About the Collection
This volume is the first of two describing the most substantial and important collection of Victorian literature assembled by a bookdealer in many years. It will be a long time, I suspect, before we look upon its like again, and this suspicion renders the more poignant the news that the collection has been sold en bloc to Brigham Young University. No doubt this institution is to be congratulated on its enterprise and judgment. It may even be conceded that Mr. Magee should not be accused of perfidy, since “les affaires sont les affaires.” Yet the deprived collector cannot but ask himself where the process of institutional engrossment of which this purchase is one instance among many is going to end. Like the twenty love-sick maidens in Patience, today’s collectors are coming to be bound together by the very hopelessness of their passion. So I console myself with the reflection that, if I can’t have Mr. Magee’s presentation Thackerays, neither can certain friends of mine have his presentation Dickenses, his presentation George MacDonalds, and his presentation Wildes.
Mr. Magee has been especially successful, indeed, in gathering association copies. In addition to the authors mentioned, Arnold Browning, Butler, Hardy, Moore, Ruskin, Swinburne, and Tennyson are well represented in this category—Swinburne spectacularly so! Nor is the collection otherwise without its “high spots.” Supplementing The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and the 1834 Sartor Resartus is a fine run of classic “three-decker” rarities. (I mention only those in original condition): Robbery Under Arms, Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, Workers in the Dawn, Desperate Remedies (leading off a remarkable lot of Hardys). The Cloister and the Hearth, and The Wreck of the Grosvenor. Of all the items in the catalogue, however, perhaps the most desirable is the extensive assemblage of proofs of “yellow back” covers making up number 1258, an eye-catching collection which present in compendious form a phase of nineteenth century publishing important in itself and full of implications for the future.
Mr. Magee’s commentary on his books is both well-informed and entertaining. Even the expert will pick up something from his descriptions of the unique material with which the catalogue is plentifully supplied. The entry under number 1039, for example, explains why it is that presentation copies of the Third Series of Swinburne’s Poems and Ballads are always of the second edition. And where the information offered is familiar, it is often spiced with fresh and forcible personal judgments.
It is a curious fact that the interest which a veteran collector takes in catalogues derives at least as much from the pleasure of reading about books he already possesses as from the prospect of coming upon those he has long been seeking. Everyone who has been annoyed by the bookselling convention which dictates the replacement of prices for items purchased before a catalogue goes to print by the black notation “SOLD” will be grateful to Mr. Magee for retaining prices in this catalogue. The level which he has set is reasonable enough, considering the high standard of condition maintained, and above all it is consistent. These estimates of relative value over a wide spectrum by so shrewd and knowledgeable a dealer deserve to be permanently recorded.
If one compares Mr. Magee’s prices with those prevailing during the late 1920s, the period in which collecting enthusiasm for the Victorians previously reached its highest pitch, certain broad conclusions can be drawn. For books of authors in favor then and now, and particularly for “high spots” and association copies, prices still do not approach earlier records. In 1928 the five presentation Dickenses in this catalogue would have commanded at least twice as much as Mr. Magee asks for them, and so would his attractive copy of The Rubaiyat. On the other hand, the books of such authors as Arnold, Carlyle, Gissing, Meredith, Morris, the Rossettis, and Ruskin, who were largely neglected in the 1920s and are now vigorously pursued at least by university libraries, have risen sharply in price. Still more spectacular has been the ascent of popular novelists—Ainsworth, Blackmore, Miss Braddon, Collins, Disraeli, the Kingsleys, Le Fanu, and the rest—as collecting interest in them has revived and the extreme scarcity of certain of their books has come to be understood. Even Charles Lever, whose novels have languished so long on book-dealers’ shelves, has once more become saleable.
These comments provide still another reminder that the book collecting world of the 1960s is dominated by institutions concerned primarily with broad coverage, not by private individuals devoted to favorite authors and particularly to the rare or unique items of their production. And despite the lamentations with which I began, it may at least be claimed that today’s market for Victorian books is therefore far more rational, far more broadly and solidly based, and hence far more stable than was that of the 1920s.
Gordon N. Ray
The idea of this catalogue started with the purchase of an ‘annual,’ one of those ‘gift’ books which Victorians loved to present to each other at Christmas time. It was a modest example, neatly but not elaborately bound, as befits a volume of a pious nature bearing the title: The Christian Keepsake and Missionary Annual 1837. Normally I would not have given such a book a second thought, but this copy bore an inscription on the paste-down. It read: To Lady Gardiner from her very sincere friend Victoria. Claremont. Xmas 1836.
I had no idea who Lady Gardiner was, but Claremont I recognized as the English country seat of Prince Leopold of Belgium, Victoria’s uncle who has her early mentor and the man who eventually brought about the marriage of this favorite niece to Albert of Saxe-Coburg. The inscription pleased me, for it was the earliest presentation from Victoria I had ever seen—just a few months before this seventeen-year old princess was to ascend the throne and occupy it longer than any other British sovereign. The recipient I soon discovered was the wife of Sir Robert William Gardiner, one-time aide-de-camp to Sir John Moore of Corunna and probably present when they buried that hero “darkly at dead of night.” More pertinent to the royal present, he was in 1836 residing at Claremont where earlier he held the post of principle equerry to the Prince.
The acquisition of The Christian Keepsake led to further purchases of a Victorian nature and I thought I would get enough books about the Queen and her reign to make a modest catalogue. And then the thing got out of hand… .
I began to buy the books Victorians read—novels, poetry, essays, plays; books on 19th century art and architecture, the illustrated ‘table’ books, the delightful books they bought their children, the social histories of the period. One restriction I made: every item must be within the bounds of the Queen’s reign—1837-1901. Naturally some lapped over this arbitrary time restriction. I was certainly not going to exclude a copy of Sartor Resartus because it was published in 1834, nor The Way of All Flesh which was issued posthumously in 1903.
Many authors span the two centuries and here I have played the game by feel. Both Barrie and Shaw published several books in the 19th century but they are to my way of thinking Edwardians. This is true, but perhaps not to the same extent, of Hudson. On the other hand Kipling, Doyle and Haggard all lived and wrote long into the reign of George V, yet they were Victorians in manner. By the same token, at the other end of the stick, Disraeli published many of his novels before the Queen’s accession, yet who could be more Victorian than he?
In compiling this catalogue—or rather series of catalogues, for there will be three in all (a sort of latter-day “three decker”)—I have had to remind myself that I was not striving for completeness, merely a fair representation. That I have only partially succeeded will be obvious. There are serious gaps. But one has to stop somewhere, sometime. Was I to hold the presses indefinitely, hoping to find Wuthering Heights, a Lady Audley’s Secret or that next to impossible rarity, a Cheveley?
I have tried to restrict the catalogue to England and English authors but I have not been wholly consistent. Henry James, who became a naturalized Englishman only a year before he died, though he lived in England many years, is still to my mind an American. So is Marion Crawford (born in the United States) who lived much of his life in Italy. Thus they have been excluded. Whistler on the other hand, just as American as the other two, I have allowed to creep in. If I have to justify his presence I would say he was more intimately tied to the English scene than any expatriate I can think of. He became a very real part—and a very lively part—of the artistic life of the last forty-odd years of Victorian England.
To any collector of Victorian literature I need hardly say how difficult it is to find material in acceptable condition. Books in the 17th and 18th centuries were mostly bound in sturdy calf and have withstood pretty well the ravages of time, but the 19th century saw a completely new concept in binding—boards and cloth—and the rise of the circulating library. The combination was too much. Books, frail to begin with, were abused by the borrowers until in time they literally fell apart. When, after the ‘50s, cloth was generally used, Messrs Mudie and their rivals did not help matters by sticking labels on the front covers or paste-downs. It must be remembered, too, that the public patronized these libraries heavily rather than pay the stiff price of 31/6 for a “three decker.” Consequently very few copies were sold to individuals and most of an edition of a novel was taken by Mudie et al. Thus to find uncirculated first editions today in collector’s condition is very difficult and in some cases almost impossible. I have tried very hard to include only fine copies in this catalogue. Sometimes I have been forced to list an item in rebound state, though, nearly always, in contemporary bindings. But in the main all books are in their original covers and as free from blemish as possible. When I say “very fine copy” I mean it would meet the exacting demands of a Parrish, a Sadleir or a Jennings. There are only about half-a-dozen books herein which have circulating library labels, or traces of their removal, out of a total of several hundred novels. I have noted all defects, but—and this is important to remember—I have not mentioned the presence of bookplates, inscriptions or names (other than those of the author or person of note) unless they are conspicuously ugly or defacing. I have never felt that these marks of former ownership are defects. Sometimes they can prove interesting, and when accompanied by a date, bibliographically rewarding.
To list all the books of reference consulted in compiling this catalogue would be tedious, for they are known to most readers, but I would like to mention Gordon Ray, Robert Lee Wolff and John Carter whose writings on Victoriana have been particularly helpful. And of course my twin bibles have been Sadleir’s XIX Century Fiction and The Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature. Without these monumental and indispensable tools my labors would have been infinitely harder. Parenthetically, I have studiously avoided the refrain “not in Sadleir”—a grossly unfair one—and only when that great collector had a very long run of an author have I murmured that such-and-such was not in his collection.
To choose the illustrations for a catalogue is the last and not the easiest of tasks. I have tried to reproduce the interesting and the unfamiliar. I have never understood why catalogues year after year continue to show us title pages of Jane Eyre, First Folios and similar famous books, all of which can be seen in a dozen reference works. I have preferred to illustrate pretty bindings, original drawings, autograph letters, author’s inscriptions and the like.
I am sure this catalogue contains errors for which I beg forgiveness. I have enjoyed compiling it, I have learned a great deal during its period of gestation, which has been more than elephantine and I would like to thank the many collectors, librarians and dealers who have made it possible. My special thanks to Gordon Ray for his graceful preface.