This week I asked my friend, Information Ninja and fellow Jem and the Holograms fan, RF Long to do a guest post for Halloween. When she’s not writing amazing YA Fantasy books, she’s a librarian who looks after a collection of rare and ancient books. She has very generously taken them out and photographed them for us too.
Hi Ruth, thanks for doing this Halloween special on old books. First of all, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m a writer and a librarian. It’s fair to say books play a pretty big part in my life. I write fantasy, for adults and young adults, and I work in a private library of rare and unusual books. You know, the kind of place where we keep the books under lock and key, if not chained up entirely.
Oh. THOSE sorts of books. Great sorts of books. So, which book have you inheri… You know what? I don’t think the usual format is going to work here. Why don’t you just tell me about what’s special about your books…please?
When it comes to the library it’s not so much a case of one book, but of an entire case of books. Our earliest books date back to the earliest days of printing, when each books was produced at great cost and with the finest of materials. It’s the reason why so many of them are still around today – thick cotton rich pages, the blackest ink, wooden boards as covers.
We have a book from 1499 by Bl. Baptist Spagnoli, of Mantua, known as the Mantuan. He’s mentioned by Shakespeare in Love’s Labours Lost. The book itself is a series of essays covering all sorts of topics, from discoveries in the New World to the links between diet and health. And it isn’t even the first edition!
We have books where the owners have added their own elements, books as scrapbooks, with copious notes in the margins. In Mervyn Archall’s Monasticon Hibericum of 1786, Fr. John Spratt (1795-1872) made many notes, pasted in pamphlets and pictures to help with his personal interest in antiquities and research aimed at furthering the cause of Catholic emancipation in Ireland by looking back to what existed before the dissolution of the monasteries.
And, if you had to pick just one?
It’s hard to pick just one. The books here are all so very special, perhaps even unique though they are print books. They have been bound by their owns, annotated, protected and cherished, some for hundreds of years.
But since I can only pick one – *sob* – I would pick the elaborately titled “Communes et familiares hebraicae linguae idiotismi, omnibus bibliorum interpretationibus, ac praecipue Latinae Sanctis Pagnini versioni accommodati, atque ex variis doctorum virorum laboribus & observationibus selecti & explicate” by Benito Arias Montano (1527-1598). It was published as a companion to the famous ployglot Plantin Bible in 1572, as a guide, in a sense the first bible dictionary although it is not in alphabetical order. Incriptions on the pages tell us it was held in the Jesuit college in Prague, but in 1685 it had moved to the College at Olomouc, also in the Czech Republic. It includes copperplate prints illustrating the temple in Jerusalem in various incarnations, the garb of the temple priests and best of all a map of the Holy Land which as well as places we know today includes such sites as the Tower of Babel, and Sodom and Gomorrah (under the Dead Sea). Benito Arias was a Spainish priest and scholar sent by Philip II to Antwerp to edit and oversee the publication of the Ployglot bible. For all his work, Arias was charged with heresy and had to defend himself before both the Roman and the Spanish Inquisition, accused by a rival of changing Biblical text. He was cleared of all charges and returned to his hermitage in 1580. He was offered many honours by King Philip II but accepted only the post of royal chaplain and only left his hermitage when made librarian of the magnificent library of El Escorial.
The thing about working with books this age is that there are so many stories attached to them, whether it’s about their inception, or the many people who have cherished them throughout their existence. There are definitely times when you can feel the presence of those previous owners. To me, if Halloween ghosts are coming back to do anything, it’s to check on their beloved books.
Thanks for sharing beautiful books with us Ruth. Books, like places, must soak up something of those who used them in the past. It’s wonderful that there are librarians and curators who look after such wonderful treasures and preserve them so that they can be seen by future generations.
You can find out more about Ruth at her website, or Facebook (at R. F. Long and The Treachery of Beautiful Things) or follower her on Twitter (@RFLong). Her book The Treachery of Beautiful Things is available now from Amazon.com, Book Depository and IndieBound.