A series of essays inspired by books that I own, talking about their history, some reviews and also how they came to be on my shelves. With over 6,500 books here and several more arriving each week I doubt I'll ever be short of a topic.
October 2022 marks the 120th anniversary of the first commercial publication of The Tale of Peter Rabbit and this magnificent collection of facsimiles of items from the Frederick Warne Archives was produced by The Folio Society to mark the occasion. The set is limited to 1000 examples and mine is number 5. There is so much to look at and compare from the very first appearance of Peter in a picture letter eight years before Beatrix Potter privately printed Peter’s first book to replicas of some of the tiny Christmas letters she created, There is also a wonderfully informative booklet which tells the story of the creation of The Tale of Peter Rabbit and has a introduction by Emma Thompson who wrote her own Peter Rabbit stories starting with the 110th anniversary set published by Frederick Warne, see here.
Just how much is included can be seen in the following list:
Facsimile of picture letter, 1893, printed on Arena Wove paper – 8 pages. 8˝ × 4¾˝
Facsimile of privately printed edition, 1901 bound in Wibalin paper, printed on Sirio Calce Stucco paper – 88 pages. 5¾˝ × 4¼˝
Facsimile of maquette, 1902, printed on Arena Wove paper and presented in an archive folder made from Sirio Color paper blocked in silver foil – 88 pages. 5˝ × 3¾˝
Facsimile of deluxe edition, 1902, bound in cloth with an inset label, printed on Sirio Calce Stucco paper with gold page tops and printed endpapers – 104 pages. 5½˝ × 4˝
Five Christmas letters printed on Arena Wove paper, each 3˝ × 1½˝
Giclée print on Modigliani Insize Neve paper with blind embossed frame line – 9˝ × 6½˝
Commentary set in Caslon, printed on Abbey Pure paper and bound in Sirio Color paper blocked in silver foil – 80 pages. 9½˝ × 6½˝
Limitation certificate printed letterpress on Fedrigoni Tintoretto Ceylon paper
Lets look at some of the items in more detail
Above are the 1901 (grey) and 1902 deluxe (yellow) edition facsimiles, posed on top of the history booklet. These are beautiful replicas from the black and white privately printed edition to the first commercial version in full colour.
The number of changes between the two volumes makes reading them side by side is a fascinating experience, even the text of the first page of the commercial edition is split over two pages in the original and consequently has two pictures only the second of which survived into the later book. There are also new pictures in the 1902 edition which aren’t in the 1901, but the most noticeable difference when you first pick them up is that only the frontispiece in the early edition is coloured whilst all commercial versions are full colour throughout. I hadn’t seen the original black and white sketches before and they are a lot more crude than the final watercolours that Beatrix produced but they do have a certain charm about them which makes me glad I spent the £325 that The Folio Society charges for the set. Engaging as these books are, and the text is a lot longer in the 1902 version, although the words and picture shown above from the 1901 edition don’t appear at all in the later version it is the maquette that comes between them that is truly interesting.
Here we can see in Beatrix’s own handwriting how she wanted the Frederick Warne edition to appear and apart from a couple of pages reproduced in other books I had never seen this unique edition before. To have the complete book in this form (missing a cover as she didn’t produce one for this version) What I found particularly interesting about this page is that you can see crossing out of words where she intended to change the original text but the words used here are exactly the same as in the 1901 edition but different to what Warne actually printed for this page which runs as follows:
Then he tried to find his way straight across the garden, but he became more and more puzzled. Presently he came to a pond where Mr McGregor filled his water-cans. A white cat was staring at some gold-fish; she sat very, very still and now and then the tip of her tail twitched as if it were alive. Peter thought it best to go away without speaking to her; he had heard about cats from his cousin little Benjamin Bunny
As you can see the text ends the same way as Beatrix’s plan but the start is quite different. The other items included as facsimiles are the 1893 letter which again I had seen small pictures of in various books but never the whole thing and the tiny Christmas letters, there is also a lovely print of Peter eating the radishes in Mr McGregors garden.
This wonderful box set is a lovely edition to my Beatrix Potter collection and has already provided hours of enjoyment in looking at the differences as the story evolved. You can see the video produced by The Folio Society to mark the launch of this collection here.
I’ve been fascinated by The Albatross Press and their huge selection of books solely issued in the English language although printed and circulated only in continental Europe for well over twenty years, possibly thirty, from when I first became aware of their existence and the obvious influence the press had on Allen Lane when he came to found Penguin Books back in 1935. However until this book was published in 2017 information about Albatross was patchy at best and for my 250th blog I’ve decided to look again at my small Albatross collection along with reviewing Michele Troy’s excellent book. The Albatross Press books are difficult to find here in the UK as due to copyright restrictions they were not available in the UK, British Empire or the USA and indeed were seized by customs officials if anyone tried to bring them in, but they can be found occasionally and when I see one at a reasonable price I normally pick it up to add to my library. I’m going to split this blog into two sections, firstly a review of Michele Troy’s superb and phenomenally well researched book and then a piece about my collection which will give an idea as to the sort of titles published by Albatross from its foundation in 1932 until closing down soon after 1947. In fact it survived as an entity until 1955 but didn’t produce any new books in the 1950’s merely trying to sell its back stocks as it faced competition from a wave of American and British new paperback publishers all able to undercut Albatross prices.
Strange Bird – Michele K. Troy
As implied by the subtitle of this impressive volume 1932 was not a good year to start a publishing venture in Germany as Hitler along with his followers burgeoning censorship of books, sometimes for little reason, made operating there extremely difficult from his rise to power in 1933. Alongside the issues of Nazi interference as to what may or may not be published there was a significant problem with the business model for The Albatross Press and that was that there was already a well established publishing company issuing English language books on the continent and the German firm Tauchnitz had been in that market for over ninety years. The Albatross Press was an extremely complicated company, initially printing books in Italy and then moving that part of the business to Germany to get round Nazi regulations. European distribution was also run from Germany but the editorial team were in Paris whilst the funding came from Britain via a holding company in Luxembourg. It’s founding partners were John Holroyd-Reece a German born naturalised Brit who was half Jewish and German Max Christian Wegner who had recently been fired as Managing Director of Tauchnitz. Running the distribution from his existing company was another German, Kurt Enoch, who was also Jewish. You can see the problems that will rapidly start to accumulate under the rise of the Nazis. Holroyd-Reece also started numerous other publishing companies some of which owned shares in the other ones and it is frankly amazing that not only does Michele Troy explain this dense web of businesses but does so in a highly readable way.
Part of the reason for the complexity was a desire to present the company as German to Germans, British to the British and sufficiently international to confuse everyone else but you may wonder why there was not only a market for English language books on the continent and how such a market got started. Troy does her best to cover this as well, initially created by Tauchnitz partly in order to allow British and later American authors to obtain copyright for their works in Europe decades before international copyright was available. Well educated Europeans could also normally read English perfectly and having books in the original language is always seen as preferable to translations. By the mid to late 1930’s though the main thing that was driving the existence of Albatross and Tauchnitz, which by then Albatross had succeeded in getting editorial control over, was the need for foreign currency by Hitler’s government. This is another complicating aspect ably covered by Michele Troy as she digs into Nazi files and reveals the various sides trying to decide if Albatross, as a British firm, should be trading in Germany at all, especially when it turned out that the main British backer was also a Jew. Amazingly even after war broke out Albatross continued to trade until 1944 although it was largely concerned in selling it’s stored books.
What starts off as the history of a now largely forgotten publishing house turns into almost a detective story as she pieces together the surviving documentation despite both Albatross and Tauchnitz archives being destroyed during the war. The notes and citations alone run to fifty seven pages and the selected bibliography a further twelve pages. This is a major academic research project from the professor of English at Hillyer College at the University of Hartford and is well worth a read even if you have never heard of Albatross because it is so well written the story draws you in.
My collection of Albatross Press books
As has become clear to anyone reading my blog for a while I collect Penguin Books and have over 3,500 of them so Albatross are a logical side collection. The inspiration for Penguin Books was partly due to the press being named after a bird but mainly for the cheap but smart editions which are colour coded by subject matter, something that Allan Lane immediately adopted for his new enterprise. The chart shown below is from the dust wrapper of Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man.
Troy explains the importance of Tauchnitz and if anything volumes from this publisher are even more difficult to find in the UK than Albatross, I just have four, three of which are from 1879 and 1880 and the final one, ‘Twelve Men’ is from 1930 so shows the plain typographical covers that the bright and colourful Albatross were going up against to attract customers.
I have managed to accumulate twenty three Albatross books, so roughly one a year since I started looking for them, and their immediate attraction is obvious even if the standardisation of colours is sometimes poor to say the least. Both ‘Journal’ and ‘The Arches of the Years’ are purple and ‘Journal’ isn’t faded as it is that shade on the spine and rear cover as well.
16 – The Brothers printed in Italy in 193?
19 – Ambrose Holt and Family printed in Germany in 1932
31 – Apocalypse printed in Germany in 1932
32 – The White Peacock printed in Germany in 1932
52 – Journal printed in Germany in 1933
203 – The Arches of the Years printed in Germany in 1934
216 (Extra Volume) – All Men are Enemies printed in Germany in 1934
236 – Pelican Walking printed in Germany in 1934
240 – Unfinished Cathedral printed in Germany in 1934
247 – Brief Candles printed in Germany in 1935
260 – Music at Night printed in Germany in 1935
310 – The Asiatics reprinted in Italy in 1947
317 (Special Volume) – The Weather in the Streets reprinted in Italy in 1947
326 (Extra Volume) – Aaron’s Rod printed in Germany in 1937
359 – The Bridge printed by Collins in Scotland in 1938 as Les Editions Albatros, Paris
377 – Juan in China printed in Germany in 1938
390 (Extra Volume) – The Letters of D.H. Lawrence printed in Germany in 1938
514 – Grandma Called it Carnal printed in Italy in 1947
551 (Special Volume) – Operation Neptune printed in Holland in 1947
556 (Special Volume) – English Saga printed in Holland in 1947
558 – Siegfried’s Journey printed in Holland in 1947
4802 – Lord Jim printed in Italy for Librairie Marcel Didier in 1947
4975 – Memories of a Fox-Hunting Man printed in Italy for Librairie Marcel Didier in 1947
The massive leap in the numbering scheme for the last two books should not be taken to show thousands of new titles suddenly being released. Rather I suspect that this is to keep the Librairie Marcel Didier volumes well out of the numbering scheme of the existing Albatross Press books. Penguin did something similar when launching Penguin Inc in America during the war and starting their book numbering at 500. Penguin Inc’s managing director was Kurt Enoch having escaped the Nazi’s so this was his second publishing venture. In 1948 following disagreements with Allen Lane back at Penguin headquarters in England Penguin Inc was dissolved and Enoch started again with his third publishing firm this time as Signet and Mentor. As for the Extra and Special Volumes these are normally significantly thicker than ‘normal’ volumes and presumably had a higher price although 558 Siegfried’s Journey is a normal size so maybe Special Volumes had a different rule.
But why Albatross? Holroyd-Reece had several explanations but the one I find most persuasive is because the word is similar in a lot of European languages: Albatros in Catalan, Czech, Danish, Dutch, French, German and Spanish amongst many others, Albatro in Italian, Albatrosz in Hungarian and surprisingly Albatross in Estonian and those last two languages I know from personal experience are normally miles away from English. I’m still on the lookout for more volumes from The Albatross Press and have even added a sideline of want to be Albatross books including the Italian Corvi press, which is undated but numbered 4 in the series and looks to be from the 1930’s. This is a true polyglot of a title as it is a biography of a British Prime Minister written by a French politician and translated into Italian. Alongside is a book I picked up earlier this year in Budapest which is much later, 1979, but is clearly inspired by Albatross design and in this case is written in Hungarian but published in Bucharest, Romania. Fabre was a French naturalist and this is a translation of one of his books about insects.
All in all The Albatross Press produced some very attractive books from a wide range of significant authors so are well worth looking for and are a pleasant surprise when you do find one on a shelf in a second hand bookshop. As Michelle Troy’s incredibly well researched book proves they also had a fascinating history behind them.
Like the situation with Hilaire Belloc’s works in last weeks blog entry I have several books by Plato but have never read them so he was an obvious choice for this week. Regarding the title, apparently a symposium meant something very different in ancient Greece to the way we use the word today. Nowadays a symposium would be “an occasion at which people who have great knowledge of a particular subject meet in order to discuss a matter of interest” but the ancients saw it as a drinking party held after a meal usually with musicians present. However in the case of the one described by Plato in this work the flautist is dismissed before starting to play and each person there is asked to give a short talk on a topic decided by the host, specifically the god of Love. It soon becomes clear just what different social mores the ancient Greeks lived by than we do today. Let’s take an extract from one of the early speeches:-
There can be no doubt of the common nature of Love which goes with the common Aphrodite; it is random in the effects it produces, and it is this love which the baser sort of men feel. It’s marks are, first, that it is directed towards women quite as much as young men; second, that in either case it is physical rather than spiritual; third, that it prefers that its objects should be as unintelligent as possible, because its only aim is the satisfaction of its desires, and it takes no account of the manner in which this is achieved. That is why its effect is purely a matter of chance and quite as often bad as good. In all that it partakes of the corresponding nature of its goddess, who is far younger than her heavenly counterpart, and who owes her birth to the conjunction of male and female. But the heavenly Aphrodite to whom the other Love belongs for one thing has no female strain in her, but springs entirely from the male and for another is older and consequently free from wantonness. Hence those who are inspired by this Love are attracted towards the male sex, and value it as naturally the stronger and more intelligent. Besides even amongst the lovers of their own sex one can distinguish those whose motives are dictated by this second Love, they do not fall in love with mere boys, but wait until they reach the age at which they begin to show some intelligence, that is to say until they are near growing a beard.
Extract from the speech by Pausanias in The Symposium by Plato
Yes the Love discussed by the various participants in this symposium is homosexual and specifically that between men and adolescent boys. I knew that the ancient Greeks were keen on pederasty but had no idea how much it was regarded as superior to relationships between men and women before reading this work. Speaker after speaker continues to praise the theme of ‘The Lover’ (a virile adult male) and ‘His Beloved’ (an adolescent boy or possibly young adult male) and denigrates love between men and women as clearly inferior until we at last reach the last speaker, Socrates. Not that he contradicts the previous speeches, but he does instead look to establish the nature of the God of Love himself and what the nature of love and desire is. It is worth mentioning that those men that take a particularly young boy as their Beloved are not rejected out of hand, but it is not regarded as such a high love as those that wait until the boy is fourteen or fifteen years old.
After Socrates has finished and at the very end of the book, a very drunken Alcibiades bursts in to the gathering and requests to be included, but then notices Socrates and becomes agitated as he regards himself as having been grossly insulted by him in the past. The nature of this ‘insult’ becomes clear when he is encouraged to speak in praise of Socrates and it turns out that he had so wanted to become Socrates’ Beloved that he invited him to his home several times in an attempt to seduce him. Socrates however clearly values intellectual over physical interactions and had rebuffed his attentions each time.
The problematic subject of the book is particularly an issue due to when my edition was published by Penguin Books, i.e. 1951, so sixteen years before the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 which legalised sex between men (although definitely not between men and boys) was passed in the UK. It is therefore highly doubtful that a contemporary work dealing with the same subject would have been permitted and not banned under the Obscene Publications Act even though no homosexual acts are actually described in the book. Indeed in the introduction to the book, presumably written by the translator, Walter Hamilton, although not ascribed to him he writes:-
we must first face a fact which is so repugnant to the orthodox morality of our own times that there is a serious risk of it destroying the value and pleasure of The Symposium for many readers. The love with which the dialogue is concerned, and which is accepted as a matter of course by all the speakers, including Socrates, is homosexual love; it is assumed without argument that this alone is capable of satisfying a man’s highest and noblest aspirations, and the love of man and woman, when it is mentioned at all, is spoken of as altogether inferior, a purely physical impulse whose sole object is the procreation of children.
As is my usual habit I didn’t read the introduction until after I had completed the text, I don’t like the spoilers which are invariably included in this section and this would have been a big one. Walter Hamilton was master and honorary fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge and translated several books of ancient Greek for Penguin Books, I have enjoyed this translation as it was very readable so I’ll definitely be pulling other works he has translated off my shelves for future blog entries.
I have five or six books by French author, but naturalised Englishman, Hilaire Belloc but apart from his book of humorous poetry ‘Selected Cautionary Verses’ I haven’t read any of them, reading this makes me want to pull the others off the shelves. My copy is the 1947 first Penguin edition, so 75 years old, and I can’t find any currently available editions which is a shame as it is a genuinely great read. Although written in 1925 it is set in the future of April 1953 and the basic conceit of being in the future, at least as far as the author is concerned, is that there was no longer the need for passports for British citizens entering the UK, although how you proved you were British and therefore didn’t need a passport is conveniently glossed over. It is vitally important for the plot however as the character we come to know as Mr John K Petre has no documentation on him with his name having arrived from America and losing his memory almost upon disembarking from the ship. He clutches at a barely remembered name ‘Petre’ as his own as he sinks into a nightmare of scratchily forming memories, but the name alone, whether it is his or not, proves his salvation, for it is a name of an eccentric multi-millionaire who thrives on being incognito.
There then follows a series of chancy investments, mainly by accident, but where the name of Petre works as a guarantee with no real financial backing, the first of which nets almost eighty thousand pounds and the second over a million but without our hero having any real knowledge as to what he is doing. The first is a simple boosting of the stock market which follows the knowledge that the great John K Petre has invested in a moribund stock which massively boosts the value, at least for a few days at which point the agent he had met at a dinner party cashed in for him and simply sent a cheque for his profit to the hotel he was staying in. This has some of the least likely plot lines in the novel and also some of the most dodgy mathematics as try as I can I cannot get a profit as stated in the narrative from the vague hints as to what the story says happened. The depositing of the cheque into a random bank account set up to receive it is also highly unlikely as no evidence is either requested or presented that the cheque has not been stolen or that the depositor is indeed John K Petre. The second transaction is however, oddly, far more believable despite netting over a million pounds when the character had nowhere near the required collateral for the property purchase involved but as he sold it straight away for far more than the agreed purchase price I can see this as quite possible, it is just a matter of timing payments.
I don’t want to give too much away, these two transactions occur in the first half of the book and Mr Petre has far more to go through before the end, but it is a brilliant novel which really draws the reader into the plot line both in feeling for our hero, who clearly has no idea what he is doing and is just led along by advisers, and also joy in the sheer blind luck he has in getting away with random investments much to his own surprise. What really surprises me however is that this 1947 paperback appears to be the last edition available, searching though abebooks and biblio, which represent the vast majority of online second hand book dealers, I cannot find a more recent copy apart from print on demand. I cannot understand why such a superb book has been effectively out of print for seventy five years, please if any publishers are reading this can we have a more recent edition? If anything due to the financial shenanigans so prevalent nowadays the book is more relevant then when it was first published almost a hundred years ago. If you can find a copy I suggest getting and reading it you won’t be disappointed.