Monday, March 31, 2014

Super Copy Of William Burroughs' Scarce Digit Junkie $15,000 At New York Antiquarian Book Fair

by Stephen J. Gertz

A copy of the incredibly scarce first U.K. edition of William S. Burroughs' Junkie, published in London by Digit Books in 1957, is being offered at the upcoming New York Antiquarian Book Fair, April 3-6, 2014. Inscribed by Burroughs to his friend, Phoenix Bookshop owner Robert Wilson ("For Bob Wilson / With all best / wishes / William Burroughs / as William Lee") and in unusually wonderful condition, the asking price is $15,000.

Yes, that's $15,000 for a mass-market paperback book. But it is the most difficult Burroughs "A" item to acquire and one of the most collectible vintage paperbacks of all. It is definitely the most desirable drug-lit. paperback.

Banned by British censors immediately upon publication with all copies in retail circulation ordered returned to their distributors and then all copies in distributors' warehouses commanded to be destroyed, few copies have survived. I've only seen three copies in over thirty years of collecting and book selling, the last one in 2002. That copy, uninscribed, was owned by a friend who sold it to a British dealer for $5,000. What a difference twelve years and an inscribed copy with stunning association in excellent condition makes. This copy is likely the finest extant; if there's a better one it has yet to surface.

William S. Burroughs, c. late 1970s.
Photographer: David Sandell.
Provenance: Though not noted, from the collection of Tuli Kupferberg.

"For many struggling writers and poets of the latter half of the twentieth century, Robert A. Wilson [b. 1922] was a familiar and comforting presence. As the third proprietor of the Phoenix Bookshop in New York City from 1962 to 1988, Wilson provided both encouragement and financial support to beginning writers. A great lover of literature, Wilson specialized in rare books and manuscripts and shipped his material to enthusiastic readers in all parts of the world.

"Through the bookshop, Wilson published the work of many notable writers, including Gertrude Stein, Marianne Moore, W.H. Auden, Allen Ginsberg, Elizabeth Bishop, and Richard Wilbur. During his twenty-six year tenure as the proprietor of the Phoenix, Wilson oversaw the publication of no less than forty-three volumes.

"An avid collector of rare books and manuscripts for his own personal collection, Wilson himself is the author of more than a dozen volumes, many of which he published on a mimeograph machine in the back room of the Phoenix. Among these are Auden's Library (1975); Marianne Serves Lunch (1976); Robert Haggard's She (1977);  Faulkner on Fire Island (1979); and Tea With Alice (1978), an interview with his friend, Alice Toklas.

"In 1988, financial difficulties forced Wilson to close the doors forever, thereby ending the Phoenix's fifty-six year history" (University of Delaware, Special Collections, Robert A. Wilson Collection).

Wilson's memoir, Seeing Shelley Plain ( 2001), relates how he transformed a small, obscure book shop into a internationally renowned literary harbor. Within he writes of his close, long-standing friendships with some of the great figures of 20th century literature, including Marianne Moore, W.H. Auden, and Burroughs, and provides mini-biographies of many famous "Beat Generation" poets, including Allen Ginsberg, Diane Di Prima, Gregory Corso, and Michael McClure. It also contains a previously unpublished piece by Burroughs.

When Junkie was originally published in the U.S. in 1953 by Ace Books it was issued in a two-fer edition inversely bound with a reprint of ex-Bureau of Narcotics agent Maurice Helbrant's 1941 Narcotics Agent. By doing so Ace exploited the contemporary craze for dope-themed literature but played it safe in a hostile environment that in 1952 had seen the United States Congress hold hearings on literature it considered morally repugnant for children and of dubious cultural or otherwise value to adults. Ace took no chances, correctly reasoning that Helbrant's tough anti-dope book would mitigate Junkie's unapologetic, outlaw romantic, almost positive view of heroin use.

The British edition - the first separate edition of Junkie - without the influence of Helbrant's book was a bit too much for British authorities. The back cover to the Digit edition, a masterpiece of sensational drug eroticism, didn't help. Falling firmly onto the censors' list of Yikes! its overt message of sex and drugs was not one the British wished to be delivered.

The front cover art to the Digit edition recreates rather than reproduces Al Rossi's original for the Ace edition and, strictly speaking, attribution should read, "after Al Rossi"; it is a repainting of the original with subtle differences in color, framing, the figures' hair, face, etc.

The book is being offered by Brian Cassidy, Bookseller, who, in celebration of Burroughs' centennial, is devoting an entire display case to Burroughs material, including the photos seen here, at the Fair, which will include another scarce gem, a precious copy of the 1957 off-print of Burroughs' Letter From a Master Drug Addict To Dangerous Drugs, which originally appeared in Vol. 53, No. 2 of The British Journal of Addiction (1956). A notorious Burroughs rarity, it was issued at his request in a print-run estimated at no more than fifty copies, tops. In excellent condition it is being offered for $3,000.

Letter From a Master Addict..., is, as critic Carol Loranger has written, "one of Burroughs' most subversive pieces of comic writing. The 'scientific' language and deadpan asides both anticipate and replicate...the 'scientific' language and asides of much of the narrative of Naked Lunch...The language of the article, together with Burroughs' heavy use of passive constructions and medical jargon, careful attention to definition of terms, and (for botanicals) use of Latin species names, combines with its encyclopedic organization and tabulations of data to effectively imitate science writing of the day - an imitation Burroughs then undermines with odd anecdotes" (Postmodern Culture, Volume 10, Number 1, September 1999).

William S.. Burroughs, c. 1962,
with Antony Balch in the Beat Hotel, Paris.
Photographer: Nicolas Tikhomiroff. $4,000.

The fact that this piece by Burroughs (whose Junkie pseudonym, William Lee, was blown by this time) appeared near simultaneous to the Digit edition of Junkie likely helped doom the book's appearance on the British welcome wagon of wholesome literature, William S. Burroughs a serious saboteur of mainstream cultural and moral values. 

So, go to the 2014 New York Antiquarian Book Fair, with over 200 expert dealers from nearly twenty countries around the world exhibiting, check your steely dan at the door, go to the booth of Brian Cassidy, Bookseller, wish Burroughs a happy 100th birthday, and drool over a fine selection of his contributions to the decline of Western civilization.

Afterward, visit the offices of Dr. Benway, Burroughs' go-to medico, who doesn't give a bat's butt about a patient's state of mind but has some marvelously graphic things to say about how to remove a patient's brain with the sucker none the wiser and better off for its excision. In a brainless world the brainless are kings with the brainful at a distinct disadvantage.

Images courtesy of Brian Cassidy, Bookseller, with our thanks.

It's about time and long overdue that a census be taken of all extant copies of the Digit edition of Junkie. Any volunteers?

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Man Who Refused To Laugh (And The Book That Laughed At Him)

by Stephen J. Gertz

On March 9, 1748 Philip Dormer Stanhope (1694-1773), 4th Earl of Chesterfield, wrote to his son:

"Having mentioned laughing, I must particularly warn you against it: and I could heartily wish, that you may often be seen to smile, but never heard to laugh while you live. Frequent and loud laughter is the characteristic of folly and in manners; it is the manner in which the mob express their silly joy at silly things; and they call it being merry. In my mind, there is nothing so illiberal, and so ill-bred, as audible laughter. True wit, or sense, never yet made anybody laugh; they are above it: They please the mind, and give a cheerfulness to the countenance. 

"But it is low buffoonery, or silly accidents, that always excite laughter; and that is what people of sense and breeding should show themselves above. A man's going to sit down, in the supposition that he has a chair behind him, and falling down upon his breech for want of one, sets a whole company a laughing, when all the wit in the world would not do it; a plain proof, in my mind, how low and unbecoming a thing laughter is: not to mention the disagreeable noise that it makes, and the shocking distortion of the face that it occasions. Laughter is easily restrained, by a very little reflection; but as it is generally connected with the idea of gaiety, people do not enough attend to its absurdity. 

"I am neither of a melancholy nor a cynical disposition, and am as willing and as apt to be pleased as anybody; but I am sure that, since I have had the full use of my reason, nobody has ever heard me laugh."

The letter is one of over four hundred written beginning 1737/1738 through the death of his son in 1768 and collected in Letters Written By the Late Right Honorable Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, to His Son, Philip Stanhope Esq. Published in 1774 by his son's widow, Eugenia, a year after Chesterfield's death, the majority of the letters were written between 1746 and 1754. 

Also known as Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, within Lord Chesterfield - yes, he of the eponymous sofa - with elegance, understated wit, and sharp observation discusses, amongst other issues including history and contemporary politics, the restraint in behavior and manners expected of the mid-18th century British upper class in general and gentlemen in particular.

His disdain for the manners of the general populace begged to be lampooned and thirty-seven years after Chesterfield's letters to his son were published caricaturist George Moutard Woodward ("Mustard George"), in 1808, gleefully rubbed his hands together and went to work, the great Thomas Rowlandson engraving Woodward's designs (as imprinted on plates but contrary to title page).

A satire of Lord Chesterfield's advice to his son, Chesterfield Travestie; or, School For Modern Manners presents "a new plan of education, on the principles of virtue and politeness in which is conveyed, such instructions as cannot fail to form the man of honour, the man of virtue, and the accomplished gentleman." In seven chapters illustrated by ten hand-colored plates it covers Rules for walking the Streets, and other Public Places; Behaviour at the Table; Directions respecting Apparel, &c; Short Directions respecting behavior at the Theatres; Rules for Conversation; Rules to be observed at Cards in private Families; and General Rules for Good Breeding on various Occasions. In short, all a swell has to know for good breeding to show, to wit:

"It is very becoming to break out into a violent fit of laughter, on the most rifling occasion. forming  your mouth into a grin like the lion's-head on a brass knocker; and more so to be continually simpering at every thing. like a country milk-maid at a statute fair" (Chapter 7, p. 47).

How To Walk The Streets.

"If, whilst you are walking, you see any person of your acquaintance passing, be sure to bawl and hem after them, like a butcher out of a public-house window; and leave the person you are walking with to run after them.

"In walking through a crowded street, throw your legs and arms about in every direction, as if you were rowing for Dogget's coat and badge. N.B. If you have a short thick stick, it will be of great advantage" (Chapter 1, p. 1).

How To Keep Up A Conversation With Yourself On The Public Streets.

"It is said that the emptiest vessels make the greatest noise; don't let that deter you from making a free exercise of your lungs; it is conducive to you health, therefore, in every conversation, however trivial it may be, be sure to bawl as loud as possible" (Chapter 5, p. 21).

How To Look Over Your Husband's Hand Of Cards And Find Fault With Him For Losing.

"It has a very good effect for a wife to look over her husband's hand while he is playing; at the same time, shewing evident marks of anger and discontent if he loses.

"When you lose, never pay before you are asked for it; it is quite time enough; and then do it with reluctance, so as to plainly shew you would much rather keep it in your pocket"  (Chapter 6, p. 43).

How To Break a Shop Window With An Umbrella.

"Should it be a rainy day, and you use an umbrella, pay no regard to breaking a few windows in your passage, &c., from your careless manner of carrying it" (Chapter I, p. 2).

A British statesman and diplomat, "Chesterfield’s winning manners, urbanity, and wit were praised by many of his leading contemporaries, and he was on familiar terms with Alexander Pope, John Gay, and Voltaire. He was the patron of many struggling authors but had unfortunate relations with one of them, Samuel Johnson, who condemned him in a famous letter (1755) attacking patrons. Johnson further damaged Chesterfield’s reputation when he described the Letters as teaching 'the morals of a whore, and the manners of a dancing master.' Dickens later caricatured him as Sir John Chester in Barnaby Rudge (1841). The opinion of these two more popular writers—both of whom epitomized middle-class morality—has contributed to Chesterfield’s image as a cynical man of the world and a courtier. 

"Careful readers of Chesterfield’s letters, which were not written for publication, consider this an injustice. The strongest charge against his philosophy is that it leads to concentration on worldly ends. But within this limitation his advice is shrewd and presented with wit and elegance. Ironically, Chesterfield’s painstaking advice seems to have fallen on deaf ears: his son was described by contemporaries as 'loutish,' and his godson was described by Fanny Burney as having 'as little good breeding as any man I ever met'” (Encyclopedia Britannica).

As far as his refusal to laugh aloud is concerned, I imagine Lord Chesterfield being kidnapped and taken to a dark, dank basement room where he is strapped to a chair under a glaring spotlight and compelled to endure unmerciful torture by Mel Brooks until his smile, always firmly set to prevent an accidental discharge of guffaws, breaks, his sides split, his gut busts, a lifetime's worth of repressed laughter escapes in a torrent, and an eternal human truth becomes manifest:

Ludibrio ergo sum vivo.

WOODWARD, George Moutard (designer). ROWLANDSON, Thomas, (engraver). Chesterfield Travestie. or, School For Modern Manners. Embellished with Ten Caricatures, Engraved by Woodward from Original Drawings by Rowlandson. London & Edinburgh: Printed by T. Plummer...for Thomas Tegg, 1808.

First edition. Octavo (6 1/2 x 4 1/8 in; 166 x 104 mm). [1, half-title], [1, blank], iv, [2], 70, [2, adv.] pp.  Ten hand-colored plates (two folding) engraved by Rowlandson after drawings by Woodward (contrary to title), with tissue guards. Publisher's original printed boards.

Reprinted by Tegg in 1809, and again by Tegg in 1811 under the title "Chesterfield Burlesqued." American editions published in Philadelphia by M. Carey in 1812 and 1821.

The Plates:

1. Votaries of Fashion
2. How To Walk the Streets.
3. The Art of Quizzing.
4. How to Keep Up a Conversation with Yourself in the Public Streets.
5. How to break a Shop Window with an Umbrella.
6. Behaviour at Table.
7. Notoriety, &c.
8. Gentleman and Mad Author.
9. How to look over your Husband's Hand while at Cards.
10. The Nobleman and Little Shopkeeper.

Falk, 215-216, Grego, 115-117, Grolier, Rowlandson, 61, Hardie, p. 315. Gordon Library Catalog BC-19.

Book images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Scarce Scenes From a 19th C. Courtship & Marriage

by Stephen J. Gertz

Marriage is a wonderful institution. 
But who wants to live in an institution?
 - Groucho Marx

Young cupid held a council, by lover's vows he swore
He'd hold up for example, a pair of lovers more;
By lovers' vows he swore it, young Charles in love should fall,
and so arranged that very night that he should meet the ravish'd sight
of Julia at a ball.

Thus begins A New Matrimonial Ladder, a gentle satire published c. 1853 on the progress of love at first sight toward nuptials, the chains of matrimony, later disillusion, reproach and estrangement, followed by reconciliation and happiness ever after.


Eighteen hand-colored engravings illustrate fifty-five quatrains on the courtship and marriage of Julia and Charles, a young lady and gentleman in the mood for love, pronto.


Little is known about its writer, Edward Concanen, beyond that OCLC records five books authored by him, all, as here, issued by Read & Co., a London second-tier publisher who partnered with Ackermann, the great color-plate book and print publisher.


Of the book's illustrator, however, we know quite a bit.

"Thomas Onwhyn (1814–1886), illustrator, was born in Clerkenwell, London, the eldest son of Joseph Onwhyn, a bookseller and newsagent at 3 Catherine Street, the Strand, London, and his wife, Fanny...


"Thomas Onwhyn came to public notice by his contribution of a series of ‘illegitimate’ illustrations to works by Charles Dickens. He executed twenty-one of the whole series of thirty-two plates to The Pickwick Papers, which were issued in eight (though intended to be in ten) monthly parts by E. Grattan, 51 Paternoster Row, London, in 1837; they are for the most part signed with the pseudonym Samuel Weller, but some bear Onwhyn's initials. 


"From June 1838 to October 1839 Grattan issued a series of forty etchings by Onwhyn, illustrating Nicholas Nickleby. In a letter of 13 July 1838 Dickens referred to ‘the singular Vileness of the Illustrations’ (Letters of Charles Dickens, 1.414). He objected to piracy but not to imitation and was friendly with Charles Selby, the author of Maximums and Specimens of William Muggins (1841), which was also illustrated by Onwhyn (ibid., 2.332). After his death an additional set of illustrations to The Pickwick Papers made by Onwhyn in 1847 was discovered and they were published in 1893 by Albert Jackson of Great Portland Street, London.


"Onwhyn's most lasting contribution was to the ephemeral end of the book trade in the 1840s and 1850s, illustrating the comic side of everyday life. Undertaken for shadowy publishers such as Rock Bros and Payne, and Kershaw & Son, he produced a score of pull-out or panorama books, coloured and plain, lithographed or etched for the popular market. Satirizing tourism, teetotalism, and fashion, they included Etiquette Illustrated (1849), A New Matrimonial Ladder (c.1850), What I Saw at the World's Fair (1851), Mr and Mrs Brown's Visit to the Exhibition (1851), A Glass of Grog Drawn from the Bottle … (1853), Cupid's Crinoline (1858), Nothing to Wear (1858), and Scenes on the Sands (c.1860).


"He signed his work T. O., O., or with the pseudonym Peter Palette, as in Peter Palette's Tales and Pictures in Short Words for Young Folks (1856). He sometimes etched the designs of others—for example, Oakleigh, or, The Minor of Great Expectations by W. H. Holmes (1843). He was an indifferent draughtsman but showed real humour in his designs. His talent was somewhat overshadowed by those of his most eminent contemporaries such as George Cruikshank and Hablot K. Browne (Phiz). Onwhyn, who also drew views of scenery for guidebooks and illustrated six novels by Henry Cockton, abandoned artistic work, becoming a newsagent for the last twenty or thirty years of his life" Simon Houfe, Oxford DNB).


The engraver of the plates, Charles Hunt, flourished during the 1830s-1860s as a renowned aquatint engraver and etcher of sporting prints, Engen's Dictionary of Victorian Engravers, Print Publishers and Their Works devoting a full page to Hunt and his oeuvre.


There is some question regarding the correct date of publication. A penciled note to the title page of the copy before me declares 1853; the English Catalog of Books suggests 1840-1849; the DNB c. 1850; COPAC notes the copy at Oxford c. 1860. We throw out the ECB low of 1840; it is far too early. The 1853 date feels just right.


The New Matrimonial Ladder is quite rare, with OCLC/KVK recording only six copies in institutional holdings worldwide. ABPC notes only one copy at auction within the last thirty-seven years, in 2004.

Matrimonial Ladder! Or Such things are.
Drawn by M. E. Esqr. Engrav'd by G. Hunt.
London: Thos. McLean, 26 Haymarket, n.d. [1825].

A new matrimonial ladder implies an old one and, indeed, approximately twenty-five years earlier, in 1825, Matrimonial Ladder!, by M. E. (Michael Egerton), was issued featuring hand-colored aquatints illustrating the very same stages of courtship and marriage that Concanen and Onwhyn would later interpret in their New Matrimonial Ladder: "Admiration," "Flirtation," "Approbation,"  "Declaration," "Hesitation," "Agitation," "Acceptation," "Solemnization," "Possession," "Rumination," "Alteration," "Alteration," "Irritation," "Disputation," "Desperation," "Detestation," "Separation," and "Reconciliation."

Tailpiece - New Matrimonial Ladder.

All's Well That Ends Well
Look Before You Leap

 A 21st century reinterpretation of Matrimonial Ladder would have to include modern rungs not found in these earlier editions: "Online Dating," "The Hook-Up," "Cyber-marriage," "Break-up by Text Message," "Divorce Court," "Bitter Child Custody Case Played Out In Public," "Revenge Porn," "Mutual Murder For Hire" followed by "Copping a Plea" and finally "Burying the Hatchet," the whole saga posted on YouTube for viral distribution.

CONCANEN, Edward. ONWHYN, Thomas (illustrator). A New Matrimonial Ladder. With Twenty Illustrations, Designed by Onwhyn - Engraved by Charles Hunt. London: Read & Co… Ackermann & Co., n.d. [1849-1860].

First edition. Quarto (10 1/2 x 7 3/4 in; 268 x 198 mm). Unpaginated. Twenty hand-colored  plates, including extra title and tailpiece, heightened with gum arabic, with fifty accompanying verses.

Not in Tooley or Abbey.

English Catalog of Books, Vol. 1, p. 161.

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

You can read the complete text of The New Matrimonial Ladder here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Great Rare Book Gifts For Recent Ex-Convicts

by Stephen J. Gertz

New York: Ray Long & Richard R. Smith, Inc., 1932.
First American Edition.

What's the matter, friend? You say you just got out after 20,000 years in Sing-Sing for a penny-ante contretemps and all you got was a bus ticket and five bucks for a meal? You're à la recherche du temps perdu and you never got a keepsake to wistfully recall those halcyon days of yesteryear, not even a cheap gold watch?

Columbus: E.G. Coffin, 1899.

You heard the guys over at Ohio State Penitentiary can get a souvenir album when they graduate with photos documenting the highlights of their visit,

including the Bertillon system entry exam, which immortalizes the prisoner's serial number, name, county of conviction, admission date, length of sentence, crime, age, height, weight, complexion, forehead description, nose description, chin description, eye color, hair color, birthplace, occupation, any previous imprisonments, marital status, name and address of nearest friend or relative, any distinguishing features, etc.;

showtime with Ol' Sparky;

and a gallery of murderers hanged in the Annex?

Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1933. First Edition.

You say you pine for those serene prison days and wild prison nights and wish you could read a "candid and surprisingly graphic account of prison life by a career criminal, with chapters on drug use, homosexuality, prison violence and gang activity, the author a fellow traveler in stripes who did long stretches at the Massachusetts State Prison in Charlestown and at Auburn Penitentiary in New York, and is described on the jacket copy as ' articulate prisoner [who] possesses that rare gift among prisoners of writing impersonally on life in correctional institutions...truly in him the intelligent prisoner speaks and speaks with authority,'” the book rare in dust jacket, and a must read despite a mixed critique from Mrs. Grundy in the Saturday Review April 29, 1933?

"The method of of reproducing the conflicting attitudes of prisoners toward those in authority by using foul language of the prison yard has little to recommend it. Few will be surprised or shocked to read words that are in common use wherever men of average or less than average intelligence gather, whether it be in prison, in the army, in the navy, or in the smoking car. It is unfortunate that Nelson has thought that the verbatim recording of such discussions was necessary to simulate realism. This blemish on an otherwise well written analysis of prisoners may, and probably will, weigh heavily against the use of the book by schools, clubs, and other social groups"

Ossining, NY: Sing Sing Prison, 1916. Tenth Edition.

You gripe that at five a day you made 36,500,000 pair of shoes during your 20,000 years in Sing-Sing and now you're down in your heels in russian shoes - step in a puddle and the water rushin' -

- and a nice pair o' high tops ordered from Sing-Sing's catalogue of fine men's footwear would look swell and make you feel like a million bucks?

Philadelphia: Dorrance & Company, 1952.
First Edition.

You say you didn't even receive a copy of The Pen, Inc. (1952), a scarce novel of a wrongly-imprisoned ex-convict who leaves prison with a seething hatred of society and a wacko culinary money-making scheme, “convinced that society will not let an ex-convict go straight, he plans a criminal organization. In a blackmail attempt he is beaten up and shocked into conceiving the idea of The Pen - a big restaurant and nightclub, built to simulate a prison with stone walls, guards and cells for booths. Every employee, from warden to janitor, must be an ex-convict,” the book uncommon in the trade, with OCLC showing just six institutional holdings for this title?

Cincinnati, OH: Stewart Jail Works Co., n.d. [ca.1904-05]].
Special Catalogue No. 15-C.

And you yearn for the security you once knew, the home sweet home away from home that was yours for the best years of your life, and know that an early sales catalog from the good folks at The Stewart Jail Works Co. - “Jail and prison experts and manufacturers of steel cells and steel works, etc., for jails, prisons, and city lock-ups,” a fully illustrated catalog, devoted principally to iron and steel cells, cages, doors, window guards, etc., providing model numbers, measurements, and special features for each of their products, a well-known company, whose steelworks were used in facilities like the New Jail (Newport, KY), Onondaga County Penitentiary (Syracuse, NY), US Federal Prison (Atlanta, GA), and the Virginia State Penitentiary in Richmond, et al., and is a rare and early piece of prison ephemera with OCLC noting only two copies, at Columbia and Virginia Tech - will be necessary to order a personal slammer to set up in your back yard for brief, safe 'n secure vacations but you're stuck in a one-room dump with no mailbox over Satan's Hot Sauce factory, the ambient air is off the Scoville Scale, and your skin is peeling off in sheets?

Is that what's buggin' you, buddy?

Well, then, lift your head up high and take a walk in the sun with dignity and you'll show the world, you'll show them where to get off, you'll never give up, never give up, never give up - [two rimshots] - because the screws at Lorne Bair Rare Books have put together a fine collection of rare prison memoirs, histories, and related penology ephemera just perfect for the man with a record but little else who would like a little something to stir those precious memories of life in stir, no con.

Now scram, you dirty rat!

With the exception of Cagney, all images courtesy of Lorne Bair Rare Books, currently offering the above items and related more, with our thanks.

Apologies to Eddie Lawrence, "The Old Philosopher." 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Charles Bukowski In High School

by Stephen J. Gertz

Los Angeles High School, 1917-1971.

Once upon a time - the late 1930s - Charles Bukowski (1920-1994), America's poet laureate of the depths, attended Los Angeles High School. His hard living years were ahead of him. His post-high school aspirations did not include writing. His ambition was to join the Navy. To that end he was a member of L.A. High's ROTC program.

A set of seven Los Angeles High School Blue & White semi-annual yearbooks - Summer 1936, Summer and Winter 1937, Winter 1938, Summer 1938 (in dust jacket, and a duplicate copy), and Winter 1939 - has recently appeared in the marketplace, offered by William Dailey Rare Books.

The provenance could not be more sterling; the copies of William Mullinax, Bukowski's closest boyhood friend and loyal high school buddy, who appeared in the novelist's Ham On Rye (1982) as Eli "Baldy" La Crosse. We know the provenance is solid because Bukowski inscribed two of the copies to Mullinax and other copies possess inscriptions to Mullinax.

Mullinax, the son of an alcoholic surgeon, was the person who introduced Bukowski to booze.

Bukowski has signed Mullinax's copy of the Winter 1939 yearbook on the front free endpaper. Whether he was aware of what he was doing or not, the line breaks suggest an eye and ear for poetry. And a sense of humor.

Best of Everything
to a good baseball
player and a swell
Henry Bukowski

His inscription squeezed next to Mullinax's class photo is not so proto-literary; it's standard high school yearbook prose: "lots of Luck an old pal and truly great guy, 'Baldy' Bill Mullinax."

Bukowski's inscription in the Summer 1938 yearbook is found on the page devoted to ROTC Company A, and is another exercise in breaking the boundaries of standard Jahrbuch-Stil prose.

Best Wishes
to a good army 
man. I hope you
will be a Nevins
sergeant next
Hank Bukowski
1st Class

Buk drew a line from the inscription to his ROTC Company A photo. He's fourth from the right in the second row down. You need a magnifying glass to see him with any clarity yet he stands out: deeply tanned between two snow-white boys, his cap with insignia at a rakish angle to the right and tipped down to  his  eyebrow. The attitude is already there.

The above page from Los Angeles High School Blue and White Summer 1938 is reproduced in Ben Pleasant's Visceral Bukowski (2004) and an enlargement of Bukowski within the group portrait is inset.

Of further value to collectors is that other classmates are found in the yearbooks who Bukowski later sandwiched into Ham On Rye, his semi-autobiographical novel recounting his youth in Los Angeles: Al Cole, Jimmy Newell; Jimmy Haddox, Jim Hatcher; and Harold Mortenson appears as Abe Mortenson. As a bonus, an autograph note is laid into the Winter 1939 yearbook, from Jim Haddox to Bill Mullinax, "Jim Hatcher" to "Baldy."

Images courtesy of William Dailey Rare Books, with our thanks.

Of Related Interest:

Bukowski's First Appearance In Print, 1944

Charles Bukowski, Artist

Lost Original Drawings Of A Dirty Old Man

 Charles Bukowski's Last, Unpublished Poem

Charles Bukowski Bonanza At Auction

Dirty Old Man Exposed At The Huntington Library

Monday, March 3, 2014

The 36 Miseries Of Reading And Writing In 1806

by Stephen J. Gertz

"TO THE MISERABLE CHILDREN of Misfortune, wheresoever found, and whatsoever enduring — ye who, arrogating to yourselves a kind of sovereignty of suffering, maintain that all the throbs of torture, all the pungency of sorrow, all the bitterness of desperation, are your own — who are so torn and spent with the storms and struggles of mortality, as to faint, or freeze, even at the personation of those ruined Wretches, whose Stories wash the stage of tragedy with tears and blood —approach a more disastrous scene! Take courage to behold a Pageant of calamities, which calls you to renounce your sad monopoly. Dispassionately ponder all your worst of woes, in turn with these; then hasten to distill from the comparison an opiate for your fiercest pangs; and learn to recognize the leniency of your Destinies, if they have spared you from the lightest of those mightier and more grinding agonies, which claim to be emphatically characterized as 'The Miseries of Human Life;' — miseries which excruciate the minds and bodies of none more insupportably, than of those Heroes in anguish, those writhing Martyrs to the plagues and frenzies of vexation, whose trembling hands must shortly cease to trace the names of" -

Mssrs. Timothy Testy and Samuel Sensitive, whom, acting on behalf of their creator, writer and clergyman James Beresford, satirically related, in The Miseries of Human Life (1806), the mortifying torments that plagued contemporary readers and writers and thwarted enjoyment of those justly exalted pastimes. Some of the following agonies are of their time, others are timeless, many are familiar to book collectors, and all appear in numerical order as in the book yet differently formatted. The order is not a ranking, though number one has always been and will always be #1.

1. Reading over a passage in an author, for the hundredth time, without coming an inch nearer to the meaning of it at the last reading than at the first; — then passing over it in despair, but without being able to enjoy the rest of the book from the painful consciousness of your own real or supposed stupidity.

2. As you are reading drowsily by the fire, letting your book fall into the ashes so as to lose your place, rumple and grime 'the leaves, and throw out your papers of reference; then, on rousing and recollecting yourself, finding that you do not know a syllable of what you have been winking over for the last hour.

3. In reading a new and interesting book, being reduced to make a paper knife of your finger. [Refers to a once absolutely necessary reading accessory to open the upper edges of text gatherings left folded by the printer or binder - SJG].

4. Unfolding a very complicated map in a borrowed book of value, and notwithstanding all your care, enlarging the small rent you originally made in it every time you open it.

5. Hunting on a cold scent, in a map for a place — in a book for a passage — in a variety of Dictionaries for a word:— clean thrown out at last.

6. Reading a comedy aloud when you are half asleep, and quite stupid.

7. In attempting, at a strange house, to take down a large book from a high, crowded shelf, bringing half the library up on your nose.

8. Mining through a subject, or science purely from the shame of ignorance.

9. Receiving "from the author," a book equally heavy in the literal, and the figurative sense; accompanied with entreaties that you would candidly set down in writing, your detailed opinions of it in all its parts.

10. Reading a borrowed book so terribly well bound, that you are obliged to peep your way through it, for fear of breaking the stitches, or the leather, if you fairly open it; and which, consequently, shuts with a spring, if left a moment to itself.

11. Or, after you have long been reading the said book close by the fire, (which is not quite so ceremonious, as you are about opening it), attempting in vain to shut it, the covers violently flapping back in a warped curve — in counteracting which, you crack the leather irreparably, in a dozen places.

12. On taking a general survey of your disordered library, for the purpose of re-arranging it — finding a variety of broken sets, and odd volumes, of valuable works, which you had supposed to be complete; — and then, after screwing up your brows upon it for an hour, finding yourself wholly unable to recollect to whom any one of the missing books has been lent, or even to guess what has become of them; and, at the same time, without having the smallest hope of ever being able to replace them. Likewise,

13. Your pamphlets, and loose printed sheets daily getting ahead, and running mountain high upon your shelves, before you have summoned courage to tame them, by sorting and sending them to the binder.

14. As an author — those moments during which you are relieved from the fatigues of composition by finding that your memory, your intellects, your imagination, your spirits, and even the love of your subject, have all, as if with one consent, left you in the lurch. 

15. In coming to that paragraph of a newspaper, for the sake of which you have bought it, finding, in that only spot, the paper blurred, or left white, by the press, or slapped over with the sprawling red stamp.

16. Reading newspaper poetry; — which, by a sort of fatality which you can neither explain nor resist, you occasionally slave through, in the midst of the utmost repugnance an disgust.

17. As you are eagerly taking up a newspaper, being yawningly told by one who has just laid it down, that "there is nothing in it." Or, the said paper sent for by the lender, at the moment when you are beginning to read it.

18. Having your ears invaded all the morning long, close at your study window, by the quack of ducks, and the cackle of hens, with an occasional bass accompaniment by an ass.

19. Writing a long letter, with a very hard pen, on very thin and very greasy paper, with very pale ink, to one who you wish — I needn't say where.

20. On arriving at that part of the last volume of an enchanting novel, in which the interest is wrought up to the highest pitch — suddenly finding the remaining leaves, catastrophe and all, torn out.

21. Burning your fingers with an inch of sealing wax; and then dropping awry the guinea to which you are reduced by the want of a seal.

22. In writing — neither sand, blotting paper, nor a fire, to dry your paper; so that, though in violent haste, you sit with your hands before you, at the end of every other page, till the ink thinks proper to dry of itself; — Or toiling your wrist, for ten minutes together, with a sand glass that throws out two or three damp grains at a time; and in consequence of such delay —

23. Losing the post — and this, when you would as willingly lose your life.

24. Emptying the ink glass (by mistake for the sand glass) on a paper which you have just written out fairly — and then widening the mischief, by applying restive blotting paper.

25. Putting a wafer, of the size of a half crown piece, into a letter with so narrow a fold, that one half of the circle stands out in sight, and is presently smeared over the paper by your fingers, in stamping the concealed half.

26. Writing on the creases of paper that has been sharply folded.

27. In sealing a letter - the wax in so very melting a mood, as frequently to leave a burning kiss on your hand, instead of the paper: — next, when you have applied the seal, and all, at last, seems well over — said wax voluntarily "rendering up its trust," the moment after it has undertaken it.

28. Writing at the top of a very long sheet of paper; so that you either rumple and crease the lower end of it with your arm against the table, in bring it lower down, or bruise your chest, and drive out all your breath, in stretching forward to the upper end.

29. Straining your eyes over a book in the twilight, at the rate of about five minutes per line, before it occurs to you to order candles; and when they arrive, finding that you have totally lost the sense of what you have been reading, by the tardy operation of getting at it piecemeal.

30. Attempting to erase writing — but, in fact, only scratching boles in the paper.

31. Snatching up an inkstand (overweighted on one side) by its handle, which you suppose to be fixed, but which proves — to swing .

32. Writing at the same ricketty table with another, who employs his shoulder, elbow, and body, still more actively than his fingers.

33. Writing, on the coldest day in the year, in the coldest room in the house, by a fire which has sworn not to burn; and so, perpetually dropping your full pen upon your paper, out of the five icicles with which you vainly endeavour to hold it.

34. Looking for a good pen, (which it is your perverse destiny never to find, except when you are indifferent about it), and having a free choice among the following varieties. (N. B. No penknife).

35. Writing with ink of about the consistency of pitch, which leaves alternately a blot and a blank.

36. Writing a long letter with one or more of the cut fingers of your right hand bundled up — or else (for more comfort), with your left hand. You might as well stick a pen in a bear's paw, and bid him write.
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