Wednesday, June 6, 2018

358. The Book Collector John Morgan (2)

The Aberdeen book collector John Morgan wrote a memoir of his life that includes paragraphs on book hunting, reading, and his favourite authors.

'Death of Mr John Morgan, Builder'
(Aberdeen Daily Journal, 4 July 1907)
The obituary in the Aberdeen Daily Journal of 4 July 1907 remembers his passion for the works of John Ruskin and Thomas Carlyle, and recalls that of all the interesting letters that Morgan received from Ruskin, three were published in a privately printed book: Letters from John Ruskin to Frederick Furnivall [...] and Other Correspondents (1897), published by the now notorious T.J. Wise, another correspondent of John Morgan.

Morgan wrote about his collection of Wise's publications:

He has issued a series of privately printed books under the name of the Ashley Library, the issue of each being restricted to about thirty copies, four or five of which are generally printed on vellum. At an early stage Mr. Wise invited me to become one of his subscribers, and as a result, I have an almost complete set of his dainty little books, which are rising in value year by year.
During the summer of 1897, Mr. Wise paid his first visit to Scotland, when he stayed several days in Aberdeen, and examined my collection, and expressed his admiration of the order and arrangement of my Library.
(Memoirs, p. 247)

The Ashley Library was called after the road where Wise lived in London. Morgan and Wise made a trip to Deeside, and visited Ballater, Balmoral, and Braemer. The visit was returned once, when Morgan went to Wise's house at Crouch End,

going over his treasures, literary and bibliographical, which were many and varied. He had an unique collection of first editions and manuscripts of the chief Victorian Poets, several of them being inscribed presentation copies. One item of pathetic interest, being the M.S.S. Volume of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's poems, exhumed from his wife's coffin.
(Memoirs, p. 248)

The Ashley Library (c. 1909) [from: The Bibliophile (March 1909)
Wise (1859-1937), with Henry Buxton Forman, had been forging pamphlets that fraudulently bore earlier dates than the known editions. These were sold to collectors like John Morgan, who possessed several of these on vellum. Morgan didn't live to see Wise being exposed as a fraud.

Wise mentioned Morgan in relation to one of his fraudulent publications, Robert Burns, a poem by A.C. Swinburne that was said to be issued for the members of the Burns Centenary Club in 1896. Much later, Wise wrote in his Swinburne bibliography:

The Burns Centenary Club was initiated by John Morgan of Aberdeen in collaboration with Harry Buxton Forman C.B. for the purposes of recognising in a suitable manner the centenary of the Scottish National poet.
(From: A Sequel to An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets by John Carter and Graham Pollard. The Forgeries of H. Buxton Forman & T.J. Wise Re-Examined by Nicolas Barker & John Collins, 1983, p. 236)

Barker & Collins conclude that the Club 'is probably a fiction'. They must be right. If Morgan had initiated such a club, and it involved Wise who he revered as a bibliophile and connoisseur, he certainly would have mentioned the Club in his memoirs, which he didn't.

Rather than buying books from catalogues, dealers, or other collectors, Morgan's most pleasurable way of getting books, was finding them in shops or market places.

As to Book-Hunting, it is wonderful what prizes one may get, if always on the alert. In a search round the Aberdeen Market Gallery one winter evening in 1883, I came on a nice clean copy of William Allingham's Poems, with an autograph inscription from the author to Thomas Woolner the Poet & Sculptor. Surmising from the look of it, that the volume had been stolen, or carelessly led astray, I bought it from the stall-keeper, and returned it to the rightful owner. 

Woolner answered that he was very pleased to have it back, and that the book must have

slipped in accidentally with some others that were being cleared out [...]
(Memoirs, p. 249)

D.G. Rossetti, portrait of Thomas Woolner
Woolner also sent him an inscribed presentation copy of Pygmalion (1881). Morgan owned several other dedication copies related to the Pre-Raphaelite movement, such as dedication copies by Alfred and Emily Tennyson, gift inscriptions by Robert Browning, and autographs by the artist Holman Hunt. But he also collected older books, such as a 1567 quarto from the library of Richard Poole that he found of interest for its 'good deal of scribbling by former owners' (Memoirs, p. 252), and, when he went to live in his new house, Rubislaw, he not only incorporated several stones from the old house that had to be demolished, but also tried to acquire books from its former library:

I had not been many years in the new house of Rublislaw, before I could show at least three volumes, that had been at one time in the Library of the Old House, Viz.- an early copy of Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia, with the autograph of George Skene, a grand uncle of W.F. Skene, Historiographer Royal for Scotland, to whom I sent the book for verification, and his letter is now preserved in the volume, thus linking the past with the present.
(Memoirs, pp. 252-253)

George Skeene (1619-1707)
One of these volumes was acquired for him by a friend during a visit to Holland. 

Morgan bought books and periodicals on book collecting, and corresponded with the authors of books and articles on the subject, such as Alexander Ireland, whose The Book-Lover's Enchiridion (1883) he possessed. He visited personal libraries, such as that of Lord and Lady Aberdeen at Haddo, where the group he was part of 'signed our names in the Visitor's book in the library' (Memoirs, p. 256). At that visit, he met Mary Carlyle Aitken with whom he had corresponded before. Later, he was given 'a very much corrected proof of a page of the History of Friedrich the Great' by a mutual friend, this proof being from his hero Carlyle: 'another link of association with the greatest thinker, and writer, of his age' (Memoirs, p. 257).

Morgan possessed full runs of The Kelmscott and Vale Press books, including the Kelmscott Chaucer, and as we have seen, he commissioned special bindings designed by Ricketts for some of the Vale Press books. Apart from the two Keats volumes (see blog 356), Ricketts also designed a special binding for his VP edition of The Passionate Pilgrim, Songs in Shakespeare's Plays (1896), and The Excellent Narration of the Marriage of Cupide and Psyches (1897), and the latter contains an inscription about the costs:

Book £ 1 . 5 . 0
Binding “3 . 13 . 6
£ 4 . 18 . 6

So, the cost of binding was thrice the price of the book. From the auction catalogue we can conclude that, although he was interested in rare books printed on vellum, Morgan didn't acquire any of the vellum copies of Vale Press books, but was content with the paper copies.

[Thanks are due to David Oswald, Local Studies Librarian, Library and Information Services, Early Intervention and Community Empowerment, Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeen Central Library].