Friday, May 02, 2008

Intriguing Inscriptions

Second hand books are wonderful. It's not just their smell, their feel, their weight and (often) their content. It's not even the cloth and leather covers and old bindings that make them special. The other thing I love about them is the the thought of all the different people, in different contexts and eras who have handled those pages, how they read the text, how their times influenced how they understood what they read, who they were, what their lives were like.

Glimpses into some of these things are given to the reader if previous owners have inscribed the front cover of the book. Harry and Sadie had a "Grand Day Out in Dundee" during the war and celebrated it with a copy of G. Campbell Morgan's "Great Chapters of the Bible" - which I have just picked up as primary source material for my essay on Christian attitudes to social concern in the 1930s. I wonder who these two were? Did they survive the war? Were they in love? Did they marry? What constitutes a 'grand day' in Dundee?!

Very occasionally an inscription in a book comes from someone of whom you have heard. David F. Wright, long after he inscribed this copy of the "Journals of George Whitefield" became a expert in medieval history and historical theology at Edinburgh University. The University lowered its flags for his funeral last month, in a rare and moving tribute to an important academic.

What I found even more remarkable was what I read inside the book. The book is heavily notated with many cross references and insights, which I have no way of knowing if come from the pen of Professor Wright, or a subsequent owner of the book. Alongside a passage which Whitefield relates as follows: "He told me I pulled him all to pieces and razed his false foundation and led him to to a Sin forgiving God. He thought I aimed and spoke particularly to him and said he should have cried out, only pride prevented him". The margin is inscribed "cf. Derek Swann."
Derek Swann, was the pastor of the church in which I grew up, and about whom I have blogged here. Clearly someone who previously owned this book experienced something of the power of God in Mr Swann's preaching akin to the account of Whitefield's ministry, centuries before. It also nicely illustrates the heart of the gospel of Christ and what it means to respond to Him. When pride, self-reliance and self-righteousness come tumbling down and self-justification is no longer an option, when the soul in anguish stops searching for an excuse for sin, but for the saviour from sin, then this is the work of the Holy Spirit! And here it is evidenced in Whitefield, in Mr Swann, and in whoever held this book before I bought it online, and was intrigued by the inscription.

I know that several of you are second-hand book puchasers. Seen any inscriptions of note?

(I should, of course, be studying these books, not blogging about the inscriptions in them!)


Orchid said...

vow!!...the dundee book sure looks like a keeper!
i used to own some handy downs when I was in India..left them behind thanks to the luggage restrictions on international flights, but will look them up this time to see what I can find. but really...shouldn't u be reading??

His Girl Friday said...

I love second hand books! I have a few with names and dates, giftings with the to and froms. Nothing of note that I remember, but will have to recheck...I did find an old 1920's stamp in one, though.

Mark said...

Yes, secondhand books and the shops wherein they are found ... one of the strange little pleasures of my life.
I don't think I can match your own inscriptions, but I have got a copy of William Barclay's autobios, signed by the same with an inscription to some newly ordained minister, June 1975.
Have also got a (literially) worm eaten copy of Newman's Apologia Pro Vita Sua,(1890) which came complete with a notice for the Scottish Church College, Calcutta University League Football final dated 19th Sept. 1935.