Thursday, December 1, 2016

A.S.W. Rosenbach's THE UNPUBLISHABLE MEMOIRS On Display



Front cover of the dust jacket
The Unpublishable Memoirs (1917) --this first (and last) literary effort of bookseller A.S.W. Rosenbach is a highly entertaining read about a bibliophile who will stop at nothing to acquire the books he wants.  It is not intended to be heavy literature or a deeply philosophical tome but it’s certainly a pleasurable biblio-romp.  Edwin Wolf & John Fleming record in their biography Rosenbach (1960) that the “eminent English bibliographer Alfred Pollard found the stories irresistible and ‘gluttonously read them through in an evening, which was not fair play.’”  William Roberts’ favorable review in the Times Literary Supplement compared the work to the writings of W. W. Jacobs and Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes (see Roberts’ copy below).
Recently, I bought a copy inscribed to Percy Lawler who worked closely with Rosenbach for over thirty years and who managed the Philadelphia branch of Rosenbach’s store.  I nestled it on my shelves with another half dozen or so association copies of the same title gathered in the last twenty-five years.  Rosenbach was not shy about inscribing copies and I’ve seen numerous examples offered.  I fished these particular ones from the stream because of their above average association interest.  So, sitting here over the Thanksgiving holiday with a little free time, I thought I’d provide a tour.  I’ll highlight six of the association copies in my collection.  Each is exceptional in its own manner and together they showcase Rosenbach’s deep personal and professional engagement with the rare book world. 
First, let’s briefly review the book’s background.  Wolf & Fleming write, “Almost the last flare-up of his creativity, in a literary sense, must have occurred about this time [ca. 1910], the writing of the short stories published as The Unpublishable Memoirs.  The Doctor never said when he had written these fictitious tales of the unscrupulous bibliophile Hooker, but it seems most likely that they constituted his farewell gesture to a former way of life.  That they were not published until 1917, when the name A.S.W. Rosenbach was appearing rather widely in news stories, is merely an indication that his friend Mitchell Kennerley, over whose imprint they appeared, knew that publication is the sincerest form of flattery, and that a good time to flatter a man is when he is on the way up. . . .
            “It was not difficult for Kennerley to persuade the never overmodest author to permit him to publish the anecdotes of the bibliographical amoralist Robert Hooker.  . . copies of The Unpublishable Memoirs were sent wide and far with the author’s compliments.  Satisfying letters of thanks came back to reward him. . .  The publication of the book provided some enjoyable excitement at a time when the great world at war and the small world of books were overcast with deep black clouds.”
Here are the copies....