About the Collection
As these two volumes go to press we learn that Brigham Young University has purchased their contents in toto and also the contents of the third part which will follow. While this news will come as a disappointment to many, in the interests of scholarship the purchase of a subject collection in its entirety by a great university must be approved.
We shall publish the third part later in 1969 and send it to you in due course. We hope that you will enjoy the perusal of these volumes even if denied the opportunity of purchase.
Too late at the feast once more! Serendipity in reverse again! Not even a crumb from the table for me. I put it to any of you: does it not seem rather unfair for Brigham Young to make off with both Mrs. Lorimer and Colonel Enderby’s Wife? Greed, pure greed. But then, there never was a time when an ordinary man could have hoped to compete in that league.
At least one now knows what happened to most of the books one ordered during the last decade from booksellers’ catalogues—and missed. At times, collectors of Victorian literature have felt like Sherlock Holmes before he had ever identified Dr. Moriarty: up against the most sinister rival imaginable, but Who? He anticipated one’s every move. There on the shelf in Chipping Camden stood two much-wanted three-deckers in fine condition: already sold to a mysterious anonymous “American with rather an English manner.” Even the problem of the missing Black Beauty, gone from the exhibition-case of Crowe of Norwich at the opening of the Booksellers’ Fair while I anxiously waited to catch somebody’s eye—an affair that has baffled the police of two continents—is now solved, though hardly satisfactorily: the horse was merely on its way first to San Francisco (I see that Silver Blaze got there too) and then to … Provo. But not, alas, to Cambridge, Massachusetts. David Magee has performed an extraordinary feat. As a collector of fiction, I salute but must not covet the copy of Popular Education in France that Arnold presented to Clough, or Browning’s own Bells and Pomegranates, or the true first Sartor Resartus presented to Sir W. Hamilton, or Morris’ Love is Enough to William Allingham and Grettir to Burne-Jones, or Ruskin’s Lectures on Art to his beloved and sinister mother, or even the dedication copy of Swinburne’s Poems and Ballads, Third Series with the magnificent letter to the recipient, William Bell Scott (see also under Rossetti, number 924). But even I would have like the Songs Before Sunrise with an original portrait sketch of Swinburne by Simeon Solomon. And to find all these and many others in a single catalogue is breath-taking. When it comes to the fiction, of course I would be delinquent if I did not already have most of it, after thirty years of hard scrounging. This lends poignancy to the loss of the novels I lack and now may never get. I shall certainly never have the “first” copy of The Case of Richard Meynell that Mrs. Humphry Ward gave to “my dear husband to whom 23 years ago I gave to first copy of Robert Elsmere.” Which makes me sad because my copy of Robert Elsmere is precisely the first copy she mentions. Nor shall I soon find a letter of Stevenson to his mother mentioning both Edinburgh Picturesque Notes and New Arabian Nights. When will the Oliver Madox-Brown, Dwale Bluth, come my way in such a copy as David Magee lists here? And it would have gone so well with my copy of the first edition of Gabriel Denver that the doomed young author gave to William Michael Rossetti. How about Annie Edwardes, The Morals of Mayfair, or Lady Bulwer’s Behind the Scenes? Their absence from my shelves gives physical pain that may never be assuaged. And as for Mrs. Brotherton, I have the Tennyson family copy of one of her other novels; but Respectable Sinners? No.
I forbear to raise future prices against myself by airing more of my disappointments. With dignity and reserve, false bonhomie and ill-concealed envy, I hail the great Magee, and only hope he never catches me on the edge of the Reichenbach Falls. It might after all not be I who made my way back by way of Tibet after conferring with the Grand Lama.
Robert Lee Wolff