Forum Auctions (25/20/12.5% buyer’s premium) on January 28 included two Thomas Hardy books that brought rather different reviews in The Spectator at the time.
Works by Hardy were well represented and kicked off at £3500 with a three-decker, 1871 first in later half calf of his first published novel, Desperate Remedies.
Issued anonymously, it was so poorly reviewed in the Spectator that it was remaindered. Hardy later destroyed the manuscript.
However, Far from the Madding Crowd, first published serially in Cornhill Magazine but issued in two volumes in 1874, certainly impressed The Spectator. It prompted the comment: “If it is not written by George Eliot, then there is a new light among novelists.”
The Forum copy made £4800.
Hardy’s second novel, again issued anonymously, Under the Greenwood Tree of 1872, made £3500, and one of 500 signed sets of the 37 volume, ‘Mellstock’ edition of his works issued in 1919-20, still in the jackets that would normally be discarded, took £3800.
An 1847, three volume first of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre in a 20th century binding made £26,000.
Looking Glass rebound
Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) was famously fastidious about the printing of his books and Forum had one of only four known copies of a suppressed 1893 edition of Through the Looking Glass.
Only 60 copies had gone out when Dodgson, infuriated by its shortcomings, threatened to end his long relationship with Macmillan if the edition was not immediately withdrawn.
He did, however, change his mind about destroying the remaining copies and had them rebound and given to various charitable institutions.
Bearing an unsightly stamp on the title declaring its presentation to the Mechanics Institute Reading Rooms, the Forum example made £7000.
A 24-volume Nonesuch Dickens of 1937-38 was unusual in retaining all but one of the dust jackets and realised £6000.
Guided at £600-800 but sold at £8000 was a first edition set of the four works of 1966-75 that make up Paul Scott’s ‘Raj Quartet’.
All were inscribed to his friend, the literary agent David Higham, as was a copy of his Booker Prize-winning novel Staying On of 1977.
The latter, featuring several of the same characters, completed the series.
Anonymous passage to India
An very different lot of Indian interest sold at £5500 was an anonymous 1817 manuscript account of a journey to India that Forum described as perceptive and entertaining.
The writer describes a passenger on the voyage out, a Miss Travers, as having “… dark eyes… pouting mouth… rather clumsy in her figure and walks like a guinea fowl”.
Though Madras first appears to him “sublime”, he changes his opinion on closer inspection – but approves of Calcutta, where he visits the Asiatic Society, the famous Black Hole, bazaars and various factories.
On the religion and customs of Bengal, he notes the practice of Suttee and the throwing of female children in the Ganges “to be devoured by hungry crocodiles”, as well as “sacrifices at the temples of Jagannath”.
Dated to c.1400 and still in its heavily wormed but original wooden boards, an incomplete 400pp manuscript of the Eastern liturgy of the Greek provinces for the month of January was one of the sale’s oldest lots. It made £16,000.
The sale’s most expensive lot, at £34,000, was a 1493 first of Schedel’s famous Liber chronicarum, but one of the rarer early lots was a detailed refutation of the …Systema Copernicarum by Giorgio Polaccio, published in Venice in 1644. It sold at £7500.
Bid Barometer in ATG No 2479 featured an 1824 set of Peron and de Freycinet’s Voyage de Decouvertes aux Terres Australes that made £15,000.