2 OCTOBER 1920, Page 18


MR. NEWTON, an American collector living in Pennsylvania, has written one of the most engaging books about books that we have read for years. Everyone who loves books will recognize in Mr. Newton a kindred spirit, and those of us who are specially concerned to maintain the unity of the English-speaking peoples will observe with pleasure that this American collector is inter- ested above all in English books and English authors. He is a devoted admirer of Dr. Johnson, Boswell and Mrs. Piozzi, and of Charles Lamb, and, in a most appreciative essay, he holds up Anthony Trollope--" of all novelists my favourite "—as " A Great Victorian." He is fascinated by London, which he knows better than most Londoners do. He oonfesses that he ono* started for a trip to Egypt but, overcome by " a feeling of home-sickness," he loft the steamer at Naples so that he might spend the lioliday here in London. In a paper on " Temple Bar " he tells us that he has actually done what many of us have often meant to do—namely, to inspect the old gateway that has been re-erected at the entrance to Theobalds Park, and to see for ourselves that the carriage-way is only twenty-one feet wide and the side-arches for foot-passengers only four feet six inches, which was a scant allowance for Dr. Johnson. Now, when a man who cares for literature and in literary history takes to collecting, and has the means to gratify his tastes, he may be expected to form an interesting library. Too many book- collectors are concerned with the mere externals of their treasures. The reader who turns over Dibdin's windy pages—which " do not greatly interest " Mr. Newton—must sometimes wonder whether Dibdin's noble patrons, who competed eagerly for fifteenth-century editions of the Greek, Roman and Italian classics, were not actuated mainly by the spirit of the chase and by the decrees of fashion rather than by any particular liking for the classics themselves. We can understand why there was keen competition at the Roxburghe sale of 1812 for the first edition of the Decamercm printed at Venice by Valdarfer in 1471, and why Lord Blandford paid what was then the amazingly high price of £2,260 for this copy of a very rare book, which is now in the John Rylands Library. The first edition of the earliest masterpiece of Italian prose is a literary portent, like the First Folio of Shakespeare, but it cannot be said that some of the fifteenth-century books, which it was the correct thing for a collector to buy, have any merit, whether typographical or literary, apart from their rarity. Thus one great library used to resemble another, each containing the scarcer incunabula, the sets of Aldines and Elzevirs, and the other familiar things which recur again and again in the older bibliographic manuals. The modern collector has other views.

Mr. Newton himself specializes in English literature from Shakespeare onwards. His first purchase, when he was a boy, was Pope's Homer. We like his quaint comment : " In reading him [Pope], one has the sense of progress from idea to idea, not a mere floundering about in Arcady amid star-stuff." He cites Dr. Johnson's remark, " If Pope is not poetry, it is useless to look for it" But he is catholic enough to admire our moderns as well, and to collect the works of Keats, Swinburne and Oscar Wilde, who once said that " there are two ways of disliking poetry—one is to dislike it and the other, to like Pope." Writing about his own library, Mr. Newton tells us of the numerous delectable first editions which he possesses and of the dealers in London and Now York from whom he bought them. One American dealer, a shrewd judge of men, has above his desk the text—" It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer : but when he bath gone his way, then he boasteth." Mr. Newton seeks, above all, for presentation copies or books with associations. The copy of Gray's Elegy which Wolfe had in his pocket as he

• The Ameoiliso of Book-Colleettno. By A. Edward Newton. London John Low ROIL sot]

was rowed down the St. Lawrence on the eve of the battle before Quebec would be a typical " association " book. Mr. Newton does not own it, but he has many other interesting volumes. We may mention the copy of American Notes given by Dickens to Maaready, the first edition of Modern Love presented to Swin- burne by Meredith, Pandas inscribed " To Mrs. Perry from the authour Sam. Johnson," and another copy which was given by Mrs. Thrale to Piozzi before she married him, and which was presented to his nephew by the widow after Piozzi's death. Each book of this kind may fairly be termed unique, though that

• word has been sorely abused. " In the slightest inscription there is the record of a friendship by means of which we get back of the book to the writer." Mr. Newton's collection of books and letters relating to Dr. Johnson is notable. He admires the Doctor on this side idolatry, and we are glad to find that he has a great regard for Johnson's rival biographers. His paper on Boswell is generous and just. His Life is indeed " one of the few classics which is not merely talked about and taken as read but is constantly being read," after a century and a-half. To contemn or ridicule Boswell is absurd. Mr. Newton is equally fair to Mre. Piozzi. She must indeed have been a clever and charming woman to attract Dr. Johnson and many other eminent men to Streatham year after year. Mr. Newton has the manuscript of her Journal of a Tour in Wales, which she made in company with the Doctor in 1774. Another Johnsonian relic in his library is the correspondence between Dr. Johnson and the notorious Dr. Dodd, who was lying under sentence of death in Newgate for forgery. Dr. Johnson, the soul of Christian charity, agreed to draft petitions for a reprieve, on condition that his name did not appear. His friend and landlord, Allen, the printer of Bolt Court, acted as the intermediary and preserved the correspon- dence, including the touchingly grateful letter from the convict which Boswell printed. Mr. Newton's account of this episode is in some details fuller than Boswell's and is worked into an agreeable essay on Dr. Dodd. Photographs of many of Mr. Newton's treasures are reproduced in the book.

The author is firmly convinced that the prices of collectors' books, which have risen so rapidly in our generation, will go on rising, and that " for the really great books the sky is the limit." He cites many examples to justify his belief, which is reasonable enough in view of the fact that the collectors are multiplying while the books are not. Ho tells us bluntly that the great private libraries are now in America, not in Great Britain. Just as Dibdin and others a century ago ransacked the castles and monasteries of an impoverished Continent on behalf of their British patrons, so experts are now hunting down the rarities in our country-houses for patrons across the Atlantic. There are plenty of book-collectors here, but none of them seeks to rival Mr. H. E. Huntington, for example, who " has practically everything obtainable," or even the late Mr. Harry Elkins Widener, the gifted youth who, before he was drowned in the ' Titanic,' had collected three thousand of the rarest and choicest books in the world. Mr. Newton knows our old book-shops intimately, and it is in no unfriendly spirit that he expresses doubts as to " how much longer the London dealers are going to retain their pre-eminence." London has still many advan- tages over New York as a centre of the book-trade, but its prestige has been dimmed, for Americans, by the prevalence of the fraudulent auction-room practice known as the " knock-out." When so staunch a friend as Mr. Newton tells us that the great Hoe library was sold in New York rather than in London, for fear of the "knock-out," and that the prices realized were the highest ever known, and when he says in so many words that the English auction records are a less trustworthy guide to the current value of old books than the American auction records, his warning must be taken to heart. The " knock-out " is, of course, a conspiracy among dellere not to bid against one another, but to combine against any unwary stranger who ventures to bid ; after the auction, the dealers have a private auction with real competition and divide the profits. The seller is thus defrauded, and the auction system is brought into discredit. Twenty-five years ago, Mr. W. Roberts, in The Book-Hunter in London, admitted that the " knock-out " was occasionally practised in the best auction-rooms and was common elsewhere, and that it excited much unfavourable comment in America. We are sorry to be told that, after a quarter of a century, this evil custom is still prevalent. It is for the book-dealers themselves to discourage the "knock-out," as they might easily do, wherever it exists. The immediate profits are doubtless large, but not large enough to compensate for the steady leas of reputation which must damage the London book-trade as a whole.