Thursday, 29 September 2011

I had a phone call from John Murray on Friday.  He said he’d been reading my blog about our new facsimile of South Polar Times. ‘In case you’re interested,’ he said, ‘I’ve got some original glass plates here we inherited from Smith Elder (the publishers of the original facsimiles).’  Of course I was interested, so I called in to see him yesterday. I worked at John Murray for over ten years before joining Folio, so mounting the steps of 50 Albemarle Street always stirs up a cocktail of memories and awakens the ghosts of authors I was lucky enough to meet – John Betjeman and Kenneth Clark, Patrick Leigh Fermor and the redoubtable Dame Freya Stark. (Dame Freya always wore her hair low on one side because – it was said – her ear had been bitten off by a camel.) Here is a photo of the plates, which clearly had been made by Ponting himself from his original negatives. The reflection at the bottom of the picture is of the idiosyncratic dome in John Murray’s waiting room. Just round the corner in Berkeley Square is Maggs Bros, the venerable antiquarian bookseller: it is an extraordinary place, more like a scholarly library than a shop. I was there a few weeks ago talking to Ed Maggs about Doughty’s Travels in Arabia Deserta, which we are considering for a Limited Edition. Ed showed me a remarkable copy of the book (‘so rare that most collectors have never even heard of it’ he said), one of only six copies of the 1921 edition specially printed on large paper for T.E. Lawrence, in lieu of a fee for his introduction to that edition. The book bears the signatures of both Doughty and Lawrence. Ed was hopping with excitement about his new boat, a beautiful 50-foot gaff ketch. We spent last weekend sailing in the Solent, putting the Betty Alan through her paces. Last year we inaugurated a new Book Illustration Competition in conjunction with House of Illustration, which was won by Matthew Richardson - one of his illustrations for Camus' The Outsider is shown here. We have just announced the second annual competition and I’m delighted that Marina Warner and Angela Barrett have agreed to be guest judges. Our new edition of the Golden Cockerel Troilus and Criseyde is nearly ready for press, and we have been carefully checking proofs against our copy of the original. We were interested to find that a few of the engravings are different from the versions included in the definitive edition of Gill’s engravings published by Christopher Skelton in 1983 – presumably they were revised by Gill for re-use in the Canterbury Tales, which appeared later. Here are three examples.