8vo., pp. 156; a fine copy in the publisher’s maroon cloth, upper board blocked in black and gilt with an elaborate design by Florence Claxton, lower board blocked in blind; corners slightly bumped; dedicatory inscription to title-page ‘To the authoress of “Serious Letters to Serious Friends”, with the sincere regards of Mr W. H. Harrison Oct. 5th 1877.
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The lazy Lays, and Prose Imaginings …
First edition, a presentation copy, of this eccentric collection of verse and prose by the photographer, spiritualist and journalist William Henry Harrison.
Harrison was a regular contributor to the British Journal of Photography, and several pieces here evidence his passion. For photography. ‘The Lay of the Photographer’ is a mock heroic describing the preparation of photographic plates, with the important chemicals personified as the elegant Bromide, the adventurous young Pyroxyline etc. Harrison claimed to have invented a bromide emulsion dry plate, and the poem touts the superiority of his process: if you mention the outmoded iodine method to a photographer, he is liable to ‘shriek and turn pallid with fear’. A second piece in an orientalist mdoe, ‘How Hadji Al Shacabac was Photographed’, describes his visit to a mysterious wizard skilled in the art of instantly producing pictures of people with the aid of a small ‘cannon’.
The other pieces include verse in praise of a ‘Broad-Brimmed Hat’, as well as the imagined lamentations of a ‘Fat Man’ and a ‘Mother-in-Law’. The prose story ‘Our Raven’ describes the author’s trials as the hands (or claws) of a demonically possessed Raven with a passion for gardening. Other more serious essays include ‘How to double the Utility of the Printing Press’ and ‘Materialistic Religion’.
The elaborate cover design by by Florence Claxton depicts a griffin, accompanied by a rather disgruntled pelican-like bird holding a pen in its beak. A prefatory note explains that the choice of a griffin emblem for the front of the book is a reference to the monster that protected its treasure from ‘the one eyes Arimaspians’: this griffin, apparently, guards the book from opportunistic American publishers; the pelican, perhaps, represents the author.
William Henry Harrison was notable for his close involvement in the nineteenth-century craze for spiritualism. He was the founder of the Spiritualist Newspaper, and later of the British National Association of Spiritualists. Marie Sinclair, the ‘authoress of “Serious Letters to serious Friends”, to whom this book is inscribed was vice-president of the Association. Her Letters on a serious Subject to serious Friends (1875) was an ambitious attempt to reconcile theosophy, spiritualism, and Catholicism.
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C[OLOMBO]. A[POTHECARIES]. CO. LTD.
Caryota Urens (Kitul), Botanical Study,
Charles Scowen arrived in Ceylon around 1873 and was initially an assistant to R. Edley, the Commission Agent in Kandy before opening a photographic studio around 1876. By 1885 his photography firm had studios in Colombo and Kandy. Scowen was a later arrival to Ceylon than Skeen and his work is less well-known, but: ‘Much of Scowen’s surviving work displays an artistic sensibility and technical mastery which is often superior to their longer-established competitor. In particular, the botanical studies are outstanding…’ (Falconer, J. and Raheem, I., Regeneration: a reappraisal of photography in Ceylon 1850 –1900, p. 19). In the early 1890s the firm was being run by Mortimer Scowen, a relative of Charles Scowen. By about 1894 the firm’s stock of negatives had been acquired by the ‘Colombo Apothecaries Co Ltd’. This print is likely to have been made in the 1890s from negatives made earlier.
EDITED BY THE POET COWPER’S UNCLE [COWPER, Ashley, editor].
The Norfolk poetical Miscellany. To which are added some select Essays and Letters in Prose. Never printed before. By the Author of the Progress of Physick. In two Volumes …
First edition. This lively miscellany, containing a large number of amusing short poems (but nothing for the libertine), was assembled by William Cowper’s uncle, the father of Theodora, later Lady Hesketh, with whom the poet fell in love. The dedication to the young Lady Caroline [Cowper] is subscribed ‘Timothy Scribble’: ‘Too true it is, that the present Age has been fruitful of Miscellanies; and I wish it was less true, that even the best Collections of them (tho’ handed to us by the brightest Wits of our Family [i.e. Scribblers and Scriblerians]) are not without some Impurities, which make them very unfit Companions for Youth ….’ ‘But to say a Word of the following Collection. It consists chiefly of Original Pieces – many of them (and those I fear the worst) are the Editor’s own – some never so much as handed about in Manuscript – few ever committed to the Press before ….’