Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2012 Issue

Tragic End to the Life of Shakespearean Book Thief


Raymond Scott and “assistant” arrive at court for earlier hearing.

The decision was hardly unexpected, but the sentence was somewhat surprising. England has not been noted for unduly harsh punishment since they closed the Tower, but Scott was sentenced to eight years in prison. The high value of the book didn't help, nor did his past history, though petty. Perhaps his flamboyant style was unhelpful as well. Nonetheless, we have seen much lighter sentences for larger and more destructive book thefts in America, normally the harsher, more “law and order” jurisdiction. Eight years is a long time.

At first, Scott seemed to adjust to prison life fairly well. Several months in, he spoke about how they had him working in the prison library. He was learning bookkeeping, but “not the extended borrowing type,” he joked. He had earned a certain status among his fellow prisoners for his audacity and celebrity. Scott was planning an appeal, at least of the length of his sentence if not the conviction, and was working on an autobiography he dubbed “Shakespeare and Love.” All seemed well, considering the circumstances.

Sadly, it did not turn out so well for Scott. Society determined his debt to it, and like his debt to Mastercard, it was more than he could handle. Scott became depressed. The length of his sentence became unbearable. He became particularly down when another birthday passed for his elderly mother, and he was not there to share it. In February of this year, Scott wrote a letter to the Sunday Sun newspaper. The humor was gone. It was that of a desperate man, seeking the one type of salvation not available to a prisoner, at least not in this world – freedom. He revealed that he had been placed on suicide watch. “Thought last night it’d be nice to die peacefully in my sleep no more pain, a panacea,” he wrote.

Scott wrote disparagingly of the days when he made his flamboyant appearances in court. “The drunken buffoon attending court. Yuk. The ludicrous enterprise with the folio surely THAT person was mentally ill deluded not real in cloud cuckoo land.” he wrote the Sun. The desperation grows deeper in his words: “Just had the absolute worst week of my life. Total breakdown pacing round the cell all night shaking. The scales have fallen from my eyes it’s a waking nightmare. Not eating. Not sleeping. Mother came up on Wednesday - difficult visit she left worried naturally. How did I get into all this? Rescue me somebody please give me a second chance. Can’t cope. On suicide watch 'the orange book'. Dear me what a disaster, when I think what I had, now look at me living like an animal in a cage.”

No one rescued Scott. No one gave him a second chance. Perhaps no one could. Scott was colorful, eccentric, outrageous, a personality waiting for five decades to be released from a Walter Mitty body. For a year, it was. He had an elongated 15 minutes of fame. However, Scott was no hardened criminal. He was not prepared for the life after crime. The self-confidence melted under the reality of prison bars. His lawyer at trial attempted to paint Scott as a “naive mummy's boy” and an “old fool,” taken in by the charms of a young Cuban dancer. “He’s someone who genuinely believes a 21-year-old dancer is his fiancee,” the lawyer explained. It was almost certainly an accurate portrayal of Scott, even if it didn't help to get him off. He entertained us, provided us with a year of comic relief, but in reality, Raymond Scott was a man out of his element. It truly is sad. Scott could have been a minor celebrity, at least in his home town, if he had just have been able to express his colorful, underlying personality without resorting to crime. He could not, and as a result, Raymond Scott is with us no more, a victim of his own hand.

The Durham First Folio, however, is back where it belongs.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, <i>Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States,</i> pamphlet, 1862. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens & the persons who served him, 1866-1907. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Autograph book with inscriptions by orators Moses Roper & Peter Williams, 1821-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Archive of letters, postcards, and greeting cards sent by Romare Bearden, 1949-87. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br>E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Early German-American anti-slavery broadside, <i>Sclaven-Handel,</i> Philadelphia, 1794. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br><i>The Black Panther: Black Community News Service,</i> 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, <i>I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike,</i> silver print, 1968. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> <i>March For Freedom Now!,</i> poster for the 1960 Republican Convention. $4,000 to $6,000.

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