John Windle Antiquarian Bookseller has issued the third part of their collection from an obviously well-heeled collector: Catalogue 60: Books from a San Francisco Private Library Part 3. Association Books. This selection confirms what we learned from the previous two – this was an important library. These are books signed and inscribed by their authors or others. The common thread is their importance, as there is not much in common with styles. They range from Shaw and Wilder, to Dylan Thomas and Frost, to Milne and Beatrix Potter. Throw in Tallyrand and Elizabeth Custer. That is a diverse group of people, the common thread being we know them all. Here are a few samples.
Lord Alfred Douglas was a turn of the century poet, though he is best remembered for things other than his poetry. Lord Douglas had a deserved reputation as a spoiled rich kid. His father came to despise him, both for his homosexual behavior and his insolence to the hand that fed him. He was Oscar Wilde's lover, and it was his father's countersuit against Wilde's claim of libel that landed the latter in prison, his health and spirit broken. Lord Douglas had no trouble turning on Wilde. Eventually, Douglas would end up in prison himself for libeling Winston Churchill. Item 7 is Douglas' copy of a fourth impression of the Collected Poems 1909-1935 by T. S. Eliot. Douglas was not fond of “modern” poetry. He didn't consider it even to be poetry, it not meeting, in his opinion, the formal requirements. T. S. Eliot was at the top of his list of disliked “poets,” and he gave a speech to the Royal Society of Literature in 1943 on the subject, much focused on Eliot. That disdain is repeated in Douglas' inscription in Eliot's book: “The worst indictment that could possibly be brought against this age of idiocy is that it has accepted this contemptible, impudent jackass T.S. Eliot as a 'poet.'” Priced at $3,500.
One person with whom Douglas corresponded, and to whom he expressed his contempt for Eliot, was George Bernard Shaw. Shaw was more ambivalent about Eliot, and cautioned Douglas not to be so dismissive, that like his style or not, Eliot was a serious poet. However, item 27 finds Shaw in a different, more humorous, albeit sarcastic, mood. Shaw had received a copy of his 1934 The Complete Plays from an owner who asked Shaw to sign it. Shaw interpreted the request as motivated not by the man's admiration for his plays, but by a desire to increase the value of his copy so he could sell it for a profit. So, Shaw inscribed his opinion in the book, which undoubtedly makes it all the more valuable. Writes Shaw, “Mr. Fred Chapman of Manchester... has speculated in this edition de luxe on the chance of my autographing it and thereby enabling him to sell it at a considerable profit. I trust that the few hundred thousand or so of his fellow purchasers will, before following his example, apply the Kantian test to their conduct and ask themselves what would happen to me if I devoted the rest of my life to signing copies... Still, to reward Mr. Chapman’s cheek...” $750.
This is one of the more ironically titled books around: My Life on the Plains. Or, Personal Experiences with Indians. The author of this 1874 book was General George Armstrong Custer, who is known mostly for his personal experiences with Indians. Of course, he was unable to write about his most notable personal experience with Indians. This copy comes with a letter from his widow, Elizabeth Custer, who spent the remaining 50-plus years of her life rehabilitating her husband's reputation. In it, she builds up his earlier days to soaring heights, as she was wont to do: “...the last year of the Civil War when he was the youngest General in the Service and commanded thousands of troops was intense for months at a time... a ‘boy General’ at twenty-three leading thousands in the charges for which he was famous...” Item 6. $2,250.
Item 29 is an 1892 edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin, with a poignant letter from author Harriet Beecher Stowe's daughter, also named Harriet Beecher Stowe. The letter is to a Mr. W. H. Cathcart, who evidently requested Mrs. Stowe write a section from Uncle Tom's Cabin in his copy. Her daughter explains that “writing is an effort for her now,” and she was concerned an attempt to write in the book might deface it. Instead, after several tries, she succeeded in having her mother write a section on a separate piece of paper. Her daughter writes, “I have had her attempt two or three times to write for you but without success until to day, when what she has written is quite as good as we can ever expect from her again...” The senior Harriet Beecher Stowe was 81 years old at the time and suffered from dementia. $25,000.
Item 36 is Our Town. A Play in Three Acts, published in 1938. The copy is inscribed by author Thornton Wilder, but there is much more. It is also signed by all 48 members of the original cast, and many years later, it was signed by Paul Newman, who played the stage manager in a 2003 production. $3,750.