John Foley’s Foreward in Amphora II

Foley, John. “Foreword” in Amphora, a Second Collection. Portland, ME: Mosher, 1926, pp. xiii-xviii.

My aim has been, and is, to print only those things informed by the spirit of beauty–of the souls of books–not hackneyed, by reason of constant use or display. If the book has any demonstrable raison d’ être, it is more especially that I have got out of the beaten highway and wandered into bypaths, seeking for fine flowers of the forest rather than for floral displays of the classical literary garden. [T.B. Mosher]

That Thomas Bird Mosher accomplished his difficult task of gathering “the lesser known, but imperishable utterances” which earlier editors “had never found or had never set out to find,” is clear not only from the gratifying response to the first Amphora, which he brought out in 1912, but also from the singular measure of praise which it has won from judicious critics. It had long been Mr. Mosher’s purpose to make a second collection of rare prose and verse championed by him from writers of distinction, many of whom had had to wait for just recognition. These selections which he had included in his catalogues from 1912 to 1923, he was intending to publish in a satisfying format when death frustrated his plan. Since that time many persons have requested that these choice passages, as yet scattered, be brought together under one cover, and many have asked for some account of Mr. Mosher’s life.

Amphora: A Second Collection, while fulfilling his purpose, also preserves his Forewords, which are essays in themselves, and three of his poems not heretofore printed over his name; presents an admirable likeness of him; and records several distinguished tributes to his life and work. This volume, then, rightly takes on the character of a memorial.

But no memorial volume can have any claim to being complete unless it defines Mr. Mosher’s position as an editor and publisher, and unless it sets forth his personality among his friends. The former is established by the very individual and creative publishing he achieved and sustained in America over many years; the latter can really be appreciated only by those who knew him in the intimacy of his remarkable library. There he lived in an other-worldliness of ideal beauty–to him the essential reality–and this escape he offered to many other seekers through the exquisite reprints which he put within their reach.

Entirely independent of what the public wanted, Thomas Bird Mosher published what he liked–and no more. While other publishers were, and are, satisfied to supply very profitably the latest variation in public preference, he set himself, in his own words, “to awaken a passion for the language of the absolute which from the reading of my books is discoverable in ever living beauty.” To follow such an elusive ideal was to travel a lonely way in a young nation and in an age which must be busied about the insistent material needs of a swiftly changing world. Of the men in his field, however, no one held more steadfastly than he to a venture which must go unappreciated by the majority of his contemporaries, for he was a fearless soul who dared to do the unpopular, one of those who are weavers of intellectual and spiritual beauty against the need of a newer day. He was, in fact, a publisher who turned poet in the making of beautiful books, and for this he holds in the history of American publishing a place apart.

Quickened by the flame which stirred William Morris, Rossetti, Burne-Jones, and Ruskin, he began in the Eighteen-Nineties a pilgrimage to the spirit of beauty. As Arthur Symons says in his conclusion to Studies in Prose and Verse, “Art begins when a man wishes to immortalize the most vivid moment he has ever lived.” Mr. Mosher immortalized his highest moments as a pilgrim along the road “to the best that is thought and known in the world” in his reprints and in The Bibelot, both fast becoming classics. And what better single evidence of his craftsmanship can one offer than his beautiful edition of Sir Richard Burton’s The Kasidah? What more conclusive proof of his exact literary judgment and unerring taste in editing than the fruits of his many years, which William Marion Reedy commended thus: “The complete Bibelot, in twenty volumes, is an encyclopedia of the literature of rapture with the spirit of beauty”? Similarly, his first Amphora and this his second Amphora together bring to a consummation the record of his distinctive work in publishing those things which from his viewpoint possessed permanence in literature.

His genius for discerning the durable and less known excellence in books was paralleled by his kindliness and keen humor. Those who knew him best will always see him as the booklover and humanist before his hearthfire in his immense library at home, a large oblong room solid with unusual books from floor to ceiling. There the man whom readers of his Amphora must know indirectly, roamed at will, drawing down from shelf on shelf, times without number, some edition long sought by collectors, and immediately opening it to humorous or illuminating sections, laughing like a boy, yet serious in an instant and alert to champion, as ever, unrecognized worth, or to right some wrong to literary fame. Lover of beauty and stoic, he may be imagined as writing in his second Amphora as he wrote in the first selection of 1912:

My Amphora, then, O friends whom I may never meet nor greet other than in these words, is not a cinerary urn such as Sir Thomas Browne discovered….. but rather a vessel still containing in unspoiled solution a genuine and generous juice of the most high Muses!

Indeed, this second collection reveals once more the gifts and personality of Thomas Bird Mosher whose editing and publishing of fine books has helped to make the best in literature available in America, and whose work may be described in Walter Pater’s words on art, as devoted “to such presentment of new or old truth about ourselves and our relation to the world as may ennoble and fortify us in our sojourn here.”


John Foley. “Foreword” Amphora II, pp. xiii-xviii. Foley was a New York newspaperman and writer.