You chat and live with dead men of thought'Tis lovely, though one cannot escape the sad thought that Miss Foran is herself now a peaceful companion.
As you sit and pursue the words they wrought.
They are peaceful companions that never betray,
Nor dispute, nor quarrel, for silent are they.
What I find most intriguing comes in the poet likening aging books to "Egyptian mummies of old." Might this be a clever allusion to the oft-repeated myth – or is it? – that linen wrappings of mummies were used by nineteenth-century New England papermakers?
I suppose we'll never know.
As we nurse our respective Dominion Day hangovers, I present the six oldest Canadian books in my collection.
The Poems of Thomas D'Arcy McGee
Thomas D'Arcy McGee
Montreal: D. & J. Sadlier, 1870
Purchased four years ago – US$8.00 – at an antique store in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. At my aunt's 88th birthday dinner the previous evening I'd bragged that only one Canadian politician had ever been assassinated: McGee. I am a joy at parties. No invitations declined.
The Right Hon. Earl of Beaconsfield
Montreal: Dawson Brothers, 1880
Not by a Canadian, but it was published in Canada, I picked up Endymion three years ago for $1.99 at our local Salvation Army Thrift Store. The Dawson Brothers – Samuel and William – were once Montreal's preeminent publishers and booksellers; I came along a century later. A bookish lad raised in the oldish suburb of Beaconsfield, I knew Benjamin Disraeli's name before those of Messrs Wilson and Heath.
Tecumseh: A Drama
Toronto: Hunter, Rose, 1883
A first edition of the Confederation Poet's epic about the great man, this was a gift from a friend who had rescued it from a box of rejected donations to the McGill Library Book Sale. Most generous, I think you'll agree.
A Popular History of the Dominion of Canada
Rev. William H. Withrow, D.D. F.R.S.C.
Toronto: William Briggs, 1885
How popular? Well, my copy ranks amongst the sixth thousand. Purchased in 2000 for forty dollars – I paid too much. Though I've never taken so much as a glance beyond the title page, I'll bet that it's a more interesting work than Neville Trueman: Pioneer Preacher, Rev Withrow's preachy War of 1812 novel.
The Other Side of the "Story"
Toronto: James Murray, 1886
A new acquisition, found just last week at a bookstall in London, Ontario. Storm clouds were gathering. In his "INTRODUCTORY", Mr King describes this publication as a "brochure", but at 150 bound pages I'm going to say it's a book. I've not yet had a chance to properly investigate its contents, so know only that it is a critique of John Charles Dent's The Story of the Upper Canadian Rebellion (Toronto: C. Blackett Robinson, 1885). Price: 50¢.
Sam Slick, The Clockmaker
Thomas Chandler Haliburton
New York: John B. Alden, 1887
Purchased thirteen years ago for US$8.00 from a Yankee bookseller, this is surely the skinniest edition of the CanLit classic. Thin, pulpy and grey/brown in colour, the paper is typical of the publish and crumble era. I can write, with great certainty, that no mummies were destroyed in it's making.