Books You Never Knew You Wanted from Simon Beattie
Books you never knew you wanted.
Simon Beattie Rare Books, Manuscripts, Music, Ephemera published a catalogue for the recent California Antiquarian Book Fair. The unexpected title is The Books You Never Knew You Wanted. Hopefully, by the end, you will want some of them. More than not realizing you want these books, it may be that you are not aware of them. There are some unfamiliar, and scarce books to be found, though their subjects or authors may be well known. This is an intriguing group of books, manuscripts, and ephemera, including many with a Russian connection.
We will start with a book that you probably never heard about, but it looks like a necessity for any serious collection of California... maybe? Is this the real first book published in California, not that book printed by Augustin Zamorano? It is an odd title for California: Der Orang-Outang in Europa. Even odder than European orang-outangs in Europe is that the subject is Poland, its government, customs, and such. It is not complimentary. It is a biting satire, “an extremely poisonous pamphlet, which among other things discusses the moral behavior and sex life of women in Poland.” One suspects the better description would be the “immoral” behavior of said women. But what is the connection between Carl Friedrich Benkowitz' 1780 satire of Poland and California? It turns out this book contains the imprint “Californien.” That is amazing, since it precedes the aforementioned Mr. Zamorano by more than half a century, back to a time when there were no presses in California of which anyone is aware. It seems that this was another case of Mr. Benkowitz' humor, perhaps believing orang-outangs came from California. In reality, the book was published in Berlin. Nonetheless, it carries the first California imprint, even if it was a phony one. Item 4. Priced at $3,250.
Item 11 combines a noted naturalist and explorer with a high living, crooked preacher. That is an odd combination. The author is the naturalist explorer, Georg Forster. Forster and his father traveled with James Cook on his second voyage as official naturalists. His book on the journey remains an important work in the field of natural history. Forster later would become a proponent of the French Revolution in Germany, dying in Paris in 1794 during the Reign of Terror (one of the few to die of natural causes in that terrible year). The title of his 1779 book is Leben Dr. Wilhelm Dodds... It is a first edition of his life of the “unfortunate” Rev. Dr. William Dodd. Dodd's misfortune was of his own making, though the punishment certainly outweighed the crime. Rev. Dodd was known as the “Macaroni Parson,” macaroni as in yankee doodle, not pasta. Rather than taking vows of poverty, Dodd lived well, and beyond his means. He found himself short of money, and when he offered a bribe for a better position, he found himself completely out of work. He spent two years in Europe while the scandal quieted down, and then returned to England, still short of money. He dealt with this problem by forging a bond from a former student, and using it to secure a loan. He hoped to make enough to repay the loan without getting caught, but when the bond was shown to the supposed writer, Dodd was trapped. He confessed, and sought time to repay the loan. Instead, he was convicted and sentenced to death. He had many supporters asking for clemency, most notably the great lexicographer and writer Samuel Johnson. Not even his influence mattered. Rev. Dodd was hanged at the end of a rope. $3,250.
Books You Never Knew You Wanted from Simon Beattie
Maria Bochkareva of the Women's Battalion of Death.
Here is the story of a woman far braver than Rev. Dodd, but who ultimately suffered a similar fate. Maria Bochkareva was a Russian peasant woman who managed to convince the Tsar to allow her to serve in the military. She fought bravely, was wounded, and next was permitted to form a women's unit, the Russian Women's Battalion of Death (what a great name!). The unit served in battle during the First World War, but this was also the period of the Russian Revolution and the abdication of the Tsar. Botchkareva served the White Russian government that came to power, only to be captured by the Bolsheviks on returning from the front lines. She would have been executed except for a friendly soldier securing her release. She left Russia, arriving in the U.S. in 1918. Miss Bochkerova was evidently a convincing woman, securing an audience with President Wilson, and gaining sympathy for the White Russian Cause. It was while in the U.S. that she secured the assistance of American writer Isaac Don Levine, and they cooperated to write this book: My Life as Peasant, Exile and Soldier. By Maria Botchkerova, Commander of the Russian Women's Battalion of Death... She next traveled to England, where she got further support from the King, and then returned to Russia, to fight for the Whites. Once again, she was captured by the Bolsheviks, and this time they were not as understanding. Maria Bochkareva was put to the firing squad in 1920. Item 5 is a first British edition of her story, published in 1919. $280.
Item 27 is a manuscript, an anonymous, unfinished, unpublished poem. It has been waiting at least two and one-half centuries for someone to complete it. This is an extraordinary opportunity for one with a good knowledge of early 18th century Russia. The poem is titled La Russiade. It is one of those epic poems you no longer see. There are 178 pages, including a 28-page outline and a first canto of over 500 lines. The poem celebrates Peter the Great's victory over Sweden in 1709. Most people are not aware that Sweden was once a great military power, but that is because its power ended at Peter's hands three centuries ago. It hasn't been the same since. This homage to Peter and Russia was to be “France's tribute” to the Empress Elizabeth on the marriage of her son, Peter, to Catherine (that occurred in 1745). Peter would reign for but a few months as Peter III, but his wife would rule for 34 years as Catherine the Great. $12,000.
Item 21 is an odd broadside printed in three languages, English, Italian and Greek. It announced an odd sort of monument in a proclamation by Tsar Alexander I. It came after the French invasion of Russia in 1812. Napoleon drove his troops all the way to Moscow, the Russians in constant retreat. Finally, with the French ready to take over the city, the Russians outsmarted their foes. Rather than surrendering and being forced to provide food and shelter for their captors, the Russians torched and abandoned their city. The French had Moscow, but they lacked sufficient food and shelter, and it being September, the Russian winter was coming soon. Napoleon was forced to abandon Moscow and enter full scale retreat. This broadside includes quotes from the Tsar, and announces that a column will be constructed from the 1,131 canons the French abandoned in their retreat. It certainly would have made an amazing sight, but the column was never built, and Beattie was only able to find one other reference to the idea. $1,900.
Simon Beattie Rare Books, Manuscripts, Music, Ephemera may be reached at +44 (0) 1494 784954 or email@example.com. Their website is www.simonbeattie.co.uk.