A Book of Ryhmes by Charlotte Bronte

Photograph by Clark Hodgin for the New York Times
The news is out. A BOOK OF RYHMES, a miniature manuscript book created by Charlotte Brontë in 1829 and unseen for more than a century, will be displayed and offered for sale by James Cummins Bookseller and Maggs Bros. Ltd. on 21 April at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, at the Cummins booth (A4). Sometimes the best stories in the antiquarian book trade can never be told, so it is a delight to see this one become part of the public history of world literature.
Jenny Schuessler wrote an excellent piece for the New York Times, A Brontë Fit for a Doll’s House, or, A Tiny Brontë Book, Lost for a Century, Resurfaces, discussing the intense private world of the Brontë children and the persistent interest in their manuscripts. Schuessler elicited a beautiful response from biographer Claire Harman on looking into this unpublished manuscript (Harman’s observation also demonstrates that bringing Alice in Wonderland into descriptions of subjective experience always makes the world a brighter place). The first time I saw one of the Brontë manuscripts was more than a decade ago at the British Library, when the exhibition Out of This World. Science Fiction but not as you know it (2011) presented Branwell’s map of Glasstown and surrounding lands and The History of the Young Men (Ashley MS 2468), as well as writings by Charlotte and Emily.
It’s a nice to have a brief role in the long history of this manuscript, and to be part of this joyous chapter in the history of the book trade. See you at the book fair.
Photograph by Clark Hodgin for the New York Times
A description of the manuscript follows:
BRONTË, Charlotte. A BOOK OF RYHMES. By Ch[a]rlotte Bronte. Sold by Nobody. And Printed by Herself, &c., &c. Haworth, Dec. 17, 1829, Anno Domino. 15, [1, blank] pp. 32mo (4 x 2-1/2 inches). Haworth: October to December 1829. Stitched in brown “sugar paper” wrappers, titled in ink on upper cover. Some toning to leaves. Alexander 8. Provenance: Charlotte Brontë; Rev. A. B. Nicholls; sold at Sotheby’s 19 June 1914, lot 193, “Property of Mrs. A. B. Nicholls, Widow of the late Rev. A. B. Nicholls, whose first wife was Charlotte Bronte”; Walpole Gallleries, 17 November 1916, lot 32.
This beautiful miniature manuscript book of poem by Charlotte Brontë, aged 13, is known from the transcript of CB’s own catalogue of her books in Mrs. Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë and was sold at the dispersal of the effects of the second wife of Rev. Nicholls, whose first wife was Charlotte Brontë. The manuscript was last seen in public in November 1916 when it sold at auction at Walpole Galleries in New York.
A Book of Ryhmes comprises : i). The Beauty of Nature; ii). A Short Poem; iii). Meditations while Journeying in a Canadian Forest; iv). Song of an Exile; v). On Seeing the Ruins of the Tower of Babel; vi). A Thing of fourteen lines; vii). A Bit of a rhyme; viii). Lines written on the Bank of a River one fine Summer Evening; ix). Spring, a Song; x). Autumn, a Song. xi). Contents.
On the verso of her title page, Charlotte writes: “The following are attempts at rhyming of an inferior nature it must be acknowledged but they are nevertheless my best.” At the end of this Book of “Ryhmes” she refers to the secondary world created by the Brontë children amongst themselves but clearly asserting her authorship and creative control over that world:
“This book is written by myself but I pretend that the Marquis of Duro & Lord Charles Wellesley in the Young Men’s World have written one like it, & the Songs marked in the Index so * are written by the Marquis of Duro and those marked so † are written by Lord Charles Wellesley.” At the head of the page she also alludes to one of her best known early productions, Tales of the Islanders: “I began this book, the second volume of the Tales of the Islanders, 2 magazines for December, and the Characters of the most Celebrated Men of the Present time on the 26th of October, 1829, & finished them all by the 17 of December, 1829”. She has signed the small book no less than twelve times during its composition.
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fifteen years of the Endless Bookshelf

24 January 2022

Your correspondent celebrates fifteen years of simply messing about in books on this website (it started here, but of course the mischief and fun and seriousness go back much further). There are a few regular readers of the ’shelf, and perhaps once in a while a new reader will come across something in the archives which cannot be found elsewhere. I continue to read Proust in the Pléiades edition, with great interest and pleasure; I am now at the stage of Le Côté des Guermantes, and there is no stopping. There are also other books which come to hand, as I usually have a second or a third book which I am reading, or at least reading at. Some of them are noted below. I omit the names of several bibliographies I have been consulting as these fall under work in progress.

I have written a few essays recently where the lead time for publication is rather longer than for the Endless Bookshelf: I received Paul Witcover’s new book late last week, read it, and finished the review a couple of days later; and even had time to look at it in the cold light of day before posting it. That flexibility is one reasion why I figure I will keep writing these chronicles of small beer for a while longer. Perhaps you will want to read them.

I am very much looking forward to reading Robert Aickman An Attempted Biography by R. B. Russell (Tartarus Press); I have read some of Aickman’s stories but by no means all of them.

tattered remains of front wrapper of Ulysses, 1922

Wednesday 2 February marks the centenary of James Joyce’s Ulysses, published as a book in Paris on the author’s fortieth birthday in 1922. This is the darkened and tattered remains of the front wrapper of one of the 750 ordinary copies of the first edition, one of those scraps of paper which demand to be saved.

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In February, I expect to be at the California International Antiquarian Book Fair in Oakland, booth 504 (James Cummins Bookseller) at the Oakland Marriott City Center, Friday 11 February through Sunday 13 February. If you are in the Bay Area, come by and say hello (and please let me know in advance if you would like a pass).

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recent reading

— Henry C. Mercer. November Night Tales [1928]. [Introduction by Peter Bell]. Swan River Press, 2015.
Supernatural tales by the Pennsylvania polymath archaeologist, ceramicist, and polymath Henry C. Mercer (1856-1930), who was educated at Harvard (Class of 1879) and as a ceramicist played a key part in the American Arts and Crafts movement. His poured concrete mansion, Fonthill — named for William Beckford’s Gothic folly — is a turn of the century wonder; and his collections of American tools and vernacular objects pioneered the preservation of what is now called material culture. These stories range from rural Pennsylvania folklore to a forgotten treasure in the Italian Alps. The best of them is “The Wolf Book”, a tale of werewolves in the Balkans and an ill-starred book.

— Richard Thompson, with Scott Timberg. Beeswing. Losing My Way and Finding My Voice 1967-1975. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2021.
Memoir by one of the founders of Fairport Convention; his fabulous 1968 dream of Keith Richards and south London is worth the price of admission. Thompson played a solo acoustic show at a local Montclair venue not too long before the pandemic, and “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” was one of the great moments of that evening. Thompson’s songs express — like the late novels of Russell Hoban — the curious notion that loss is the great creative well for literature and song. Sad and beautiful can be triumphant at the same time, because the song outlasts the sorrow.

— T. Frank Muir. Hand for a Hand. Soho Crime, [2012]. Crime novel set in St. Andrews, Scotland.

— Sara Gran. The Book of the Most Precious Substance. A Novel. Dreamland Books, [2022].

— Michael Shea. Mr. Cannyharme. A Novel of Lovecraftian Terror. Foreword by Linda Shea. Edited by St. Joshi. Hippocampus, [2021].
San Francisco at the beginning of the AIDS crisis, with interdimensional beings, written by Michael Shea circa 1981. I found the first half of the book interesting, with well grounded scenes around the Tenderloin hotel managed by the writer-protagonist, and some choice, weird secondary characters. My interest waned as the supernatural elements unfolded.

Sexual Stealing by Wendy Walker

Sexual Stealing, a beautiful and dangerous book by Wendy Walker, with a preface by Daniel Levin Becker.
Published 1 September 2021 by Temporary Culture.

Sexual Stealing - binding detail  Sexual Stealing - title page


Sexual Stealing is a formally innovative interrogation of the Gothic, slavery, and sexual exploitation, written using a simple constraint to extract a secondary, heretofore hidden text from Anne Radcliffe’s 1794 novel The Mysteries of Udolpho. Walker probes the obsessions and anxieties underlying the early Gothic novels, and dramatizes a tale of forcible taking, the brutal exercise of wealth and power, and the revolution that follows. She notes, “Sexual Stealing is poetic in that its form reflects its subject; it searches for a way to write the voices that are buried in full view, and subverts available genres to talk about something widely felt and intuited but not discussed.”

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WALKER, Wendy. Sexual Stealing. [With a preface by Daniel Levin Becker]. With color and black and white illustrations throughout, pictorial endsheets. Book design by Jerry Kelly. 192 pages, 7 x 10 inches. [Upper Montclair, New Jersey:] Temporary Culture, 1 September 2021. Edition of 125 copies signed by the author. Red brillianta cloth with letterpress spine label.
ISBN 09961359-5-2 ISBN13 978-0-9961359-5-5.
Price: $200.00

Wendy Walker is author of eight books, including The Secret Service (Sun & Moon, 1992) and My Man and Other Critical Fictions (Temporary Culture, 2011).

news & notes

New look, new irregularity

It has been a long time, I know. I have been reading, working, walking in the woods, and even sometimes playing that game of finding a deadline to make things happen. I wrote an essay for The Book Collector, and have a couple other things on slow simmer. One of the procrastination devices was to embark on a relaunch of the Endless Bookshelf website, thanks to the efforts of Michael J. Deluca (publisher of Reckoning, author of Night Roll, etc.), and look! It worked. It is now much easier to produce updates.

Your correspondent pledges to update the ’shelf with greater frequency if still on an irregular basis. The archives (2007-2021) will likely remain in static form, but I will certainly draw from or link to them. The newsletter will appear monthly at its most frequent, more realistically quarterly. Please remember that the mailing list is not automated or shared; if you no longer wish to receive mailings from the Endless Bookshelf or Temporary Culture, simply tell me.

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a policy statement

Back in the fall of 2016, when I produced the burning marshmallow, Donald Trump The Magazine of Poetry, it became clear to me that I did not want to use any third-party crowd-funding platform. This is contrarian but I still feel the same way.

Similarly, right at the founding of the ’shelf, I made an arbitrary but necessary decision that I will link to author and small press and individual websites, but not to big corporate sales sites. This is the presumption that anyone reading can choose how to obtain current commercially published books. I tend to buy new books through my local.

The micropublishing activities of Temporary Culture — the books published and sold by Temporary Culture — make possible the Endless Bookshelf website (and the Avram Davidson website). The Private Life of Books or A Conversation larger than the Universe are a good place to start.

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As a longtime fan of The Secret Service (1992), I am delighted to report that a new edition of Wendy Walker’s novel will be published by Tough Poets Press. I will report as further information becomes available.

The Best of R. A. Lafferty, edited by Jonathan Strahan, (published by Gollancz in 2019) is now available as a Tor Essentials paperback, and well worth looking for.

The Book Collector 70:1 for Spring 2021 prints The Private Life of Books II, How books are made, and a short notice of the new edition. The other poem in the issue (also by a New Jersey poet) accorded a full page is a reproduction of a manuscript fair copy of “This is Just to Say”, inscribed by William Carlos Williams to a small press publisher.

The Booksellers, the documentary about the New York antiquarian book trade directed by D.W. Young, which had its theatrical release just as the pandemic was beginning, has now been released for viewing in many countries. Your correspondent has a speaking role, and there is a walk in the woods; a reading of the title pome of The Private Life of Books can be heard as the closing voiceover. Information at: https://booksellersdocumentary.com.

I had been thinking about Charles F. Heartman many times during the past several weeks when I was using some of his books on my reference shelves: his books on The New England Primer and on Non-New England Primers are still essential works. He was one of the first to attempt a systematic bibliography of Phillis Wheatley (1915); it has been superseded but the facsimile plates are of great interest (for more on Wheatley: Why one looks at every book in the box, 2011). I wrote briefly of Heartman in the first weeks of the Endless Bookshelf, and the Buchnarr device in the title banner above, a woodcut from the German edition of The Ship of Fools (1494), was reproduced in The Book-fool. Bibliophily in caricature (1934), a supplement to The American Book Collector magazine edited by Heartman.


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a walk in the woods

. . . out early for a walk before the rains come, and had an hour in the woods to myself, a thick spring mist everywhere, changing the light and colors. After an absence of a few weeks, even the familiar can be seen anew. The fallen trunks have been there beside the path for years, but now is the time that transitions are visible: from fallen tree to decaying log, then barkless and skeletal (almost pure structure), and then suddenly a flattened line of reddish dust, only the two-dimensional shape remains.
I was thinking about other transitions on my walk, as the air got heavier, and the mist changed during the ascent of a hill, almost rain but not quite, the irregular percussion of raindrops on dry leaves, randomly and yet never landing on me: walking between the raindrops. Along the top of the hill, the sound of more raindrops, but always elsewhere, diminishing as I walked down the other side. The next hill was slightly lower and the transitions, the shifts in audible precipitation seemed even more subtle as the path dipped and rose, and still not a drop on my shoulders or hands. [11 April]


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in the FT for 8 April, an article by Tom Robbins about the Chatley Heath octagonal semaphore tower, the only surviving example (before the Landmark Trust renovation, it might have provoked a Mark Valentine story):

Wandering among the chestnuts, oaks and Scots pines on Chatley Heath in Surrey, you arrive without warning at a place where the branches part and you find yourself looking up at a slender octagonal tower.
The Chatley Heath tower was completed in 1822 and by 1824, the entire line was up and running. Each station had a roof-mounted mast with two moving arms, the positions of which indicated letters, numbers and a few frequently used words. In clear weather, a message could be transmitted from London to Portsmouth in as little as 15 minutes, rather than the eight hours it might take on horseback.
Many of the stations were simply one- or two-storey houses with a mast on the flat roof, but at Chatley Heath the surrounding topography required a five-storey tower with a 40ft-mast on top. The system worked so effectively that the Admiralty commissioned a second line, branching off at Chatley Heath and continuing west to the naval base at Plymouth.
Now a holiday rental (sigh):
Just outside London, a time-capsule tower you can rent for the weekend

I think that Keith Roberts must have known of this place or others like it, for there is a section on signal towers in Pavane.

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