Friday, November 06, 2009

Grimshaw's History

Dear William Grimshaw,

Dear me, what a find and what an unutterable delight the other day I experienced browsing in the $2.00 book section of the used book room at the public library. There this was on the shelf, tucked near several copies of Harnett Kane's New Orleans Woman.

I find it remarkable that this tome has been around since before the Civil War. In fact it is so worn that I imagine it was carried in the pack of some erstwhile schoolboy who hoped to hide from the savagery of his current situation in your discursives of the savageries of the past.

The History of England, from the first invasion by Julius C├Žsar, to the accession of William the Fourth, in eighteen hundred and thirty: Philadelphia, Grigg & Elliot, 318 p. This is the book from which school children learned of Julius Caesar and Richard the Lion Hearted in the middle years of the 19th century.

And though I could, through the marvels of Google, click through a volume online, I am thrilled to be able, carefully, to page through my own copy complete with pencil markings that have already brought me no end of great joy. I certainly agree with the reader who penciled the parenthesis below. Did she create the line as a mark of incredulity? Nonetheless, it is appropriate to draw our attention to the amazing longevity of men of Yorkshire and Killingsworth.

Grimshaw, your renown* is well deserved. It seems that you wrote and wrote, history upon history, factoid upon factoid. And if your research was less than demanding and meticulous than, perhaps, it should have been, it still gives us an accounting of stuff from the perspective of bygone days and bygone eyes.

But, it isn't really the history that I care about so much. I love the pages of text, mildewed and yellowed. I love the way the leafs of paper have become freckled, and wonder whether melanin in the pages increased from exposure to sun as some avid reader lay on the sand and paged through the perils of the Saxon Heptarchy that threw the Britains back to ancient barbarity.

I love to imagine that your histories, in this very book, in this very volume, touched and passed from pillar to post, from shelf to shelf over the years, starting from the Grigg and Elliot warehouse in 1843, somehow connect me with a string of actual people, actual readers over the years, from pupils to bibliophiles.

Am I related with this little tome, held between my fingers to someone in a Boston school rooms in 1858 or to a student in a farmhouse in New Jersey in the 1872? I imagine I can hear the breathing of a girl, stealing out to the orchards and climbing to a low branch to read of Ethelbald, Ethelbert, Ethelred, Ethelwolf, and Alfred. She wondered perhaps, what it was that made Ethelbald a profligate prince, and Alfred virtuous.

And though your book concludes with a list of eminent folk who died, including Lord Byron, in the reign of King George the Fourth, who himself died in June of 1930, my enjoyment doesn't rest on death, but on the lives of those whose minds and eyes fed their curiosity on the antiquities you preserved.

Bless you. Bless them.


*Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography2, published in 1888. The following citation was provided:
GRIMSHAW, William, author, b. in Greencastle, Ireland, in 1782; d. in Philadelphia, Pa., in 1852. He emigrated to the United States in 1815, and lived many years in Philadelphia. Among his works were an "Etymological Dictionary" (Philadelphia, 1821); "Gentleman's Lexicon," and "Ladies Lexicon" (1829), "Merchants' Law Book," "Form Book," "American Chesterfield," "Life of Napoleon," and school histories in England, France, Greece, the United States, Rome, South America, and Mexico, with questions and keys. He also published revised editions of Goldsmith's histories of Rome and Greece, of Ramsay's "Life of Washington," and of Baine's "History of the Wars Growing Out of the French Revolution."


cadh 8 said...

Very neat find. I think it is so cool that you found this old book and read it (well at least parts). And as you said, thinking of where the book has been and who has seen is so amazing. I mean, it is something fairly insignificant, but it has remained the same while those people who owned it have lived and died. Makes you think.

Anne G G said...

Oh my . . . a meticulous history devoted to detailed facts and not always accurate. Possibly a perfect present for a certain spouse I might mention. Must look online for the Etymological Dictionary. Thanks for sharing this.

brd said...

Yes, this would be a nice gift for a certain bibliophile or other. It is not a perfect volume but it has character.

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