Source Texts from a Publisher

I’m always scouting for books from the publisher, Thomas Bird Mosher’s library, but after amassing over four hundred and fifty of these (a number being presentation copies and some with lengthy inscriptions), I’ve begun to slow down a little. It no longer suffices to acquire yet another of the 10,000 or so volumes Mosher had in his private collection. They surface at auction or for sale frequently enough, but just buying another book bearing his bare-breasted double griffins isn’t enough any longer. To try buying everything just saps my limited funds which I now reserve for outstanding items. Every once in a while, however, I come across one of the books from his library that holds promise as quite possibly a source text for his own publications–either for his books or for his little magazine, The Bibelot. Recently I had a lovely experience when coming across such a book at auction.

H.S. Salt’s The Life of James Thomson (“B.V.”) was published in London by Reeves and Turner and by Bertram Dobell in 1889. When I saw this book listed at auction, I was hoping that there might be added material in Mosher’s hand. I wasn’t disappointed with this one. I had an educated hunch Mosher may have used some of its contents because James Thomson prominently figured into his early publishing career. Mosher published Thomson’s The City of Dreadful Night in 1892 with later printings following in 1902, 1909, and 1922. He also published some material on Thomson in The Bibelot. So there was a good chance that the book was at some point used by Mosher although I didn’t have any confirmation of that until I successfully bid on and received the book. My deliberations also included some insider information that served me very well. I say insider meaning that I consulted the scarce bibliography of James Thomson compiled by Bertram Dobell for Mosher’s very own 1892 edition of The City of Dreadful Night–an edition which, by the way, was reprinted here in America with the permission of Thomson’s London publisher. The bibliography at the back of the book is filled with obscure information, so to me it’s like getting an insider tip. Sure enough, Salt’s Life of James Thomson (B”V”) is listed with the note: One thousand copies of this book were printed, but six hundred of them were destroyed by fire. The compiler should have known because he was one of the publishers involved in the printing! So not only was it a biography on one of Mosher’s favorite authors, but apparently scarce as well. I’ve always liked getting books from Mosher’s library that either were from the mid to later 19th century, or from the 1890s like Michael Field’s Stephania, A Trialogue (London, Bodley Head, 1892) which I purchased only a few weeks before the Salt book appeared. Even if it turned out to be just Mosher’s reading copy I still would have been pleased.

The book arrived and in carefully going through it, I found twenty-one notations in pencil by Mosher, these falling on pages 2, 46, 49, 135, 139, 184, 185, 193, 203, 248, 253, 262, 264, 281, 294, 300, 302, 303, 316, 317, and 328. By far the most important in this volume are the ones discussing the translation of Heinrich Heine by B.V. (there are even notations on The City of Dreadful Night, and others). In Mosher’s essay on the “Translations for Heine by James Thomson (“B.V.“)” in the June 1909 issue of The Bibelot he writes in a footnote on p. [180]:

For a full account of Heine’s influence upon the English poet see the Life of James Thomson (“B.V.”) by H. S. Salt, octavo, (London, 1899). This influence is especially shown in Thomson’s long poem entitled Vane’s Story, which may also “be looked upon as the poet’s autobiography and apologia when read with due discernment.”

and a little further on (p. 181) Mosher quotes from other passages in the book, including:

In the arrangement of these translations we have thought it consistent with the harmony of things to add to what we call A Little Book of Songs a Proem and Epilogue which those familiar with Thomson’s admiration for Elizabeth Barrett Browning will surely welcome. One of the most beautiful poems in her memory is that beginning

Italy you hold in trust

Very sacred English dust.

Furthermore, on page 262 of The Life of James Thomson Mosher marks a whole passage quoted from BV and next to Mosher’s mark appears the penciled words “Back of 1/2 title” the note which started my whole investigation in the first place as to whether or not Mosher might have used passages from this book. Indeed, on the back of the half-title in this June 1909 issue of The Bibelot the entire full page quote appears. I just love it when so much falls into place like this.

My guess was that Mosher may have received this Life of James Thomson sometime after his printing of The City of Dreadful Night, although I couldn’t be sure, the reason being that he doesn’t quote from it for any of his earlier Thomson books, but does employ it in this June 1909 issue of The Bibelot; however, the jury was out on this until I checked my correspondence from Mosher. Tucked into a copy of the Mosher edition of The City of Dreadful Night (1892, #86 of 400 small paper copies) was the following one page ALS from Mosher, on his 17 Exchange Street business stationary, dated Feb. 20, 1893 and entirely in his hand.

Dear Sir: | I have quite a collection of | books of Thomson’s, (B.V.) and | of articles about him. || I also have a ms. poem of his, | and a complete set of Cope’s | Tobacco Plant, uncut, and in | sheets, perfectly clean. || I enclose my circulars as to | the reprint I have made, but | perhaps you have this? || Have you seen the bibliography | that is appended to my edition | It is very complete. | Yours truly | Thomas B Mosher

It’s hard to imagine that Mosher’s own “quite a collection” of Thomson’s books “and of articles about him” wouldn’t have already included H.S. Salt’s The Life of James Thomson. And Mosher was right, that “bibliography that is appended to my edition… is very complete” and very useful I might add. So the addition of The Life of James Thomson was a very nice find and it takes its place with dozens of other books used by Mosher as the original source texts for his own publications. The additional fun was to have pulled together this brief examination of the use of Thomson’s biography from portions of my own collection, while citing particular reference to Mosher’s own Thomson collection.

©Philip R. Bishop
24 July 2007

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 September 2007 issue. No portion of this article may be reproduced or redistributed without expressed written permission from both parties.