Month: July 2015

Life in Courts: Ten Reasons to Visit Vita Sackville-West’s Childhood Home

This is the first in a series of profiles of places of literary and historic interest within easy reach of our new home in Tunbridge Wells. Nestled in the heart of Sevenoaks, a couple of stops on the Hastings line closer to London, Knole is Britain’s largest private residence, and the architectural legacy of an Elizabethan courtier who wrote blank verse before Shakespeare.

The Eastern, friendlier side of Knole, seen from the Garden.

The Eastern, friendlier side of Knole, seen from the Garden.

Vita Sackville-West may never have quite made it into the premier league of English writers, but her love affair with Virginia Woolf did lead to the composition of the Bloomsbury novelist’s most accessible and influential novel, Orlando. Woolf was enchanted not only by Vita’s vital charisma, but also by the sprawling Elizabethan palace which remained an intrinsic part of her, even when she no longer lived there. Over the course of the novel the house and the character Orlando evolve together, at times parting, but ultimately meeting again just as intimately as they had at the very beginning. It is indeed ‘the longest and most charming love-letter in literature.’ (Portrait of a Marriage, p. 201). More importantly, however, her son Nigel recognised that ‘the novel identified her with Knole for ever.’ (Portrait of a Marriage, p. 206). The house’s vast rambling romance inspired Vita as a child to write about her swash-buckling ancestors, particularly the Quixotic Cavalier Edward Sackville and his infamous duel with Lord Bruce at Bergen-op-Zoom, the Netherlands, in 1613. (Knole and the Sackvilles, p. 84).

The forbidding North side.

The forbidding North side.

Surprisingly, Vita was not the first Sackville to make a contribution to English literature, and neither is she the chief literary figure associated with the house. Here are ten reasons why Knole should be regarded as a Mecca for Bloomsbury fans in London and the South East.

1. Archbishop’s Palace and Site of Heresy Trials. For those interested in the Reformation, the heart of Knole was originally built as a palace by Archbishop Thomas Bourchier from the 1450’s. Under William Wareham, it was also the site of a number of Heresy trials during the later Lollard period.

2. Thomas Sackville: Architectural Patron and Sometime-Poet. The man who made Knole House largely what it remains to this day was Queen Elizabeth I’s Treasurer, Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset. As a much younger man, having studied law at the Inner Temple in London, Thomas wrote the first two acts of Gorbuduc, the first English Tragedy to be written in blank verse, and performed before the Queen in 1562. (Inheritance, p. 7). Although he had permanently laid his pen aside by the time he was thirty in order to concentrate on statecraft and politics, Thomas’ creative side saw a final dramatic flourishing at the end of his career, when he finally gained possession of the house he had coveted for decades. Between 1604 and 1607 he transformed Knole from a dusty old rented Archbishop’s Palace into a show-piece of Jacobean art and architecture, employing the King’s best masons, carpenters and plasterers.

3. Lady Anne Clifford. From 1609 to 1624 Lady Anne Clifford of Westmorland directed the

A wizened tree on the 1000 acre deer park.

A wizened tree on the 1000 acre deer park.

120 servants at Knole house, being the wife of the 3rd Earl of Dorset, Richard Sackville. She is famous for the diaries she kept between 1603 and 1616, which juxtapose the joys and woes of family life with the bitter on-going legal dispute between Anne and her uncle, who claimed her father’s lands. The dispute set almost the entire realm against her, eventually alienating even her husband, who coveted the substantial cash compensation offered in lieu of the land in 1615. First published in 1922, the letters are an enormously important window into the life and thoughts of a highly educated, accomplished and determined woman of the seventeenth century. She left the house when her husband unexpectedly died in 1624, aged just 34.

4. Royal Steward furniture. Knole has one of the best collections of Royal Steward furniture anywhere in the world, having been taken as ‘perquisites’ by enterprising dandy Charles Sackville while Privy Councillor and Lord Chamberlain to William of Orange in the later seventeenth century.

5. John Frederick Sackville and Joshua Reynolds. In the later 18th century John Frederick Sackville forged a close relationship with the artist Sir Joshua Reynolds, filling the house with portraits and personal commissions. Although many have since been sold, the collection remains significant, particularly the Ugolino, which documents a story found in Dante’s Divine Comedy concerning a man realising he must eat his own children to survive.

DSCN29746. Early cricket associations. Sevenoaks is home to the Vine Cricket Ground, one of the oldest cricket grounds anywhere in the country. As well as patronising Reynolds, John Frederick Sackville also found the time to play a fine game of cricket, reportedly hitting the ball aggressively like a Baseball player rather than in the modern defensive style.

7. George Sackville and Lord Byron. John’s only son, George Sackville, was briefly eulogised by Lord Byron, having fagged for the poet at Harrow. His tragic death in a riding accident in Ireland at the age of 21 plunged the family into a dynastic crisis which rendered their estates and status much diminished by the end of the nineteenth century.

8. Lionel Sackville and ‘Pepita’. Mirroring the scandalous relationship between John Frederick Sackville and an Italian dancer known as the Baccelli a century earlier, Lionel the second Baron Sackville had an illegitimate family with a Spanish woman, later disowning all of them except his eldest daughter Victoria. Victoria was a remarkable woman who first became the toast of society in Washington D.C., and then married her cousin, the heir to the Sackville estates and title. Her daughter Vita wrote a book all about her maternal grandmother entitled ‘Pepita’.

Yet another wizened tree.

Yet another wizened tree.

9. ‘The Edwardians’. Victoria and Lionel themselves were also immortalised in Vita’s barely-fictional adventure ‘The Edwardians’, which concerns the changing world of upper-class society in the early twentieth century, and is focused on an estate unmistakably modelled on Knole.

10. Virginia Woolf and Vita: ‘Orlando.’ ‘Orlando’ is the summation of Virginia and Vita’s relationship, giving Knole its best-known fictional outing. Among its many treasures, the house notably sports the original manuscript of the novel, dedicated to Vita.


James Murray, 30/07/15


Epitaph to Robert Graves at his home in Deià, Majorca.

Epitaph to Robert Graves at his home in Deià, Majorca.

Today we celebrate Robert Graves’ 120th birthday – a venerable age indeed. Just 30 years after his death, however, I suspect Graves himself would be the first to say he had achieved little as yet. The Roman poet Catullus said of Gallus, a man he clearly despised:

sed nunc id doleo, quod purae pura puellae
suavia comminxit spurca saliva tua.
verum id non impune feres: nam te omnia saecla
noscent et, qui sis, fama loquetur anus.

But now I despair, since the pure kisses of an innocent girl
Have been polluted by your foul saliva.
In truth, though, you’ll not get away with it: For Eternity
Knows who you are – and who you are, Old Lady Fame will tell.

(Carmen 78b, my translation).

Gallus might have dismissed this a vain and empty threat at the time, but over two thousand year later he only exists to us as a dirty old man. The potential power of literature in this sense has been echoed by many, including Shakespeare in Sonnet 18, though it is of course only a happy few who make it into the canon of Classic Literature.

Graves has made the first steps towards  this eternal recognition, but will he make it any further? While I was reading his excruciatingly introspective autobiography, ‘Goodbye to all that’, this week I was particularly struck by a conversation he reports between himself and a Charterhouse chum a week before the First World War:

“Do you realise,’ Nevill asked me, ‘that we have spent fourteen years of our lives principally at Latin and Greek, not even competently taught, and that we’re now going to start another three years of the same thing?”

The boys Robert and Nevill were at this time products of an educational system which began in Greece as early as the 8th century BC, when Homer and Hesiod reputedly wrote their compositions. Even the Romans in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC were conscious that their language and culture was heavily influenced by this already ancient tradition. The boys were painfully aware of its stifling power, and were justifiably appalled at the prospect of being swallowed up by it. For his career, then, the war was perhaps the best thing that could have happened to Graves at that moment.

Our First US edition copy of Count Belisarius

Our First US edition copy of Count Belisarius

After the War the old world was chewed up and spat out by Graves and others, the Bloomsbury Group for instance, and in so doing they became immensely popular. For the first time all this ancient literature, taught verbatim for millennia, could be beaten out of the Victorian aristocratic shape it has taken on and made into candid translations or creative pastiches for the wider reading public. Graves’ best-known work, ‘I, Claudius’, has not become a Classic because it venerates his source, Tacitus, but because it encourages the reader to view such history as just another story, rather than the moral parable it was offered to Graves as. This approach is seen again in another of his novels about the Roman world, ‘Count Belisarius’, which is told entirely from the perspective of Procopius’ satire, ‘The Secret History’, and ignores his more sober historical tome, ‘A History of the Wars.’

The mosaics of the Church of San Vitale, Ravenna, showing the only suspected image of General Belisarius, standing to the right of the Emperor Justinian, centre.

The mosaics of the Church of San Vitale, Ravenna, showing the only suspected image of General Belisarius, standing to the right of the Emperor Justinian, centre.

In fact, Graves may claim to have established a monopoly over the way the Classics are studied and portrayed in Western culture today. Such texts are no longer studied for their moral values, but mined for historical information or salacious human interest. Recent TV series and films, ‘Rome’ and ‘Spartacus’ for instance, have been written entirely in the mould of ‘I, Claudius’, sprinkled with historically accurate costumes and sets. Even Ridley Scott’s ‘Gladiator’, which explicitly recognises the Dream of Rome, has it butchered by Russell Crowe. Indeed, most Classics students today can trace their enthusiasm for the subject back to an early encounter with Graves or one of his spin-offs, proclaiming a firmly established self-enforcing cycle of interpretation.

In wider society, many today consider the Classics irrelevant, and very few children encounter them even in translations now, let alone in the original languages. This then is a far cry from the relentless Classical education Graves himself received, and it is in part at least his own doing. By knocking them off their pedestal, along with the moral authority of Christianity, Graves and his contemporaries simultaneously ensured a future interest in the Classics, and killed off their serious study, except from a historical perspective.

In my opinion, if any trace of Greek and Roman literature survives 1000 years from now, it won’t be Tacitus’ Annals being read, but Robert Graves’ novels.

James Murray, 24/07/15



This just happens to be my first blog. Yes, I have written several articles for magazines and been interviewed several times in my guise as Ian Fleming’s bibliographer, yet this still happens to be my very first blog. I face it with some degree of trepidation as well, treading new ground and trying to be cool and clever and witty and smart (and probably ending up slipping on a virtual banana skin). So I’m going to ignore all that and simply aim to be informative. It’s tried and tested, and after cataloguing around 15,000 books in my time I know I can at least do it to some extent. So here we are then, beginning with a little information about our business; we’re six months in to a Brave New World (see what I did there), which has found two established bookselling names in one big home: Adrian Harrington Rare Books, and Hall’s Bookshop.

We share premises at the revered book store on the corner of Chapel Place in Tunbridge Wells, with Hall’s occupying the ground floor and selling all manner of used books – recent and otherwise – well-presented but uncatalogued, and arriving and leaving with more bustle than the rush hour at Waterloo (Britain’s busiest station, railway fans). Adrian Harrington’s domain is the rare book room upstairs, stocking fine and collectible tomes in a host of different fields – mostly available online, and beautifully photographed by Ben for your perusal and wonderment. Each floor has its own website, and use various social media; a healthy element of competition has set in, taking the form of a raging inter-departmental battle for internet posts, trends and followers. Lucas is our in-house statistician and the key-man for all matters chart- and graph-related. Sometimes there aren’t enough colours in the Kaleidoscope for the tables he’s planning. At the last count, Harrington’s have a little catching up to do in the tweets-to-followers ratio; come on Tabitha, get posting for Adrian for a change!

Our lovely new premises also benefits from a gallery space in the basement, currently the place to be if you have an interest in Military History, as we have been holding a pop-up subject-based event downstairs this month. Also on hand for a little respite from this incredible heat (i’m writing this in early-July and it’s 86 degrees outside); it’s refreshingly cool down there. First advertised as a temporary event, this has proved to be rather popular and we are refreshing the stock on a regular basis. As a result, military sales are marching onward – as Lucas will attest – and are now only second in the league to our top-selling subject of literature. In consequence, we are continuing the current downstairs-set up over the course of the summer.

Both Hall’s and Adrian Harrington have been busy at book fairs of late, with Hall’s having just exhibited at the large PBFA Premier Fair in Bristol, revamped as a ‘Vintage Fair’ with groovy side displays, live music and merriment. In early August, we’ll be taking our regular stand at the Lewes Book Fair. The staff at Adrian Harrington are working through fresh acquisitions from our three major summer fairs: the Royal National in Bloomsbury, the ILEC fair in West London and, the daddy of them all, the ABA show at Olympia. We’re putting out regular stock lists and updates via email so if you’re intrigued as to what we have to offer please feel free to sign up at

So there it is. Somehow I’ve reached my allotted word limit with a kind of rambling newsletter-cum-shameless advert. Nevertheless, I do think it contained some actual facts. More of a blag than a blog, but I think I got away with it. Goodbye.

– Jon

Allez Allez Allez!


Count Tolstoy

How better to celebrate the start of the 2015 Tour de France than by going over the close link historically between writers and bicycles. Leo Tolstoy was an early adopter, procuring a English Starley safety bicycle, which he learnt how to ride in his mid-sixties, undoubtedly to the surprise of the peasant workforce on his family estate at Yasnaya Polyana. Back in England H.G. Wells was a keen cyclist with the quote “When I see an adult on a bicycle I do not despair for the future of the human race” often attributed to him. He regularly managed to weave bicycles into his writings, perhaps most memorably in ‘The War in the Air’ with the novel’s hero Bert Smallways, who with his business partner Grubb, rented bicycles to the intrepid or the foolhardy as the following excerpt shows.

“The staple of their business was, however, the letting of bicycles on hire. It was a singular trade, obeying no known commercial or economic principles — indeed, no principles. There was a stock of ladies’ and gentlemen’s bicycles in a state of disrepair that passes description, and these, the hiring stock, were let to unexacting and reckless people, inexpert in the things of this world, at a nominal rate of one shilling for the first hour and sixpence per hour afterwards. But really there were no fixed prices, and insistent boys could get bicycles and the thrill of danger for an hour for so low a sum as threepence, provided they could convince Grubb that that was all they had. The saddle and handle-bar were then sketchily adjusted by Grubb, a deposit exacted, except in the case of familiar boys, the machine lubricated, and the adventurer started upon his career. Usually he or she came back, but at times, when the accident was serious, Bert or Grubb had to go out and fetch the machine home. Hire was always charged up to the hour of return to the shop and deducted from the deposit. It was rare that a bicycle started out from their hands in a state of pedantic efficiency. Romantic possibilities of accident lurked in the worn thread of the screw that adjusted the saddle, in the precarious pedals, in the loose-knit chain, in the handle-bars, above all in the brakes and tyres. Tappings and clankings and strange rhythmic creakings awoke as the intrepid hirer pedalled out into the country. Then perhaps the bell would jam or a brake fail to act on a hill; or the seat-pillar would get loose, and the saddle drop three or four inches with a disconcerting bump; or the loose and rattling chain would jump the cogs of the chain-wheel as the machine ran downhill, and so bring the mechanism to an abrupt and disastrous stop without at the same time arresting the forward momentum of the rider; or a tyre would bang, or sigh quietly, and give up the struggle for efficiency.”


H. G. Wells

As on most subjects Arthur Conan Doyle treated bicycles with his trademark sound common sense stating that: “When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.”, highlighting the bicycles’ ability to ease the stresses and strains of everyday life and rejuvenate the soul through the sheer unalloyed joy of cycling, the cares of the world slipping away as the miles tick by.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

At heart the connection between authors and bicycles is not at all surprising, the bicycle has always offered the freedom of self reliant movement and exploration, which is exactly what fiction writing is at it’s best. The best novelists let their imagination run free and attempt to escape the humdrum and quotidian reaching for the unfettered and the free. Happy pedalling to you all.

“Dictionary: The universe in alphabetical order.” ― Anatole France

We have received a fascinating item at Adrian Harrington Rare Books – the FIRST EDITION two-volume folio complete set of Johnson’s Dictionary, from 1755. Or rather, A Dictionary of the English Language; In Which the Words are Deduced From Their Originals; and Illustrated in Their Different Significations, by Examples From the Best Writers. To Which are Prefixed A History of the Language, and an English Grammar. In Two Volumes. 

With this book, Dr. Johnson performed the most amazing, enduring and endearing one-man feat in the field of lexicography.

Johnson's dictionary in first edition (1755).

Johnson’s dictionary in first edition (1755).

Adam Smith in one of the earliest reviews of the book in the ‘Edinburgh Review’ 1755, compared it favourably with the best international dictionaries of modern languages then available, those of the French Academy and those of the Accademiadella Crusca, both of which ‘were composed by a numerous society of learned men and took up a longer time in the composition than the life of a single person could have well afforded’; whereas the English dictionary was ‘the work of a single person and composed in a period of time very inconsiderable when compared with the extent of the work’. In fact, it took Johnson less than ten years from writing his first prospectus in 1746 to publication day , 14th June 1755 , when the two folios went on sale at £4.10s. The dictionary was originally the project of a group of publishers and booksellers and the great Scottish printer William Strahan. They recognised that the time was ripe to bring to fruition the idea of a standard English dictionary which the Royal Society had entertained as far back as 1644. A committee was appointed in that year for the improvement of the English language.

Pink edges, exquisite gilt detailing

Pink edges, exquisite gilt detailing

Johnson’s Dictionary is divided into four parts. In the preface, Johnson expounds the aims and problems of lexicography. The second and third sections detail a history and a grammar of the English language; indeed, both are of interest if only in that they show the vast ignorance of eighteenth century philologists before Sir William Jones and his successors in this field. Section four encompasses the dictionary proper. The preface ranks among Johnson’s finest writings; the history and the grammar, which did not interest him in the least, are dull rehashes of older compilations. It is the dictionary itself which justifies Noah Webster’s statement that ‘Johnson’s writing had, in philology, the effect which Newton’s discoveries had in mathematics’. Johnson introduced into English lexicography principles which had already been accepted in Europe but which were quite novel in mid-eighteenth-century England. He codified the spelling of English words; he gave full and lucid definitions of their meanings (often entertainingly coloured by his High Church and Tory propensities); and he adduced extensive and apt illustrations from a wide range of authoritative writers. [ From: PRINTING IN THE MIND OF MAN 201]

Title page

Title page

Johnson’s dictionary was mostly derived from the dictionaries of his predecessors. Other definitions were added ‘by fortuitous and unguided excursions into books, and gleaned as industry should find, or chance should offer it, in the boundless chaos of a living speech’. Nevertheless, Johnson omitted a great number of the words supplied by these dictionaries and never found by him in any book. Others he inserted upon his own attestation, claiming the same privilege with his predecessors ‘of being sometimes credited without proof’. [From: COURTNEY & SMITH: A Bibliography of Samuel Johnson].

Detail and materials

Detail and materials

Our online listing is as follows: Item #44506, £12,500Titles in red and green labels. Original speckled tan calf with marbled endpapers, all edges flecked in red, expertly respined to style by Trevor Lloyd Bindery, subtle repairs to corners. A beautiful, sympathetic binding which employs a style of decoration that is handsome and highly appropriate. Vol 1: internally clean with neat ink initials ‘JH’ [Sir Joseph Hawley] to first blank, soft horizontal crease and tiny (3mm) edgetear to title; Vol 2: internally clean but for faint spotting to first and final leaves, some soft folds to corners, neat soft vertical crease to title, minute repair to very tips of corners of same, marginal (later) ownership also. This is an attractive and complete copy of this cornerstone of the English language. Internally clean, some marginal wear to prelims volume I, a few light spots here and there and the armorial bookplate of the Graham of Gartmore to the verso of both title pages. An impressive set.

21st Century Girl: Anne Frank’s ‘Diary of a Young Girl’.


In June, our sister bookshop Hall’s tweeted that Anne Frank began her diary 73 years ago, on the 14th June 1942. As the years continue to pass by and we move further away from the war that changed the world, I’ve started to wonder where a book like Diary of a Young Girl takes its place in the Information Age. At times it can seem like everything has changed since Anne Frank was a young woman, from notions of gender and class to identity and personal relationships. Consequently, there is a tendency to locate Frank’s diary within a sturdy framework of artefacts and documents of war – a tendency which only grows stronger with time, more recent human tragedies, and emotional distance. To feed this trend, I feel, is both sweeping and rather short-sighted. If we limit Frank’s writing in this way, we uncomfortably gloss over the importance of her actual written content (of course, this danger is only intensified by Frank’s marginalised position). Moreover, we deny her ‘three-dimensionality’ – Frank existed as an opinionated individual, not only as a victim of war, and this should be celebrated.

Writer Harry Mulish – himself famous for a novel based on real events in the German-occupied Netherlands – called for the creation of a new category of writing in 1985, which was neither literature nor historical document – an ‘object [sic] trouvé’. Mulish suggested that, had Frank survived the war and made a novel out of her material, she would not have become as influential as she is today. Other critics have engaged with her diary as a pure, ‘unspoilt’, harrowing human document, remarking upon its striking honesty, but similarly defining it as “purely and simply, the diary of a young girl”. It seems clear that, like any great work, Diary of a Young Girl can (and should) be read in any number of ways – as a woman’s expression, Jewish writing, Dutch document, a work in translation, and many more. Most pressingly, all of these readings intersect and diverge in fascinating ways.

Where does this debate leave us, as readers and as subjects of a history prone to repeat itself? How can we use Anne Frank’s diary, 73 years after the start of its production? My search led me to Janet Pickard-Kremenitzer’s educational work; Pickard-Kremenitzer has designed a 10-week curriculum component under the title ‘Emotional Intelligence/Anne Frank Aesthetic Education Program’, aimed toward Years 5 & 6. The course also incorporates initial Emotional Intelligence training for teachers and staff. The Diary of a Young Girl is central to this project, in which Pickard-Kremenitzer utilises modes such as self-portrait, journal writing, digital photography and creating narratives in the graphic tradition in order to establish links between the students’ lives and Frank’s development in her diary. Simultaneously, the children become finely attuned to self-expression and emotional reflection, whilst strengthening artistic, research-based, and IT ability. According to its creator, the programme results an ’emotionally intelligent school culture’. The mission places great faith in the power of The Diary of a Young Girl in encouraging global educational diplomacy, primarily due to its rooted status in a world-wide consciousness. From this perspective, to frame Frank’s diary as an artefact denies a glorious, wide-reaching beam of social and personal growth which can be actively employed in schools and beyond. It seems clear that in the 21st century, the book is worth so much more.

Moreover, it is becoming clear that as society progresses and essential questions of censorship and equality continue to dominate the fray, we can learn a great deal from looking at our recent past; we now know that the diary underwent several dramatic revisions before its release, and this reveals compelling (and perplexing) contextual attitudes. Frank feverishly rewrote almost all of her diary entries of the previous two years between June-July 1944; indeed, in making her first revision, Frank removed significant portions – including a one-page description of her own genitals. Clear differences appear between translations, too, as the Dutch version omits Frank’s desire to kiss and feel the breasts of her friend. Only in recent times have critics agreed that childlike innocence and chastity are suggestive of a purity that does not apply to Frank’s writing.

From 1945 onwards, Otto Frank edited the diaries and made them into one text. Feminist critics have focused on this editorial process, underlining the dangers of silencing aspects of Anne Frank’s voice as a woman. [For those interested, other dramatic changes include: the culling of passages on puberty, menstruation, sexuality, anger towards her mother (Otto deemed this unfair to the mother’s memory), and Frank’s conversations with Peter about sex.] Further parts of the diary were removed because they were considered simply not interesting enough for the post-war audience at its time of publication.

As a bookshop before all else, it seems fitting to end on perhaps Frank’s largest influence – books. Finding the Venus de Milo in an art history book prompted Frank to express her own feelings about the female body. In reading historical biographies, a desire to live on after death was realised. Frank was not constrained to Western canonical texts, but popular culture in print; for example, Frank had a penchant for film magazines. Diary of a Young Girl offers evidence that popular novels like Joop ter Heuf were of equal importance in Frank’s identity as a writer as the more traditional German novels she shared with her father. Readers in the 21st century can benefit from this ‘blur’, approaching the mingling of high and low culture as a visceral force, rather than a ‘contamination’.

Frank’s diary retains its global popularity, and for good reason. It seems, that as history moves on at startling pace, one needs to wrestle with questions of authorship and the process of writing more than ever before. The book is of near unparalleled symbolic and historic status – but perhaps more than anything, we should rejoice in the sheer power of self-expression and words-to-paper.

And so, we pay our respects to a young girl.

– Tabitha