Saturday, November 25, 2017

Tom and Jerry: Friends and Aiders



Tell me!  Do these two old farts look like bibliophiles to you?


Tom is the cool cat hugging the pole.  And I'm the cross-legged one leaning on the pole.   We were just hanging around at  Mallory Square in Key West, Florida in May 2011, waiting to watch the sunset celebration.



Here's Tom in a more bibliophilic setting:


April 2005 was a very good month.  Nicholas Basbanes was the keynote speaker at the monthly meeting of the Florida Bibliophile Society.  And Mr. Basbanes signed all three books that Tom bought.




Tom was definitely "one of the gently mad."  He collected books about books–same as me.  He also collected commonplace books, books about movie stars and musicians, and books by way too many authors to name here.  He also had a closet full of old radio programs and DVDs.




April 2016 was a very bad month.  My friend Paul Ruxin passed away on April 15th.  I wrote about him on April 25th:  My Friend Paul Ruxin.  My friend Tom died three days later.  Here is his obituary from the Tampa Bay Times:





If you are a reader of my biblio-connecting blog, you already met Tom in cyberspace.  I mention Tom and his wife Eve at least 40 times in the blog.  We've been friends since 2005.

On Tuesday mornings, our wives would go to their Weight Watcher meeting.  And Tom and I would go to McDonald's.  Tom and I would then check out the local thrift stores until it was time to meet all the Weight Watcher girls for breakfast at The Broken Yolk.   After we all ordered our food, Tom would usually tell us one of them riddles that make you groan.  They became known as "Tom Jokes."

Almost every Friday,  Linda and I would meet Tom and Eve, and we would go toodling in the thrift stores, bookstores, and antique stores within driving distance of our neck of the woods. Some people may call it "tootling," but we have found that "toodling" is more enjoyable.

Tom would look for books, DVDs and CDs; I would look for books. Linda would look for Bing and Grondahl porcelain, mostly in the seagull design; Eve would look for trinket boxes; and we all would look for each other's stuff.

Tom had this habit of introducing himself and me to the people behind the counter at almost all the places we visited:
Hi!  I'm Tom!  And this is my friend Jerry....  Tom and Jerry?
We did get some strange looks and sometimes even some polite laughs.

Books about Books were fair game between Tom and me.  Whomever grabbed the book first was the new owner.  But Tom and I were usually mindful of the other books each of us collected.  Sometimes, however, we would secretly try to grab them for birthday and Christmas presents.  Case in point:



On Friday, January 11, 2011, before I even noticed it, Tom grabbed this book off of a shelf in an antique store on U.S.301.  Tom knew I liked essays and he was getting an early start for Christmas 2011.  I didn't notice the book because I was too busy grabbing a Roycrofters book for Tom:



This book was published in 1903 by Elbert Hubbard at the Roycrofters.  The brown suede leather was completely detached, but I thought I could rebind it and give it to Tom next Christmas.

At that very moment, a lightning bolt seemed to strike both us!  We simultaneously realized that we didn't really need to wait eleven months to give the books to each other.  So we swapped books.  And we may even have said "Merry Christmas"  to each other.  I rebound the book for Tom in white leather and pasted a makeshift bookbinder ticket inside that read, "Bound by Jerry Morris for Tom Harris, January 2011."  The book is now in the library of Tom's daughter Mary.


 While traveling from place to place on Fridays, we were guinea pigs for Tom's jokes. And at some point of the day, Tom and I would have this friendly conversation:
Hey Tom!  What?  S-h-u-t  U-p! 
After we were done toodling for the day, we would go to dinner, and then sit down for a night of pinochle... and more of Tom's jokes.  The girls usually won, but we all had fun.


Van Wyck Brooks was one of the authors Tom collected.  And for his birthday in 2009, I gave him the copy of Emerson Handbook that the author, Frederic Ives Carpenter, had given to Van Wyck Brooks. And I call attention to the paragraph in Carpenter's Preface where Carpenter calls Van Wyck Brooks "a friend and aider."



Tom was a friend and an aider to me.  In 2006, when I was medically retired from the Post Office (heart problems), and waiting anxiously for my disability to be approved, Tom bought my Vincent Starrett Collection and my Christopher Morley Collection, and helped keep me afloat financially.


I thought I was Tom's best friend, but actually, Tom's best friend was his chiropractor.  He gave Tom temporary relief of his persistent back pain.  But despite all the pain, Tom never lost his sense of humor.

Tom suffered a stroke in one of his eyes a few years before he died, and he was reduced to reading Large Print books.  To this day, I am always scanning the bookshelves for large print books.


Tom had a whole shelf of Miss Read books that he could no longer read, so he donated them, and we got as many large-print editions of Miss Read books that we could find.  I kept one Miss Read book for the Tom Harris Shelf:




I had Book-of-the-Month Club News issues from the 1930s to the 1950s, and I gave them to Tom for Christmas one year because he enjoyed reading them.  I got them back as a birthday present when he could no longer read them.




Surprisingly, in all our conversations about books,–and we had a lot of conversations–Tom never mentioned The Priceless Gift by Cornelius Hirschberg–or the fact that he photo-copied all 343 pages!  From looking at the Table of Contents, I can see why Tom liked this book.  It contains practically everything Tom liked!





Tom needed room for all the large-print books he wanted, and his old books about books went to Bo Rushing's Back in the Day Books for store credit.  Tom had offered the Starrett and Morley books to me, but my shelves were already too full.  However, when Eve was cleaning out the closet a few months ago, she found some of Tom's books tucked away in the far corner.  And Starrett's The Last Bookman and several Christopher Morley books have now found a resting place on the Tom Harris Bookshelf in my library.





Eve still meets us for breakfast on Tuesdays.  And I tell the ladies "Tom Jokes."  And yes, everyone groans.

Linda and I still go toodling with Eve on Fridays.  But what I really miss is hearing Tom say:
Hi!  I'm Tom!  And this is my friend Jerry.... Tom and Jerry?









Monday, October 30, 2017

Before the News Went Fake: A Tour of Books About the Press


   To us, who are regaled every morning and evening with intelligence, and are supplied from day to day with materials for conversation, it is difficult to conceive how man can subsist without a news-paper, or to what entertainment companies can assemble in those wide regions of the earth that have neither Chronicles nor Magazines, neither Gazettes nor Advertisers, neither Journals nor Evening-Posts.  All foreigners remark that the knowledge of the common people of England is greater than that of any  other vulgar.  This superiority we undoubtedly owe to the rivulets of intelligence which are continually trickling among us, which every one may catch, and which every one partakes.

                                     Samuel Johnson, The Idler No. 7,  May 27, 1758




Do you remember when paperboys rode bicycles and threw newspapers onto – or close to – the doorsteps of their customers? I remember because I was once a paperboy for The Long Island Press.  But that is another story....

Do you remember when journalists reported the news exactly as it occurred––or as they fervently believed it occurred?   And an overwhelming majority of newspaper readers actually believed what the journalists reported.  But in today's polarized society, all that has changed.  Nowadays, most people get their news from their favorite TV news shows or from social media.  And people only believe what they want to believe.

There are all sorts of information reported as news:  alternative facts, misinformation, and outright lies.  Then there is fake news:  any news report that, in Donald Trump's opinion, treats him unfairly.



The Press, As Donald Trump Would Like It To Be


Today, I'm going to take you back in time on a tour of books about the Press in my library:  about newspapers and magazines and muckrakers and journalists––before the news went fake....


The Bible on Printing in America


I still regard Isaiah Thomas's book, The History of Printing in America, as the bible on printing in America.  And, as its subtitle states, it includes an account of early newspapers printed in America.   In the first edition of his book, Thomas informed his readers that the first Anglo American newspaper  printed in America was printed by the Boston postmaster in April 1704.  Isaiah Thomas gathered corrections and notes for a second edition, but never got around to publishing it before he died in 1831.  The American Antiquarian Society, however, published a second edition in 1874, using Thomas's notes.  And in 1975,  Marcus A. McCorison of the American Antiquarian Society edited a third edition.  From Thomas's notes, the name of the postmaster, John Campbell, and the exact date of the publication of the newspaper, April 24th, 1704, were added to the later editions.  Nota Bene:  I am aware that some sources cite Publick Occurrences, published in 1690, as the first American newspaper published in America.  More on that later.


Ravelings From Brigham's Bib


Clarence S. Brigham was the author of The Bibliography of American Newspapers 1690-1820, published in three volumes in 1947.  His bibliography served as the source for his lectures as a Rosenbach Fellow in Bibliography, which were then published in this book.  Brigham thought long and hard before deciding on the title of his lectures.  "Memoranda Regarding Early American Newspapers," and "Stray Notes for a History of Journalism" were two choices as the title.  Another, suggested by a critic, was "Ravelings from My Bib."  One of his lectures was on  the topic of "Newspaper vs. Magazine"  in which Brigham stated that it was hard to determine if a publication was a newspaper or a magazine.  He cited an instance involving Isaiah Thomas.  When the state of Massachusetts passed a state tax on advertisements in newspapers, Thomas changed the name of his publication from Thomas's Massachusetts Spy to Worcester Magazine.




Tebbel & Zuckerman on Magazines


John Tebbel, the author of the four-volume set, A History of Book Publishing in America, went back to his roots as a newspaperman and worked with Mary Ellen Zuckerman, an expert on magazines, to produce a comprehensive book on the history of the magazine industry in America, from magazines for women, for men, for political purposes, and for just plain intellectual enjoyment.

List of Magazines From 1894


Here's the 1894 edition of William H. Guild's Subscription Agency Catalogue, listing the leading American and foreign periodicals of the day.  The company also offered up-to-date sets of the Atlantic Monthly, Century, and Harper's Monthly.


A Teacher's Aid From a Newspaper Collector



This pamphlet is a workbook for high school history teachers.  It was written and published in 1975 by my friend, the late Frederic B. Farrar.  The title is the same title as his thesis for his master's degree from Adelphi University in 1975.  The pamphlet contains excerpts from early newspapers in Fred's newspaper collection that reported on early events in American history, from the Jan 21, 1737 issue of the Country Craftsman (London) covering the trial of Peter Zenger to the Sept. 19, 1787 issue of the Pennsylvania Packet containing the first printing of the United States Constitution.

From the Foreword: 
    Some of these early newspapers are the only sources for a particular event.  Many illustrate the problems we have today as we try to keep up with the march of time.                
   One of these is the confusion of some events, and the reporter or historian's difficulty in obtaining exact information.  Because someone identified a hill incorrectly, it can be argued that there never was a Battle of Bunker Hill.  It should probably be named the Battle of Breed's Hill.  Perhaps the most famous and long-lasting battle of all is the one historians and journalists wage for what sometimes, in our earnestness, we redundantly call the "true facts."


The Fourth Estate



Editor & Publisher commissioned my friend Fred Farrar to supervise the historic research for the 100th Anniversary issue of this trade magazine in 1984.  Fred lead off the issue with an article of his own: "American Journalism––The Beginnings.  In this article, he, too, cites Campbell's Boston News-Letter as the first American newspaper.  Fred mentions two earlier attempts to start newspapers in Boston:  Samuel Green's broadside, The Present State of the New-English Affairs, in 1689, and Benjamin Harris's Publick Occurrences less than a year later.  Fred didn't consider either of these two as "the first newspaper" because neither printer published a second issue; they failed to obtain permission to print the news.  The rest of the anniversary issue is a virtual trip down memory lane with articles and cartoons and advertisements  that appeared in Editor & Publisher from 1884 to 1984.


Fred Farrar donated his newspaper collection to his alma mater, Washington & Lee University. His alma mater's library posted a final tribute to him in the Spring 2015 issue of its periodical:




Media Persuasion



In 1990,  Madison House Publications in Wisconsin published The Selling of the Constitutional Convention:  A History of News Coverage by John K. Alexander.  His book covers news reporting before and during the Constitutional Convention.   Newspaper editors went from reporting the news to controlling the news, publishing only articles favorable to Federalism.

The author touches upon this bias in his Preface.  And his words are even more relevant today:
    Although this work offers a case study of the late eighteenth-century press in action, it also sheds light on the ongoing debate about bias in the American media of today.  The modern media has increasingly come under heavy fire.  Critics of various persuasions charge that the media is growing more and more biased.  Some analysts account for this by putting special weight on the transformation of the media into corporate big business.  In their provocative  and perceptive Manufacturing Consent (1988), Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky emphasize that numerous variables work as "filters," limiting what the media produces.  They stress, however,  that the big-business orientation of the media is an especially significant filter.  It helps produce what they claim is a dangerous uniformity of view and even management of the news....



The Federalist

The Federalist was first published in book form in 1788 (my copy is a reprint from the Everyman's Library series).  But the essays, written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay,  first appeared in three New York newspapers of the day in 1787 and 1788: The Independent Journal, The New York Packet, and The Daily Advertiser.  The purpose of the essays was to convince the citizens of New York to ratify the Constitution.

But The Federalist essays weren't the only essays written during the public discussion on the ratification of the Constitution.  In 1888, Paul Leicester Ford published a book containing essays written by both Federalists and Anti-Federalists that were published during these public discussions about the Constitution in 1787 and 1788.

More Essays on the Constitution
 


Among the statesmen whose essays are included in this book are George Clinton (Cato), James Winthrop (Agrippa), Oliver Ellsworth (A Landholder), and Spencer Roane (A Plain Dealer).  Many of the essays were written as replies to the arguments presented by one of the other statesmen: eg. there are two letters written by Alexander Hamilton under the name of C├Žsar in which he disputes the arguments of Cato (George Clinton).  These two letters appeared in The Daily Advertiser in October 1887, and were not included in the first edition of The Federalist.  

The  Federalist essays were published in three New York journals; the essays that Ford selected were published by various journals in several states: Pittsburgh Gazette, Independent Gazetteer, (Philadelphia), Maryland Journal, New York Journal, Pennsylvania Gazette, North Carolina State Gazette, Connecticut Courant, Daily Advertiser, Massachusetts Sentinel, American Herald, Humphrey's Mercury (Philadelphia), Virginia Independent Chronicle, American Mercury (Connecticut), and the New Haven Gazette.


The Stars and Stripes


General Pershing pulled newspapermen from the ranks in World War I, and had them publish a newspaper to keep the soldiers informed.   In less than 18 months, the circulation of The Stars and Stripes had grown from 30,000 copies to 500,000 copies.


Ernie Pyle


Ernie Pyle was one of the war correspondents who kept the American people informed during World War II.  From the Battle of Britain, to D-Day in Normandy, to the liberation of Paris, he provided first-hand reports of how the American G. I.  was performing on the battlefield, winning a Pulitzer prize for his reporting.  When the war in the European theatre was winding down,  Pyle began reporting the news in the Pacific theatre.  He was killed by Japanese machine-gun fire on April 18, 1945 on the island of Ie Shima, just north of Okinawa.


Pyle and More

Some of Ernie Pyle's news reports are included in this book about the news reporting of the last 18 months of World War II.  Also included are news reports by John Hersey, Edward R. Murrow, Martha Gelhorn, A. J. Liebling, and Janet Flanner.

The New Yorker

562 pages of riveting new reports that first appeared in The New Yorker, from Mollie Panter-Downs's Sept. 9, 1939 Letter detailing the Londoners carrying gas masks and preparing to evacuate to John Hersey's report on Hiroshima on Aug 31, 1946, detailing the accounts of six residents of Hiroshima who survived the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.


Creative Nonfiction

In 1984,when this book was published, literary journalists were those journalists who delved into a story, not head first, but with slow and deliberate steps, to get all the parts to a story, and then to reconstruct it for the reader.  George Orwell was a literary journalist as was John Hersey and Truman Capote.  The manner of writing may have been called by different terms, one of which was "New Journalism."  Today, we might even refer to it as "investigative journalism."

The most alarming story in this book, at least for me, is the one by Ron Rosenbaum titled "The Subterranean World of the Bomb."  This article first appeared in the March 1978 issue of Harper's Magazine.  Rosenbaum begins the article with mention of the unopened last letter of Our Lady of Fatima which reportedly tells the date the human race will be destroyed by total nuclear war.  Rosenbaum then mentions a Jan. 13, 1975 NY Times article that was headlined, AIR FORCE PANEL RECOMMENDS DISCHARGE OF MAJOR WHO CHALLENGED "FAILSAFE" SYSTEM.  An ICBM Launch Officer asked his superiors the following question:
What safeguards are in existence at the highest level of government to protect against an unlawful launch order... what checks and balances there are to assure that a launch order could not be affected by the President gone berserk or by some foreign penetration of the command system.
Scary stuff, yes.  Rosenbaum delves into the entire nuclear warfare scenario; but he never finds an answer to the ICBM Launch Officer's question.  Rosenbaum did, however,  discover that in the last days of Nixon's Presidency, Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger gave orders to communication centers in the nuclear chain of command that he be personally notified of any unusual "orders" from the President.  That, at least, is comforting to know.


Nieman Fellows

Since 1938, the Neiman Foundation has brought journalists to Harvard to further their studies, however which way they so desire.  The Class of 1942 decided to assign topics pertaining to the newspaper industry to one another, and then have open discussions about newspapering.  Publishing their essays in a book was an afterthought.  The subtitle, Nieman Essays – First Series,  should probably read "first and only series" because I don't believe there ever was another series published.

Silurian Society (New York City)



The Silurian Society, the nation's oldest press club was founded in 1924.  The original qualifications for membership was that one must have worked on a New York City paper as a reporter, editor, cartoonist, or illustrator thirty years earlier in 1894.  To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the Society published the experiences and afterthoughts of over 80 New York newspaperman, which had appeared in issues of the Silurian News.

Muckraker


I may have given Steffen's autobiography away because I can't find it in my library.  At 884 pages, it was a long but very interesting read about muckraking in the United States.  I remember that I had a hard time putting the book down.   I have yet to read Palermo's book.  And after reading Steffen's autobiography, I'm afraid that reading anything else about Steffen will be a disappointment.

H.L. Mencken
As per H. L. Mencken's wishes, the manuscript of Thirty-Five Years of Newspaper Work and Mencken's diary were under time-lock at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore.  In both books, Mencken recalls his days as a newspaperman and columnist for the Baltimore Sun and as editor of the American Mercury. A former owner of the diary, a Palm Harbor resident, really liked the book.  She read it in 8/91, reread it in 5/95,  and reread it again and again and again in 1/00, 12/02, and 12/05.

Some No-Good Publishers

George Seldes's book, first published in 1938, is a blistering attack on the members of the American Newspaper Publishers Association.  With the exception of Joseph Medill Patterson, publisher of the New York Daily News in the 1930s, Seldes portrays 99% of the publishers as Dictators of the Press, commanding reporters and editors to post the news as the dictators wanted it to be posted, and not as it actually occurred.


I should mention that it wasn't always the publishers who distorted the truthfulness of the news.  In The Idler No. 30, published on Saturday, November 11, 1758, Samuel Johnson paints a disquieting picture of the personal qualities of some of the news writers of his day:
To write news in its perfection requires a combination of qualities, that a man completely fitted for the task is not always to be found.  In Sir Henry Wotten's jocular definition, " An ambassador is said to be a man of virtue sent abroad to tell lies for the advantage of his country ; a news-writer is a man without virtue, who writes lies at home for his own profit."  To these compositions is required neither genius nor knowledge, neither industry nor sprightliness ; but contempt of shame and indifference to truth are absolutely necessary.  He who by a long familiarity with infamy has obtained these qualities, may confidently tell to-day what he intends to contradict to-morrow ; he may affirm fearlessly what he knows that he shall be obliged to recant, and may write letters from Amsterdam or Dresden himself....


How the Washington Press Corps Has Failed the Public


In her 2006 book, Helen Thomas wrote a fiery report on the decline of the Washington Press Corps as the watchdogs of democracy, and a call to return to the standards of good journalism.  In her foreword, she writes:
   I have been privileged to cover nine United States presidents, sometimes with sympathy, sometimes with outrage, but most often with critical eyes and a conviction that they all could have done better for the country.
   Now I have to say the same thing about the press, or what is sweepingly called the media.  Something vital has been lost––or have American journalists forgotten their role is to follow the truth, without fear or favor, wherever it leads them?  The truth, rather than an agenda, should be the goal of a free press.


JFK's Assassination


John F. Kennedy's assassination was a shocking event.  Many Americans, myself included, were glued to their television sets not wanting to believe what had just happened.  They were still watching  TV two days later and witnessed Jack Ruby fatally shooting Lee Harvey Oswald.   Television had now become the dominant news source in America.




This book provides a history of Newspaper Row in Boston.  Its author, Herbert A. Kenny, begins by saying that "Boston has very properly been called 'the cradle of American journalism."  Kenny writes that Publick Occurrences is generally regarded as the first newspaper published in the colonies.  And he calls John Campbell, the Boston postmaster who published the Boston Newsletter (sic) in 1704, "the father of American journalism."  Gradually, the newspapers vacated Newspaper Row and built more modern and efficient plants elsewhere in the city.

Two Detroit Newspapers

On Guard provides a history of the first 150 years of the Detroit Free Press, from its beginnings in 1831 up to 1981.  Paper Losses tells about the years-long feud that went on between the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press.  The very first sentence of this book tells it all:  "This is the story of two American newspapers who tried to kill each other."


The Trib

This book is a mammoth 801-page history of the New York Herald Tribune from its first publication in 1842 to its demise after prolonged labor strikes in 1966.


The Washington Post

When Ben Bradlee was the editor of the Washington Post, he made the following acknowledgement: "We ought to call this thing 'The Morning Miracle.'  It's a miracle we get it out every morning."

The Washington Post is still a powerful part of America's Free Press, and the author of this 2010 book, Dave Kindred, provides a behind-the-scenes look at how the Washington Post operates.  In his Prologue, he mentions meeting the eighty-eight year old Ben Bradlee, then vice president at large, and asking him if the paper was in trouble.  Bradlee replied:
I dunno.  But I know whatever happens, there'll always be a few of us, a band of brothers, or a band of sisters––a band of people, damn it––who call themselves journalists, who will write what they believe the truth to be.



Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Passages From Lambians in My Library, Large and Small



I have spent many a Carolo-lambian Hour grieving over his life's unfair twists and turns and wishing that posterity could vindicate Elia's efforts to straighten them out. 'Damn the Age!' Lamb once said. 'I will write for antiquity.' Antiquity is not cooperating. My dog-eared 1933 anthology (the dog-eared part is fine; Lamb preferred well-thumbed volumes), called Everybody's Lamb, has become Hardly Anybody's Lamb. If I could make him Everybody's again, in my own whiffling century, I would forswear my spectacles, play at put, mend pens, kill fleas, or shell peas (41, 42).
Anne Fadiman, "The Unfuzzy Lamb," At Large and At Small

Anne Fadiman's essay, "The Unfuzzy Lamb" is one of the best essays about Lamb that I have read.  And a passage from that essay rightly takes its place as the leader of all these passages about Lamb.  Lamb was popular right up to the turn of this century.  And maybe we can help make him become popular again, because I would love to see Anne Fadiman forswear her spectacles, play at put, mend pens, kill fleas, or shell peas!





Helene Hanff and Frank Doel, Correspondence, 84 Charing Cross Road

Among his schoolfellows, Charles formed special friendships with a few select spirits; and in Coleridge–'the inspired charity-boy,' who entered the school at the same time, though three years older–he found a life-long companion.  He looked up to the elder lad–dreamy, dejected, lonely–with an affection and a reverence which never failed all through life, though in after years subject to the strain of Coleridge's alienation, absence, and silence.  'Bless you, old sophist,' he wrote once to Coleridge, 'who, next to human nature taught me all the corruption I was capable of knowing (19, 20)."
Benjamin Ellis Martin, In the Footprints of Charles Lamb

   A century earlier, the most graceful British essayist of all, Charles Lamb, divided the human species into 'two distinct races,' neither of them identifiable by skin color, language, geographic roots, or religious conviction.  Instead, Lamb (writing as 'Elia') judged people simply as 'the men who borrow, and the men who lend,'  But it was not borrowing currency that provoked his displeasure.  'to one like Elia, whose treasures are rather cased in leather covers than closed in iron coffers, there is a class of alienators more formidable than those which I have touched upon; I mean your borrowers of books–those mutilators of collections, spoilers of the symmetry of shelves, and creators of odd volumes.'
   As Lamb escorted readers through his 'little back study' in Bloomsbury, he pointed out the 'foul gap in the bottom shelf facing you, like a great eye-tooth knocked out,' a cavity that once held 'the tallest of my folios.'  Further on, he indicated evidence of other similar offenses:  'Here stood The Anatomy of Melancholy, in sober state.  there loitered The Compleat Angler; quiet as in life, by some stream side.'  A frequent visitor to his rooms, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, was singled out for special umbrage, though Lamb did concede a single compensation:

Justice I must do my friend, that if he sometimes, like the sea, sweeps away a treasure, at another time, sea-like, he throws up as rich an equivalent to match it.  I have a small under-collection of this nature (my friend's gatherings in  his various calls), picked up, he has forgotten at what odd places, and deposited with as little memory as mine.  I take in  these orphans, the twice-deserted.  These proselytes of the gate are welcome as the true Hebrews.  There they stand in conjunction; natives and naturalized.
Nicholas A. Basbanes, "Touching the Hand," A Gentle Madness

The talk grew faster and louder.  discussions were begun and carried on with quips and personalities that brought shouts of delighted laughter.  Hazlitt, for at least the twentieth time, tried to convince Charles Lamb that Fielding was a better writer than Smollett; and Lamb carrying on the argument vigorously, yet contrived to have something to say in all the conversations that were going on around him, to stammer out his puns, and shout his friendly provocative insults.  Leigh Hunt's dark handsome face was full of fire as he discussed the doctrines of Rousseau with serious Charles Lloyd.  Godwin expounded his revolutionary philosophy in a mild, pleasant voice, quoting from Locke and Berkeley and Hume.  'He is quite a tame creature,' Lamb assured Manning, 'a middle-sized man both in stature and understanding; whereas from his noisy fame you would expect to find a Briareus Centimanus, or a Tityus tall enough to pull Jupiter from his heavens (245)."
Amy Cruse, "A Supper at Charles Lamb's," The Englishman and His Books


Granted then, that the light-hearted letter, and the letter which gives us material with which to fill up the gaps and crannies of history, which holds the life of the past embalmed in its faded pages, have disappeared,, perhaps forever. There is another letter which has not disappeared, which never can disappear as long as man stays man and woman, woman, – the letter which reveals to us the personality of the writer; which is dear and valuable to us because in it his hand stretches out frankly from the past, and draws us to his side. It may be long or short, carefully or carelessly written, full of useful information or full of idle nonsense. We do not stop to ask. It is enough for us to know from whom it came. And the finest of such a letter may surely be found in the well-loved correspondence of Charles Lamb.  If we eliminated from his pages all critical matter, all those shrewd and admirable verdicts upon prose and verse; if we cut out ruthlessly such scraps of news as they occasionally convey; if we banished all references to celebrated people, from the 'obnoxious squeak' of Shelley's voice to the generous sympathy expressed for Napoleon, we should still have left–the writer himself, which is all that we desire. We should still have the record of that harmless and patient, that brave and sorely tried life. We should still see infinite mirth and infinite pathos interwoven upon every page. We should catch the echo of that clear, kind laughter which never hardens into scorn.  Lamb laughs at so many people, and never once wrongs any one. We should see the flashes of a wit which carries no venom in its sting. We should feel that atmosphere of wonderful, whimsical humor illuminating all the trivial details of existence. We should recognize in the turning of every sentence, the conscious choice of every word, the fine and distinctive qualities of a genius that has no parallel (199, 200).
Agnes Repplier, "Letters" Essays in Idleness


I have nine of Agnes Repplier's books of essays.  And she mentions Charles Lamb several times in all but one of them.  The passage I chose, the longest and the best, says volumes about her fondness of Charles Lamb.


The 'trying-to-look-pleasant' expression is peculiarly noticeable in the life masks of Wordsworth and Keats;  although the former did not altogether succeed, which was not the fault, by the way, of Charles Lamb.  Haydon describes the operation in his Journal under the date 1815 and says:  'Wordsworth sat in my dressing-gown with his hands folded, sedate, solemn, and still, bearing it like a philosopher.'  But elsewhere we read that the poet was placed flat on his back on the studio floor, while Lamb capered about him in glee at the undignified absurdity of the proceedings, trying to make the subject grin at his fantastic criticisms and remarks (176).
Laurence Hutton, "The Works of Haydon," Talks in a Library


Charles Lamb's only known attempt as a portrait artist


Charles Lamb, Portrait Artist, A Sentimental Library (Harry B. Smith) p.138

Harry B. Smith had over 50 items by and about Charles Lamb in his Sentimental Library, including the autograph manuscript of "Dream Children; A Reverie."   I tracked the ownership of that manuscript and posted on my Biblio Researching blog.  I'll post a link to it near the end of this post.

There is before me as I write a well-thumbed and badly shaken little volume, The Essays of Elia and Eliana, which I have owned for more than half a century and which I always turn to when I want to verify a quotation.  Truth compels me to say that the original manuscript of Lamb's exquisite essay, 'Dream-Children,' is a more valuable possession, but it was in this little volume, published by Moxon, that I first learned to know and love the author 'who wrote for antiquity,' he said, and who, as Mr. E. V. Lucas remarked, 'has become more and more a writer treasured by posterity (4, 5)."
A. Edward Newton, "Lawyers Were Children Once,"  End Papers

Lamb says that Bridget Elia 'was tumbled early, by accident or design, into a spacious library of good old English reading, without much selection or prohibition, and browsed at will upon that fair and wholesome pasturage.'  And he adds, 'Had I twenty girls they should be brought up exactly in this fashion (34)."
Arthur L. Humphreys, "The Art of Reading," The Private Library


Mr. Lamb has succeeded, not by conforming to the Spirit of the Age, but in opposition to it.  He does not march boldly along with the crowd, but steals off the pavement to pick his way in the contrary direction.  He prefers bye-ways to highways.  When the full tide of human life pours along to some festive show, to some pageant of a day, Elia would stand on one side to look over an old book-stall, or stroll down some deserted pathway in search of a pensive description over a tottering doorway, or some quaint device in architecture, illustrative of embryo art and ancient manners.  Mr. Lamb has the very soul of an antiquarian, as this implies a reflecting humanity; the film of the past hovers forever before him.  He is shy, sensitive, the reverse of everything coarse, vulgar, obtrusive, and common-place.  He would fain 'shuffle off this mortal coil': and his spirit clothes itself in the garb of elder time, homelier, but more durable.  He is borne along with no pompous paradoxes, shines in no glittering tinsel of a fashionable phraseology, is neither fop or sophist.  He has none of the turbulence or froth of new-fangled opinions.  His style runs pure and clear, though it may often take an underground course, or be conveyed though old-fashioned conduit-pipes.  Mr. Lamb does not court popularity, nor strut in gaudy plumes, but shrinks from every kind of ostentatious and obvious pretension into the retirement of his own mind (769).

William Hazlitt, "Elia and Geoffrey Crayon,"  Selected Essays of William Hazlitt 1778-1830


Mr. Lamb's taste in books is also fine; and it is peculiar.  It is not the worse for a little idiosyncrasy.  He does not go deep into the Scotch Novels; but he is at home in Smollett or Fielding.  He is little read in Junius or Gibbon; but no man can give a better account of Burton's 'Anatomy of Melancholy,' or Sir Thomas Browne's 'Urn-Burial,' or Fuller's 'Worthies,' or John Bunyan's 'Holy War.'  No one is more unimpressible to a specious declamation ; no one relishes a recondite beauty more.  His admiration of Shakespeare and Milton does not make him despise Pope; and he can read Parnell with patience and Gay with delight.  His taste in French and German literature is somewhat defective; nor has he made much progress in the science of Political Economy or other obtruse  studies, though he has read vast folios of controversial divinity, merely for the sake of the intricacy of style, and to save himself the pain of thinking (473).
William Hazlitt, "Charles Lamb," William Hazlitt, Essayist and Critic



Lamb's library consisted for the most part of tattered volumes in a dreadful state of repair. Lamb, like Young, the poet, dog-eared his books to such an extent that many of them would hardly close at all.  From the correspondence of Bernard Barton we gert a glimpse at Lamb's cottage in Colebrook Row, Islington–a white house with six good rooms.  'You enter without passage into a cheerful dining room, all studded over and rough with old books.'  Barton also writes: 'What chiefly attracted me was a large old book-case full of books.  I could but think how many long walks must have been taken to bring them home, for there were but few that did not bear the mark of having been bough at many a bookstall–brown, dark-looking books, distinguished by those white tickets which told how much their owner had given for each (76, 77)."
W. Roberts, "From the Old to the New,"  Book-Hunters in London

The volumes mentioned in the following list, could they but be gathered together, would, we think, not only form a small ideal collection, but would also cause their lucky owner to more than delight to be in contact with them:

Charles Lamb's Chapman's Homer, which Leigh Hunt once saw him kiss (50)....   
Charles Lamb's Beaumont and Fletcher.  [(Bridget Ela loquitor) 'Do you remember the brown suit which you made to hang upon you, till all your friends cried shame upon you, it grew so thread-bare–and all because of that folio Beaumont and Fletcher, which you dragged home late at night from Barker's in Covent Garden?  Do you remember how we eyed it for weeks before we could make up our minds to the purchase, and had not come to a determination till it was near ten o'clock of the Saturday night,when you set off from Islington, fearing you should be too late–and when the old bookseller, with some grumbling, opened the shop, and by the twinkling taper (for he was setting bedwards) lighted out the relic from his dusty treasures–and when you lugged it home, wishing it were twice as cumbersome–and when you presented it to me–and when we were exploring the perfectness of it (collating, you called it)–and while I was repairing some of the loose leaves with paste, which your impatience would not suffer to be left till daybreak–was there no pleasure in being a poor man? or can those neat black clothes which you wear now, and are so careful to keep brushed, since we have become rich and finical, give you half the honest vanity with which you flaunted it about in that over-worn suit (59)....

Any of the volumes mentioned by Lamb in his Detached Thoughts on Books and Reading(62)....

Any book which Coleridge borrowed from Lamb (S.T.C. annotations)(62)....
J. Rogers Rees, "Glimpses of Earthly Paradise," The Pleasures of a Book-Worm



I believe, however, I run no great risk in asserting that, of all English authors, Charles Lamb is the one loved most warmly and emotionally by his admirers, amongst whom I reckon only those who are as familiar with the four volumes of his 'Life and Letters' as with 'Elia' (102, 103)."
Augustine Birrell, "Truth-Hunting,"  Obiter Dicta, First Series


Lamb's popularity shows no sign of waning.  Even that most extraordinary compound, the rising generation of readers, whose taste in literature is as erratic as it is pronounced; who have never heard of James Thomson who sang The Seasons (including the pleasant episode of Musidora bathing), but understand by any reference to that name only the striking author of The City of Dreadful Night ; even these wayward folk – the dogs whose criticism, not yet full grown, will, when let loose, as some day they must be, cry 'havoc' amongst established reputations – read their Lamb, letters as well as essays, with laughter and with love (226,227).
Augustine Birrell, "Charles Lamb," Obiter Dicta, Second Series

Charles Lamb was not a book collector who hunted specially after first editions, although he liked good ones; he was a lover of literature who accumulated a number of old books because he loved to read and re-read them; to annotate them, and to  lend and discuss them with his friends.  Their condition  was not of importance to him....   
The booklover who treasures his volumes as things of beauty and handles them with loving care, will recoil with horror at Mary Lamb's account, in her letter to Barbara Betham in 1814, of the whoesale cutting out of plates from their books to decorate their walls of the newly discovered garret at Inner Temple Lane.  Nevertheless, in spite of his disregard of the condition of his books, he was of almost all English writers, except perhaps Leigh Hunt, the most bookish (200).
Claude A. Prance, "Library, Lamb's," Companion to Charles Lamb

The longest reference to Lamb comes again from Talfourd, who in his review of Wallace's Various Prospects of Mankind, Nature and Providence has much to say on the 'Progress of Literature.'  The Lamb paragraph reads:

Charles Lamb is as original as either of these [i.e., Wordsworth and Coleridge], within the smaller circle he has chosen.  We know not of any writer, living or dead, to whom we can fitly liken him.  The exceeding delicacy of his fancy, the keenness of his perceptions of truth and beauty, the sweetness and the wisdom of his humour, and the fine interchange and sportive combination of all these, so frequent in his works, are entirely and peculiarly his own.  As it has been said of Swift, that his better genius was his spleen, it may be asserted of Lamb, that his kindness is his inspiration.  with how nice an eye does he detect the least hitherto unnoticed indication of goodness, and with how true and gentle a touch does he bring it out to do good to our natures!  How new and strange do some of his fantastical ebullitions seem, yet how invariable do they come home to the very core, and smile at the heart!  He makes the majesties if imagination seem familiar, and gives to familiar things a pathetic beauty or a venerable air.  Instead of finding that every thing in his writings is made the most  of, we always feel that the tide of sentiment and of thought is pent in, and that the air and variegated bubbles spring up from a far depth in the placid waters.  The loveliness of his thought looks, in the quaintness of his style, like a modest beauty, laced-in and attired in a dress of the superb fashion of the elder time.  His versification is not greatly inferior to that of Coleridge, and it is, in all its best qualities, unlike that of any other poet.  His heroic couplets are alternately sweet, terse, and majestical; and his octo-syllabic measures have a freshness and completeness, which mark them the pure Ionic of verse (99).
 T. N. Talfourd (quoted) "Charles Lamb and the Retrospective Review," Essays of a Book Collector

Claude A. Prance notes that the above passage was printed as a supplement to the C.L.S. Bulletin, No. 18 (February 1937).  Prance has three essays about Lamb in his book, Essays of a Book Collector, including one on Lamb's Golden Year 1821.

Americans take a peculiar delight in the humour of Charles Lamb, for he is one of the foremost American humourists. On the roll which is headed by Benjamin Franklin, and on which the latest signatures were made by Mark Twain and Mr. Bret Harte, no name shines more brightly than Lamb's. By the captious it may be objected that he was not an American at all; but surely this should not be remembered to his discredit, – it was a mere accident of birth. Elia could have taken out his naturalization papers at any time(7).

Brander Matthews, Introduction The Dramatic Essays of Charles Lamb

As editor, Braander Matthews dedicated the book to his fellow Lambian, Laurence Hutton





There is, in Lamb's familiar letters and in many of his essays, so much that is autobiographical, and his friends have so often and so fondly described him and his sister in their home life, that no attempt will be made here to tell Lamb's story except as he has told it himself, or as it has been told by those who knew and loved him well (182).


              Laurence Hutton,  "Charles Lamb," Literary Landmarks of London
In its form the periodical essay had changed little since it was first made popular by Addison and Steele.  It remained, primarily, a vehicle for the expression of a personality, and it continued to seek the interests of its readers by creating or suggesting an individuality strong enough to carry off any desultory adventure by the mere force of its own attractiveness.  Yet there is all the difference in the world between Hazlitt and Addison, or Lamb and Steele.  The Tatler and the Spectator leave you with a sense of artifice;  Hazlitt and Lamb leave you with a grip of a real personality–in the one case very vigorous and combative, in the other set about with a rare plaintiveness and gentleness, but in both absolutely sincere.  Addison is gay and witty and delightful but he only plays at being human;  Lamb's essays–the translation into print of a heap of idiosyncrasies and oddities, and likes and dislikes, and strange humours–come straight from a human soul (186, 187).
G. H. Mair, "The Romantic Revival,"  English Literature:  Modern

As the result of a fall, Charles Lamb died on December 27, 1834, 'murmuring the names of Moxon, Procter, and some other old friends' who apparently were to be invited to partake with him of a turkey recently sent him.  Mary Lamb immediately became ill and remained so for a long period.  Talfourd and Ryle, Lamb's friend of clerking days, were the executors of his estate, all of which was left in trust for her sister during her lifetime,  Uopon her death the estate would go to Emma Isola Moxon.  Few friends attended the funeral.  –only Moxon, Talfouord, Ryle, Hood, Alsop, and friends at the India House.  Articles upon his character were published by Proctor in the Athenaeum, by Froster in the New Monthly, by Patmore in the Court Magazine, by Moxon in Leigh Hunt's London Journal.  There were many anonymous notices (65).

Harold G. Merriam, "Moxon and Charles and Mary Lamb," Edward Moxon:  Publisher of Poets


I'm saving one more passage for last. But first I wanted to bring attention to several other Lambian items:

I tracked the history of ownership of the autograph manuscript of "Dream Children" and posted it on my Biblio Researching blog:  Researching the Provenance of the Autograph Manuscript of Dream Children; A Reverie

 If some of these passages have aroused your curiosity about Charles Lamb's library, take a look see:  I helped catalogue it on Library Thing in 2008 and 2009:  Charles Lamb's Library.

I recommend Adrian Barlow's blog post, In London, With Charles Lamb. And there's a link to the Charles Lamb Society on the second line of his post.


And finally, since I began with a passage by the greatest of all Lambians,  so I shall end with a passage from another one of her books:


How beautiful to a genuine lover of reading are the sullied leaves, and worn-out appearance ... of an old 'Circulating Library' Tom Jones or Vicar of Wakefield!' wrote Charles Lamb.  'How they speak of the thousand thumbs that have turned over their pages with delight!   Who would have them a whit less soiled?  What better condition could we desire to see them in?'  Absolutely none.  Thus, a landscape artist I know savors the very smell of the dirt embedded in his botany texts;  it is the alluvium of his life's work.  Thus, my friend the science writer considers her Mammals of the World to have been enhanced by the excremental splotches left by Bertrand Russell, an orphaned band-tailed pigeon who perched on it when he was learning to fly.  And thus, even though I own a clear plastic cookbook holder, I never use it.  What a pleasure it will be, thirty years hence, to open The Joy of Cooking to page 581 and behold part of the actual egg yolk that my daughter glopped into the very first bath of blueberry muffins at age twenty-two months (42)!
Anne Fadiman, "Never Do That To A Book," Ex Libris:  Confessions of a Common Reader