P-D-H : THE BOOK COLLECTOR AFIELD by George T. Goodspeed

P-D-H : THE BOOK COLLECTOR AFIELD
George T. Goodspeed

Parkman D. Howe was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1889, of old Essex County stock. A grandfather, Nathaniel Saltonstall Howe, and John Greenleaf Whittier were schoolmates at the Haverhill Academy. His father, Henry Saltonstall Howe, was active for many years in the textile industry and was a bibliophile. After graduating from Harvard in 1911, the son followed his father into the textile business, in which he continued until his retirement in 1946.

The P. D. Howe collection was forty years in the making. For the first thirty of those years it was limited to books and manuscripts of the more important New England authors, mainly of the nineteenth century. In 1963 Mr. Howe was able to write that "with a very few exceptions have all of the first book editions of the principal authors of my period." Having reached this happy state of satiety, he began to collect the earlier New England writers.

The bulk of the collection, then, is in the writers of the nineteenth century. It follows, with minor variations, the pattern of its predecessors, those of J. C. Chamberlain, Stephen H. Wakeman, W. T. H. Howe (no relation), and Carroll A. Wilson. The influence of Wakeman and Wilson is particularly evident.

Having begun buying books in a small way in 1931, Mr. Howe commenced collecting seriously in the last quarter of 1932. He had recently come into his inheritance, and opportunities for the collector were many. The Wakeman collection had been dispersed, W. T. H. Howe was becoming inactive, Wilson's buying was curtailed as a result of the stock market crash, and Waller Barrett was yet to appear on the scene. Family libraries were still being broken up in Boston's Back Bay. Segments of James Russell Lowell's library, rich, of course, in association copies, were coming on the market. Valuable remnants of the Wakeman collection were still in the hands of dealers like P. K. Foley, C. E. Goodspeed, and Lathrop C. Harper. And with the depressed state of the economy, there was little serious competition among collectors.

In addition to the classic New Englanders — Bryant, Emerson, Hawthorne, O. W. Holmes, Longfellow, Lowell, Thoreau, and Whittier — the Howe collection takes in a baker's dozen more: Henry Adams, Louisa May Alcott, T. B. Aldrich, R. H. Dana, Jr., Harriet Beecher Stowe, Emily Dickinson, Mary Baker Eddy, Robert Frost, Herman Melville, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and E. A. Robinson. Later on a few more contemporary New England writers, his friend David McCord, and his classmate Conrad Aiken, to name but two, were added.

I have remarked on the extent to which the example of the Wakeman and Wilson collections is reflected in Mr. Howe's library. Three years Howe's senior, Wilson had begun as a collector in 1925 and thus had half a dozen years' start on his younger rival. It was Wilson's nature to cultivate the companionship of like-minded bibliophiles, and in the case of Howe, this developed into friendship, to the extent that in his will Wilson made a bequest: "To my friend Parkman D. Howe … with whom for so many years I have enjoyed friendly competition in the collection of American literature, such five items as … he may select from my Whittier collection. …"

The Howe collection was thus enriched with five pieces of outstanding rarity: the broadside first printing of The Quakers Are Out, The Song of the Vermonters broadside of 1843, the presentation copy of Snowbound in white cloth (only one other in this binding is recorded), The Pennsylvania Hall Address on thick paper, and the copy of Prentice's Life of Henry Clay inscribed by Whittier to his uncle, with evidence of the extent to which he was a collaborator in what was in a sense his first book.

These were, indeed, but frosting on the cake. Perhaps partly because of earlier family associations with Whittier, that Quaker poet was one of Mr. Howe's major enthusiasms, and, even without the Wilson bequest, this collection would have been preeminent. Inscribed copies of Justice and Expediency to his cousin Daniel, and Moll Pitcher to his schoolmate Harriet Minot, are but two sensational examples of the treasures which go to make up the eighty-odd pages in Mr. Howe's Whittier catalogue.

The Holmes collection was also strengthened by acquisitions from the Wilson estate. It had been Wilson's hope that his great collection of the poet-physician might be kept together in the library of Williams College, his alma mater, but the trustees of that institution found themselves unable to comply with the terms laid out in the will, and the collection was sold. From it Mr. Howe was able to add an impressive total of sixty-three items which had previously eluded him. Some of these were unique, and all were of very great rarity. Among them were Holmes's first book, Illustrations of the Athenaeum Gallery of Paintings, the complete file in parts of The Collegian, including the original separate issue of Part IV (there is no other known), the only complete file known of The Amateur, 1830, containing the first printing of fifteen pieces by Holmes; one of two recorded copies of the first issue of the Fourth of July Oration and of the poem for the dedication of the new Boston city library (1888). The other copy of this last is properly entombed in the cornerstone of the Boston Public Library, where, one may assume, it is likely to remain for some time.  In all, the Holmes section contains nine pieces which appear to be unique.

In a way the Emerson collection is the most impressive in the library, including as it does both issues of The Letter to the Second Church and Society, marking Emerson's break with organized religion. We have here both forms in which this historic document appeared: the pamphlet (one of six known) and the large broadside printed on satin. And perhaps most important, the little leaflet of Emerson's "Concord Hymn." This last, the first printing of the famous lines "By the rude bridge that arched the flood," was handed out to the crowd gathered for the dedication of the monument at the North Bridge in Concord on the Fourth of July, 1837. Young Henry Thoreau was one of the choir participating in the ceremonies. Robert Frost used to say that this was the finest example of so-called occasional verse in the language, but Emerson's fellow townsmen on hand for the occasion were insufficiently impressed with the hymn to preserve its original printing in any great quantity. Only three other copies are known to survive.

The Emerson collection is especially rich in presentation copies, of which there are sixteen. The Phi Beta Kappa Oration of 1837 and the Divinity College Address of 1838 are inscribed to Elizabeth Hoar, the Poems of 1847 and Society and Solitude to James Russell Lowell, The Conduct of Life, as well as a second copy of the Poems, were gifts to his farmer friend Edmund Hosmer. The Emersons include even the pocket-sized second edition of Whitman's Leaves of Grass flaunting on its spine the famous words "I greet you at the beginning of a great career. R. W. Emerson," surely the most conspicuous blurb in the annals of publishing.

The other author collections are hardly less remarkable. Mention may be made of Henry Adams' Memoirs of Marau Taaroa, 1893 (the only other copies are at Harvard and the Massachusetts Historical Society), with the queen's own ink corrections of the spelling of Tahitian names; Melville's John Marr, 1888, and Timoleon, 1891, each one of twenty-five copies; the first issue of Longfellow's Evangeline in the original boards; and the unique copy of the preliminary issue of the same author's first book, Outre-Mer.

The roster of authors' first books is substantially complete. In addition to those I have mentioned, we have Bryant's Embargo, 1808, published in his fourteenth year; Dana's Two Tears Before the Mast, a presentation copy to the physician under whose prescription the famous voyage was undertaken; and Robinson's Torrent and the Night Before.

The only known copy of Frost's first book, Twilight, is at Charlottesville, but the rest of Frost's first editions are present, together with a very large collection of periodical appearances of his poems. There are many presentation copies, a number of them inscribed by the poet to Mr. Howe himself. The Order of Exercises for the Forty-First Anniversary of the Lawrence High School July 1st, 1892 contains the Class Hymn by Robert Frost. The Howe collection includes the copy of this leaflet preserved for many years by Frost's high school classmate Harriet Carter. When another copy appeared (we know of only five in all) it also was acquired by Mr. Howe, who generously gave it to the Houghton Library at Harvard.

Wary of getting too deep in the collecting of manuscripts, Mr. Howe limited himself to not more than one holograph of each author. Within that limit, however, he was properly choosy, and the library is adorned with such jewels as Hawthorne's Celestial Railroad, Lowell's The Courtin', Holmes's Parson Turell's Legacy ( a bit from the Autocrat of the Breakfast Table), and the commencement part read by Thoreau at Harvard in 1837. This essay, on The Commercial Spirit of Modern Times Considered in Its Influence on the Political, Moral and Literary Character of a Nation, deals with the subject in a predictably negative way.  And appropriately enough, the youthful prodigy William Cullen Bryant is represented by a "Poem Composed by a Lad of Twelve Years Old."

Some mention must be made of the collection of Mary Baker Eddy's Science and Health, formed to show the evolution of the text of that enormously influential treatise. Its cornerstone is the copy of the first edition of 1875, inscribed by Mrs. Eddy to her son, and it includes twenty-three subsequent editions, three of them inscribed.

By the late forties most of the gaps in the collection were filled and little new material was turning up. Coincidentally, Mr. Howe retired from business at that time, devoting much of the next decade and a half to the service of the Children's Hospital in Boston. His urge to collect, however, continued unabated and he now turned his attention to the New England writers of an earlier era.

His first venture back into the seventeenth century was a singularly happy one, when he bought Anne Bradstreet's Tenth Muse Lately Sprung up in America, or Severall Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning, London, 1650.  In acquiring this copy Mr. Howe obtained for his collection at once the earliest collection of secular poetry written in this country and the first published literary efforts of any American woman. It is, possibly, the most important book in his collection.

The previous history of this copy may be worth recounting. Its earliest known owner was Sir Mark Masterman Sykes (1771-1823), whose collection was sold by auction in the year following his death. It was next acquired (probably at the same auction) by William Henry Miller, founder of the Christie-Miller collection at Britwell Court. In March of 1924 the Bradstreet book, with others from Britwell Court, was sold at Sotheby's. The buyer must have returned it (or it may have been bought in), for it reappeared three years later in a sale of "Valuable books unsold or returned as imperfect at the Sales of the Britwell Court Library," where, despite minor imperfections, it is described as "A VERY FINE COPY."  It was there bought by Quaritch, acting for Sir Leicester Harms-worth.

After Sir Leicester's death his library in turn was sold at Sotheby's over a term of years. The Tenth Muse duly appeared in the sale rooms on 21 February 1949. It was bought by Henry Stevens for Goodspeed's Book Shop who sold it to Mr. Howe a month later.

A second collection of Mrs. Bradstreet's poems was printed in Boston, in 1678. It contains poems not previously printed, and as a rare product of the colonial press, it is highly prized by collectors. Ernest J. Wessen, a well-known bookseller in Mansfield, Ohio, found a fine copy of it in 1958 and sold it to the Boston bookseller from whom Mr. Howe got it on New Year's Eve.

When he turned to the seventeenth century, Mr. Howe became more of a high spot collector. He commenced by making up a list of what he considered the most significant books of colonial New England and based his collection on it. We must not speak lightly of any collection which includes the two Bradstreets, Mourt's Relation of 1622, a large-paper copy of Mather's Magnalia, with the errata ( the only part of that famous book to be printed in this country), Wood's New Englands Prospect, 1634, Roger Williams's Indian Grammar, 1643, and other great rarities described by Roger Stoddard.

Our collector was a generous patron of booksellers in New York and Boston. One thinks particularly of P. K. Foley in Boston and John Knox and David Randall in New York, to name but three, but he was not dependent on them. Some of his great treasures were secured by direct treaty with private owners. He has told how he pursued Whittier's Sycamores from Nantucket Island to Manhattan to Atlanta, before running it to earth in Seattle. The best of the Henry Adams books came through his membership in the Massachusetts Historical Society. His close relationship through the years with the Harvard Library gave access to rarities by Emerson; and social connections with prominent families in Boston made bits and pieces out of Beacon Street and Commonwealth Avenue attics available to him. The collecting instinct ran deep.

He has said of his father, "I don't know what his first purchase was, but I well remember the last." I can say the same of the son. His last was a presentation copy of Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales inscribed by the author to Senator Ruel Williams of Maine. The senator was a family connection of Horatio Bridge, Hawthorne's friend and Bowdoin classmate who helped finance publication of the Tales. It was a fitting capstone.

It was fifty years ago that I first met Parkman Howe, and from then on I was intimately involved in the building of his library. As time went on, I became privileged to count him among my friends. He was a genial companion, whose sunny countenance and gentle humor made every visit with him a happy experience. He was one of the most uncomplicated people I have ever known. And over all the years I cannot recall a single instance when there was any trace of difference or misunderstanding between us. I shall always remember him with the deepest affection. They don't make many like him.

(Reprinted from: The Parkman Dexter Howe Library: a descriptive catalogue, Gainesville, FL : University of Florida Libraries, 1983-)

For more collection information, consult one of the following:

The banner graphic above was derived from The Swimming Hole, a painting by Thomas Cowperthwaite Eakins.   Eakins' paintings were influential among the New England writers of the later 19th and early 20th centuries among the holdings of the Parkman Dexter Howe Library.

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