1. A Memory of Lost Treasure.

I first discovered the shop situated on the corner of Cecil Court, roughly opposite the entrance to the National Portrait Gallery in the Easter holidays of 1973. I had gone to London with a girlfriend from the University of Sussex.
It was evidently a rare exmple - even then - of a late Georgian, intact, shopfront; complete with its internal fittings.
It specialized in antiquities of all kinds, jumbled in an unswept, dusty window display, and also contained in wall-cabinets which were integral to the internal pannelling. The girl who I was with evidently knew of its existence, and of the oddity of the place, which was evidently well-known within a specific clique of London collectors and dealers. (Her father was one of the senior partners of Stanley Gibbons, the famous stamp dealers; whilst one of her uncles was in the higher echelons of Spinks, specialist dealers in numismatics and medals. Evidently, members of her family had for at least three generations been attempting to do business with the proporietor of this establishment - if only to salvage the remains of his extensive stock from the ravages of time and neglect. However, the owner was eccentric to say the least; and rumour had it, from her own family, as well as from fellow dealers in Cecil Court, that the old gentleman who owned not only the stock but also the property - freehold - was, let us say, perhaps had a longstanding penchant for the consumption of opiates.
The window alone constituted a treasure trove of clutter. But by no means worthless junk. There, before one’s eyes, were Egyptian, Assyrian... artefacts. The furnishings of the dead such as amulets, talismanic objects, small inscribed tablets, some covered in cuneiform lettering, some in hieroglyphs. There were prehistoric weapons: knife-hafts, spearheads, etc, some of flint; others of bronze and iron. Objects from the Dark Ages of Europe. Strange statuettes. Bracelets. Torques. Some in base metal. Others in silver; and a few in what seemed to be - probably was - gold.
An abundance of riches; yet at the same time a jumble.
There were also books. Small volumes bound in vellum; others in leather. Evidently in various stages of (in)completion; some having suffered from the ravafes of time more than others. A few were opened to display ornately formed initials in gold-leaf and vivid pigments made from finely-ground precios and semi-precious minerals mixed with oil and the gelatin of boiled bones to fix them to the prepared, smoothed skins.
All these treasures hidden beneath accumuations of dust; thin in some areas, whilst quite thick in other parts of the window display and the cabinets. Cobwebs were everywhere within. I still remember the aptly surreal yet pitiful conjunction of an especially fine cobweb which had caught nothing but dust with one of several elaborately worked pieces of lace. Even the labels on the lace (as on all the other reliquae) were of evident antiquity, being written in a variety of hands, probably dating from the seventeenth to the early nineteenth centuries, quite often with a code number indicating that the oject had been taken from a particular drawer or shelf of a cabinet... to which it was never to be returned.
To see this treasure trove one had to peer not only through panes of unwashed Georgian glass, but, moreover, the grille of spiked wrought-iron (rapidly rusting) which encased the window. There was, likewise, an outer door of spiked wrought ironwork punctuated by three locks, plus a couple of wrapped padlocked chains, which rendered the whole utterly tantalizing.
Each time I went to London I visited the shop in the hope that - just perhaps - it might be open.
Then one day, entirely by chance, having spent the best part of a December day in the reading room of the British Library, I could concenrate no more on the work in progress, felt claustrophobic; and yes, also I was enticed by the thought of the Cecil Court shop. I had already bought my commonlaw wife a piece of jewellery for Christmas, and had thought of treating myself to something. Having thanked the person in the British Library who had allowed me to actually hold in my hand and look through a medieval book of hours, as well as part of a James Joyce notebook fragment of Finnegans Wake, Cecil Court beckoned.

The shop was open. Or at least the padlocks were off, so I ventured in. There was the proprietor, shabbily dressed, evidently savouring a thick green liquid which he had just poured from a chemist’s bottle. This was something of a different potency from Chartreuse; and I had my suspicions as to its main ingredients: viz. an opiate compound in an alcohol suspension.
To curry favour I began by wishing him a Merry Christmas, before asking if I might look around, albeit briefly. To this he consented, so long as I was quick, and knew what I was looking for. My eyes lit on a page of illuminated text bearing a musical score. One corner was a little worn and crumbled where the stitching had torn through the vellum as the book had been dismantled. He asked £20 for it, informing me that, as the label indicated, it was early 14th century; and that the label itself dated from the late 17th century. I still had more money in my wallet, and was about to ask the prices of several other objects, when he politely but firmly ushered me to the door, informing me that he had to visit his doctor and then the pharmacy before six.

Memories - utterly vivid - of the interior of that quasi-impregnable magical shop are still with me. And, some nights, nights of restlessness and fitful sleeping and nightmares, they assume a life of their own. A reality, sometimes of wistful loss (loss of collections of objects and books which had to be sold to support my own addictions); sometimes of vivid horror.
Snapshots of both will be found later in this text.


2. The Anguish of Loss.
Books - for me - for many years (and to some extent still) were/are equated with loss, degradation, squalour and the threat of death. Selling books to maintain addictions, pretending that I had lost interest in them. Lying to myself. As I write this I have to reassure myself. I am reminded of Winnie-the-Pooh, who, in one story, is compelled to keep checking that all his jars of honey are safe from predators and thieves. (This in itself, innocent and charming though it is on one level is, on another, the quasi-perfect metonymy for the behaviour of the addict... or the bibiophile.)
Such sense of loss can at times surface in the most intense manner, doubtless a manifestation of what Freud (and with more insight and eloquence Jacques Lacan and Julia Kristeva) would refer to within the phrase ‘the return of the repressed’.
Moreover, I have to confess, that whilst writing this, I have by my side, close at hand, three recent acquisitions - books of course - which I frequently feel, and occasionally peruse... just to make sure that they are still there. That I have actually purchased them; that I have not lost them.

The three items in question are:

1. The Ten Books of Quintus Curtius Rufus [...], 4to, London, 1652; translated by Robert Codrington.
This is the first English translation of the works of Quintus Curtius.
2. Francesco Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia Polyphili, transated by Jocelyn Godwin, Thames & Hudson, London, 1999. The first complete translation of this important text of Renaissance Hermeticism/mysticism. It is, moreover, printed in a specially-designed typface which imitates that of the original, as well as containing reproductions of the original illustations and emblematic embellishments.
3. The two volumes of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

On my left, in a small card folder, is a manuscript leaf from a Book of Hours, probably from Tours, France, circa 1460.

Thus, two narratives. One manuscript fragment from a larger (but still pocket-size) work. And a work of reference.
It is with the work of reference - the dictionary - that I will commence this journey. The traces of which will NOT be inscribed in a book, or on loose sheets, but on the screen and discs of a computer.

I open the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, and seach for the entry ‘Book’. Is it significant to note that this lengthy entry is preceded by a much shorter one which reads as follows:

Boohoo, int. and sb. 1525. A word imitative of noisy weeping and laughter. Also as vb.

- Should I take this as an uncanny admonition as to the futility of the quest before me? I erase all such trepidations and continue.

Book. Evidently the roots of this word are to be traced to Old Teutonic. To quote:

The orig. meaning was ‘writing tablet’; in pl. tablets, hence book, a sense subseq extended to the sing.
[There is evidently a connexion between boc and beech. Probably bark and fibres of this tree being used as the original writig surface in this part of Europe.
Moreover, I find myself sidetracked in another, personal way. I am reminded of an important essay by Jacques Derrida, entitled, in English translation, ‘Freud and the Scene of Writing’, in Writing and Difference. In this essay, Derrida discusses and rereads Freud’s essay on the magic writing-block. To all intents and purposes this was - and is if one can still find such things - a children’s toy, consisting of a pointed piece of wood with which to write, and the writing block itself, which was a cake of wax in a wooden container. The wax cake was covered by a thick piece of greaseproof paper upon which one wrote. And hey presto! your writing appeared. Then, between the wax tablet and the greaseproof paper, there was a thin metal strip in grooves top and bottom with a thumb-grip. Move the metal strip and the paper would be released from the wax tablet, and the visible writing would appear. (But of course, if one looked closely, one could see the traces of the previous writing upon the wax block. Thus Derrida postulates a triad of writing / erasure /trace.
- And many secondhand and antiquarian books contain elements of annotation, erasure, and subsequent annotation at a later date. Often, in manuscripts, one can detect where passages - written on vellum - have been erased, and later modifications, alterations or additions inserted.
In such cases one can say that the book contains traces of previous readings which have never been quite entirely expunged. Reading itself is incremental to the book itself. And from an early date, many printed books included margins and, indedd, interleaved blanks precisely to record the act of reading as one of participation within the text. Reading as an act of modification of the text.

However, the preceding paragraphs are in effect marginal to the quotation or copying of the entry under ‘Book’ from the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.]

To continue:
[...] A writing; a written charter or deed. A (written) narrative, record, list, register - 1681. 3. A collection of sheets of paper or other substance [...] blank, written, or printed, fastened together so as to form a material whole, esp. such a collection fastened together at the back and protected by covers; also, a literary composition long enough to make one volume, as dist. from a tract, pamphlet, essay, etc. [...]

- And, as one would expect, the various nuances multiply with time. The gap between denotation and connotations (in the plural) widens.


Ferdinand de Saussure, the founder of modrn linguistics, distinguished between Langue and Parole. Langue (literally ‘tongue’) was conceived as being language (usully a national language, in Saussure’s case, French) as the hypothetical totality of all possible permutations of words which could be said to generate a meaning. One could use the analogy, perhaps, of a reservoir.
Parole, on the other hand, Saussure considered as a specific instance of usage of the tongue, as in everyday speech, conversation, requests, demands, orders, spoken etiquette etc.. Thus, from the reservoir of language, one took as much as was needed at any specific time.

Saussure’s researches and writings (and his few publications within his own lifetime) were undertaken in the late 19th and early 20th century. Then, with the advent of positivism, logical positivism, the growth of symbolic logic, his ideas were eclipsed, until the advent of the movement retrospectively termed Structuralism, initially a French intellectual phenomenon of the early 1960s.
Structuralism borrowed heavily from the science of linguistics.
Yet, nevertheless, from its outset, it met with dissenters within its own ranks, so to speak. To simplify a great deal, the pivot of the argument concerned the primacy acorded to speech, the spoken word.
The problem was - and still is - that speeech by its very nature is ephemeral. It exists in time, but not in space. In order to be recorded, some external agent or medium is necessary. The wax cylinder, the record, tape, and latterly the cd have all captured the nuances of the spoken word. Without which aids, such facilities as sound archives would simply not exist. However, all such recordings (with, possibly, the exeption of the cd) have proven to be woefully fragile and prone to corruption, degradation and decay.
Indeed, at the time when records of the spoken word were first being lauded as a great breakthrough in preserving the past and DISSEMINATING utterances, James Joyce was already mercilessly taking the piss out of such commercial claims of immortality and permanence.
In Ulysses, Joyce (in the guise of Leopold Bloom) mercilessly pokes fun at the idea of attempting to artificially prolong the memory of the deceased via the medium of the record or cylinder.


Besides how could you remember everybody? Eyes, walk, voice. Well, the voice, yes: gramophone. Have a gramophone in every grave or keepit in the house. After dinner on a Sunday. Put on old greatgrandfather Kraahraark! Hellohellohello amawfullyglad kraark awfullygladaseeragain hello hello
amarawrf kopsth. Remind you of the voice like the photograph reminds you of the face. [...]

The record or cd/cd rom, however, can only be played back with the aid of a machine independent of the subject. The book (in a first stage of comprehension) requires only the eyes. Or the eyes and tongue of one person, and the ears of another, if the ‘reader-as-listener’ is blind, as in the case of Borges, and before him, Milton.

The book is visible, tactile, has a specific smell (whether new or old), even a specific sound. The pages of different books make different sounds as onereads, turning over the pages, or flicking through them; no two books fall off the same shelf in the same manner and with the same sound.. [Wicked thought: Perhaps a Jane Austen novel should fall to the accompaniment of a rustle of lace and crinoline. Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel, on the other, to the accompaniment of a gusset-ripping fart born of a surfeit of wine and sausages.

However, the acts of both writing and reading are beset with interruptions andbreaks. And here seems an appropriate location.


It is a dream which I have experienced many times in the past. I was always so utterly vivid.
I was standing outside the window of a shop specializing in books and antiquities. There was one particular volume which intrigued me, placed alone in a small oak cabinet. Bound in calf, leather, or vellum, I could not say which as it constantly changed.
I remember the peculiar tinkle of the old-fashioned spring-bell as I opened the door. I had no need to talk, it seemed, and neither had the proprietor, who was elderly and what one would term shabby-genteel in appearance.
He handed me the book; more as if it were a gift, or something which he was happy to dispose of, rather than being something which he demanded money for.
I remember feeling the covering of the book. It was as if I was touching my own skin: the skin of my left hand with the fingers of my right. I noticed too that it was grained like human skin. (I later discovered that some books were bound in human skin. Not only in the name of the macabre excesses of the Nazis; but that such objects - as fetishes - formed part of the culture of many so-called primitive societies; and that examples could be seen in, for instance, the Museum of Mankind, London, and elsewhere; but not usually in places of prominent dispay.) Although the feel of the book was unusual, it was, within the nightare, not initially repugnant. It was even warm: blood-heat, in fact. The proprietor beckoned me to open the tome, which I did.
...Within, there were no pages as such. Rather, first of all, a series of partitions made of what appeared to be gelatin, each in turn containing a book, somewhat in the fashion of a travelling library-case of small format editions such as were taken on the grand tour or on tedious coach journeys before the age of rail. Then the object began to slowly metamorphose, changing in texture, shape, and dimensions. It slowly dawned upon me that this was siister; yet compulsively desirable at the same time. So I leafed through. Each page I turned offered both splendours and menacing items. Cameo rings from ancient Rome next to severed fingers. A ruby seal next to a chicken’s giblets, still in their anatomical pouch. Pages from an illuminted miniature book of hours, in which the clouds and the figures moved. Then the turn of a leaf, and behold, the inner organs of a human being: a heart beating, lungs expanding and collapsing. I realized my fingers were becoming sticky, and, looking down for a tissue or handkerchief with which to dry them, I noticed that my shirt front was saturated with blood. That in fact there were huge gaping wounds in my own body. That the book and my body had become interwoven in the dreamwork of condensation and displacement. ...That in fact the book in some way was itself a life-form. Worse still, an unpleasant extension of my own body.
Unfortunately I then used to awake. I say ‘unfortunately’, for since then I have witnessed far worse scenes in real life. These cannot be shrugged off as a vivid nightmare. The scars never mend.
For me, therefore, books and the collecting of unusual objects and antiquities and furniture are ways of blocking things out. ‘Ways of Escape’, to borrow a turn of phrase from Graham Greene.

Before turning to the books themselves, as a ploy of deferral, I present a brief clip from, first of all, Derek Jarman’s The Tempest; secondly from Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books. It is to be remembered that the primary factor underlying the banishment of Prospero is that, following the death of his wife, he sought sanctuary and solace in his library to the utter detriment of his dominion.


1. A leaf from a tree. No doubt with time and patience, and the aid of a BOOK I could identify the type of tree whence it came: its provenance. This merry prank I will happily postpone, as after several nights’ insomnia my central nervous system is jangled enough already. Note the veins running through the leaf; reminiscent, in some perverse way, of the venous system of the bloody book of my nightmare. The sculptor and environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy has made garlands, hops, boxes and even sculptures from leaves, using the lea veins and thorns instead of thtread and needles. However, I do not think he has so far made a BOOK from woven leaves.
[Note the veins in the leaf, which somehow metonymically calls forth the nightmare displacements of the book of which I dreamed - nightmared.]
2. A leaf from a Book of Hours, French, perhaps from Tours, acording to the cataloguing of Mr Phillip Pirages, whose acumen is openly acknowledged by members of the British Library manuscript department.

These two items share, I think, various points of contact. Provisionally stated:
1. Both are parts of larger entities. The leaf originally hung on a tree, of which it formed an integral part. The tree in its turn is often utilized in the manufacture of paper: the leaves of a book, perhaps.
What was probably at one time a complete Book of Hours now only survives in fragments. Many autumnal and winter ravages have dispersed the leaves mercilessly. Many of which undoubtedly met with ignominious ends: such as firelighters, pie-tray linings; stuffed into crevices to prevent draughts and so on. (See John Aubrey on the fate of mss in the 17th century.)
2. Therefore, both leaves exist in an uneasy limbo. An alien space. Their original function has been stripped from them, be it by the forces of nature: the seasons; for the tree must shed its leaves in order to survive. Or via the vicissitudes of history: the plundering of religious houses in Europe from the late Renaissance onwards.
RESTITUTION (pace Derrida) is impossible in both cases. Preserved in an environment different from that in which they were intended to function - be it by man or nature - their status is temporarily secure, albeit imposed and remote. Both leaves have been SALVAGED. (Ambiguous word: partly connoting ‘saved’; partly ‘savaged’: having been raped/ripped in this process of preservation and collecting.)
However... one may dismiss the above surmises/ramblings as so much litter.- ‘A letter a litter’ to quote James Joyce from Finnegans Wake (in a section which, ironically, yet aptly in this instance, involves a hen scratching in a farmyard dunghill and scrabbling together a document - previously torn up - of incriminating evidence in the annals of Irish history).

And here the text parts company from the aforesaid leaves, already lost in this present accumulation of leaves.




At the outset a caveat - a word of warning; an admission of my ignorance.
I know very little - next to nothing in fact - of non-European books. That is to say, of their function, of their intended mode of reading; of the social and religious systems of which they formed an integral part. Perhaps this may in part be due to the great divide which separates the dsciplines of art history, cutural history and intellectual history, from those of cultural anthopology, historical anthropology and ethnography in the British higher education system.

Please allow me to choose a few books. There will, I strongly suspect, just from looking at my own motley collection, be a dialectic of similarity and difference in this choice whch I have made. A personal choice: yes, I freely admit; and perhaps one which is not always deadpan in its juxtapositions. However, in my flat I arrange my books to suit MY needs; definitely Not conforming to any known code of librarianship.

Having begun with a cultural fragment of the fifteenth century, why not supplement this with another. An instance, it will, I think become apparent, of both similarity and difference.
This book is incomplete. A fragment - like the illuminated ms leaf - of early Renaissance literary culture. Still a religious as opposed to a secular or vernacular work.
And so!:


1.MARTINUS FLACH, Sermones Thesauri novi de sanctis.
Argentinae, 1488.
- bound with:
Sermones quadragesimales Thesauri . 1485.

One of the best-researched bst-selling novels set in the middle ages is undoubtedly The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, who is himself an established hitorian of medieval culture. One of the pivots of the plot is the fact that in the medieval period - and indeed down until the early 16th century, quite often both bound mss and printed books could contain MORE THAN ONE TEXT - i.e. SEVERAL TEXTS between their wooden boards.

Books printed before 1500 are generically referred to as INCUNABULA, an endearing - if quaint - indication of the fact that, as the Latin derivation suggests, such books date from the time when printing was still a babe-in-arms, in its swaddling clothes (or in its widdling clothes; not much difference really to the washerwoman...).
Before the advent of printing - I defer attributing the invention to one specific individual of a particular nation-state, albeit the name of Gutenberg - thanks to McLuhan - has become synonymous with the invention of printing in the west. I do this because it seems to add little but confusion and nit-picking... mainly along the perforations of national boundaries. This is the sort of positivistic and nationalistic historicism which first established itself in universities during the 19th century. It has more to do with jingoism and flag-waving than sensible history; therefore drag it to the bin!
Again: Before the advent of printing, books were disseminated chiefly in two ways. Either monastic libraries agreed to exchange copies of manuscripts for copying in their scriptoria (basically religious copying-houses, wherein each monk was allotted a certain fascicule or bundle of stitched leaves to copy; once copying was completed the loaned copy and the copied copy were then bound between wooden boards, coverered with leather, held together on the leading edges with either leather thongs or metal buckles according to money and expertise available). Once completed, the originals were then returned to the houses which had loaned them.

Unfortunately there is insufficient space here to enter into the intricate workshop or scriptorial relationships which made the praxis of copying, and the production of books possible. A simplistic arrangement can be roughly postulated as follows: at the bottom of the pile, the scribes themselves. These were often monks with a limited range of literacy: they could copy, yet quite often not understand: it was a writing exercise. For this reason one encounters so many variant texts of authors such as Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas and theological works, due to oversight, exhaustion, irritation, boredom.
Then a second set, or hierarchy of scribes added the frst embellihments, the ornate or HISTORIATED initial letters, words or opening sentences of specific books or subdivisions. These were scribes allowed small quantities of gems ground in oil and slivers of gold leaf. Above them, the illuminators were responsible for the illustrations - full-page, half-page or quarter-page vignettes.
The gatherings having been stitched together (each bundle or fascicule identified with a SIGNATURE - i.e. a small, barely visible code at the bottom of each leaf, as an indication to the binder; definitely NOT a signature of workmanship) were thenceforth committed to the bindery, where the separate small bundles were carefully arranged in order, stitched again to form a firm textual core. Then wooden boards Plane, Oak, Beech... were affixed to the spine with leather thongs, before being themseles covered in either leather or vellum.
The boards were then TOOLED - i.e. decorated with patterns of gold leaf, or left unadorned but simply stamped (blind-stamped) or indeed embellished with antique Roman and Greek coins (usually gold or silver), antique cameos or with precious and semi-precious gemstones.
These were to all intents and purposes undeniably items of ostentation of the first order. They simultanously proclaimed the owner’s (not the author’s, nor the scribe’s nor the binder’s) erudition and his wealth. Moreover, they proclaimed that the owner had the rare privileges of relative privacy and time for relaxation in order to read - or at least peruse erratically these extremely expensive tomes.
To do so one had to have a position of power and stability: such as the Papacy. Or such as the more successful condottiere - or mercenary Dukes such as Federico da Montefeltre - came to possess by ruthles force of arms.
Yet there was a growing market for such luxury items among those members of the nobility who had had the privilege to have been educated privately or in smal family groups by the generally impoverished Renaissance humanist scholars of the period, such as Cristoforo Landino, and his more gifted pupils.
There began at this time in the early Renaissance the first shoots of what one would call a Book Trade as such, in manuscripts prior to printed books. A whole labyrinth of Parisian streets was slowly taken over by scribes, copyists, preparers of parchment and pigments and binders. Moreover, the somewhat pompous yet evidently erudite and shrewd Vespasiano da Bisticci was probably the first bookseller to write his memoirs. The shopkeeper thought he deserved a higher social acclaim than his fellows, and sought to prove it BY WRITING AN ACCOUNT OF HIS DAILY AFFAIRS, indicating, nay, emphasizing that he was no mere tradesman, but had personal contact with the leading powerful and wealthy persons whose fortunes made the Renaissance economically possible.
Vespasiano da Bisticci does not seem to have welcomed the advent of printing gladly. From his memoirs one athers he was very much a supporter of the medieval guild system of craftsmen; conservative in outlook, and most probably viewing printing as a potentially seditious force.

Yet for all that, north of the Alps in particular there were forces at work to challenge the supremacy of Italian cultural achievements. The vast improvements in oil painting, which entailed the novel idea of the easy transportation of artworks, nolonger intergral to the wall as in fresco or secco, or as part of the internal carpentry as in the case of diptychs and triptychs on panel was part of a movement which indicated the mobility of artist and artwork.
Of all portable artefacts, besides jewellery, dress, tableware, the most ostentatious and innovatory was the book. The PRINTED book. There was one drawback, however. Namely, that whereas apiece of sculpture, antique or copied or newly-conceived undoubtedly caught the eye - as did a fresco or panel painting, the book per se was a much less grandiose object, even if encrusted with pearls and antique cameos.
Moreover, the act of reading in itself is socially a far more personal, individual act than admiring works of art, remains of antiquity or objects of craftsmanship.Whilst the latter pastimes can be enjoyed simultaneously by a select group, the dimensions of the book almost enforce a solitary pleasure upon the reader.
As Alberto Manguel (amongst others) has indicated, much more research needs to be done concerning the development of SILENT READING: something which we take for granted today, as being the norm for reading a text of any kind (unless it form part of a public entertainment or gathering). The oral tradition of reading aloud did not suddenly die out overnight. There was no relatively swift, epistemological or lexical break precisely coinciding with the advent of the vernacular manuscript, nor of the printed book.
The professional storyteller was still active in the 19th century. Such people were quite often professionally employed in the workshops of the earlier phases of the industrial revolution, before the din of mechanization drowned their voices.
And even after that, the reading of pamphlets, of sensationalist penny dreadfuls continued in taverns throughout Europe - especially, it would seem, in concentrations of poorly-paid, ill-educated workers. In such communities, it seems, the readings - especially from newspapers and from political pamphlets continued well into the era of the popular press. For instance, such encounters are recorded by Thomas Hardy, as well as being documented by H.L. Douch in his meticulous study of the social history of the Cornish inn from Tudor times to the early 20th century.



The problematic historico-social status of such readings - performed in public places, raises an issue which, albeit peripheral in many respects to these brief notes, nonetheless must be signalled.
The problem is that of the relationship between the textual and the oral tradition. Between the transmission via print and the transmission via the voice.
Even in the present, the voice has continually infiltrated the text. The presence of the voice is there in writers as diverse as Joyce, Pound, Chandler, Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney. [I leave to one side the many problems raised by the transcripts of Lacan’s Seminaire.]
Both Propp and Bakhtin were aware of the inability of the text to capture the essence of the oral tradition which they were attempting to transcribe. One could argue that - despite translation - Italo Calvino’s volume of Italian folk tales somehow represents a return not simply to the proto-oral histories attempted by the Brothers Grimm; but going much further back... to the time of Boccaccio, and, before him, of Apuleius and Petronius.
In fact, in The Golden Ass and in the (quasi-Burroughsian ‘routines’) of Petronius’ Satyricon, the reader is faced with an exemplary lesson in what Roland Barthes termed the ‘fading’ of the voice within the narrative text. In other words, those points at which the text could not keep up with the voice, with the polyphony of the various tales being simultaneously interwoven.

[Would it be possible to compose a tentative catalogue of ‘Books of Voices’? Or is this the domain of the interactive cd-rom? And at what point would it become an intolerable babble? This in turn raises the problem of categorization. Tentatively put: Should one distinguish between a textual transcript, a written sketch essentially intended for recital, and a BOOK? The first northern Euopean books may well have been made from bark. But one must distinguish between the bark of the beech and the bark of the bitch, or of the dog, or of the trader hellbent on selling you something you have no intention of buying.]

However, it is now time for me to pick up from where I left off.
Sir Thomas Browne appropriately wrote of the close affinities between the text and textury - i.e. weaving..
In other words, he seems to imply that the more loose threads one attempts to work into the intricacy of one’s pattern of argument, the more the danger that one loses track of the structuration. And, moreover, like a piece of poor knitting, pull one hanging strand to retrace the route taken, and the whole garment unravels.



By golly! May you all live in happy bibliophile times, never misplacing a book, never lending a precious tome out to someone who fails to return it!
May you always find the elusive tome for which you have been seeking at a price much lower than you were willing to pay for it!
If possible, avoid the temptation to unwrap it until you are safely indoors. Never leave in on bus, train or plane. Never drop it. Never spill anything on it. Always remember where you shelved it.
And should you be in two minds whether or not to purchase it, having sought it for a long time, always buy it... unless it is priced well over the odds.

So far I have briefly - with digressions - considered th book which it was impossible even to look at - let alone purchase.
The book of horror which manifested its gruesome, impossible awe in a nightmare.
The leaf from a Book of Hours.
The incunable.

I will now allow myself a further introspective luxury: that of considering those books for which I have an especial admiraton.
For a variety of reasons.


At one point in the history of book production - or rather bookbinding - it was somewhat fashionable to bind the text within a page from another text.
Take for example the copy of Lucan’s Pharsalia, 1589; bound in a page from a 13th century manuscript. Such ploys are often encountered in books of this period. Aubrey attests to the sameploybeing used. Whether it was to embellish the nondescript calf binding; whether to reinforce it, or whether to protect the book (rather like the old fashioned school exrcise of wrapping textbooks in cheap brown paper, or cheapart paper, I am unsure. Certainly there is much more research needed in this field.




ROBERT BURTON, The Anatomy of Melancholy.

SIR THOMAS BROWNE, Pseudodoxia Epidemica.



The sketchbook. Samuel Buck’s Yorkshire Sketchbook.
The Bucks’ engravings of the towns and cities of England I have already brought in.
This facsimile demonstrates their working-method, being sketches done in situ, to be later worked up into plates in their studio.

The sketchbook of an unknown young lady/man ? Probably of c.1830. Some of the sketches seem to have been drawn in situ as a record of a continental jouney. These seem to be supplemented by copies of views taken from popular journals of the late Georgian period.



A bold experiment demonstrating - laying bare - the utterly arbitrary nature of the novel itself. If the novel was invention, then surely invention and experimentation could be carried on inefinitely... until the author tired of the exercise. Chapters, typography, arrangements of bindings, insertion of wrong pages... are all integral to Sterne’s subversion of the novel into a topsy-turvey world of sexual innuendo, in which nothing is ever adequately resolved. The novel - the book - as an arbitrary construction; mirroring the arbitrary, absurdity of the world and of individuals themselves.



The first edition.
James Joyce, Ulysses, the first trade edition.
Also the 2-volume paperbound set published by the Odyssey Press, to be smuggled into England.

William Burroughs: The Naked Lunch. Olympia Press.

The art book genre:

1. Richard Hamilton, Collected Words.

2. Tom Phillips, A Humument. A Book open to constant alterations, embellishments, readings, revisions.

3. Tom Phillips, Dante’s Inferno.
From the medieval illuminated text, via photolithography, cutup, etc.
And thence to Television, in collaboration with Peter Greenaway.

4. David Hockney in a playful mood of collaboration.
Revisiting the theme of the alphabet. Part typographical exercise. Part philosophical.
Part reworking of the oldfashioned children’s primary school book.



The Library Catalogue which has never been used.
Perhaps - mischievously - this reflects upon the status of manywho expend money upon libraries today. For ostentation: not for reading. The catalogue reflects the void of the lack of reading. The lack of interest once the shelves have been filled.

To be compared with Pepys’ Library Catalogue.


The Diary which is too good to use. Helmut Newton.
Combine with Pages from the Glossies.