Studying Revenge

Share this

Ten years ago I was invited to Cornwall by Raleigh Trevelyan, executor of the historian A. L. Rowse, who had died a few months earlier, leaving Trenarren, the large house on which he had had a forty-year lease, with more than ten thousand books. He had bequeathed a hundred of them to the University of Exeter, to be selected by the Librarian, and one copy of each of his own books was similarly reserved. The whole library needed to be valued for probate, a formidable task which had to be done in double-quick time. This involved various inevitable short cuts and I had to take most of the inscribed or annotated copies on trust. When I returned a few months later, two fellow-booksellers joined me to help with the massive sorting operation. In a couple of days we had made a fair division, with three tons of books, as I was later told by the removal men, coming to Heywood Hill and four tons going to Howes of Hastings. Several catalogues followed, an entertaining illustration of Rowse’s friendships and rivalries, of a life devoted to an astonishing range of reading and writing.

At the time, his copy of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations was never catalogued: a glance at the mass of his pencilled markings suggested that it deserved a great deal more than a two-sentence entry. Rowse had bought it in 1942, the first revised edition, published a year after its initial appearance. The names of its editors are not revealed on the title-page; it was presumably a team effort with donnish specialists making individual contributions and a general editor marshalling them into a balanced whole. Bernard Darwin was chosen to write the introduction, an elegant essay which he concluded by calling the Dictionary ‘a great book’. Nonetheless, ‘it is safe to say that there is no single reader who will not have a mild grievance as to what has been put in and what has been left out.’

Rowse’s grievances were far from mild. There were large numbers of wr

Subscribe or sign in to read the full article

The full version of this article is only available to subscribers to Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader’s Quarterly. To continue reading, please sign in or take out a subscription to the quarterly magazine for yourself or as a gift for a fellow booklover. Both gift givers and gift recipients receive access to the full online archive of articles along with many other benefits, such as preferential prices for all books and goods in our online shop and offers from a number of like-minded organizations. Find out more on our subscriptions page.

Subscribe now or

About the contributor

John Saumarez Smith has had a lifelong interest in other people’s books. A. L. Rowse’s library provided an extraordinary challenge both in its quantity and quality. Since then, Heywood Hill’s ‘tribute’ catalogues have included a wide variety of bibliophiles, Enoch Powell, John Cornforth, Jack Simmons, Anthony Powell and Sir Edward Heath.

Share this

Comments & Reviews

Leave a comment

Customise this page for easy reading

Distraction-free
reading mode