Tuesday, February 4, 2014

My latest new old book!

Two blog posts in one day may be a first for me (not quite sure), but since I've managed to find five minutes during which neither man, child nor cat wants anything, I thought I'd share some pics of my latest acquisition...yes, another "new old book".

This one is The Lady Ivie's Trial by Sir John Fox (Oxford, 1929). If, like me, you are a fan of the ghost story writer M.R.James (yes, I know I said I wouldn't go on about him any more, at least for a bit, but, er...), this book title may ring a vague bell.

Lady Ivy is the shrieking ghost who appears in MRJ's tale A Neighbour's Landmark, and he refers to the book at the very end of the story: "Thanks to the researches of Sir John Fox, in his book on The Lady Ivie’s Trial (Oxford, 1929), we now know that my heroine died in her bed in 1695, having — heaven knows how — been acquitted of the forgery, for which she had undoubtedly been responsible."

I must admit that although I had read this story probably dozens of times, I had never actually stopped to wonder whether the book referred to was a real one or not. The Sertum Steinfeldense Norbertinum referred to in The Treasure of Abbot Thomas was an invention of MRJ's, so I suppose I thought Fox's book might be, too.

A Neighbour's Landmark is actually one of my favourite M.R.James stories. As I have mentioned on this blog before, I wrote a prequel to Canon Alberic's Scrap-book for the recently published Ghosts and Scholars Book of Shadows - a second volume of stories is now in the pipeline and I decided this time to write a sequel to A Neighbour's Landmark to submit to it. (I'm pleased to say that my story was accepted - more details of the publication date etc in due course.)

Whilst working on my story, I went over the original tale with more than usual care, and one of my internet searches turned up some references to Sir John Fox's book. So it was a real book; and there were a handful of copies on sale through second hand dealers, two in the UK, of which I ordered one.

The book arrived a couple of days ago, and I was delighted to see that it has a preface by the "Provost of Eton", none other than M.R.James himself! There is also a nice frontispiece with a portrait of the notorious Judge Jeffreys, who presided over the trial.

I haven't had time to start reading the book properly yet, but when I have, I will report back - perhaps it may shed some interesting light on MRJ's story about Lady Ivy. 

In the meantime, I was interested to see that the name of a previous owner of the volume was written neatly in pencil on the fly leaf:

I ran an internet search on the name too, not particularly expecting it to come up with anything (but you never know), and was amazed to find that Roger Mynors actually knew M.R.James. Mynors, later Sir Roger, was a student at Eton whilst MRJ was Provost, and MRJ was a great inspiration to him. 

I bought this particular copy of The Lady Ivie's Trial without having any idea of this - I think of the two copies on sale in the UK it was very slightly cheaper if the postage costs were taken into account. So I was very excited to find that it had belonged to someone who actually knew M.R.James! 

One of my Twitter friends wonders whether the volume is haunted, and advises me not to sleep with it on the bedside table, just to be on the safe side. I think the only shrill shrieking noise likely to disturb me is my alarm clock, but if anything more interesting occurs, I'll let you know...

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