Deliberations on a Letter

The following piece of correspondence was typed on August 8, 2002 to order a letter written by the 1890’s British poet and critic, Lionel Johnson, which was included with a first edition of his book of Poems (1895). The decisions surrounding this letter serve to illustrate some of the deliberations that go into acquiring manuscript material for the Mosher collection and may even be of assistance to others building collections of different subject matter. It’s all illustrative of the processes behind the selection of material for a collection.


Following my phone call to you this morning, I hereby formally accept your very kind offer of the Lionel Johnson Poems (1895), stub mounted lengthy letter, and attending material as originally described in your initial e-mail of July 19 with subsequent clarification of content and terms in your e-mails of July 22, August 2 and 5.

Forgive the formality of this letter, but it’s a terrible condition of mine to minutely document my Mosher purchases. Following is a somewhat lengthy rationale as to why I accepted your offer, but first, please permit me to express my gratefulness through this medium of the printed word. In your initial contact you mentioned:

I realize that my capacity for turning up Mosher-related material in the past for you has been genuinely of the second or third tier, but an item came up I thought might be of interest to you, if not in terms of ownership, at least in terms of knowing of its whereabouts.

I have been gratified that you have been on the lookout for Mosher material on my behalf, and as I expressed before when you sent me that gratis Mosher book of William Aspenwall Bradley’s Garlands and Wayfarings (1917) with some related correspondence loosely laid in, I continue to deeply appreciate your willingness to keep my Mosher interests in mind. This is particularly poignant in light of the fact that XXXXXXXXXX XXXXX has a high level clientele the financial ranks of which I can never hope to attain. Nevertheless, perhaps out of your own interest in collecting – – – – – – – – – – – – -, you seem to remember me when something of interest in the Mosher line crosses your path. I know this sounds a bit overly profuse, but I am particularly struck and honored by your willingness to do so. Now, on to my rationale for purchase.

As described in your write-up for the next literature catalogue from XXXXXXXXXX XXXXX, here is the offering you forwarded to me:

Johnson, Lionel: POEMS. London & Boston: Elkin Mathews / Copeland & Day, 1895. Pale blue boards. Pictorial title. Ownership inscription on pastedown, several relevant clippings, portraits and a facsimile manuscript poem tipped in, crown of spine a trifle bumped, usual offset to endsheets, else a very good copy [from the library of Thomas Hutchinson].

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First trade edition (the first and last gatherings reimposed), preceded by the limited issue of twenty-five deluxe copies. One of 750 copies. This copy’s detractions are redeemed considerably by the presence, tipped-in on a stub following the title, of a 2 1/3 page a.l.s., ca. 500 words, from Johnson, on a folded quarto lettersheet, from 20, Fitzroy Street, [London], 21 March 1895, addressed “My Dear Sir,” in which Johnson rails against the publication of one of his essays in America by an unnamed publisher, but in fact, T.B. Mosher: “…Yes, to my extreme wrath, that essay of mine has been reprinted. A ruffian in America lately pirated Mr. Bridge’s ‘Growth of Love’: The rascal copied, to the best of his poor ability, Mr. Daniel’s format, and stole his emblematic device: and the scoundrel completed his thefts by annexing my essay, by way of ‘worthily introducing Mr. Bridges to the American public.’ He pleads, that it ‘deserves to be rescued from the obscurity of the magazine in which it first appeared’: as though a pickpocket were to say, that my money deserves to be rescued from the obscurity of my purse, and be put into circulation. Happily, the fellow’s villainous volume is unprocurable in England. It’s more cruel to pirate a magazine article…than to pirate a book: an article of that sort, especially in the case of a young writer, is always full of crudities, which his better [later?] judgment rejects….” Johnson continues on, remarking on Dowson’s, Bailey’s and Lord De Tabley’s essays on Bridges, William Watson (“I have a great personal regard for him, and a rational esteem for his writings“) and other literary matters, thanks the recipient for a sonnet, and comments “My book of verse is just out, and already my friends and colleagues, the critics, are saying pleasant and inconsistent things about it…” and concludes: “When are you going to give us a volume of Wordsworth studies, textual or otherwise? Believe me, faithfully yours, Lionel Johnson.” Mosher published his edition of THE GROWTH OF LOVE in 1894, incorporating as an “Introduction,” the text of Johnson’s “Essay on Bridges” from the October 1891 issue of THE CENTURY GUILD HOBBY HORSE. HAYWARD 304. BISHOP 137(ref).

My deliberations over the past two weeks partly stumbled over the fact that neither is the letter addressed to Mosher, nor does it mention Mosher directly–not to mention that we do not know who the original recipient was–, and because of that I wasn’t, at first, able to justify the cost of the letter to me. Because of the literary content, the letter with the book is fairly priced, but would it be a worthy addition to the Mosher collection here at the Bishopric in Lancaster County. Subsequent considerations turned my decision from a maybe to the affirmative.

As I wrote before to you, the content of the letter was reflected in the June 1, 1896 letter to the Academy in which Lionel Johnson states that

… I am one of his victims. In 1894 he perpetrated a triple piracy. He stole Mr. Bridges’s Growth of Love, first printed at the private press of Mr. Daniel, of Worcester College, Oxford; he stole Mr. Daniel’s emblem and imprint… The pecuniary interest excepted, and the literary alone regarded, I think it a graver injustice to pirate a magazine article and put it into a volume than to pirate a book. The most finished and fastidious writer will often find much, and always find something, to correct and recast before gathering his magazine work into a book. In the case of writers young and immature, the procedure of Mr. Mosher is peculiarly cruel and unjust. Nothing, I am well aware, can check these practices; but I would beg Mr. Mosher to cease paying sugared compliments to his victims.

The crux of Johnson’s argument is contained in the March 21, 1895 private letter, and it shows that he held this opinion at least a full year prior to his stated views in the Academy, if not longer. Of course the Academy exchange between Mosher and Johnson thrashes out and expands these objections, but it’s informative to see them expressed in his private correspondence at the same time his own book of poems hit the British market that same month of March 1895 (and in America in April 1895 according to Nelson’s Elkin Mathews, p. 93). I’m wondering if their Copeland & Day co-publication included his consideration that the poems couldn’t be “stolen” if registered for copyright in America. He certainly would have at least been mindful of this consideration.

Another set of reasons, as you already know, involves the extent of related material already here in the Mosher collection. In addition to the Academy articles, I also have Mosher’s original copy of the Century Guild Hobby Horse from which he appropriated the Lionel Johnson essay, “The Poems of Mr. Bridges: A Brief and General Consideration” (Vol. VI, 1891, pp. 148-160), for reprint in his own English Reprint Series. Of course, I have copies of the 1894 Mosher book as well. The combination of these items seems to make–in my mind’s eye–a rather nice assemblage of material like one would see in a formal book exhibition. The Hobby Horse from Mosher’s library and the Johnson letter personalize the grouping, something which I very much appreciate.

Lastly, I have always been mindful of the fact that a few years ago a Hilaire Belloc item came on the market in a British dealer’s catalogue. I was alerted to it’s existence by two folks, David Holmes and Thomas Doherty, but alas, when I made contact with the dealer the Belloc letter had been recently sold. I have managed to acquire some rather nice letters over the years (those of which I’m proudest include Andrew Lang, C H St. J Hornby, Theodore De Vinne, Bertram Dobell, Frank Murray, Ellen Terry, Nathan Haskell Dole, William Sharp, J. M. Stuart-Young, Gordon Bottomley and J. W. Mackail, and now, thanks to you, Lionel Johnson), and as you know, I’m always on the lookout for such primary material as well as Mosher books printed on real vellum, books from Mosher’s library, extra-illustrated Mosher books, special inscribed books from or to Mosher, and likewise correspondence from or to Mosher.

Well, thanks for bearing with me and for reading over this somewhat lengthy letter. I look forward to receiving the Johnson material shortly, and again thank you from the bottom of my heart for both the opportunity, and for your gracious offering of generous terms.

Best wishes,

Since writing that letter, my research on Thomas Hutchinson, the original owner of the book with the letter, has indeed turned up information confirming that he was the recipient of Lionel Johnson’s letter. In seeking assistance, I turned to Exlibris–a listserv for librarians and all manner of folks associated with books–, and received two very useful responses. One correspondent from Great Britain sent me a detailed list of books he handled over the years from the library of Thomas Hutchinson, all sounding just like the one I purchased. Likewise, the Lilly Library holdings of British Poetry Collections indicates the following sizable collection:

DATE RANGE: 1891-1900
ITEM COUNT: 17 items Cards and letters written to book collector Thomas Hutchinson by various authors and removed from volumes formerly owned by Hutchinson. Many of the letters are written by poets.
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The Hutchinson mss., 1891-1900, consist of those cards and letters written to Thomas Hutchinson, book collector, from various authors and removed from volumes formerly owned by Hutchinson. The books and letters were part of the Elisabeth W. Ball library.

Several other book dealers and collectors I contacted also confirmed that books from Thomas Hutchinson’s personal library were marked in the same way my book of Johnson’s Poems was marked. Hutchinson, the book collector, left behind unmistakable physical marks of ownership—tipped in newspaper or magazine clippings, mounted portraits, his name hand-printed and boxed in strong black pen, a shelf or inventory number (in my case, with “Thomas Hutchinson / No. 2768” in pen, and box-framed in pen as well), and many times a letter from the author tipped in. However few people, if any, seemed to know anything more about the man beyond these books from his library. My task was to not only just find out more about books from Hutchinson’s library, but to see if indeed this Thomas Hutchinson was the recipient of Lionel Johnson’s letter.

In scouring my own reference library, which includes a number of biographies and references on the authors of the 1890’s, I discovered nothing. I combed through a number of the publications on the period by Mark Samuels Lasner (even contacted Mark directly), the Dictionary of National Biography, James Nelson’s The Early Nineties and his book Elkin Mathews—Publisher to Yeats, Joyce, Pound, and in Richard Ellmann’s book Oscar Wilde since I found a reference to a Wilde letter in a book from Hutchnson’s library, etc., but to no avail. I also turned to searching the Internet (particularly by using the wonderful search engine, Google, and by researching OCLC) and came up with more information on a Thomas Hutchinson who authored some books of poetry and essays around the latter 1880’s and early 1890’s. These include Fireside Flittings; a book of homely essays (London, Stanesby & Co., 1890), Jolts and Jingles, a book of poems for young people (London, Derby, Nottingham, Stanesby & Co.; F. Murray, 1889), and Ballades and Other Rhymes of a Country Bookworm (London, Derby, Nottingham, Stanesby & Co.; F. Murray, 1888). Was this the same man? Book collector and poet? Another significant clue was from Lionel Johnson’s letter itself which ends with “when are you going to give us a volume of Wordsworth studies, textual or otherwise?” It seemed more than mere coincidence to discover that there was a Thomas Hutchinson who was also a compiler / editor of texts on Browning, Shelley, Lamb, Burns, and others. Thomas Hutchinson edited the single volume The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth. With Introduction and Notes. (London: Henry Frowde / Oxford University Press, 1895), the same year as the letter from Lionel Johnson was written. Was this the same Thomas Hutchinson who then, just a little later, edited the Lyrical Ballads of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1898? Everything was pointing in that direction, and it seemed reasonable to think that this same collector was also the poet, editor, and recipient of Lionel Johnson’s letter.

My Exlibris referrals further indicated that Thomas Hutchinson was of Morpeth, England and was considered a North Country minor poet and book collector from the bookseller listings I examined. Another Exlibris response led me to Ian Jackson in Berkeley, CA, who the correspondent said, “knows a lot of minor Victorian figures and might be worth asking.” I’ll say he was worth the asking!

I wrote to Ian Jackson presenting the information I had collected thus far about a Thomas Hutchinson whose name appeared with (1) writing some verse and essays in the 1880’s-early 1890’s, (2) who edited Shelley, Lamb & Wordsworth, and (3) who collected those books many of which had original letters from the authors tipped in. Ian Jackson responded on December 24, 2002 that “the short answer is that Thomas Hutchinson, the minor versifier, the book collector, the editor of the English Romantics are all the same man…” and furthermore that “some of his books were sold at Sotheby’s (London) in 1905…” Bingo!

So Ian Jackson confirmed what I had thought might be the case. Thomas Hutchinson (d.1919) was a rather obscure figure whose life intermeshed with the poets of the 1890’s including Lionel Johnson and Oscar Wilde. That stub mounted 2 1/2 page literary letter from Lionel Johnson to an undisclosed recipient (“My Dear Sir”), dated 21 March 1895 is now attributable. Johnson was writing to Hutchinson as is both clear from the context, the reference to “Wordsworth studies”, and further confirmation via an expert on minor Victorian poets, Mr. Ian Jackson. And the pointed remarks about Mosher were being sent from poet to poet. I just love it when the parts of a puzzle come together, and the content of the Mosher collection is thereby enhanced. One last benefit of this researcher’s work is that several people have been notified of this discovery, including fellow Delaware Bibliophile, Mark Samuels Lasner, the folks at the Lilly Library, a couple book dealers who had an interest in the matter, and now the Delaware Bibliophiles at large whose newsletter will circulate to whom knows who. All may share in the benefits from this work on a singe item in the Mosher collection.

Philip R. Bishop
January 24, 2003

This article is Copyright © by Philip R. Bishop. Permission to reproduce the above article has been granted by Gordon Pfeiffer, president of the Delaware Bibliophiles and editor of that organization’s newsletter, Endpapers, in which the article appeared in the March 2003 issue. No portion of this article may be reproduced or redistributed without expressed written permission from both parties.