Blackwell's Rare Books has issued a selection of material Antiquarian & Modern Catalogue B171. The rare book store is located within Blackwell's large store for new books in Oxford, England, opposite the Bodleian Library. The catalogue is divided into two distinct sections: Antiquarian Books, and Modern First Editions. For this review, we will focus on the antiquarian material, as these items tend to need a bit more explanation, but those who collect modern firsts should know that there are 136 titles offered in this category. Here, now, are some of the older books and related material available in this latest Blackwell's catalogue.
We will start with what must be the least expected item to appear in this catalogue, and one that will be of more interest to American readers than British. Those in the latter category can skip through to the remaining pieces. Item 160 is a letter from George Washington, written after the conclusion of the Revolution, but before he returned to public service as President. It is dated August 10, 1784, and while the letter's existence was known based on letters from its recipient (longtime Washington friend Rev. William Gordon), this letter itself had been “lost.” In it, Washington speaks of personal matters, in particular, his property in the west, where he had large, but mostly unused land. Writes Washington, “I am now indeed repairing my pack saddles, and preparing for a journey to the Western Country, where it is necessary for me to pay some attention to the property I hold in it.” Washington owned 20,000 acres in the west, but had a problem with squatters, who would build homes on his unused land. Washington undertook a 680-mile round-trip journey the following month, and began litigation that would successfully force the squatters off his land. However, he was not able to visit some of his more outlying land on this journey as some of the Indians out there were not in a very good mood. The letter contains Washington's familiar signature. Priced at £14,000 (British pounds, or roughly $21,826 U.S. dollars).
Now we will return to England, and a tawdry affair that would have shocked Americans, at least those as upstanding as General Washington. Item 47 is Genuine Copies of all the Love Letters and Cards which passed between an Illustrious Personage and a Noble Lady, during the course of a Late Amour. This is a polite way of saying the publisher was printing the private, amorous correspondence between Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland, younger brother of King George III (maybe Washington would have expected as much from the brother of such a scoundrel), and Lady Grosvenor, the “noble lady” who was very much married to Lord Grosvenor at the time. While Lady Grosvenor was obviously amused by the Duke, Lord Grosvenor was not. He sued the Duke for criminal conversion (adultery) and won a judgment of £10,000, which, when legal costs were added, would be the equivalent of around $2 million today. The Duke had to borrow the money from his displeased kingly brother to pay the judgment. This book and others certainly besmirched Cumberland's reputation, not only because of his illicit behavior, but by the adolescent emotions expressed and the poor grammar of his letters. £600 (US $933).
Such indiscretion is by no means limited to royalty. This next book takes us back to the late 15th/early 16th century, and a time when German priests were not adhering too closely to a lifestyle devoid of worldly pleasures. Indeed, passions of the flesh were apparently being fulfilled on a regular basis. This did not please the more conservative theologian Arnoldus von Tongern, who condemned such practices in Avisamentum de concubinariis... published in 1507. Blackwell's quotes various sources on the subject that speak of, “the profligacy of the clergy at German cathedrals, as well as their rudeness and ignorance, was proverbial,” “the extraordinary immorality to which priests and monks yielded themselves,” and “in the 15th century the worldliness of the clergy reached a height not possible to surpass.” Since priests were forbidden to marry, they lived with concubines, thereby gaining the benefit of wives without the obligations. Item 9. £850 (US $1,322).