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Author's Mss. And Proof-Sheets
( Originally Published 1913 )
Are there many collectors of proof-sheets, I wonder ? Now that typewriting is almost the rule for what is called " copy," the delightful hobby of collecting great authors' MSS. is likely to die of inanition. But proof sheets still present a field. In "Recollections" by David Christie Murray, I find the following particularly interesting paragraphs: "My name-father, David Christie, was chief reader at Clowes' printing office; and month by month as the proofs of `Our Mutual Friend' were printed, it was his habit to borrow the Dickens manuscript and take it home with him for his own delectation before it reached the hands of the compositors. In his time Christie had been `reader's boy' at Ballantyne's, in Edinburgh, and in that capacity he had laid hands with a jackdaw's assiduity on every scrap of literary interest which he could secure. He had proof-sheets corrected by the hands of every notable man of his time. He had been engaged for at least fifty years in making his collection, and he kept it all loosely tumbled together in a big chest, which he used to tell me would become my property on the occasion of his death. Amongst other treasures, I remember the first uncorrected proofs of `Marmion,' and a manuscript copy of a play by Sheridan Knowles. When Christie died, I was in Ireland, and on my return to London I found that the whole had been sold to a butteyman, as waste Paper, at a farthing a pound."
I wonder if any sheets in that collection missed the grease and the crumpling of the purpose for which the butterman bought them ?
Two Thousand Pounds Lost. But worse is to come. There was one literary relic, however, of inestimable value ; it consisted of an unpublished chapter in ` Our Mutual Friend' in which the Golden Dustman was killed by Silas Wegg. Dickens excised this chapter, had the type broken up, and all the proofs, with the exception of this unique survival, were destroyed." And that, too, went to the butter-shop. " Inestimable value," indeed! Collectors would offer £2,000 for that chapter to-day. No wonder that David Christie Murray went on: " I am not ashamed to confess that when I got back to London and learned the fate which had befallen my old friend's collection, I had a bitter cry over it, which lasted me a good two hours.
What gives the monetary value to authors' manuscripts and corrections on proof-sheets is, first, the fame and eminence of the author, and, second, the rarity of the thing itself, The extra chapter to " Our Mutual Friend " would be unique; it would be snapped up, and published all over the English-speaking world. But I fear it has gone the way of all butterwrappings, to a greasy grave.
Two Other MSS.-Twenty years ago a diligent porer over second-hand booksellers' catalogues came upon an item in a catalogue which made him start and stare. But, yes, there it undoubtedly was : " Original Manuscript of the Ingoldsby Legends, by Barham, thirty shillings." The man who saw that earliest took cab to the bookseller's, paid the thirty shillings, carried the precious MS. into the cab, drove off to a wellknown collector of such things, and sold it to him for £30. A few years later it realised £150, at the sale of the Samuel Collection.A bookseller purchased for £200 the MS. of one of Dickens' best works. For a long time that interesting manuscript had lain neglected. I am told that it had been left on the mantelpiece of an empty house formerly inhabited by a person connected with Charles Dickens in business. The bookseller tried to sell it for £500, and failed; £400, and failed; £300, and failed. A few years later, having to meet a sudden demand for cash, he parted with the MS. for the sum he gave for it, £200. The purchaser at that price kept the MS. for some years, until one morning a bookseller, the agent of a now famous but at that time unknown collector of rarities, came to the owner of the MS. and offered to buy it. " My price is £2,000," said the owner. A cheque was written on the spot.