The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 3 (June 1, 1937)
World-famed Dumas Collection — A New Zealand Treasure Lifetime Hobby of Mr. F. W. Reed
That the finest private Dumas collection in the world should have been built up by a New Zealander is a fact sufficiently astonishing. What is one to say, then, when it is found that the collector has spent his whole life, since his thirteenth year, in the little North Auckland town of Whangarei? One of our present problems is the wise spending of an increased leisure, and Mr. F. W. Reed's story is an example and a challenge from which most of us, I think, may receive benefit and encouragement.
The small boy who arrived in New Zealand in 1887 was allowed to bring with him only twelve books. One of these was “The Queen's Necklace” by Dumas. Whereas the average boy wants stories of adventure by flood and field, young Reed had already developed a taste for historical romance. “The Queen's Necklace” had been a revelation. As he himself put it:
“Here at last was history in fiction, written as it should be presented, swift, full of action, with brilliant, clever, natural and sweeping dialogue, and also, though I could not then have divined it, an impassioned delineation of human nature.”
Pioneering in New Zealand meant, inevitably, a shortage of pocket-money. Spare time spent on the gumfields resulted in two or three new books a year—no more. Occasionally another Dumas volume was bought, but it was sheer luck if one of these became available. The boy was apprenticed to a chemist in Whangarei. He was to work for twenty-three years in this shop and then to acquire the business for himself. There was not much leisure in those days. The shop hours were from 8 a.m. till 8 p.m., and till 10 p.m. on Saturdays. In addition, examinations required many hours of preparation. In 1897, Mr. Reed passed his final examination and at once was able to devote more time to reading. History and historical fiction still came first, but the Dumas influence had already opened up a new field—the French memoir-writers. In 1902, two lives of Dumas were published, and, in addition, Messrs. Methuen announced that they were producing a complete edition of the Dumas romances. Their prospectus disclosed a large number of titles till then unknown to Mr. Reed and the books were published at sixpence or a shilling according to length—ah, happy days!
A little earlier Mr. Reed's employer had added bookselling to his pharmaceutical business. Previously there was no bookseller in the town, though a grocer had made a practice of keeping a shelf of “yellow-backs” in his shop and occasionally a Dumas was obtainable from this source. It was not long before Mr. Reed was in complete charge of the book department and the spate of publishers' catalogues was an absorbing interest. It was at this stage that the dream of the Dumas collection was taking shape and hopeless enough it must at times have seemed. However, a large loose-leaf note-book was opened, and methodically, information as to the various romances was jotted down. The introduction in each of the Methuen volumes provided the initial material. Then a copy of Davidson's “Life of Dumas” was bought, the full scope of his work became apparent, and the man himself was revealed. Most of the Methuen introductions were signed “R. S. G.,” but it was not till 1916 that correspondence in “The Times Literary Supplement” disclosed to Mr. Reed that the initials were those of Robert Singleton Garnett.
The Garnett family holds, I think, a unique place in modern English literature. The original Richard Garnett was Assistant Keeper of Printed Books in the British Museum. His son, Dr. Richard Garnett, C.B., well-known as the author of “The Twilight of the Gods,” became Keeper of Printed Books in his turn. It has been said that none in England knew more of books than he. One of Dr. Garnett's sons is the Robert Singleton Garnett of this story. Apart from his translations and other work on Dumas he was the author of “Some Book-hunting Adventures,” “Odd Memories” and “The New Sketchbook.” His wife, nee Miss Martha Roscoe, was also a novelist, “The Infamous John Friend” being the best-known of her books. Another of Dr. Garnett's sons is Edward, author and playwright, whose name is familiar to those who have studied D. H. Lawrence's letters. His wife, Constance, translated many Russian novels and I suspect that Katherine Mansfield's admiration for Tchekov was largely due to her acquaintance with this lady. David Garnett, the son of this couple, is the author of “Lady Into Fox” and other popular novels of to-day.
In 1919 Mr. Garnett presented to Mr. Reed a copy of the rare bibliography by M. Charles Glinel, “Alexandre Dumas et Son Oeuvre.” Alas! Mr. Reed knew no French. Nevertheless, in a year's time, he had translated this volume of 110,000 words and had typed and indexed it, including all his own and Mr. Garnett's notes. The drive of his hobby and his own natural persistence saw him through, but lesser difficulties would, I fear, have baffled most of us.
That, however, was merely the commencement. Mr. Reed had taken over his employer's business in 1911, and in 1926 he retired to devote himself to his hobby. He had then 932 Dumas volumes. To-day he has 1,642 and in addition Mr. Garnett at his death left his collection of 625 volumes to Mr. Reed. Fortunately the two collections include very few duplications. I come now to Mr. Reed's own work. He has translated, typed and had bound, all of the available plays of Dumas—seventy-two in number. Only one of these had previously been translated into English as written, and five have not seen print at all. He has also translated entire volumes and many articles and extracts, none of which had previously been available in English. From the information he had so patiently gathered, arranged and indexed, he prepared, in 1928–1929, two typed volumes totalling 858 pages, copies of these being deposited with the British Museum and the Bibliotheque Nationale at Paris. The second volume was published in 1933—the most complete bibliography of Dumas in existence.
Naturally the French Government would dearly like to secure this collection, but fortunately for New Zealand, it is destined to be placed in the Public Library at Auckland. France has, however, not been slow to recognise Mr. Reed's work. In 1927, at the request of the Consul for France in Auckland, Mr. Reed received the decoration of “Officier d’ Academie” and in 1934, the higher honour of Officier de I'Instruction Publique”—for services rendered to French literature. The insignia of this decoration consists of two gold palm-leaves with a purple ribbon and rosette. The small boy who came to New Zealand with “The Queen's Necklace” in his box has faithfully followed his dream.
And now to deal with the collection itself. The Reed Collection includes 100 volumes of the original editions of Dumas, many of them in mint condition with the original wrappers. The Garnett collection added a further 66 of these. There are also 331 volumes of the pirated Belgian editions, most of which are in the Garnett collection. Many of these are really the first editions, though unauthorised, having been taken direct from serial publications. They are now very scarce and both collectors have displayed a special pride and affection for these little books. There are as well in later editions 180 volumes of Dumas' work in French and 323 in English translations, of which 138 are early editions now out of print. Finely illustrated editions number an additional 56 volumes, the majority of which are in the Garnett collection. The illustrations reach a very high standard, the best being perhaps Leloir's illustrations for the Routledge edition of “The Three Musketeers” in English and for the French edition of “Dame de Monsoreau.”
Naturally the dry enumeration of the last paragraph conceals many a rarity. For instance, in 1826, Dumas, then a young and unknown clerk, published, partly at his own expense, his first volume. It consisted of three short stories and was entiled “Nouvelles Contemporaines.” Only four copies were sold though Dumas presented a number to his friends. The difficulties of finding a copy of this book a century later are obvious. Nevertheless no fewer than three copies have passed through Mr. Reed's hands and he has retained the finest—in almost perfect condition—for his collection. Apparently rarer still is the four-volume set “La Maison de Savoie.” No bibliographer other than Mr. Reed has mentioned it and it is missing from both the French and English national collections. Mr. Garnett discovered a set in London in 1917 and five years later on purchasing a second set which contained several additional plates he sold his original find to Mr. Reed. One other copy has since been found, so that of three known copies two are now in Whangarei.
Mr. Reed has also an admirable collection of volumes, booklets and pamphlets dealing with Dumas. The Garnett collection has contributed only to a slight degree to this section. Some of these concern the man himself, his life and work. Most, however, are histories, memoirs, etc., covering the period of Dumas romances and the lives of the many historical characters appearing therein. Magazine and newspaper articles dealing with Dumas have proved difficult to collect, but Mr. Reed has bound five volumes of these, two in French and three in English. An interesting pendant to this part of the collection is an enormous map of France in sections which was produced for Napoleon by Cassini. The sections, 182 in number, are nearly three feet by two and are enclosed in 27 boxes.
The twenty-seventh box covering the South-East corner of France is missing, however. In addition to the usual details, posting-stations, wayside inns, windmills, and gallows, as well as churches, monasteries and mansions, are shown. In short here you have France as it was prior to the railways, and in following the wanderings of a Dumas hero, the reader would gain from these maps much pleasure and profit.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the collection is the manuscripts. Up till 1923 Mr. Reed had collected only two or three brief notes in the Dumas handwriting. The first important manuscript came through the good offices of Mr. Garnett. It consists of two chapters of an unfinished romance skilfully combined, and prefixed and followed by comments on the then situation of Garibaldi, who was Dumas’ close friend. The romance referred to is “Isaac Laquedem”—the Dumas version of the ever-recurring legend of the Wandering Jew. The full story of the acquisition of this manuscript is most interesting, but space will not permit the telling here. The next manuscript was a collection of articles dealing with Garibaldi and the Italian situation between 1860 and 1864. This volume is beautifully bound in full green crushed morocco, each manuscript sheet inlaid in a wide border of cartridge paper, the edges fully gilt and the leather binding handsomely decorated. In the Garnett collection are two further volumes, bound to match. These holographs are known as “On board the ‘Emma’.” Later Mr. Reed was offered and bought the complete manuscript of the romance “Conscience I'Innocent” (400 pages), this being the only complete romance to come on the market in Mr. Reed's memory. Then there is “La Jeunesse de Louis XV,” a fine comedy which was refused production on political grounds and which has never been either printed or produced in its original state. Not only has Mr. Reed this manuscript but he has also a copy made by M. Glinel (previously referred to) and in all probability no other copy has ever been made.
It will be news to most people that Dumas also wrote poetry. His collected verses have never been published, but M. Glinel made in his own handwriting a collection of 155 poems and these are now in Mr. Reed's hands. He has managed to add a few to this collection including a number of originals. A little green notebook of Dumas', formerly in the Glinel collection, contains amongst much interesting matter two or three early pieces of verse in course of composition. Twenty-nine songs by Dumas are known to have been set to music and of these Mr. Reed has fourteen.
Among a number of photographs and portraits is an original pencil drawing of more than passing interest. It is page 30 by Comte d'Orsay and shows Dumas as a young man. The Comte and Dumas were friends for many years and the former's death was a great grief to the writer.
Finally it must be mentioned that two travel volumes edited by Dumas are of special interest to New Zealanders. One is an account of the experiences of Dr. Felix Maynard who served for a number of years as surgeon on board a whaler in New Zealand waters. The other is the journal of Madame Giovanni who visited Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands in the early part of the nineteenth century. Both of these Mr. Reed has made available for the first time in English.
Mr. Reed has not been unmindful of the town in which he has spent his life, but to enlarge on his services to Whangarei would be to incur his wrath. It must be stated, however, that Whangarei is to benefit from his collection. While he has very properly bequeathed the Reed-Garnett Dumas collection to Auckland, there are still about 1,500 volumes to be given to his own town. In this connection it may be mentioned that a very fine Public Library has recently been opened, a building which would do credit to a much larger place. The moving spirit in this has been Mr. A. T. Brainsby. Here a “Reed Room” has been provided and already a part of Mr. Reed's collection has been housed. This includes a duplicate set of the 72 typed Dumas plays previously mentioned, very nicely bound in 23 volumes. There are also a further seven volumes of typed translations. Then there is a Black Letter “Treacle” Bible of 1557, a “Breeches” Bible of 1599, a Fourteenth Century Manuscript, being the text of the minor prophets from Hosea to Malachi, in Latin, with notes and commentary, and a holograph letter from Lord Nelson to Admiral Collingwood dated from the Victory on 12th October, 1805.
There is much treasure still to come, including fine sets in translation of French Nineteenth Century romances and Memoirs from a much earlier date. There is practically a complete set of John Payne's works—limited editions including “The Arabian Nights,” “Bandello and Omar Khayyam in the original metre. There is a collection of books dealing with the Arthurian legends, another of early Italian novels and literature dealing with them, and there is the first edition of the Mardrus “Arabian Nights” in eight volumes in French, beautifully and profusely illustrated from Persian and Hindu manuscripts—a scarce set.