Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Suspended Judgments

Published in 1916, a first edition. 

Never has so battered a book been added to a collection. Nevertheless, here it is, and with good reason - for it has been inscribed on the front free endpaper in 1920 or 1929 (sadly the exact date is obscured by damage) by Phyllis Playter, the partner of John Cowper Powys over many years.

Phyllis Playter 1894-1982

She was a reader for Haldeman-Julius, publishers of the Little Blue Books, to which Powys was a contributor.

She met the lecture-touring JCP in 1921, whereupon at the age of twenty-seven she became his 'femme de confiance’. From then until his death in 1963 she nurtured and gave direction to his chaotic, wayward genius.

She accompanied Powys back to England in 1934, following their five years together in up-state New York, where A Glastonbury Romance, Weymouth Sands, and Autobiography were all written.

After Powys’s death in 1963 she continued to live in their tiny house at Blaenau Ffestiniog, North Wales.

Whatever the condition of the book when it was first acquired by Phyllis, its present condition would very likely have resulted from the various domestic upheavals over the years. She and JCP moved from Patchin Place in New York City, to Phudd Bottom in Up State New York, across the Atlantic to Corwen in Wales, ending up in a tiny little damp house in Blaenau Ffestiniog, also in Wales. Packing and unpacking, squeezing into more and more confined living spaces have all taken their toll on this book, with its worn out covers, grubby pages, water damage and, at some time, paper-consuming insects and grubs. Patina I say! The book’s condition certainly tells its own story. How wonderful to hold an object that has been packed and unpacked and re-packed so many times by the hands of Phyllis and John.

The Book

John Cowper Powys, Suspended Judgments: Essays on Books and Sensations, G. Arnold Shaw, New York, 1916.

The price of choosing the dog-eared book for its association with Phyllis Playter is to have foregone the pleasure of possessing the dust cover.

Nevertheless, bibliographer Dante Thomas gives the promotional statement by JCP printed on the front of the dust wrapper. I will not reproduce this in full, but a couple of excerpts give a flavour of what to expect inside. This will be no dry academic reading of the authors considered in the work.

…I have tried to capture what might be called the “psychic residuum”  of earlier fleeting impressions and I have tried to turn this emotional aftermath into a permanent contribution - at any rate for those of similar temperament - to the psychology of literary appreciation…

…I have called the book “Suspended Judgements” because while one lives, one grows, and while one grows, one waits and expects.

In 1923 a selection of essays in “Suspended Judgments” were reprinted by E. H. Haldeman-Julius of Girard, Kansas as Little Blue Books. These were:
Little Blue Book Number:

448 Montaigne, Pascal, Voltaire
450 de Maupassant, Anatole France, William Blake
451 De Gourmont and Byron
452 Emily Brontë and Henry James
453 Joseph Conrad and Oscar Wilde

Given that Phyllis Playter was a reader for Haldeman-Julius, publishers of the Little Blue Books, and had met JCP only two years before the publication date, it is highly likely that she recommended the selection of essays to Haldeman-Julius for publication. 

© John Dunn.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Confessions of Two Brothers

Co-authored with Llewelyn Powys.

First edition, signed and inscribed by John Cowper Powys.

This book is blessed by a wonderful signed inscription from John Cowper Powys to Lloyd Emerson Siberell, the first bibliographer of Powys' books.

Received as a gift from Powys, Siberell inserted his intriguing bookplate, which in itself is worthy of closer inspection, on the front right hand endpaper.

The centralised inscription reads as follows, the line breaks, capitalisations and underlines being those of Powys himself.

John Cowper Powys
The Library of
Lloyd Emerson Siberell
Every line of this
Book of
as the old writers 
love to say
with memories 
of the close &
That always existed
Llewelyn & me. 
All his genius
was rooted in
his Diary
as is the case
with the greatest 
& here can be
seen the
first shoots of his
incomparable style.
Corwen. N. Wales. Feb 2 1952

Dante Thomas notes that the book was 'issued February 21, 1916 at $1.50. This book was later for sale by Knopf.

Not published in England.

John Cowper Powys contributed:
Confessions. Pp. 9-175.

Note that Llewelyn's name is consistently misspelled in this his first book publication. On page 18 lines 23-26 are botched by misalignment and improper setting of type at the beginning of each line.'

The book was published by the Manas Press, which was a publishing house operated by Claude Bragdon, a prominent member of the American Theosophical Society. It was located in Rochester, New York. The first works produced were Bragdon's pamphlets Theosophy and the Theosophical Society and A Brief Life of Mrs. Besant.

Manas Press is especially noteworthy for translating and publishing the first English-language edition of P. D. Ouspensky's Russian work Tertium Organum, and for printing Bragdon's excellent writings on Theosophy, art, and architecture.

(Thanks are due to Theosophy Wikki for the above information)

In Theosophy manas is the fifth principle in human beings. It is the intellectual faculty that allows humans to think, remember, plan, etc. It is also the origin of self-consciousness.
The endpaper illustration may be a symbolic reference to the Hindu understanding of Manas, which is one of the four parts of the antahkarana (the "internal organ"), the other three parts being buddhi (the intellect), citta (the memory) and ahamkāra (the ego).

On the back endpaper is a ticket which indicates that the book was sold at Brentano's in New York. Founded in 1853, the company traded until 1983, then as an independently branded part of Borders until 2011.

The book.

John Cowper Powys, Llewellyn Powys, Confessions of Two Brothers, The Manas Press, Rochester, New York, 1916.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018


My own edition of this work is quite unremarkable, apart from its fine condition as a first edition, published in New York in 1916 by Powys’s agent, G. Arnold Shaw.

Dante Thomas does not make any reference to a dust jacket, though presumably there was one originally.

Facing the title page, within a black border, is a list of other books by John Cowper Powys and by his younger brother T. F. Powys, published by Powys’s agent G. Arnold Shaw.

Under the copyright notice is the imprint “Vail-Ballou Company Binghampton and New York”.

The dedication opposite on the next page is “to the spirit of Emily Bronte”.

The book was issued on 11th October, 1916 at $1.50

On the back endpaper is a sales label in the form of a perforated stamp. It reads Paul Elder & Co. San Francisco.  At the time of publication Paul Elder & Co. were based at 239 Grant Avenue in San Francisco.

The stamps were affixed to many of the books sold in the shop - and not just Elder’s own publications, but all the other books too.

Various stamp designs were used over the years.

The date of the stamp in my edition (type E) suggests that the book was sold at least four years after the publication date. It bears an image which is a Japanese mitsudomoe design.

The Japanese word tomoe (巴) refers to a comma-shaped symbol. There are hundreds of traditional Japanese tomoe designs. The most common variant is the three-tomoe design called mitsudomoe (三つ巴), which, according to Japanese tradition, creates the harmony of a perfect circle.

Elder first used the mitsudomoe design in 1900, which he anglicised as the word “tomoyé”, and it became a logo of sorts for him. He used it in many books and magazines over the next two decades.

(Information from the website cited 26.10.18)

The book.

John Cowper Powys, Rodmoor, G. Arnold Shaw, New York, 1916.

© John Dunn.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

One Hundred Best Books

This is the first edition from my library, published in New York in 1916 by Powys’s agent, G. Arnold Shaw.

The book was not published in England.

The large bookplate is that of Lloyd Emerson Siberell (1905-1968), collector and first bibliographer of John Cowper Powys.

The small bookplate on the front endpaper is that of F. R. Furber, city lawyer, bibliophile and author of two books on golf, A Course for Heroes A History of The Royal St. George's Golf Club, 1996 and The Moles 1911 - 2011 a Byroad in Golfing History, 2011.

(Obituary, Daily Telegraph, 9th September, 2016.)

About Powys’s approach to this book, Dante Thomas notes that ‘the game of listing the “best” books was a popular one earlier in the century, following Sir John Lubbock’s lead’. Thomas felt no compulsion to add to his comment on Lubbock, who is all but forgotten today. However, Lubbock was an important man, the MP responsible for introducing the Bank Holidays Act (1871), and as principal of the Working Men’s College in London, he gave a speech in 1886 in which he listed 100 books.

It is worth noting that, whilst safe in America from the war that was destroying others of his generation in the trenches of France, Powys spent a lot of time writing away for his friend Shaw’s publishing venture. Apart from One Hundred Best Books, 1916 also saw the publication of Wolf’s Bane Rhymes, Rodmoor, Suspended Judgments and Confessions of Two Brothers (co-authored with Llewellyn Powys).

The advertisements at the back of the book are of interest for listing the non-JCP authors published by Shaw. These were Theodore Francis Powys, Ian Campbell Hannah, I. B. Stoughton Holborn.

The book.

John Cowper Powys, One Hundred Best Books, G. Arnold Shaw, New York, 1916.

In 1923 One Hundred Best Books was reprinted by E. H. Haldeman-Julius of Girard, Kansas as number 435 of the Little Blue Books. 

Given that Phyllis Playter was a reader for Haldeman-Julius, publishers of the Little Blue Books, and had met JCP only two years before the publication date, it is highly likely that she recommended One Hundred Best Books to Haldeman-Julius for publication.

As a Little Blue Book