patiently, excitedly waiting

Waiting patiently for Hazlitt and Stevenson.

I don’t have to wait long. The Hazlitt arrives first, coming all the way from the U.K. to regional NSW via Abe books in a brown cardboard book pack. It has a lovely lime green cloth cover. 

The first arrival

The first arrival

‘The day Hazlitt came he opened to “I hate to read new books,’ and I hollered ‘Comrade’ to whoever owned it before me.’

December 8, 1949

My copy of Hazlitt didn’t open to anything in particular that I could see.Except a spine that is starting to separate from the book.  But I’m pretty sure it’s the same edition that Helene owned.

 “the Nonesuch Press edition” Marks & Co.,  25th October, 1949

The Stevenson comes soon after in a bubble padded white paper envelope.

I'm fine with it!

I’m fine with it!

This is the Stevenson.  I have to rely on a brief description from Helene.

…the Stevenson is so fine it embarrasses my orange-crate bookshelves, I”m almost afraid to handle such fine vellum and heavy cream coloured pages. November 3, 1949

I”m happy with it, but I don’t think it’s particularly fine and it’s definitely not printed on vellum.

On Helene’s first list there was also Leigh Hunt and a Latin Bible.

It’s very tempting to download these books but I’m hoping that they are out there. I enjoy waiting for them as Helene did and also the surprise of what turns up.

I’ve never even read the Bible although as a curious teenager I did make a halfhearted attempt. The paper was lovely. I think it was onion skin.

Not sure if I will pursue the Latin Vulgate as a hardcopy, perhaps this time a digital version is acceptable? Helene loved old books, but maybe she would have loved the instant gratification of being able to call something up out of the ether? And then there is this quote…

‘Why should I run all the way down to 17th St. to buy dirty, badly made books when I can buy clean, beautiful ones from you without leaving the typewriter?’ September 25, 1950

That could almost read …without leaving the computer…

I know nothing about William Hazlitt – luckily this edition has an introduction just for people like me.

He was born on April 10th 1778 – wow! 1778, ten years before the invasion of  Australia by convicts and the British.

William Hazlitt is easily Googled and there is a lot of reading out there about him, many biographies, a Hazlitt society and a new essay competition in his honour.

A.C Grayling wrote a book about him, The Quarrel Of  The Age: The Life and Times of William Hazlitt, and Michael Foote ensured that his gravestone was restored.

The former Labour leader Michael Foot unveiled a restored, 216-word inscription, one of the longest in church history, on the restored grave in St Anne’s churchyard in Soho, central London. It honoured a dissenter who is acknowledged as one the greatest masters of English prose. The grave, with its jubilant tribute to “a despiser of the merely rich and great, a lover of the people, poor or oppressed, a hater of the pride and power of the few” had been allowed to fall into near-illegible neglect. The Guardian, 11th April 2003

 The contents page is exciting;


On the love of the country – Nov. 1814
On the love of life – Jan 1815
On reading old books – Feb. 1821 Etc, etc

On reading old books

“Women judge of books as they do of fashions or complexions, which are admired only “in their newest gloss”. That is not my way. …I have more confidence in the dead than the living. William Hazlitt

 This book has that wonderful old book smell – I can’t pin it down – old books,, not the musty, fusty smell of newer books, paperbacks etc. but older by a hundred years books….mmmm delicious.

 “One of the pleasantest things in the world is going on a journey; but I like to go by myself.” William Hazlitt

That’s something I could holler out loud about!



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starting the search

starting the search.

via starting the search.

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starting the search

Helene Hanff obviously appreciated the aesthetics of old books.

 “Why should I run all the away down to 17th St. to buy dirty badly made books when I can buy clean beautiful ones from you without leaving the typewriter?”  September 25th, 1950

I wonder what she thought of the design of her own book and the quality of its publication? Does she say anywhere?

fist edition cover 1970

fist edition cover 1970

I really like the cover design of the first edition. I’ve never seen a copy of this in real life.

I’ve just Googled it and it ranges in price from $100 – $450 dollars, way out of my price range. And while my own well-worn paperback is still intact, it will do. One day I might be able to justify owning a copy of the first edition.

I was curious about the books that she ordered from Marks’s & Co. I thought I was quite well read until I started to look at what these books actually were.

It’s interesting that she looked to England to buy books. She found them, (Mark’s and Co.) in the Saturday Review of Literature.

“Your ad in the Saturday Review of Literature says that you specialize in out of print books.”  October the 5th, 1949

  This was a Saturday supplement to the New York Evening Post. It was dedicated to literary criticism and  reviews. There is an archive and PDF’s of all the publications over the years at

I’ve trawled through lots of copies of the magazine trying to find the original Marks’ and Co advertisement, but I can’t find it. The publications are so interesting I get lost in them for hours. They make for fabulous reading and the illustrations are great. I’m amazed at the fact that they could produce a whole magazine dedicated to literary criticism and reviews every week. I love this publication.

lots of booksellers but no Marks a & Co.

lots of booksellers but no Marks a
& Co.

Her first letter to Marks & Co. contains a list, which is not included in the book…

 ‘I enclose a list of my most pressing problems. If you have clean secondhand copies of any of the books on the list, for no more than $5.00 each, will you consider this a purchase order and send them to me?’  October 5, 1949

 How much does $5.00 translate to in today’s money?

According to this website $5.00 in 1949 is about $50.00 today.

Like Helene I have a limit for what I’m willing to pay for a book. I haven’t set that limit yet. But it might be $50? I really can’t afford this so I will have to make pecuniary decisions as I go. Hopefully not every book will cost this much?

The first reply she gets from Marks & Co. alerts us to what some of the books are on her list. They have found copies for her of; Hazlitt’s Selected Essays, R.L. Stevenson’s essays, and Leigh Hunt’s essays.

Apart from Stevenson I have no idea who these other writers are. Leigh Hunt’s name is vaguely familiar but I”m not sure why. I have read Treasure Island, Kidnapped and Dr Jeckyl and Mr Hyde.

My trusty copy of The Oxford Companion to English Literature (new edition, edited by Margaret Drabble) Which my Aunty May gave me is invaluable to me now. Wikipaedia is also another  fabulous reference. A lengthy entry on Hazlitt in the Oxford with lots of cross references gets me started…this is going to be interesting.

A kindle search returns Selected Essays of William Hazlitt 1778-1830 edited by Geoffrey Keanes. The Kindle price is $8.79, I don’t want to buy these books on Kindle. I have a kindle but I’ve decided I want to read the same editions, if I can that, Helene did.

 Have just found an amazing bookseller, Pickering and Chatto – not for the fainthearted, or me most likely, these volumes are expensive.

I love their catalogue – it looks so exciting. Would Helene  have scoffed at the prices and been like me excited by what they have to offer?

How Helene would have loved searching for books online.

How Helene would have loved searching for books online.

There are so many interesting booksellers out there. Helene would have loved trawling through the internet looking at what they have to offer.

I have found the Nonesuch edition of Hazlitt, but I wonder what date her edition was? I don’t think it’s going to make any difference to the content? But I’m not sure because she does rant at Frank Doel for sending her editions where things are omitted.

‘WHAT SORT OF A PEPYS DIARY DO YOU CALL THIS? this is not pepys diary this is some busybody editors’ miserable collection of EXCERPTS from pepys diary may he rot.’ October 15, 1951

There are lots of new editions out there of the books on her lists but I don’t want to read any of these books  in  brand new editions. The new copies range from $35 up to $65 dollars, not what I want to pay, and it really isn’t in the spirit of Helene to purchase a new copy.

There is a beautiful copy of Hazlitt’s essays at Louella Kerr’s in Petersham. It has a lime green cloth cover. That’s the one I want but not for $28 dollars.

Where is Louella Kerr books?

the catalogues read like treasure troves

the catalogues read like treasure troves

I used to live in Petersham but I didn’t know Louella Kerr was there. Now I live out in the country a long way from any secondhand bookshops.

I have finally ordered two of the books, The Hazlitt and the Stevenson from Abe books, total $18 including shipping to Australia. They are coming from two different booksellers, so they will arrive at different times. I feel a bit guilty now for not buying them here. I don’t know why, her things used to come from London too.

It is only appropriate that they come from wherever, I suppose?

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well worn


my well worn copy

A few years ago I was given  84 Charing Cross Road at my book club’s Secret Santa Christmas do. It was a rather uninspiring looking paperback, well worn, with a cover design of English and American postmarks. I remember thinking   ‘Oh yeah, wasn’t that a film?’ and put it aside.  But, one day I opened it, read it and loved it and have kept going back. It’s one of those books that you can keep dipping in and out of, and every time you do you discover more.

If you know about Helene, skip this bit. Helene Hanff was a writer making her living from whatever writing gigs she could get, screenplays, children’s non-fiction etc. In her first letter dated October 5th, 1949 she describes herself as…

“… a poor writer with an antiquarian taste in books…”

84 Charing Cross road contains the correspondence between Helene and the booksellers Marks and Co.

Sounds dry? It’s not. It is extremely funny, poignant, interesting and a whole lot of other things besides.

Helene Hanff loved non-fiction, essays and diaries, and these are mostly the books she ordered from London.

The first letter that she sends to Marks and Co., booksellers contains a list, which we as the reader don’t see. It is these lists that I’m interested in.


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