Category Archives: second-hand books

The unsung heroes of our culture

A dying trade

Precarious lives of Britain’s few remaining sellers of second-hand books

Dalrymple writes:

I remain firm in my admiration of those who do not work exclusively or even principally for money; and among the latter must surely be English provincial sellers of second-hand books.

Theirs is

a dying trade, and entering their shops – now, alas, fewer and fewer – one cannot help but wonder whether it ever truly lived. As long as I can remember, which is now quite a long time, they have been cold with a kind of irredeemable cold, an absence of warmth upon which no paraffin heater, no pre-war single bar electric heater (of the kind favoured by booksellers), no clement weather, can make the slightest impression.

When you take a book from a shelf of one of these bookshops,

you get a puff of cold air in the face, as well as of dust, as if you had opened a mediæval tomb complete with a curse against grave-robbers. One associates dust with dry heat, but this, at least where English provincial second-hand bookshops is concerned, is a mistake. They contrive to be cold, dusty and damp at the same time.

Dalrymple finds it remarkable that

in so materialistic an age as our own people can be found who not only spend, but want to spend, and cannot conceive of not spending, their working lives in such conditions, and all for little monetary reward.


they are more or less protected by their avocation from the seamier and more violent side of modern society; burglars and armed robbers in even the worst areas for crime do not think to break into second-hand bookshops; and the comings and going of governments do not trouble them. Not for them, either, the shadow-boxing of modern party politics, in which one political mountebank sets himself up as the last bastion against the depredations of another, in truth not very dissimilar, mountebank.


they concern themselves with the eternal verities of light foxing, cocking, small tears to dust jackets, and the like. The worst that can happen to them is a gentle slide into insolvency as rents rise (all such shops are now found in the unlikeliest places because they can survive only where rents are low) and readers decline – both in number and in discrimination. For my money (of which, incidentally, they have taken a lot down the ages) they are the unsung heroes of our culture.

Happier times

The hideously male second-hand book trade

Dalrymple’s experience of the second-hand and antiquarian book trade is that

it is almost as exclusively male a preserve as the membership of the Garrick.

He explains that

it is when the man dies, never the woman, that booksellers are called in to clear houses of accumulated books.

As for customers,

they are overwhelmingly male.

Garrick Club

What a way to go

Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 21.59.08Burying himself in The Bibliomania, or Book-Madness, Containing Some Account of the History, Symptoms and Cure of this Fatal Disease, by the Rev. Thomas Frognall Dibdin, Dalrymple enjoys the description of a man who,

on his deathbed, excitedly sent out for books from the catalogue of a bookseller, his obsession keeping him happy until the very moment of his death.

His library of 50,000 books was sold posthumously for a third of what it cost him,

but if the really important business of life is to die well, then no better death could be imagined.

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A Hoxha votary amid the dust and mould

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 05.48.33A second-hand bookseller Dalrymple knows is

a fervent believer in Enver Hoxha’s Albanian paradise.

The bookseller

thinks all forms of modern communication are instruments of monopoly capitalism, designed to exploit the common man, who consequently has not a clue about the value (or should I say the price?) of a first edition of Liza of Lambeth.


is furious that his black customers, old women mainly, are more interested in concordances to the Bible than in Hoxha’s vituperations against the Titoites.

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Theodore is priceless

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New York: Horace Liveright, 1928

Faithful friend of the Soviet Union

Strolling in Amsterdam, Dalrymple finds that

there are some excellent second-hand bookshops.

At one of them he picks up

an irresistible book entitled Dreiser Looks At Russia. It ends with the unintentionally hilarious words:

Sleep well, Ilitch, father of a new and possibly — how shall we say? — world-altering force. How fortunate, you, its chosen if martyred instrument. How fortunate indeed.

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Theodore Dreiser: ‘a friend of the Soviet Union because he is a friend of Man, a champion of the democratic masses everywhere’

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Our Ilitch: ‘only the humanity of his spirit, enveloping aura-wise, could have evoked in those underprivileged millions the necessary faith in, if not an understanding of, his immense wisdom and human charity’

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Sleep well, Ilitch

Sleep of the righteous: Ilitch in his mausoleum

Charitable and wise

Ilitch the charitable and wise

'Chosen if martyred instrument of the world-altering force. How fortunate are the Russian masses!'

Ilitch the chosen one, the martyr

'Father of a new and possibly — how shall we say? — world-altering force'

Radiant Ilitch: ‘father of a new and possibly — how shall we say? — world-altering force’

‘Lenin, his Russia, the humanithy and justice which at last, and fully, he introduced into its government and statecraft, will succeed. The social illustration which he provided and which his associates and followers have since carried to its present great power and beauty will never be lost on future generations'

Power and beauty: ‘his Russia, the humanity and justice which at last, and fully, he introduced into its government and statecraft, will succeed. The social illustration which he provided and which his associates and followers have since carried to its present great power and beauty will never be lost on future generations’

The Russian masses, Dreiser wrote, ‘are determined never again to be enslaved. I do not doubt the outcome. Lenin, his Soviet empire, will triumph’

Ilitch triumphant: ‘the Russian masses are determined never again to be enslaved. I do not doubt the outcome. His Soviet empire will triumph’

When he was in Russia in 1927-28 in Russia Dreiser saw 'peasants and mechanics, women and men, kneeling here and there in worship, if not prayer, before Ilitch's candle-lighted bust, or standing uncovered with bowed heads before it, feeling him to be, as I assumed (and truly enough in my judgment), their saviour'

Ilitch the saviour: ‘I saw peasants and mechanics, women and men, kneeling here and there in worship, if not prayer, before his candle-lighted bust, or standing uncovered with bowed heads before it, feeling him to be, as I assumed (and truly enough in my judgment), their saviour’

Why bloodletting is coming back into usage

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 21.01.21Mouldering on the shelves of many a secondhand bookshop, writes Dalrymple,

without much hope of ever being bought and even less of being read, are the essayistic reflections of doctors near or just after retirement.

These efforts

were a literary genre of the ’20s and ’30s, and they are generally a summary of what life taught their authors.

Of Christopher Howard, who published his After Consulting Hours in 1930, Dalrymple knows nothing,

except that I deduce from his qualifications* and the fact that his preface was written from Harley Street that he was a practitioner in that great street.

His book

was addressed to his fellow practitioners rather than to the general public, for it was published by William Heinemann Medical Books and contains quite a lot of technical advice.

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 07.48.56Indeed, Howard appears to have practised from 104 Harley Street. He was to go on to publish notably Bedside Manners and Paris Prelude (both 1932) and Physic and Fancy (1937; ‘Medical observations and other observations on gardens, syphilis, etc.‘)

The After Consulting Hours blurb reads:

A medical man’s reflections after consulting hours are over on his patients, their various idiosyncrasies, the latest ideas in medical science, including such different subjects as high blood pressure, endocrine glands, vitamins, ultra violet treatment, hay fever, etc. The book is very pleasantly written and is of interest to both the layman and the doctor.

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‘He reveals, too, how he thinks he might be tempted to consider suicide while in Cheshire, though it would never occur to him in Suffolk . . . This is a pleasant little book revealing an attractive personality.’ (from a review in the BMJ of After Consulting Hours in the year of its publication)

The book’s opening sentence reads:

The taking of blood pressure and the interpretation of the figures of the sphygmomanometer to the patient has become a craze which the profession as a whole would do well to endeavour to counteract.

The problem is that

there is a temptation for the busy doctor to take a blood pressure reading and, from the first definite indication of heightened pressure that he obtains, to think that he is dealing with a case of hyperpiesia and to institute the appropriate treatment of this condition.

But if the patient’s blood pressure is consistently high,

it is most unwise to give him the exact figures


one of the commoner causes of modern phobias is based upon blood-pressure reading.

If the trend continues,

taking an undue interest in the blood-pressure reading may soon become as much a hobby in Europe as in America.


one of the major advantages which have come out of the increased interest which the profession, as a whole, during the last thirty years, has taken in blood pressure, is that bloodletting is once more coming back into usage.

Dr Howard states in a letter to a reader: 'My work lies largely among the sophisticated and the relatively well-to-do.'

Dr Howard states in a letter to a reader of his After Consulting Hours: ‘My work lies largely among the sophisticated and the relatively well-to-do.’

Thanks to hyperpiesia,

the value of bloodletting in pneumonia or in any affection which troubles the right side of the heart, in plethoric conditions generally, is again being remembered,


it fell into disrepute because many years ago it was overdone.

The patient feels so much better after having 600ml of blood removed that he is tempted to demand repeat venesections too soon and too often.

The next ten or twenty years may produce a crop of plethoric individuals

for whom salvation blood will too often be let, bringing the operation back into disrepute.

Meanwhile, subcutaneous oxygen

may be of great value in cases of pneumonia and in some heart lesions.

Stokes-Adams attacks result when

the living liquid of the body has become a viscous substance of the consistency of treacle,

treacliness being caused by the use of arsenic in old men’s venereal diseases. Subcutaneous oxygen is contraindicated in coronary thrombosis, a condition

Bloodletting device of the type probably used by Dr Howard

Bloodletting device of the type probably used by Dr Howard

only comparatively lately noted

and cases of which

are still rare.

The sufferer must on no account make a voluntary movement for many days:

Even the small shock which might be associated with the passage of the needle

to give subcutaneous oxygen might prove fatal. And

it is only by frightening the attendants that an absolute state of immobility can be obtained.

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 06.30.29Dalrymple comments:

What a pleasure it must have been to frighten people out of their wits. A real compensation for uselessness.


evidence-based medicine will ensure that no one will ever again write After Consulting Hours.

*Member of the Royal College of Surgeons (England); Licentiate, Royal College of Physicians (London)
Bloodletting services: 104 Harley Street

Bloodletting services: 104 Harley Street, where Dr Howard practised

Prazeres e surpresas da bibliofilia

Por que ditadores adoram histórias em quadrinhos? Como um pênalti pode causar uma guerra entre dois países? Os livros garimpados da biblioteca de Dalrymple contam casos curiosos não com as histórias dos textos originais que carregam, mas com a sua própria trajetória. São elas que fazem o pensamento do autor viajar e trazer à tona, em seu estilo instigante, memórias e observações críticas sobre literatura, história, política, filosofia, medicina, sociedade, viagens etc. Uma jornada pelos prazeres e surpresas da bibliofilia para curiosos incuráveis.

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Save the Aid Workers

State-funded Save the Children's grandiloquent new headquarters in the heart of London:

State-funded Save the Children’s grandiloquent new headquarters in the heart of London: salaries can reach nearly £140,000

A bogus charity

The Save the Children Fund, Dalrymple points out, is

not a charity at all, as many similar charities are not. It is a department of state, or at least of the politico-bureaucratic class.

Last year, Dalrymple notes, Save the Children

received nearly two-thirds of its income from governmental or quasi-governmental sources. The British government and the European Union were by far its largest donors. Without such funding it would cease to exist.

Creature of the British State

There are more than 880 employees at Save the Children’s headquarters. The wages bill last year of those employed plus the costs of raising voluntary (privately donated) funds was equal to just over 84 percent of those latter funds; raising the funds alone cost just short of 29 percent of the funds raised.

By the standards of commercial companies, the wage structure was not particularly regressive: the average salary was £27,000, while the two most highly paid received just less than £140,000.

Flush with taxpayers' cash, helping to put second-hand bookshops out of business

Flush with taxpayers’ cash, helping to put second-hand bookshops out of business

Without state funding, Save the Children

would have had just £17m over and above its wage and fund-raising costs. Its brochure says that it raised £370m last year, without mentioning that £228m came from government sources.

In short, says Dalrymple, employees of this fake charity are

publicly funded bureaucrats.

Save the Children has, it should be added, played a leading role in attacking the livelihoods of British second-hand bookshop owners and staff. Among the victims of Save the Children and other disingenuous ‘charities’ are those who used to run second-hand bookshops in, for instance, small towns (as distinct from exclusively ‘antiquarian’ operators serving collectors, or those dealing solely on the internet).

Indeed, many have given up their shops and have shifted to dealing solely on the internet, because the state-funded counterfeit-charity shops like Save the Children with their free book donations make it impossible to compete.

Thus is a worthy trade sabotaged.

Murder of a member of the unfortunate class

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 08.19.03The Notable British Trials series, Dalrymple explains,

ran uninterruptedly from 1905 to 1959. Habitués of secondhand bookshops will be very familiar with its typeface and its rough, yellowing paper.

In the old days, the British

liked nothing more than to settle down with the transcript of a trial of one of the rococo villains that their well-ordered society sometimes, indeed regularly, threw up.

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Truly out of his mind

For example, Ronald True was arraigned in 1922 for the murder of what the prosecuting counsel, Sir Richard Muir, called ‘a member of the unfortunate class’. True

had always been a bad lot, a swindler and a drug addict. His moods alternated between childish exaltation — as when he went about in a bath-chair with a hooter and a doll — and depression with sudden fits of violence. By the time of the murder, all were agreed that he was insane, but not insane enough not to be sentenced to death. However, the law of England at the time was that you couldn’t be hanged while insane: you’d learn nothing by it, or perhaps it just wasn’t cricket.

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Books in general

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 07.23.45In a second-hand bookshop in Shrewsbury, Dalrymple snaps up works by Augustine Birrell, Solomon Eagle (J.C. Squire), Walter Bagehot and Leslie Stephen. People ought to read these authors, writes Dalrymple,

both for their content and style.

None of these men, Dalrymple points out, was an academic, and

all would have disdained to write a sentence which it was necessary to read a dozen times to perceive a faint glimmer of meaning, as so many literary academics now habitually do with pride in their own obscurity.

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 07.27.11Eagle, Bagehot, Stephen, Birrell and their like

had the knack of extracting the significance from the lives and works of the authors whom they read, and conveying it with elegance and precision. They were also very funny.

Dalrymple formerly harboured a prejudice about Bagehot.

I had rather supposed that he was dour, dry and dull, as befits the founder of the Economist.

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 07.40.46Far from it, Dalrymple found when he read Bagehot’s literary criticism.

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