Though in its stern vagaries Fate / A poor book-lover me decreed,
Perchance mine is a happy state— / The books I buy I like to read:
To me dear friends they are indeed, / But, howe’er enviously I sigh,
Of others I take little heed— / The books I read I like to buy.
Alfred Edward Newton (1864–1940) was an American author and book collector and this first stanza of BALLADE OF A POOR BOOKLOVER appears early on in this light hearted and charming memoir. It was while I was poking about among the old book-shops that it occurred to me to write a little story about my books—when and where I had bought them, the prices I had paid, and the men I had bought them from, many of whom I knew well.
This rambling story clearly shows the tremendously good time the author had in building his collection—which numbered over 10,000 books at the time of his death. First published in 1918, his book was a bestseller selling 25,000 copies. One of the highlights of his collection was the complete, original, hand written manuscript of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd (1874). Its author, when informed of its discovery, wrote saying that he had ‘supposed the manuscript had been pulped ages ago.’ One page only was missing; Mr Hardy supplied it.
Some Early Australian Bookmen by George Ferguson. Australian National University Press. Canberra. 1978. Hardcover. First Edition. 66p., 19 text illustrations and facsimiles printed in brown. Fine in Fine Dustjacket. This edition is limited to 1,000 copies signed by the author of which this is number 473. $50.00.
A brisk, informative monograph covering the period 1830 to 1900 that ‘selects some of the outstanding figures among booksellers, book publishers, authors and bibliophiles to show how the trade developed during its formative years’.
By 1835, Sydney had ‘assumed quite a literary aspect of late’ according to a report in The Colonist, with the ‘Colonial Capital’ now host to five major bookshops—‘Not unworthy of the appearance of the British Metropolis itself’—the latest being Mr Innes’ shop ‘in the handsome row of buildings recently erected in King Street, is equally creditable in its exterior and seems remarkably well stocked.’
One controversy reported in 1854 seems remarkably contemporary. Melbourne newspaper The Argus published an article applauding the actions of American publishers—before the days of international copyright—of selecting any English title they chose & republishing it without permission or payment. The paper condemned Customs authorities holding up pirated editions shipped to Victoria & it also attacked publishers and authors ‘who think more of the few paltry shillings they would gain by the sale of their own copyrights than of extending the reputation they acquire among the new generation of the Antipodes...’ George Robertson (1825—1898), bookseller & publisher, fired back in a letter: We have no recourse to American pirated editions... If the operation of copyright laws would form a hindrance to social progress here, they would do the same in England. But I contend that they do not. They form the cradle of literary talent; the nursing mother of genius. They give a stimulus to literary effort in the most effectual ways, by holding out a rich prize to those that are successful in the race. Productivity Commission, take note!
I conclude with a second piece of verse, three stanzas from a lengthy poem—The Auld Shop & the New, written by Henry Lawson (1867–1922), written in 1910, for George Robertson (1860–1933), co-founder of Angus and Robertson, in acknowledgment of ‘his splendid generosity during years of trouble’:
O do you mind the auld shop, Dan? / They’ve scarcely left a hint—
Where Banjo and meself, lang syne, / Brot our furse books to print.
They’ve partly left the auld front, Dan, / But that is going too—
An’ sae I sadly sing the sang: ‘The Auld Shop an’ the New!’
Twa boxes ‘neath the window-sills / Stood open to the glare,
An’ soiled and tattered Secon’-Han’ / Took dust, or fluttered there.
Twa cards stood on the pavement stanes, / Writ large for great an’ sma’,
Wi’ ALL IN THIS BOX SAXPENCE , Dan, / An A’ IN THIS BOX TWA .
Depar-r-tments grew by yards since then, / The shelves have run by miles,
But, save his winsome selling smile, / The Black Chief seldom smiles.
And mony a time he thinks an’ sighs, / An’ longs, wi’ bitter pain,
As Banjo put it aince) to see / Those boxes back again!