We know that things have been looking grim over the past month… businesses shutting their doors, schools closing, unemployment rising. It is a scary world to be living in – for there is the fact that we have no set plan for how long this will all last. Call us old fashioned, but we find that in times of crisis a little bit of stability goes a long way, so we are planning on keeping up with our blog posts, our newsletters… and Samm has even upped our lists to biweekly so that we can entertain you at home with interesting items from all over the world! Is there something in particular you’d like to see a blog on? Shoot us an email and we’ll see if we can fit it into our schedule. In the meantime, we’d like to do a 10 Fact birthday blog on a born San Franciscan who has spent over the last hundred years keeping us sane and calm. Mr. Robert Frost, ladies and gentlemen!
Todays blog celebrates one of the many authors that we know the name of but few facts about. Despite a family wealth in the slave trade she was an abolitionist, she was a major supporter of child labor rights… and the first in her English-descended family to be born in the United Kingdom in over 200 years. Today’s blog honors one Elizabeth Barrett (later Elizabeth Barrett Browning)… poet, lover and worldwide literary influencer.
Elizabeth Barrett was born on March 6th, 1806 in Durham, England. As the first Barrett to be born outside of Jamaica since 1655, her birth was the cause for much celebration. Her family’s wealth had come from sugar plantations in the island country, meaning that her family did benefit from slave labour in running their grand plantations. Elizabeth was the eldest of twelve children, all but one of which would live to adulthood. Elizabeth’s childhood was fairly sweet and standard – full of family picnics, home theatricals and pony rides. However, unlike some other children (and definitely little girls) of the time, Elizabeth fixated on books and began writing, even as a four year old child. She was intensely studious, learning the Greek language by the age of ten and writing her own Homeric epic poem by eleven. Since both of her parents encouraged, published and saved her work, Elizabeth Barrett has one of the largest collections of juvenilia of any English-speaking writer.
A young illness affecting her spine and movement led to Elizabeth being given (and then continuously taking) laudanum, morphine and opium as a child for pain. Being addicted to these somewhat serious drugs and taking them throughout her lifetime is generally acknowledged to both have helped and hindered her in life. Her constant frail health was negatively affected by these chemicals, but they also may have contributed to her originality and imagination when writing her poetry.
Barretts late teens and twenties were fraught with trauma and tragedy. Her mother passed away in 1828, and her grandmother just a few years later. After moving to the Devonshire coast to aid her frail health (by this time she had possibly contracted tuberculosis), Elizabeth endured the loss of two of her brothers. One caught a sickness visiting the family plantations in Jamaica, and the other, her favorite brother, sadly drowned in a sailing accident while visiting her in Torquay. The guilt of this tragedy stayed with Elizabeth for the rest of her life.
In 1841 Elizabeth’s life seemed to begin to turn itself around. She was struck with a few years of intense creativity, which led to the publication of several of her greatest works. Her 1842 poem “The Cry of the Children” published in a Blackwoods magazine helped bring about child labor law reform. In 1844 she published not one but two volumes of poetry, which were immediate successes. She was suddenly a household name. It was her poetry that inspired one Robert Browning to write to her and tell her of his love for her writing. They met and instantly became ardent devotees of the other. Both Browning and Barrett’s works improved (despite their work already being popular with the public). After meeting Browning, Barrett published her most famous works Aurora Leigh and Sonnets from the Portuguese. The marriage between Browning and Barrett was carried out in secrecy, and once found out Barretts father disinherited her (as he funnily enough did to all his children who married). They made their permanent residence in Italy, where they raised their son, Pen, and befriended many influential writers and artists of the day.
On this what would be her 214th birthday, we honor this timeless writer – one who inspired Edgar Allen Poe and Virginia Woolf alike. And we give you a parting few lines…
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!
William 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.
At 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.
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.
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!
As Antiquarian Booksellers, we are intimately familiar with book fairs. For those of you who have never attended such a fair before, we highly recommend it. For collectors and bibliophiles, scholars and tradesmen alike – book fairs are a wonderful place to get a feel for our world. All sellers bring a variety of items, and you can make note of who has items of interest to you and research them further. It is a wonderful place to make contacts with like-minded souls and spend time talking books. Tavistock Books has now been in business for decades, and we like to think that our fearless leader, Vic Zoschak (who also happens to be the current President of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America – the ABAA) has a fair amount of experience in this field. We share with you a mini Q&A with him and his thoughts on the past and the future of the antiquarian book fair.
Vic, Thanks for answering our questions. We’ll get right to it – what changes have you witnessed in antiquarian book fairs over your many years in the trade?
When I started doing fairs back in the early 90s, book fairs were an opportunity for collectors to see a bunch of material they may not otherwise have access to. There used to be lines around the block awaiting entry to the fair. No more. Remember, then, there was not widespread internet access… so no searching 20,000 bookstore inventories with a click of the mouse. Today, a collector, or just an individual searching for a given book, need not attend a fair to look for material. Today, when buyers search for their title on vialibri.net, they search the inventory of 20,000 booksellers. That’s an unprecedented access to inventory that has not been possible at any other time in bookseller/book buyer history. What that means for fairs is that most regional fairs have gone by the wayside…. in those early 90s, on the West Coast, I did 20+ book fairs a year. Now, 3. The local/regional fairs just don’t bring in the number of buyers that they used to. And if exhibitors don’t sell books at the fair, they won’t come back. Today, it’s my opinion, that a book fair needs to be an *event*, perhaps coupled with other *events* that same week. The ABAA book fairs are trending in this direction… not only will a potential attendee have the book fair to attend, but also events offered by sister organizations, like the Grolier Club, or the Book Club of California, or the Ticknor Society. As I think about them now, in response to your query, I think fairs are a somewhat endangered species…. continuing to exist, but in a fragile state and in need of attention.
How are the fairs different for you now as President of the ABAA?
Well, here there is, in fact, a challenge that faces the ABAA… our New York Fair, and our California fair, are too close together on the calendar. There’s a long back story there that brought this to pass, much too long to recount here, but suffice it to say, there’s no easy solution. I only wish, as President, I had a magic wand to fix it. But I don’t, so it’ll be a significant issue that my successor will, hopefully, be able to resolve.
What fairs that you attend (New York, LA/San Fran, Boston, Seattle, Sacramento) have stayed the same throughout the years and which have changed? Have they changed for the better?
I now only exhibit at 3 a year: Sacramento [local, one day, and easy to do], as well as the ABAA CA fair [this coming year in Socal, Pasadena]. But I do attend, as a visitor, all ABAA fairs, which means I’ll be heading to Boston in a week. This year, I also exhibited in Seattle, which was fun, but not particularly remunerative, so it’s a question mark for 2020.
Re: change? Here I have to give a shout-out to Jim Kay, the Sacramento promoter. He’s kept that local fair alive and vibrant. And I also want to give a shout out to the local ABAA book fair committees – Boston, NY & California – who have the task of keeping our ABAA fairs alive & well. In this challenging economic environment, they are doing a bang-up job in my opinion. They have evolved to meet the needs of the current book collecting milieu.
How do you see antiquarian book fairs faring (pun intended) in the future?
I think we’ll be fine, especially if we continue to market our fairs as ‘events’. Give people more than one reason to attend. There’s a lot of competition for an attendee’s time & money; let’s make our pitch for our fairs be one that compels.
Amen to that! Keep the book fairs coming, people.
As Halloween rapidly approaches, we thought – in honor of this holiday season – it might finally be the moment for a short blog dedicated to a favorite type of literary genre throughout this season – horror stories.
Upon the recommendation of a friend, I recently finished The Haunting of Hill House, by Mrs. Shirley Jackson. This book, much dramatized in movies and tv and spoken about in literary ‘thriller’ circles (yes, they exist), is one of the most famous of Jackson’s works – one that has you in goosebumps from start to finish. And what, we asked ourselves, is so scary about it? (Warning: spoiler alerts below.)
Realism. Nowadays, it is easy to go to the movies and see a thriller with a screeching soundtrack and people that pop up in mirrors as you wash your face in the evening (my worst fear)… you know the drill. Even the exceedingly gore-filled SAW movies have a following. So what makes classic horror stories so frightening, even in a modern world where we are used to an unimaginable level of psycho made with special effects and computer geniuses?
We might argue that it is a lack of such “effects” that sets these stories apart. While in high school, my best friend went to see a movie that came out called “The Strangers” (I have a point to this, I promise). This horror flick focused on a romantic couple who come to stay in a woodland cabin for a night (unfortunately directly after a refused marriage proposal, but that’s neither here nor there), where a group of teenagers (spoiler alert!) terrorize them throughout the night. In the morning (I DID say spoiler alert), the teenagers finally and gruesomely murder the couple in front of each other. Their reasoning to the couple? “Because you were home.” Now why did my close friend say it was the scariest movie she, as a horror film lover, had ever seen? Because there were no special effects. It was not that preposterous. It was simply people… terrorizing people. Personally, I would say The Haunting of Hill House has a similar vibe. It contains some ‘supernatural’ elements, absolutely. And perhaps it is the house terrorizing the characters. But at the same time, those elements could be being caused by the other characters – we aren’t ever truly sure. The story centers around four people arriving at a reportedly haunted house – with possibly the best description of a house I have ever read – to see what happens. (This still happens today… only we have tv crews that follow these nutters around while they scream in sinister night-vision.) As the foursome stay on in the Hill House, night after night more strange and creepy instances occur, with one character singled out pretty obviously. As it happens, this character is also quite clearly the most vulnerable and unstable of the group… not to mention the narrator. She gives the impression of being somewhat unreliable from the beginning, giving the audience very little understanding of what is truly going on, and of whether her discrepancies, misgivings and thoughts on the ‘hauntings’ are built up by her own abnormal nature.
Now, I don’t want to ruin the story for the rest of you. I just wanted to give you the slightest chill, given how close we are to (arguably) the best holiday in the entire world. Perhaps you will be inspired to read something spooky, something creepy. What would we recommend?
Well, you can’t go wrong with the classics. Shirley Jackson, Edgar Allen Poe, Agatha Christie, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Stephen King… the possibilities are endless. Just don’t forget… the best horror stories are the ones that scare you – curl your toes – not from frightful voices and things that go bump in the night, but from a solid, well described tearing down of human nature.
Happy Halloween, bibliophiles!
Samm: For me, the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair was a whole new experience – I have never attended nor worked that fair ever before. Vic, however, has done it many times, despite the fact that Tavistock Books has not exhibited there for a couple years. We are glad to be back!
Q: Because we must ask, as usual – how was load in, load out? Everything flow smoothly or were there some hiccups that needed to be addressed in either situation?
Samm: Load in and out was GREAT! So easy. Brad Johnson (of Johnson Rare Books & Archives) drove a caravan from Los Angeles and gathers booksellers’ books as he travels up the west coast. In short… we did not have to lug anything! We were lucky – it was probably the easiest load in and load out we have ever had! Thank you, Brad!
Q: We noticed that before you got to Seattle you sent out a list of the items you decided to bring. How was the feedback from that list? Does it generate interest in the items already listed or are collectors and sellers using the list to see a general overview of our stock and then requesting you bring other items?
Samm: We did get some interest in the list before we left, and I do think it brought other booksellers over to our booth during set up to take a peek. However, the list was just text – no pictures – (unlike the bi-weekly short lists we send out!). In any case, I think people (booksellers and collectors) are always happy to have the first peek!
Q: How were sales, down up or concurrent with previous years at the Seattle fair?
Samm: As Vic likes to (politely) say, sales were “soft.” But at fairs you usually do well at either buying or selling – not always both at the same time. Luckily, we were able to buy some really neat items, so keep an eye on our inventory in the near future!Q: What were the best moments of the fair? Dinners, talks, social events… what was the salvation this time around?! Book fairs, while wonderful experiences for booksellers to hang out with like-minded souls, can be extremely draining. Being constantly on, constantly available, and not to mention working hard – what made it all worthwhile for you both this time around?
Samm: For me, it is always the dinners after the show. Getting to commiserate about the day, laugh about funny moments, eat great food (concession stands just don’t cut it, I’m sorry to say) and have a well-blended cocktail – a much needed boon after a long day of continuous meet and greets! Seattle was no exception – we had some really great meals with some amazing people! We are looking forward to the next fairs where we can all meet again!
“I curse thee! let a sufferer’s curse…
Ahh, if only we all possessed the ability to curse our enemies in such a romantic tongue. Alas, we do not and we must leave that beautiful power to those who truly deserve it. On this day, we honor poet Percy Shelley – one of the most famed English Romantic poets and author of Prometheus Unbound - from which the above section was unabashedly taken.
Percy Shelley was born on the 4th of August, 1792 in a small village in West Sussex. He was the oldest of 7 children, and seemed to always run a bit wild! He left home to be educated formally at the age of 10, and at 12 enrolled in Eton. Unfortunately Shelley was heavily bullied at Eton College, and while such behavior is never requested it certainly seemed to help build Shelley’s inner imagination up and he began writing at a young age. At 18 he began his studies at University College, Oxford. Shelley excelled academically at the start, but after just a few months was expelled after writing a pamphlet promoting atheism with another student and refusing to confirm or deny his authorship in it (which in and of itself is kind of a confirmation, no?). Shelley’s life was nothing but static. He experienced bouts of grave financial difficulty (his parents being unamused, to say the least, of Shelley’s difficult nature), and had what were considered extremely radical notions for the times. He believed in free love and vegetarianism. For the turn of the 19th century those were novel ideas, to say the least!
Shelley wrote to support himself after running away at 19 with a 16 year old girl that his parents had expressly forbidden him to see. The couple were happy for only a short period of time, however, as Shelley was quickly bored by Harriet and his conceptions of free love kept him from the marriage bed. Shelley was eventually able to boast a mentorship from one of his political and philosophical idols – William Godwin – where Shelley discovered both his own political radical ideology and Godwin’s daughter, Mary. Mary Godwin was the daughter of a powerful political and intellectual duo, being begot of Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. Mary turned Shelley’s world upside down and the two fell deeply in love, risking family disinheritance to be together. The two, along with Mary’s sister Jane, fled their homes and lived as vagabonds, traveling around England and Europe (often by foot) for over three years. By the time they returned, Shelley’s wife Harriet had had enough and had filed for divorce.
In the summer of 1816, Shelley befriended one of his first powerful and influential authors – Lord Byron. Percy and Mary spent a season with Byron in Switzerland – the summer ended up being one of the most important of Shelley’s life. Byron helped inspire the young radical, and Shelley wrote his romantic poem Hymn to Intellectual Beauty after an afternoon with Byron. It was during this summer, funnily enough, that Byron’s guests and friends were inspired to have a horror write-off. This writing competition of sorts was the inspiration behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Upon their return to England at the end of the year, it was discovered that Shelley’s wife, Harriet, had committed suicide. As unfortunate as the event was, it incited Shelley and Mary to finally marry. The two settled in a small hamlet in Buckinghamshire, where they befriended poets John Keats and Leigh Hunt – both of which would prove to be invaluable friends to Shelley in his last years. It was in these years that Shelley wrote and published a bulk of his most well-known works, including The Revolt of Islam and Prometheus Unbound, the latter of which is widely considered to be his most beloved epic work.
Sadly, Shelley would not live to see his work widely recognized, as he died when his boat capsized in a storm just shy of his 30th birthday. As was the custom, Shelley was buried in the sand on the beach where he washed up for one month before being dug up and burned on a funeral pyre. It is said that his heart refused to burn – and that his friend Leigh Hunt retrieved it from the ashes and gifted it to Mary Shelley – who kept it in a writing case wrapped in silk for the rest of her days. Oh, what a terrifying thought!
Shelley’s young works showed all the aspects of the talented writer that he was, if only he had been able to live longer and reach his full potential. But as Shelley once said, we must “fear not for the future, weep not for the past.” Well said.