Saturday, October 30, 2010

Angling for Books . . .

(Image from Wikipedia)

Back in mid-September, commenting on a blog post about Japanese fly-fishing, my older, fly-fisherman brother referred to Izaak Walton's familiar Compleat Angler, first published in England in 1653 with thirteen chapters, but which -- like all fish stories -- grew with the re-telling until by its fifth edition in 1676, it had twenty-one chapters!

Well, not only can one write books on fishing, one can also fish for books, as British bibliophile Holbrook Jackson (1874-1948) explains at some length in his Anatomy of Bibliomania, even to noting the distinguishing various quirks among the fishers of books, including a particular book-angling quirk of fellow bibliophile T. J. Wise reported on by literary critic Edmund Gosse (1849-1928):
T. J. Wise is so meticulous in the pursuit of his favorite quarry that Gosse compares him with the angler who caught a salmon by accident and threw it back in again, because when he was out to fish for perch he wished to fish for perch. (Jackson, Bibliomania, University of Illinois Press, 2001, page 454)
Gosse relates this anecdote in his article "The Ashley Library," written for the Sunday Times on January 15, 1928. Thomas James Wise (1859-1937) was the noted "English book-collector, bibliographer, editor & forger," according to an "Annals of Crime" column by Dwight MacDonald, "The First Editions of T. J. Wise," in the November 10, 1962 issue of The New Yorker.

The tidbit about forgery, and MacDonald's further information "that a number of first editions by such writers as the Brownings, Ruskin & Swinburne, were not first editions but counterfeits," puts in doubt Gosse's observation about Wise's single-minded pursuit of 'perch' when he obviously had bigger fish to fry . . . though one might also counter that a forger of stories does fit the image of the true, dishonest fisherman.

Was Gosse thus taken in by a big fish story? Hard to say, for truth and lies, like the good and evil noted by Milton through his argument in Areopagitica against the censoring of books, are "so involv'd and interwoven" and with "so many cunning resemblances hardly to be discern'd."

If the lie has such a cunning resemblance to the truth as "hardly to be discern'd," then perhaps the Wise anecdote has sufficient semblance of truth as to be believed, at least to the degree that one willingly suspends disbelief in any fishy tale.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home