My Collection of Old Books
August 19, 2008 | Permalink
One question that I have been asked a number of times in person and through email is "what sort of books do you collect for your library other than Ballantyne and Henty?" While it is true that Ballantyne and Henty take many of my shelves, I do try to collect some of the other great authors of the 19th century.
The first real book I read was Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. It was probably one of the first books to spark the love of reading in me. In the beginning of Treasure Island, Stevenson has a poem to the "hesitating purchaser" in which he speaks of his top three favorite authors. When I began to think about books I should be collecting, the first thing I did was to take the poem by Stevenson and incorporate that into the process of building up my library. In the poem, Stevenson names three of the men he thought of as the "great" authors of his time.
His ancient appetites forgot,
Kingston, or Ballantyne the brave,
Or Cooper of the wind and wave:
So be it, also! And may I
And all my pirates share the grave
Were these and their creations lie!
I began with James Fenimore Cooper. I had read an abridged version of The Last of The Mohicans when I was 11, so I was not completely new to Cooper, but he had not captured my imagination the way Henty or Ballantyne had. I found out later it was because so much of his stirring love of the outdoors had been cut out of the book. One of the problems with abridged versions is that someone other than the author uses their own judgment to slice and dice the book into something other than what the author intended. The results are sometimes quite dissatisfying, as I had discovered. Consequently, I didn't fully appreciate Cooper. When I realized that Stevenson thought so much of him that he included him in his list of top authors, I knew I must look into Cooper further.
First I bought an old copy of Cooper's The Leatherstocking Tales from eBay. I was blessed to find a reasonable price. After I received it, I realized that it was a nice edition: 1880's Routledge, and just about 900 pages long! Thankfully, the 900 pages were divided into five stories. All five, The Deerslayer, The Last of The Mohicans, The Pathfinder, The Pioneers, and The Prairie, were bound together! I read the whole book in three weeks. Ever since then, I have thoroughly enjoyed collecting and reading Cooper's works. About a year later, I found an amazing collection of thirty of his books selling for $35. As you would imagine, I snatched them up quickly. I still have only read half of them.
The other two authors mentioned by Stevenson were R.M. Ballantyne and W.H.G. Kingston. I had already heard of both men. I began collecting Ballantyne on the recommendation of some Christian book vendors. I knew of Kingston because Henty had helped to edit two of his books, Our Soldiers and Our Sailors. Kingston had also translated books for Jules Verne from the original French. In fact, he had translated one of my favorite books of all time, The Mysterious Island!
I had not had an opportunity to collect Kingston as much as the other authors until our recent Scotland trip. While in Scotland, we visited the island of Iona. There is much to be said about Iona. You can read more about it here. But to get back to the story, while on Iona, we found a little book store. The store was chock-full of all sorts of books. We saw some amazing volumes there, but what caught my eye immediately was a little pile of Nelson & Sons books lying in a corner. At first I thought they might be Ballantyne, but on closer inspection, I found that they were Kingston books. Unfortunately, because of the weight limits on travelers, I was only able to take home two of Kingston's books. The two I bought were Peter the Whaler, and The Wanderers. You can see an image of The Wanderers above. If any of you ever visit the island of Iona, I highly recommend you visit the little old bookshop there. I am sure you will find some treasures.