Remembering Jon Prance and Claude Prance
Reverend Robert Willson
Jon Prance, the son (1939?–2007).
Book collecting and writing about the books they loved ran in Jon’s family. He was the only son of Claude Prance and his wife Patricia. He had a sister, Romaine, whom I did not know very well. Through his mother, Patricia (née Searle), Jon was a direct descendant of the English artist John Linnell (1792– 1882). In keeping with that link he had a special love for illustrated books.
Jon, born about the outbreak of World War II, was educated at Oxford University—I think his college was Lincoln—where he studied theology but left without taking a degree. He spent some time in Israel and later embraced the Jewish faith.
He spent many years in South Africa where he ran a bookshop and where he met Dorothy, whom he married. There were no children. Later Jon and Dorothy came to Australia where Jon studied for a library qualification. He worked for many years in the Black Mountain Library of the CSIRO and assisted there, for instance, with others in the compilation of Arthur D Chapman’s Australian Plant Names Index (Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service). In spare moments Jon regularly visited the book shops of Canberra and built up a vast collection, reflecting his many interests.
From time to time he submitted articles on books and book collecting to journals such as Biblionews.* In more recent years he became a book reviewer for The Canberra Times. He reviewed there, for example, Dr Peter Kabaila’s Belconnen’s Aboriginal Past: a glimpse into the archaeology of the Australian Capital Territory, where he mentions that he and his wife lived in Higgins, Belconnen. In 1980 he reviewed essays on the Australian writer Colin Thiele.
Jon was a gentle soul with a love for all things bright and beautiful. Those who knew him will remember how he collected pearls of wisdom from his wide reading, written in his beautiful handwriting, in little notebooks which he carried everywhere.
And talking of pearls, he was, after he retired, a member of PEARLS (Previously Employed Australian Retired Librarians) and convened its bimonthly “Coffee, Cake and Conversation” meetings.
My wife and I saw a lot of Jon and Dorothy in later years. Dorothy died some years ago. I am sorry that I cannot recall her maiden name. He died on 25 October 2007 after a long illness. There are a number of details I am uncertain about and now, since his sister Romaine is also dead, there is no one I can call on for further details. He was the last of his family. Those who knew him will remember him with great affection.
Claude Prance, the father (1906-2002)
In some ways I knew Claude better than I knew Jon.
Claude Prance was an authority on the English essayist Charles Lamb and the Romantic Revival period of English literature. He was the author of seven books on aspects of book collecting and on Charles Lamb and his friends. His collection in this field is now in the National Library of Australia. I was able to put the National Library in touch with Claude when he was seeking to dispose of his marvellous library after his eyesight failed.
I used to go on a Saturday morning and read to him. He had his library in a separate building in his garden at his Canberra home, and there he would spend each day in serious study and reading and writing for many years. He never went to a university but, as already mentioned, he became an authority on the writings of Charles Lamb and his circle and was a Vice President of the Charles Lamb Society, which he had helped to found in the 1930s. His last book was a study of the characters of the novels of Thomas Love Peacock, only published a few years ago. I have an autographed set of the seven books written by him.
The Library purchased a small selection of his rare collection on Lamb and on the English Romantic Revival. Some of his books he passed on to me. The Library also did an oral history interview with Claude and Patricia. Jon wrote their obituary for the Canberra Times. The National Library also holds some of Jon’s writings. I conducted the funeral services for both Claude and Patricia. He died in 2002 but she lived on until a year or so ago and died at the age of 99 years and nine months!
They were fine people and my wife and I miss them deeply.
* Both Jon and his father Claude published in Biblionews. Claude published in the December 1983 (260th) issue “A few books for the bibliophile”. Jon published some half dozen articles, beginning in the March 1992 (293rd) issue with “My oldest book” and concluding in the September 2001 (331st) issue with “Writing in books”. Both contributed to the 50th Anniversary of Biblionews publication Fellows of the Book, published in 2000: Claude’s contribution was “A 17th Century Folio”, being the third edition of Thomas Fuller’s The Historie of the Holy Warre (1647), and Jon’s was “Two Books for All Seasons”, being Clare Leighton’s Four Hedges: a gardener’s chronicle (London: Victor Gollancz, 1935) and Leigh Hunt’s The Months: descriptive of the successive beauties of the year (London: Ivor Nicholson and Watson, 1936). Ed.