Tag Archives: Inscriptions

Friendship across the ocean: Mark Twain and Sir John MacAlister

A recent foray into one of our rare book storerooms for the purposes of cataloguing has brought to our immediate awareness a wonderful collection of books by Mark Twain, many of which feature inscriptions and quotes in the author’s own hand. These volumes were originally owned by Sir John Young Walker MacAlister (1856-1925), a close friend of Twain, and were given to the college by MacAlister’s son, Kingsman Donald MacAlister (1875-1968).

Photo of Sir John Young Walker MacAlister

Sir John Young Walker MacAlister  (1856-1925) Portrait photo courtesy of Wellcome Trust

Portrait of Mark Twain

Portrait of Mark Twain (1835-1910) from the frontispiece to Innocents abroad, London, 1899. Classmark: N.28.55

John MacAlister belonged to a profession dear to our hearts: librarianship. He was instrumental in building up the fledgling Library Association from a small London-based group into a large professional nationwide organisation, worthy of obtaining a Royal Charter in 1877. Editor of The Library Journal for many years, he wrote extensively about the principles of librarianship, developing many of the ideas which still underpin the profession today.

MacAlister had a wide circle of friends in intellectual spheres, including Mark Twain, with whom he corresponded regularly. They also socialised during periods when Twain was living in England, often getting together to chat and smoke. In June 1899, MacAlister took Twain to his gentleman’s club: The Savage. With very little prompting, the club committee duly elected Twain an honorary lifetime member. Noted caricaturist, Phil May (1864-1903) was also present and produced a cartoon to commemorate the occasion, which shows both Twain and MacAlister. The date of 1900 on the cartoon is thought to be May’s idea of a “prophecy” for the following year. It is unclear who the gentleman with the saw is supposed to be.

Cartoon of Twain and MacAlister at the Savage club

Cartoon by Phil May commemorating the Savage Club dinner on June 9th 1899. Illustration from: “The Savage Club: a medley of history, anecdote, and reminiscence”  by Aaron Watson: London, 1907

Twain was liberal in inscribing and adding pithy quotations to those volumes of his works which he presented to MacAlister. Featured below are just a  small selection of these:

Inscription by Mark Twain

“To MacAlister. “Truth is mighty and will prevail – the eternal years of God are hers” Bryant. There is nothing the matter with this, except that it Ain’t so. Truly yours Mark Twain. London, Feb. 19, 1900″ Inscription on the flyleaf of Innocents abroad, London, 1899. Classmark: N.28.55

Mark Twain quote

Inscription by Twain: “The man who is a pessimist before 48 knows too much; if he is an optimist after it he knows too little” On a sheet interleaved in a bound volume of chapters from Twain’s serialised autobiography. Classmark: N.28.57 

Mark Twain quote

“We often feel sad in the presence of music without words: & often more than that in the presence of music without music”. From another interleaved sheet in the volume of autobiography. Classmark: N.28.57

Several of the volumes are first or limited editions, including this copy of the first edition of the novel The man that corrupted Hadleyburg, with its colourful front cover:

Cover of "The man that corrupted Hadleyburg"

Cover of The man that corrupted Hadleyburg, by Mark Twain. London, 1900. Classmark: N.28.56

The signed edition statement of Innocents abroad identifies it as one of only 620 copies published:

Signed edition statement

Edition statement from MacAlister’s copy of “Innocents abroad” London, 1899. Classmark: N.28.55

Mark Twain was diligent in recording the story of his life whilst he lived it, but was determined that no memoirs be published in book form during his lifetime. In 1906 however, he did agree to allow some chapters of his autobiography to appear in serialised form in the North American Review. John MacAlister took it upon himself to collect these chapters and have them bound together into one volume. When informed of this, Twain, far from being cross, caused a special title-page to be printed for this unique volume, which he sent to MacAlister. The imprint states: “The only copy – MacAlister’s”.

Unique title page

Unique title page created by Mark Twain for John MacAlister. London, 1906-7. Classmark: N.28.57

Tucked inside this volume is the envelope in which the title page was sent. It is addressed in Twain’s own hand:

Envelope addressed by Mark Twain

Envelope addressed by Mark Twain, tucked inside N.28.57

The volumes of Twain’s works from MacAlister’s library clearly reflect the warm and longstanding friendship between the two men, which spanned many years and an ocean.

AC

References:

Death of a Librarian  by Lynn Macalister, accessed 24/04/2020

Mark Twain Day by Day by David Fears, accessed 24/04/2020

The Savage Club: a medley of history, anecdote, and reminiscence  by Aaron Watson, London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1907.

 

Clashing inscriptions

Front pastedown of J.75.17 from the Thackeray collection

Front pastedown of J.75.17. From the Thackeray collection

This amusing exchange appears on the front pastedown of a 1794 edition of “The conduct of understanding” by John Locke. The inscriptions read: “C. Sturges K.C.C.  Recommended by Dr Glynn 1794” and: “You lying scoundrell Sturges. Dr Glyn does not recommend any such book”

1794 was the year the book’s first owner, Charles Sturges (1776-1802) joined the college as an undergraduate, and, as a newly minted scholar, he appears to have been eager – perhaps too eager – to show that his book purchases were guided by the advice of his betters. Being labelled a “lying scoundrell” seems to have done him little harm, as he later became a fellow of the College and also a clergyman, acting between 1800 and  1802 as curate of St. Mary’s Church in Reading, where his father was the vicar.

The author of the second inscription is thought to have been Dr Glynn himself.  Robert Glynn (1719-1800) was a colourful character in every respect.

Dr Robert Glynn. An engraving of a drawing by the Rev. Thomas Kerrich

Dr Robert Glynn. An engraving of a drawing by the Rev. Thomas Kerrich

A prominent and well respected Cambridge physician and a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, his  habit of wearing a scarlet cloak and a three-cornered hat and carrying a gold-topped cane must have made him an easily  recognisable figure around the town. A Kingsman, Glynn lived in College and ran his practice from his rooms there.

Described in the Rev. Augustus Austen Leigh’s history of the College as: “the most active, eccentric, and benevolent of doctors”, Glynn’s popularity stemmed in part from his generosity and kindness towards the people of the malaria-ridden fens, who were encouraged to come to him for free medical advice. Fees were also waived for Cornishmen (Glynn was Cornish by birth), clergymen and old Etonians. A man of firm opinions, Glynn always avoided prescribing opium, advocated fresh air as one of the best remedies, and never bled his patients, despite this being a common medical practice at the time. He avoided regular mealtimes, preferring to snack on cold mutton kept in his rooms.

Memorial tablet in the College chapel

Memorial tablet in the College chapel

Eccentric to the last, Glynn stipulated that he should be buried in the College chapel  late at night, by torchlight, and that only College members were to attend.  He is memorialised by a tablet on the wall of one of the side-chapels. The name Clobery was adopted by Glynn after he received a large inheritance from a maternal uncle.

The book made its way into the collection of George Thackeray (1777-1850), who was Provost of King’s between 1814 and 1850. Most of Thackeray’s books were passed to his daughter  Mary Ann (1818-1879), who in turn bequeathed them to the College.

Sources: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,  “King’s College” by Rev. A. Austen Leigh, and Venn’s “Alumni Cantabrigienses”

AC