A Black Tulip Comes to the Pforzheimer Collection
Here at the Pforzheimer Collection, our big acquisition of the year is a black tulip, one of the rarest items in the Shelleyan world: Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire, 1810, Shelley's first book of verse. Lost to the public eye shortly after its publication and believed, till 1898, to have vanished altogether, only three other copies are known. Even the Bodleian Library, holder of the best Shelley collection in the world, does not own it.
Victor and Cazire is the product of Shelley's early and powerful urge to publish, to make an author of himself. It's also evidence of his inclination to literary collaboration; he was "Victor" and his sister Elizabeth (1794-1831) "Cazire," a name taken from Charlotte Dacre's 1805 novel, Confessions of the Nun of St. Omer.
The reason for its rarity is that its longest poem, “St. Edmond’s Eve,” is plagiarized from Tales of Terror, a collection of Gothic poems and Gothic parodies published in 1801, where it was titled “The Black Canon of Elmham, or, St Edmond's Eve.” (The book has parodically lurid illustrations; the frontispiece is below.) Shelley’s publisher, John Joseph Stockdale, detected the plagiarism just a few weeks after Victor and Cazire appeared, attributing “The Black Canon” / “St. Edmond’s Eve” to Matthew Gregory Lewis. He relates that Shelley "with the ardour natural to his character ... expressed the warmest resentment at the imposition practiced upon him by his coadjutor, and ... instructed me to destroy all the copies..." (1) Since Shelley was almost surely the originator of the imposture, this resentment should have been aimed at himself; it’s hard not to think that he was laughing up his sleeve at his own joke. In any case, although Shelley had already received a considerable number of books, most of the 1500 copies (quite a large print run for a pair of unknown and pseudonymous writers) were destroyed. (2)
So when, last May, the New York bookseller Jonathan Hill mentioned casually, in an email about something else altogether, that a copy of Victor and Cazire was on the market, I was staggered. It was in the possession of a Paris bookseller, Stéphane Clavreuil, an old friend of his; the Parisian had recently bought the book in Florence. The more I considered, the clearer it became to me that we had to buy it. And so we did. I won't go through the machinations it took to acquire Victor and Cazire, except to say that they were slightly baroque and very exciting. -- everyone loves a chase. More to the point: I have some wonderfully helpful colleagues here at the NYPL; and both in alerting me to the book and in his help in letting us acquire it, Jonathan Hill proved himself again a mensch and a prince among booksellers. It arrived in July.
So what about the book itself? The Pforzheimer copy of Victor and Cazire is large, at 26.6 centimeters; the pages are untrimmed. Its gray-blue boards are original. That is, this copy still looks very much as it did when it left Stockdale's shop in 1810. Only the white backstrip on the spine is new. This is the preferred state for antiquarian books: since a book carries its history in its body, researchers and collectors want as much of that body as possible preserved.
What makes this copy even more important are the manuscript additions. Though we can never be sure of their authorship, I believe that some are from Elizabeth Shelley and some perhaps from her brother Bysshe (as the family called him). Given that most of the surviving copies would have been in their hands, this isn’t that surprising, and indeed, the varied provenances of three other copies—at the Huntington, the British Library, and the Ransom Center—connect all of them either with the Shelley siblings or with the book’s printer. (3)
To begin with: the title page is inscribed "Thos Medwin - / a present from / one of the authors."
This might be Thomas Charles Medwin (1753-1829), who married a niece of Percy Bysshe and Elizabeth Shelley's grandfather. The elder Medwin was an advocate for P. B. Shelley when Shelley's relationship with his father began to fail. Earlier he had helped in a small way to finance the printing of Victor and Cazire. But it is hard to believe that either sibling would inscribe a book to an avuncular figure so casually; when Shelley writes to Thomas Charles Medwin he addresses him as "Dear Sir." Moreover, at least since the birth of his son Thomas, T. C. Medwin generally used his middle name.
It seems most likely, then, that the recipient was Thomas Medwin the younger (1788-1869). Medwin, four years older than Shelley, went to Syon House Academy with him. Syon House prepared boys for the public schools like Eton and Harrow, and Shelley initially had a rough time there. While Medwin couldn’t protect him from all that a sensitive, brilliant, and headstrong boy like Shelley might suffer, he was an ally and a friend. Shelley was once found sleepwalking towards his room. After Shelley went on to Eton, where he was happier, he and his cousin Tom remained friends though Medwin did not go on to any public school. The two cousins met up when Shelley returned on holidays and, around the time of Victor and Cazire, collaborated on writing projects. From 1806 to 1811 Medwin was articled as a clerk in his father's law firm in Horsham, three miles from the Shelleys' residence, Field Place. (4) Later, after a spendthrift young manhood that nearly ruined his family, Medwin spent a good deal of time with the Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley in Italy, and was one of the poet's earliest biographers. I leave aside the question of which author might have inscribed the book to Medwin. I suspect, largely due to its similarity to his later writing, that it was P. B. Shelley, but there is no real way to prove any of the speculations I make here or elsewhere in this post.
After the inscription, the next major category of annotations are those in ink that correct printer's errors, e.g., on p. 12 where 'gaol' becomes 'goal,' or p. 54, where a greengrocer’s apostrophe on “limbs” is blotted out.
Comparing these words with some of the writing in Shelley's 1810 pocket diary allows one to think that the hand here may be Shelley's. Compare, e.g., the size of the handwriting of “transient” with that of the “Epigram” below -- there's a blow-up of "transient" below that.
This is equally unprovable as the earlier assertion, but at least you can see for yourself. The evidence for the hand being Shelley’s, such as it is, is largely circumstantial: some of the annotations in Victor and Cazire are corrections of printer's errors, but some indicate a writer's own revisions and indications of weak spots in the text, as with the repetition of “fading” on p. 21.
Later in life, Shelley used printed copies of his work to make revisions, and some—though not many—of those revisions resemble the one above: below, for instance, is a page from a copy of Queen Mab which Shelley used in working out a version that would not make him liable to a charge of blasphemy. (The penciled question marks here don't look like Shelley's to me, I have to say.)
And we know, also, that Shelley acted as a teacher in poetry to his sisters. Could the lines next to and underscoring some of the verses on p. 22 of Victor and Cazire be pedagogic, pointing out a particularly weak spot? It seems possible.
Third, there are penciled annotations throughout the book: these consist of, first, ascriptions of authorship to most of the poems, with "Victor" or "Cazire" at the foot Most of these are not news, thanks to Neil Fraistat and Donald Reiman's edition of The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley. (I will include a list of ascriptions, collated with Fraistat and Reiman's edition, in the next post.) However, there are some divergences from their conclusions, not least the fact that "The Eve of St. Edmond," the plagiarized poem, is attributed to Victor, despite Shelley's having blamed the theft on his collaborator.
The hand in which the penciled ascriptions is written resembles that which wrote the longest and most striking note in the volume, found on p. 11: Now for God's sake be secret / you will understand why I / wish you to be particularly so.
The explanation for this note takes us further into the families' history, and is the subject of the next installment of this brobdignagian blog post.
- James Stockdale, Stockdale's Budget, 1826-7, quoted in Roger Ingpen, Shelley in England: New Facts and Letters from the Shelley-Whitton Papers [London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1917], p. 97.)
- As Neil Fraistat and Donald Reiman comment in their edition of Shelley’s poetry, it is in fact a bit surprising that the volume is as rare as it is. They also speculate that "...PBS may have been forced into the plagiarism by his lack of original material to complete the volume and his 'hoax' may have been an attempt to make a virtue of necessity." (Complete Poetry of PBS, [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2000. vol. I, pp. 154-155. Further references will simply be to CPPBS.)
- The copy at the Huntington was given to James Perry, the newspaper publisher, by Charles Phillips, one of the printers; that at the Ransom Center was sent by P. B. Shelley to Harriet Grove; and the one at the British Library belonged to William Wellesley, fourth Earl of Mornington, and is inscribed “Given to me at Eton by the Author / Percy Bysse [sic] Shelley, my friend / and schoolfellow – 1810.” (Information from CPPBS, vol. I, p. 151, and from the OCLC records for these volumes.)
- Susan Cabell Djabri and Jeremy Knight, Horsham's Forgotten Son: Thomas Medwin, friend of Byron and Shelley ([Horsham:] Horsham District Council, [1995?]), 12.