Sunday 30 January 2022

Fabian’s Fine Old Furniture, Melbourne Bookshop

I first visited Fabian’s Fine Old Furniture, at 309 Swanston Street, Melbourne, during an Easter-holiday visit in 1990. Despite the name of his business, Fabian mostly sold books, and clearly had been selling books for many years, though I only discovered the shop in 1990, after many book-buying holidays in Melbourne.

Finding Fabian's was a red-letter day for me as a collector: I came away from my first visit with two eighteenth century first editions at bargain prices: a somewhat worn copy of Macpherson’s Fingal (1762), the first part of his Ossain cycle, and a very nice set of Le Sage’s Gil Blas, as translated by Smollett (1750).

Sadly, despite his long tenure in such a prominent location, Fabian’s seems to have left almost no trace on the internet. In offering up some personal memories of Fabian (and Fabian’s shop) below, I am partly relying on my recollection of my 1990 visit, but I am also making use of some notes I made in 1993, after a return visit, which I only re-discovered during a clean-up last week.

A bright, clean travel agent now occupies 309 Swanston Street (photo above), which is opposite the State Library of Victoria; but for many years it was occupied by a rather different business: Fabian’s Fine Old Furniture. The eponymous owner, Fabian, was a rather eccentric, wild-haired man who had many interesting old books held in three or four massive Victorian book cases, while a goodly number more were liberally distributed in messy piles in various corners, nooks and crannies on the floor. Like the owner, the books, and the bookcases, the shop was old.

In the early 1990s, it had the sort of deep, dusty, brass edged, shop-front display-window that all the best second hand bookshops ought to have. On display in this window were china cups and saucers, Wisden Cricketers’ Almanacks, faded copper plate engravings and maps with labels such as: “This map is 256 years old!”—“This book 152 years old!”—all with exclamation marks, silently bellowing at the passing foot-traffic. I don’t know how often these labels caught the eye of any passer by—with so much dust on the windows the signs were hard to read—but I remember very few interruptions whenever I visited Fabian’s—and all my visits to Fabian’s were lengthy.

The reason for the length of my visits was because Fabian was an unashamed biblioclast. Fabian liked neatly bound sets of books, but it was his practice to keep the different volumes of any set of books equally distributed between the shelves of however many bookcases he had or—whenever he sold a bookcase—between the shelves of the remaining bookcases and in piles on the floor.

He distributed the books in this was because—he explained to me—he wanted each bookcase to display a variety of titles, that a complete set of books was unsightly, and that complete sets would be likely to frighten off prospective buyers. His pricing is worked out on a per-volume basis, and was calculated solely on the size of a volume and the nature of its binding. I paid $45 per volume for my 12mo set (Gil Blas) and $100 for my folio volume (Fingal), but I think $80 was normally the going rate, when part of a set.

Since Fabian did not care for completeness—in fact, he disliked it—but he liked neatly bound books, he had bought and distributed around his small shop many incomplete sets. As a result, even after an extensive, laborious search, neither buyer nor seller could be entirely sure that every volume that Fabian actually had in his shop had been found, unless the books thus collected together from all corners of the shop formed an unambiguously-complete set.

Incomplete sets might be incomplete because Fabian bought them that way, or they may have been incomplete because the buyer had overlooked an odd-volume. This created a moral problem for a fastidious book buyer like myself: how could you be sure that, in the process of buying all the volumes of a seemingly-incomplete set that you had managed to accumulate, after hours spent turning over thousands of books, you were not thereby breaking up a complete set that you had simply failed to find all the volumes for?

Fabian was, obviously, unconcerned about this. Indeed, it seemed as if this sort of “accidental” breaking up of a set suited Fabian, the remaining volumes presented a more varied face to the buyer, and it made it easier for him to dispose of the remaining odd volumes.

Since I am a completist, I would spend hours patiently accumulating volumes of any and all sets that I was interested in; slowly building up piles of matching volumes. When—as was more often the case than not—I failed to find a complete set, I would leave without the books, and Fabian would re-distribute the volumes around the shop, according to whatever principle of aesthetics that drove him. A year or so later I would return, and go through the process again.

Eventually, despite the appeal of thousands of old, beautifully bound books, and the prosepect of a repeat of my 1990 success, I was worn down by my actual lack of success in finding anything that was new-to-stock or complete, and so I stopped visiting his shop. From the mid-90s, for about a decade after I moved to Melbourne I would regularly see Fabian on a Sandringham-line train, with his distinctive wild grey-white hair, on his way into or out of the city. I would seem at different times of the day, either on his way in or out, so I gather that, in old age, he simply went in whenever he felt like it. (There were no opening hours advertised on his shop, and it was often closed when I visited.)

* * * * *

Returning to 1993: a friend and I were occupied in the doomed process of uncovering the companion volumes of an early set of Smollett’s Peregrine Pickle and The Works of Madame de Genlis, ignoring Fabian’s protest that the set was probably never complete to begin with and fearing that, if it had been complete, he had probably rendered it otherwise long since due to his practice of selling off volumes at random, when a well-dressed young man came into the shop, drew the attention of Fabian, and left us to our dusty work.

The conversation began, as I recorded it, in the following fashion:

FABIAN: Hello. Can I help you?

VISITOR: Yes. I’ve bought an old table that I want to put a bit of a display on, y’know, and what I wanted was some old books. I’ve got a bit of a shelf, and some things, vases and things like that, too, but what I need is a few antique books to put on it. ’Bout four of them. It doesn’t matter what’s in them because I’m never going to look in them [this said emphatically] as long as they are old, and look good, like these [indicating a set I was accumulating of The Works of Hobbes].

FABIAN: Yes, well, I get quite a lot of people coming in who want books like you do, for display; I have lots of old books here, with old leather bindings, all sorts of sizes and colours, and prices, so I am sure to have something that will suit. Now, about how much did you want to spend?

There followed a discussion concerning how much the Visitor wished to spend, whether he preferred brown to black covers and so forth. Books in French or Latin, were offered, Fabian did his best to sell his books (“Now this one here is nearly a quarter of a thousand years old! Well, that’s older than the settlement in Australia”) and, at one memorable juncture, when Fabian was showing the Visitor a random selection of four of the twelve volumes of a Latin edition of the proceedings of the Council of Trent, the Visitor, admiring the binding, and in response to Fabian’s explanation of what the book was about, said “of course, I could always learn Latin if I bought them, and then I could read them.”

As I mentioned above, customers were rare; the shop was quiet, and the conversation struck a cord—I had recently read W. J. West’s The Strange Rise of Semi-Literate England (1991)—so I made notes as soon as I left the shop and recorded the details as well as I could soon after. Unfortunately, I did not make a note of whether the well-dressed young man bought any volumes of the proceedings of the Council of Trent. Even if he had, we will never know whether, by doing so, he was prompted to [1] learn Latin and then [2] immediately sit down to read his books, but I think it is very unlikely.

Sunday 23 January 2022

Teaching English in Utrecht, using The Female Spectator

My Bibliography of Eliza Haywood (2004) includes two sections given over to reprints of sections of works by Haywood before 1850: "Ac. Reprints in monographs" and "Ad. Reprints in periodicals."

Referring to these two sections in my Introduction, I stated that "It is likely that more Haywood items will be identified as critical interest in the contents of eighteenth-century periodicals increases and as a greater number of electronic resources become available that make it easier to conduct searches of these periodicals." When I wrote this I had in mind E. W. Pitcher's 1995 identification of over a dozen reprints "of Eliza Haywood’s Stories in The Weekly Entertainer," which was published in Notes and Queries.

Well, there hasn't exactly been a flood of articles like Pitcher's, but I have identified so many reprints myself that I have had to give up trying to incorporate them into the numbering scheme I used in 2004. I haven't have time to establish precise word-counts and provide detailed references to the source text reprinted. And, because I could neither number the items, or knew exactly what details to record, I pretty much stopped collecting any information about reprints.

Having recently discovered a pretty nice example of a reprint from The Female Spectator—detailed below—I have decided that I will start (soon) to keep some sort of list of reprints here. If I ever publish a second edition of my Bibliography I will simply omit these sections.

* * * * *

When I was updating my post Eliza Haywood Links, which the lists eighteenth- and nineteenth-century editions of works by Eliza Haywood, I stumbled upon a reprint of a lengthy story taken (with acknowledgement, which is unusual) from The Female Spectator. The reprinted story appears in James Low's The Winter Evening Or, A Collection of English Prose and Verse, 2 vols. (1780), 1.142–87. The copy of volume one, on Google Books here, is reproduced from the incomplete set in Tilburg University Library (but digitised by the National Library of the Netherlands).

The editor of this anthology, James Low (1759–1817), was a "Teacher of the English Language in Utrecht," where he studied divinity at the university. He seems to have arrived in Utrecht in 1779, married in 1780, and as ordained at Flushing in 1783. According to William Steven, who gives a biography of Low in his History of the Scottish Church, Rotterdam (1833), 232–34 (here), "his constitution, by nature healthy and vigorous, rapidly gave way" after the death of his son (at 26) and—soon after—of his wife. "He was a high Calvinist; and he was most punctual in his attendance at church courts, in whose debates, from his perfect knowledge of Dutch, he was enabled to take a part."

Low published his anthology of English verse and prose soon after he started teaching English. It was reviewed in a number of Dutch journals (here and here), and at least one German periodical (here). Copies occasionally appeared for sale in bookseller's catalogues up to the 1840s (here). After that, The Winter Evening dissapeared from view, almost completely.

Low's Winter Evening is not on ESTC, and it appears that there is no other copy in an institutional library. There was, however, a copy for sale, so I bought it. I gather it had been for sale for a considerable period, since the vendor had increased the price in some online catalogues, but not others. When I asked about this I was told that the lower price was "very outdated". The change was minimal and the book is obviously very uncommon, so I made no complaint; and once it arrived I felt I had got a screaming bargain anyway: as you can see, it is a beautiful example of Dutch paper wrappers.

The reference that Low provides for his excerpt from The Female Spectator is interesting: "Female Spectator. vol. V. p. 290—312." The "vol. V." is an error for "vol. III"; the page reference narrows down the edition that Low used for his reprint. Of the ten editions of The Female Spectator in English, only three have the story excerpted on pages "290—312": the 4th, 5th and 6th editions of 1750, 1755 and 1766 [i.e., Ab.60.6, Ab.60.7 and Ab.60.8]. Even the most recent of these appeared when Low was a child, so I am guessing he had taken his own (second-hand) copy with him, when he went to Utrecht.

Above and below are the pages where the text appears in eight of the first nine editions. Above are Ab.60.1—Ab.60.2 did not get to volume 3—Ab.60.3, Ab.60.4, Ab.60.5; below are Ab.60.6, Ab.60.7, Ab.60.8, and Ab.60.9.

Sunday 16 January 2022

Collecting Haywood, 2021

Although 2021 was not much of an improvement on 2020 in Covid-terms—endless lock-downs, working from home etc.—it was a significant improvement in terms of book-collecting. I have no grand theory to explain why, and it may be that I was mistaken in the explanation I offered (here) for the 18C book-drought of 2020. Whatever the reason, 2021 brought three times as much Haywoodiana to my door as 2020—and most of these items were much more interesting too.

One of the most interesting arrived yesterday. Like David Levy, the shipping of a late-2021 purchase was delayed to an extraordinary extent due to “the resurgent pandemic” (here). Having paid a hundred dollars (!!) for 2–5 day international delivery—for an item that could have been slipped into a small Christmas card—my parcel took two months to appear: with two multi-week periods in which tracking reported no movement whatever, leaving me despairing that it may have been lost.

I have been waiting for the arrival of this parcel to post a “collecting year in review”; and since my parcel should have arrived in November, I am going to pretend that it did arrive in 2021 and am including it here. As a result, I am also including everything else that arrived between my "Collecting Haywood, 2020" post, and now.

As you can see above, my long-delayed parcel contained a dated signature, taken from a letter written by the poet, sometime-friend and sometime-enemy of Haywood, Richard Savage, on 12 July 1743, less than 3 weeks before he died in Bristol Newgate Prison. I believe that this may be the last datable piece of writing in Savage’s hand—not that Savage manuscripts are exactly common. Clarence Tracey quotes from 27 letters in his biography of Savage, but most of them are from printed sources.

As I was waiting for this scrap of paper to arrive, I obtained copies of a few other examples of Savage’s writing—enough to convinced me of the authenticity of the writing, and of the attribution to “Dr. Johnson’s Richard Savage as opposed to, say, Robert Savage, sausage-maker” (as Stuart Bennett quipped). I did not expect to start collecting detached signatures in this way, but the dam broke with the acquisition in 2020 of three receipts from a signature collection—one signed by Hatchett.

One of the two greatest contributor to 2021 being a much better collecting year than 2020 was a lot of thirteen titles in nineteen volumes that I bought at Chroley’s Spetchley Park Auction in late March. Fortunately for me, the Spetchley Park Auctions—and the presence of a Haywood item—received some news coverage, and so I was alerted to the sale (background here; the actual article here). The Haywood item reported on in the news turned out to be two Haywood items listed in the description of the lot (above; both of which I had), which turned out to be three Haywood items once the lot arrived in Melbourne: Ab.70.4 The Wife, 3rd ed., Ab.72.1 The Husband and Ab.64.3 Epistles for Ladies, 3rd ed. 2 vols.—this last one being the surprise inclusion, and one that I did not have (below).

The ten other Spetchley Park items all either works by women, or relating to women, many of which I had long wanted: Aphra Behn’s Love-Letters between a Nobleman and his Sister, Jane Collier’s, An Essay on the Art of Ingeniously Tormenting, Steele’s The Ladies Library, Salmon’s A Critical Essay Concerning Marriage, Madan’s Thelyphthora; Or A Treatise on Female Ruin, Alexander’s The History of Women, from the earliest antiquity, and Hayley’s A Philosophical, Historical, and Moral Essay on Old Maids—among others.

I cannot say much about the second great contributor to 2021 being such a good Haywood collecting year, but I can say that I discovered a French translation of a work by Haywood that I had somehow previously missed. Said work was printed many times, and translated into three other languages. Since I am in the midst of sweeping the market clean of these translations, I don’t want to risk inflating the price of any books that remain outside of institutional collections until I have a decent sample of them. I have managed to buy copies of four editions so far. My examination of these suggests that the few bibliographers who have mention the work have missed a great deal indeed. Both the collecting, and unraveling the mystery, are proving to be immensely enjoyable.

Of the items not covered above, three are by Hatchett: with the help of Stuart Bennett I picked up a copy of Dd.1.1b The Adventures of Abdalla, 2nd ed.—in a very ugly binding, but with the full complement of plates—and I also managed to get two copies of one of his plays, Dd.4.1 The Rival Father Or The Death Of Achilles: A Tragedy. I was particularly pleased about this because both were in intact sammelbands from the one, very large and very interesting eighteenth-century collection of plays, the provenance of which I was able to untangle.

The remaining Haywood items includes two more copies of the first edition of The Female Spectator in French—one with a variant title-page which has, once again, thrown into doubt my arrangement of editions (my original “Ab.60.11” has already become Ab.60.11, Ab.60.11A and Ab.60.11B!). I also received my third NQR copy of Ab.58.9 New Present for a Servant Maid. This one lacks the frontispiece, but has the final leaf, which is missing in my only copy with the frontispiece. Cookery books are particularly hard to find in nice condition, and complete, but one day I hope to find one such unicorn.

Also NQR (not quite right) was a copy of Ab.66.2 A Letter from H---- G----g [Henry Goring]—the pirate edition. Seemingly from the collection of Gershon Legman, I discovered once it arrived that it was missing an entire gathering. Fortunately, the vendor gave me both a complete refund, and the book. I also picked up at various times duplicate odd volumes of The Invisible Spy, The Female Spectator, and Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy, of interest only to someone like me.

The remaining three items are all very nice: Haywood’s Ab.11.1c A Spy on the Conjurer, 2nd ed. (1724); Elizabeth Griffith’s A Collection of Novels, Selected and Revised, 3 vols. (1777), which contains Haywood’s Fruitless Enquiry—which is quite rare (ESTC records nine copies), and often incomplete; and Ac.10b Matrimonial Preceptor, 2nd ed. (1759), which contains excerpts from The Female Spectator.

This last one is a nice segue way into a post I plan to do shortly on unauthorized and previously unrecognized reprints of works by Haywood, but I am still on holidays, so that may be another month away. Until then, thank you to all my (patient) readers, who have put up with my long silences. I will make no resolutions for 2022, but do expect to post more than I did in 2021.