Letter From The President Of The Caxton Club of Chicago

2005-06-01 01:00

Letter To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel

I am a lawyer and a book collector, and I suspect that few readers of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel would find that to be a surprising combination. Lawyers have always been associated with books, and most of our offices still prominently display these venerable tools of the trade in recognition of the fact that not quite everything has yet been reduced to an electronic format.

My interest in rare books and fine bindings is so serious, in fact, that I am president of the Caxton Club of Chicago, a 110-year old bibliophilic organization that is Chicago's counterpart to the Grolier Club in New York. We're the best place in the Second City to meet rare book collectors, and that would of course include a number of prominent Chicago lawyers.

Paul Ruxin, a partner at Jones Day and head of its energy practice, has an important collection of early and rare materials relating to James Boswell and Samuel Johnson. It includes a first edition of The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, presented by Boswell to the English painter Sir Joshua Reynolds. This book, along with many others in Paul's collection, is what book collectors call "association copies," or books that have been owned by prominent people who have had some association with the author. Paul has Dr. Johnson's own copy of Hermes: or, a Philosophical Inquiry Concerning Language & Universal Grammarby James Harris, a scholarly rival to the famous lexicographer whose book appeared while Johnson was compiling his own Dictionary of the English Language . Paul also has Johnson's own copy of Leviathan, or, The Matter, Form and Power of a Common-Wealth, by Thomas Hobbes, a philosopher not to Johnson's liking, and a book he sardonically used in his definition of the word "scribble."

Paul's interest in Boswell and Johnson is serious. He is a member of the Board of Governors of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., the nation's preeminent repository of literary and historical reference materials related to Elizabethan England, including of course to the Bard himself, and a member of the editorial committee of the Yale edition of the Papers of James Boswell .

On a more literary note is the collection of R. Eden Martin, a partner at Sidley, Austin, Brown and Wood, and president of Chicago's powerful Commercial Club. Eden collects first editions of significant nineteenth century American authors, notably Whitman, Emerson, Poe, Longfellow, and Thoreau. He has a first printing of Emerson's very early essay Emancipation in the West Indies(1844), which was written as a lecture to be given at the Concord, Massachusetts, courthouse to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the end of slavery in the British West Indies. There were two early printings of this essay, each of 1000 copies, and this copy is from the first.

Eden also has a review copy, meaning a copy sent out by the publisher to journalists for publicity and criticism, of Thoreau's first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers(1849), a book that preceded Walden by five years and sold less than 300 of the 1000 copies that were initially printed. This copy was sent to the editor of the Mercantile Journal, but whatever notices it may have generated there have been lost to the passage of time.

Criticism is always an interesting component to have in any collection, especially a rare book collection, and Eden has a first edition of Edgar Allan Poe's Poems, his third book (after Tamerlane and Al Aaraaf ) but the earliest title still coming up at least occasionally at auction. In this copy, given by Poe to one Daniel Powers Whiting, a young cadet at West Point with whom Poe was presumably friendly, the donee took the time to write a personal reflection on the author: "a premature graduate from USMAƉ of insatiable ambition, as this book will show, but of what merit, reader, judge for yourself." I guess only time can tell.

The Caxton Club is a favorite gathering place for many other lawyers who collect books, including each of the last three presidents of the organization, and I'm proud to say we as lawyers play a big role in making it a vibrant and interesting organization. Collecting books can be an intellectually demanding avocation, not unlike our vocation, and our cocktail-hour and dinner-time conversations would never be mistaken for small talk. As hard working Chicago lawyers, we wouldn't want it any other way.

More information about the Caxton Club of Chicago can be found at www.caxtonclub.org.


Michael Thompson