Saturday, May 15, 2010

Gift Book

QUILLER- COUCH, A. T. [arranger]. The Golden Pomp. A Procession of English Lyrds From Surrey to Shirley. Methuen & Co., London, 1895.

I love this little book, not for its contents (which are sweet enough but straightforward: an anthology of pleasing verse, much of it love poetry), nor for its quality or condition as an object (which are pleasantly average and somewhat shabby respectively), but for its history. I once read an article on a book-blog, I'm sorry I forget where, which suggested that these kinds of items would make a great collection: books given as gifts.

This one has the bookplate of George Erskine Jackson. Jackson (1872-1945), I'm informed by his obituary, was born in the North West provinces of India, son of the Deputy Surgeon General. He was a highly decorated officer serving in South Africa and in the First World War and ending up a Major. Crucially, the obituary mentions that he was educated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford and it was here that this book came to him. The obituary says that one of his greatest friends at CCC wrote of him, "He was without doubt the most popular man in the college, always unruffled in temper, sweet to everyone, yet firm when the occasion demanded it. He had the respect as well as the affection of everyone." Such effusive praise leads one to wonder if this 'greatest friend' was actually the giver of this book for, as well as the bookplate, there is also, tipped into the front of the book, a holograph letter which is absolutely charming.

"[C.C.C. Oxon. June 16 1895] Dearest Jackson, Will you accept this little book to remind you of the fours years we have spent together during which we have been such good friends? I think you will like it.
You have always been the greatest help to me; and whether in things of official or unofficial nature have done your very best to make everthing go smoothly and happily in college. I think no single cloud has ever arisen between us during all the four years that we have worked together.
I hope we shall not forget one another when we are no longer together, and that all will fo well with you everywhere and always.
Ever your affectionate friend,
C. Plummer."

I can't prove it yet but I suspect that C. Plummer was, in fact, the Rev'd Charles Plummer, Fellow of Corpus Christi and big cheese in Victorian Hagiography. But that is the beauty of books like this, like small stained-glass windows, they draw you into a snapshot view of lives lived a long time ago. Whoever wrote that article recommending a collection of books given or presented to ordinary people was right to claim it would be a fascinating pursuit.

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