Lady Verney’s memoir of John Hawksley (Erddig)

One of the great privileges of being a freelance rare books Erddig compressedlibrarian is of course having access to the amazing range of materials in environments as diverse as university libraries and historic houses. Whenever I find something of interest, I try to find out a bit more about the item (or collection) and post it here.

This week, inspired by a recent post about unusual workspaces, we return to Erddig in the Welsh marches.

Title page of Hawskley's memoirs written by Margaret VerneyPerhaps the author and Yorkes were friends, with either Philip or Louisa doing Margaret Verney (nee Williams) the favour of proofreading her privately printed memoirs of John Plunkett Verney Hawskley, who died on the Somme in northern France in August 1916. Alternatively, it was read critically by a member of the Yorke family (Louisa in particular left sometimes scathing comments in the margins of the books she read) and found to be full of mistakes. The former seems more likely.

This memoir was published a year after the death of its subject, not quite to universal acclaim. A letter by Lord Dunsany (of The King of Elfland’s Daughter fame) to his cousin Muriel Summerson (dated 23 May 1917) describes in no uncertain terms his feelings about the quality of Verney’s writing and her portrayal of her subject, who was Muriel’s brother. His comments about the deceased’s life needing to be written by an artist suggests more than a hint of sour grapes. The book had been sent to him by the author, which suggests they were at least on friendly terms.

List of illustrations from Lady Verney's memoir of John HawksleyRegardless of the standards of Margaret Verney’s writing, the book gives an interesting insight into the world of proofreading in the early 20th century. Privately published with a strong Welsh connection, it may also be another example of printing in Wales.

With more time, it would also be a fascinating social history research project – one of the aspects about book cataloguing that makes it so rewarding. How were Margaret Verney and the Yorkes related? How did she relate to her subject? What was the connection between Lord Dunsany and Margaret Verney?

If you happen to know more about these people and their social networks, or you’d like to share images of other proofreading copies you’ve come across, please feel free to share in the comments or drop me a line!

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