by Theodore Dalrymple (November 2014)
A kind friend of mine, knowing my interest in such matters, recently sent me a little book containing a collection of inscriptions found in second-hand books collected by a diligent anthologist, a man called H. B. Gooderham. The books were not, on the whole, precious old volumes but rather cheap and relatively recent paperback editions, many of them in rather scruffy condition. Nor were the inscribers famous persons, nor even identifiable. They were, rather, Everyman. more>>>
I think there is a typo in this sentence. "Here is one written less than five years before the book was published." Is it supposed to say "purchased"?
What a wonderful and evocative article! I've always loved and been intrigued by what people write in books. The best one I ever saw was in a book I can't remember, but said, "Dear Adolf, I wonder if one day I shall ever know what lies behind that twinkle in your eyes?
spot on too about the geriatric teenagers. I saw a picture of horrible old Sting the other day - there was no difference between his dress and looks and Justin Bieber's apart from the aforementioned Canyoned-face. Very sad. As Jesus said, "They have their consolation"
It is not necessarily vanity. Some of us don't have the money, confidence and competence to change our style, even when acutely not pleased with the image we present.
As for dedications, I have written and received so many words whose beauty meant only that the writer knew and accepted the feelings had died, but perfunctorily rather liked the idea of feeling something deep or moving.
One of my most treasured books is my (very) late Great-Uncle's copy of the Oxford Book of Quotations.
It is inscribed "To my life-long friend Charlie Prime on his 70th birthday: hoping that as the sun slowly sets on his long day the bright lights of other men's thoughts may illumine a mind ever ready to receive the beautiful, the delicate & the humorous, and so continue until night fall and man reads no more. L. Leary 15 April 1958."
Having just turned 70 myself I appreciate this lovely dedication even more.
Thank you Mr. Dalrymple for this lovely meditation on a literary sub-genre so many of us actually participate in.
If i may, I'd like to add a post-script anecdote. My first (and likely only) published book appeared in 2002. Very happy I was to lovingly inscribe a copy for my younger sister, and I can recall seeing the book on end table in her living room a year or two later during a visit to her home. Subsequently we had a tremendous falling out, and I have not seen her for nearly 6 years.
Four years ago, my book being out of print (alas!), and being in need of some copies to sell at an upcoming reading, my spouse ordered half a dozen used copies (promised to be in good condition) from Amazon, and as expected, these trickled in over the coming weeks. Imagine my surprise when I opened one such delivery to find my book in a scuffed, mangled condition--it looked as if it has been used as a ball for a football match. Yes, of course, when I opened the book I found it was the one I had inscribed for my sister.
I've promised myself to keep this one copy, even if I eventually don't own another of my own book. It is the best copy from which I might read my old poems, and the richest vantage point I might have on all that has happened since, and on what the future may hold.
Regarding the rock star dress of our older citzens, I say, why not? Why prune back, tuck in, press down, when you have nothing to lose but the good opinion of your neighbours? It's none of their business anyway, and any custom looks ridiculous to outsiders.
The first named dedicatee may be the author of a book called "That Other Boy and I", which I found mentioned in the James Kirkup Collection. http://www.thejameskirkupcollection.co.uk/collection.html
Wonderful essay; it reminds me of the inscription I noticed in a used book store years ago: "I hope you will love and cherish me as long as you love and cherish this book"
"The figure of the ageing rock star is interesting though not inspiring. When one sees pictures of these seventy year-old adolescents one is torn between repulsion and pity. Their faces are canyoned by age and, but with their uncompromisingly youthful hairstyles, dress and comportment, they look like revenants in a budget horror film, as if they have just brushed the clay of the churchyard in which they were buried from their face and body. "
There's a Rembrandt at the Art Institute of Chicago of an old man whose face looks like that of an old beggar. But he is adorned in black robes that must have been worn by nobility. The contrast is quite striking and very funny, and it reminds me very much of this image. I'm not sure there's any real connection to draw other than the similarity of the images. Maybe how silly vanity looks in the right light. In any event, wonderful essay, Dr. Dalrymple. I truly enjoy your writing.
Great essay, I really appreciate your take on our modern youth culture and the absurdity of those who live it and those who promote it. Seeing old men running around with grey ponytails and grey beards is enough to make one either feel sorry for them or laugh them to scorn. To age gracefully is indeed a virtue.