Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2012 Issue

Travel in Jamaica - Exploring the National Library in Downtown Kingston, in the year 2012

Gage01

The title page of Thomas Gage's book.

PART I : meeting Thomas Gage, the villain in a religious suit.

Jamaica, home of Bob Marley and Usain Bolt, is a dream for many American tourists. It is also a nightmare for some of its inhabitants. Far from the north coast, the polluted capital of Kingston is a urban labyrinth, haunted by squalor and loose criminals. A third-world country, Jamaica remains focused on immediate matters and can not afford to linger too long on a remote past. An unfriendly ground for old books ? Not necessarily. The National Library of Jamaica (JNL) stands, amongst other institutions, as an oasis of hope and knowledge in the heart of downtown Kingston. Located at 12 East King Street it offers a huge selection of newspapers, maps and photographs... It also shelters 47 000 books, most of them contemporary but a few dating from way back. I recently had the privilege to set my eyes upon a handful of them. The fact that I had already seen most of these books somewhere else could never spoil my pleasure. For, tell me - what sounds best ? Watching a lion in a zoo, or roaming the wild plains of Africa ? Let us learn to know Jamaica by the book(s)...

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BOOK 1 : THOMAS GAGE, New Survey of the West Indias : OR, The English American his Travail by Sea and Land: containing A Journal of Three Thousand and Three Hundred Miles within the main Land of America.

London, 1655.

Jamaica was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1494, during his second travel. He even wrecked his ships on the north coast during his last travel, spending almost a full year in great uncertainty. But it was not until 1507 that the son of the Admiral, Diego Columbus, sent Juan de Esquivel to conquer the island. It then remained a Spanish possession until 1655, when the English captured it. This was a turning point in the history of Jamaica, partly due to a particular man, Thomas Gage. Indeed, his book published in 1648 in London played a crucial part in the conquest - no wonder the NLJ has at least 6 copies of it. When I held their 1655 copy (the second and the best edition, according to the writing on the front endpaper), I fell in love at once. The full leather binding of this small in-4° book is worn all over, the head and foot caps are both missing and the front hinge is badly rubbed. But the magnificent golden lettres on the front cover just made it for me : Public Library Jamaica. An endemic copy, deeply rooted in history.

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Gage's book might pretend to the title of “ the book with the longest title ever ”. Mexico, the City of Angels, Guatemala, Chiapa, Guaxaca, Vera Paz... The title page mentions almost every town Gage visited. It also advertises a New and Exact Discovery of the Spanish Navigation as well as a Grammar (...) of the Indian Tongue... amongst other things ! Gage’s travel, it is true, was remarkable and unique. Moreri’s Dictionary states that Gage was the first non-Spanish witness to give an account from the inside of the Spanish empire in America. Another traveller, Father Labat, wrote : “we can not deny the fact that he gave us some very good insights of Mexico and its surroundings (...). Those who had written about it before had seen nothing but the shores of these countries (...) He described with great accuracy quantity of things we hitherto had no knowledge of.” Hence his nickname, the English American. From a Catholic family of England, Gage was 28 years old when he decided to embark with some missionary friends for America, in 1625. He wished to escape the wrath of his father who reproached him his parting company with the Jesuits to join the Dominicans. Hiding himself inside a tub on board of a Spanish ship, Gage eventually reached New Spain (Mexico) a few weeks later. His adventures have little in common with the bold exploits of the conquistadores. Riding a donkey, Gage preached some skeptical natives in the wilderness, visiting some convents that the monks, he wrote, had turned into harems. Moreri states that his book was “full of fancy stories about the monks of New Spain” and the dictionary of Chaudon (1804) explains that some “fictious facts and unnecessary stylistic devices irritated people of good taste against the author and the book itself.” People of good taste were also irritated at his behavior. Indeed, back to England in 1637, he put his whole dignified family to shame through his strange and wonderful conversion to the Anglican Church, as the title page of our edition reads. Gage was an opportunist and, indeed, a traitor. He was ready to do anything to make a name for himself, including sending his former Catholic friends to the gallows of Tyburn. An irritated - and Catholic - Father Labat described him as a “lying tongue”, a “heart full of ungratefulness, covetousness and wickedness”, in a few words “a villain in a religious suit.”

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Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann, wallpaper sample book, circa 1919. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Archive from a late office of the Breuer & Smith architectural team, New York, 1960-70s. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> William Morris, <i>The Story of the Glittering Plain or the Land of Living Men,</i> illustrated by Walter Crane, Kelmscott Press, Hammersmith, 1894. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustave Doré, <i>La Sainte Bible selon la Vulgate,</i> Tours, 1866. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustav Klimt & Max Eisler, <i>Eine Nachlese,</i> complete set, Vienna, 1931. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>Eric Allatini & Gerda Wegener, <i>Sur Talons Rouges,</i> with original watercolor by Wegener, Paris, 1929. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>C.P. Cavafy, <i>Fourteen Poems,</i> illustrated & signed by David Hockney, London, 1966. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jean Midolle, <i>Spécimen des Écritures Modernes...</i>, Strasbourg, 1834-35. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>E.A. Seguy, <i>Floréal: Dessins & Coloris Nouveaux,</i> Paris, 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. SOLD for $131,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. SOLD for $516,500
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. SOLD for $106,250
    <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. SOLD for $16,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. SOLD for $275,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. SOLD for $118,750
  • <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> E.H. SHEPARD, Original drawing for A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner.<br>$40,000-60,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> BERNARD RATZER, Plan of the City of New York in North America, surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767. $80,000-100,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> THOMAS JEFFERSON, Autograph letter signed comparing Logan, Tecumseh, and Little Turtle to the Spartans. Monticello: 15 February 1821. $14,000-18,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN C. FREMONT, Narrative of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, in the Year 1842.. Abridged edition, the only one containing the folding map From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $3,000-5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ZANE GREY, Album containing 94 large format photographs of Grey and party at Catalina Island, Arizona, and fishing in the Pacific. From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $5,000-$8,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> WILLIAM COMBE, A History of Madeira ... illustrative of the Costumes, Manners, and Occupations of the Inhabitants. produced by Ackermann in 1821; From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ERIC TAVERNER, Salmon Fishing... One of 275 copies signed by Taverner, published in 1931,From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN WHITEHEAD, Exploration of Mount Kina Balu, North Borneo. Whitehead reached the high point of Kinabalu in 1888. Part of a major group of travel books from the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN LONG, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader, describing the Manners and Customs of the North American Indians... The first edition of 1791. $3,000-$5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> SAMUEL BECKETT, Stirrings Still. This, Beckett’s last work of fiction with original lithographs by Le Brocquy, limited to 200 copies signed by the author and the artist. From the Estate of Howard Kaminsky.. $1,500-$2,500

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