You know how easy it is to go down bunny trails on the internet, following one link to another to another until you are way off track from where you originally started?
Turns out, old books can have the same effect.
I found several lovely vintage hardback books at a local thrift store last week. Granted, none of them were in great condition, but that’s okay with me because that kept them at a price I could afford.
This volume of Tennyson, for example, is missing the first 12 pages. Since it’s a book of poetry and I’ll likely never read the whole thing anyway, I was fine with that.
As I cradled the book in my hands, admiring the embossed cover and carefully turning the fragile pages I remembered an incident in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life.
I immediately retrieved my copy of Little Town on the Prairie from my bookcase and flipped through it till I found the scene I was thinking of.
Much to my great amazement Laura’s description of the book she found very closely matched the volume I had in front of me, down to the red lines around the margins.
It was a perfectly new book, beautifully bound in green cloth with a gilded pattern pressed into it. The smooth, straight, gilt edges of the pages looked like solid gold. On the cover two curving scrolls of lovely fancy letters made the words, TENNYSON’S POEMS.
Mine only says TENNYSON and does not curve. However, “green cloth… gilded pattern pressed into it… gilt edges of the pages…” all match.
In the lamplight the fresh, untouched pages lay spread, each exciting with unread words printed up it in clear, fine type. Straight, thin red lines enclosed each oblong of printing, like the treasure it way, and outside the red lines were the page’s pure margins.
Near the bottom of the left-hand page was a short line in larger type: THE LOTOS-EATERs.
“Courage!” was the first word under that…
“Near the bottom of the left-hand page…” Yes, indeed.
And you know what else? My book is inscribed with the original owner’s name and the date.
Mrs Jennie Tuttle
From her Husband
Dec 25th 1882
Guess when Laura Ingalls received her volume of Tennyson.
Christmas 1881. Just one year earlier.
I strongly suspect it’s the very same edition.
Isn’t that fun?
Of course, L.M. Montgomery’s fictional Anne Shirley was a huge fan of Tennyson, too.
Based on the illustration in the book I’m just not sure that Elaine would have captured my fancy the way she did Anne’s. But then, Anne was a schoolgirl at least 100 years before I was. No doubt that makes a difference.
Another Anne reference to Tennyson ties in to my own heritage. Just yesterday I finished re-reading Anne’s House of Dreams as part of the #annewithanereadalong2018 on Instagram. There is a scene where Anne is visiting Captain Jim…
“…I heard you reading a piece of poetry one day last winter–one of Tennyson’s pieces. I’d sorter like to hear it again, if you could recite it for me.”
Softly and clearly, while the seawind blew in on them, Anne repeated the beautiful lines of Tennyson’s wonderful swan song–“Crossing the Bar.” The old captain kept time gently with his sinewy hand.
“Yes, yes, Mistress Blythe,” he said, when she had finished, “that’s it, that’s it. He wasn’t a sailor, you tell me–I dunno how he could have put an old sailor’s feelings into words like, if he wasn’t one. He didn’t want any ‘sadness o’ farewells’ and neither do I, Mistress Blythe–for all will be well with me and mine beyant the bar.”
While I’m not all that familiar with most of Tennyson’s poems I did know Crossing the Bar, having come across it several years ago on the memorial card for my Great-Grandaddy who passed away a few years before I was born.
The book I have isn’t indexed so I wasn’t able to find Crossing the Bar within the pages just by flipping through it. And who knows, maybe it was on one of the missing first 12 pages. However, I did find the full poem online, of course.
I think I need to get better acquainted with Alfred, Lord Tennyson. I’m feeling quite illiterate.