Back in late August, early September my wife and I recently did the lengthy five day Baltimore Book Fair, and after the book show we had a nice Monday holiday with our daughter and her family over here at Acorn Cottage, the Ephrata home of the Bishops. My granddaughter actually jumped out of the car and came running to me with arms wide open, apparently happy to see me. That was delightful. But matters pertaining to events at the fair kept crowding my thoughts.
The Baltimore Antiquarian Book Fair really turned out to be something else. I actually sold several good books which was remarkable in and of itself. Several of the books were on consignment so I’ve made the consignors happy, but I also sold some of my own books including a lovely French production which brought a handsome price even with the 20% discount I was obligated to give. I also bought a set of Edgar Allan Poe in quarter leather for resale, and in getting this beat out a major “sets” dealer who was there literally seconds after I picked up the first volume. Yes! Of course it didn’t matter much to her because I ended up selling it to her after the show.
But the book selling/buying was the least of the events to occur. I was asked by the program committee chairman of the Baxter Society in Portland, Maine to give a talk on Mosher sometime in May 2008. The title of the talk is up to me and I have up to 1 1/2 hrs if I want or need it. No honorarium, but they will reimburse my gas and provide lodging and a day-of-the-talk dinner for my wife and me, so it would be essentially a paid-for trip to Portland which should be fun. I wasn’t all that keen on giving a talk in Portland given the history of how little those townspeople cared about ol’ Tom Mosher and his publishing program, but then I realized that maybe, just maybe, it would be like one BIG advertisement for my Mosher collecting so hey, why not.
But more than that happened on the Mosher front at the show. A Canadian dealer came to the booth and mentioned that he recently bought an extensive private library which had a number of Mosher books in it, all inscribed to the collector and his family by Mosher himself. We made arrangements for the dealer to bring the books to the Boston show this fall and he’ll give me first picks. I can only hope that he’ll follow through on his word. But that still isn’t all on the Mosher front over the weekend.
At the opening night of the show a good customer of mine, Bill Close from Rochester, Michigan came in and bought a nice book I had on consignment. Bill is a delight regardless of whether he buys a book from us or not. We even had him over to our Millersville home a few years ago and enjoyed his company immensely. Anyway, while we were talking he handed me a small white plastic bag and said “here you go, a little gift for you.” After stumbling about as to what to say I peeked inside and saw a single green volume and took it out. It’s a copy of Bret Harte’s The Lost Galleon and Other Tales (San Francisco: Towne & Bacon, Printers, 1867), Harte’s first book. Upon opening the front cover there was Mosher’s bookplate, but more than that!!!! Atop the next leaf, in what appears as light blue ink, is the neatly written “Thomas Bird Mosher | April 1868”. This was a book the then sixteen year old Mosher most likely bought in San Francisco when he sailed along with his father and family around the world from 1867-1870. The voyage was important for Mosher, and San Francisco was one of the stopovers while his father gained new cargo aboard the windjammer Nor‘wester. It wasn’t Mosher’s gain of experience of the world and the high seas for which this trip was memorable so much as the time it afforded him to read and cultivate his literary knowledge. But wait, there’s more to the book Bill gave me! Following the last lines of the title poem Mosher wrote twenty-six penned lines on p. 22:
Many perusals of this beautiful | little poem, have awaked in me a | perception of its beauty… | … Something in it seems | to suggest a latent fire, only to | be felt by those who would enter | into companionship with the great | and good… | There is a something in the vignette | too, that awakes attention. | How many times have I gazed upon | it, and then turning to the | verses, read them through. | Harte surely is a poet,… | …for do | we not in Stoddard find the | same pensive, passionate, long- | ing, subdued spirit, — and this | poem is not destitute of those | characteristics…
Even in these brief remarks we see the beginnings of the sympathetic critic and touch upon themes that would be repeated again and again by word and action throughout Mosher’s career: beauty, latency, passion, companionship with great books and authors, the integration of image with text, pensive longing, and the framing of his comments into a critical guise. Additionally, little is known about the Dr. Mackintosh Mosher mentions, but there is evidence to believe he was an important model for Mosher, and quite possibly a mentor. Later in the book, the second stanza of “The Two Ships” (p. 91) is placed in quote marks by Mosher and the last sixteen words are underlined so that special emphasis is given to “I hear from the outgoing ship in the bay | The song of the sailors in glee…
For some strange reason 1 1/2″ of the bottom page is removed, not affecting the words of the poem which continue on the verso of the leaf. Perhaps Mosher needed a bookmark? Or did Mosher removed some of his penned thoughts? Nevertheless, nothing of the printed word is missing. There would be many time of port entry and egress which the young Mosher would experience, and these poetic lines may have struck a familiar chord with the traveler, and the audible signs of greeting and parting would also find their way into Mosher’s future literary selections.
On yet another page, following the poem “The Willows–After Edgar A. Poe” Mosher writes, “Quite a fanciful parody of the | original, but I cannot see | how Mr. Harte is so versatile; as Miss Fashionable and Lady | Exquisite, would say. –” (p. 105). I’m not entirely clear as to the meaning behind that “Miss Fashionable…” phrase, and perhaps I‘ll be able to unlock this colloquialism later.
This slender volume is an important addition to the ship books I’ve already acquired from the Nor’wester voyage, and it’s now residing with the others: Dickens’ Christmas stories in the Tauchnitz editions, Balzac’s Droll Stories and good ol’ Sam Butler’s Hudibras in the Henry Bohn edition. I also have further documentation of many other books that resided in the captain’s quarters which includes that late 18th century set I still covet and hotly pursue the whereabouts, the grand 34-volume set of Bells’ British Theatre. Incidentally, at the same show I found the most wonderful little Jennings Brothers bookends stamped “A Galleon in the Time of Elizabeth 1558-1603” which is particularly fitting in that the poem “The Lost Galleon” is about a ship of 1641. Close enough. The two small yet heavy bookends now prop up only one book. Need one guess which?
Lastly (yes, there is more) the above gift helped to spur a lot of discussion between myself and my wife Susann with regard to writing the Mosher biography. For some irrational reason I am sometimes guided by signs. Something special happens which I take as a sign for me to act. The Bret Harte book was it, the last straw, and as of Sunday morning, September 2, I’ve committed myself to begin a serious investigation into writing the Mosher biography. So I’m now committed. Sue knows the financial problems this may cause clearly remembering the set-backs suffered when I researched and wrote the Mosher bibliography for the British Library and Oak Knoll Books, but I am, and in some cases we are, looking forward to traveling to institutions to inspect manuscript material, to order copies from other institutions, to spend time at Harvard to closely cover those files, to examine material in a number of New England colleges, to travel to San Francisco to once again examine the Harrison Hume Mosher manuscript material which Norman Strouse purchased–hopefully coinciding this with a talk to a West Coast book club like The Book Club of California (located in San Francisco), The Roxburghe Club of San Francisco, or as a speaker at the Gleeson Library at the University of San Francisco while also doing the ABAA International Antiquarian Book Fair when it’s held there. We‘d have to drive a good bit. I’d also have to take a trip back to Arizona State University where other manuscripts reside, but that will wait until closer to the end of my research. Time-wise, I’m thinking of a three or four year commitment for all the research and writing. Of course these matters would all involve a great deal of time away from my meager book business, and would require a new laptop computer set-up and data management files. No matter. September 2nd was the turning point, and I’m now poised to make serious inquiries of a couple publishers. I’ve come to the realization that if I don’t write it nobody else will, and even though it will never be a big seller, it nevertheless IS a story that HAS to be written. Can I write it? You bet I can, and I’m going to give it my best shot. It will be done.
As one might imagine, this decision didn’t come easily and was actually in incubation for some time. I think there have been a number of events leading up to this final realization, including the goading remarks by several scholars. A number of recent “finds” also lead inexorably in this direction. I just finally had to get to the point where I said to hell or high water I was going to do it and “damn the torpedoes” (read my own insecurities). I cannot escape the pointing finger.
The other realization was that I’ve become a bit more convinced that I could produce a lengthy biography if for no other reason than what I observed with my memoirs. A little bit written here and some there really adds up over time. The memoirs are now closing in on 500 pages, and all that happened in small increments and without a steady diet of typing a page or two each day which is what would happen after the majority of my research on Mosher takes place. So when that time comes, the memoirs are conclusive evidence that little strokes will indeed fall big oaks. And need I mention the 536 page bibliography I wrote for the British Library and the Oak Knoll Press. This is a realizable dream.
I’ll have to drum up funds, and I think I might be able to go to different parts of the country and someone will be willing to put me up. In Chicago, a place in Michigan, and in San Francisco, there are people I know who I can call upon for a stay at little or no expense other than my travel dollars and the forfeit of income. Susann and I both fondly recall the many trips we took together hunting the elusive Mosher tome and manuscript. As I discussed things with her, I could tell she was equally excited to get out there and find things again. Of course, the things to be found are not so much things to buy, but rather data, facts, manuscripts, letters–the usual scholarly assortment of stuff. Besides, I can just imagine this new hunt and the stories I’ll be able to include in my memoirs. It will be delightful. Sue and I have just gotten plain down tired of all the negatives; can’t do this because…, must not do this because…
So it was the Bret Harte that found me rather than I him, but one can say that The Lost Galleon was found. That was indeed a good omen, and I just felt that I was like being hit over the head with Mosher’s “so what the hell else do you want me to do to spur you on?”
So there it is. Lots happened this past 2007 Labor Day weekend, and I’m not turning back. In finding The Lost Galleon, I’ve also found a clear road and re-established my commitment and passion to see the project through to the end. I’m sure Bill Close never thought his gift would have the additional importance it turned out to have.
Philip R. Bishop
September 6, 2007