Books sit patiently on the shelves of our libraries – those still fortunate to have their own private library in this digital world. Sit there collecting dust and household debris [unless you also happen to employ someone to ‘bang the books’ for you], perhaps for years. Then one day an idea takes hold, you recollect a volume, have a vague idea where on the shelves it nestles. Usually our own libraries do not follow Dewey, so a Jane Austen novel might share a shelf with Ten Ways to Skin a Cat or something prosaic.
Today I delighted on Mr Middleton Murry’s The Problem of Style, a text I’ve not read fully for some 40 years when it was a High School exam piece. I’ve two editions – a cheap paperback [from memory possibly light-fingered from the school library] and a hardback edition of 1925, quite possibly a first though the paperback records earlier, 1922 to be precise. It is, however, not a booksellers delight, being ex-University of London Library, Extra-Mural Library to boot – and stoutly Cancelled by a rubber stamp in blue ink.
[For the record Mr Middleton Murry was sharing space on the shelf with none other than TE Lawrence and The Mint. No doubt both quite placidly, being contemporaries and reminiscing on glories past.]
Anyhow, I got to examining the title page noting Humphrey Milford as the Imprint and then a list of cities – shown in this image – ranging from London through to Shanghai, via Copenhagen and Madras. I got thinking. Whatever was the OUP doing in Shanghai in 1925, let alone three cities in India?
Fortunately I had the answer at hand. I re-entered the library [no need for a Readers Pass] and headed straight for the Stacks. This is where ‘important’ volumes are kept in a bookcase with doors preventing the ingress of too much of that dust and household debris – as I, alas, cannot, nor would I even if I could, have access to a ‘book banger’.
The doors opened and I immediately knew where to go. Second shelf down [for here there is some nod to Dewey and books keep rightful neighbours with whom they can consort – though some find this tedious: would not a volume on Caxton like to flirt with Gill?] I run my fingers along the line and ease out The Oxford University Press 1468-1921.
What a thrill, what rapture to open again this slim [13mm] edition that bears proudly on the Title, having swept away the tissue protection: OXFORD AT THE CLARENDON PRESS MCMXXII.
Here all the answers to my questions are displayed: ‘The Chinese Agency of the Press is at C 445 Honan Road, Shanghai, of which Mr T. Leslie is the present Representative…’; and ‘The activities of the Press in India are of a relatively recent date. Until 1912 when a branch was opened in Bombay…The increase of staff has made it possible to open a new branch in Calcutta – a sub-branch in Madras had already existed…’.
And as for The Clarendon Press. Well, that is the be all and end all – ‘By Clarendon Press Books are meant the learned, educational and other ‘Standard’ works produced under the close supervision of the Delegates and their Oxford Secretariate, and printed at Oxford’. Indeed. For Humphrey Milford [recall him?] was no more than a minion in the outskirts of the big smoke of London [then at Amen Corner, EC4], a publisher and not, for heaven’s sake, a printer in the city of Dreaming Spires.
There is more. Take this at random from the list of Oxford Medical Publications [of 1922 – not long after the Great War]: ‘…further important additions have been made, including…War Neuroses and Shell Shock by Sir Frederick Mott, K.B.E.,’
My edition contains a slip note written many years ago by an earlier hand of mine stating this volume was printed in Fell types, as noted in Updike. I quickly pulled him from the Stack – the plump two volumes being easy to find [second edition, second printing, hardback]. Here Updike confirms in a footnote (vol II, p.97) that Some Account… is indeed produced from Fell. However, I notice he refers to a 1926 edition, not that of 1922. A small detail, minute in fact, yet to a bibliophile as seismic as an earthquake in the hills of a medieval town in central Italy. [I have now amended the slip – so whosoever considers this volume in the future can rest assured of some closure.]
In closing, may I wish readers a satisfying end to this year and may sense prevail in the one to come.