I used to have a mania for old books. I had shelves and shelves of them. Where they were cheap enough I bought first editions.
Second-hand bookshops: Oh, how I loved second-hand bookshops! These days I happily pass them by, but back then I was looking for something.
An identity, perhaps?
Most of the valuable things are gone now. I had some lovely stuff. A Selected Swinburne with really kinky pictures by a guy who thought he was Aubrey Beardsley but couldn't draw legs; I left that at a girlfriend's house. A 19th century illustrated Shakespeare with gold tooled, leather covers; it got damaged when the roof leaked and I couldn't bear to keep it in its ruined state.
Others- boxes and boxes of them- were sold for cash. I needed the money and the man pretty much ripped me off.
But some I couldn't part with. My Chestertons (I used to contribute essays to the Chesterton Review), my Kiplings...
Most of my Kiplings are first editions. The earlier ones are bound in blue cloth and are printed on thick, coarse-woven paper. And they have a glorious smell- a spicy smell, impossible to identify; maybe it's from the glue that was used in the binding. Whatever it is, it's a smell of the 1890s.
Oddly comforting. I open the pages and there's a coal fire burning in the grate and whisky (in a cut glass decanter) to hand.
My copy of The Day's Work carries the bookplate of the early 20th century thriller writer, E. Phillips Oppenheim. I don't harbour any illusion that this makes it valuable.
I also have three of the original Railway Library editions- slim pamphlets that were sold from kiosks at Indian railway stations, price: 1 rupee- bound together in blue boards with a leather spine. Unfortunately the original paper covers have been lost, which takes the value way, way down. This particular book has a plate that identifies it as having once belonged to The Brothers' Library at the Charterhouse. "N.B." it says, "it is earnestly requested that this Book be kept clean, and returned to the Library as soon as convenient."
Brothers? Charterhouse? That's monks, isn't it? Carthusians.
Which instantly reminds me of a limmerick I learned from my old Latin master, Monkey Chamberlain:
There was a Carthusian monk
Who went to sleep in his bunk;
He dreamed that Venus
Was tickling his toes
And woke up all covered in perspiration.
Erm.... now where were we up to?