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Source: January 1991 Volume 29 Number 1, Pages 19–24

Mr. Newton "Mutilates" a Book

Hob Borgson

Page 19

"In recent years," A. Edward Newton observed in The Amenities of Book-Collecting, published in 1918, "presentation, or association, books have become the rage, and the reason is plain. Every one is unique, though some are uniquer than others." [Note 1]

Later on he elaborated on this reason. "Of any given [presentation] copy there can hardly be a duplicate," he pointed out. "For the most part, presentation copies are first editions -- plus. Frequently there is a note or comment which sheds biographical light on the author. In the slightest inscription there is a record of a friendship by means of which we can get back of the book to the writer."

As would be expected, in the light of these comments, his collection included many such presentation copies. In his library at "Oak Knoll" in Daylesford were presentation copies of works by J. M. Barrie, Lord Byron, Robert Browning, Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Oliver Goldsmith, Thomas Hardy, Charles Lamb, Edgar Allan Poe, George Bernard Shaw, Algernon Swinburne, Alfred Lord Tennyson, William Thackeray, Henry Trollope, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, and others. (Of presentation copies of the works of Charles Dickens, he noted in The Amenities , "I now possess twenty-one, and it is with presentation Dickenses as with elephants-- a good many go to a dozen; and [yet] I lack and sadly need -- Shall I give a list? No, the prices are going up fast enough without stimulation from me.")

Page 20

By the same token, the comments he made in his inscriptions in copies of his own books are also in many instances "a record of friendship" and "get back of the book to the writer". Most of them, however, are not from presentation copies. As he explained on page xii of the "Essay Introductory" of his first book, "I trust my friends will not think me churlish when I say it is not my intention to turn a single volume of this my book into a presentation volume. Whatever circulation it may have must be upon its own merits. Any one who sees this book in the hands of a reader, on the library table, or on the shelves of the collector, may be sure that some one, either wise or foolish as the event may prove, has paid a substantial sum for it, either in the current coin of the realm, or per chance in thrift stamps." (His business instincts are also reflected in several of the inscriptions he wrote.)

A. Edward Newton's first book was The Amenities of Book-Collecting, and Kindred Affections, a collection of essays on book collecting, English literature, politics, travel, and personal reminiscences. It was published by The Atlantic Monthly Press in Boston and was released on November 11, 1918, a date, as he noted in one of his inscriptions, that was not without historic significance otherwise. Between 1918 and 1937, eight impressions or editions of the book were published.

Its success and acceptance by readers was obviously gratifying to the author, as reflected in the inscriptions he wrote for various friends and literary associates. Here are a few of them. They come from a catalog published by Bob Fleck, the proprietor of the Oak Knoll Book Store in Newark, Delaware, and, in his own words, "an enthusiastic collector oft he works of A. Edward Newton from the days that I first graduated from college", and from copies owned by Louise Kneass, a former neighbor of Newton in Daylesford. They are reproduced here with their permission.

I regret that my resolution, see page xii, prevented my giving this book to its charming owner. A. Edward Newton. June 9, 1919

I take pleasure in advising Mr. M.N. Costikyan that this book was written for fun and should be read, if at all, for the same purpose. A. Edward Newton Sept. 1919

Problem. Find the dangling infinitive on page . . . A. Edw. Newton Dec. 25, 1919

To find this simple little volume in the city of Buffalo means much to this amateur author. A. Edward Newton Nov. 5, 1924

I hope whoever may buy this book will enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it. I can say no more. A. Edw. Newton December 20, 1926

The amazing success of this book is very gratifying to the author. A. Edward Newton. November 14, 1926

Page 21

This book was the first of a large number of 'personal' books on this very fascinating subject. A. Edward Newton. Nov. 3, 1927

Inscribed for Mr. George H. Kerr who will, I hope, enjoy reading the first fruits of an amateur author. A. Edward Newton

This 'Amenities' is the mother of a large family and it alwaysp leases the author to find one of his books in a distinguished library such as [State Chief Justice] Mr. Moschzisker's. A. Edward Newton Jan. 29, 1932

Who would suppose that this book would become so famous? if I may say so. A. Edward Newton

An old book which made its initial bow on Armistice Day 1918. How well I remember both events! A. Edward Newton March 1936

The last time I saw this first edition 'with all prints' in a catalog it was priced at $75.00. A. Edward Newton

In 1935 The Amenities of Book-Collecting was also published in a Modern Library edition. The first copy off the press was presented by Bennett Cerf to Mabel Zahn, a long-time friend and literary associate of Newton, with the inscription "For Mabel Zahn, who first gave me the idea of adding this book to the Modern Library. Gratefully, Bennett Cerf November 13, 1935". To this inscription Newton added simply

And a damn good idea it was, too, for Modern Library. A. Edward Newton

His second book, A Magnificent Farce and Other Diversions of a Book Collector, appeared three years later, in September 1921. A collection of twelve essays on various subjects, among them the trial of Warren Hastings, for whose estate in England Daylesford was named, it too was published by The Atlantic Monthly Press.

To my friend Felix E. Schelling now enjoying an international reputation as a scholar. A. Edward Newton Oct. 28. 1921

Much study is a weariness to the flesh! Much study, observe, I have given books such study as has produced not weariness but pleasure. A. Edward Newton

You, kind or it may be suspicious reader, shall judge the merits of this book. A. Edward Newton. Jan. 25, 1922

A book's life is like a butterfly. When the run of the farce is over it is forgotten. A. Edward Newton. Jany 17, 1922

Page 22

Yet, in another copy he noted,

I do not think altogether the worse of a book for having survived the author by a generation or two.

Doctor Johnson; A Play, a small book of 120 pages - Newton described it as an essay rather than a play - appeared in 1923, also published by The Atlantic Monthly. (Newton felt that "considering the merit of the book" its sale had "not been good enough".)

The great success of this Play is entirely due to the strength of the cast rather than to any merit on the part of the producer.

The completion of this play - so called - it is really an essay on Dr. Johnson, gave me the greatest pleasure. A. Edward Newton .

A word to you John C. Eckel out of the mouth of my friend Dr. Johnson. 'Sir,' he said, 'a man should keep his friendships inconstant repair. Now will you be good? A. Edward Newton May 8, 1923

Mr. Howard C. Lewis with the compliments of A. Edw. Newton June 25, 1922 'Sir, ' said Dr. Johnson, 'I look upon a day as lost in which I do not make a new acquaintance. '

(By this time Newton apparently felt that the "merits" of his work had been established, as it appears that this inscription is from a "presentation volume".)

Another presentation copy ~ to whom is apparently not known -- has an interesting inscription:

To James Boswell, Esq. with the compliments of A. Edward Newton, January 29, 1929

Two years later, in September 1925, The, Greatest Book in the World and Other Papers was published by Little, Brown and Company for The Atlantic Monthly Press. It is a collection of fourteen essays on various topics.

In presenting the galley-proofs of the book to Mabel Zahn, Newton wrote, "The end of all scribblement is to amuse," Judging from several of the comments he made in inscriptions in copies of the book, it would appear that he thought rather highly of this particular "scribblement".

I think this is a good book of its kind: four editions in four months seems to prove that I am not entirely alone in this opinion. A. Edward Newton January 9, 1925

Page 23

Mr. W. J. Beidler with the author's compliments. And not a bad book, if I do say so. A. Edward Newton Nov. 24, 1925

This, Mr. Tillson, is my best book, I think. A. Edward Newton 21 Sept. 1933

And, finally,

It was a proud moment for the amateur author when he saw the title essay of this volume in Braille. A. Edward Newton

The Book Collecting Game, with fifteen essays, was published by Little, Brown and Company in October 1926. Newton's love for book collecting and books is reflected not only throughout the book, but also in the inscriptions he made in copies of it.

Book-Collecting, it's a great game, as I have tried to tell the world. A. Edward Newton Nov. 19, 1928 mutilated for Mrs. George B. Kneass

(On several occasions he referred to his inscriptions as "mutilations".)

And I repeat! Book-Collecting is a great game. A. Edward Newton 9 May 1929
And on July 20, 1930, [in a second inscription] I say it again A. E. N.

In 1929 the first edition of A Tourist in Spite of Himself, a collection of nine essays on Newton's travel experiences in Europe and the mid-East, was published by Little, Brown and Company. With thirty-four illustrations by Gluyas Williams, it too was quite successful and during the next four years went through eight impressions or editions.

This is a beautiful book and I don't mind saying that I am proud of it. Signed for Mr. Grobasky by A. Edw. Newton, the author

Mr. and Mrs. George B. Kneass - these adventures in foreign parts with the compliments of A. Edward Newton on his 74th birth[day].

Mr. Frank Seeman If a man's wife makes him travel, ?? is the place I know. A. Edward Newton

They tell me that this book is the success of the season. I hope I am not misinformed. A. Edward Newton

Page 24

It was followed in 1933 by End Papers, also published by Little, Brown, a collection of twenty-two essays, or "literary recreations" as Newton described them in the sub-title of the book. (Several of them had appeared previously as the Newtons' little blue Christmas greetings booklet.)

John T. Curtis, Esq. with the kind regards of A. Edward Newton Nov. 25, 1933. It is with books as it is with men, a very few play a very great part. A. Edward Newton

When I read a good book for the first time, I feel that I have made a new friend. A. Edward Newton

I no longer want to be an angel and my wife assures me there is little danger of it. A. Edward Newton

Darby Day and Other Adventures was a collection of sixteen essays. It came out the following year, again published by Little, Brown and Company. The first two inscriptions are from presentation copies.

This is the first copy I have seen of this book and I confess that it pleases me. A. Edward Newton 12 Sept. 1934 [for Mabel Zahn]

Good old Carolyn [Wells] from her always devotedly A. Edward Newton Sept. 14, 1934

George B. Kneass, from the author with all good wishes July 4, 1935. The anniversary of a great mistake. AEN

Finally, a small volume of only 116 pages, Bibliography and Pseudo-Bibliography, was published in October 1936 by the University of Pennsylvania Press in Philadelphia. The first inscription is again from a presentation copy.

Mable Zahn: 'Dear Mable', as of old. Don't tell anyone what a trifle I am presenting to you. A. Edward Newton Oct. 15, 1936

To my great surprise a second edition or printing was called before the date of publication. A. Edward Newton 'Oak Knoll' October 18, 1936

It was A. Edward Newton's last book. After suffering from cancer for three years, he died on September 29, 1940 at the age of 77.

1. Additional information on A. Edward Newton can be found in "When One of America's Leading Book Collectors Lived in Daylesford" in the January 1979 issue of the Quarterly [Volume XVII, Number 1],


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