Last week I wrote about the prologues of books. This week’s post will continue the theme, this time concentrating on dedications and doodles, and what we learn from them.
A few days ago, I received a box from my cousin Steve containing four books that had belonged to our grandfather and great-grandmother, and to a distant uncle by marriage.
This 1880 edition of Ben Hur belonged to George S. Smith, who married Sarah Pamela Rand in 1882, when they were both in their fifties. She was the daughter of Robert Rand and Laura Wheeler Rand. I believe that I read this copy of Ben Hur the summer I visited my aunt Susanne when I was about 13. I am delighted to see it again!
More unusual is the book, Up from Slavery, the autobiography of Booker T. Washington that Susie Louise Cameron gave to James Erskine, the uncle who raised her and her sister after their mother’s death. It is inscribed thus:
What an interesting gift choice. I was so intrigued that I started reading it, and I must say that I am incredibly impressed. Booker T. Washington was a profoundly thoughtful Christian man, who should be much more celebrated than he is. I’ll blog about him next week. In the meantime, let’s turn to the two volumes that belonged to our grandfather, Bunker Cameron.
The first, Two Little Savages by Ernest Thompson Seton, he received from his sister when he was 13 years old.
The classic story of two farm boys, who build a teepee in the woods and decide to live off the land for a month, the book primarily teaches practical woodcraft. The well worn pages and slightly broken binding suggest that Bunker got a lot of use from the gift. Certainly, he was the type to enjoy “going native” in the Vermont woods. Two Little Savages is still in print and would make a perfect gift for anyone who wants to learn how to survive in the wild — or at least the backyard. Today’s youth could use more of this type of thing, don’t you agree?
Finally, we have a school text, Selections from Irving’s Sketch Book, in which we find these lovely doodles and comments:
Some things never change, especially the impulse to write our names and draw in our books . Notably, none of the books I’ve inherited contain book plates. I suppose that before the advent of the stick-in, write-on kind we use now such extravagances were the province of the rich.
As for the rest of us, it’s fine to write in books as long as we don’t deface them (YES to light annotations, but NO to underlining and highlighting). When you give a book as a gift, you should always include a dedication. Such inscriptions give a book a provenance and add to its history. Your message will resonate long after the hand who wrote it is gone, and someday someone may wonder enough about the book’s previous owner to go find out who he/she was.
Books are wonderful artifacts. Treat them with respect and care, but don’t leave them on the shelf. Read them!