Time for our next Darwin Featured book from our lovely bookseller, Diane. Enjoy!
Every time I enter The Darwin Rare Books Room at Bookbarn International, spines covered in decorative gilt filigree greet me with the beauty of their designs and the burnished glow of gold.
So Scholar Gipsies by the Victorian Scottish author, John Buchan stood out with it’s elaborate spine design of laden heads of growing wheat, what looks like a shepherd’s crook, a large urn, and some pan-pipes. All very bucolic. It has a beautiful Art Nouveau cover, dated 1895, by Patten Wilson, depicting a goat-footed pan playing a pipe to three nymphs under the spreading branches of a tree, with peacock feathers below, and it is the third volume in the publisher, Bodley Heads’ Arcady library.
Inside, it has several brooding and atmospheric, finely wrought, etched engraved plates by D. Y. Cameron, who was Buchan’s Glasgow friend.
These stories, as Buchan notes, “were all written in youth, when a man's thoughts run on many diverse things with a certain tentative aim,” and they do have that intense exploratory style of diverse thought that seems to characterise youth, regardless of century.
The title intrigues me too, as both my sons are currently idealising just that kind of wandering lifestyle. One of them, for better or worse, has just lived the last six summer months as literally that; a scholar 'gipsy', albeit a contemporary version, with the latest outdoor sleeping bag, complete with flute. (And, no doubt, a few nymphs too.)
This first story describes the yearning and desire for nature and culture combined, where there are no restraints, where philosophies on life, and living, can be explored, and where the minutiae of nature can be noticed in every subtle and exquisite detail.
The second story in this collection, “April in the Hills” is full of sumptuously described images of the rawness and occasional luminosity of the month of April, the month where we are offered tantalising glimpses of Summer;
“In the west the sombre pall is lightened from within...from that shell the phoenix of sunrise is to arise….Slowly, by degrees, the veil lifts. Red and gold, dry and flagrant burn within. A long shaft falls on the bare fields. The west unfolds like a rose. The grey mantle passes from the sky, and night, clear and star-lit, hovers over the earth.”
And something about the choice of words and metaphor gives me the feeling sense of a Victorian sensibility;
“..a nook where the yellow moss is as fine as old court-velvet.”
And from the story, “Afternoon,” “..he marched through the honeysuckled entrance, and stood delighted, inhaling the quaint, pleasing odours of bread and ancient brandy-balls, bacon and paraffin.”
Having recently moved into a small, Victorian terraced cottage in need of restoration, surrounded by woodland and countryside, I have become fascinated with what daily Victorian life would have been like here, so reading these stories is like being plunged into the mind-set, perception and countryside activities of the Victorian country dweller.
The story “Gentlemen of Leisure” describes two very contrasting types; the “country parson” and the “wayside tramp,” as both”emphatically and indisputably gentleman of leisure,” and brings alive, in lush and vivid detail, the daily life and experiences of both. The tramp, or wayfarer, was then often positively welcomed into people’s homes for the old-world stories, news and country gossip they brought from the “great world beyond.”
The penultimate story, “Nuces Relictae” leaves us with the wise reminder to lift our eyes to the sun, and like a pilgrim, or a child, approach life as a journey of continuous discovery. “All things are yellow to the jaundiced...to the hopeful all is golden and many-coloured.”
All the stories in this collection are very readable, charming and full of energy, and this beautiful first edition in the Darwin room, with its uncut edges is currently priced at £70.30,and available online or directly from the Darwin Rare Books room.
By Diane Newland
Keep your eyes peeled for next week's Darwin Featured book - and don't forget that if you have any interesting information about any of the books we feature, we'd love to hear it!
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