1828
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Pocket-Books and Keepsakes.

The Keepsake for 1828.

Leigh Hunt


Leigh Hunt offers an amusing prefatory essay on what had quickly become the most prestigious, or at least the most remunerative, form of literary publication. The discussion of the evolution of the annual is interesting, as is Hunt's account of the beauty of a fine library, which he compares to the (not-yet) famous passage in Keats: "We would have our library as splendid as the casement in the 'Eve of St. Agnes.' Our Milton should be as 'richly dight' as any thing 'storied' on glass, with organ-pipes clustered on the back. We would have our Chaucer (not an old but an ever young and morning poet) 'painted with delight,' like his own daisied meadows. Spenser should be in a very Bower of Bliss; and as to our Arabian Nights, we would have them, if we could, bound and lettered by genii, and dazzling, with all the wealth 'of Ormus and of Ind'" pp. 12-13. This sort of pictorialism and aesthetic archaism was the essence of the early annuals, though seldom so explicitly connected with Spenserianism. The Keats passage is quoted in a note, though the poet's name is not mentioned; would it have been familiar to the annual-purchasing reader?

There are two other passing references to Spenser in the course of the essay. The attribution to Hunt is from Lee Erickson, "The Poet's Corner" ELH 52 (1985) 909n.




If publications of this nature proceed as they have begun, we shall soon arrive at the millennium of souvenirs. Instead of engravings, we shall have paintings by the first masters; our paper must be vellum; our bindings in opal and amethyst; and nobody must read us except in a room full of luxury, or a bower of roses. As to the proprietor of the work, he will not condescend to be wholesale. He will take up the trade of Keepsakes exclusively; and Pitt diamonds are not to be sold by the lump. The purchaser will bring a casket for his duodecimo, and deposit a gem.

The reader knows that splendid passage in Marlowe, where the rich Jew of Malta, standing amongst his treasures, and scorning his more vulgar gains, riots in contemplation of the mighty concentrated wealth of his rubies and emeralds. The lines tell, one by one, as if they were diamonds themselves. The fellow cuts them, as out of a quarry, with a pleasure amounting to the austere; and, with the same easy sternness and severity of gusto, piles them monotonously before us. insolently magnificent. He should have been a proprietor of pocket-books.

As for those Samnites, and the men of Uzz,
That bought my Spanish oils and wines of Greece,
Here have I pursed their paltry silverlings.
Fie! what a trouble 'tis to count this trash!
Give me the merchants of the Indian mines,
That trade in metal of the purest gold;
The wealthy Moor, that in the eastern rocks
Without control can pick his riches up,
And in his house keep pearls like pebble stones;
Receive them free, and sell them by the weight;
Bags of fiery opals, sapphires, amethysts,
Jacinths, hard topas, grass green emeralds,
Beauteous rubies, sparkling diamonds,
And seld-seen costly stones of so great price,
As one of them, indifferently rated,
And of a caract of this quality,
May serve, in peril of calamity,
To ransom great kings from captivity.
This is the ware wherein consists my wealth;
And thus, methinks, should men of judgment frame
Their means of traffic from the vulgar trade,
And as their wealth increaseth, so inclose
Infinite riches in a little room.
But now how stands the wind?
Into what corner peers my halcyon's bill?
Ha! to the east? yes: see, how stand the vanes?
East and by south: why then I hope my ships
I sent for Egypt, and the bordering isles,
Are gotten up by Nilus' winding banks:
Mine argosies from Alexandria,
Loaden with spice and silks, now under sail,
Are smoothly gliding down by Candy shore
To Malta through our Mediterranean sea.

'Sdeath, sir; nothing but a Pocket-book could have brought him to this pass. Just so will the proprietor of "The Perfection," or "The Ne Plus Ultra," or "The Rapture," or "The Too much," (or whatever else our future publications may be called), stand among his shelves of souvenirs, and talk of his former trade and of his present.

As for those Baldwins, and the men of Long,
That bought my Walter Scotts and cookery books,
Here have I pursed their paltry sovereigns.
Fie, what a trouble 'tis to count such books!
Give me the dealers in the souvenirs,
That trade in volumes worth their weight in gold,
Myself their chief, that with my princely funds
Without control can buy good authors up;
And in my house heap books like jewelry;
Printed with ink with wine in it, and bound
By fellows, as at operas, in kid gloves;
Books bound in opal, sapphire, amethyst,
With topaz tooling, Eden green morocco,
That once was slippers to an emperor;
And full of articles of so great price,
As one of them, indifferently written,
And not ascribed unto a man of quality,
Might serve, in peril of a writ of Middlesex,
To ransom great bards from captivity.
This is the sort of publishing for me:
And thus, methinks, should noble booksellers
Discrepate matters from the vulgar trade,
And as their wealth increaseth, so inclose
Infinite profit in a little book.
But now how stands the ledger?
Into what pockets peer my Christmas bills?
Ha! to the duke's! and see — how stands the clock?
Three, and half-past: why then I hope my men
I sent to Grosvenor Place and Hyde Park corner
Are gotten up by Mr. Bootle's house;
My gatherers-in from th' east and Albany,
Serious with drafts immense, now under button,
Are smoothly gliding down by Saville Row,
To Bond Street, through our Hanoverian ways.

We are much tempted to go on with these beatific visions of bookselling, and bring all the luxuries in Spenser and Ben Jonson to bear upon them; but we should fill our pages with quotations. Besides, we should be the death of some worthy Bibliomaniacs who, in addition to their love of old books, are polygamious in their reading, and judiciously fond of the new. There is Mr. Utterson, whom his friend, the Rev. Thomas Frognall Dibdin, describes as "looking with unceasing delight" at the "beauteous and instructive tomes" upon his shelves; — we should fix him in that posture for ever; and as to the Rev. Thomas himself, who cannot bear, as it is, a common sumptuous publication, "tickled up with the enticing tooling of Charles Lewis," he would fairly be lost and swallowed up in the splendours we should set before him. Frognall, already saltatory, would leap out of his vellum.

The history of Pocket-books and their forerunners, Almanacks, Calendars, Ephemerides, &c. is ancient beyond all precedent: even the Welshman's genealogy, the middle of which contained the creation of the world, is nothing to it. See Milton's Latin poem, De Idea Platonica. The Hydraulic calendars of the Egyptians are things of yesterday; the wooden ones of our Saxon ancestors were to-morrow compared with it. We shall therefore decline tracing it from all Eternity (who, according to Milton, was the first person that kept a pocketbook), and content ourselves with observing, that the pocket-book, in the ordinary sense of the word, is the same thing as the table-book or tablets of old, with an almanack attached to it. Tablets (tavolette) came to us, like almost every thing else, from Italy; and are still to be purchased, made of the same materials as of old, slate, ivory, &c. There is mention of a table-book so late as the time of Walsh, who has written some agreeable verses on one; and of Swift, whose ridicule of the bad spelling in "A Lady's Ivory Table-book," hastened, no doubt, the reformation that has long taken place in that matter; a fault, by the way, for which, as in other cases, his own sex was responsible, and not theirs: not to mention, that lords as well as ladies could be very heterographical in those days. Swift, indeed, admits the incorrectness of "beau-spelling;" but Pope himself sometimes spelt as badly as his mother.

It was about that time, that books of paper were found to be more convenient to the pocket than tablets, and then the word was changed from Table to Pocket-book. For a long period they partook of the usual unwieldiness of a first invention. A pocket-book of the time of our grandmothers no more resembles a pocket-book now, at least not the ones in vogue, than a watch of Charles's time, with a leathern case and cat-gut machinery, and as big round as a turnip, resembles the bijoux that are hung at the end of necklaces. But then our grandmothers had pockets! And pockets of what size! Too grateful are we for the apples and home-made cakes which they used to draw out of them, to speak of them with irreverence. At present, a grandmother must call at the pastry-cooks' as she comes along; and reticules hold little, and bundles are not the thing. The muff does something indeed for us, but that is only in winter; and what is a muff to those glorious old dimity paniers, which would have held a feast! We say "us," because we make a point of partaking on these occasions; and though we have no grandmother, we have long had a grandmother-in-law, and law makes no difference in apples. Apples-in-law are very good things. But every thing was on a large, warm, household scale in those days. We remember a series of pocket-books in a great drawer, that, in addition to their natural size, seemed all to have grown corpulent in consequence of being fed with receipts, and copies of verses, and cuttings out of newspapers. The hook of the clasp had got from eyelet to eyelet, till it could unbuckle no further. These books, in the printed part, contained acrostics and rebuses, household receipts for various purposes, and a list of public events. There was love, politics, and eating. It is a pity the readers could not grow as corpulent as their pocket-books, with as little harm. The cosy memorials we speak of lay in a drawer full of crums of lavender, like so many abbots in clover.

Pocket-books, now-a-days, are all for compression and minuteness. They endeavour to contain the greatest quantity of matter in the smallest compass; to which end the little nonpareil types now in use are of great service. We were acquainted once with a painstaking lover of his ease, who would not undergo any trouble whatever, which he could avoid by a shrewd exercise of a greater. He would lay stratagems not to put coals on the fire; and by a series of politic manoeuvres contrive to avoid snuffing a candle. This person, when shown a copy of the Literary Pocket-book, which happened to be larger than the usual ones, looked melancholy, and asked how he was to carry it about with him. At the same time he drew his own from his pocket: when it was allowed, that a gentleman, who could carry nothing bigger than that showed his good sense in refusing to bring on himself such a load of responsibility; and we all respected him accordingly. A person may now have the old Pocket-Book, the old Almanack, and the old Tablets (in the shape of leaves of vellum) all confined in a Lilliputian book no thicker than a penny's worth of gingerbread. The diffusion of literature has carried off the verses and stories from pocket-books of this description, now called Souvenirs, Atlases, and Pocket Remembrancers; and as the smallness of the type enables them to afford a great addition of letter press, there have come up, by degrees, all those lovely lists of lords and commons, and household officers, and battle array of Army and Navy, which form the sole literature of many an aspiring youth in employment, and many a lieutenant's sister on a rainy Sunday. Here people read the names of dukes and marquises, till they fancy coronets on their own heads: there the cabinet ministers and lord-gold-sticks make a noble clatter, the yeoman of the mouth gaping mystery at the conclusion; and there one sees one's cousin Tom mentioned, and knows in what delicious year one's uncle was promoted to a lieutenant-colonelcy. Afterwards come the bankers, with each his pleasing address; and lastly, the hackney-coach fares, so very useful, that every body resolves to lug them out and convict the coachman on the spot: which he never does, because he knows it will be to no purpose.

The pocket-books that now contain any literature are "got up," as the phrase is, in the most unambitious style. The rivalry of the day will probably mend them. Common-places of a certain description will always be saleable, because they flatter the self-love of a great number of readers, who are pleased to find their notions re-echoed, and who think they could write pretty nearly as well. But emulation compels change of some sort. There is room for plenty of novelty in every species of pocket-book. Even lists might be increased to great advantage, and turned in a new manner. In some things, it must be owned, it would be difficult to improve. Those little delicate engravings of landscapes and country seats, at the heads of the pages in the Regent's Pocket-book, were, in particular, a happy thought. The graces of vignettes, however, are endless. Mr. Stothard could turn any pocketbook into a nest of Cupids. Every subject might have its allegory, and every allegory be crammed full of beauties. Flowers, outlines, portraits, antiques, miniature copies of Claude and Poussin, such as have been lately poured forth at Paris, all these, and fifty other things, might be put in greater requisition, and turned to account for all parties.

We are now come, however, to a new and more splendid species of pocket-book, in which a great deal of this is done. There are pocket-books in a new but very proper sense, namely, books for the pocket, without implying that they are to be written in. We speak, in the first place, of those little editions of popular works, which appear in the glass-cases of the booksellers' shops every Christmas, and with their varied and glittering bindings tempt the beholders to make presents. Among these are works now exploded in the circles of literature, such as the Tasso and Ariosto of Hoole, Glover's Leonidas, &c.; but almost any books are better than none. A taste for the very commonest verses, like that for the commonest tunes on a hand-organ, is an addition to the humanities, and serves to keep the best things alive. Other publications of this kind are of the highest order, such as Pope and Milton; and there are many of the intermediate class very good and fitting. A spirited bookseller, however, might make a new and profitable addition to the stock. The bindings are seldom very costly, but they are more so than ordinary, sufficient to render the present graceful; and they are generally in good taste. On opening the book we meet, as in a door-way, the elegant ideal beauties of Mr. Westall, or the interesting women of the junior Corbould; and if we start sometimes to find them in company with Hervey's Meditations, or the Night-Thoughts of Dr. Young, we agree, upon reflection, that nothing can be more natural. Hervey looks as if he presented us with a piece of involuntary candor; and the doctor's nocturnal cogitations are considerably improved. Women are very clerical. Hervey may be band; but woman is gown.

It struck somebody, who was acquainted with the literary annuals of Germany, and who reflected upon this winter flower-bed of the booksellers, — these pocket-books, souvenirs, and Christmas presents, all in the lump, — that he would combine the spirit of all of them, as far as labour, season, and sizeability went; and omitting the barren or blank part, and being entirely original, produce such a pocket-book as had not been yet seen. The magician in Boccaccio, could not have done better. Hence arose the Forget-me-not, the Literary Souvenirs, the Amulets, and the Keepsakes, which combine the original contribution of the German annual with the splendid binding of the Christmas English present. Far are those for whom this article is written from undervaluing the works of their predecessors, or the contest with their rivals. It is a contest of sunbeams which shall produce the finest gems; whose tree, or whose parterre, shall burst out into a flush of more splendid blossoms.

"Non nostrum inter vos tantas componere lites." For our part we enjoy them all. We confess we are anxious in behalf of one in particular; and do hope, that as every single copy of all the others may be the best and uniquest that ever was seen, so every one of ours may be "uniquessement," so that Messrs. Payne and Foss may not know what to think, and Mr. Thomas Frognall Dibdin may be obliged to be held down, lest he should do himself a "bliss-chief:" mischief it could not be from so ecstatic a cause. We fear he would attempt to devour the book.

To confess a weakness, we must own to a greater sympathy with the outsides of books than our mention of this gentleman might imply. Respecting the insides we sometimes venture to differ with him. We cannot go so far as to be transported with any thing that he thinks festive in old monkery, or spotless in modern prudery, the immaculate and very profitable Shakspeares not excepted. We cannot consent to doubt with Thomas respecting the merits of Sir Richard Steele, or to admit his comparative nothingness with regard to Addison; albeit we allow that the latter, besides a very great man, was a sort of born clergyman, and a member of the privy council. We are not in the habit, with Frognall, of leaping up to kiss and embrace every "enticing" edition in vellum, and every "sweetly-toned, mellowtoned, yellow morocco binding," calling them "precious," comforting," "bright," "beauteous," "bewitching," "large and lovely," and "irresistible;" epithets of which we allow the full force in their proper places. But we must say, that in common with Mr. Dibdin, we have a penchant for good and suitable, and even rich and splendid bindings; and would fain have the scorching sun strike upon a whole room full of them, with all the colours of a flower-garden or a cathedral window. We confess our hearts misgave us when we quoted the passage about Mr. Utterson, for we are very much of his opinion, and can gaze with delight at a splendid set of shelves. Bonaparte, they say, had a room in which he used to recline on a sofa, and gaze on a window painted with the escutcheons of his vassal monarchs. We could lie in the same manner and gaze on things much better worth looking at, — the souls of great men attired in gorgeous dresses. We would have our library as splendid as the casement in the "Eve of St. Agnes." Our Milton should be as "richly dight" as any thing "storied" on glass, with organ-pipes clustered on the back. We would have our Chaucer (not an old but an ever young and morning poet) "painted with delight," like his own daisied meadows. Spenser should be in a very Bower of Bliss; and as to our Arabian Nights, we would have them, if we could, bound and lettered by genii, and dazzling, with all the wealth "of Ormus and of Ind." They should cast a light upon the carpet.

The genius of binding, we trust, will put forth all its powers on thousands of Keepsakes.

"Sudate, fuochi, a preparer metalli."

Return, Charles Lewis; the feign'd voice is past,
That smok'd thy tools. Return, ye new Du Sueils,
And call the dyers, and bid them hither cast
Their skins, and colours of a thousand hues.
Bring hither all your quaint enamelling men.
Let us behold once again whate'er is seen
On fable or romance of Grallier's hand,
Begirt with EIzevirs and attic nights;
And all who now, book-bit or infidel,
Tool it in calf-skin, or in skin of russ,
In vellum, or morocco, or what's-his-name,
Or what the smugglers brought from Gallic shore,
When Beaumarchais with all his presses fell
By fond establishment.

As we had nothing to do with the christening, we may be allowed to express our approbation of the word Keepsake. It is a good English word; cordial, unpremeditated, concise; extremely to the purpose; and, though plain, implies a value. It also sets us reflecting on keepsakes in general, and on the givers of them; and these are pleasant thoughts. We have the pleasure of writing our words, this moment, with a keepsake, on a keepsake, and of dipping our pen into a keepsake. On one side of us are two others, filled with leaves and flowers; and on three sides, books multifarious, comprising many more. Thus are we a gifted writer in one sense, if in no other, and we are very proud of it; because the givers were such as had a right to give, and the receipts were for respect and affection's sake only.

A present, it is said, should be rare, new, and suitable; neither so priceless as to be worth nothing in itself, nor yet so costly as to bring an obligation on the receiver. We know of no such cautious niceties between friends. The giver, indeed, must have the right to bestow; but let this be the case, and a straw from such a hand shall be worth a sceptre from another. A keepsake, in particular, as it implies something very intimate and cordial, is above these ceremonious niceties. We may see what people think of the real value of keepsakes, by the humble ones which they do not hesitate to bestow in wills.

Petrarch, it is true, when he bequeathed a winter garment to his friend Boccaccio to study in, apologised for "leaving so poor a memorial to so great a man;" but this was only to show his sense of the other's merits: he knew that the very grace of the apology supplied all the riches it lamented the want of, and that Boccaccio, when he sat enveloped in his warm gown, would feel "wrapped up in his friend," as Montaigne said of his father. Something that has been about a friend's person completes the value of a keepsake. Thus people bequeath their very hearts to friends, or even to places they have been attached to; and this is what gives to a lock of hair a value above all other keepsakes: it is a part of the individual's self. Franklin made no apology when he left Washington his "fine crab-tree walking stick, with a gold head curiously wrought in the form of the cap of liberty."

A book may be thought, not so good a keepsake as some others, because it is not so durable. In the present instance it may be also objected, that this sort of pocketbook has grown too large for the pocket; and that it cannot be so conveniently taken about with us as it might be. But a book will last us one's life if we choose; and as to carrying it always with us, we do not always have any friend at one's side. Those who love a book, and especially the giver of it, will not be deterred by a size like that of the present one from taking it into fields and gardens; and in the house the size gives it an advantage over miniature publications, having more to show for itself, and to be adorned with; not to mention that we can make presents of it to our grandmothers, without insulting their venerable eyesight.

But what renders a book more valuable as a keepsake than almost any other is, that, like a friend, it can talk with and entertain us. And here we have one thing to recommend, which to all those who prize the spirit of books and of regard above the letter, can give to a favourite volume a charm inexpressible. It is this: that where such an affectionate liberty can be taken either in right of playing the teacher, or because the giver of the book is sure of a sympathy in point of taste with the person receiving it, the said giver should mark his or her favourite passages throughout (as delicately as need be), and so present, as it were, the author's and the giver's minds at once. We had once the pleasure of seeing a great poet occupied, for this very purpose, in reading the Fairy Queen, and marking every verse that pleased him.

For our parts, if friends and lovers chose to set their invention to work, and try how far they could make a literary keepsake the representative of all other keepsakes, we are of opinion that they would realize much more than they are aware of, and find it an agreeable pastime instead of a difficulty. It would be very costly, it is true; and in most cases there is as much good taste in avoiding excessive costliness, as there is in giving princely way to it in others. One precious name, or little inscription at the beginning of the volume, where the hand that wrote it is known to be generous in its wishes, if not in its means, is worth all the binding in St. James's. But if our invention were taxed in the style of the Jew of Malta, and we had his rubies and diamonds to pay the cost with, we would pamper one of these keepsakes into such a book, that the beholder of it on a friend's table should not know whether it were the book itself, or the casket that contained it. First, we would have a copy printed on vellum: the cover should be thick with emerald and crystal: keepsakes of all kinds should glitter without and within; hearts in ruby, and fervid letters in opal: there should be illuminations, and miniatures, and crowds of sculpture and arabesque in the smallest compass: a border of the exquisitest flowers on ivory should run round it; and, the easiest thing of all, there should be a crystal with a key to it in the midst, that when the heart was full, the locks of hair might be kissed.

How fortunate for empty hands, that one blessing upon the head can beat all these riches! and yet to imagine it is in some measure to give. The finest new-year's present, that we ever read of, was given by Davenant to the lady of his friend and patron Endymion Porter. See the style in which he makes it, and which Marlowe himself would have exulted to witness:

TO THE LADY OLIVIA PORTER.
A PRESENT UPON A NEW YEAR'S DAY.
Goe! hunt the whiter ermine! and present
His wealthy skin, as this daye's tribute sent
To my Endymion's love; though she be far
More gently smooth, more soft than ermines are!
Goe! climbe that rock! and when thou there hast found
A star, contracted in a diamond,
Give it Endymion's love; whose glorious eyes
Darken the starry jewels of the skies!
Goe! dive into the southern sea! and when
Thou 'ast found (to trouble the nice sight of men)
A swelling pearle, and such whose single worth
Boasts all the wonders which the seas bring forth,
Give it Endymion's love! whose every teare
Would more enrich the skilful jeweller.
How I command! how slowly they obey!
The churlish Tartar will not hunt to-day;
Nor will that lazy, sallow Indian strive
To climbe the rock; nor that dull Negro dive.
Thus poets, like to kings, by trust deceived,
Give oftener, what is heard of, than received.

After all, it is easy to combine with a literary keepsake the most precious of all the keepsakes — hair. A braid of it may be used instead of ribbon to mark the page with, and attached to the book in the usual way of a register. And so, with this return home from our altitudes, we conclude.


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