Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Christmas gift for Frederick W. Skiff

The writing in the book featured here comes from two sources--the author and the owner of the book. Further, the book was a Christmas gift from the author, as documented in the writing of both Frederick W. Skiff (owner) and Lilian Whiting (author).

The book is The Joy That No Man Taketh From You, by Lilian Whiting; Little, Brown, and Company; Boston (1907). The author's inscription:
To Frederick W. Skiff, Esq. with grateful appreciation of his most kind courtesy & the faithful regards of Lilian Whiting, Boston. Christmastide, 1916.

And she didn't stop there. On the next page (blank page before the half-title page) she quotes a passage from William Vaughn Moody:

From wounds and sore defeat
I made my battles stay,
Winged sandals for my feet,
I wove of my delay.

I guess it will be impossible to know what, if any, meaning that passage held for Mr. Skiff. Perhaps it was just something Ms. Whiting came across, liked, and thought to amend to her inscription.

And although Ms. Whiting thoroughly documented the presentation to "To Mr. Frederick W. Skiff, Esq." and the year and time of year with "Christmastide, 1916," Skiff desired to repeat the information in his own hand above his bookplate (and a touch on the bookplate):
Presented to me by Miss Whiting Christmas 1916 F.W.S.
That line of penciled inscription and its location is the icing on the cake for me.

Frederick W. Skiff (1867-1947), of Portland, Oregon, was a notable bibliophile and prolific collector of Americana. He also authored a few books: Adventures in Americana: Recollections of Forty Years Collecting Books, Furniture, China, Guns and Glass, Metropolitan Press, Portland, Oregon (1935) and Landmarks and Literature: An American Travelogue, also by Metropolitan Press (1937).

After Skiff died in 1947, his collection went to the San Francisco auction house of Butterfield & Butterfield, in San Francisco. The auction catalog (left) featured Skiff's bookplate.

William Fowler Hopson (1849-1935) was the Connecticut-born, American artist/engraver who created Skiff's ornate bookplate. Hopson was a well-known and well-respected artist, drawn (pardon the pun) to bookplate illustration. And if you've got a late 19th-century Webster's Unabridged Dictionary lying around, you might find between the covers a few thousand engravings by Hopson, who was commissioned to do the work.

A good bit of bookish history here thanks to the collective provenance provided by the writing found in this book.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Remembering JFK

November Twenty Six Nineteen Hundred Sixty Three is the title of a 1963 poem by Wendell Berry, comprising a single volume. Ben Shahn's illustrations were added to this 1964 Limited Edition publication by George Braziller.

The poem memorializes President Kennedy, who was assassinated November 22, 1963 and laid to rest on the 25th of November. The next day, November 26, Berry begins his elegy: "We know the winter earth upon the body of the young president, and the early dark falling..." Berry and artist Shahn both signed this limited edition copy of the book, which makes the book collectible.

But it's the commemorative lines in a gift inscription from the book's previous owner that make the book truly appreciable in the context of cultural reaction to a written text. The sentiment of both poet and book owner symbolizes and echoes what a nation felt and struggled with in the aftermath of the death of a very popular president.

To commemorate the greatest personal tragedy we have ever known together--November 22, 1963.

For Elizabeth because I love her more than life itself and because we both--if from afar--loved John, Jr., Caroline, and Jacqueline, and J.F.K.

May 18, 1964

A newspaper clipping about the death of JFK was also laid in the book.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Writing about writing in books

Ain't nothin' new under the sun. I'm discovering that writing about writing in books, while new to me, is not new per se. But it has been referred to as one of the most dynamic new fields of study about book history.

I now have two books in my library that deal with the subject of writing in books: Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books, by H.J. Jackson (Yale, 2001) and Owners, Annotators and the Signs of Reading, by various contributors (Oak Knoll Press and the British Library, 2005).

These titles are scholarly studies (this blog is not, but this blogger is fascinated with the subject!) of primarily antiquarian books and examine the reading culture of the day through the annotations left behind by those affected enough by the material to do so. One of the goals of such research is gaining an understanding or better perspective of the context in which readers throughout history have interacted with contemporary writing. Such insight can lead to a deeper understanding of book-trade history.

As books enter the digital age, rendering obsolete the marginalia and annotation of texts, this academic research may also inform us about what we have already lost in our culture and portend what we stand to lose.

Jackson's book, Marginalia, is hailed as a "pioneering work--the first to examine the phenomenon of marginalia." Having only read the author's Introduction to this book, I can say that I like her style of writing with bits of humor and use of modern culture for frames of reference. Jackson's writing feels more accessible than the more formal conference papers of the other book mentioned. Her book has the better chance of the two in reaching a broader audience, but both are still concerned with a very narrow field of academic research.

Conference essays comprise Owners, Annotators and the Signs of Reading. The papers are from then 26th annual conference on book-trade history, held in December 2004, at Swedenborg House in Bloomsbury and, for the last time, at Birbeck College. H.J. Jackson, author of Marginalia, is also a contributor to this book.

This book's Introduction includes a paragraph that starts "How books should be read..." I stopped right there and got my pencil out. Instant recall from 10th grade English class made me do it. If I don't remember anything else from that class, I'll always remember Mrs. Brennan saying to her students more than 35 years ago that she could never read a book without a pencil and she encouraged her students to do the same thing. Write in the margins, underline passages, annotate. And so I reread the Introduction with a pencil in hand and noted my thoughts in writing.

One passage that puzzles me:
Annotation is likely to be, in all periods, a vital clue to the reader's thought processes in the mysterious act of reading.
I underlined mysterious and added a bit of marginalia with a question mark and suggestion of the word artful instead. There is a science to reading, surely, but in the context of this book and field of study, it seems that the art of reading, with respect to reader reaction and interaction with the text, is what yields the greatest insight to cultural and book history. Perhaps I don't understand the context in which the author views reading as mysterious. I'll have to give that one some more thought and annotation.

In addition to the books I have found on the subject of writing in books, I have also found various sites on the Internet that deal with the subject in one way or another. And all these sources give new meaning to the phrase Reading and Writing.|level=3-4|pageid=3221-4329

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The first Bishop of Brownsville, Texas

I found the inscription above in a copy of the book, The Council, Reform and Reunion, by Hans Kung (Sheed & Ward, 1961). The book deals with the Catholic Church and ecumenical issues. The presentation signature, an unusual name, inspired a quick search for any connection to the author or the Catholic Church.

I found two prominent figures by the name of Adolph Marx. I was able to rule out this guy below pretty quickly. Harpo was not Catholic Bishop material, considering he was Jewish and didn't talk much (not at all in his movies).

The Adolph Marx who signed this book was the first Bishop of Brownsville, Texas. The photo below and following information were found in an online article by Travis Whitehead of the Brownsville Herald.

Bishop Adolph Marx, of Cologne, Germany, was appointed Brownsville's first bishop on July 6, 1965 and installed at his post Sept. 2.

"Shortly after he was installed as bishop, he left for Rome to attend the meetings of the Second Vatican Council," said Brenda Nettles Riojas, spokesperson for the Brownsville diocese.

The Second Vatican Council took place from 1962-1965 and was attended by bishops from throughout the world, said the Rev. Robert Maher, vicar general of the diocese and pastor at St. Joseph's Church in Edinburg.

"Pope John XXIII, who convened the council, said that he saw the secularized world in many ways in a state of spiritual poverty, and he saw that the church possessed a treasure of spiritual riches bequeathed by Christ," Maher said. "So he wanted to find new ways to bring the riches of the church to people today. And so he called for an updating of the church."

Marx's attendance of such a notable event would be short-lived, however; he died of a heart attack Nov. 1.
The article also mentions that Marx had been the Auxiliary Bishop in Corpus Christi, Texas. This information erased any doubt that this Marx was the one who signed the book because the book also contained this presentation card from Marx, which identifies him as Auxiliary Bishop of Corpus Christi (1962):

Friday, September 17, 2010

Fred Bason's 2nd Diary

I have a copy of Fred Bason's 2nd Diary, by Fred Bason, of course, but edited and with a Preface by L.A.G. Strong. The book was published in London by Wingate, 1952.

Fred Bason was a Cockney bookseller who published four diaries, among other works, about bookselling and his life. Known for his sense of humor, he had this to write to an anonymous reader of a copy of his 2nd diary (my copy now):

This is sold at a loss in a genuine endeavour to make one new friend. I am now entirely alone in this world--& that situation isn't pleasant.

There are said to be over 30 good laughs in this book. If you do not laugh I hope you will soon be well!

Very Sincerely
Fred Bason

I did laugh. Read more about Fred Bason in this 1951 Time Magazine review of his first diary.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Things which the human mind cannot conceive

"Things which the human mind cannot conceive" is what a young student wrote in the back of this textbook, English Literature: A Guide to the Best Reading, by Edwin L. Miller, A.M. (J.B. Lippincott, 1917). He or she then provides a numbered list of such weighty matters:

1. Absolute
2. God
3. Time
4. Space
5. Mind
6. Force
7. Matter
8. Life

The writer of this list started to add a ninth item, but "the mind could not conceive" it to even list it, perhaps. This list sounds more appropriate for Philosophy 101, but it must have factored into one author's work and, therefore, a lesson that prompted this note taking. And underlining. And margin notes. The book is full of blue ink all the way through. Very studious this young person from around 1917.

The textbook's author was a high school principal in Detroit, so this was likely a high school textbook. The handwritten list at the back of the book, whether conceived by the student or dictated by a teacher, contains those inconceivable items that philosphers throughout the ages have tried to conceive. Did a high school student in Detroit in 1917 stand a chance?

For more on this book and its author: Archaeolibris

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dorothy Parker inscription

Today is writer Dorothy Parker's birthday. She was born in 1893 and died in 1967. One of my best finds on the bookscouting trail was a beat-up copy of After Such Pleasures, a 1933 collection of short stories. The torn and soiled book, which I later found a jacket for, belied the beauty inside--an inscription of gratitude from Dorothy Parker to someone at Presbyterian Hospital (New York?) for being "so darned nice."

I wrote on the Archaeolibris blog about how I found the book. Later, when I found the jacket, I added this post to the blog. Below is a little information repeated from those posts.

Signed copies of Parker's books are scarce, even more so for this title. For the cheap price of a junk book, this bargain table copy became my copy and I brought it home to research the mystery surrounding the inscription.

Parker inscribed the book:
"To Helen DeWitt-- Who was so darn nice to me-- Gratefully, Dorothy Parker Presbyterian Hospital January 16- (I think)"
I wish she had added the year to the date. It could be a contemporary inscription with regard to the book's second printing in 1933. Or it could be from Parker's last years when she was frequently in and out of hospitals--the 1960s. The ink would indicate a fountain pen, which would have been more consistent with the 1930s, though.

What of Helen DeWitt? She took good care of Parker at Presbyterian Hospital (New York, I assume), so likely she was a nurse or maybe just someone who crossed paths with Parker in a meaningful way that day. I also wonder if DeWitt already had the book and asked Parker to sign it, or did Parker send it to her as a thank you? And why that book?

Clues for nailing down the background on this inscription are thin, to say the least. I have a copy of her biography, You Might As Well Live, by John Keats (Simon & Schuster, 1970) and have researched it for clues. All I could find out about hospital stays is what I reported above--that she was a frequent patient in her final years in the 1960s. She lived from 1893-1967. A sardonic sense of humor and razor-sharp wit most often characterize her writing and personality, but happiness eluded her through several marriages, alcoholism, and suicide attempts. Her poem from Enough Rope (1926) is perhaps her best remembered:
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.
This poem was recited by Angelina Jolie in a scene from the film Girl Interrupted

That's a sad note to end this on after a birthday prompted the post, so I'll add Happy Birthday, Dorothy! (and wonder how many happy ones she really had).

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Joan Marie hates Bernadette

Or so it would seem after viewing the hideous caricature of Bernadette by the angry young artist, Joan Marie.

Found in a 1908 school music book, Songs Every One Should Know, edited by Clifton Johnson, the rendering of Bernadette's likeness is featured in the back of the book. Joan Marie identifies herself in the front of the book by name and in no uncertain terms states that she owns the book ("Joan Marie owns it.").

I remember this kind of stuff when I was a kid and I'm sure schoolkids today are still writing in their books and expressing themselves in various artistic ways. How will they do that when e-books supposedly replace print one day? If that ever comes to pass, I'm sure inventive young minds will find a way.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Belle Sherman Kendall

Oftentimes, old secondhand books come with old signatures from their long-departed previous owners. Most of the people who signed or wrote in these books fade from any conscious thought or knowledge of their existence except by those descendants who keep their memories alive. And then there are those individuals such as Belle Sherman Kendall, who obviously owned this History of Texas book and signed it.

Had this 1892 book by John Henry Brown been of sound body (i.e., having a spine), I would have had something of collectible value. It's content is still valuable in a reading copy only, but I found added value in the signature once I figured out who this person wasn't.

I initially researched the name Belle Thurman Kendall and got nothing. After omitting the middle name, I found Belle Sherman Kendall, which caused me to re-examine the signature. Sure enough, it was Sherman, not Thurman.

With the correct name, I discovered a wealth of Texas history back to the Battle of San Jacinto and the Republic of Texas days.

According to Daughters of the Republic of Texas, Patriot Ancestor Album, Volume 1 (Turner Publishing Company, 1995), Belle's father was Sidney Sherman, a businessman from Kentucky, who organized a company of 55 soldiers to join Sam Houston in the fight for Texas independence from Mexico in 1836. He also brought the only Texas flag to fly at San Jacinto. Sherman settled in Harrisburg (part of Houston now). Actually, he bought the town, which had been burned by Mexican General Santa Anna's troops only the day before the Battle of San Jacinto. Sherman rebuilt the town and set up his business (railroad office, lumber mill, grist mill). More than a decade after the war, Belle was born in 1847.

Belle grew up in Houston and married William E. Kendall, Sr. As Belle Sherman Kendall, she became President of the Ladies Reading Club of Houston, which became the Women's Club of Houston. Later she was credited as the the founder of the Houston Public Library System after she secured funding from Andrew Carnegie to build Houston's first library (see related library history here). She was also a founding member of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. Today, the Kendall Neighborhood Library and Community Center in Houston is named for her.

The Houstonist reported last year on the construction of the Kendall Library, noting its drive-thru service with the opening line: "Houston is getting its first library for lazy people." I wonder how many of the new library's patrons, lazy or not, have any inkling of the history of the name on the building and its connection with Houston's first library?

Monday, August 9, 2010

To an unknown booklover from Helene Hanff

In my collection of books about books, one stands out for its author inscription. I found this gem on a bookscouting trip a few years ago and can only surmise the demise of a kindred spirit for this book to have found its way into a resale shop.

The book is The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, by Helene Hanff, published by J.B. Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1973. It's not really a book about books, per se, but it is the sequel, or follow-up, to the cult-status favorite of bibliophiles everywhere, 84 Charing Cross Road, the story of a twenty-year correspondence between New York writer and English literature lover Helene Hanff and Frank Doel of Marks & Co., the antiquarian book shop whose address was 84 Charing Cross Road.

The book and the movie of the same name are personal favorites of mine. So, you see, the book has to be included in the books about books section of my library and it resides right next to 84 on the shelf.

My copy of Duchess is a first edition, but what makes the book special is Helene Hanff's inscription on the front free endpaper:
To an unknown booklover,
Helene Hanff
I had read an unsigned copy before I found the signed copy, and near the end of the book she recounts her last day in London and a stop by her publisher's, Andre Deutsch, to sign twenty books for a group of Australian booksellers arriving the next day. She liked to personalize her books to fans with long or witty inscriptions, and not knowing who would get these books, she came up with the "unknown booklover" inscription.

Obviously, she repeated the practice stateside because my inscribed copy comes from her American publisher, Lippincott, in Philadelphia. Nonetheless, it has to be a fairly rare inscription I would think.

When I found the book and saw her handwriting, I thought to myself, "I am now one of your unknown booklovers!" What are the chances of finding that book with that particular inscription? I should have gone out and bought lottery tickets that day while Lady Luck was smiling down on me.

I also have an inscribed copy of the British edition published by Andre Deutsch, 1974. This one I got the more conventional way by buying it from another dealer. It has an amusing and somewhat mysterious inscription from Ms. Hanff, which I will write about another time. I'm still trying to find out if the names mentioned in the inscription tie into one of her anecdotes in the book.

In the [hopefully] very distant future, my demise will be at hand and I'd like to think that this book will find its way into the hands of another unknown booklover and the torch will pass. But until then, I'm the unknown booklover. Or at least one of a very small and very lucky group.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Writing in Mangapapa

In an old copy of The New Beacon Reader, Book Six, Dominion Edition published by Ginn and Company Ltd in London (no date, assumed 1920s-30s), a young Allen Weymouth once marked the book as his and also identified his school and town. His dutiful rite of ownership left a trail for a curious researcher many decades into the future (I wish young Allen would have added a date). What caught my eye and piqued my interest, though, was the unusual name of the school: Mangapapa

Mangapapa is indeed a school in the town of Gisborne, which I was not familiar with and soon learned that it is located in New Zealand, far away across a vast ocean from where I found the book in Texas. How this book traveled such a great distance is an exercise in imagination and fantasy.

More than just a school name, Mangapapa is actually the name of a Gisborne suburb north of the city.

A young boy's writing in his school book many years ago has introduced me to a new place in the world. The young students at Mangapapa today are involved in another kind of writing, for which they appear to have quite a passion. The students, from Year One on up, are learning about writing at various levels, as are their teachers, and creating stories out of a developing passion for the written word. Read all about their "exciting learning journey in written language," Writing Gems, on the Mangapapa site.

A quote from that site states:
"In 2008 we are thrilled to be able to say that all students at Mangapapa have a passion for writing and are showing flair and creativity in the stories they write."
That was two years ago. I certainly hope that holds true today in 2010. How many schools can boast that all their students have a passion for writing?

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Birch, To Katherine

I purchased this copy of Color, by Countee Cullen (Harper & Brothers, NY, 1925) because I liked what little I knew of Cullen's poems and also for the mysterious mementos inside the book.

Cullen was a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, an explosion of black literary and artistic creativity comprising a cultural and social movement within the African-American community.

When I saw this book for sale online, I decided to buy it and get reacquainted with his work. I knew he was a fine wordsmith and I would enjoy new discoveries in his art. But another reason for the purchase was the mention of some items lurking inside the covers waiting to be discovered and explored.

The book's description included a bookplate and a poem handwritten on the front endpaper to "Katherine" from another poet, H. Campbell Scarlett (a literary name if ever there was one!). Mr. Scarlett's obituary was also included. All that sounded like a story, maybe even a mystery, waiting to be unraveled. Certainly, I knew I would explore it and do a little sleuthing.

I have not been disappointed with the content of the book--Cullen's writing--but the artifacts of the original owner, Katherine, have been equally pleasing and interesting.

Her... what... lover, admirer, friend... H. Campbell Scarlett wrote the poem and is described in the obits as a writer and a teacher. That he aspired to write poetry is evident. That he ever ascended to a higher stage than book inscriptions is not. Doesn't mean he didn't--I just can't find any hint of evidence to support it. But he summoned his poetic muse to express his feelings to Katherine and Katherine apparently was moved enough by his feelings, his friendship, or his love to keep it for what I would suspect was the rest of her life. Here is Scarlett's heartfelt attempt to compare Katherine's beauty to that of a birch tree against a deep blue sky:
A Birch
To Katherine

The trunk, cream white picked out in black
The leaves part green, part touched with golden brown
A birch, etched 'gainst the sky's deep azure blue
By this, dear one, shall I remember you.

A birch, all gold and white and black and green,
A birch, caressed and teased by every passing wind
A birch, as lovely as these words would be
By this, dear one, do thou remember me.
On the facing page are two clippings of the poet's obituary. I am intrigued by the bread crumbs of a life or lives left behind in books. Just a trace of something--a poem, an obit, an inscription, a photo--can create an event, a story, or an entire life around that something.

Certainly, more questions than answers exist. Questions that come immediately to mind are: Why this book for a gift? Why the birch tree for a metaphor? And what exactly is the metaphor? And if the two were lovers, why was that love unrequited, as evidenced by the fact that Campbell died unmarried and without children? There is no way to know the answers to these questions, but that's okay--I have my own:
This was a teenage romance. Campbell's obits list his age at death as 55. The date of the obits is May 17, 1965, which means Scarlett was born about 1910. This book by Countee Cullen, Color, was published in 1925. This particular copy is an early reprint, likely within a few years. That makes Campbell somewhere around 16 or 17 when he wrote to Katherine, who was part black, part white... and there's the birch tree metaphor--the black and white skin of the tree. That's also a scandal within the Scarlett family. Campbell was survived by his father, who is listed in the obits as a judge, which, in the 1920s, most assuredly makes him and son Campbell white. The judge's re-election could not withstand an interracial dating scandal in his family and so young Campbell was forbidden to see the biracial girl he was so smitten with. Campbell moved on, but held Katherine so close to his heart that there was never room for another love. And so he died alone and true to his one love. He had the heart of a poet, but the firm hand of the judge overruled his emotions. And Katherine never forgot her young poet and the gift of his feelings inscribed in a book by an exciting young African-American poet. Katherine kept the gift of two poets close to her and when Campbell died alone some 30 years later, she felt moved to leave another scrap of Campbell's life, symbolic closure perhaps, and, in effect, her own feelings toward a young man whose love could not overcome the social conventions and restrictions of the day. A sad ending.
Of course, I could be way off base here and probably am. But however else the story might have unfolded, I'm sure it's not near as interesting and poignant as my version.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Horace and Bess in hard times

I wrote this for another blog a few years ago and now it seems more appropriate for this one (minor change to reflect the current year).

Sometimes what you find tucked inside an old book is more interesting than the old book. And when the two work in concert to reveal clues about a life or lives touched by both, an imaginative mind has at its disposal the necessary tools to flesh out the characters and situations that spring to life from old ink and paper. That was the case with this book: How to Criticize Books, by Llewellyn Jones, W.W. Norton & Co., 1928.

I like to do a little time travel when I find something like this. I find it interesting to create an historical context for analyzing the artifact I’ve found and see if there is a story there worth exploring. Here, I think there is, with relevance to the tough economic times many find themselves in today.

Inside the front cover of this book was a letter written about 70 years ago from Horace to Bess in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. I don't know where Horace was, but he was very unhappy. I'm guessing Bess is Horace's sister back home and he is thrilled to get a letter from her. I thought she might be a romantic interest until he signed off with "love to you and Floyd."

Two possible assumptions about the letter and the book:
Assumption #1: The book belonged to Bess and she saved her brother’s letter in this book. If so, she was interested in reading writing and possibly had a desire on some level to write book reviews.

Assumption #2: The book belonged to Horace. He was an aspiring book reviewer. He wrote this letter, but never sent it. Maybe because it was too depressing. He stashed it inside one of his books (he evidently read a lot) and forgot about it.
Both assumptions have some common ground, but each veers off into dramatically different stories. I’d love to write a story for each, but for now I’ll just give a general overview of what I found and why it’s interesting to me.

This brief one-page letter reveals many pages about a man struggling psychologically as well as financially. This is a life not being lived well. From Horace's lines, we learn that Bess seemed concerned about his mental state and urged him to focus on the things he has that he can enjoy and don't require money. Evidently, Horace is feeling quite a financial pinch and generally hating his life at the moment.

I also learn in the first paragraph that the things he enjoys are books and music and studying because he states that his present job is so demanding that it keeps him from indulging in them. Except for reading metaphysics. This subject must be important enough to him that whatever free time he can muster will be devoted to reading and studying that subject. From that piece of information, I think I can safely assume that Horace has a nice little stack of books and old 78s for his intellectual stimulation and pleasurable diversions.

The date of the book and the tough times Horace seems to be going through indicate that the Great Depression has a grip on the country and on Horace. The book predates the stock market crash by a year, but the letter could easily have been tucked into an older, used book.

Further down in the letter, Horace critiques a book Bess gave him for Christmas:
It was so sparkling and refreshing that it was sipping a long cold drink. That Margaret Halsey has a flow of language and the most marvelous gift of pertinent synonym.
He goes on to say that although he hasn't had time to read, that doesn't include metaphysics, which he still indulges in, if in an unorthodox way.

So is he the wannabe book reviewer or is it Bess? Sounds here more like Assumption #2 is the likely scenario. This mention of Margaret Halsey is the clue I need to pin down the approximate year this letter was written. Halsey’s first book, With Malice Toward Some, was published in 1938. The Great Depression was in the process of bottoming out after nearly a decade of ravaging the economy and lives of millions.

He pines away for an opportunity to return home to Louisiana or Mississippi (they must have lived in both places growing up) and just have a normal life where he could work for enough to be comfortable and have time to enjoy leisurely pursuits. One of the most poignant lines in the letter reveal his resignation and frustration:
I realize we are always in our rightful places, but it is difficult sometimes to understand it.
His present employer is having trouble, much like his previous employer, whom he names as Saenger Co., which appears to started business as a chain of theaters for both vaudeville and movies in the early twentieth century.

This sad letter finishes with advice for Bess to make a change in her life by leaving Hattiesburg. He believes the change would be good for her. This opinion injects a new idea about just how well Bess is doing. Likely, she is not too happy with where she finds herself at this point in time, else why would Horace suggest a leaving Hattiesburg? I wonder if that change of address would include Floyd?

Also in the closing paragraphs, Horace laments a busted relationship between Bess and her girlfriends, and then Horace lapses into memories of a happier time when he and Bess would visit and play among friends, travel to the Gulf coast, etc. Horace seems to be retreating into the past to escape the present. A sad commentary on circumstances of the day, soothed somewhat by fragmented escapes into the pleasure of a book and memories of a happier time.

I'll never know whether Horace or Bess saved the letter. Whether it was sent or not. Times may have gotten worse before they got better. Did Horace's prospects ever get better? Did he eventually prosper and build a respectable library of books (emphasis on metaphysics, of course!) and music? Did Bess stay in Hattiesburg? Did either sibling ever find happiness?

Parallels to our present economy and its southward sprint of late makes me wonder what current-day ephemera of an unsatisfied or unhappy life will offer a future reader a time-capsule glimpse into that life and today's times. Maybe 70 years from now, sometime around 2075 to 2080, something laid in an "old" book from 2010 will give that reader pause to stop and consider it. And, hopefully, the chain of relevance will be broken, with respect to the economy.

Click on the images to enlarge them