Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Book Catalogues of Michael deHartington

Back in June last year I was delighted  to acquire for my own collection an almost complete set of the original book catalogues of Michael deHartington. If you think that the name has a slightly 'arch' sound to it, perhaps the ring of a tekinym, you would be right but who am I to puncture such a lovely legend. With typical speed and sense of urgency it is only now that I thought I would spend a little time going through them and making a note or two to share with you all about the items that stand out to me. I should stress the "to me": there are abundant goodies in these catalogues and I am only going to mention the things that catch my eye for some reason or another. The original catalogues are quite scarce now but if you want to read them yourselves then there was a facsimile reprint of 300 copies by The Elysium Press under the Asphodel Imprint in 1998.

Catalogue number one, like nearly all of them is a  few pages of hand-Roneo-ed typescript. All the catalogues date from the early 1970s and number one was issued in 1972. Turning the first couple of pages one is struck in particular by short lists of books by Baron d'Adersward Fersen and Ralph Chubb: both of which are bearing prices enough to make one weep in 2015. Would you like, for example a copy of one of the 36 entirely hand lithographed copies of Chubb's The Heavenly Cupid in half green morocco with black corduroy boards for just £100? Also catching my eye in #1 is a series of original drawings by Gaston Goor, each about 19" x 14" and all six are separately described as depicting nude youths disporting themselves in various settings and priced at £50 for the set, less than £10 each.

In the section of 'Manuscripts and Letters' at the end of the list you might have been lucky to buy for just £5, '14 Queer Poems Written in the Summer of 1967' by Robin Maugham, "one of just four copies reproduced from typewriter script". If anyone visiting here knows where these now are please do let me know!

One of the books that stands out to me in catalogue #2 is one of 250 copies of Gerald Hamilton's Desert Dreamers, published under the pseudonym Patrick Weston (C. W. Beaumont, London: 1914). Hamilton was the real person on whom Christopher Isherwood's Mr Norris was based in his 1930s Berlin novels and Desert Dreamers is one of the earliest novels to be published in the UK to concern itself with homosexuality. The extra interest in this copy though comes from the exlibris plate of C. R. Dawes. "The fine collection of homosexual literature collected by Charles Reginald Dawes was mostly bequeathed to the British Museum. Fortunately for collectors there was a discreet sale of duplicates ('The Property of a Gentleman') sold at Sotheby's and other items were sold direct to booksellers".  As of today there is no copy of the 1914 edition available on abebooks and copies of the 1966 reprint are being offered at over £100. This copy could have been yours for £17.50

Also in this catalogue appears one of the books by a favourite eccentric of ours Major R. Raven-Hart the obsessive canoeist. As deHartington comments, "It the times the word 'boy' appear in this book would equal the number of runs scored by England against Australia this year, we would surely retain the Ashes."

Much of the stock of Michael deHartington Booksellers came from the collection amassed by Timothy d'Arch Smith in his research and writing of his 1970 book about the Uranian poets, Love in Earnest. This third catalogues, the only one to be letterpress printed, contained the central portion of that collection. To anyone familiar with Love in Earnest it really requires little extrapolation. Here are association copies and ALS of some of the rarest items by the authors about whom d'Arch Smith was writing.

Item 67 was Horatio Brown's inscribed copy of John Gambril Nicholson's A Garland of Ladslove. In March last year I had the pleasure of cataloguing and selling the same copy thus:

"NICHOLSON, John Gambril. A Garland of Ladslove. Privately Printed [by F. E. Murray], 1911.
Signed and inscribed by the author to Horatio Brown, fellow Uranian poet and Venetian historian.
This is the same copy that was used by Timothy d’Arch Smith to write his seminal study Love in
Earnest and which was later sold as a part of the collection he amassed during the writing of the
book in catalogue no.3 (item no. 67) of Michael deHartington. The inscription is illustrated as
plate 10 in Love in Earnest. The book has d’Arch Smith’s bookplate by Gaston Goor. Also laid in
is a photograph of the author annotated “John Gambril Nicholson photographed by himself Dec
1894”. The photograph measures approximately 8.5cm x 6cm and is almost entirely obliterated
by silvering; however, held to the light and looking through the verso, the image of a young and
handsome Nicholson can still be seen. The photograph appears to belong with this copy as it has
“Brown” written in Nicholson’s hand on the verso in pencil. It seems possible this copy was never
sent to Brown or to Venice as it was acquired by Victor Hall from Murray’s estate as a part of a
pile of remainders. In a previous collection of poems Nicholson earned the ire and legal threats of
Frederick Rolfe by using material by him allegedly without permission; this current collection has a
poem subtitled “from the Italian of Baron Corvo”, perhaps Nicholson was concerned this might be
seen by Rolfe in Venice on Brown’s shelves and cause more trouble and so it was never sent. (for
the photo: FFEP 260214). Paper labels a little spotted and browned."

I'm afraid to say that whilst you might have bought this book in the 1970s from Michael deHartington for £30, I sold it very quickly at £400.

A rather fun cartoon illustration graces the front of catalogue #4. On the very first page the things that catch my eye are three pamphlets by Oswell Blakeston: The Furious Futures Dying (1967), Before the Encounter and Afterwards: A Squence (1966), and Jeremy and Others (Undated). All three now vanishingly scarce and worth considerably more than the 50 pence each asked for them in the early 70s.

Towering above all else in this catalogue though was the holograph MSS of Ralph Chubb's The Book of Visions of Nature and Supernature Solar and Lunar from 1930. The MSS was bound and included a full-page watercolour as well as a watercolour vignette and other decorations. It was never published. Just £200.

The cover of catalogue #5 comes from the book Gergorio Prieto: Paintings and Drawings which has featured here on FFEP before.

This catalogue illustrates very nicely the way in which older catalogues like this are useful to the collector today: they introduce you to books you might otherwise not hear about.  

Holiday by Michael Power (1962), "Adolescent's traumatic encounter with a pederast adds to his summer holiday problems." 

The Partnership by Barry Unsworth (1966), "Two young men go into business making plaster pixies and the discovery by one that the other is homosexually attracted to him causes the gradual disintegration of the partnership. A subtle, humorous first novel which seems to have been quite forgotten".  

A Prison Song in Prose by G. K. Van Het Reve (1968) "A sadistic fantasy with graphic illustrations" (and one of the few books whose 1970s price is about the same as you would pay today).

The only rarity that jumps out at me from this list is a copy of the photographic book Ortil's Canoe Pirates by Hajo Ortil (1966) selling here for £3.45 and now not short of one hundred times that amount.

But again, more items are described with just enough detail of plot to make them interesting, Latitudes of Love by Thomas Doremus (1961), "Dying man's last romance with a sixteen year-old boy" (and not expensive today).

The Frauds by Michael Hastings (1960), "Saga of a family including a boy, Tommy, and his discovery that he is homosexual".

La séduction inachevée by Anne-Marie Heuber (1972), "Boy who is having an incestuous affair with his sister becomes infatuated with her boyfriend as well" (sadly never translated to English as far as I can ascertain).

I confess, my interest in straightforward public school fiction is limited, so at first sight it appears this particular list might have passed me by. However, one has to note the copies from the Diary of a Boy series by Aubrey Fowkes which would make anyone trying to collect a set now weep to see them at two or three pounds each. Also a copy of Tim by Howard Overing Sturgis for just £6. A curious item is Auerbachs Deutscher Kinder Kalender 1938 catalogued as a "Nazi Boys' Annual".

After a couple of list which have been somewhat lighter shall we say, catalogue #8 contains over 200 items but on slightly closer inspection many of them have appeared in previous lists. Among them two John Gambril Nicholson rarities, The Romance of a Choir Boy (1916) and Rydal Mount Plays (1922) which are the short plays that Nicholson wrote for his boys at the Rydal Mount school where he taught for many years. At £15.15 and £7.65 respectively, one winces a little to think what prices are attached to them now, when you can find them.

This is a actually catalogue #10, I am missing number nine and, whilst I could look it up in the Asphodel facsimile, I'm sticking the to the originals I have in front of me here. Most of the first part of this list marks a bit of a change from previous lists and concentrates very hard on non-fiction sexological works concerned with homosexuality, most of these in German or French and most of little interest today. One notable exception though would have to be the one of the 125 copies of the 1908 edition of E. P. Stevenson's The Intersexes written as by Xavier Mayne for £75 and E. P. Warren's three volume A Defence of Uranian Love written under the name Arthur Lyon Raile, "one of the rarest of all books on this subject" for £80.

There are certainly other highlights in these catalogues that I have missed or which might simply appeal more to those of a more refined taste than mine. Reading through them is a real pleasure, beyond the grumpy references to what prices books used to be catalogues like these provide signposts to follow towards books previously unknown... what could be better.

Mr deHartington, I salute you...

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

George Barr Illustrates Green Phoenix by Thomas Burnett Swann

Yesterday I mentioned that one of the reasons I might be drawn to Green Phoenix next out of all the Thomas Burnett Swann books I have, was the attractive nature of the illustrations by George Barr. I thought maybe it was unfair not to share these.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Thomas Burnett Swann

It is often the way in this business that you are vaguely aware of an author's name, perhaps from an article or the internet, or someone has mentioned them to you and then months or years later suddenly you find yourself with a superfluity of their books. This happened to me just after Christmas when these five books by Thomas Burnett Swann (1928-1976) came out of a box I was sorting and I thought, 'ah, I've been meaning to have a look at this chap'.

And one of the silver linings of being unwell for a little while is that I have had some time to read a bit. I am no expert on Swann and for far better coverage I would direct you to the pages that author of gay erotica and Roman historical novels Steven Saylor has put up in Swann's honour. Swann's Wiki page talks a little about Swann's forward thinking approach to sexuality in his books and, although I have so far only read The Lady of the Bees and the title story of The Dolphin and the Deep, there is a very enjoyable frisson all the way through both of these books. 

Swann's main setting across a lot of his books was his own version of classical history in which he chronicled the downfall of the non-human races and the beginning of human 'civilization'. Characters run around in a state of semi or complete nudity much of the time and at the centre of both of the books I have read are same-sex relationships far more real and stronger than the heterosexual love interest. In The Lady of the Bees the abiding relationship is between a faun called Sylvan and a young man Remus (of "Romulus and...."). In The Dolphin and the Deep, despite the fact that the wealthy Etruscan adventurer-protagonist is on a quest to find love in the shape of Circe, a mythical and dangerous beauty who disappeared a hundred years before, he is clearly most smitten throughout the long story with the Merboy Astyanix, his companion on the adventure.

Swann doesn't write in the conventional mode of a psychologically driven novel, his stories are 'Tales' in the old sense, a strong narrative pervades and you feel you might be reading a classical myth rather than a 1960s fantasy novel. But I am finding that the little effort required to adjust to reading a different style is much rewarded. 

Next I shall be reading Green Phoenix, partly because it is in the same trilogy as The Lady of the Bees but mainly because the artwork of George Barr both on the cover and inside the book promises plenty of lissome fey sprites and hunky centaurs!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Figures in a Landscape by Lionel Wiggam

Back in June 2013 I posted a scan of a photograph I had acquired of a handsome young man called Lionel Wiggam. He was, among other things, a poet, and his first volume of poetry called Figures in a Landscape was published when he was only 19 and included a body of work that had been put together in the years before then. (It contained some rather fine woodcuts by Thomas W Nason, some of which are reproduced here) I confess - although back in 2013 I promised I would find a copy of his book and read it - I didn't.

Then a few months ago I was contacted by Scott who was connected, very loosely to one of Lionel's partners and who was glad to find the photograph on the blog. I promised Scott I would make good on my commitment to buy and read some of Lionel's poems and we agreed to both find a copy of Figures in a Landscape and report back. It is a very flawed book but this only made me more intrigued to know something more about the very young man who wrote it. Reports of the kind of man that Lionel became are very varied with some internet tributes talking about a warm and friendly man and a good neighbour, others suggesting maybe that there was a level of bitterness and cynicism and a rather prickly persona. But Figures in a Landscape is like a psychological mine to be dug through for a sense of a person. The first section is a sequence of poems which look back to a childhood, remembered landscapes and they are distinguished by their lack of emotional impact. There is a sequence which follows that contains poems about women. There is no excusing nor ameliorating the misogyny in that sequence. Women are generalized into a group of cold, unfeeling, twisted human beings. How anyone could have become quite so bitter about an entire gender by the age of 19 becomes a fascinating question and, in a way, reading those uncomfortable words it becomes much more interesting as a question than the poems themselves.

Biographical details are scarce though. The blurb on the dustjacket however, perhaps unwittingly, paints a picture of a boy for whom life has already been an unusual and rather unstable experience. "At twenty, Lionel Wiggam is a student in the School of Speech at Northwestern University where he is paying his own way with the help of scholarships, poetry readings, odd jobs and the pittance that accrues from selling verse to magazines. He was born in 1915 in Columbus, Indiana, the son of prize fighter and a farmer's daughter. The father, at one time welterweight champion, owned his own sideshow in a carnival, and the family travelled about the Middle West on his pugilistic tours, letting the boy pick up his education where he could. He entered Northwestern University at the age of fifteen but left it again for the following three years, playing in a stock-company, working on a road construction gang, modelling professionally, hanging wall-paper and working as a janitor to pay for night school classes." (It strikes me this blurb might itself be written by Wiggam, certainly there is something of a narrative being constructed there and it perhaps begins to hint at how some of the elements in the poems might have been generated from this rather chaotic childhood.

There are good poems in this collection. As individual works some of them are very finely crafted and one can see why, as a youth, he would have been seen as something of a prodigy. One poem in particular I thought spoke eloquently of the difficulties that Wiggam is attempting to articulate about his short life thus far...


Being less of man than elf,
A boy must overcome himself.
Let him flee, or let him fight,
Let him struggle through the night.

His cheek will grow a golden beard,
Symbol of the thing he feared.
His voice will find a lower note
And stifle boyhood in his throat.

Oh, he must overcome the joy
The laughter of that other boy
And beat him down, and see surprise
Rise in his stricken, loving eyes.

Until, articulate and sad,
He turns away the other lad;
And seeks a dark forgotten place
To hide his weeping face.

I should say I am very grateful to Scott, my correspondent, for prompting me to find and read the book and also for his insightful comments, even if his opinion of the poetry is somewhat more strongly negative. Despite the high praise that litters the rest of the dustjacket, Wiggam only wrote one more volume of poetry, twenty years distant from this first. I suppose the next step in my journey to understand him is to get hold of a copy of that and see where twenty years have taken us.

If anyone should stumble across this post because they are searching the internet for the name of their late friend Lionel Wiggam, please do get in touch: any biographical details would be very much appreciated.


We never dreamed the happy chase
Would end in that disturbing place:
Green, quiet cave with pines that were
A roof above its singular guest -
He with a faun's alarming face,
He with a boy's thin, angular breast
Subsiding into fur.

We thought to find a worried fox
Observing us with blazing eyes
Behind an ambuscade of rocks;
Until we saw the hounds withdraw,
Disclosing that small pointed head
And hoofs all torn: until we saw
A bleeding pixy-face, instead.
And then, like us, the hounds that were
Suddenly grown quieter.

Who links to my website?