A Reprint of Poetry and Prose for Book Lovers,
Chosen in Part from Scarce Editions and
Sources not Generally Known, 1895-1915
Note: The following catalogue list, with minor alterations, is taken from Vilain and Bishop’s Thomas Bird Mosher and the Art of the Book (Philadelphia: F. A Davis, 1992), pp. 11-54, with the kind permission of the publisher. Cross references to the illustrations which appear in the book have been eliminated.
Entries 66 – 69
Some of the most endearing products of the printing revival were the little magazines, often called chapbooks because of their similarity to the booklets and pamphlets sold by early American itinerant salesmen, the chapmen. In his 1903 bibliography, Faxon identified 200 of these chapbooks, following the publication by Stone and Kimball of their successful The Chap-Book on May 15, 1894.1 The physical appearance of these periodicals varied widely, from Stone and Kimball’s restrained elegance (often enhanced by Frank Hazenplug’s Arts-and- Crafts-inspired covers) to the clumsy and homely Sagebrush Philosophy, published by the Barrows at their Budget Printshop in Douglas, Wyoming.
These magazines were an alternative to commercial publications and offered their creators an opportunity to explore new artistic and intellectual ideas. Many, like The Chap-Book, Bradley: His Book, and The Philosopher, were literary magazines that offered essays, stories, and poems by contemporary writers. Others, like The Optimist and The Rebel, were mouthpieces for their publishers, dispensing their homespun philosophy and idiosyncratic views of the world.
The majority of these publications truly deserved to be called ephemeral; many disappeared after a few issue—The Chap-Book lasted only four years—and most never reached widespread distribution. There were two exceptions, each of which lasted twenty years: The Philistine, written by Elbert Hubbard and published at his Roycroft press, and The Bibelot, published by Mosher.
Each magazine was the faithful alter ego of its creator. The Philistine (1895-1915) was indifferently designed2 and printed. Entirely written by Hubbard, it was brash, safely iconoclastic, and wildly successful—reaching a circulation of 110,000 by 1902.3 On the other hand, The Bibelot was carefully designed and printed; as the subtitle indicates, devoted to literature; and only moderately successful—its subscription list numbered about 4,000 by the time publication ended.4 Mosher advertised his Bibelot in The Philistine, beginning with the second number of that magazine.
Mosher’s plan was to “bring together the posies of other men bound together by a thread of one’s own choosing” and to ensure that “those exotics of literature that might not immediately find a way to wider reading . . . are resown in fields their authors never knew.” Mosher also intended to show “the intimate relationship between literature and the printed page” and that “exquisite literary form, choice typography and inexpensiveness need not lie far apart.”
Every month, for twenty years, he followed that plan without deviation. This very personal anthology (or, to quote Norman Strouse, “this rosary of prose and verse,”5 selected from the 8,000 books he had collected, spans the centuries and the continents. It brought back to life Catullus and Bion, the goliards of the Middle Ages, Beaumont and Fletcher, the Bhagavad Gitâ and the Rubáiyát. It introduced America to W. B. Yeats, Lionel Johnson, and other writers of the Celtic Renaissance, as well as to Verlaine and Baudelaire. It also gave wider circulation to the works of William Morris and helped to restore Oscar Wilde’s literary reputation.
Mosher’s genius as an anthologist was matched by his talent as a writer, much in evidence in the introduction preceding his monthly selections. Perceptive and scholarly, these brief essays provided a brilliant setting for the work they introduced, and were as eagerly awaited by The Bibelot’s readers.6
Another reason for the subscribers’ eagerness was The Bibelot’s physical appearance. The format never changed during these twenty years: one volume consisting of twelve monthly numbers, 155 mm x 115 mm in size, each elegantly printed in old-style type by Smith and Sale on Van Gelder paper (twelve, and eventually six, copies per issue were printed on Japan vellum) and bound in old-style blue wrappers.7 The ornamentation was limited to the ornate lettering of the title, printed in red (as was the brief list of contents), a red fleur de lys on the back cover, and a modest fleuron at the bottom of the last page.
Each number contained advertisements for the Mosher Books as well as for other little magazines, and for other publishers such as John Lane, Mitchell Kennerley, Gustav Stickley, and Dodd, Mead.
Each issue had from twenty-four to forty pages, cost 5 cents, and was sold by subscription only at a yearly cost of 50 cents until 1902 and 75 cents afterward. Each year Mosher offered for sale bound copies, in old-style blue boards, at a cost of one dollar and seventy-five cents. A few sets were bound in library buckram. An index to Volumes I through XII appeared in 1906. In 1915 Mosher, in poor health, forged the last link in his “golden chain” by publishing a final volume containing a general index prepared by Milton lames Ferguson of the California State Library and two essays, one by Richard Le Gallienne and the other by William Marion Reedy.
Mosher set aside 100 copies each month to be offered for sale as a set, in a special three-quarter leather binding—red, brown or green—with a spine featuring an ornate Victorian design. Some sets incorporate the initials “TBM” in the central panel. The index volume was signed by Mosher on a vellum colophon sheet.
The stunning achievement that is The Bibelot is made all the more remarkable when one realizes that in that same period its editor also published six hundred books, with only the assistance of Flora Lamb, his devoted secretary and factotum, and one office boy. All this in the days when telephones were still embryonic, typewriters not electric, and copying machines only human!
Excerpts from Some of Mosher’s Forewords
- Volume 6, August, 1900.
. . . It would prove an absurdity to include every verse-writer in this re- awakening of the Celtic muse, simply because of an alleged trace of Irish, Welsh or Scottish blood in their veins! Surely Coleridge was possessed by a “natural magic”; surely too, the Ettrick Shepherd struck the same thin elfin note of music in Kilmeny.
But in the space at our command it is impossible to do more at present than print some score or so of preferences of our own, briefiy indicating the sources of such exquisitely wrought fabrics.
Suffice it then if we acquire a fresh outlook by contact with these outcroppings of poetry more directly in touch with Nature, and of more imaginative beauty than any other produced in the world to-day.
“There is a land of Dream,
I have trodden its golden ways,
I have seen its amber light….”
- Volume 8, September, 1902.
The address we here reprint entire was published by Mr. T. J. Cobden- Sanderson and Mr. Emery Walker at The Doves Press, London, April 24, 1901. If along with the two other and earlier booklets printed by these gentlemen it has the appearance of being issued for the exclusive benefit of a few wealthy bibliophiles, it is redeemed by its subject matter, which appeals to a far wider clientele.
As the writer of the only complete biography of William Morris, Mr. F. W. Mackail is entitled to speak with authority. And in this more rapid survey of the man we seem to come very near to the heart of him: the real Morris to whose wonderful gifts as a great poet were added the skill of the untiring artificer, who in all things thought out or worked out by him remained a dreamer of dreams that will at last come true.
Even in the six short years since the Master died there have been signs of a wider outlook upon life: mere industrialism touched to finer issues by that great movement in the Arts and Crafts, which taking root from the despised Pre-Raphaelitism of fifty years ago, finds in America a field of almost infinite extension. Not only in 600 making but in every artistic impulse, crude and amateurish though some of it must necessarily be, is this principle of joy in one’s labour, of comradeship in one’s work making the rough places smooth. The House Beautiful is one of many mansions: it is also built up by successive generations of faithful workers in the walls of Time. Did Morris in his day merely prove the leader of a forlorn hope? But it was a sublime hope, one that has always been in the world though at times lost sight of; a hope possible of fulfilment here and now, a hope that was never meant to die out of the heart of man.
- Volume 10, June, 1904.
. . . We are now within sight of the Prose Poem as one of the final phases of the literary art of To-day. In the matter of delicate yet virile technique Ivan Turgeneff undoubtedly imparted an impulse 60th to French and English composers of Lyric Prose. Conversely men of the first rank—Baudelaire, Maurice de Guérin, Mallarmé, to single out these three,—nor asked or required a teacher: they attained perfect utterance through their own divine might and right of genius. Last of all the Mimes of Marcel Schwob are subtle reincarnations of old Greek life and passion comparable only to Flaubert’s thaumaturgic touch as revealed in his Herodias and La Legende de Saint Julien L’Hospitalier.
Unquestionably the Prose Poem has much to say for itself!
As one perceives discussion might be expanded to very generous proportions, whereas our brief Foreword can only hope to stimulate inquiry. In this regard for some of our readers we may seem to have wandered too far afield already. A single paragraph dismisses the subject for the time being.
Was it not a foregone conclusion that the suite of six Prose Poems here reprinted from the Fortnightly Review for July 1894 should have been written by Oscar Wilde, then at the zenith of his reputation, and he so closely affiliated in craftsmanship with all that had gone before and was still going on about him in continental literature? The man who wrote these Poems in Prose was about to suffer dire eclipse, but at that hour he was the friend of some of the wisest and wittiest men and women in England, France and America. Unhappy Brother of the Book! Is it too greatly daring to affirm that you builded better than you knew, that in your best work you did indeed save the bird in your bosom, and that after a little time is passed over the undying spirit of beauty will once again be acknowledged as your inalienable possession?
- Volume 20, December, 1914
. . . The Lyrics that I gave at the beginning of the Bibelot’s career were of Blake’s youth and early manhood. The Designs to Virgil are at the end almost of his life. I include with the Binyon Introduction the text of Philips’ Imitation of the First Eclogue: the Designs themselves are reproduced from the set of proofs once in my possession.
Looking back over these twenty years I can perceive I builded better than I knew, and, with the ideal before me, have proved not unfaithful to a self-imposed task. I began with Blake and end with Blake. In doing this one might recall what has been noted by scholiasts long ago. They find in the old Roman singer of field and fold that the Fourth Georgic, ending with “Tityre, te patulae cecini sub tegmine fagi” is a harking back with poignant implication to the first line of Virgil’s First Eclogue. At the close of my editorial labors I feel it only fitting to say the like implication is found in this quatrain from Blake:
I give you the end of a golden
Only wind it into a ball,
I will lead you in at Heaven’s
quilt in Jerusalem’s wall.
- Frederick Winthrop Faxon, Modern Chap-Books and Their Imitators, Boston, The Boston Book Company, 1903.
- In 1901 a deliciously wicked pastiche of The Philistine, called The Bilioustine: A Periodical of Knocks, was published in Evanston, Illinois, by William Lord. Lord mercilessly mocks Hubbard’s constant self-promotion, as well as his shaky grasp of the concept of limited editions.
- In comparison, The Chap-Book had a circulation of about 16,000. Freeman Champney, Art and Glory: The Story of Elbert Hubbard, New York, Crown Publishers Inc., 1968, pp. 58, 92.
- Flora M. Lamb in a Sept. 22, 1941 interview with Dane Yorke. Huntress (op. cit., p. 271) mentioned a circulation of 2,000.
- Strouse, op. cit., p. 52.
- Frank L. Mott, History of American Magazines, Vol. IV, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1957, pp. 424-427.
- We have seen one copy of the first issue (Vol. I, No. 1) bound in brown wrappers; perhaps a trial copy?