A Literary Miscellany from the William Reese Company
Literary Miscellany from the William Reese Company.
By Michael Stillman
Catalogue 269 from the William Reese Company is entitled Literary Miscellany. This month Reese moves away from their typical nonfiction to a collection of literature, poetry, movie scripts, mystery, fine press works and such. There are 600 moderately priced items in all. Some are centuries old, others but a few years. There is certainly variety here to fit just about any collection of fiction and art. Here are a few samples.
Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) is noted for his stories about Alice and her adventures in Wonderland. However, late in his career he penned a couple of stories about Sylvie and Bruno in fairyland. They were not notable successes, but Dodgson had set a high standard for himself. Item 124 is a copy of Sylvie and Bruno (1889) with Sylvie and Bruno Completed (1893). These are first edition author's presentation copies, with Dodgson's "from the author" signatures in the years of publication. These copies were inscribed to E.F. Sampson, a friend and colleague at Oxford. Priced at $3,250.
Here is a bit of hyperbole: A Great Step Forward. An Amazing Machine, which will Affect Every Business House from This Day... Well maybe this claim for the "comptometer" wasn't as far out as it sounds. This device, containing rows of numbered keys, was an early calculator, or adding machine as it was known at the time. Of course, this would in time lead to electronic calculators and then personal computers, each of which affects every business to this day. This brochure was published in 1921 in London by H.E. Robbins Ltd., British distributor for this American invented device. Item 194. $75.
William Cullen Bryant was a poet, perhaps better appreciated in the 19th century then now. He was also an important journalist, a supporter of progressive causes, including abolition and the right to unionize, as well as a supporter of the candidacy of Abraham Lincoln. Though New England born and raised, most of his career was spent as editor of the New York Evening Post (yes, today's not-so progressive New York Post). Bryant was not particularly noted as a humorist, so this letter to the major publisher James R. Osgood is somewhat unexpected. Osgood had evidently requested Bryant provide a piece for an anthology on Bunker Hill, probably because of Bryant's Massachusetts roots. Responds Bryant, "It would be as impossible for me to write a poem on Bunker Hill as to hold a conversation with an Orientalist in Sanscrit of which I do not know a word. I am glad, however, to learn that your eminent poets of Massachusetts do not find any such difficulty in their way, and am sure that what they undertake to do they will do well. By my declining to write, you have been saved the mortification of being obliged to pay for a stupid poem. Yours very truly, W.C. Bryant." The letter is dated May 3, 1875 (Bryant was 80 years old at the time). Item 56. $550.
A Literary Miscellany from the William Reese Company
Carl Van Vechten's photographic portrait of actress Lilliam Gish.
Joanna Southcott was a self-proclaimed prophetess from the English countryside. Known as "the woman clothed with the sun" (a name she gave herself), Southcott developed a sizeable following in the early 19th century, perhaps a few tens of thousands. She was condemned by most of both the established and dissenting faiths, but her prophecies, at least some of which came to be, were enough to satisfy her core believers. Southcott wrote numerous pamphlets, and in 1813 published Copies of Letters Sent to the Clergy of Exeter, from 1796-1800, with Communications and Prophecies put in the Newspapers in 1813. However, it would not be until the following year that she would reveal her greatest prophecy, that she, at the age of 64, would give virgin birth to a son, "Shiloh," in the fall. However, no birth occurred, virgin or otherwise, and Southcott died on December 27. You might think that would be the end of her ministry, but followers found explanations for the lack of a physical child and continued to spread her prophesies. To this day, she still has a small but dedicated group of followers. Item 493. $150.
Here is W.H Auden as you never knew him: The Platonic Blow, published in 1965 by the F*** You Press (not one of the more famous of publishers, and by the way, those are not really asterisks in its name). Auden is noted for more serious, romantic poetry, but in 1948, the gay poet wrote a quite pornographic, gay poem to be circulated among friends. The New York publisher with the unprintable name picked it up and published this unauthorized edition of 300 copies in 1965. Auden never officially recognized his authorship, but did not seriously deny it either, and seems to have been slyly proud of the work. Item 14. $300.
Item 535 is a 1937 photographic portrait of actress Lillian Gish by Carl Van Vechten. Van Vechten was an author who turned to photography in the 1930s and photographed many great writers and artists of the day. Gish was one of the leading actresses of the silent film era, who continued to appear in film and television as late as 1987 (she lived to be 99). She is most noted for her starring role in D.W. Griffith's controversial but pioneering 1915 film, Birth of a Nation. $1,250.
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