First Folio: 2

Yesterday, 23rd April 2018, was the 402nd anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare and whilst we don’t have his date of birth, he was baptised 454 years ago on 26th April 1564 so this is a good week to look at his works. Monday was also the UNESCO recognised International World Book Day, as not only did Shakespeare die on the 23rd April 1616 but that is also the date that the great Spanish author Cervantes died and that is why the 23rd April (also St. George’s day) was chosen. Although they died on the same date, they didn’t die on the same day, Cervantes was 10 days earlier. Catholic Spain had already adopted the Gregorian calendar by then, however protestant England was still using the Julian calendar so there was a 10 day difference in dates between the two countries.

It may come as a surprise to most people but there isn’t a definitive version of most, if not all, of Shakespeare’s plays. The plays were documents under constant review as performances took place during his lifetime and numerous copies have survived until today. This means that modern performances can pick and choose sections from versions of the play being produced to create a suitable text for their needs. Also several of the plays are very long so now it is rare to see them performed complete, especially with falling audience attention spans. Some of the plays were published whilst Shakespeare was alive, but that was not through his doing and these are quite often inaccurate as either they were taken from actors notes or in extreme cases written down from memory by somebody in the audience. This means that we could easily have ended up with no accurate record of Shakespeare’s works at all if it wasn’t for two members of his main group of players John Heminges and Henry Condell.

The Lord Chamberlain’s Men later renamed The King’s Men in 1603 after James I came to the throne, were Shakespeare’s main troupe although other groups of actors are known to have performed his works. However these men worked most closely with Shakespeare and he was also an actor in the group so they knew his works intimately. Heminges and Condell along with Shakespeare are three of the nine men included in the Royal Patent that formally named the players The King’s Men so were significant individuals and good sources for the plays. The book is called the First Folio because it was the first edition of any of the plays to be printed folio sized, i.e. much larger than the quarto editions of individual plays that had appeared up until then and as said above were notoriously unreliable. A good example of this between a ‘bad quarto’ one probably written down by an audience member; a ‘good quarto’ one taken from actors notes or performance copies; and the First Folio can be seen here.

There are a total of 36 plays included in the First Folio out of the 38 existing works nowadays accepted as being by Shakespeare, ‘Pericles, Prince of Tyre’ and ‘The Two Noble Kinsmen’ are missing from the book. Both of these are regarded ny modern scholarship as collaborations rather than entirely by Shakespeare which may explain their absence. Eighteen plays had been published before the First Folio, however a few of these are notoriously unreliable so this was effectively the first appearance in print of over half of Shakespeare’s works and this was 7 years after his death. His modern reputation almost entirely relies on this single publication which perpetuates his work in a way he would never have expected especially due to his own reluctance to publish and therefore make his work available to other companies.

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An original copy is worth a small fortune, one sold 12 years ago for £2.8 million and it must be worth considerably more now, so I clearly don’t own one of those. But mine is a lovely copy, quarter bound in leather, of the second edition of the Norton Facsimile. This volume was created with the assistance of the astonishing Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. which holds 82 out of the known 235 copies of the First Folio. Each page was selected as the best example (or sometimes the least worst) from their enormous collection. One of the major problems is the amount of show through the pages where you can read the type on the other side of the page through the side you are looking at and this made photographing the works for this edition especially difficult. Also it was decided that where possible the most correct version of the text was used as it was known that the original book was corrected during printing back in 1623 so copies vary as they were produced.

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As such the reproduction is remarkably legible and easy to read and makes for interesting contrasts with my other versions of Shakespeare’s texts, two complete sets and three partial sets where the plays are in individual volumes. Some of these will be covered in later blogs especially the amazing Folio Society Letterpress Edition, probably the finest edition of Shakespeare ever printed, and certainly one of the most expensive at £295 per play. The introduction to the second edition is surprisingly dismissive of the scholarship that led to the first edition pointing out several errors. It is interesting to note that a third edition is in progress and it is hoped that the editor of that work will be kinder to their predecessors.

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Seen above is the opening of The Taming of the Shrew, a play I fell in love with when I was very young and the first Shakespeare play that I bought a copy of when I just 11 years old. I still have that book in which I wrote my name, year and form name at the front of so I must have taken it to school at some point, which is how I know I was that young when I bought it. On that basis The Taming of the Shrew seems a good place to mark the end of this first essay of mine on Shakespeare’s works and I look forward to examining other editions I have in future writings.

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as for the title of this essay, that is explained in First Folio 1


Fables from the Fountain

OK this one needs a bit of an explanation before we get to the book. Back in 1957 the great science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke published a book of short stories that he had written over the preceding 4 years and had appeared in various places in that time. The stories were all linked as a series of tall tales told in a pub called the White Hart by one of the regulars there, Harry Purvis. I first came across the book in the mid 1970’s when I was about 11 or 12 during a period when I was avidly reading through not only Clarke’s work but that of the other two writers of the ‘big three’ in Sci-Fi, Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. At first I wasn’t very interested, I was heavily into Sci-Fi and this was just a group of people in a pub telling stories, mind you some of them have a scientific base and they were funny so I persevered and grew to like the plot twists that were an invariable part of each tale. I no longer have the book, assuming I ever did, it could have been from the library, although I remember the cover well with a giant squid almost covering the pub and I have fond memories of the stories themselves.

I found out many years later that The White Hart was based on a real pub called the White Horse in London where Sci-Fi fans and writers used to meet up in the 50’s. These included John Christopher (The Death of Grass, The Tripods Trilogy etc.), John Wyndham (The Day of the Triffids, The Kraken Awakes etc.) and of course Arthur C Clarke himself. Appropriately the concept of Fables from the Fountain was dreamt up in a London pub by Ian Whates a few weeks after Clarke’s death in 2008 and the day after the Clarke award ceremony for the best new science fiction novel released in Britain. Whates had founded Newcon Press a couple of years earlier and conceived a homage to Tales from the White Hart with stories by current authors who had all in their own way been inspired by the great innovator that was Sir Arthur C Clarke.

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The various writers in the new book have taken pseudonyms to be characters who meet at the Fountain to swap stories. Unlike the original the tales are given from assorted standpoints, rather than always by Harry Purvis although it’s good to spot references to him in several of the narratives. Because of the nature of the tales it is difficult to say much about them, they are short because of the premise of the book that they are stories told over a pint or two. Some like Neil Gaiman’s brilliant piece are very short at 4½ pages, so it is hard to avoid giving away the twists and turns they manage in so few words. Rereading the book after almost seven years (it was published in May 2011) for this blog  has been an interesting experience, I was surprised by how many I didn’t remember the ending to even if I instantly recognised the pre-amble.

There is high science represented and some truly awful puns, Professor Mackintosh explains how his life was saved by smoking, we find out surprising things about Muscovy Ducks, whilst Heisenburg, Schroedinger and surprisingly even William Blake get name checks. One of my favourites is ‘On the Messdecks of Madness’ by Raven about which I can say almost nothing without spoiling the enjoyment except it’s the only fantasy story I can recall that uses the great diarist Samuel Pepys’s admiralty career as a basis of the plot. Whilst another explains the 1908 Tunguska explosion and of course there is the obligatory Area 51 tale without which no collection of stories aimed at SF geeks would be complete.

The full list of stories are as follows, I’ve included the introduction here partly because the book does as well in the numbering of the index and also because Peter Weston’s introduction is definitely worth reading.

  1. Introduction – Peter Weston
  2. No Smoke without Fire – Ian Whates
  3. Transients – Stephen Baxter
  4. Forever Blowing Bubbles – Ian Watson
  5. On the Messdecks of Madness – Paul Graham Raven
  6. The Story Bug – James Lovegrove
  7. “And Weep Like Alexander” – Neil Gaiman
  8. The Ghost in the Machine – Colin Bruce
  9. The Hidden Depths of Bogna – Liz Williams
  10. A Bird in Hand – Charles Stross
  11. In Pursuit of the Chuchunaa – Eric Brown
  12. The Cyberseeds – Steve Longworth
  13. Feathers of the Dinosaur – Henry Gee
  14. Book Wurms – Andy West
  15. The Pocklington Poltergeist – David Langford
  16. The Last Man in Space – Andrew J Wilson
  17. A Multiplicity of Phaedra Lament – Peter Crowther
  18. The Girl With the White Ant Tattoo – Tom Hunter
  19. The 9,000,000,001st Name of God – Adam Roberts

The copy I have is the hardback limited edition (number 61 of 200) and is signed by all 19 writers. At the time of writing the title is still available from Newcon Press, although now only in paperback and not signed from this link.

Now if you’ll excuse me it’s Tuesday; so it’s the get together night at the Fountain, Polish barmaid Bogna will be serving behind the bar and I can hear the call of a pint or three of Old Bodger, although I’ll be careful to avoid the Ploughman’s lunches.

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The Garden – Vita Sackville-West

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Well the weather still isn’t admitting it’s spring, it’s pouring down with rain as I write this, but maybe this will give it a prod in the right direction. The winter seems to be hanging on way too long when it is definitely time to think of that jewel of English houses, the garden.

Bubbles of colour striking through the bleak
Dun soil, surprising in a week,
As the low desert flowers after rain
Leap into being where they were not seen
Few hours before and soon are gone again
So in our English garden comes the Greek
Blue wind-flow’r cousin of the meek
Bashful anemone of English woods,
As thick as shingle strewn on Chesil Beach;
So comes the Lady Tulip, with her streak
Of pink that ribs her white; and through the green
Of young fine grass, The Glory of the Snow,
So blue, a smear of fallen sky; come each
In quick succession as they grow and blow
In liberal April, host to little guests;

Vita Sackville-West was a poet, a novelist, a prolific letter writer, a lover, but above all else was a gardener and amongst her works one of the least well known but most evocative of that side of her is a short collection of verse entitled The Garden. My copy is the first edition from 1946 published by Michael Joseph, which I bought from the shop at Vita’s own garden Sissinghurst Castle in Kent now run by the National Trust. Although she would live until 1962 this was her final book of verse, with 11 volumes of poetry preceding it and indeed she only wrote 3 novels after 1946, out of the 17 she produced in total, as she gradually faded from literary fashion.

Nowadays if Vita is remembered at all it is for two things, her garden at Sissinghurst and her 10 year affair with Virginia Woolf which was the inspiration for Virginia’s best known novel Orlando. I will cover this aspect of her life more fully when I write about Orlando in a later blog. But it is sufficient to say here that although Vita was married to novelist and diplomat Harold Nicholson they both had several same-sex relationships during the marriage and her relationship with Virginia brought her into contact with The Bloomsbury Group although she never appeared to be comfortable there and never became an accepted member.

Her time with Virginia however was probably the peak of both of their literary output. Whether this was coincidence, or the result of their two personalities so strongly bonded feeding off each other for inspiration we will never know; but certainly Vita would never have this vitality in her work again and Virginia although still as successful after they split had written her best by 1935 when they parted.

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As for this work, the book has 5 separate but linked poems, The Garden, Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn. The verse quoted above is from Spring and as suggested by the titles we progress through the year from winter planning…

                                                    – so in Winter
The Gardener sees what he will never see

Here, in his lamp-lit parable, he’ll scan
Catalogues bright with colour and with hope,
Dearest delusions of creative mind,
His lamp-lit walls, his lamp-lit table painting
Fabulous flowers flung as he desires.
Fantastic, tossed, and all from shilling packet
-An acre sprung from one expended coin,-
Visions of what might be.
We dream our dreams.
What should we be, without our fabulous flowers?
The gardener dreams his special own alloy
Of possible and the impossible.

The dreams of what will come after the cold and rain of winter has been banished lead on to awakening buds and early flowers in the quote from spring to summer where Vita clearly has a wasp problem, or at least a problem with wasps as there are 2 or 3 pages of verse complaining about them whilst enjoying the fruits of her labours. Oddly although Vita, rather than Harold, was the gardener of the two the poems always refer to ‘The Gardener’ as a man whenever a gender is required in the text.

But then in Autumn we find the gardener busy again

But in October, later, shall you stand
With paper sack of bulbs and plunge your hand
And carelessly fling your bulbs both large and small
To roll, to topple, settling sparse or thick,
Over the grass, and plant them where they fall,
(Legitimate device, a sanctioned trick,)
Thus in a drift as though by nature planned
Snowdrops shall blow in spreading tide,
Little white horses breaking on the strand
At edge of orchard; and the orange-eyed
Narcissus of the poets in a wide
Lyrical river flowing as you pass
Meandering along the path of grass

As for Vita’s actual garden it is presented as a series of ‘rooms’ each with their own theme, these are separated by hedgerows or walls and each allows for a glimpse into one or two adjacent rooms through carefully placed gaps. The division of the design between Vita and Harold appears to be that he came up with the rooms and the network of interconnects and Vita filled them with flowers to make best use of the deliberately restricted views out of each one. Fortunately it is possible to go high up one of the towers and look down on the patchwork to appreciate how cleverly the structure is put together and at ground level you are constantly getting glimpses of new vistas whilst being able to concentrate on the theme of the room you are in due to the clear boundaries imposed. The formal gardens are roughly 4 hectares (almost 10 acres) in size and are 1 of 145 Grade 1 listed gardens and parks in England. They were largely laid out through the 1930’s with the exception of the famous ‘white garden’ which was created after the war to replace a rose garden from the original plan. There is an excellent description of the entire garden in the Historic England listing for Sissinghurst. This compartmentalised structure to the garden is mirrored in the way the book is produced with what is basically one long poem split into the seasonal sections and preceded by the section just called The Garden which is the subject of this final quote

Much toil, much care, much love and many years
Went to the slow reward; a grudging soil
Enriched or lightened following its needs;
Potash and compost, stable dung, blood, bones,
Spent hops in jade-green sacks, the auburn leaves
Rotted and rich, the wood-ash from the hearth
For sticky clay; all to a second use
Turned in a natural economy,
And many a robin perched on many a sod
Watched double-trenching for his benefit
Through the companionable russet days,
But only knew the digger turned the worm
For him, and had no foresight of the frost
Later to serve the digger and his clod
Through winter months, for limitations rule
Robins and men about their worms and wars,
The robin’s territory; and man’s God.

I visited Sissinghurst many times when I lived in Kent and somewhere I have a box of photos I have taken there, but until I find and scan them a few of some other peoples shots will have to do to illustrate the work of a poet and artist of flowers. I first read this book of poetry in Vita’s own garden and it will always transport me back to warm summer days in the Garden of England in the late 1990’s.

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Siné – Massacre

As this post goes up onto the blog I will be on my way to Hay on Wye to give a talk on the Gentle Art of Penguin Book Collecting as part of the Hay Independence celebrations for 2018, as part of the talk I’m going to cover the strange story of Siné’s Massacre in it’s only Penguin edition.

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The title of the cartoon on the cover is a sort of pun in French, dessin morbide means morbid drawing but mord translates as belly so the vampire biting the belly of his victim covers both meanings. The fact that this was chosen as the cover and therefore amongst the least controversial of the cartoons included says a lot about the content of the book. Through the rest of this blog I will include other cartoons from the book although I have been careful not to include the most offensive examples, Siné had a fascination with toilets, hangings, amputation, sex and the catholic church sometimes all in one cartoon and I don’t feel many of the cartoons are suitable even now.

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Given this controversial nature, why was he considered for a Penguin book dedicated to him? Well Penguin had a long history of publishing books of cartoons featuring selections of a particular artist, anything from Thelwell and his little girls at their pony club, through Osbert Lancaster, Peter Arno, Charles Addams (and his famous family) and Gerald Hoffnung with his musical fantasies to name just a few. On 5th October 1966 therefore a Penguin Books board meeting was convened to discuss the advisability of including Siné, as he was regarded as a major French cartoonist and a range that had the gentle work of Thelwell at one end and Siné at the other would definitely appear to be inclusive of all styles. It is worth pointing out that this board meeting would appear to have been very very late in the process, as the books had already been printed and were in the warehouse, orders had been placed but they hadn’t yet been distributed to retailers. So technically the book had not yet been published, but it really was a technicality at this point.

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Sir Allen Lane, the founder of the business back in 1935, was still chairman of the board at this time although he no longer had total autocratic control of the business as he once had. He had given way long ago to the consensus of the board of directors as he had had to due to the huge increase in the size of the company, which was way beyond the ability of one man to control; however he still thought of Penguin Books as his. Nevertheless the minutes of the meeting show that the overall position was to back Tony Godwin, then Chief Editor and therefore a board member, with some reservations expressed. Backing Godwin was particularly forcefully put by Charles Clark who felt that not doing so at such a late stage would put Godwin in an untenable position; Sir Allen was not happy but, at the meeting at least according to the minutes, backed the decision to publish.

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A draft press release was prepared announcing the publication on the 1st November 1966 which included a statement that the board were not in full agreement with the publication, however after the internal legal advisor was consulted it was decided to remove references to the disagreement and all was set for 3 weeks time. So far just a tale of a controversial book being prepared for publication, there had been several before at Penguin and there didn’t seem anything to make this different but the story was about to become bizarre…

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George Nicholls recalled in 1970 (after the death of Sir Allen Lane) the events of a night in October 1966 which is almost certainly unique in the annals of UK publishing. He was in bed, as it was around midnight, when the phone rang and he was summoned to the office. When he got there he found Sir Allen along with 3 other men and he wanted the warehouse unlocking, Nicholls had the keys so they set off. On the way the reason for the late night escapade became clear as Lane explained.

I’ve got Singleton round the back with the farm wagon, I’m going to pinch all those Siné’s … that bloody board outvoted me, but I’ll have my own back on them.

Nicholls was shocked but as he said Sir Allen was “the governor” so he did what he was told. After a while they managed to load all the palletised stock onto the trailer and then realised that there would be boxes ready for shipping in the distribution area so went and found all those as well and loaded them onto the truck. It took a few hours but eventually Nicholls locked up the warehouse again and Allan Lane set off with his cargo after saying to Nicholls that this would be their secret.  What happened next is largely speculation, various accounts say that when Lane got back to his farm near Reading he had a large bonfire, some say the books were buried, others that he composted the lot and eventually spread it on his fields, what is certain is that the printed books were never seen again and Penguin never did officially publish Siné’s Massacre. Allen Lane also briefly vanished from the scene heading off on an impromptu holiday to Spain whilst things quietened down.

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The odd thing was that there was apparently no hue and cry about the missing books; it all seems to have been quietly ignored, the few orders that had come in were cancelled as the book was ‘out of stock’. I used to design warehouse systems so know that so much stock going astray would definitely be noticed very quickly especially with unfulfilled orders this close to the official publication date but nothing was said. The only copies that survived are the few examples that had been sent to people to get their opinions about publication and some trade samples that had made it to representatives on the road. It all adds up to this being one of the rarest, and consequently most valuable, paperbacks produced by Penguin in the last 60 years. Checking abebooks reveals only one copy available at the time of writing this, across all the dealers on there around the world, and that is priced at £145.

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