Category Archives: Antiquarian Books

Happy Birthday to our Favorite Children’s Book Serialist… Mr. Edward L. Stratemeyer!

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-11-22-01-am

By Margueritte Peterson

On October 4th, 1862, a children’s literature tycoon was born. With his humble beginnings, of course, no one ever would have suspected that a talented writer and publisher was in their midst. Stratemeyer was born the youngest of six children in Elizabeth, New Jersey to a young tobacconist and his wife. Both of Edward’s parents had immigrated from Hanover, Germany in 1837, and yet Stratemeyer’s main language was English growing up. 

As a child, Stratemeyer read Horatio Alger often, enjoying his rags-to-riches tales immensely. He later was said to have remarked on how much Alger’s stories influenced him as a young man, and gave him some of the confidence he later used to begin his career. It looks as though even as a teenager Stratemeyer had some idea of what he wanted to do as an adult, as he opened his own amateur printing press in the basement of his father’s tobacco store. He printed local & homemade flyers and pamphlets, and a few short stories such as The Newsboy’s Adventure and The Tale of a Lumberman. After graduating high school, Stratemeyer worked daily in his father’s shop, and kept up printing a few items here and there. It wasn’t until he turned 26 that he sold his first story to popular children’s periodical Golden Days, and received $76 for his contribution (a fact that the helpful internet informs us was over six times the average weekly paycheck for the average US citizen at the time). 

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-11-20-45-amAfter experiencing this hint of fame and riches, the young writer moved to the larger city of Newark (NJ) and opened a paper shop. He continued to write while earning his daily bread, and penned stories in many different genre’s – short westerns, serials for New England periodicals, dime novels, detective fiction… you name it, he wrote it (well, perhaps except for romances. But I digress). In 1893, just three short years after moving to Newark, Stratemeyer was hired by well-known dime-novel author Gilbert Patten to write for the Street & Smith periodical popular with young boys & men at the time, Good News. Stratemeyer was a popular editor & author at the magazine. 

Just a year later in 1894, Stratemeyer began publishing some of his stories as hardcover novels, the first of which being Richard Dare’s Venture – part of the Bound to Succeed series. Though his first four novels sold reasonably well, the publisher of the stories, Merriam, was unable to publish any further stories due to an economic depression that struck the United States in the late 1890s. Stratemeyer wouldn’t be sad for long, however, as shortly thereafter publisher W. L. Allison picked up his books and published twelve of his titles, and in 1899 an amazing thing happened to young Stratemeyer… he was asked to finish writing for two of his childhood heroes! 

Our affordable copy of The Rover Boys on the River, one of the series known to be Stratemeyer's favorite!

Our affordable copy of The Rover Boys on the River, one of the series known to be Stratemeyer’s favorite! See it here>

First Stratemeyer was asked by Lee & Shepard to pen the last book in a series begun by “Oliver Optic”, of William T. Adams. Adams had passed away before being able to complete the series, and the fans were left with baited breath. Around the same time, author Horatio Alger’s health was declining and he was also unable to finish his writings. Stratemeyer began work on Alger’s stories shortly before Alger’s death in 1899. Alger’s sister Olive negotiated with Stratemeyer to complete some of Alger’s stories that remained as notes or early chapters but that were never finished, and publish them under Alger’s name. The first popular series that Stratemeyer wrote was known as The Rover Boys – an instant success and a series that achieved immense popularity. Stratemeyer is even said to have mentioned that this series was his favorite throughout the years of authorship and publication!

In 1905, just a few short years later, Stratemeyer formed the Stratemeyer Literary Syndicate and began hiring journalists and other writers to pen stories based on his plot ideas. Stratemeyer paid each author a flat rate for the books they submitted, and then kept all of the copyrights to the novels themselves. The journalists wrote under pen names, which also allowed different authors to publish books in the same series. In this vein, printer, author and publisher Stratemeyer was now acting as a “literary agent” for ghostwriters in a way. 

Through the Syndicate, Stratemeyer would be the imagination behind quite a few immensely popular series books, including the Tom Swift series, the Bobbsey Twins, the Hardy Boys, and the Nancy Drew books. Though there are many more titles and series under the Syndicate’s name, these are the most well-remembered today. After Stratemeyer’s death in 1930 at the age of 67, the ownership of the Syndicate was passed on to his two daughters, Harriet and Edna. At first, the sisters thought to sell the Syndicate, but quickly realized that they preferred to keep their father’s business alive. They went on the keep the Syndicate running for twelve years together, and then Harriet kept the Syndicate together until her death in 1982. 

Today, Edward Stratemeyer’s books are largely considered some of the most beloved and well-known children’s series books in the business. They certainly opened a door for series books, and gave many authors the ability to write a be published (even if it wasn’t under their name and they had no rights to their work… but regardless). Happy Birthday to Edward L. Stratemeyer!

Share

Happy International Literacy Day! All Hail the Printing Press

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-11-16-17-am

By Margueritte Peterson

As everyone (at least, everyone who is reading this blog) probably knows, the advent of the Printing Press in 1454 (the year the Gutenberg Bible was printed) instigated a major boom in reading and literacy worldwide. Suddenly even the common man could afford a booklet or even a book… there was no longer an aristocratic or religious hold on reading! Huzzah! But how much did it really and truly do? The results are endless. In honor of International Literacy Day, we’d like to take a look at the beginnings of printing for the masses and how it helped shaped the modern world.

A long, long time ago (not in a galaxy far away), in the 13th & 14th centuries, printing used a technique now known as “block-printing”. Characters and images were literally carved into a block of wood, ink was poured into the crevices, and then the block was pressed onto paper. You can imagine how time consuming and expensive this method was, as each block of words or pictures had to be carved by hand. As “trendy” as woodcuts are now in fine press items, back then they were almost a nuisance – the wooden blocks tended to break after too much use and once a single thing changed within the image an entirely new block would need to be created. As governments and businesses grew to realize the importance of written records in their lives, demand for an easier printing technique became apparent.

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-11-12-07-am

Johannes Gutenberg

Though several print specialists were looking into faster & easier ways to print for the masses with moveable metal type, the first to make his mark was the well-known Johannes Gutenberg, an aristocrat from Mainz, Germany. Born in 1398, he was in his 50s when his fame spread far for his invention developed with an alloy of lead and tin that would be more durable and far easier to re-use when placed in a printing press. In his format, the reusable separate pieces of type would be placed in the press, and then the mirror images of each letter were carved in relief to create words. And since the letters could be rearranged into any format – the possibilities were endless! Any type of writing could be printed – finally printing was not only a technique used for the wealthy or the church.

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-11-12-32-am

A printing press similar to the one that Johannes Gutenberg set up in the 1450s.

In 1452 at the age of 54, Johannes Gutenberg was finally able to get the necessary funds together to begin what would become his legacy – the Gutenberg Bible. He printed two hundred copies of his Bible in 1454 and sold many of them (for very large sums of money) in 1455 at the Frankfurt Book Fair (glad to know Book Fairs were enjoyed even so long ago!) According to one online source, the Bibles cost the equivalent of three years’ pay “for the average clerk.” (So available for the masses, but sort of not.)

In less than 50 years, over twenty-five hundred European cities boasted printing presses, and the technique grew and spread like wildfire. Of course its immediate effect was that it multiplied by hundreds the production of the written word, and also (quickly) cut the cost of books to an affordable treat. A large population of the world was hungry for information, and the printing press was able to give them what they needed. Though at first the texts still mainly dealt with religious subjects, they soon dealt with a variety of topics and were purchased and read by all kinds of people – scientists, students, businessmen and nobility all benefitted from the advance in printing technology. The advances in many fields (particularly in science and technology) were obvious – the propagation of knowledge in a form available to all manner of people made the sharing of ideas and observations all the more easy.

In a way, the advent of the printing press in the mid 15th century could easily be compared with the spreading of ideas via the internet currently. A quick and easy (not to mention cheap) way of spreading religious, scientific, political and moral thoughts and conceptions went “viral” and literacy rates worldwide boomed in the 1500s. On today, International Literacy Day, we should give thanks to the invention that (in a way) started it all! All hail the moveable type printing press!

A modern day printing press!

A modern day printing press!

Share

Happy Birthday to Mary Shelley… and the Birth of Frankenstein

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 1.58.49 PM

By Margueritte Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a large house that sat alone on a cliff in the countryside. It contained more dark corners and cobwebs to count. On one dark and stormy night, inside that house a birth took place. One young lady (and a terribly naive young and handsome doctor) created a terrible creature that would come to haunt the world for years to come. His name… was Frankenstein.

(I was joking about the cliff thing. I have no idea if there were any cliffs or cobwebs about that weekend. In any case…)

Mary Shelley was born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin in August of 1797. She was the daughter of the famous feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and the political activist William Godwin. The young Mary was raised by her father after her mother passed away only a month after her birth. Godwin raised his daughter in a relaxed well-off atmosphere, being sure to educate her thoroughly (in literature and the humanities, as well as his own political ideologies). In 1814 at the age of 17 she began a romantic relationship with a fan of her father’s – one Percy Bysshe Shelley. Unfortunately Shelley was already married and their relationship would cause both parties much heartache and also and pain for their loved ones. Mary and her stepsister Claire Clairmont traveled through Europe for a few months, where she became pregnant with Shelley’s child. The daughter was, unfortunately, prematurely born and passed away.

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 1.58.24 PMFrom here the story only gets stranger and stranger – with reports that the three traveled around Europe for six weeks on foot reciting poetry and the great classics to each other, returning (when Wollstonecraft was reportedly with child) penniless and bedraggled. After returning, Mary and Shelley (with neither families on speaking terms with the young couple) lived together in a cottage in Bishopsgate. In mid 1816, numerous disheartening events took place – both couples endured suicides from each side of their relationships. Mary’s eldest half-sister Fanny committed suicide (long to have been thought to be because of her exclusion from the circle that Mary and Claire were a part of) by taking an overdose of laudanum in an inn in Wales. A couple months later, Shelley’s wife Harriet was found drowned in the Serpentine lake in Hyde Park, the result from her own suicide. Though both events undoubtedly shook the young couple, it did not detract from their hasty marriage a short three weeks after Harriet took her own life.

Mary’s stepsister Claire Clairmont had fallen in love with Lord Byron (despite his lack of affections towards her) and convinced the Shelleys to rent adjoining houses with the director on the shores of Lake Geneva. She resumed a sexual relationship with Byron, that eventually amounted to a daughter (and little else, as it was said that Byron could not stand her personality and constant desperation for him). In any case, this proved to be a most fruitful summer for Mary (or shall I say, Mrs. Shelley?) as it was here at Byron’s Villa Diodati that the group would meet and work on their writings.

Percy Shelley, the love of Mary's life!

Percy Shelley, the love of Mary’s life!

One night at Villa Diodati, Byron, Shelley, Mary, Claire and Byron’s young doctor John William Polidori made a pact to each write a ghost story. Though this caused Mary severe amounts of anxiety at her lack of ideas, she eventually became haunted by the image of a young man reanimating a corpse… and so Frankenstein was born! Though she began it as a short story, with Percy’s encouragement she fleshed the idea out into her first full-length novel. She would later remark on this summer of writing and editing as the time “when [she] first stepped out from childhood into life.”

This time of writing and intellectual stimulation did not last long, however. The Shelley’s were tormented by the deaths of all but one of their children – and just a few short years later Shelley would drown in a sailing accident off the coast of Italy. Though Mary Shelley continued to write throughout her lifetime – stories for ladies magazines, five volumes of “Lives” to the Lardner’s Cabinet Cyclopaedia, novels such as The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck in 1830, Lodore in 1835 and Falkner in 1837 – her primary concern was the welfare and well-being of her one surviving child, Percy Florence. She made sure he was brought up in a manner that would have suited his father, and the mother and son were close and very fond of each other. She became quite ill towards the end of the 1830s, and passed away over a decade later of what is suspected to have been an undiagnosed brain tumor. She was only 53 years old. A year later, her son and his wife finally opened her box desk, and are said to have found locks of her two dead children’s hair, a notebook with entries from both herself and Percy Shelley, a copy of on of his poems along with a silk satchel of his ashes and the remains of his heart.

Now that’s true love, eh?

Share

Welcome to the Biennial Reference Book Workshop with Tavistock Books (For All You Lazies Who Didn’t Sign Up)

By Vic Zoschak and Margueritte Peterson

1. Hooray! Another Reference Book Workshop! Who attended and how was the vibe of the event in your eyes?

This was like the 11th or 12th I’ve hosted this workshop since the first in 2001.  Due to space constraints, I limit registration to 7, which was attained this year shortly after the announcement but relatively late cancellations dropped us to 4 folk that actually attended.  Diane Black, Holly Chaffee, Zayda Delgado & David Guest.  Zayda a librarian at the beginning of her career at UC Riverside; the other 3 individuals are booksellers with varying degrees of experience in the trade.  This a typical mix of workshop attendees as the workshop is designed to help new[ish] booksellers who may not be familiar with the standard rare book bibliographies & references, but can also be useful to rare book librarians who need to know those works, as well as collectors just embarking on their collecting journey [though usually collectors have an interest in just one of the 4 subject areas].

I think the day went ok…  as I explain to all at the beginning of the workshop, it’s designed to just be a survey, and exposure thereto, of those basic references in four primary subject areas [English & American Literature, Americana, Childrens & Early Printed Books] which one will need in the daily course of business as a generalist antiquarian shop.  Which is to say, I know the divers volumes will begin to all ‘run together’ by the end of the first segment.  The challenge for me, as host, is to somehow be able to ascribe some aspect of uniqueness to each & every one such that the volumes retain their individuality.

I’ll leave it to the participants to say how successful I was at that effort!

2. How did this past Saturday differ from previous workshops?

Not much different really…  people ask questions, different paths are taken during the course of the day, other areas are explored.  Two of the individuals were from Nevada, so during the Americana section, I added a few Nevada refs that I thought they should know.  One thing I did note… during breaks all 4 individuals were scouring the shelves of the shop, to a degree more detailed than I had noted in the past few workshops.  True book people!

IMG_3180

The lunch group at Alameda’s Katsu Sushi House!

3. What is your favorite part of the day?

Lunch!

As you can imagine, I’m the primary talker during the day, and it can be a bit draining…  so at lunch, which I host, it’s a chance for the participants to chat with each other, with me, with Kate, and perhaps discuss other topics of interest, with those topics not necessarily being entirely relevant to the day’s subjects.  While we do introductions at the beginning of the day, lunch a time where we have an opportunity to say more than “Hi, my name is …. and I’m here to learn ….”.  So I get to find out more about the folks that have joined me for the day, while listening, not necessarily talking.  I find it relaxing & collegial.

4. What is the most useful part of the workshop for newbies? Or, would you recommend this workshop for newbies, over, say, RBS or CalRBS?

I’m not sure I can point to a specific aspect as ‘most useful’, as that is determined by each attendee, and as such, can be different for each individual.  I can say that when I hold up a certain reference book, and introduce it with “This reference book made me $5000” the booksellers usually perk up & pay attention.

Which segues into one aspect of the workshop I try to continually emphasis…  the web has lots of useful information available, but it has yet, in my experience, to supersede the reference book library.  In my opinion, it still takes both to successfully run a generalist antiquarian business.

While I wouldn’t recommend this workshop ‘over’ RBS or CALRBS, it does have the advantage of being 1 day, vice 5, and the cost is minimal, e.g., there is no entry fee, as I give the class gratis.  That said, I do tell people this the beginner version of Joel Silver’s week long ‘Reference Sources for Researching Rare Books’, and I encourage them to attend his class [RBS L-25] if they found mine interesting and/or useful.  Tavistock Books even offers a scholarship* to his class.

* here’s a link to the RBS Class description: <http://rarebookschool.org/courses/library/l25/>

**  a link to info regarding the Tavistock Books Educational Scholarship to L-25 (scroll to the bottom): <http://rarebookschool.org/admissions-awards/scholarships/>

FullSizeRender (2)

5. Kate’s opinion – this was your first Reference Book Workshop, right? Was there anything that you learned that you didn’t already know, even having been working for Vic for the last year? 

This was indeed my first reference book workshop, of any kind, and I’m glad I got to sit in on it. Despite the fact that I’ve had access to both Vic and his stellar reference library for over a year now, and am even in the process of inventorying that library, I learned plenty on Saturday. I haven’t yet handled all of the kinds of material that would require using each of the references Vic discussed with the class, for one thing — as with any bookshop, certain kinds of books are more likely to come through the door than others — so some reference titles were entirely new to me. Also, the workshop offered a chance for me to think critically about some of the references I only had a glancing familiarity with, and about bibliographic research in general. For instance, does McKerrow’s Dictionary of Printers & Booksellers, 1557 – 1650 cover instances of surreptitious publications? What exactly is the difference between Worldcat and OCLC? How can a bookseller research works by authors that might be un- or underrepresented in traditional “dead white men” bibliographies? And what makes a bibliography authoritative, anyway?

Not all of my questions were answered, naturally, but many were, and I’m happy to have food for thought. Plus, the attendees were great: interested and interesting people, and all, like me, simply trying to educate themselves about professional research materials and standards in the trade. So I can say, with absolute conviction, that it was the best reference book workshop I’ve ever attended/ eavesdropped on. And luckily for me, I get to pester the instructor any day I want from here on out . . . 

Closing remarks by V…

Finally, this may have been my last workshop….  they take a lot of energy, and I’m not the spring chicken I used to be.  Though on saying as much to Kate as we were cleaning up, she inquired, “How many times have you said that now?”  After a moment’s reflection, I replied “After each of the last 3.”  She just smiled.

Share

Happy 170th Anniversary to the Smithsonian Institution!

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 12.45.08 PM

By Margueritte Peterson

In 1829 an English chemist and mineralogist name James Smithson died. This, in and of itself, should not have influenced the United States in any grand way… but it did! This English chemist, born in Paris and the illegitimate song of the 1st Duke of Northumberland donated all of his lifetime of earnings and his own inheritance to Washington, D.C. and the United States… despite never having been there. What came of this scientists idea of “an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men”? Less than 20 years later the Smithsonian Institution was founded in Washington D.C. as an establishment that promoted further knowledge and learning for all men. In his will, Smithson dictated that his funds be left to his nephew and the nephew’s family… or in the event that the nephew had no surviving heirs, to the United States of America for a very specific purpose. 

A young Smithson from his days at Oxford.

A young Smithson from his days at Oxford.

James Smithson was born Jacques Louis-Macie in Paris, secretly, on an unknown date. He eventually became a naturalized UK citizen, and even studied chemistry at Oxford’s Pembroke College. After graduating from Oxford, Smithson considered himself somewhat of a nomad – he traveled extensively throughout the UK and Europe and published many papers on his findings. His “findings” covering all manner of topics – from the art and science of coffee making to the use of the scientific substance calamine in making brass. He studied other scientific topics over his lifetime, more to do with his chosen field of chemistry (like the make-up of human tears and snake venom!) Smithson was independently wealthy from an inheritance from his mother, and though he stayed quite busy throughout his lifetime in his studies, never had a career or a paying job. However, his travels did not diminish his wealth and at his death he was still very well-off. Smithson died in Italy in 1829. Six years later, his one and only nephew, Henry Hungerford, died, leaving no heirs. In his will, Smithson dictated that in the event that his nephew died without heirs, [Smithson] then bequeath the whole of [his] property… to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.”

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 1.12.09 PMThe United States was unaware of Smithson’s plans until his nephew passed away in 1835. The news was sent to President Andrew Jackson, who informed Congress of their lucky gift. A committee was set up almost immediately to begin planning the Smithsonian Institution. The funds from Smithson’s estate over the next few decades eventually totaled up over $562,000 (the money arriving as gold sovereigns in almost a dozen boxes, alongside Smithson’s personal belongings and scientific findings) – a total almost equivalent to $15,400,000 today!

In February of 1847, the Board of Regents (those put in charge of overseeing the new “Smithsonian Institution”) approved the seal for the institution. The institution opened that year and has remained an unbelievably popular establishment for research and knowledge ever since. These days, taking young children on field trips to the Institution (which has since expanded into a combination of 19 museums and galleries – all but 3 of which are still located in Washington, D.C.) is a common practice, as the collections include over 138 million artworks, artifacts and specimens. The Smithsonian Institution Libraries hold 2 million library volumes – and their Archives hold 156,830 cubic feet of archival material! Talk about an impressive library… the Smithsonian is an American institution with a wonderful history. Happy 170th Anniversary to the Institution!

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 1.15.17 PM

Share

Some Books-on-Books Titles That Might Be Missing from Your Reference Library

Do you ever wonder what the most useful reference books are for your collection? Whether you are a bookseller, a librarian or even just a customer, it is important to know what you are buying, what you are selling, and what you’ve got! Reference books are one of the keys to being a responsible cataloguer, no matter your position. We at Tavistock Books boast a collection of over 3,000 reference titles from all walks of the antiquarian book world. Noting proof of what we’re selling is a top priority for us (as it should also be for you)! Not only do we offer a semi-annual Reference Book Workshop at Tavistock Books in August, but we also offer our library to trusted friends and colleagues anytime they have use of it. Interested in attending our Reference Book Workshop? Email vjz@tavbooks.com for more information on it! In the meantime, allow our master Vic Zoschak, Jr. to give you a run-down on some of our all-time favorites and the ones that come in most handy around Tavistock Books on a regular basis! Don’t forget – though we have certain specialties, we operate mainly as a generalist store with a variety of interests, and therefore have favorites in many categories!

A shot from our workshop in August, 2014.

A shot from our workshop in August, 2014.

1.  New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, 660 – 1950.  Cambridge, 1970s.  5 vols, with the 5th vol an Index volume.  More a checklist than a detailed bibliography, it’s nevertheless voluminous in its coverage of UK authors, and probably is the only bibliographic source for many.  I’ll probably have to get Vol 3 (19th C) rebound, I’ve used it so much over the years.  It sits within arm-reach of my desk.

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 10.29.19 AM2.  Cowan.  A Bibliography of the History of California, 1510 – 1930.  First published in 1914, with a revised edition issued in 1933.  I use the 1964 reprint, which includes the supplemental Vol IV, issued that year.  If you’re a California bookseller, you’ll get asked for California books & so you’ll need it. And if you collect, or sell, books regarding the far West, it’s indispensable.

 

3.  Bibliography of American Literature.  Otherwise known as the BAL.  First volume [Adams to Byrne] issued by the Yale University Press in 1955, compiled & edited by the incomparable bibliographer, Jacob Blanck.  Final, and 9th volume [Westcott to Wylie], was edited & compiled by Michael Winship, and issued by the Press in 1991, so the 9 volumes almost 40 years in the making.  It includes all 1sts [plus other stuff, see “Inclusions”, volume I], chronologically listed, of the authors included in the set, which were those that died 1930 or earlier.  All the major names [and many minor names] are included, e.g., Alcott, Clemens, James, et al.  If you’re going to do pre-1930 American lit, this set a must.

Our 1st edition copy of Eckel's Bibliography from 1913 is for sale here>

Our 1st edition copy of Eckel’s Bibliography from 1913 is for sale here>

4.  Eckel.  The First Editions of the Writings of Charles Dickens Their Points and Values.  London: 1932.  2nd Revised Edition.  As a Dickens specialist, this a ‘must have’ for me, as it covers all his primary writings, his secondary ones, and loads of other stuff.  In other words, much bang for the buck.  And even though published over 80 years ago, with some data superceded by more recent scholarship, it’s still a relevant bibliography for a general antiquarian bookseller, or Dickens collector.  For the budget minded, there are many less-costly reprints out there.

 

5.  Baumgarten.  Price Guide and Bibliographic Checklist for Children’s & Illustrated Books 1880 – 1970 [2004 Edition, which is the latest I believe].  Again, a good ‘bang for the buck’ reference for the general antiquarian shop and/or collector of children’s literature.  Over 18,000 entries, it gives you the data necessary to identify first editions, and while the pricing info is dated, it does give you a starting point with which one can extrapolate.

Now keep in mind that these are just the beginning of the pickings! We, as booksellers, use many, many reference books on a daily basis. And again, if you’ve ever been curious to know what you’ve got or how to figure out what you’ve got… they are indispensable! That is just one more reason to attend one of our Reference Book Workshops – where you’ll get a much broader idea of the important and most well-known reference books, what they cover and how to cite them correctly! Not to mention the ability to ask any reference question you need of the Reference-King Vic Zoschak! Contact us for more information! 

Share

“It is better to learn wisdom late, than to never learn it at all” The Life of the Great Creator of Sherlock Holmes

By Margueritte Peterson

On the 7th of July, 1930, Arthur Conan Doyle died at age 71 from a heart attack. On this the 86th anniversary of his death, we’d like to look at this famous author, spiritualist & physician and his lifetime contribution to so many different fields!

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 12.49.00 PMConan Doyle (as he is often called, though Conan Doyle is a combination of his middle and last names, as Conan is not a surname, as people often think!) was not born under auspicious circumstances. His father, Charles Altamont Doyle, was an alcoholic and when Arthur was only 5 years old he and his siblings were dispersed to live with family and friends across Edinburgh. A few years later the family moved back together and for numerous years lived in near-poverty. Luckily, Doyle had wealthy family to support him and to send him to Jesuit boarding school in England for seven years beginning when he was nine years old. Despite a difficult home life and upbringing, Doyle apparently struggled leaving home for school – as he was incredibly close with his mother (and would remain so throughout his life) and cherished the stories she would tell him during his childhood. It is even said that his favorite part of school was writing letters home to his mother, and telling stories to his schoolmates that she had once told him!

After leaving school as a young man, Doyle’s first act as an adult was to co-sign the committal papers for his father, who by that time was a long-sufferer of mental illness related to his drinking problem. After such, Doyle devoted his further studies, surprisingly, to a medical career (I say surprisingly as his family was one of artists) after being influenced by a boarder his mother took in for some extra cash. While at medical school, Doyle met two fellow students who would prove to become life-long friends, as well as literary stars – James Barrie (author of Peter Pan) and Robert Louis Stevenson. Another influential persona on the young Doyle was one of his Professors – a Dr. Joseph Bell. Dr. Bell, with his particular observations, attention and significant powers of logic and deduction would end up being Doyle’s inspiration for the character of Sherlock Holmes!

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 12.35.00 PMIt was during his medical studies that Doyle first began to write short stories – the first few of which were published in both a smaller journal in Edinburgh and the London Society. It is said that with his publication in the larger UK magazine Doyle first realized that he could, possibly, make a living with his pen. He took off of his studies during his third year of medical school to act as a doctor on board an Arctic whaling boat – an experience that he loved (and kept detailed journals of) and sparked his wish for adventure. After returning to his studies and graduating, Doyle’s first job was to take another surgeon position on board a ship bound for Africa. He was less impressed by this position, however, and upon returning to England eventually opened up his own small practice in Portsmouth. During his time practicing, Doyle wrote short stories on the side and married a sister of one of his patients. He lived a relatively calm and normal life until March of 1886 when he began working on the novel that would propel him into fame and success as an author.

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 12.34.14 PMA Study in Scarlet was published in 1888 and immediately became a great success (though, surprisingly, Doyle was received more widely in America at first, than in the UK). Though this first work is well-remembered (as it introduced the world to the immortal characters of Dr. Watson & Sherlock Holmes), and Doyle continued writing other stories and novels. Sherlock became a household name and his stories began to be published in The Strand Magazine on a regular basis. In fact, after only five years of Sherlock titles, Doyle planned the death of this fictional hero and after The Final Problem was published in 1893 (where Sherlock and Moriarty plunged to their deaths at The Reichenbach Falls), over twenty thousand readers cancelled their subscriptions to the magazine!

Doyle’s next few years were troubled times for the author, as he struggled to maintain a readership with other stories and characters, took care of his wife recently diagnosed with tuberculosis, and dealt with the death of his (at this point) severely demented father. In the early 1900s, Doyle decided (more for the happiness of his bank account than his own literary merits) to bring back the character of Sherlock – first in The Hound of the Baskervilles (written as just a previously untold adventure of the famous Detective), and then with The Return of Sherlock Holmes in 1903 – once again serialized in The Strand Magazine. Sherlock Holmes was back, and as popular as ever.

Sherlock Holmes was kept alive despite many obstacles in Doyle’s life. He took care of his wife throughout her illness, raised their two children, wrote, tried (twice, in fact) to throw himself into politics, and began seeing a young woman he felt a deep connection with on the side (though it is thought he remained true to Louisa until her death in 1906). Doyle was also a very active person, participating in many sports and body building throughout his life. Doyle did not only write Sherlock Holmes periodicals, but also in this time wrote several plays and novels – though some popular (some not quite so popular) in contemporary circles are not what he is well-remembered for today.

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 12.49.23 PMEver an active participant in politics and wartime (he served as a surgeon in the Boer War some years earlier), Conan Doyle never ceased to look for ways to be of service to his country and his people. Fun Fact: After an attack on the British Navy at the outbreak of WWI where the military lost over a thousand lives in one day, Doyle wrote to the war office and recommended that they invent inflatable belts and inflatable “life boats” in order to save more lives of those at sea. Though many in the offices thought Doyle a nuisance (always interfering), at one point Winston Churchill himself wrote him to thank him for his ideas! As far as I’m concerned, being the one to come up with the idea for inflatable life jackets and life rafts absolutely earns you respect.

One part of Doyle’s history that many like to focus on is his interest in the paranormal and the occult sciences. Having always been interested in certain types of phenomena (even his second published work was a strange occult work of fiction about the afterlife of three Buddhist monks), he became even more so after witnessing the death of his son in the war. His interest in spiritualism (which his wife eventually also shared), led him to believe in anything paranormal – such as the Cottingley fairies (the two girls who posed with fairy cutouts and accidentally started a nationwide interest in the belief of fairies). Though when the need for money rose once again Doyle was able to pen out more Sherlock Holmes tales, most of his writing in his later life focused on spiritualism and psychic pursuits.

Our first appearance of this classic science fiction novel by Doyle "The First Men in the Moon" illustrated by Claude Shepperson, many plates of which are only available in this periodical issue. See more here>

A Collection of Strand Magazine from 1900 to 1901 with Arhur Conan Doyle articles “A Glimpse of the Army” and “Strange Studies from Life” as well as an interview with Doyle – “A British Commando.” See more here>

Doyle passed away from angina and heart-related difficulties in July of 1930. His last words were whispered to his second wife, “You are wonderful.” This great man created one of the most well-known literary characters to this day and lived a full-life, constantly chasing his passions, whether they be literary, political, or spiritual.

Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 1.54.44 PM
Share