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A century of celebrations and the celebration of a centenary

Tauchnitz loved issuing celebratory volumes and had plenty of occasions to do so.  The 500th volume of the series in 1860, the 1000th volume in 1869 and the 2000th in 1881 were all marked by specially commissioned volumes and by specially bound presentation copies to be offered to authors, friends and business contacts.

Then in 1887 it was time to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the business, with a specially published history.  Much of this is taken up with a long list of the works published by the firm, making it a rather luxurious catalogue, but it also includes excerpts from authors’ letters to Tauchnitz, which was to become a feature of subsequent histories.

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Title page of the 50th anniversary history

Volume 3000 seemed to slip by largely unnoticed, but volume 4000 in 1909 was marked by a ‘A manual of American literature’.   This gave full recognition for the first time to the huge contribution from American authors to a series that for 70 years had been called ‘The Collection of British Authors’.

Then in 1912 another anniversary history to mark 75 years.  The catalogue of publications has now disappeared, and more prominence is given to letters from authors, with Charles Dickens pre-eminent among them.

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A selection of letters from Dickens in the 75 year history

The milestone of the 5000th volume was reached in 1931 and celebrated with an ‘Anthology of Modern English Poetry’, but by then the business was tottering.  It was sold in 1934, and lived on until the outbreak of war effectively as a sub-division of Albatross, the firm which had defeated it commercially.

So when the time came to write its centenary publication in 1937 it must have felt to some in the firm more of an obituary than a celebration.  The task of writing it fell to John Holroyd-Reece, the Managing Director of Albatross, and in the end he did Tauchnitz proud, although an early draft had contained a paragraph seeming to celebrate his own role rather too much.  Again the publication included a selection of letters from famous authors, including Dickens and Disraeli, this time in facsimile form, and also a range of congratulatory letters from well-known people, including the British Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin and the Archbishop of York.  Slightly oddly, it was given the title of ‘The Harvest’, perhaps suggesting that the firm was now reaping the benefits of previous efforts, and no longer sowing new seed for the future, a position uncomfortably close to the truth.

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The book appeared in two different forms, one with cream paper boards, and one with gold wrappers, each with a blind-stamped Tauchnitz Centenary logo on the front.  Neither version is difficult to find today.  More interesting are the presentation copies prepared for authors and other friends of the firm.  These are identical to the gold paperback edition, but the half-title is replaced with an individual printed page with the name of the person to whom it was presented.   The copy illustrated here was presented to Janet Beith, the author of ‘No second spring’, published as volume 5157 in 1934.  Other copies in public collections have the names of W.W. Jacobs, Louis Golding, H.M. Tomlinson and Helen Simpson.

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Presumably copies were printed with the names of all Tauchnitz authors still alive in 1937, which would have included, amongst many others, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Graham Greene, Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Daphne du Maurier, Aldous Huxley, P.G. Wodehouse and A.A. Milne.   As Louis Golding, whose copy survives, was published only by Albatross, never by Tauchnitz itself, this suggests copies may also have been presented to all Albatross authors.   In that case, copies may exist with the names of Agatha Christie, Evelyn Waugh and Ernest Hemingway, amongst others.

An intriguing question arises though from the fact that several of the Tauchnitz authors, including for instance Joyce, Wells and Huxley, had been placed on the list of banned authors, by the Nazi party, then in power in Germany.  Albatross, whose editorial offices were based in Paris, continued to publish works by banned authors, but always in the Albatross series rather than in Tauchnitz, and presumably for sale only outside Germany.  Interestingly the Albatross books were still being printed in Germany, just down the road from where other works by some of the same authors were being burned.  But did Tauchnitz in 1937, a German-owned firm based in Leipzig, print special celebratory volumes for authors at that time banned in Germany?  A copy printed for James Joyce would be an interesting find …

Tales of life, death and brain surgery – Holiday reading 2015

The heading for this post is the sub-title of ‘Do no Harm’ by Henry Marsh, which I chose as the first of my holiday books this year.   It’s a fair description for the book – a memoir from a senior neurosurgeon, now close to retirement, but coincidentally it just about sums up all my summer reading.  I hadn’t appreciated when I was packing, that one of my other choices – ‘Saturday’ by Ian McEwan, was also about a brain surgeon, although this time of course a fictional one.   And the other books certainly covered plenty of life and death, if no more brain surgery.

Do No harm

I’d heard Henry Marsh talking on the radio before reading his book, and heard the book described more than once as remarkably honest.  It is, in the sense that he talks openly about his failures as well as his successes.  That means not only the occasional death on the operating table, but coming across others, years later, who had been left in a permanent vegetative state as a result of his failures.  And he’s open, although perhaps not to his patients, that mistakes, even with terrible consequences, are almost a necessary part of the learning process, if we’re to end up with experienced consultants.

He’s also candid about the arrogance and feelings of being a Master of the Universe, that the job can tend to cultivate.  That may apply, with less cause, even beyond brain surgery, to other surgeons who can hold our lives in their hands.  At least in his case though, the arrogance doesn’t entirely prevent the feelings of self-doubt or the necessary humanity and understanding of what patients must be feeling.   He recognises that he’d much prefer to be carrying out a difficult operation than having a difficult conversation with patients – a failing he suggests is common amongst surgeons, to the extent that many unnecessary or even damaging operations are performed.   Consultants prefer to offer patients the hope that an operation may succeed, rather than be honest with them that at best the result is likely to be a painfully extended death rather than a swifter less painful one.

The book’s a great read, although quite an emotional one and a fascinating insight into a little known world, at least to me, as someone who’s spent little time in hospital and even less watching medical dramas.  I always imagined that brain surgeons were cutting into the brain and attempting to influence in some way the way it worked.  It seems instead that their bread and butter is the more humdrum business of cutting out tumours, while trying to avoid as much as possible of the brain itself.

Saturday

Fortunately there are few glaring inconsistencies between the fictional neurosurgeon in ‘Saturday’ and the real one in ‘Do no harm’.   Ian McEwan has done his background research well (I went straight to the acknowledgements to check whether Henry Marsh had been consulted, but it’s another of his colleagues who provided the advice).  The arrogance and self-satisfaction is still there, and although it starts to unravel in a ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’ style moment, McEwan spares us the full descent into Hell and is satisfied with a brief look over the edge into the abyss.  It builds up to an action-packed and gripping finale, but the real strength of the book is in its slower, more descriptive sections, with extended riffs on a game of squash or the preparation of a fish stew.   I’ve enjoyed all of the McEwan books I’ve read and will be searching out more.

Elizabeth is missing

I also enjoyed ‘Elizabeth is missing’, a first novel by Emma Healey, an unusual combination of murder mystery and literary exploration of dementia, another theme that I’ve seen tackled elsewhere recently.   The action shifts constantly between past and present, as our heroine Maud, who can hardly remember what happened a minute ago, solves a 70 year-old mystery.  It’s in some ways a similar structure to the one that A.S. Byatt used so well in ‘Possession’ and then Tom Stoppard in ‘Arcadia’, and it’s well suited to the subject of dementia.  On the whole, the episodes of flashback to her youth work better than the passages in the present, which are a bit predictable and repetitive, but it’s a great read.

Albatross 159 The ABC murders

As of course is Agatha Christie.   I’ve worked my way through quite a few of her classic mysteries in recent years, several of them from the Albatross Crime Club editions. ‘The ABC mysteries’ definitely feels rather dated now, but so carefully plotted that it still keeps you on the edge of your seat, pitting your wits against the great Hercule Poirot.