Having posted about buying books from charity shops I got to thinking about Byron’s Works Complete in One Volume dated 1846 which is by far the oldest book I have. My niece and nephew have always been fascinated by its age and when they were younger they would get me to tell them how I came to have it. It’s a tale which involves their mum too and I like to talk to them about her, and about what she and I got up to when we were younger.
Making reminiscences always make me think of Wodehouse’s Gally Threepwood!: it was early summer-ish (1992) and I had driven with my sister, in my very distinctive car, to North Wales to visit our mum for a few days at her caravan in Llanfairfechan. We had also holidayed there as young children with our mum and dad, and we both loved to sing the brilliant sounds in this exotic word! Llanfairfechan was a magical landscape and the caravan site is overlooked by a hill which seemed a mountain to us. Mum used to delight, and, as bedtime approached, scare us, with her recital of ‘The Fairies’! Anyway, back to 1992, it was the last of the days we were there that we decided to drive to Conwy. I think we’d gone there to collect something, I can’t remember what, for my mum. Always on the look out for books, I steered my sister into a charity shop in Conwy where I remember finding a rather old and faded looking collected works of Byron.
At that time I was a little in love with the idea of Byron and the Shelleys, and this book, with its illustrations, slight foxing on the pages, and worn brownish cover, seemed a window into another time. It was the oldest book I’d come across and the price was pencilled inside the cover as £5. It seemed such a bargain but £5 was all I had left and so we left the shop and started the drive back to Llanfairfechan. But it was niggling away at me that I should have bought the book. Five minutes into the drive, my sister, with her carpe diem attitude, told me to turn around and go back for it - so I did! When I took the book to the till the woman in the shop was surprised by, and wanted to question, the £5 price, but, as it was marked in the book, she gave in and sold it to me for that price. Phew!
As well as the illustration of Newstead Abbey above there is an image from a painting of Byron at age 19. I was intrigued that the book had included facsimilies of Byron's handwriting at various periods. Below, the top page is 'from The Giaour 1813, first draft' and 'from Lord Byron's diary 1821.' I love the description 'marriage signatures' of Lord and Lady Byron which also appear - having types of signatures is a curious idea . . .