by the black pen letters on the wood grain, the letters moving around, the grain going up and down. I saw pictures of faces, and animals and odd formations.

The point?  I wanted to make something beautiful.  That is how I chose to spend my time at night.  I did have some very personal reasons for doing this, but they are moot.  It really is just my most current book art project.

Basically the book is all about sex.  I have A LOT to say about this.

SJG: It seems that the process must have in some way paralleled Bloom's journey, his a walk through Dublin, yours a walk through Joyce. Anything to that?

CM: It definitely felt like I was having a love affair with Joyce. 

SJG: You've read the book, a work of art in and of itself. You've turned it into a work of art in another medium. How has it changed your perspective on the book?

CM: As I was absorbing the story, I was also observing his style, and method of storytelling. I understood what was going on in his head as a story teller, writer and artist.  What he was trying to achieve in his Modernism.  This is when I knew that the book had more than a plot line, it had a picture line, the movements of everyone if they could be seen over head would draw out symbols/pictures.  As I was taking the words off the page, I was in this fourth dimension with Joyce.

Draft schematic plan for exhibition.

SJG: And for the viewer/reader, what is it you expect or hope from them? What do you want people to take away from the experience?

CM: What I want people to take away from seeing the poles is the magic of the hand written word, the beauty of handwriting.  The beauty of a handmade object only they can create, by hand writing.

SJG: Are you looking for or have you found an exhibition space for the piece? Any interest yet from galleries?

CM: I am talking to people about exhibiting them, and welcome any inquiries. Depending on the space will depend on how to show them.  Either anchored to the floor or hanging from the ceiling. All can be done.

Pole #38, with last line.

SJG: You said that "basically the book is all about sex.  I have A LOT to say about this." You can't declare that and not pay it off.

CM: Spoiler Alert! It covers every angle of human sexuality. One interesting point about the Ulysses obscenity trial in America is that the case was won the day after Prohibition was lifted.
•  •  •
The case was won on December 6, 1933. Prohibition ended on December 5, 1933 when the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution repealing the 18th Amendment was ratified.

"...And what is cheese? Corpse of milk" - James Joyce, Ulysses

And what is Charlene Matthews' Ulysses? Copse of novel.

Images courtesy of Charlene Matthews, with our thanks.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Whitey The Irrepressible Infests Europe After Festing With The Queer People Of Hollywood

by Stephen J. Gertz

Cover art by Vincentini.

A lovable and, yes, irrepressible but dissolute American, Whitey, wreaks havoc in Europe in the company of Sonia Varon, a movie star concealing her pregnancy from her producer; Prime Minister Zmiythe, dictator of Gandonia; and various potentates, gangsters, bartenders, and a fat lady - Senorita Francisca Ortiz, in love with Whitey, all 220 pounds of her - who doesn't sing until it's over in Kings Back To Back: Whitey The Irrepressible Infests Europe, the third novel in Carroll and Garrett Graham's Whitey trilogy.

Theodore Anthony "Whitey" White is a New York newspaperman of the Hecht-MacArthur Hildy Johnson/Front Page ilk who, if not exactly a bottom-feeder, avidly grazes on the fringe. So, when he blows into Hollywood, where his dubious reputation in New York and Chicago has not blown west with him, in Queer People - the first Whitey novel - he is at home among the colorful studio folk who populate Hollywood as a colony of bacteria occupy the colon.

Whitey has embraced the past age of enlightenment as the present age to getting lit, and answers any and all questions philosophical or otherwise with "I don't know. Let's take a few drinks and find out." The wisdom of the whiskey bottle is, for him, a modern day oracle at Delphi to be consulted in times of doubt or certainty, which is to say, always, to wit: "By dusk he was always comfortably potted and in a mood for anything." In Whitey, the Playboy of "Queer People" Runs Riot in Manhattan, the second novel in the Graham's trilogy, we are introduced to our hero as he confesses to his fifteenth drink - so far that morning.

Partying was his primary occupation but every now and then, as a result of contacts made at  Hollywood bacchanals, he found work. In a case of mistaken identity,  for instance, in Queer People he is hired by the head of Colossal Pictures to join its story department.

Cover art by Vincentini.

Budd Schulberg, who, as the son of movie pioneer and early Paramount studio chief B.P. Schulberg, knew a thing or two about Hollywood, wrote in the Afterword to the modern reprint of Queer People (Southern Illinois University Press, 1976) that readers may recognize Whitey "as a forerunner of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Pat Hobby, the irrepressible studio hack, part heel, part victim - an All-American, interchangeable with All-Hollywood in these hilarious and desperate days when the Whitey-Pat Hobbys lived off the crumbs from the banquet table of the queer people who combined the decadent flamboyance of Louis XIV with the stupidity of George III."

"Siblings Carroll and Garrett Graham decided to explore the sleazier side of Tinseltown in their novel Queer People (1930)...With its hard-nosed anti-hero, Theodore 'Whitey' White, anticipating Schulberg's newshounds-for-hire, Al Mannheim and Sammy Glick, this disconcerting roman à clef exposed the chasm between fantasy and reality, and suggested that icons and wannabes alike were incapable of distinguishing between performance and life" (Trouble in Tinseltown: Budd Schulberg's Literary Legacy, The Guardian, Aug. 7, 2009)

Cover art by Ann Cantor.

Queer People was a best-seller that went through eleven printings in its first year of publication. It was issued in a paperback digest edition in 1950 under the title, Fleshpots of Malibu (NY: Broadway Novel Monthly), with cover art that does not in any way telegraph that it is a hard-bitten satire but does highlight the book's proto-pulp sensibility.

Little is known about Carroll and Garrett Graham, who appear to have disappeared from the scene faster than a dissident in North Korea. In addition to their Whitey trilogy, the Grahams published Only Human, another from Vanguard Press in 1932 and issued just prior to Kings Back To Back: Whitey The Irrepressible Infests Europe.

Cover art by Vincentini.

"In the ring he was great - a light-footed boxer, and a murderous, relentless slugger who didn't know how to lose a fight and who ploughed his way straight to a championship. Johnny was sure he loved Marjorie, a sheltered, conventional, polished girl to whom he became engaged, but May, who was more at home in a speakeasy than in a drawing room, needed him. And Johnny couldn't disappoint a girl!" (Jacket blurb).

Mention must be made of the beautiful dust jacket art by Vincentini, about whom I've been able to find nothing thus far. The folks at Vanguard Press (in its heyday a Leftist publisher of, among other genres,  novels of social realism) loved his stylish work, so much so that they reproduced Vincentini's DJ art as the front free-endpaper to Kings Back To Back, a highly unusual move not seen from other publishers.

It's very difficult to find first edition, first printing copies of the Whitey trilogy in collectable condition. It's even harder to find them in dust jackets. Vincentini's work is highly desirable. Other examples of his dust jackets can be found here.

As for me, I'm irrepressible, ran riot in Manhattan as a lad, used to run a Hollywood story department, am a whitey in Los Angeles, and only human. So, I'll be exploring the fleshpots of Malibu as soon as I determine whether any actually exist and that Joe's Crab Shack on the coast isn't one of them. You can't be too careful.

GRAHAM, Carroll and Garrett. Kings Back to Back: Whitey the Irrepressible Infests Europe. New York: The Vanguard Press, 1932. First edition. Octavo. 286 pp. Cloth. Dust jacket.

Slide, The Hollywood Novel, p. 113.

GRAHAM, Carroll and Garrett. Queer People. New York: The Vanguard Press, 1930. First edition. Octavo. 276 pp. Cloth. Dust jacket.

Slide, p. 112.

GRAHAM, Carroll and Garrett. Whitey; The Playboy of "Queer People" Runs Riot in Manhattan. New York: The Vanguard Press, 1931. First edition. Octavo. 274 pp. Cloth. Dust jacket.

Slide, p. 113.

With the exception of Only Human and Fleshpots of Malibu, images courtesy of ReadInk and Between the Covers, with our thanks. Ond to Google Books for the titlepage to Whitey...

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Are U.S. Women Driving American Men To Hell By Baring Their Flesh?

by Stephen J. Gertz

“When women come here with knee length dresses and stoop to pick up apples, I think the men can see more that it is the Lord’s will for them to see.”

So sayeth Mrs. DeWitt Smith in Are We Dragging Our Men To Hell By Our Modern Dress? A four-page pamphlet, it was published without date in the 1940s. It was reprinted without date in the 1960s. It reads as if it were written without date during the 1800s.

Or yesterday in response to Miley Cyrus' recent performance during the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards and subsequent forced run through the media gauntlet.

The text of Are We Dragging Men To Hell By Our Manner Of Dress? reads in full:

The old sign of the harlot's den was a red light by night, and women sitting in front by day showing their legs. The Bible says to Christians:
"In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel with shame-facedness and sobriety, not with broided hair or gold or pearls or costly array." I Timothy 2:9
A preacher said, "Only yesterday my manhood was insulted. Across from and facing me on a street car sat a 'something' -- a female picking her teeth. Her dress was above her knees with no effort to keep them together. Horrors! What are we coming to when a clean man must cover his face with a paper or turn his head the other way to keep from seeing entirely too much? It seems that many of these she animals have lost all modesty and are out for sale, offering all that is left - just leg! legs!! legs!!!"
A good lady said, "These knee-length dresses are not modest. The Holy Spirit showed me that at least half of the calf of the leg should be covered."
Hear what Dr. [Perry] Lichtenstein, Physician of Tombs Prison in New York City, who is able to speak authoritatively on the causes of crime, says: (He has seen, in 12 years, 170,000 prisoners pass over the 'Bridge of Sighs', and he ought to know.) "The so called crimes of passion are increasing alarmingly, and will continue to do so in my opinion until the principal cause is eliminated. This, it seems to me, is the present style of dress which, to say the least, is immodest. Rolled stockings and similar styles have a direct bearing on crime incitation no matter how innocent the wearer may be." It is safe to say that there would be much less crime today, far fewer homes whose happiness has been blasted forever by unfaithfulness, fewer divorce trials, less violations of maidenly honor, if everyone of these underworld styles could be thrown into the deepest Hell.
Dr. [Thomas De Witt] Talmadge said, "Thousands of men are in Hell, whose eternal damnation is due to the improper dress of women."
In a neighboring town lives a boy who was graduated from the State University with the highest honors. Later he had a fine position but acquired a venereal disease, went insane, and now is in the insane asylum part of the time--all because of lust.
Low necks, short dresses scarcely to the knees, bare arms, painted faces - in a word - everything to arouse passion and lust is the order of the day.
"Everybody does it!" I know - but do you belong to the 'everybodies' or are you a pilgrim?

I went to Bible school, and one day the teacher had a special meeting of the girls and told them if they would let the Lord talk to them, they would lengthen their dresses. When the school had a social gathering, one boy left the party when the girls were playing games, etc. He could see too much, he said.
When women come with knee length dresses, and stoop to pick up apples, I think the men can see more that it is the Lord's will for them to see.
I would rather wear my dresses a longer length and please the Lord, than to try to please a hard-to-please fickle world. We surely will never send men to Hell by wearing longer dresses.
D.L. Moody in his book, Prevailing Prayer, said, "Why is it that many of our children are going down to a dishonored grave? Many Godly parents find that their children are going astray. Does it arise from some secret sin clinging around the heart? I sometimes tremble when I hear people quote promises, and say that God is bound to fulfill those promises to them, when all the time there is something in their own lives which they are not willing to give up. It is well to search our hearts and find out why our prayers are not answered."
One saintly woman, who wore rather long dresses, said, when she put on a shorter dress, the Lord would not hear her prayers.

John Wesley said gay and costly apparel tends to influence lust.
During the first hundred years of her ministry, Methodism was the greatest power for righteousness of any movement since Pentecost. In those days of her glory, Methodism always insisted upon plainness of attire.
We may say if we wear our dresses a longer length we will look differently. What does Charles Finney (one of the most God-used evangelists of the all time) say? "I will confess that I was formerly myself in error. I believed the best way for Christians to pursue was to dress so as not to be noticed: to follow the fashions so as not to appear singular. But I have seen my error and now wonder greatly at my former blindness. It is your duty to dress so plain as to show the world that you place no sort of reliance in things of fashion.
If you wear immodest clothing that offers a suggestive appeal to sex, and stimulates those baser impulses which slumber in the human breast, do you think the Lord is so likely to protect your girl and boy in the wave of immorality among youth and others?
Preachers, if you think these knee length dresses are not modest, and it is a sin for women to wear them, will you be faithful to the Lord to warn them? Can you expect the Lord to put a hedge around yours sons and daughters, and keep them moral in this immoral world, if you do not?
I am trusting the Lord to keep my three sons pure. Can the Lord protect young people? I know He can; because He has kept mine moral. I couldn't commit adultery if you would give me the whole world; neither can I get mixed up in an affair with some other woman's husband (which is so common these days). If He can keep me moral, He can keep your son and daughter moral. The power of the Devil is great; but, praise God, the Lord has more power.
I don't want Jesus to say to me some day, "By the exposure of your flesh you have dragged men to Hell." Do you?

There are plenty of antecedents to the above, not the least of which is Apropos of Women and Theatres, written by former actress and women's rights lecturer, Olive Logan (1839-1909), and published in 1869 by Carleton in New York.

Logan, who earned the scorn of Mark Twain, devotes two chapters to decrying the "coarse rage which [has] spread in our theatres, until it [has] come to be a ruling force in them," to wit: About The Leg Business, detailing the exposure of women's gams on the boards, and About Nudity In The Theatre, discussing the post-Civil War phenomenon of women appearing onstage scantily clad. (Interestingly, Logan makes one of the first references in a general circulation book to "a new theatrical term in use among 'professionals' which embraces all sorts of performances in its comprehensiveness, to wit: The Show Business").

As far as the business of show too much goes, Are We Dragging Our Men To Hell By Our Modern Dress? was not Mrs. DeWitt Smith's only exploration of the looming apocalypse on America's near horizon. Evidently a woman of few words, she wrote two other four-page only tracts, Christians Are Sleeping While Communists Work (Minneapolis: Osterhus Publishing Company, 195?) and Never Take Your First Drink, Never Spend Your First Nickel in Gambling, and Never Touch Tobacco (Randleman, NC: Pilgrim Tract Society, 194?).

To declare that Are Women Dragging Men Into Hell By Their Manner Of Dress is extremely scarce in any edition because there are no copies, according to OCLC, in institutional holdings worldwide sounds impressive but is sort of meaningless; libraries clearly felt it wasn't worth adding to their collections. But it is truly rare: I do not pretend to have seen every similarly themed book and pamphlet but I have seen quite a few over the last thirty years and this one is a first for me.

It does, however, make me feel all warm and fuzzy to report that OCLC records only one copy each of Mrs. Smith's Christians Are Sleeping While Communists Work and Never Take Your First Drink, Never Spend Your First Nickel in Gambling, and Never Touch Tobacco in institutional holdings worldwide. Acquisition librarians have apparently judged that loopy tracts on Communism, alcohol, gambling, and tobacco are of greater importance to our culture than a loopy anti-cheesecake jeremiad. 

SMITH, Mrs. DeWitt. [caption title]. Are We Dragging Men To Hell By Our Modern Dress? (Randleman, N. C.: Pilgrim Tract Society, Inc.), n.d. [after 1948, c. 1960]. Unbound tract, approx. 5.25 x 3.5 inches, [4] pages on green stock. Illus. Later edition.

Image courtesy of Garrett Scott, Bookseller, with our thanks.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Curious Customs Of England: Wife-Selling, Whipping the Cock, Sowing Hemp Seed, Etc.

by Stephen J. Gertz


"Short that wrinkled Care derides
And Laughter holding both his sides."

In Margochanningescu, a Romanian hamlet associated with Vlad the Impaler, villagers fasten their seat belts when a full moon portends a bumpy night with vicious conversation that drains the blood from unsophisticated brains.

In Bad Temper, a burg so isolated within Germany's Black Forest that residents have evolved into a new species of hominid, ancient tradition demands that maidens who have reached their first menses must perform the Schuhplattler courtship dance in the town square balanced upon only one of their three legs and blow a gasket when males who have reached puberty tickle each other instead of the girls' fancy axillary regions.

On the corner of Pico & Barrington in West Los Angeles, California, where discount mattress stores dominate an otherwise barren retail landscape, Campfire Girls are encouraged by tribal elders to earn their merit badges in Billing & Cooing by performing The Slapstick Serenade, to wit: whistling to male passersby The Flight of the Bumble Bee while lying supine upon a tattered boxspring abandoned in an alley, wiggling their eyebrows as a leering Groucho Marx, and afterward reciting the Campfire Girls Oath in Esperanto with Yiddish accent while tying two unmatched socks found lying in a gutter into a knot worthy of King Gordius of Phrygia. They then bake a meringue pie and throw it into the face of the one whose heart they seek to win and later, after their inauspicious first driving lesson with swain as instructor, roughly dice their true love's ticker into 1" squares then toss into a food processor and puree.

The above rituals, collected by Sir Woodrow Knotty Pine-Coffin in Dubious Rites of Apocryphal Peoples from Around the World, are run-of-the-mill compared to those found in Popular Pastimes, being a Selection of Picturesque Representations of the Customs & Amusements of Great Britain in Ancient and Modern Times, an anonymously written book published in 1816 with hand-colored plates after designs by Francis Philip Stephanoff (1788-1860) illustrating twenty of the book's thirty chapters.

Popular pastimes covered in the book include foot-ball, exorcism, chasing and kissing under the mistletoe, claiming a flitch of bacon after a year of conjugal happiness and lack of strife, wife-selling, whipping the cock, donkey riding, bull-baiting, the fool plough and sword dance, the smock race, swearing in the Sheriffs, the milk-maid's garland (not to be confused with the Punch & Judy garland), and etc.

Selling A Wife.

"Among the customs unknown to the law in this country,, though by the illiterate and vulgar supposed to be of legal validity and assurance, is that of SELLING A WIFE, like a brute animal, in a common market-place. At what period this practice had origin we have not discovered, but it has unquestionably been in existence for a long series of years; and many instances might be given of the extensive spread of this licentious custom in more modern times…"

For example, "on the 11th of March 1803… 'a private individual led his Wife to Sheffield market, by a cord tied round her waist, and publicly announced that he wanted to sell his cow. On this occasion, a butcher who officiated as auctioneer, and knocked down the lot for a guinea, declared that he had not brought a cow to a better market for many years.' …On the 27th of March, 1808… 'a man publicly sold his Wife to a fisherman, in the market at Brighton, for twenty shillings and a blunderbuss.'

"This practice, immoral and shameful as it is, has given to various pleasant Jeu d'esprits…"


"In the mode of Heaving, there is considerable variation in different districts; but it is general, we believe, for the men to lift the women on Easter Monday, and the women the men, on Tuesday. In Manchester, Bolton, and other towns in Lancashire, parties are formed, who surround every one of the opposite sex that they meet, and either with or without their consent, take hold of their legs and arms, and lift them thrice above their heads, into the air, in a horizontal position, with loud shouts at each elevation. a small sum must be paid for ransom by the persons thus elevated.

"At Manchester, the magistrates constantly prohibit this indecent practice, yet it is still carried on in the outskirts of the town. In Cheshire, Shropshire, &c. the men go with a chair into every house to which they can obtain admission, and forcing every female to be seated in their vehicle, lift them up three times with loud huzzas. For this they claim a kiss, which, however, is remitted to the coy on payment of a fine. On the following day the women have the same privilege, and pursue it with equal license. In North Wales the Heavers travel from house to house, both in town and country, and have frequently a fiddle playing before them."

Riding The Stang.

"The vulgar of every country have particular customs, which, being immediately subversive of decorum and good order, can only be practiced at uncertain intervals, when magistracy sleeps, or a more than common effervescence of popular daring condemns authority, and overbears control: of this description is the ignominious punishment called RIDING THE STANG….

"'Riding the Stang,' according to Dr.. Jamieson, 'is the remains of a very ancient cuetom among the Goths, who were wont to erect what they called Nidstaeng, on the pole of infamy, with the most dire imprecations against those who were thought to deserve the reprobation which this act implied. The person thus subjected to dishonor was called Niding, or infamous, and he was thenceforth deemed incapable of making oath in any cause.'

"Callender observes, that in Scotland, 'Riding the Stang is a mark of the highest infamy, and the person who has been thus treated seldom recovers his honor in the opinion of his neighbors.'

"'I am informed,' says Dr. Jamieson, 'that in Lothian, and, perhaps, in other countries, the man who had debauched his neighbor's wife was formerly forced to ride the Stang,' yet this punishment was not exclusively inflicted on gallants detected in criminal amours. The virago who had beaten her husband was also subjected to ride the Stang…"

Skimmington, or the Shrew.

"Skimmington, or 'Riding Skimmington,' is a custom very analogous to that of Riding the Stang; it seems, principally, to have been inflicted by the populace on lewd and scolding women, but sometimes, also, on those willing cornutoes who basely contented themselves with deriving profit from their wives' prostitution. The derivation of the term has not been traced: Mr. Douce deduces it from the skimming-ladle, with with the shameless termagant, in these processions, was permitted to chastise her husband; but Mr. Brand, with more likelihood, from the name of some errant scold, whose celebrity was sufficiently notorious to place her at the head of the profession, and thence by an easy metonymy, to  occasion the appellation of a 'Skimmington' to be given to every proficient in her line.

"In the 'Gentleman's Dictionary,' a Skimmington is defined to be 'a sort of burlesque procession in ridicule of a man who suffers himself to be beat by his wife;' and Grose, in his Provincial Glossary, after a similar definition, gives the ensuing particulars of the cavalcade: 'It consists of a man riding behind a woman with his face to the horse's tail, holding a distaff in his hand, at which he seems to work, the woman all the while beating him with the ladle; a smock displayed upon a staff is carried before them, as an emblematical standard, denoting female superiority…'

"...Colmelar, in his 'Delices de l'Espagne,' &c. speaking of Spanish manners, states, that, 'When a man, for the sake of profit, knowingly suffers his wife to cuckold him, they are, on discovery, both seized, set astride upon an ass, and publicly exposed; the cornato having on a very large pair of horns, hung with small bells, and the wife being compelled to flog him, whilst she, herself, is lashed by the executioner.'"

The Mistletoe.

"As the ivy is dedicated to Bacchus, so should the Mistletoe be to Love; not, however, to the chaste Eros, but to the sportive Cupid. The sacred regard given to it in pagan and Druidical rites has long been terminated; but it is still beheld with emotions of pleasurable interest, when hung up in our kitchens at Christmas; it gives license to seize 'the soft kiss' from the ruby lips of whatever female can be enticed or caught beneath. So custom authorizes, and it enjoins also, that one of the berries of the Mistletoe be plucked off after every salute. Though coy in appearance, the 'chariest maid'  at this season of festivity is seldom loth to submit to the established usage; especially when the swain who tempts her is one whom she approves.

Whipping The Cock.

Whipping The Cock has nothing to do with that other popular, though usually private, pastime, Slapping The Monkey, and shame on you for thinking otherwise.

"'Whipping The Cock,' according to Grose, 'is a piece of sport practiced at wakes, horse races, and fairs, in Leicestershire: a Cock being tied or fastened into a hat or basket, half a dozen carters, blindfolded, and armed with their cart whips, are placed round it, who, after being turned three thrice about, begin to whip the cock, which if any one strikes so as to make it cry out, it becomes his property; the joke is, that instead of whipping the Cock they flog each other heartily.'"

Popular Pastimes, alas, does not include a color-plate to illustrate its chapter on Sowing Hemp-Seed. All we can provide are excerpts from the text.

"Among the Love divinations still in vogue with our peasant girls is that of SOWING HEMP SEED on Midsummer Eve, for the purpose of discovering who their true sweethearts are. This custom is thus pleasingly noticed in the 'Connoisseur' at the same season by our country lasses. 'I and my two sisters tried the dumb cake together; you must know, two must make it, two bake, two break it, and the third put it under each of their pillows (but you must not speak a word all the time), and then you will dream of the man you are to have. This we did: and to be sure I did nothing all night but dream of Mr. Blossom.

"'The same night, exactly at twelve o'clock, I sowed Hemp-seed in our back yard, and said to myself these words, 

Hemp-seed I sow, Hemp-seed I hoe,
And he that is my true love,
Come after me and mow. -

"'Will you believe me? I looked back and saw him behind me, as plain as eyes could see him.'"

We can only presume that the lasses were smoking as well as sowing hemp-seed. Or, perhaps, Banging The Gong, a popular pastime among devotees of the poppy in Devonshire.

[STEPHANOFF, F.P., illustrator]. Popular Pastimes, Being a Selection of the Customs & Amusements of Great Britain, In Ancient and Modern Times; Accompanied by Historical Descriptions. London: Published by Sherwood, Neely, and Jones; Taylor and Hessy; J.M. Richardson; Nornaville and Fell and Molteno, 1816.

First edition, earliest issue, with plates watermarked 1814. Octavo (8 3/16 x 5 in; 208 x 129 mm). [2], 126, iv [i.e. 2 as Contents, misbound] pp. Hand-colored title vignette and twenty hand-colored plates after F.P. Stephanoff with tissue guards.

Notes and Queries, January 21, 1905, p. 60. Book Prices Current, 1895, no. 155.

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

Friday, December 6, 2013

Mark Twain a Bore?

by Alastair Johnston

If, like me, the steps to your bookshelf are paved with good intentions, you probably have Mark Twain's fat Autobiography volume 1 shoulder to shoulder with other "to read" titles. I delved into it, read whole chunks, but didn't start at page one and set forth, so now volume 2 is here, and time and tide waiting for no man, I jump, like Twain, in medias res.

Twain's autobiography, which he wrote by dictation, was just a rambling one-sided conversation full of random reminiscences, no holds barred, but often sweet or poignant, and not intended for publication until a century after his death. That century having elapsed in 2010 we now get one of his great works, in his own voice (The concluding third volume should be along any year now). After a lifetime as a famous raconteur polishing his delivery and perfecting his linguistic games, it's a glorious gift. He says it's like no other autobiography -- apart from perhaps Cellini's. There was a twinkle in his eye as he said that, I am sure. (Cellini however really did murder his rivals, Twain just told them, "I had in fancy taken his life several times every year, and always in new and increasingly cruel and inhuman ways, but that now I was pacified, appeased, happy, even jubilant; and that thenceforth I should hold him my true and valued friend and never kill him again.") You can open it anywhere and read any part and since short attention spans are the order of the day this kind of sporty reading is perfect.

If you are in any doubt that this is the greatest kind of American humor then sample ‪his "I've ALWAYS been into college girls" ‬routine (April 4, 1906), which is a hoot and certainly adumbrates the wit of Groucho Marx, Sid Perelman and others who followed Twain. He claims that his blushes at being asked to speak to a group of college girls were manufactured, for he is a master at appearing coy. "It makes me the most winning old thing that ever went among confiding girls. I held a reception on that stage for an hour or two, and all Vassar, ancient and modern shook hands with me. Some of the moderns were too beautiful for words and I was very friendly with those. I was so hoping somebody would want to kiss me for my mother, but I didn't dare to suggest it for myself. Presently, however, when it happened, I did what I could to make it contagious, and succeeded. This required art, but I had it in stock."

You may think of manufactured celebrity as a phenomenon of our era. Even if, like me, you cannot tell Justin Timberlake from Justin Bieber, you cannot avoid Paris Hilton or those rich Armenian women, what are they called, the Sarkastians? The Karkrashians? I try to ignore them (also), but since I do watch television and blindly follow Facebook links I am surprised how often their names turn up on the actual news, even though they are not known for being good at anything. Such celebrity bogosities are not merely of our time. Twain talks about Olive Logan. She married a penny-a-line copywriter and got him to put notices in the paper, "Olive Logan has taken a summer place at Cohasset," "Olive Logan thinks Transcendentalism is passing away," etc, until people in small towns began to wonder who she was. She then went on a lecture tour and made $100 a night for showing up and mouthing rubbish, but everyone went to see her. "I didn't think the day would ever come when my heart would soften towards Olive Logan," writes Twain, "and I would put my hands before my eyes if she were drowning, so as not to see it."

What's not to like about someone who said, "I speak French but I cannot understand it"? As a writer, Twain is second only to Melville and frankly who would you rather have dinner with? Whose reminiscences would you rather read? Melville put his early memories into two of the greatest novels ever written, Typee and Omoo. No amount of after-dinner talk could come close. When a certain twisted peripheral member of the book world died this year I recalled Twain's “I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.”

The Man in White by Spy

Twain's thinking was ahead of his time. He decried slavery, opposed American intervention in the Philippines, wanted the US to denounce King Leopold of Belgium for his atrocities in the Congo (they didn't) -- generally his political views were out of step with the bozos who charged, bayonets fixed, along behind the government. He dressed in white because it suited him, saying he would really rather dress in a Coat of Many Colors if he could: "I would like to dress in a loose and flowing costume made all of silks and velvets, resplendent with all the stunning dyes of the rainbow, and so would every sane man I have ever known; but none of us dares to venture it." He was somewhere between a dandy and a hippie. A Philadelphia journalist write: "Mark is a bachelor, faultless in taste, whose snowy vest is suggestive of endless quarrels with Washington washerwomen; but the heroism of Mark is settled for all time, for such purity and smoothness was never seen before. His lavender gloves might have been stolen from some Turkish harem, so delicate were they in size; but more likely -- anything else were more likely than that." (Even anonymous journalists caught the spirit of his style.)

The New Yorker recently ran a good piece by Ben Tarnoff that pointed out Twain's currency: "Ironic narcissism is more or less our national default mode now, but Twain was ahead of his time." But Tarnoff cites reviews of volume one that condemned Twain as a boring old fart. Those pointing the finger were Adam Gopnik and Garrison Keillor. Really? Come on! Garrison Keillor, that smarmy git, called volume one "a ragbag of scraps." I am glad of Keillor's distinctive voice because it alerts me in time to turn off the radio before I have to listen to his pretentious twaddle. (People never paid him any mind when he was just Gary Keillor.) Talk about a "ragbag of scraps," his donkey dung may be sugar-coated but it is donkey dung nonetheless! I propose we drain Lake Woebegone, and, as Emperor Claudius said, "Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out!"

"Gopnik" (a cross between a beatnik and a gobstopper or a tiny version of one of Gellett Burgess's Goops), wrote this piece dismissing Twain's first volume as a shaggy dog story without a punchline. Has he never read Tristram Shandy? That's an epic shaggy dog story without a punchline (unless the "site" of Uncle Toby's wound is considered a payoff) and something Gopnik might aspire to emulate if he doesn't want to end up lost in the footnotes to People Once Thought Smart Who Wrote in the New Yorker. The ages old juxtaposition of expert opinion versus the popular taste goes back to Pilgrim's Progress, the first example of a book where popular acclaim overrode the expert minority, according to Macauley. We don't need these critics to tell us why we shouldn't read Twain. Sure, he's rambling, that's the charm of it. You should be so lucky to have time to dictate your memoirs from your deathbed for two years!

Sam Clemens, apprentice printer in Missouri, proudly holds a typestick

Twain has given us so much, a lot of it not in the novels, but in conversations, letters, asides and these here dictations. Many years ago I wrote to the Mark Twain archive at UC Berkeley and asked if they could verify that Twain had coined the expression "Jesus H. Christ." They were generous with their time, and sent me a chunk of information from his autobiographical dictation which I used in my book on nineteenth-century typefounders' specimens (Alphabets to Order, British Library, 2000). The relevant parts in full occupy three pages of volume one, and concern Clemens' fellow apprentice printer on the Hannibal Courier, Wales McCormick. These three pages comprise a brilliant short story (with a brief digression on eating potatoes with Kaiser Wilhelm II). Roughly the tale is this: Sam and Wales are apprenticed to Mr Ament, publisher of the Hannibal Courier, who gives them board and clothes, but no pay. The clothes were the master's cast-offs: "I was only about half as big as Ament, consequently his shirts gave me the uncomfortable sense of living in a circus-tent, and I had to turn up his pants to my ears to make them short enough." Wales had the opposite problem, being a large lad, and was suffocated by the hand-me-downs. Mrs Ament played her part in the "Amentian idea" for she sweetened the apprentices' coffee herself with a deft trick. She dipped the teaspoon in the coffee first to make it wet then into the sugar bowl, but she turned the spoon over so what looked like a heaping spoon of sugar was in reality the bottom of the teaspoon with a thin layer of sugar on it which she then put into the lads' brew and stirred. 

The preacher Alexander Campbell came to town and gave a rousing sermon. The Campbellites so loved his words they subscribed $16 to have his sermon printed. The apprentices set up the work and made a proof but hit a snag. McCormick had left out two words in a thinly spaced line and there was not a break for another three pages which meant he would have to reset a hundred or more lines of solid matter, and furthermore, it was Saturday morning, coming up on their only afternoon off. Wales had the idea to abbreviate Jesus Christ to "J.C." "It made room for the missing words, but it took 99 percent of the solemnity out of a particularly solemn sentence. We sent off the revise and waited. We were not intending to wait long. In the circumstances we meant to get out and go fishing before that revise should get back, but we were not speedy enough." Sure enough Campbell appears and reads them a lecture on diminishing the savior's name. Wales decided since he would miss his afternoon's fishing he would at least have some sport, so enlarged the offending J.C. into Jesus H. Christ. "Wales knew that would make prodigious trouble, and it did. But it was not in him to resist it. He had to succumb to the law of his make. I don't remember what his punishment was, but he was not the person to care for that. He had already collected his dividend."

Like good ancient tomes these autobiographical volumes have chapter heads with synopses of the upcoming section so you can coast through to the bits you may want to read about General Grant, Ellen Terry, Petroleum V. Nasby or others of his contemporaries. But they are only fleeting personae: "This autobiography of mine is a mirror, and I am looking at myself in it all the time. Incidentally I notice the people that pass along at my back -- I get glimpses of them in the mirror -- and whenever they say or do anything that can help advertise me and flatter me and raise me in my own estimation, I set these things down in my autobiography." How's that for honesty? His sly, self-deprecatory wit shines out of every page. There's a rich secret conspiratorial correspondence with a Brooklyn librarian over the banning of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn from the children's section of the public library that shows what a caring person he was. He immediately takes the librarian into his bosom and writes him long confidential letters, because he has found an ally. Some critics lament that so much attention is showered on one writer when there are other deserving writers who are neglected, but Twain is an archetype of a great writer and deserves our attention until he has had his say.

Of Related Interest:

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Scarce True First Edition Of Jefferson's Notes On Virginia $100K-$150K

by Stephen J. Gertz


A copy of the true first edition of Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia (1782, i.e. 1785), one of only 200 that Jefferson had printed for private circulation among his friends and acquaintances, is coming to auction at Christie's-NY December 6, 2013 in its Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts including Americana sale. This copy, which includes text and appendices not present in all copies, is estimated to sell for $100,000-$150,000.

The book, Jefferson’s detailed account of his home state of Virginia, is “a classic statement about the promise and the perils of the American experiment” (Frank Shuffeton). The Notes reflect Jefferson's broad interests, i.e. everything. Embracing topography, natural history, botany, mineral and agricultural productions, manufactures, ethnography, religion, commerce and government, plus a pioneering bibliography of state papers, little about Virginia escapes his notice.

Jefferson began the work in the spring of 1781 in response to inquiries from the Marquis de Barbé Marbois, Secretary of the French Legation in Philadelphia, on behalf of the French government. Marbois’s queries were forwarded by a Virginia delegate in Congress, Joseph Jones, to Jefferson, the soon-to-be ex-governor.

In May 1781 Jefferson told Marbois that he would provide “as full information as I shall be able to do” (Papers, 5:58), when he had time to fully attend to it.  For many years Jefferson had been “making memoranda about Virginia on loose sheets," and when his term as governor ended he returned to Monticello and dove into the project. By December he'd sent Marbois a draft, advising that it was “very imperfect” (Papers, 6:142).

Over the next two years, Jefferson expanded the notes and sent manuscript copies to a few friends for comment. After embarking for Paris as U.S. Minister, he concluded “I may have a few copies struck off in Paris.” Jefferson hired Parisian printer Philippe-Denis Pierres to produce it.

From Paris, in May 1785, he wrote to James Madison that Pierres “yesterday finished printing my notes. I had 200 copies printed, but do not put them out of my own hands, except two or three copies here, and two which I shall send to America, to yourself and Colo. Monroe...” (Papers, 8:147).

Two years later, in 1787, he authorized his London bookseller, John Stockdale, to publish for general sale a somewhat expanded edition of the work. The last copy in decent condition of that edition sold in 2009 for $18,000 at Sotheby's-NY.

As for this, the true first edition, a copy was last seen at auction earlier this year at Christie's-NY June 21, 2013. Inscribed by Jefferson to David S. Franks, it sold for $150,000. Curiously, that same copy sold seven months earlier at Christie's-NY December 7, 2012 for $260,000. In 2010, The Samuel L.M. Barlow copy, inscribed to Mr. Dalrymple, sold at Sotheby's in 2010 for $300,000.

This copy is in descent from its original owner, Benjamin Smith Barton (1766-1815), the eminent Philadelphia physician, botanist, and naturalist, with Jefferson's inscription on the verso of the titlepage. It was then in the possession of Edward Harris (his signature at top margin of title-page). From Harris, the book became part of the Jefferson collection of T[homas]. .J[efferson]. Coolidge (1831-1912), great-grandson of the President, a successful businessman who served as United States Minister to France during President Benjamin Harrison's administration, 1889-1893.

Also included in the sale is a signed autograph letter from Jefferson at Monticello dated February 1823 wherein he testifies that copies of Notes on Virginia "are now very rarely found." The letter is anticipated to hammer at $50,000-$70,000. 

It reads in full:

Mssrs. Parsons & Cooley     Monticello Feb. 14. 23.

I have received your favor of Jan. 29 in which you are pleased to request a copy of my works to be deposited in your library. I have never published any work but the Notes on Virginia, of which I have but a single copy, and they are now very rarely to be found. All other writings of mine have been of an official character, and are only to be found among the public documents of the times in which I have lived. TO show however my respect for your request you have been pleased to make, I select one of these, the subject of which is not altogether foreign to institutions like yours, and which was so little adhered by the body for whom it was prepared, that I may truly call it a work of mine. This is a Report on the plan of the university in Virginia, which is now nearly completed, and in the course of a year or two will commence its operations. With this be pleased to accept the assurance of my highest respect & consideration.

Th. Jefferson

This letter was last seen at auction on November 14, 2010 when it fell under the hammer at Skinners for $59,250.

UPDATE: This, the Benjamin Smith Barton copy of the true first edition of Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, sold for $220,000.

JEFFERSON, Thomas (1743-1826). Notes on the State of Virginia: written in the year 1781, somewhat corrected and enlarged in the winter of 1782, for the use of a Foreigner of distinction, in answer to certain queries proposed by him.... [Paris: Philippe-Denis Pierres for the author], 1782 [i.e., 1785]. 

First edition, one of only 200 copies printed for private circulation among Jefferson’s friends and acquaintances. With the appendix and additional texts not present in all copies. Octavo (7¬ x 5 in.). Folding table between pp.168 and 169, full-page woodcut of Madison’s Cave on page [35]. Leaves D2 and D3 cancelled.

Bound with an appendix (pp.367-391) containing notes on American Indian tribes by Charles Thomson (1729-1824); Jefferson’s “Draught of a Fundamental Constitution for the Commonwealth of Virginia,” 14pp; and “An Act for establishing Religious Freedom passed in the assembly of Virginia in the beginning of the year 1786,” 4pp.

Contemporary mottled French calf, gilt spine, red morocco spine label, marbled edges, marbled endpapers (front cover nearly detached, joints, corners and board edges rubbed).

Provenance: Benjamin Smith Barton (1766-1815), the eminent Philadelphia physician and scientist; inscription on verso of title; Edward Harris (signature at top margin of title-page); T.J. Coolidge, bookplate.

Sabin 35894. Howes J-78.

Read the full text of Jefferson's original manuscript of Notes on the State of Virginia, part of the Thomas Jefferson Papers Electronic Archive of the Coolidge Collection in the possession of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Image courtesy of Christie's, with our thanks.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Nixon To Ehrlichman: Miss You and Haldeman, Love You, We Were RIght

by Stephen J. Gertz

Two letters from President Richard M. Nixon to John Ehrlichman, his counsel and Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs, are coming to auction at Christie's-NY in its Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts Including Americana sale, December 9, 2013. One, a typed letter signed, is estimated to sell for $10,000-$15,000, the other, an autograph letter signed, for $30,000-$50,000

Both composed during the Watergate scandal and sent less than a month apart in May and June of 1973, the first is Nixon's formal acceptance of Ehrlichman's resignation, the second a hand-delivered follow-up note from Nixon's pen of a more personal nature. In both, Nixon gives thanks for Ehrlichman's service, expresses his regrets and, in the first letter, confidence in the final outcome, and,  with a tip o' the hat to Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., in the second letter advises him to "keep the faith" (without the controversial Congressman's signature  tag, "baby!") and assures him that "all will be OK because we are right."

He was wrong. All would not turn out okay. It was a disaster for the President, all who closely worked with him and pledged their personal loyalty, and the country.

On April 30, 1973, President Nixon made a televised address to the nation announcing the "resignation" of three top aides, John D. Ehrlichman, H. R. Haldeman and John Dean, arguably the most powerful figures in the administration after the President.  Eighteen days later, Nixon wrote  the  Dear John letter to Ehrlichman:

May 18, 1973

Dear John:

It is with the deepest regret that I write to acknowledge your letter of resignation.

This letter will be brief, though my heart is full. I believe you know, better than I could say, just how much your loyal assistance has meant to me in the crucible of the Presidency, how deeply I respect the courage and self-sacrifice that now prompt your leaving, and how sorely missed you will be.

Since the days that I first came to the White House, you have been close adviser, companion, and friend. These have been critical years for our country -- years when decisions were made that will benefit America and the world for the rest of this century.

When our children look back on these times, they will know, just as I do now, that your contribution to building a better America has been enormous. Few men have done so much good in so short a time. And no President has ever been more grateful for that service.

Pat joins me in saying, from our hearts, that we wish only the best for you and Jeanne and your family in the time ahead -- as  you so well deserve.


[signed] RN

[post-script in holograph]:

I have every confidence in the final outcome - love you

John Erlichman.

The second letter is one of the great rarities of presidential autograph material, a Nixon autograph letter signed while President. Here, less than four weeks after accepting Ehrlichman's forced resignation, a wounded Nixon tries to be encouraging:


Dear John -

Your letter was honest, candid and direct in the Erlichman style! I appreciated it very much + will look into every item you raised.

I'm sure you know how much I miss Bob and you. No President ever had two more able + loyal advisers. I feel for you both in this difficult time. And I feel for your families - for your lovely wife for example and your fine family.

I only wish I could help.

Keep the faith - ! After reading the material you sent me I'm inclined to join up! I see and know how Bob + you have been sustained in this difficult time. All will come out OK because we are right.

We will pass over Nixon's wish; of course he couldn't help, he'd have to confess his culpability in the Watergate cover-up. I do not know what material Ehrlichman sent the President or what group Nixon was then inclined to join but, given the circumstances, his enlistment in the French Foreign Legion would have satisfied all concerned except, perhaps, for the French general staff who prefer that enlistees without a soupçon of élan working K.P. duty in the middle of the desert not be ex-U.S. Presidents. Tellement embarrassant! A stain on esprit de corps and all that.

The firing of Ehrlichman, Haldeman and Dean was intended by Nixon to staunch the political bleeding of the Watergate scandal, and to sell the idea that culpability stopped with those three aides. Neither Congress nor the public believed it, and throughout the summer of 1973 a Senate investigative committee under Senator Sam Ervin revealed an ongoing pattern of corruption and law breaking within the administration, dating from its earliest years, i.e.  the so-called “Plumbers” group under Ehrlichman, designed to plug press leaks; the compilation of an “enemy’s list” to harass political opponents with IRS audits and other such “dirty tricks.” The break-in at the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate complex on June 17, 1972 proved to be only one example in a pattern of lawlessness. The House Judiciary Committee, using the Oval office tapes that were disclosed by the Ervin committee, voted articles of impeachment against Nixon. With conviction in the Senate and removal from office a near certainty, Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974 - the only U.S. President ever to do so.

In January 1975 a jury convicted Ehrlichman of perjury, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. He served eighteen months in Federal prison in Arizona.

Near the end of his sentence, on April 12, 1978, Ehrlichman wrote a letter (included here with Nixon's hand-written note) to William Frates, his lawyer in his criminal trial. Ehrlichman was trying to find evidence of Nixon’s involvement in the break-in at the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist,  Lewis J. Fielding:

Doubtless you noted the passage in Haldeman’s book...that...Nixon said he ‘might have’ personally authorized the Fielding break-in...Yesterday I was able able to establish beyond doubt that he (Nixon) said that not only to Haldeman but to others...” 

Ehrlichman remained bitter towards Nixon for not granting him a pardon before (he also petitioned Ronald Reagan for a pardon). But he came to understand the profound mistake he made by blindly following Nixon’s orders to implement break-ins and other “dirty tricks.” At around the same time Erlichman wrote this letter to Frates, he admitted to the judge in his trial that “I abdicated my moral judgments and turned them over to somebody else. And if I had any advice for my kids, it would be never - to never, ever defer your moral judgments to anybody."

Nixon did not have that advice in mind when he wrote to Ehrlichman, "When our children look back on these times, they will know, just as I do now, that your contribution to building a better America has been enormous" but Ehrlichman's advice to his kids - and by extension to all of us - is his true lasting and enormous contribution to building a better America - or anyplace else, for that matter.

I am reminded of the late Senator Bob Dole's delightfully sardonic remark characterizing a meeting among ex-Presidents Carter, Ford, and Nixon:"See no evil, hear no evil - and evil!"

Only one other Nixon autograph letter as president has appeared at auction, a polite thank-you note to Gen. and Mrs. Aldrich dated December 14, 1971 which sold at Christie’s-New York Dec 19, 2002 for $24,000.

Letter images courtesy of Christie's, with our thanks.
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