Tribulations of a Bookseller

An excerpt from the preface to "The Sorceress", 1904

.....But, on reflection, I knew I had nothing to fear or hope from the critics. However elegant the "get-up" of my publications, and however absorbing may be their contents, the English book press is evidently determined to recognize me not. I am outside their jurisdiction. I do not give big advertisements, and, if I offered them, they might not be accepted, so that it may be surmised they have in consequence decided to leave me severely alone and wipe out by a conspiracy of silence. Evidently they have never forgiven me for having issued complete English translations of Brantôme's Vies des Dames Galantes; Les Cents Nouvelles Nouvelles (Louis XI.); Barbey d'Audrévilly's Weird Women; and Dr. Cabanès' Le Cabinet Secret de l'Histoire. But these works were issued only in limited numbers to private subscribers, and at no time were offered to people in an indiscriminate manner. They were printed and offered to bibliophiles under my sole responsibility, and no comedy-sign of false "Club" or shoddy "Society" hung out to puzzle the unwary book-buyer......

M. Monod is Professor of History at the College de France and the author of several works dealing with the Merovingian and other periods of French History. He was, in his youth, a pupil of Michelet, and is himself a writer and a student of no mean talent and knowledge. I mention his name here because I was brought into contact with him in a most painful and lamentable manner, and in a place - of all places in the world - where I would have least chosen to make the acquaintance of so distinguished a man and scholar, namely, in a French police-court - he as accuser, I as culprit! The circumstances are worth recounting.

Some years ago, I translated in collaboration with other Arabic scholars a semi-medical work know in Arabic as Kitab Ruju'a as-Shaykh ila Sabah Fi-'l-Kuwwat 'ala-l-Bah, which, preserving as nearly as possible the Arabic Saj'a, or rhymed prose, may run in English as follows: - The Return of the Old Man to the condition of the Strength of Youthtide in the Poser of Coition. A brief mention of the same is made by Sir Richard F. Burton in the 10th vol. (Benares edition) of The Thousand Nights and a Night, and he translated the title, The Book of Age-Rejuvenescence in the Power of Concupiscence. The composition of this curious work is attributed to an Arabic physician, know under the name of Ibn Kamal Pasha, about 940 of the Hegira (1533 of our era), for the Sultan Selim I. I though of offering a very small issue of this work to French physicians and students, having no doubt that the exceptional curiousness of its subject-matter might prove useful and suggestive to them in their studies.

With this intention I handed a number of notes and the manuscript to a private secretary in my service at the time, instructing him to write a preface stating that the work under the title of La jeunesse rendue aux vieillards was on subscription. I was too ill then to attend to these matters, and having great confidence in my secretary, the prospectus was printed and sent under cover to a certain number of bibliophiles without my having overseen it beforehand. By some means or other (never satisfactorily proved) one of these prospectuses fell into the hands of M. Gabriel Monod, and whether to satisfy some unknown private fanaticism, or whether in obedience to the dictates of some religious clique, he thought proper to sally forth from the privacy of his study and play the police informer. Shortly afterwards all my prospectuses were seized, and I was summoned to appear before three dignified French judges to answer for the enormous crime of having issued - not the work itself, but the prospectus of a work which was to range in price from eight to twelve guineas. The whole "head and front of my offending" was that my secretary had wrongly and incautiously admitted into the prospectus - in very small type it is true - the titles of some half a dozen chapters which were considered reprehensible.

The sole accuser was Monod; his way the only virtue shocked, his the innocence outraged - the charming innocence and sweet virtue of a man of some sixty summers and a delver into history with all its infamies to boot

The mention of these chapters should have, and no doubt out to have, been left out from the prospectus, but I cannot help thinking that it would have been far more tolerant on the part of M. Monod first of all to have drawn my attention to the cause of offence and ask for the destruction of the circulars, which I should immediately have complied with, had the matter been brought to my notice. He admitted in cross-examination that he was not aware until afterwards - when all the mischief was done - how serious and artistic were the publications issued by my firm.

After a protracted trial and waste of time and talent on all sides, and when a number of distinguished French literary men, such as M. Hector France; Professor H. Derenbourg, M. Jules de Marthold; Dr. Louis Jullien; Dr. Cabanes, and others, had attested to my integrity and honourableness, I was mulcted in a find, and Themis resumed her interrupted nap.