Old books can be a time capsule of opinions, experience and misinformation. You can Brontë your way around nineteenth century Yorkshire, you can analyse the social classes, observe stereotypes, wonder about developments in medicine and laugh at the handling of taboo topics. Some prefer to bleep curse-words than use euphemisms and they’re edited out with a series of dashes; “D——- children…” (one can assume the children weren’t delightful). Also bleeped were locations and addresses, “W——- Street” implying that the author or the publisher censored a genuine address instead of inventing a ficticous one. And of course they were written differently, you are more inclined to read a tedious, self-indulgent prologue, you’ll see more flowery detail and boy, did they like an epic sentence. Commas, apparently, were not taxed.
“There was the old stone cross, to begin with, rough and timeworn, it is true, with the storms of centuries, but standing bravely, through all changes and chances, on the same plinth, and with the same rough carving at the top which had marked it ever since the day when it was raised there to show the place where a queen, beloved of her husband, had rested on her long, sad journey to a silent grave.”
Chapter 1, page 7-8
‘The Lost Emerald’
By Mrs Emma Marshall
For all of its eleven commas, it has quite a thoughtful pace.
But there’s more to these books than you might think. Photographs, postcards, pressed flowers,bookmarks, bookplates and dedications. These details hint at a story beyond the book. They can tell you about the person who read it, who never finished it, who gifted it or who won it. With my interest in family history, on occasion I’ve had enough information to research those scribbled names and I’ve learnt what happened to them. Peering inside the front cover of these old books once led me to a book that belonged to a friend’s great grandfather.
And sometimes, there are other surprises. My Twitter header features a fairly ordinary looking book titled ‘Elements of Social Science’ which I later discovered to be a façade. On the inside cover, the book offers an alternative title, ‘Elements of Physical, Sexual and Natural Religion’. Curious? This is a third edition reprint of a 1856 book featuring female hysteria among other more unseemly ailments. The author himself chose to remain anonymous but it offers a fascinating insight into medical understanding (or lack of it) at that time.
Have you ever dreamed of a library in your home? Wall to wall books accessable by a ladder, and a comfy chair in the corner? If you are not yet convinced by the joys of book collecting, if stored in the afore mentioned manner, they make excellent insulators. Keep your home warm with books!