R. L. S. is no stranger in my library. I have several books he wrote, including one in My Sentimental Library Collection that Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. formerly owned.
So when Lew Jaffe the Bookplate Junkie called about a copy of Across the Plains by Robert Louis Stevenson––one with an interesting association––I offered to trade him some of my bookplates for the book.
This copy of Stevenson's book belonged to an American artist who became friends with Stevenson in France in the 1870s, a friendship that was to last a lifetime.
This artist designed a bookplate for the Stevenson Society of America:
In 1896, this artist designed a bookplate for the Rowfant Club:
On this bookplate, near the bottom right-hand corner, this artist inscribed his name:
And in his copy of Across the Plains, on the half-title page, this artist, Will H. Low (1853-1932), wrote a twenty-one line review of his friend's book:
Above his review, Low signed his name, dated it, "1892," and wrote, "from the publisher and R. L. S."
If trying to read Low's review is too hard for you, I have provided "a reading copy" below:
This is a book full of memories of things experienced and things missed. Thus on p.137 my little house in Montigny comes back to me and the memory of long talks in the leafy arbor, of canoeing on the Loing, of my reading the first R. L. S. in printed form, the essay on "Forest Notes" printed in the Cornhill for May (?) 1876 - and read at Montigny with an infinite sense of it being less engaging than the talk of my friend. True - in Across the Plains - I come to what I missed as I follow R. L. S. through the rain on his first day in New York laden with Bancroft's "History of the U.S." – for I was at Nantucket and though he searched he could not find me. The graver essays, The Christmas Sermon and Pulvis Et Umbra were first printed in Scribner's Magazine during the year 1888 and excited both interest and controversy, many holding that his doctrines were gloomy and hopeless. "The lights were turned down" R. L. S. wrote of them afterwards but I was far gone and came to Saranac none too soon. But with all their gloom they are illuminated by the ray of courage – and are by no means hopeless. This volume also contains the "Letter to a Young Gentleman about to Embrace the career of art," which read to me by the author led me to protest so strongly that R. L. S. insisted that I should answer it in print so that where published in Scribner's this essay had my rejoinder tacked on to it. I join to this the sheets of Scribner's containing this, and incidentally Stevenson's actions in the matter is responsible for my frequent appearance in print since those days. I find pasted in this book also a letter to the London Times, containing Rodin which R. L. S. must have sent me at the time it was written; for I was one of "the party of artists" mentioned in it, W. E. Henley and Theodore Robinson, the others who accompanied him on that occasion.
W. H. Low
I do not know if this Rodin letter has been otherwise published.
Low marked the paragraph about Montigny on P.137. Low later wrote about Stevenson and Montigny in his book, A Chronicle of Friendships, New York, 1908:
Low's article in Scribner's Magazine, "A Letter to the Same Gentleman,"published in response to Stevenson's article, "A Letter to a Young Gentleman," was three and a half pages long, was attached to the back of the half-title page, and caused damage to the edges of the half-title page. Low's article was no longer in the book when I received it. I acquired a copy of the September 1888 issue of Scribner's Magazine containing Low's article. And I will keep it alongside the book.
Stevenson's London Times article about Rodin is pasted on the free endpaper facing the half-title page:
Above the article, Low wrote, " Rec'd about September 1886."
The Rodin Letter was later published in Frederick Lawton's book, The Life and Work of Auguste Rodin, New York, 1907, and can be read at this link.
In addition to writing a review of Stevenson's book on the half-title page, Will H. Low added a few words to Stevenson's Dedication page:
I have gone crazy over Bourgets Sensations d'Italie; hence the enclosed dedication, a mere cry of gratitude for the best friend I've had over a new book for this ever so!
Monday Dec 7th 1891 R. L. S. to Sidney Colvin
Letters from Vailima read in proof May 16th '95
–––––––––––––––––About a year and half ago not knowing the reason of above dedication I was also very much "bowled over" by Sensations d'Italie
Will H Low
Will H. Low marked only one more page in his friend's book, and very fitting at that:
W.K. Bixby: ?- Sold on Feb 26, 1917, Anderson Galleries (bookplate on front pastedown).
Henry A. Colgate: 1917 - Sold on Feb 8, 1928, Anderson Galleries
Richard Sessler: ?-? (Note on top of half-title page). Related to Charles Sessler the Philadelphia bookseller?
Lew Jaffe: ? - Dec. 2012
Jerry Morris: Dec. 2012 - present
ADDENDUM: More on this book's provenance. Richad Sessler is probably Charles Sessler's son, J. Leonard "Dick" Sessler, who died in 1951. He was Lessing J. Rosenwald's main supplier of prints. In fact, a "Richard Sessler" is identified in the provenance record of some Fifteenth Century engravings Rosenwald acquired from him.
Jerry: I love reading your blogs. Your love of books and your excitment in discovery are palpable. Alice
To go along with this, you might like to seek out a copy of Will Low's illustrated edition of Keats' Lamia (1885), with its dedication to Stevenson, prompting in return Stevenson's poem "To Will H. Low": "Youth now flees on feathered foot...."
This poem later appeared on the famous medallion of Stevenson by St Gaudens, a sculptor friend of Low's who asked to be introduced to Stevenson.
And so one thing leads to another ....
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