Back to London and another day. Well, every librarian likes to stumble on books where they least expect them and it was a surprise to me to find books at the Wallace Collection, “a family collection, and national museum.” I chanced on this small museum which is the collection of five generations of collectors, four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, housed in their family home near Oxford Street. Not only was it rather a surprise to see Hals’ The Laughing Cavalier and Watteau’s The Swing, but there were really books in the bookcases in the library of the home.
I am guessing that some of the books have been changed over the years, well, I know it—the 1911 Britannica and the Diderot and d'Alembert's Encyclopédie were in the cabinets, along with the Mémoires secrets of Bachaumont. The Wallace Collection has an amazing collection of furniture and other objects that being to Marie-Antoinette. Apparently one of the Marquess of Hertford’s had the forethought to buy this stuff up when it was auctioned off. It would be interesting to think that these books were part of that, but their provenance is not mentioned in the catalog record, so I’m guessing they were not and they were published in London. (If you wonder how I know about the Bachaumont-- well, I emailed the librarian of the Wallace Collection Library—that is the way to find out things you want to know about! She very graciously answered all my questions, but prefers that folks find other libraries if they want to do research with these books.)
I became interested in looking at paintings with books after I overheard a docent mistakenly telling a group of women that one woman in a painting had finished her housework and was reading, but it is clear that the woman was lacemaking! I have a couple of postcard books of The Reading Woman and it is a genre (paintings of women reading I mean) I like, so I did find a few who were reading or had a book, rather than working away at lacemaking. At the last minute, I discovered they had a small collection of illuminated manuscript pages—hidden in cabinets covered in leather to keep the sun out. I had thought they were just miniatures such as cameos and had passed them by. There were some beautiful examples and this one of St. John reading from his book while at the dormition of Mary jumped out at me.
I popped into John Lewis, a huge department store on Oxford Street and I am sad to say when I asked if they had books, I was questioned: “what kind?” I said I was looking for travel books and he said, “Yep, upstairs with the suitcases.” Well, I don’t really consider having about fifteen books as having books. But they did have this.
Later, my daughter and I were walking down the street and saw this sign,
but we already had lunch plans, so we passed by the opportunity to see what kind of books were on offer.
A quick trip to Daunt Books, my new favorite bookstore (please take a virtual tour), proved nearly too much too handle. That bookstore has a way of making me want to read things I’ve never heard of and wished I had, and another way of putting books I’ve always wanted to read (and buy) right in front of my eyes. Specializing in travel, a lot of their books are grouped by country and some novels and other literature from the country are mixed right in with the basic travel books—genius (or “brilliant,” as the English say) idea. But they feature interesting publishers such as Persephone Classics, all the various series being put out now by Penguin and Vintage, and just generally make every single book in the store look interesting! And in case you had not heard, Penguin is re-issuing the novels of Nancy Mitford and if you go to London you can get them sooner than you can in US !
I have to strictly discipline myself to only buy two books at a time when I go to Daunt’s and it takes a solomonic choice to leave there without more than my bags can handle. The Oxfam nearby Daunt’s also has a great selection of used books—I recommend looking there first for classics. And if you go to the Marylebone Street Daunt’s, you can stop into Patisserie Valerie, a really stupendous place to pop into for a cappuccino and pain au chocolat. (You can tell what else I love besides books!)