Thursday, December 12, 2013

118-Year-Old Treasure

William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice was in a packed away box at the new house. I took it out, away from its brothers and sisters—King Richard The Third, Macbeth, King Lear, etc—and opened it up. From 1895 ... 118 years ago! The original owner, Arden N., inscribed his name in pencil with the year 1899. For both a history buff and a lover of all things print, this was quite a find. The books from Harper & Brothers was edited with notes by William J. Rolfe.

Wikipedia adds a little spotlight to this find:
William James Rolfe, Litt.D.(1827–1910) was an American Shakespearean scholar and educator, born in Newburyport, Massachusetts on December 10, 1827.

He graduated from Amherst in 1849, and between 1852 and 1868 was head master of high schools at Dorchester, Lawrence, Salem, and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Early in his career, he edited selections from Ovid and Virgil and (in collaboration) the Cambridge Course of Physics (six volumes, 1867–68).

His Shakespearean work began with an edition of George Lillie Craik’s English of Shakespeare (1867). This led to the preparation of a complete edition - the Friendly Edition - of Shakespeare (forty volumes, 1870–83; new edition, 1903–07).
These little, red books have sharp illustrations and comprehensive introductions by Rolfe. Now this is where I get downright, uh, nerdy, but how remarkable that I’m holding a book from many decades past and in such pristine condition! Actually the first copyright was 1870—a hundred years before I was born—containing words that are around 415 years old! As a humble publisher and pulp hack, I would be exceedingly glad to be remembered thirty minutes from now let alone the century mark.

I turn to my latest effort which is a print version of Adventures of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles (first released in 2011 as an ebook, now approaching 120 reviews on Amazon, and heading toward deeper parts of the great pulp stream). I’ve added an extra story, and I ponder for the shortest of seconds that someone will be reading those words in 2113.

Yeah. Small chance, but perchance to dream, right?

12 comments:

Ron Scheer said...

Easy to feel filled with awe as you hold an old book, made back when they were meant to last, like this one. Also with time taken to provide nifty illustrations. Imagination reaches for a mental picture of headmaster Rolfe who gave so much of himself to this project.

BTW, isn't 2014 the Bard's 450th birthday?

David Cranmer said...

Just checked. 450 years. What a run, huh? And yes on Rolfe, Ron. And I also see that same pride and attention in another writer/teacher/researcher I will have the pleasure of publishing very soon. With the initials R.S.

Leah J. Utas said...

What a fascinating find.

David Cranmer said...

For sure.

Charles Gramlich said...

Awesome. I too feel the awe in that kind of experience.

David Cranmer said...

Glad to know I'm not the only, ah, strange one, Charles.

Chris said...

There's really nothing like this, except maybe old tools and things like that that have stood the test of time.

David Cranmer said...

Yeah, I have some friends that have machines/tools going back to the mid-19th century. Once again, craftsmanship that made it and the love that keeps 'em going is admirable.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Great find, David! This book goes back generations. As soon as I read your post, I looked up my grandfather's hard copy of the bard's Complete Works—it turned out to be a 1965 reprint by The English Library with an introduction by Shakespearean scholar and academic, Peter Alexander. Someday I hope to read it.

Dyer Wilk said...

Old books have always held sway over me. I'm drawn to them like a moth to a flame.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I saw this performed at Stratford in Ontario this summer in a knockout production. The anti-semitism always gets me though.

David Cranmer said...

Amen, Dyer.

Patti, I've read, for this post, that there is quite a continuing debate over anti-Semitism and the Merchant of Venice.