Friday, July 13, 2012

Catalogue: A Seat at the Tournament

James Fergusson Books & Manuscripts have issued the catalogue above, A Seat at the Tournament Books and Papers from the Collections of Siegfried Sassoon, Margaret Drabble & Others. 700+ items on over 200 pages and nearly an inch thick, this is a weighty piece of work by anyone's standards but if there was ever a catalogue for those who love catalogues: this is it. Settling down with this catalogue of an evening has more the feel of reading a novel or a fascinating work of non-fiction than of someone trying to sell you stuff. Of course, the fact that this is a selling catalogue adds that certain frisson of tension to the reading as you hope that no one else is going faster and spotting the goodies that you can't live without in your collection and getting dibs on them.

An enormous amount of work has gone into this list. The vast majority of the books in this catalogue are distinguished by their provenance and/or associations and as such almost every one of them has at least a couple of biographical paragraphs about who wrote/signed/inscribed/gave/ or had this particular copy in their library. After the basic biography Fergusson often goes on to explicate relationships even further and one of the great joys of a catalogue like this is the hundred gentle nudges it gives you to go off and look someone up or to consider adding a name to the list of those you collect. For me, it was Siegfried Sassoon, someone who has always called to me on occasion, now shouting loud and clear through the pages of this catalogue. Also, David Gascoyne, whose poetry has only occasionally crossed my path but whenever it does I am drawn to it and to the poet; so to discover here a collection of some 55 items by or relating to Gascoyne, positively bulging with inserted ALS from the author, inscriptions and other ephemera is another of those 'nudges' that catalogues like this provide.

It is customary, of course, when reviewing a catalogue to offer up a few tasty samples but there is such a feast here it's difficult to know how to hone... I will do my best. Certainly, one of my favourite items is a volume of Edith Sitwell's poetry (three published books bound as one in blue morocco by Bumpus) that is raised way above the heard of Sitwell books by the fact of its being given as a 21st birthday present to Stephen Tennant from his friend Rex Whistler, there is also an unpublished poem by Sitwell written in her hand and signed on the front free endpaper. As Fergusson puts it "A totemic present from one Bright Young Thing to another - from the most talented decorative artist of his generation to the most glamorous and least fulfilled." If I had more cash to spare I would already own this book.

The catalogue contains a large number of letters and one of my favourites has to be the series of letters between Henry Habberley Price, the Wykeham Professor of Logic at Oxford (not to be confused in this instance with Harry Price the Borley Rectory ghost hunter) and Jean Overton Fuller, writer, bookseller and publisher about an out-of-body experience Fuller had in 1945. Price was also the President of the Society for Psychical Research. Another series of letters in the catalogue also deals with Fuller's OOB experience, those are to the author of occult novels Joan Grant.

You will also find here the author's own typescript of The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter complete with tippexed corrections, hand-written notes, a copy of the galley proofs and other ephemera: a good collection of signed material by Walter de la Mare: and such subtle associations as books by the great typographer Stanley Morrison, used by Evan Gill when writing his bibliography of his brother Eric. These are just a few picks which feel seemingly random, if only because the range from which to choose is so very large.

Every item in this catalogue has something to recommend it and each is plump with extensive quotes from the publishers' blurbs, obituaries, related works, biographies and so on. I would heartily recommend this catalogue to anyone with an interest in 20th century literature. It is available from:

James Fergusson Books & Manuscripts
39 Melrose Gardens
W6 7RN

at the cost of 10.00 GBP plus postage of 1.50 GBP (UK): 4.00 GBP (Europe): 6.00 GBP (elsewhere)

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