An Antiquarian and Rare Miscellany from Forest Books
By Michael Stillman
UK bookseller Forest Books has issued a new catalogue headed Miscellany Four. Naturally, a catalogue so titled does not have a specific focus. What we can say is that these are books that qualify for the label "antiquarian," they were mostly published in England, and many are very rare, often being the only known copy. Here is a look at the over 200 items presented in this latest catalogue.
Here is one of those very rare books: The Compleat Servant Maid's Guide; or, the Lady's Delight in Cookery. This is a 1796 printing without a stated location. A single copy of a different edition is all that is otherwise known. It includes 60 short recipes, and perhaps this helps explain the rarity. Among the recipes are calf's head hash, swine's head, calves feet jelly, and other delicacies. Maybe it's rare because no one wanted a book of recipes like this in the first place? Item 40 £1,250 (or roughly $1,714 in U.S. Dollars).
Here is another ridiculous one-of-a-kind item, only this time it is the subject of the book, rather than the book itself: Delineations of Fonthill and its Abbey, by John Rutter, published in 1823. Fonthill was the massive gothic estate of William Beckford, an eccentric heir to a fortune who became a writer, Member of Parliament, major book collector, and wastrel of his father's fortune. Beckford commissioned the most fashionable architect of his day, James Wyatt, to design the palace. Wyatt was evidently careless in the design or overseeing of construction, as Fonthill was not built for the ages. The most prominent feature was a 225-foot tower, which had to be built three times after collapsing twice. Money seemed no object to Beckford who continued to build his massive estate, surrounded by a six-mile wall. However, financial reverses at his inherited Jamaica sugar plantation forced Beckford to sell Fonthill and his library in 1823. It was just as well, as the tower collapsed for a third time two years later, and the rest of Fonthill quickly deteriorated. Within 20 years, it had to be demolished. Item 158. £975 (US $1,338).
Item 135 is an item whose behind the scenes intrigue is undoubtedly more interesting than that within its pages: Ianthe, or the Flower of Caernarvon, a Novel, in Two Volumes. Dedicated by Permission to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. By Emily Clark, Grand-Daughter of the late Colonel Frederick, Son of Theodore, King of Corsica, published in 1798. Her grandfather was the "late" Colonel Frederick because he had shot himself in the head the previous year, unable to find a better way of escaping his debts. However, he was evidently a fraud anyway. Theodore had served briefly as King of Corsica, a German adventurer who helped temporarily free that island from Italian domination. He, like Frederick, ended up in debt in England. Still, it is dubious that Frederick was the son of this King. Nevertheless, Mrs. Clark used the epithet honestly, as she, like everyone else at the time, was fooled by Frederick's claims.