Dragons, childhood et al.: recent acquisitions

When Sir Louis Sterling gave Senate House Library his collection of about 4,200 specimens of English literature in 1956, he intended it to be added to, and left money for the purpose. One of this year’s acquisitions was a 1920 edition of Walter de la Mare’s Songs of Childhood, his first book of poetry (originally published in 1902 under the name “Walter Ramal”). This issue states of itself: “In this new edition one or two poems have been omitted; there are a few new ones; and what is common to both volumes has been here and there revised”. In addition, the work has joined a series, Longmans’ Pocket Library. The small work is significant for Senate House Library because it supplements editions in the Walter de la Mare Family Archive of Walter de la Mare’s Printed Oeuvre, a collection of editions and translations of De la Mare’s work. This copy was acquired in 1921 by J. B. Stoughton Holborn of Foula: i.e. John Bernard (“Ian”) Stoughton Holborn (1872-1935), an academic and author who in about 1900 purchased the Scottish island of Foula (twenty miles west of the Shetland Islands and the most remote inhabited island in the British Isles), and therewith became its laird.

Songs of Childhood

Sterling also hoped that his gift would encourage further donations. An area of his collecting was private press books from the heyday of the private press movement and earlier. Salient are the extensive holdings of presses, such as a complete set of books issued by the Kelmscott Press and seventy books from the Golden Cockerel Press, but numerous presses were represented by a small number of items: for example, the Bowling Green Press; the Centaur Press; the Seizin Press. In this spirit, the Library was delighted to accept specimens of the output of three modern private presses, Rufus Books, based in Toronto, the Clutag Press, established in 2000 in Thame, Oxfordshire, and the Happy Dragons Press, begun by Julius Stafford-Baker in 1969; the recent gifts are all of twenty-first century works, some from the ‘Dragon Poems in Translation’ series inherited from the Keepsake Press. Unlike the books from the private press movement, the twenty-first century items received are paperbacks, and several are mere pamphlets – a fascinating proof of publishing changes. Interest in good-quality type and paper, in layout and often illustration, and limited editions, often with numbered copies, continue the established private press tradition. Some of the items received are rare: four “dragon poems” from the Happy Dragon Press, translated from the Spanish of Pablo Neruda, the Polish of Krystof Kamil Baczynski, the Turkish of Mehmet Yashin and the German of Erich Fried, are the first to be recorded in British institutional libraries, as is John Reibetanz’s poem Fallen, printed in fifty copies (Rufus, 2012).