Parkman D. Howe

I suppose a collector begins for any one of a thousand reasons, and each probably thinks his own is the best. I know that I do, for I inherited the disease from my father. He started his book collection while a Harvard freshman in 1864, and often went without lunches to buy a book which struck his fancy. I don't know what his first purchase was, but I well remember the last. He had collected at least one book from the library of each President of the United States with the exception of William Henry Harrison. Harrison's house with all his belongings had burned to the ground a short time before his death, and the search seemed almost hopeless. But one day he received a letter from a lady living in California saying that she had heard of his collection from the widow of President Benjamin Harrison and would like to sell a book given to her grandfather by William Henry, containing a statement in Harrison's hand that it had come from his library. My father immediately wrote to her that he would take it. The book arrived at his house two days after his death. This collection, with other of his books, is now in the Houghton Library at Harvard University.

During his later years my father told me much about his collecting experiences, but most important to me were his anecdotes about New England authors of the 19th Century, many of whom he had known (he was closest to John G. Whittier, who had been his father's classmate at Haverhill Academy in Haverhill, Massachusetts). This is why I started to collect the important authors in that field.

With great good luck, I began in 1932 when times were not good and people were selling books they had cherished for many years. Mr. Charles E. Goodspeed was still active, Mr. P. K. Foley was just retiring, and the younger men — Mr. George T. Goodspeed, Mr. John S. Van E. Kohn, and Mr. David A. Randall — were coming along fast. My chief competitor was Mr. Carroll A. Wilson, who had a ten-year head start, but it was easy to begin with the commoner books of the writers I was after.

Early in the game, I was confronted with letters and manuscripts, and had to decide whether to collect books or autographs. I felt that each was a full-time job — to say nothing about the financial side — so I determined to be content with books. Later I amended this policy by trying to get one manuscript of each author. Inevitably a better one would come along, and I would fall for that too, promising to dispose of the first one later on. This worked in some cases, and in others I just haven't got around to it. So far as letters are concerned, I have stuck fairly well to my guns.

I have now been collecting for some thirty years and with a Very few exceptions have all the first book editions of the principal authors of my period. Of course many leaflets and pamphlets containing first printings are missing. Some are known by but one copy, locked up forever in an institution. This is a problem, but the almost-impossible has happened once in a while.

One acquisition I like to remember is The Sycamores (Nantucket, 1857), by Whittier. The ballad tells of an Irishman, Hugh Tallant, who was the first immigrant of his nationality in Haverhill (Whittier refers to him as "the rustic Irish gleeman" ). Shortly after his arrival in the early 1700's, he planted a number of Sycamore trees along the Merrimack River. These prospered, and some of them were pointed out to me when I was Visiting relatives there in the early 1900's.

The poem first appeared in the 11 June 1857 number of the National Era, a weekly newspaper published in Washington, D.C. It was seen by Miss Caroline L. Tallant, a schoolteacher in Hartford, Connecticut, who had migrated from Nantucket and was one of Hugh's descendants. She asked Whittier's permission to have a few copies printed for friends and relatives and he agreed.

Miss Tallant was planning to Visit her relatives in Nantucket on Thanksgiving Day, and she set about having twelve copies printed. The result was a frail little book in wrappers, measuring by 2 1/4". It is in fact so frail that it is amazing that four copies of this first book printing are still extant. So much for the book itself. Now let us turn to the chase. The first copy that I saw was in the library of the Nantucket Historical Society, where it was greatly prized. I inquired about the Tallant family and discovered that the last member had left the island a few years earlier. I continued my search wherever there seemed to be a chance of success. Finally I heard of an architect named Hugh Tallant living in New York City. Could he be a descendant of the immigrant? On my next trip there I got his address from the city directory. Arriving in a taxi, I found that he had departed ten days before, leaving no forwarding address.

After further search, I discovered that he had moved to Atlanta, Georgia. I wrote to him describing the book, listing its few recorded sale prices, and saying what I would give for a copy in good condition. He answered that while he knew of it, he did not own a copy. He added, however, that he had forwarded my letter to his sister on the West Coast, who might have one. After what seemed an interminable time, I had a letter from Dr. Alice W. Tallant of Seattle, Washington, announcing that she had a copy of the book, would accept my offer, and was sending it on to me. The book arrived and to my great delight proved in excellent condition.

Another time I was in my favorite haunt, Goodspeed's Book Shop, passing the time of day with George T. Goodspeed, when a man came in with books to sell. Mr. Goodspeed excused himself and asked me to wait. On his return he showed me a copy of the so-called second issue of the first edition of Longfellow's Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimage Beyond the Sea, No. 1 (Boston, 1833), which he had bought. I had a copy of what was then considered the first issue, and he persuaded me that I really needed the second also.

A year or so later one of my collector friends asked to see my copies of Outre-Mer. I handed him the "first issue" from the shelves. While he was looking it over I took down the "second issue," and discovered to my amazement that the publisher's name, Hilliard, Gray, & Co., was missing from the front wrapper, the title-page, and the copyright notice. Later I found some minor textual differences.

The explanation is found in Mr. Lawrence Thompson's book Young Longfellow. It seems that Longfellow, in his youthful enthusiasm, had five hundred copies printed in Brunswick, Maine, before he had found a publisher. With the help of Griffin, the printer, he got Hilliard, Gray to publish it and their name was filled in at the required places. But at least one copy went astray without the imprint, and it seems likely that I inadvertently acquired the very copy Griffin took to Boston to inveigle a publisher.

On one of my frequent trips to New York during the 1930 depression years, I had lunch with a book collecting friend who specialized in Whittier. He mentioned having called on Mrs. J. Chester Chamberlain, widow of the great collector of New England authors whose books were sold by the Anderson Auction Company in 1900. He said she had purchased a number of her husband's books at the sale and was considering selling them. Immediately after lunch I telephoned her and was invited to her apartment. Mrs. Chamberlain showed me with understandable pride her copy of Longfellow's The New England Tragedy (Boston, 1860). She explained that this had been her husband's favorite book, and she could not bear to see it sold. She, therefore, bid it in at the sale. I left with it tucked under my arm.

The book was the prose forerunner of the first part of The New England Tragedies (Boston, 1868). In his journal Longfellow wrote: "March. 14, 1859. Fields came out and I read him two acts of Wenlock Christison, with which I do not think he was much struck." Only two copies are known, this and one in the Longfellow collection in the Houghton Library.

But not all my collecting turned out so well. Once when I was still a novice I had an urgent call from a Boston dealer. I dropped everything and went to his shop where he showed me about twenty first editions of Emerson, each inscribed to his next-door neighbor and close friend, Edmund Hosmer.  I had ordinary copies of them all, but I picked out two of the cheapest for their association interest. The dealer urged me to reconsider and include the Essays ( Boston, 1841) and Essays: Second Series (Boston, 1844). In my innocence I told him that the price was much too high. He sold these two within the hour to somebody else who put them up for sale at the Parke-Bernet Galleries, where they fetched twelve times the price at which they had been offered to me.

However, I profited from this experience a few years later when descendants of James Russell Lowell decided to dispose of part of his library. I was given the first opportunity at them, and was able to get several most interesting association copies. Among them are three first editions of T. B. Aldrich containing presentation inscriptions to Lowell. The Story of a Bad Boy (Boston, 1870) is inscribed "A very humble little book for Mr. Lowell" and is a particular favorite of mine. Other inscribed presentation copies are three from Ralph Waldo Emerson, three from Oliver Wendell Holmes, and two from Henry W. Longfellow. One of the Longfellow books is the privately printed edition of twelve copies of his translation of Dante. The three volumes were published in 1865, 1866 and 1867, and each is inscribed to Lowell. In addition to these I got the Quinti Horatii Flacci Opera (Boston, 1833), which is quite evidently a text book used by Lowell at Harvard. The fly-leaves and margins are completely covered with notes, remarks, and sketches. Then, of a slightly later period, The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley (London, 1839); The Complete Poetical Works of William Wordsworth (Philadelphia, 1837); The Complete Poems of William Shakespeare (London [n.d.] ); and The Seraphim, and Other Poems, by Elizabeth B. Barrett (London, 1838), all with many notes and poems written to or about his future wife, Maria White, on the margins and fly-leaves. I particularly like his Homer (Basle, 1551). In a letter of 13 June 1840 (see, H. E. Scudder's James Russell Lowell, A Biography, Boston, 1901, Vol. I, pp. 77-78), to his friend and Harvard classmate George B. Loring, he mentions Maria White, whom he had visited in Watertown the day before, and goes on to say: "On the mantel is a moss rose she gave me and which when it withers I shall enshrine in my Homer." The moss rose is still enshrined "in my Homer," but now in my library.

One of the rarities I was especially lucky to find is a copy of William Cullen Bryant's The Embargo, or Sketches of the Times: A Satire. By a Youth of Thirteen (Boston, 1808) . So far as I know, this is the only copy now in private hands. Another is Emerson's Letter from the Rev. R. W. Emerson, to the Second Church and Society (Boston [1832]), in both variants. One is an eight-page leaflet, self-wrappered, and the other a broadside measuring 18" by 12", printed on satin within an ornamental border. Both were printed by I. R. Butts of Boston. Yet another is the first printing, after that in the Atlantic Monthly (October 1863) , of Whittier's Barbara Frietchie. Apparently only two copies of this four-page pamphlet were printed — if the imprint means what it says: "Published at the Book Rooms, 200 Mulberry-street, N.Y. Fifth Series. No. 14. Two Copies."

My primary collecting interest has been in association copies, and I list below some unusual ones.

Little by little I have garnered all the privately-printed Henry Adams books. The one that appeals to me most is Memoirs of Marau Taaroa Last Queen of Tahiti ([n.p.] 1893) . Having printed them "ultrissimo-privately," Adams sent the copies to her for correction. There were probably ten copies in all, of which I have located five in the United States. My copy has her corrections in the margins. Whether any copies are still in Tahiti is anybody's guess.

In my Richard H. Dana, Jr., collection is the first issue of Two Years Before the Mast (New York, 1840), presented to Dr. G. C. Shattuck, the family physician, who prescribed a long sea trip for Dana's illness. There is also a copy of the first English (Moxon) edition presented to Miss Sarah Watson, his fiancée, and a copy of the second American edition (Boston, 1869) , presented to Mrs. Sarah Watson Dana, his wife.

Another of my great favorites is the first edition of Science and Health (Boston, 1875) , presented by Mary Baker Glover to her son George W. Glover, whom she had not seen or heard of for many years. Accompanying this are presentation copies of the second and sixth editions to two of Mrs. Eddy's early followers.

Among the Emerson books are copies of An Oration Delivered Before the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Cambridge, August 31, 1837; An Address Delivered Before the Senior Class in Divinity College, Cambridge, Sunday Evening, 15 July, 1838; and Nature: Addresses, and Lectures (Boston, 1849) — all presented to his late brother's fiancée, Miss Elizabeth Hoar.

I have the first English edition of Transformation, Or, the Romance of Monte Beni (London, 1860), inscribed "William D. Ticknor from his friend Nath'l Hawthorne" in Vol. I and with similar inscriptions in Vols. II and III. These are apparently the proof sheets sent by Hawthorne from England for simultaneous American publication as The Marble Faun, and bound in Boston by the recipient.

In the Holmes section is a copy of Songs in Many Keys (Boston, 1862), the dedication of which reads: "To the most indulgent of readers, the kindest of critics, My Beloved Mother, all that is least unworthy of her in this Volume is dedicated, by her affectionate son." The copy is inscribed "Mother from OWH."

The inscription in Longfellow's first book of poems, Voices of the Night (Cambridge, 1839), reads: "To my mother, with my most affectionate remembrance, December 8, 1839." With this is one of four known copies of The Hanging of the Crane (Boston, 1874), original sheets, unstitched, as issued, uncut, in the original wrappers, inscribed to Longfellow's wife's half-brother, W. S. Appleton.

My copy of Uncle Tom's Cabin: or, Life Among the Lowly (Boston and Cleveland, 1852) is inscribed "Dr. Hitchcock from his friend the author." Dr. Roswell Dwight Hitchcock succeeded Mrs. Stowe's husband as Professor of Natural and Revealed Religion at Bowdoin College in 1852. I know of but one other presentation copy of this book.

Of my two copies of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (Boston and Cambridge, 1849) one was Thoreau's own and the other is inscribed: "To the 'Unknown' ( but guessed at) Critic of the Harvard Magazine, from the Author, Jan. 15th 1855." The recipient, E. Morton, has written underneath "Sent me by Mr. Thoreau in consequence of a screed in The Harvard Magazine for Dec. 54."

Among the Whittier books is Moll Pitcher, a Poem (Boston, 1832). It is the only presentation copy I have heard of, and is inscribed "Miss H. Minot, from the author." Miss Harriet Minot was a classmate of Whittier's at Haverhill Academy, and remained a close friend for many years. Whittier published the book anonymously, and it was a long time before he would acknowledge it. Accompanying the book is a letter from him to Miss Eliza Page, a friend of his and of Miss Minot's, vehemently denying his authorship. My copy of the Biography of Henry Clay, by G. D. Prentice (Hartford, 1831), is inscribed: "Jos. E. Hussey, from his nephew John G. Whittier, 11th of 8th Mo. 1832." It was this copy which confirmed the suspicion that Whittier wrote a substantial part of the book (see, T. F. Currier's A Bibliography of John Greenleaf Whittier, Cambridge, 1937, pp. 12-16). In 1835 Whittier and the English abolitionist George Thompson were mobbed in Concord, New Hampshire, and took shelter in the house of his old friend George Kent. My copy of Mogg Megone, A Poem (Boston, 1836) is inscribed to Kent. The book is scarce even without association, since Whittier attempted to suppress it.

When I had acquired first editions of most of the books of my chosen authors, my collecting slowed almost to a standstill, and after taking thought I decided to branch into some of the earlier New England writers. I spent a good deal of time studying them and prepared a list of their outstanding works.

While my books in this field are small in number, I have been able to get some of the important ones. Two are Anne Bradstreet's The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung up in America (London, 1650) and the much rarer first American edition, Several Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning (Boston, 1678) containing a number of poems not in the English edition. The authoress came with the Puritans to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630 and her book was the first collection of verse written in America. Among her descendants were Richard H. Dana, Wendell Phillips, and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Another desirable book is Cotton Mather's Magnalia Christi Americana: or, the Ecclesiastical History of New-England (London, 1702). Mine is a large-paper copy with the Boston "errata" laid in. In addition to his fame as preacher and author, Mather is remembered for his part in the persecution of the Salem witches, and as a result of his perseverance my seven-times-great-grandmother went to the gallows. That he had one of the largest collections of scientific books in America, numbering some four thousand Volumes, is of interest to bookmen.

In addition to the excitement of the chase and the pleasure of handling good books, there is a more rewarding side of the book game in the associations and friendships one makes. As I look back, the late Carroll A. Wilson comes first to my mind. He was my mentor, guide, and friend for many years. He taught me much about collecting in general and the New England authors in particular, and I could always call on him for any information I needed. To cap his kindnesses, he left me by his will the choice of any five of his Whittier books. I shall always have a Very deep feeling for him.

Mr. C. Waller Barrett, who has brought together that wonderful collection of American literature at the University of Virginia, is another great collector whom I have been privileged to know. Once when he heard that his order for a Bryant first edition I needed very badly had arrived an hour before mine, he gallantly stepped aside in my favor. Not all collectors are so gracious.

My association with the bibliographical fraternity has been of great Value. My first contact was with the late T. Franklin Currier, Associate Librarian of Harvard College, while he was working on his Whittier bibliography. We spent many happy days checking and re-checking Whittier first editions. When he started on a Holmes bibliography, I again worked with him and, after his death, with Miss Eleanor M. Tilton, who finished the bibliography. My pleasure is continuing in my association with Mr. Jacob Blanck, who is now in the midst of his monumental Bibliography of American Literature.

Various organizations to which I have belonged have given added zest to my collecting. They include the American Antiquarian Society, the Boston Athenaeum, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the Visiting Committee to the Harvard Library, all possessing priceless and irreplaceable books, manuscripts, and memorabilia. The directors, the librarians, and the staffs of each have been an inspiration, a source of expert knowledge, and a pleasure to me. In a lighter vein, the Club of Odd Volumes has furnished much enjoyment to me as one of the Boston fraternity of collectors.

These last thirty years have been full of wonderful experiences, and I hope for a continuation of my Odyssey for a while.

(Reprinted from "Contemporary Collectors XXXVI: New England Authors," in The Book Collector, Winter 1963.)

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The banner graphic above was derived from The Swimming Hole, a painting by Thomas Cowperthwaite Eakins.   Eakins' paintings were influential among the New England writers of the later 19th and early 20th centuries among the holdings of the Parkman Dexter Howe Library.