18 March 2016

A quiet time with coffee
and two new books

A double espresso and a new book in Rathgar this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread – and Thou

These are the opening lines of Quatrain XII of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám translated by Edward FitzGerald (1809-1883), and probably the best known lines by the English-born poet who was the son of Irish-born parents.

After working through a few long weeks without a break -- apart from Saint Patrick’s Day – I went for coffee late this afternoon in Rathgar village. So instead of a book a jug of wine and a loaf of bread, it was double espressos and shelf-after-shelf of books, in the Rathgar Bookshop.

As the 1916 centenary commemorations gather momentum, the shelves of many bookshops are filled with many accounts and retellings of the 1916 Rising, along with new editions of the poetry of WB Yeats since the 150th anniversary of his birth last year.

A cut-out bookshop and GPO in Rathgar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

There is a collection in a children’s series of “Build your own” Irish town – including Dublin, Cork and Limerick – made in West Cork. But I was amused to find one for the GPO in Dublin, presumably to mark the 1916 Rising, and beside it on the same shelf a cut-out kit for making a replica ‘Tiny Rathgar Bookshop.’

Avoiding the fresh – yet often so stale – accounts of the 1916 Rising, I picked up two delights in the Rathgar Bookshop this afternoon as I was enjoying my coffee.

Simon Bradley’s Churches, an architectural guide is part of the Pevsner Architectural Guides series and was published just three days ago (15 March 2016).

This book is for anyone who wants to understand more about the architectural history of English churches. Clear and easy to use, the text explains the key components of church architecture and developments in style, functional requirements, regional variations, and arcane vocabulary.

Here is an opportunity to explore historic churches, evaluate dates and restoration phases, interpret stained glass and monuments, and set off on new discoveries, with explanations of building plans, along tips for further research and searching for clues evidence.

Simon Bradley, who studied at Oxford and the Courtauld Institute of Art, is a joint editor of the Pevsner Architectural Guides at Yale University Press in London. He has contributed the revised Buildings of England volumes on Cambridgeshire, Westminster, and the City of London, is the co-author of the revised Berkshire volume, and is working on a new edition on Oxford and South Oxfordshire.

I also bought The Book Lovers’ Anthology (University of Oxford: Bodleian Library), which became available in paperback last month.

Each morning throughout Lent this year, I am blogging reflections that draw on the writings of the Lichfield lexicographer Samuel Johnson, and have been contemplating compiling an anthology of Lichfield writers. So it is interesting to read in this new book this passage from Samuel Johnson:

It is observed that a corrupt society has many laws; I know not whether it is not equally true, that an ignorant age has many books. When the treasures of ancient knowledge lie unexamined, and original authors are neglected and forgotten, compilers and plagiaries are encouraged who give us again what we had before, and grow great by setting before us what our own sloth had hidden from our view. (Samuel Johnson, Idler, 85).

Immediately above this quotation is one from Joseph Addison (1672-1719), who grew up in the Cathedral Close in Lichfield, where his father, Lancelot Addison, was the Dean of Lichfield Cathedral. It begins:

The circumstance which gives authors an advantage … is this, that they can multiply their originals; or rather, can make copies of their works, to what number they please, which shall be as valuable as the originals themselves.

Of course, I had forgotten that the poet Edward FitzGerald had connections with both Ireland and Staffordshire. His grandfather, John FitzGerald of Little Island, Waterford, also owned estates in Gayton, near Stafford.

A Book of quotes underneath the shelves,
A cup of coffee, a Pevsner guide– and solitude

Shelves and shelves of new books in Rathgar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

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