Friday, January 30, 2015

Breakfast at the Bookstore with Brad and Nick # 19

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From "It's the Pictures That Got Small" : Charles Brackett on Billy Wilder and Hollywood's Golden Age, edited by Anthony Slide


"... Katherine Anne Porter was put on The Duchess of Suds and I lunched her at Perino's.  After lunch she saw Incendiary Blonde..."

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Downton Doodle

Daily Dose

From Mapp and Lucia, by E. F. Benson


"There was the back of somebody with no clothes on lying on an emerald-green sofa; and worst of all, there was a picture called 'Women Wrestlers,' from which Miss Mapp hurriedly averted her eyes."

From Chapter 5

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

So like an arrow swift...

"The dogs did bark, the children screamed,
  Up flew the windows all;       
And every soul cried out, ‘Well done!’
  As loud as he could bawl."

Okay, so if not swift then true, which is better.  There's nothing quite so satisfying frankly as a gift come after the fact; the holidays done, the mailbox empty but for circulars, bills and trash.  I had fair warning, but still.  I did not know what to expect when I opened the box.  Surprises, at least of the best kind, are fewer at fifty-something, so I admit to an almost childish glee, ripping away the wrapping to find... a treasure!  A genuine surprise and a treasure!

The Diverting History of John Gilpin (1782), by William Cowper is by now as familiar to me as any poem in the language.  I knew this poem before I knew Cowper.  Then I read and studied William Cowper, his life, poems and letters closely for the reading I did last Fall.  I was lucky enough to have my dearest friend, R. be present for that occasion, little knowing he would take it as a hint come Christmas and hunt me out a copy of John Gilpin for a present.  Not just any copy, mind, but a copy of the 1878 edition, illustrated by the great Randolph Caldecott!  It's a book I'd read about, but never held, an important book, for reasons I'll explain in a bit.

First though, to review why I so desperately needed this book which I did not know I needed until my friend so kindly bought me a copy.

 The poem.  Looking to coax him from his melancholy, the poet's friend, Lady Austin told him the supposedly true story of a local merchant, a successful "linen-draper" or clothier who had borrowed a horse in order to not be late for his wedding-anniversary dinner.  The horse bolted.  The poor gentleman, despite his cries for help, went whipping along the road at such a pace he was mistaken for a steeple-chaser and cheered all along the way.  It was an amusing story.  To the relief of all present that night in Olney, Cowper laughed.  The next day, he wrote the poem to please his friend. 

When the poem was published, it was an immediate success with the public and continued so for more than a century, inspiring various illustrators and editions, as well as toymakers, advertisers and all manner of whatnot.

Now I own not one, but at least two editions of Cowper's Poems.  Neither's all that lovely.  One's a a small book, good for a coat pocket, but far from complete.  The other's a serviceable brick: a thick square of close, Victorian printing in double-columns of small type.  (This last is rather sparsely illustrated by a handful of sentimental and rather hideous copper-plates.)  Both contain the text of John Gilpin, neither is illustrated.

The only other edition of the poem I own is a rather tatty, but wonderful old thing from 1953, illustrated by the late, great Ronald Searle (1920 - 2011.)  I love Searle, and bought the book for his pictures, years ago.  There's a delightfully hectic quality to his rather busy line that conveys exactly the relentless motion of the poem.  I treasure this little book, in cardboard covers and a foxed and chipped wrapper.  I hadn't ever really looked to buy another, but then, I'd never seen the Caldecott.

Randolph Caldecott (1846 - 1886) was an English artist and illustrator who, from age 26, earned his living mostly by drawing for the magazines of the day.  At 32 he produced two books with color illustrations for, as they say, "the Christmas trade."  The first of these, The House That Jack Built, sold well, but the second, Caldecott's version of John Gilpin, became an immediate bestseller and firmly established the artist as among preeminent practitioners of his day.  By his untimely death in 1886, Caldecott's pictures were considered classics of their kind.  Below is arguably the most famous illustration in the whole of children's literature:

Why?  Well, I'm glad you asked.  (I will pretend you did.)  Below is a photograph of the Randolph Caldecott Medal, established in 1937 by what is now known rather awkwardly as the "Association for Library Service to Children."  The prize is still awarded annually in recognition of the preceding year's "most distinguished American picture book for children."  Past winners include the likes of Wanda Gág (Nothing At All,) Robert McCloskey (Make Way for Ducklings,) Dr Seuss, William Steig and Maurice Sendak.  More to the point just here, the front of the Caldecott Medal, as will be seen in the photo below, reproduces the Caldecott illustration above from John Gilpin!

At a guess, I would say that not one American children's librarian or bookseller in one hundred now recognizes the source from which the medal is struck.  Nonetheless, we all of us in the business of books will know the name, and the familiar reproduction of same in stickers on the covers of kids' books.

For children's books and picture books in general I do not give a tinker's damn.  But to now own a copy of this book, with these illustrations, well... let's just say the gift made me misty.

And it is a wonderful copy!  The binding is sound, the colors vivid throughout, the book as a piece of publishing history could not have been better kept.  (Blessings then on all the children who would seem never to have touched it.)  For me though this is the the version of Cowper's comic poem I specifically referenced in my reading, as I've said, without ever having held the book in my hand.  This is the book that in large part may well have kept both the poet and the illustrator somehow, in an indirect way admittedly, alive into the 21st Century.  Now I own it.

Since it came I've spent many an evening when I might better have been doing something else instead sitting at my desk, turning the now familiar pages over, reading the poem again, studying the pictures, smiling.  This book makes me happy.

That I did not know I needed it until it came, too late for Christmas, and from so dear a friend only adds to it's value for me.  I will do my best to see that it is kept as it should be, in a honored place on my shelves.

Thanks, dear friend.  You know me better than I know myself it seems.  Well done!

Daily Dose

From Miss Mapp, by E. F. Benson


"A flood of lurid light poured into Miss Mapp's mind."

From Chapter One