Collector’s Choice

Richard de Bury, Philobiblon. Oxford: Joseph Barnes, 1599.  Original McGregor Library (E 1599 .A84)

Written shortly before his death in 1345, Richard de Bury’s “The Love of Books” has ever since been a favorite companion to those who enjoy reading, collecting, and caring for books. Tutor to King Edward III, royal official, and Bishop of Durham, de Bury amassed an impressive library that he bequeathed to Oxford University. Displayed here is chapter 18, titled (in E. C. Thomas’s translation) “Showeth that we have collected so great Store of Books for the common benefit of Scholars and not only for our own Pleasure”—a principle that, six centuries later, guided Tracy W. McGregor’s collecting.

William Shakespeare, M. VVilliam Shak-speare, his True Chronicle History of the life and death of King Lear, and his three Daughters … [London: William Jaggard for Thomas Pavier, 1619]  Original McGregor Library (E 1619 .S43)

In his decade of intensive collecting, Tracy W. McGregor acquired some notable Shakespeareana, including copies of the Second and Fourth Folio editions. His prize acquisition, however, was this copy of the second quarto edition of King Lear, superbly bound in gold-tooled goatskin and formerly owned by noted collectors Robert Hoe and Roderick Terry. It is one of nine plays printed in 1619 by William Jaggard (who later printed the First Folio) in the first attempt to gather Shakespeare’s plays into a collected edition. Because Jaggard and publisher Thomas Pavier lacked rights to the plays, each bears a deliberately falsified title-page imprint.

Michel de Montaigne, Essais de messire Michel seigneur de Montaigne … Livre premier & second. Bordeaux: S. Millanges, 1580.  Original McGregor Library (E 1580 .M65)

In addition to his American History collection, Tracy W. McGregor formed an extensive library of English literary first editions ranging from Shakespeare to John Masefield. This rare first printing of Montaigne’s celebrated Essays is one of relatively few non-English works added to it—in part because of Montaigne’s purported influence on Shakespeare, and in part because McGregor shared Montaigne’s belief in the centrality of books and reading to the examined life. In the chapter shown here, “Of Books,” Montaigne writes: “I seek, in the reading of books, only to please myself by an honest diversion … and [instruction in] how to die and how to live well.”

William Blake, Illustrations of the Book of Job. London: William Blake, 1825.  Original McGregor Library (E 1826 .B43)

Poet, printmaker, painter, and artistic visionary, William Blake was fascinated by the Biblical Job, whose travails evoked Blake’s own. Around 1806 Blake prepared a series of watercolor illustrations to the Book of Job. Seventeen years later Blake engraved the designs and published them in this, his last completed book. These prints are generally considered Blake’s finest achievements in the art of intaglio engraving. In this plate Blake depicts Behemoth and Leviathan. Like all of Blake’s self-published works, this one was a commercial failure.

Joseph Conrad, Letters to Edward Garnett, 13 April 1896 and 1 September 1923. Original McGregor Library (MSS 38-732, 732-a)

For the authors he most admired, Tracy W. McGregor collected autograph letters as well as first editions. Of particular note are the McGregor Library’s thirty letters of novelist Joseph Conrad. Most were written to Edward Garnett, a close friend and literary confidant who profoundly influenced Conrad’s career. In one letter penned during his 1896 honeymoon, Conrad implores Garnett for his candid opinion about an enclosed manuscript, the first chapter of The Rescue (which remained unpublished until 1920). In another letter written in 1923, a year before his death, Conrad warmly thanks Garnett for their thirty-year friendship.