The story begins with a drowning, includes a fratricide, a sensational trial, and has no ending yet. But let us start anyhow.
Prominent book collector C. Fiske Harris and his wife are both recovering from illness in 1881. They decide to take a recuperative canoe ride with their servant Hedges on Moosehead Lake in Maine. The canoe capsizes in rough water “and for a time the Harrises clung to the craft. Hedges heard Mrs. Harris say, ‘If Mr. Harris goes, I will go also.’ She succumbed first, however, and Harris followed her.” Thus quoted from Roger Stoddard’s authoritative essay, “C. Fiske Harris, Collector of American Poetry and Plays” (1963).
This abrupt and tragic demise of a notable collector is not yet on my mind as I prowl the aisles of the recent ABAA Book Show in Pasadena, California. I am nearing the end of my Saturday all-day scout, my eyes strained and the need for food urgent. Serendipity comes into play as I browse the booth of Holly Segar and Jeffrey Rovenpor of Caroliniana Books, Aiken, South Carolina.
Propped up on a shelf in a sleeve is a modest looking pamphlet, plain original wrappers, with a neat ownership signature on the cover. I almost miss it, but I don’t. Holly & Jeffrey’s description reads, in part: “Index to American Poetry and Plays in the Collection of C. Fiske Harris. Providence, RI: Printed for Private Distribution, 1874. . . Finely printed pamphlet listing the major American poetry and play collection belonging to C. Fiske Harris. The collection today resides at Brown University. . . This copy with the ownership inscription to front wrapper of R. A. Guild.”