Category Archives: 18th-Century Literature

A 100 Year Old Victory

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In the grand scheme of things, what is 100 years? In terms of your lifespan, it may seem like a lot. In terms of history, on the other hand? Well, in terms of history it is a mere slip in time. Now what would you say if you were to realize that American women have only had certain rights – specifically the right to vote – for this amount of time? 100 years ago today, Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment… stating that American citizens could not be denied the right to vote based on their sex – effectively giving women the chance to make their voices heard. It was not an easy battle! In fact, in the US, support for the suffrage movement began as early as the 1840s! It would take over 80 years for their demands to be instituted. Let’s take a look back at this time in history and see how lives were changed for the better, 100 years ago today.

Some tend to trace the modern suffrage movement (knowing and understanding that women should have always had equal rights as men) back to a specific publication that we all know – Mary Wollstonecraft’s 1792 UK publication of A Vindication of the Rights of Women. Wollstonecraft was known for being revolutionary in her ideas, and a stalwart for women’s intelligence and respect. It is said by some that her work helped inspire Sarah Grimké’s 1838 The Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Women – the work which made abolitionist Grimké to be considered the “mother of the women’s suffrage movement”. Her work, widely circulated from Boston throughout the early United States, helped inspire many hundreds (if not thousands) to begin the quest for women’s rights. The main hurdle that women had to jump before these rights could be established, however, was the idea of the pure, innocent woman – one who did not belong in the public sphere. Long considered roles for men only, women becoming part of the public and even political spheres was shocking and highly looked down upon in the early 1800s. In the 1830s and 40s, the abolition of slavery and women’s rights seemed to partner well together, as most women speaking publicly were speaking out condemning slavery… and the act of doing so was automatically a boon for the rights of women. The radical wing (both men and women) of the abolitionist movement were well-known for their support of women’s rights. Unfortunately, towards the beginning, that radical wing consisted of very little of the general population. 

opposedThe opposition of female public speaking wasn’t simply a hurdle. Much of the opposition was so strong that it led to violence. Many female conventions and rallies were disrupted with extreme forcefulness and cruelty, inciting suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony to state this: “No advanced step taken by women has been so bitterly contested as that of speaking in public. For nothing which they have attempted, not even to secure the suffrage, have they been so abused, condemned and antagonized.” Her statement cemented the fact that it was not so much the idea of women voting that bothered their contemporaries, but rather it was women breaking out of the cages they had for so long been held and standing up for themselves publicly that was the problem. 

The Seneca Falls Convention in New York in 1848 marked a specific shift in women’s suffrage. Abolitionist activists, both men and women, gathered to discuss women’s civil rights. Almost all of the delegates agreed… women were autonomous beings, independent of their husbands, and ought to share the same rights as their brothers and husbands. Adopting the Declaration of Independence to their beliefs, the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments proclaimed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Amen to that!

Though the women’s movement lost a bit of momentum and support during the Civil War (rightly so), almost as soon as it ended the issues of suffrage and equality reared up again, what with the 14th and 15th Amendment changes for the rights of men of color. Over the next few years, several associations formed to highlight women’s rights, suffrage being only a part of the demands of their followers. Shockingly, equal pay for equal jobs was a large demand of the women in this period. Throughout the Civil War, women picked up the slack needed as men were away fighting. They performed men’s tasks and men’s jobs (all while keeping house and raising children), and some kept this work up even after the war. Their significantly lower pay for the same work highlighted an extreme disparity with how men and women were treated at the time. Associations like the Women’s Loyal National League, the American Equal Rights Association (AERA), and the New England Woman Suffrage Association (NEWSA) all held strong beliefs and fought for similar rights (though even they were sometimes on opposing sides of the same team).  

Elizabeth Cady StantonIn 1869, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (two of the main “heavy hitters” in the suffrage movement) joined forces to create the National Woman Suffrage Association, and began the fight for a “universal suffrage amendment to the U.S. Constitution” (History.com). It was Stanton’s belief early on that the only way to change the way women were treated was through government political reform. While some believed that though women deserved rights, support, protection (from domestic abuse) and equal pay – they did not necessarily require the right to vote, Stanton believed the right to vote was integral to all the other matters listed. And she was not wrong. The same year, Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe and Henry Blackwell formed the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). These two leagues were enmeshed in a bitter feud that would last decades, their participants disagreeing on the Fifteenth Amendment – allowing African American men the right to vote. Some, like Stanton and Anthony, rejected the Amendment, believing that woman’s suffrage was more important, and mistakenly believing that African American men opposed women’s suffrage and would fight against their cause. Stone and other members of AERA, on the other hand, supported their previously oppressed fellow citizens and supported their victories, in hopes they would help support the women’s movement in return. This is not to say that racial bias did not exist in both organizations, as it most definitely did, despite both groups being strongly associated with the abolitionist movement. Their rivalry would last until 1890.

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NAWSA

After tireless years of working to promote ideas of women’s suffrage, the two associations put aside their differences (which by then were somewhat moot points, anyway) to join forces and create the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the massive organization’s first president. “By then, the suffragists’ approach had changed. Instead of arguing that women deserved the same rights and responsibilities as men because women and men were ‘created equal,’ the new generation of activists argued that women deserved the vote because they were different from men. They could make their domesticity into a political virtue, using the franchise to create a purer, more moral ‘maternal commonwealth.’” (History.com) This argument gained them new followers from multiple arenas. Advocates of the temperance movement wanted women to have the vote because they believed it would create a cleaner, purer, more chaste country. The middle class enjoyed the idea of introducing homeliness and kindliness into larger, wealthy political parties.

NYC parade 1917In 1910, some of the Western states slowly began extending the vote to their female citizens. State by state, women were gaining rights (though there was still a significant ways to go). States in the South and the Northeast resisted. WWI once again slowed the momentum of the party, but women’s work in the war effort helped to engender support for their intelligence and abilities in the long run. Their aid proved their patriotism and that they were as deserving of rights as men were. A parade for women’s rights in 1917 in New York City consisted of hundreds of women, carrying placards with over 1 million female signatures on them… a far cry from where they started out, with less than 1% of the population’s support. 

Finally, on August 18, 1920, Tennessee (the last of the 36 states needed to adopt the law) narrowly ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, making voting legal irregardless of sex throughout the United States. A few days later, on August 26th, 1920, 100 years ago today, the Nineteenth Amendment was certified, bringing to culmination an almost 100 year battle by women and men throughout the country. The passing of this amendment enfranchised 26 million American women in time for the 1920 U.S. presidential election. The Amendment states, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” 

We are a far cry away from a perfectly equal country – in terms of race, sex and economy. We still have a mighty hill (or a few) to climb in order to reach Utopia. But one thing we do know… 100 years ago, women had fought tooth and nail for the right to vote. The right to make their voices heard, and the right to assist with change on a national level. They wanted to be seen for who they were, not who they were expected to be, and they wanted more than anything to be taken seriously. In celebrating their great victory, let us not forget what they fought for. An election is upon us, and let’s do them proud. Get out there and VOTE!!!!

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Today we are Thankful for… William Blake!

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Copyright Learnodo-Newtonic!

Happy Thanksgiving to our fellow bibliophiles! We thought we’d start off this day of giving thanks for a world-famous English poet, artist and printmaker with a brief history of his early life. Despite the fact that this renaissance man was largely unrecognized for his talents in his time, today he is considered one of the foremost artisans of the Romantic Period. William Blake’s prophetic art and poetry are both moving and inspiring – and for that we honor him this Thanksgiving – which also happens to be his birthday!

NPG 212; William Blake by Thomas PhillipsWilliam Blake was born on November 28th, 1757 in Soho, London. He was the third of seven children (though two of his siblings died in infancy). Though his family were English dissenters, it did not stop Blake from being baptized and having a thorough biblical education – knowledge which would prove to be quite inspirational in his work later in life. Blake’s artistic side surfaced when he began copying drawings of Greek antiquities given to him by his father. It was through these copies that Blake was first introduced to works by Michelangelo, Durer and Raphael. By the time Blake was ten he had completed his formal education and was able to be sent to a drawing school in The Strand – where he not only read and avidly studied the arts but also made his first foray into poetry.

blake6At the age of fifteen, Blake was apprenticed to an engraver in London and upon his completion of his apprenticeship became a professional engraver at twenty-one. The following year, Blake became a student at the Royal Academy where he studied over the years and submitted works for exhibition. Though he disagreed with the views held by the headmaster of the time and favored more classical art rather than the popular oil paintings of the age, Blake used the years to make friends in the art world and perfect his own skills. He printed and published his first collection of poems, Poetical Sketches, around 1783, and opened up his print shop with fellow apprentice James Parker in 1784. Blake began to associate with radical thinkers of the time – scientists, philosophers and early feminist icons like Joseph Priestly and Mary Wollstonecraft. Blake spent the 80s experimenting with different kinds of printing, finally moving onto relief etching in 1788. Relief etching (also called illuminated printing) would be a medium Blake would continue to use in printing his works throughout his life. In this medium, color illustrations were able to be printed alongside text. Blake has become well-known for his illuminated printing, but throughout his life he was also known for his intaglio engraving – a more standard process of engraving at the time.

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All of these processes are wildly interesting, of course – but perhaps better explained by simply showing some of the most famous of Blake’s sketches and illustrations. His poetry and text almost always contain spectacular imagery and mythological symbolism, which were even further highlighted by his beautiful images. He was an artist, a free thinker, a poet, a radical, a spiritual man, and a devoted husband – among many other things! On this Thanksgiving, we’d like to bring recognition to him and wish him a happy birthday.

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From our 1922 holding of The Drawings and Engravings of William Blake, edited by Laurence Binyon and Geoffrey Holme. See it here!

From our 1922 holding of The Drawings and Engravings of William Blake, edited by Laurence Binyon and Geoffrey Holme. See it here!

For more information on William Blake, we recommend visiting our colleague John Windle’s William Blake Gallery where you can find blogs related to the author and various prints and books for sale both online and in person in San Francisco. We highly recommend a visit!

Happy Thanksgiving, bibliophiles!

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We All Have Those Days…

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November 1st is always a weird day for me. Halloween is a big day in my family, and truthfully, with it being the last day of the month, I always wake up confused that November is suddenly upon us! I make strange decisions. I forget to take down decorations, I don’t realize that my Dia de los Muertos makeup is still all over my face. I guess you could say I feel… dazed. Confused. Bewildered. 

That being said, I would like to point out that as strange and disconcerting as certain of my choices on November 1sts have been, they pale in comparison to a choice made by one Thomas Cadell (the Younger), on this very day, many, many years ago. 221 years ago, to be exact. In 1797, Thomas Cadell made a decision that (one hopes) he regretted sincerely later on in life. He turned down a romance novel manuscript written by an unknown 21 year old woman and sent in by her father, George Austen.

He turned down First Impressions – what would later become Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen.

NPG D11248,Thomas Cadell the Elder,by; after Henry Hoppner Meyer; Sir William Beechey

Thomas Cadell the Elder

Despite this sad choice, the Cadell name wasn’t a waste of nothingness in the world of London publishing. Long before this incident, Thomas Cadell (the Elder) was apprenticed in 1758 for 105 GBP to London bookseller and publisher Andrew Millar, whom he partnered with in 1765 after a seven year apprenticeship. He published works by Edward Gibbon, Henry Mackenzie, Robert Burns, William Blackstone, David Hume, Tobias Smollett, and Samuel Johnson. As a matter of fact, Cadell was close enough to Johnson to have been part of the group of booksellers and friends who convinced Johnson to write his famous Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets. He also partnered with publishers William & Andrew Strahan to publish Johnson’s A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland in 1775. Cadell was apparently very well liked among the bookselling and publishing communities, and in 1793 he passed his business on to his son and namesake, Thomas Cadell (Jr.). Not as much is known about Thomas Cadell (Jr.), though he did publish (along with his father’s apprentice whom he partnered with to create Cadell & Davies Publishing, William Davies) James Boswell’s Life of Johnson in 1791, and continued publishing until his death in 1836.

But you know… in 1797 he refused Pride and Prejudice and sent back George Austen’s letter, declining it “by return of post”.

Just remember that the next time you could kick yourself for making a silly mistake.

Happy 1st of November!

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“And then I spent two years wandering the Sahara Desert before being rescued by a wandering trio of exiled German princes who brought me along as their entertainment… a court jester, if you will…”

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By Margueritte Peterson

Personal confession: normally I am a proponent of all types of blogging. Though I believe the (not-so-old) adage “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet” – I also find the internet to be a most useful place for information. Some of it genuine… some of it not quite so genuine… some of it kind, some of it negative. In any case, the internet is a fount of information. And I do use it – boy, do I use it! 

However, that being said, there is one thing that I cannot make up my mind on how I feel about it. The internet is partially responsible (in my own humble opinion) for making one particular genre of published book not quite as popular anymore.

Travel Writing.

Nowadays, just about anyone can and does post just about anything they want online. They went on a hike with their girlfriend and found a killer “secret” camping spot? Let’s tell the entire online world! (Not so “secret” anymore – so much for skinny dipping!) Did you travel to Versailles with your parents and take pictures of every single item of gold you saw? Post them to Facebook! Gone are the old days where someone went on adventures that others might never experience and went home to write colorful and descriptive tales about their travels. Travel writing had to be good enough, exciting enough and gripping enough to spend money to publish it – it had to appeal to the masses. Now don’t get me wrong – I love to travel and always want to write about my “adventures” – but I would rather write them down for a book than blog about them online! Perhaps it is old fashioned of me, but I think that this is a genre that we ought to bring back.

Try this 1879 1st edition on for size! See it here>

Try this 1879 1st edition on for size! See it here>

Travel Writing began as early as the 2nd century, when Pausanias wrote his Description of Greece and when Gerald of Wales wrote Journey Through Wales and Description of Wales (does it count as travel writing if you are reporting on your own hometown? Apparently so if it was written in 1191 and 1194). Travel writing was also a fairly common genre in medieval Arabic literature, with the travel journals of Ibn Jubayr (d. 1214) and Ibn Batutta (d. 1377) being the most well-known examples of this genre. In medieval China (the end of the Song Dynasty, in particular, 970 – 1279) travel literature was also widespread, and belonged to a genre the Chinese named “youji wenxue” or “travel record literature.”  Authors in medieval China wrote narratives, essays and prose that extensively focused on geographical and topographical information – authors like Fan Chengda and Xu Xiake are two of the most celebrated writers of this period’s genre – and their descriptions are valuable and amaze academics to this day! Even other nationalities were interested in describing Ancient and Medieval China… Venetian traveler Marco Polo, for example, wrote extensively about his travels and adventures when he reached China in 1271. His writings sparked other adventurers for centuries after his death in 1324 (be they authors or not, such as explorer Christopher Columbus).

Going further down the chronological ladder of history, in 1589 an English writer known for promoting the settlement of North America by the British, Richard Hakluyt (d. 1616) published his text The Principall Navigations, Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation - a book (which ended up as 3 volumes) that detailed lands around the world and was based on as many eyewitness accounts as Hakluyt could find. His texts are widely accepted as the foundations of the “modern” travel literature genre.To this day, the London-based Hakluyt Society publishes scholarly editions of travels, adventures and voyages.

The 1700s is where things become, if I may interject my own personal feelings about it (which I never fail to do)… fun. In 18th century Britain, most of the most famous authors worked in the travel literature genre and once published would travel widely (imagine that) and give lectures about their books and their anecdotes. Captain James Cook’s diaries published in 1784, for example, were unbelievably well-known and were some of the most exciting publications to ever be made available to a literate public. Entering into the 1800s, Charles Darwin detailed the HMS Beagle’s journey and findings – a combination of travel writing, scientific study and natural history/geography. Not all authors of the period combined science with their studies – some interspersed humor with their anecdotes… authors like Mark Twain and (even our main man) Charles Dickens are good examples of other travel writers in the 1800s.

Our Richard Halliburton Archive, complete with letters about his daring voyage (which would be his last) aboard a Chinese Junk Ship attempting to cross the Pacific ocean.

Our Richard Halliburton Archive, complete with letters about his daring voyage (which would be his last) aboard a Chinese Junk Ship attempting to cross the Pacific ocean. See it here>

Travel writing remained popular through the 20th century, with a higher emphasis on adventure tales, as travel was becoming more and more possible with the advent of different types of transportation – the car and the plane, in particular. Adventurers and authors like Richard Halliburton made their name by performing acts of bravery (and/or stupidity) and experiencing highly unlikely scenarios.

Humans have not lost the yen to travel and experience… so why has this type of narrative fallen a bit away from its original intent? Because times change! Though this is not a bad thing and who knows… perhaps one day I will end up writing my own travel blog… I still yearn for the days where one could read the “Royal Road to Romance” and see the adventure and the distant lands in our minds alone – without seeing a 3D movie about the same things! Who’s with me?

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New News from Tavistock Books!

First off, we’d like to wish each and every one of you a very Happy New Year from Tavistock Books! Whether you are a customer, colleague, pure bibliophile, or my mother and father, we have appreciated your attention and custom this past year and wish you all the best of luck in 2015! There are a lot of things happening around here in the near future, and we thought we’d send out this update from TB to keep you in the loop.

Most importantly! Upcoming Antiquarian Book Fairs:

Later this January and early February features the annual California book fairs – the 48th California International Antiquarian Book Fair to be held in Oakland, CA (right near us! Check it out here: http://sfbookfair.com/) from February 6th to the 8th, and the Pasadena Book, Print, Photo & Paper Fair the previous weekend (at the Pasadena Convention Center, January 31st & February 1st). The fairs are a great chance to meet with like-minded book-loving folk from all over the United States, and both fairs will be host to a handful of international booksellers as well. Tickets are available for purchase online as well as at the fairs. Come on out and support your local booksellers! OR ELSE.  

A Recent Acquisition:

Why yes, you can purchase me! Please, sir, I need a new home.

Why yes, you can purchase me! Please, sir, please, I need a new home.

Beaumont, Francis [1585? - 1616]. Fletcher, John [1579 - 1625]. Massinger, Philip [1583 - 1640] – Bush attributed to.  BEGGARS BUSH.  A Comedy.  [bound with] The MAID’S TRAGEDY.  London:  Printed for J. T. And Sold by J. Brown at the Black Swan without Temple-Bar. 1717.  56; 64 pp.   Typographical ornaments to t.p.  4to: A – G^4; A – H^4.  8-1/2″ x 6-1/8″.   Early full leather boards, with modern respiniing to style.  Renewed eps.  Raised bands.  Red leather title label in second compartment; author label in 4th compartment.  Date gilt stamped at spine base. Wear & staining to boards, with front paste-down showing faint evidence of prior damping.  Paper aged, with foxing & staining.  Running title occasionally closely trimmed.  An About Very Good – Very Good copy.

Bush: 1st edition thus, the unaltered version (NCBEL I, 1712; Tannenbaum 7).  Maid: 1st edition thus (NCBEL I, 1711; Tannenbaum 293).   Regarding Bush, authorship attributed to Fletcher & Philip Massinger by John H. Dorenkamp in his 1967 edition of the play. The play is one of several works of English Renaissance drama that present a lighthearted, romanticized, Robin Hood-like view of the world of beggars, thieves, and gypsies; in this respect it can be classed with plays of its own era like The Spanish Gypsy, Massinger’s The GuardianSuckling’s The Goblins, and Brome’s A Jovial Crew… Yet the play also contains serious aspects that have caused it to be classified as a tragicomedy by some commentators; ‘Through mixed modes Beggars Bush exhibits serious sociopolitical concerns to earn a classification that at first seems incongruous — a political tragicomedy’” (Clark, The Moral Art of Phillip Massinger, p. 116). Click on the picture to see more!

Lists & Blogs on the Horizon:

Dame Agatha Christie

              Dame Agatha Christie

And folks, despite an upcoming busy schedule for us here at Tavistock Books, we still want to take a little time to give you a short overview of what to expect in your inboxes from us in the near future. Our monthly Tavistock Books newsletter will go out next Tuesday, January 13th. January 21st will be a large blog on the English crime author Agatha Christie, the best-selling novelist of all time (according to the Guinness Book of World Records).  A list of Select Book Fair Highlights featuring a few of the items that we will be presenting at the California fairs will be announced on the 27th of January, closely followed by a small recap blog of the Pasadena Book Fair on February 3rd. Then look out on the 11th of February for our monthly newsletter once more with a large feature on the Oakland ABAA fair front and center!

We do hope to see you all at the California Book Fairs later this month and early next – just remember, these are the biggest book fairs on the west coast of the United States! Feel free to contact us with any questions – and definitely stop by the Tavistock Books (Pasadena Booth #L1 & Oakland Booth #100) booths to say hi!

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Tavistock Books’ Almost-Annual Reference Book Workshop

There is a significant difference between booksellers who advertise their wares with professional descriptions, a clear understanding of the item in question, an honest assessment with regard to the item’s condition… and your typical eBay/Amazon blasters: “FREE SHIPPING! May or may not have highlighting and/or missing pages.” The pride in being a Good (or VG+) bookseller comes from the ability to sell something about which you are knowledgeable and which is priced confidently and accurately.

Oftentimes, as booksellers, we hear the question “Why?” Why is this book worth $495? Why would I pay that much for a book which Joe Shmoe, Bookseller offers for $29.99? There is no shame in asking these questions. Even booksellers can look at their colleagues’ wares and stare confusedly at the screen while waiting for the computer to sprout tiny-computer legs and giggle, while simultaneously erasing that last 0 or two. All that being said, however…. what can give booksellers the ability to price confidently and describe accurately? Two words.

Reference Books.Reference Books

If you are reading this blog, there is a good chance you have looked at listings of antiquarian books before and have noticed some crazy notations in our write-ups. What is a BAL11092? Or a Gabler G2390? An average person has a good chance of not particularly understanding what the numbers mean. Heck, another bookseller might not even have a clue to what you are referring. A good bookseller will know, however, that the inclusion of those small jumbles of letters and numbers beyond their edition statements represent the dedication and honesty of the person offering the item. They have gone to the trouble of understanding what they hold in their hands, so that their customer can have the guarantee and peace-of-mind that they are buying a 1st/1st, a 1st edition thus, or a reprint. What allows a reference book to (sometimes) up the price or (often) lower the price? Well… I guess you’ll just have to take the Tavistock Books’ Reference Book Workshop to find out!

This year’s course took place this past Saturday, the 23rd of August. The day-long course consists of an intense look at different genres of reference books, their scope, and their usefulness to the book-selling, book-collecting and book-cataloguing trades. Sections covered include Literature (do the acronyms NUC or NCBEL mean anything to you? Here’s where you will find them explained!), Americana (with an emphasis on Western Americana & California… can you say Kurutz three times fast?), Children’s Books, Early Printed Books, and Online Reference Tools. This course is a fast-paced survey, useful for any bookseller, collector, or librarian interested in understanding the tools booksellers use to identify and price their books.

Workshop 2014

This year’s workshop was attended by 4 booksellers (some new, some slightly seasoned), two librarians, and a lover of all things book-related. Intelligent questions were asked, anecdotes shared, and quite a bit of knowledge imparted on these smiling (though, by the end of the day, slightly haggard) faces. Due to the limited amount of space in the shop (where the workshop is held), we cap the number of “pupils” at 7 per year. Should you be interested in attending, please email msp@tavbooks.com and ask to be included on our mailing list, so that when the reminder comes about next spring to sign up, you can be first on the list!

The workshop truly is helpful to those dealing with the book-trade, and the Tavistock Books Reference Collection of over 3,000 reference volumes alone are worth the trip to see! And, as per tradition, lunch is on us at a great sushi place on our charming island of Alameda, CA. Interested in attending a workshop one day? Let us know!

 

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William Page, Dandified Highwayman

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We’ve long been fascinated with the exploits of criminals, so much so that an entire genre of literature has blossomed out of our curiosity. In the eighteenth century, a staple of true-crime literature was the confession, in which a convicted criminal shared his life story, detailed the sordid details of his crimes, and repented of his sins. These stories were often published as broadsides or pamphlets—and distributed to the audience who gathered to witness the criminal’s execution. Longer accounts sometimes appeared after the fact.

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Henry Fielding

One criminal who shared his story has an interesting connection to none other than Henry Fielding. Also a magistrate, Fielding sentenced famous highwayman William Page to death for his crimes. Page was hanged in 1758, but an account of his life survives in A Genuine Narrative of the Life and Surprising Robberies and Adventures of William Page. Page has often been likened to Fielding’s character Tom Jones, though Fielding penned that eponymous novel before ever encountering Page.

Page was born in 1730 to a working class family. His father died early, so his mother sent him to be an apprentice to a relative, who was a haberdasher. Page hardly had a taste for the work, but he did develop a penchant for fashion and frippery. Alas, a haberdasher’s apprentice hardly earned much income. To fund the fashionable lifestyle he desired, Page undertook his first crime: he robbed his own employer. Likely because of the family connection, Page faced no criminal charges.

Next Page managed to secure a position as a footman to a gentleman, no easy feat given that he had no references. The position gave Page another taste of society life. One day while Page was traveling with his master, the carriage was ambushed by highwaymen. No one was injured, but the robbers made off with a small fortune in a matter of minutes. Page resolved to seek his fortune as a “gentleman of the road.”

After acquiring a horse and pistols, Page immediately committed a series of robberies at Highgate Hill and Hampton Court. Then he held up a Canterbury stage coach on the road from London to Kent. Aware that this early success was thanks to luck, Page decided to take some time and plan future robberies. Posing as a law student, he took lodgings at Lincoln Inn. He traveled extensively around London, creating intricate road maps and scoping out ideal spots for future robberies. Page found a number of suitable locations within about twenty miles of London.

Page also decided that he should assume a disguise to reduce suspicion. He would set off from London dressed as a gentleman driving a phaeton and a pair. Page would find an isolated spot near his intended ambush point, shed his fine attire, and put on old clothes and a wig. After perpetrating his heist, Page would then return to the phaeton and change back into his everyday clothes.

William_Page_Highway_Robbery

In one instance, Page’s plot went awry. While Page was holding up a carriage, a couple of haymakers stumbled upon his phaeton. Assuming it was abandoned, they took it to the closest village. Page returned to find his carriage—and his fine clothing—had disappeared. He correctly assumed that the thieves would go to the next town and immediately headed there. Page found his phaeton parked outside the local inn. Thinking quickly, Page stripped down to his underwear and threw his clothes down a well. He burst into the inn and announced that he’d been robbed of his carriage and clothes and thrown into a ditch. The innkeeper helped to detain the haymakers till the authorities. Later, Page simply refused to testify against the men.

Over the course of the next three years, Page would commit approximately 300 robberies. All the while, he enjoyed a life of luxury and privilege. Then his accomplice and childhood friend John Darwell made a fatal error. Darwell held up a carriage on his own, and the majority of the men inside were armed. They easily captured Darwell, who then offered to give up Page in exchange for his own release.

Page was apprehended at the Golden Lion in Grosvenor Square. Despite having been captured with a black wig and a detailed map of London in his possession, Page was acquitted due to lack of evidence, but found himself immediately sent to Maidstone Gaol on other charges. Fielding presided over the case and sentenced Page to death. He was hanged on April 6, 1758.

A Genuine Narrative of the Life and Surprising Robberies and Adventures of William Page was originally sold for one shilling. Today it’s a much more valuable record of the era’s attitudes toward crime, punishment, and justice.

 

Related Posts:
A Brief History of True Crime Literature
Charles Dickens’ Debt to Henry Fielding
Charles Dickens and Capital Punishment

 

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