As part of my freshly rekindled interest in the author and character Arthur Ransome I have been listing his written works with a view to hunting down various volumes and filling, if not a small library then certainly a medium sized book shelf. Add to this an electronic section for I am delighted to discover that most of his works from his Russian days (1913 – 1920s) are available free of charge on the internet! Of course his novels for children of all ages will form the nucleus of this collection, but the first book on the shelf must surely be the mustachioed, pipe-smoking angler and sailor’s own hand and autobiography.
Ransome’s estate published his life story, posthumously, in 1976. Jonathan Cape Ltd of Bedford Square, London, were the publishing house to have this honour, but the book would not have seen the light of day without Ransome’s fellow writer, publisher and friend Rupert Hart-Davis. Davis spent the years after Ransome’s death sifting through a higgledy-piggledy wealth of notes, half-finished memoirs and repeated jottings to thread together a fitting tribute, and wrote his own prologue and epilogue to the completed work.
After a brief internet search I tracked down a first edition with a low price tag which was described as being in reasonable condition. It arrived a few days later and for a book that was ex libris it was indeed in acceptable shape. The library in question was that of Douglas College, part of Rutgers University in New Jersey, and the book had been donated by one Professor Susanne Howe Nobbe. There was the Jonathan Cape logo on the spine and the inside page, and there also was the surprise. The book had been printed by Ebenezer Baylis and Son (The Trinity Press) of Worcester, England.
This particular printer, still trading, was the company that would print the parish magazine each month when my father was the vicar of St Stephen’s, Barbourne. Every month he would drive across town and deliver the proofs to the company, and collect them two days later. To think that, in 1976, when a huge machine, set in 12PT Bembo Solid, was printing out the three hundred and more pages of Ransome’s autobiography, a lesser machine across the shop floor might have been loaded with a unassuming church newsletter. In addition, this book was last stamped at Douglas College library May 15th, 1996 which is three days after my daughter was born That makes these pages very special indeed. For them to have been discarded, and eventually end up in my hands is a small joy in itself.