(A talk given to the Victorian branch on 24 September 2010)
MY TALK this evening is on Eric Partridge and the Scholartis Press. Most of you would have known of Eric Partridge as a lexicographer — or word man, or perhaps, the word man — but I expect only a few of you would know much about his role as a publisher.
I have divided my talk into five sections: the first a short biographical sketch of Eric Partridge, the second an overview account of the Scholartis Press, the third to discuss some of its books, the fourth to focus in detail on the banning of one of its books, and finally to briefly outline my plans to write a history of the Press.
Firstly, the biography. Eric Honeywood Partridge and I actually share a common birthday: 6 February. He was born near Gisborne in New Zealand in 1894, myself in Melbourne a lot later.
In 1907 the Partridge family — no pun intended — moved to a wheat farm on the Darling Downs, Queensland, and Eric attended Toowoomba Grammar School from 1907 to 1910. He then taught for three years before winning a scholarship to the University of Queensland.
His studies, however, were interrupted by the outbreak of the Great War. Partridge enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 23 April 1915, embarked with the 26th Battalion on 25 May, and served on Gallipoli from early September until evacuated with jaundice and paratyphoid. He was then sent to France in May 1916 where he was wounded at Pozières and did not rejoin his battalion until March 1917. He refused promotion and after serving at Bullecourt, was transferred to the 7th Brigade observers from which after 12 months he entered hospital with trench fever. He embarked for home in December 1918 and was discharged the following April.
Throughout his war service he had managed to read prolifically and to write poems, stories and accounts of battle, some of which were published in the Queensland University Magazine. He was later to publish, in Three Personal Records of the War, his own very honest war memoir, which historian Geoffrey Serle rightly claims is a minor classic of war literature. It is well worth reading and I recommend Serle‘s edited version, published by Melbourne University Press in 1972 as Frank Honywood, Private, for that purpose.
Returning to the University of Queensland, Partridge graduated in 1921. He was awarded the university travelling scholarship, which he took up at Oxford, gaining a Bachelor of Literature in 1923. He returned briefly to Queensland for the last time in 1924 to take out his MA, then taught at a Grammar School in Manchester before lecturing in English literature at the universities of Manchester and London. About this time he married and became the father of a daughter who may just possibly be still alive although she would be close to 90 if she was.
In 1927 Partridge launched the Scholartis Press. Two books he published under the Scholartis imprint were to determine his life‘s work. These were Songs and Slang of the British Soldier 1914-18 (compiled with John Brophy in 1930), and an edition of Francis Grose‘s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1931). Except for a period in Army Education in the Second World War, Partridge lived by his pen, mainly writing about words, their origins and uses.
Chain-smoking and working almost daily from the same seat (K1) in the British Museum library, he wrote, compiled or edited more than 70 books, including several major dictionaries. His major work, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (1937), constantly added to and revised, was republished posthumously in its eighth edition in 1984. He died at Moreton-hampstead, Devon on 1 June 1979.
Moving now onto the Scholartis Press, Partridge‘s entry into publishing came via the Fanfrolico Press. This had been established in Sydney in the early 1920s by Jack and Norman Lindsay along with John (Jack) Kirtley. With Norman‘s blessing — and lots of his art — the two Jacks took the Press to London in early 1926. It published some 47 books before folding in the late 1930s. Its story is told in my The Fanfrolico Press: satyrs, fauns and fine books, published in 2009 by the Private Libraries Association.
One Friday in London in January 1927 Eric Partridge had a long discussion with Jack Lindsay about possible involvement in Fanfrolico. The next day he wrote to Lindsay saying that in May he wanted to do one of two things: either put money into the Press and be a silent partner, or invest money into it as a means of becoming an active partner.
Over the next couple of months Partridge became an innocent player in the scheming to have PR ‘Inky’ Stephensen — like Lindsay and Partridge, a graduate of the University of Queensland, but then at Oxford and about to finish his degree — take over John Kirtley‘s role in Fanfrolico. The previously good relationship between Kirtley and Jack Lindsay had deteriorated and Kirtley had also become quite homesick.
Partridge had done a considerable amount of research on Robert Eyres Landor, the 19th century poet and dramatist and brother of the better known Walter Savage Landor. It was agreed initially that Fanfrolico would publish an edition of Landor in return for Partridge injecting £200 into the Press on the assumption that he would have some sort of say in the running of its affairs. Lindsay and Stephensen, however, intended to use the capital to cover the cost of the production of Lindsay‘s verse play Marino Faliero with the Landor book hopefully to be paid for in due course with anticipated receipts from sales of other forthcoming titles.
Partridge, thinking he was to become a partner in Fanfrolico, wanted a legal agreement drafted and signed. Lindsay became frustrated with his demands and was concerned about the place of the book in the Fanfrolico aesthetic. As a result he procrastinated as much as he could on the question of a legal agreement. Stephensen resolved the matter with a no-nonsense business style letter to Partridge which read in part:
Your advance, therefore, as we conceive it, has nothing whatever to do with a partnership in the Press in general. In return for the use of your money for a couple of months, we place your book on the market immediately, exactly in the form you require; and we forego what might otherwise be our claims to a share of the profits from your book. This is exactly the economics of the matter, and nothing more.
A few days later a relieved Jack Lindsay wrote to Stephensen:
My dear & noble hero — your one letter has settled the business. Eric left a note here this morning, abjuring the partnership & (very slightly) reproaching me.
The episode, to Partridge‘s credit, given that he had been treated fairly shabbily, did not terminate relations between the former university colleagues. He probably realised that a partnership would never have worked out. Having served in the war (and they had not), he was more than just the six and seven years older than the two younger Queenslanders. He was also married with a young child and one could not really see him boozing on with Lindsay and Stephensen in the Plough Inn or the Fitzroy Tavern, two of the key bohemian pubs around Bloomsbury.
Partridge had written to a friend in Australia in April telling him about the coming Landor book, saying that it was to be published by the Fanfrolico Press which, from 1 July, might include him as a partner. He added:
but should the partnership turn out a failure, then I would set up business for myself in the same kind of enterprise.
This is what he did, forming the Scholartis Press. The name is a made up one — odd perhaps for a future lexicographer — reflecting the joint aims of the press: namely, its books being both scholarly and artistically produced, hence ‘Scholartis’.
The first three books were at the printer‘s by mid-June and in August Partridge issued a Catalogue and First List. He had ten of these especially bound and sent one to the University of Queensland Library. The opening paragraph read:
The name of the Press indicates the two chief planks of its ‘platform’: where scholarship is due, it will appear; the books will be ‘well dressed’, not in the vulgar but in the more correct sense of the epithet. We aim at variety of output and at good value for the prices. A feature will be made of series and collected works, authoritatively edited.
Partridge later wrote that he started with a capital of £100, soon extended to £300 but recommended that £5000 was needed to start up a small publishing company. He began from a small office in New Oxford Street doing everything himself and his first books appeared in September 1927. A second announcement of forthcoming Scholartis titles was issued about this time. In March 1928 he moved the office to the top floor of 30 Museum Street in Bloomsbury, occupying the rooms formerly used as living quarters by Jack Lindsay and his partner, Elza de Locre.
From the beginning to October 1929, the sole style of the firm was ‘The Scholartis Press’ which was a wholly private concern owned by Partridge. He then formed a private company trading under the name of Eric Partridge Ltd with the imprint becoming Eric Partridge at the Scholartis Press or simply Eric Partridge Limited. The expansion to a private company led to the appointment of a co-director, the author Wilson Benington, and a secretary and a messenger boy. In April 1930 Captain Bertram Ratcliffe joined the firm as a third director.
Benington shared the editorial and advertising with Partridge, who continued to have sole responsibility for production, while Radcliffe acted as an advisor. These extra hands were needed as by then Scholartis was issuing around 20 books a year as well as a literary quarterly, The Window.
Unlike Fanfrolico or Mandrake, Scholartis did not normally issue elaborate individual prospectuses for its various titles but publicised its books via quarterly catalogues. These were published from January 1929. The covers carried an illustration of three maidens with the caption: ‘Liberality, Originality, Distinction’, indicating, according to Partridge:
the liberalism (in the widest sense) of our views, the originality of our authors and, (we hope) distinction of our books . . . someone unkindly called them ‘The Three Disgraces’ — although I may add they were respectfully clothed.
Early in 1932 Partridge moved from full-time publishing to full-time authorship, but Scholartis Press titles continued to be published up to and including 1935. It is unclear what role Partridge had in these post-1932 imprints. The company is still listed as Eric Partridge Ltd in the 1931-35 volume of English Catalogue of Books but the titles it issued during the early to mid-1930s may have been ones already commissioned and/or have been the responsibility of his fellow directors, particularly Wilson Benington.
To date I have been unable to determine how many books the Scholartis Press actually published. Partridge in the First Three Years; an account with a discursive bibliography of the Scholartis Press published in 1930 describes in detail 62 titles plus the four issues of the literary periodical, The Window. He also lists numerous others in the pipeline. Libraries Australia lists 83 titles, ignoring catalogues and ephemera. My current working tally is 92. But I have yet to go carefully through the collection of quarterly catalogues issued from January 1929 to the end of 1931. And there were the titles published after the last catalogue was issued and before the press finally folded in 1935. So I think it is safe to say that the total would be around 100-110.
Of the 92 I have examined or know about, the breakdown of subject categories is as follows:
Autobiography and memoirs 3
Children‘s books 2
Fiction (original novels and short stories) 14
History and bibliography 1
Literary criticism/literary biography 13
Poetry (original 9, reprints 10) 19
Scholarly edited editions 24
Translations of novels 3
Travel and description 5
These classifications are fairly arbitrary and several titles could be been slotted into other categories. But the table does show the range of the Scholartis publications. The scholarly editions focused on the 16th and 17th centuries and included a complete edition of the works of Edmund Spenser published over several years. There were various series titles and, like Jack Lindsay at Fanfrolico, Partridge obviously had a prodigious capacity for work.
I have one Scholartis book to show you. It is a curiosity piece. Entitled Dissertations in Essence, it is a collection of unconventional essays on Biblical subjects by EH Duke, ‘sometime Vicar of Monk Fryston’, for whom the book was printed, with the Scholartis Press acting simply as the agents. For some reason the book was withdrawn by the author with Partridge writing in The First Three Years that neither ‘Author nor Publisher can enter into any correspondence on the subje’t’. I would like to find out why it was withdrawn. The author dedicated it to Eric Partridge and I can only surmise that there must have been some severe falling out between the two.
I will now move onto the banning of one of the Scholartis Press titles. This was Norah C James‘s Sleeveless Errand, a novel about dissolute bohemian life in post-war London. The authorities stopped the publication of the novel on the day it was due to be released.
Firstly, an explanation of the meaning of the phrase, ‘sleeveless errand’: although now virtually obsolete, it used to be a reasonably common term to describe a fool‘s errand, a futile task, or, often a trick, such as the carpenter telling his apprentice to go and get a left-handed screwdriver. Its origin comes from a line in Act 5, Scene 4 of Shakespeare‘s Troilus and Cressida.
James‘s novel focuses on the final days in the life of Paula, a bohemian woman of independent means, who has been discarded by her lover. She is bored by her own and her friend‘s constant drinking, late nights and what would today be described as bad behaviour. A chance encounter in a coffee shop with a more conventional male, Bill, who is despondent over his wife‘s infidelity, leads to Paula introducing the staid Bill to bohemian London. Here he meets bisexuals, prostitutes and the disenchanted women of the post-World War I generation, of whom Paula is one.
Paula has decided to end her life by driving a car over a cliff somewhere near Hove on the south east coast of England. Bill decides to join her. While driving to their destination, they have car problems, forcing them to stay overnight in Brighton. After a boozy night with some second rate seaside performers, they share a bed together for the second time, but again not as lovers. Paula talks Bill out of suiciding, saying he has a lot to live for and should try to reconcile himself with his wife. But she herself says she has nothing to live for and, early in the morning, after leaving Bill at the hotel, she drives into the Sussex countryside, enters a field and then drives over the cliff, ending her life.
Although I have been able to find two articles that have discussed the banning of Sleeveless Errand, the censoring of the book has tended to fall between the two great cases of the period, namely Radcliffe Hall‘s The Well of Loneliness (1928) and DH Lawrence‘s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1929).
There is also another reason for this shortage of detailed analysis of the novel‘s banning and that is the apparent lack of official records pertaining to the case. In her 2003 article in the Journal of Modern Literature, ‘History‘s “Abrupt Revenges”: Censoring War‘s Perversion in The Well of Loneliness and Sleeveless Errand‘, Celia Marshik writes: ‘The Home Office . . . files for Sleeveless Errand are lost, victims either to the blitz or to ongoing efforts to thin the collection of supposedly unnecessary material. We are left with the novel itself and the fragmentary newspaper coverage of the trial.’
The complete government file on the case does exist in the Public Record Office but it was only released in 2008, some five years after the publication of Marshik‘s article. Why it took so long to be made accessible, I have no idea, but at a cost of £50 I have obtained a copy of the file and much of the following is taken from it.
Although I doubt if anyone in this room — other than Richard Overell and myself — has heard of Norah James, she produced almost a book a year following Sleeveless Errand, right up to 1975, her total output consisting of 56 novels, three children‘s books, two cookbooks and two non-fiction titles including an autobiography, I Lived in a Democracy published in March 1939, the title no doubt influenced by the events of the decade and the coming war.
From a reading of I Lived in a Democracy it is clear that, like most first novels, Sleeveless Errand is part autobiographical. And just as there is a lot of Helen Garner in Nora — the main character of Garner‘s first novel, Monkey Grip — there is a lot of Norah James in Paula, the heroine of Sleeveless Errand. This is clear from her autobiography where she writes:
At this time I was making rather a fool of myself. For over a year I‘d been involved in a most unhappy love affair . . . Unfortunately, I hadn‘t got enough character to admit that the whole thing was useless. Instead, I tried to forget my unhappiness by never letting myself be alone for more than a few moments . . . In the end I realized that rushing about, half the night, from place to place wasn‘t good enough. I‘d got to pull myself together. I resolved, firmly, to write the novel I had been telling myself I would one day write. The idea was that it would force me to stay indoors at night and the week-ends . . . In the summer of 1928 I finished my book at last. It had served its purpose. I had pulled myself together.
But just as Helen Garner is not Nora in Monkey Grip, Norah James is not Paula in Sleeveless Errand. Paula in the novel carries out her suicide pact. Norah James may have considered ending her own life, but instead, got herself out of her depressed state by writing a novel.
James gave the novel to her employer, Jonathan Cape, to consider for publishing. Cape sent it to Edward Garnett for a reader‘s report. Despite a favourable assessment from Garnet (crucial to its final publication), Cape declined to publish the novel, implying, according to James‘s autobiography, that there was what would be called these days, a conflict of interest in publishing a book by one of his employees, especially his publicist. If the book was a success some of his stable authors might be jealous of the attention given to the book, compared to the publicist‘s work for their own novels.
Cape suggested that she should send the novel to Eric Partridge at the Scholartis Press. However, a close friend of James suggested she should send the manuscript to Leonard and Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press. They rejected the book, but, according to James, ‘Leonard Woolf took the trouble to see me about it, and he told me that both he and his wife had been much interested in reading it’.
After the Hogarth rejection, James took up her employer‘s suggestion and sent the manuscript to Eric Partridge. Partridge had given notice in his first prospectus that he intended to publish contemporary fiction and Sleeveless Errand was one of first novels. It is most likely that he agreed to publish Sleeveless Errand on the basis of Edward Garnett‘s favourable reader‘s report.
Partridge gave James a generous advance of ₤25, the equivalent of about eight to ten weeks of the salary she earnt with Jonathan Cape. He sent the manuscript off to the printer and began publicising the book, announcing that it would form part of the Scholartis Spring 1929 list and would be published on 21 February at 7/6.
And this is where our story really starts. Having received delivery of the first batch of copies in early February, Partridge sent out review copies some ten days before the announced publication date. This was common practice with new novels, allowing them to be reviewed or at least noticed on or as close to their date of publication as possible.
One of the recipients of a review copy, the editor of the Morning Post, forwarded his copy to the Home Secretary‘s Office on 15 February with a covering note to the effect that he thought it was an obscene publication. His action started an almost frenetic chain of events. A senior civil servant prepared a briefing note for the Home Secretary outlining his reasons why he thought the novel obscene and that steps should be taken immediately to stop its publication. His reasons were twofold:
1. The use of coarse language in the book. Here he noted numerous examples on various pages such as ‘God’ and ‘Bloody’.
2. The perceived immoral behaviour depicted in the book.
His report actually began with:
It is astonishing that such a book could be written by a woman, but the authoress must be a woman whose command of foul, obscene, indecent and profane language is, I should hope, unique amongst the women who can write.
As a result of his report and its recommendation, a search warrant was authorised on the evening of 20 February — the day before publication — and two police officers called upon Eric Partridge at his flat in Holland Park and demanded that he go with them immediately to the office of the Scholartis Press on the top floor of 30 Museum Street. Here the police seized some 289 copies of Sleeveless Errand including 39 that bore the author‘s signature, these forming the majority of the special edition of 50 copies numbered and signed by the author, and demanded that Partridge provide details of all bookshops that had ordered and been sent copies.
Partridge, although insisting that the novel was not obscene in any way, readily complied with all the police requests. Copies had been sent to ten provincial booksellers while 250 had gone to the wholesaler Simpkin Marshall and another 100 to the wholesaler and exporter William Jackson and Company. Partridge also said that a few copies had already been posted overseas and that he also had a handful back at his flat.
The next day saw a flurry of police activity. Visits were made to Simpkin Marshall who readily handed over the 228 copies still in their possession while also offering to try and retrieve the other 22 that they had distributed, with their Chairman writing the following ‘we are innocent’ letter to the Home Secretary‘s office:
In view of the large number of books purchased by us daily in advance it is not possible for us to be aware of the precise nature of the contents of every individual book submitted to us, and we are obliged to you for drawing our attention to the work in question.
William Jackson also handed over their copies while police called at Partridge‘s flat early in the morning to collect his remaining copies. In addition, two police officers spent the whole of 21 February visiting booksellers in London who had obtained copies via Simpkin Marshall, Jacksons or directly from Partridge himself. About 200 copies had gone out to the London trade.
This was efficient British police service at its best. But there was more. An officer was stationed for a short period at Kings Cross station to intercept a possible consignment of books from the printers, while letters were dispatched to all the chief inspectors whose jurisdiction included the ten towns where local booksellers had ordered and been sent copies of the novel. The next day constables from Hove in the south to Edinburgh in the north visited these ten bookshops to retrieve the books. All proprietors cooperated and this coordinated operation of police work netted most of the copies that Partridge had dispatched. The remaining ones had escaped in that had they been sold to unknown customers. A police officer was also sent to the printers at Letchworth Garden City. They had in their possession 1000 sets of unbound sheets of Sleeveless Errand.
But wait a minute, here‘s a side plot to the story. According to the Scholartis publicity and the edition statement on the verso of the title page of the book, the novel was limited to 500 copies with 50 signed by the author. Yet a memo compiled as part of the Home Office‘s case against the book states that there were 1998 copies of the first printing comprising the ones delivered to Partridge, those sent directly to Simpkin Marshall and William Jackson, plus these 1000 unbound sheets still held by the printer. This suggests, and suggests only, that the limited edition statements in Scholartis Press books have to be treated with some caution.
Back to the main story. The manager of the printery said, when asked why he had printed such an obscene work that, although his staff had pointed out to him that the novel did contain coarse language, it came with a strong supportive report from Edward Garnett, described by the manager ‘as a well known literary man’. This he said, almost in his defence, was sufficient for him to proceed with the job. However, he willingly handed over the unbound sheets to the police.
Only about 75 copies had escaped their clutches. These consisted of 45 sent to reviewers, 10 or 15 sold by booksellers to unknown customers, those sent directly by Partridge to America and three sent by William Jackson to the Independent Labour Party head office at Westminster. The Home Secretary official had decided not to pursue these copies, although he did wonder, in a manner suggesting possible complicity by the Independent Labour Party in the publication of an obscene work, why the party had ordered or been sent copies of the novel. Why indeed?
Partridge was duly summonsed to appear before the Bow Street Magistrates Court to show cause why he had authorised the publication of an obscene work and to show cause why all the seized copies should not be pulped. A brief was prepared for the Crown Prosecutor which outlined the reasons why Sleeveless Errand was an obscene publication. In addition to highlighting the pages containing coarse language, the following lines from page 227 were noted:
We’re bored with people who aren‘t bawdy. We call them prigs and prudes if they don’t want to talk about copulation at lunchtime and buggery at dinner . .
The brief asked: ‘What on earth would happen if a girl happened to pick up the book, read the offending passage and then turn to ask her father: “What is buggery”?’
As to be expected the presiding magistrate deemed the book to be an obscene publication under the Obscene Publications Act of 1857 and therefore ordered that all copies should be destroyed. Partridge was given ten days to appeal against the judgement. He was also fined 10 guineas costs. As he explained in his short history of the Scholartis Press, he did not have the resources to fight the case and had to accept the magistrate‘s ruling.
So virtually the complete stock of the book including the unbound sheets was pulped. As mentioned some copies did escape the police‘s clutches. One copy is held in the Rare Books Collection at Monash and there is another currently on offer on ABE.com for just under ₤100.
Norah James in her autobiography wrote of the novel‘s banning:
I could not understand why. The book had been read by a number of well-known literary people in manuscript, and no one had suggested that I should make any cuts in it. But, apparently, it was called an obscene book — simply because of the words used in it. I would have cut them out willingly if I‘d been told it was necessary. But I‘d never been told that. It never occurred to me that it would be considered obscene to let the characters in it use the language they used in real life. However, the Home Office apparently considered it so.
I don‘t believe the book was obscene. I do know that it was a kind of sermon against the stupidity and futility of the life a section of the post-war generation was leading.
The novelist Arnold Bennett in the Evening Standard declared Sleeveless Errand to be ‘an absolutely merciless exposure of neurotics and decadents, and I should say that the effect of it on a young reader would have been to destroy in him all immoral and unconventional impulses for ever and ever’.
Celia Marshik in her article noted above on the banning of The Well of Loneliness and Sleeveless Errand believes that there was deeper hidden rationale behind the suppression of the two books:
Despite [their] differences, these novels were prosecuted because they share two features that discomforted governmental and judicial readers: both novels contain female characters who alter their sexual behaviour as a direct result of working for the war effort, and both texts indicate that young, unmarried women were particularly vulnerable to wartime and postwar transformations.
Partridge lost a lot of money on the book. He would certainly have had to pay for the bound copies delivered to him in early February and most likely for the 1000 sets of the unbound sheets. To help recoup some of his costs he asked Norah James for another novel as soon as possible. She naively promised him a manuscript within six weeks. She delivered on her promise and the novel Hail! All Hail! was published in late 1929. James later wrote that the haste it was written in made it a novel she was not proud of.
The banning of Sleeveless Errand is a wonderful study in the follies of censorship, in this case described by Edward Garnett in his preface to the English edition published in France as: ‘a perfect example of official blundering . . . in its mixture of moral righteousness and official Pecksniffery.’
Pecksniffery: what a wonderful word!
As is so often the case, the pulping of the Scholartis edition did not stop the circulation of the text. And by banning a book, the authorities gave it (and its author) far more publicity than it would have received otherwise. Another edition in English was published in Paris by Jack Kahane, later founder of the Obelisk Press, within six weeks of the Scholartis edition being banned.
William Morrow issued an American edition (with a few textual variants) in mid-1929 which had at least five printings and, according to Norah James, over 20,000 copies were sold. And there were editions in both French and German.
Norah James nobly instructed her agent to direct half her royalty earnings from the American and foreign editions to Partridge. If the Morrow edition did in fact sell 20,000 copies as James claimed, this was a most generous offer. My guess is that Partridge would have received around ₤500 from James‘s noblesse oblige.
It can be argued that by banning the novel, the authorities achieved the opposite of their intentions and contributed to its success. So, one could say that the banning of Sleeveless Errand was in itself a sleeveless errand.
Partridge‘s role as the publisher of the novel gives a tenuous Australian connection to the story of Sleeveless Errand. There is also another. PR. Stephensen, another fellow graduate of the University of Queensland, and then in the throes of leaving the Fanfrolico Press to establish the Mandrake Press, wrote, in his typical flamboyant fashion, the second of his lampoons against the prevailing censorship policy of the Home Secretary. This was entitled The Well of Sleevelessness, a play on the two recently banned books, Radcliffe Hall‘s The Well of Loneliness and James‘s Sleeveless Errand. The lampoon itself was published by the Scholartis Press in an edition of 500 copies with 25 signed by both the author and publisher.
Finally, moving onto my plans to write a history of the Scholartis Press. I suppose I should start by saying why I got interested in the Press in the first place. The connection with Jack Lindsay and Eric Partridge‘s short-lived involvement in the Fanfrolico Press is the obvious reason. And I have a long-standing interest in Australian expatriate publishing, and Australian books and writers in London.
But, one often needs a fillip or two to get one actually researching and writing about a subject rather than just thinking you might do it. Mine came from two purchases I made via the net. The first was a run of the detailed quarterly catalogues issued by the Scholartis Press that I mentioned above. I was able to complete the set by obtaining photocopies of the remaining ones from a university collection in America.
The second was buying at an auction in America, a collection of some 23 Scholartis books assembled by Alfred Sutro, not the English dramatist, but a Californian lawyer, collector and one time President of the Book Club of California. Sutro (1869-1945) purchased directly from Partridge the number one copy of various Scholartis titles as they were published. The majority of this collection is now in the State Library of New South Wales but the Scholartis title that I passed around is from the Sutro collection. His bookplate, or more correctly, monogram is on the verso of the front cover.
The run of catalogues and acquiring the Sutro collection gave me the incentive to work on a history of the Scholartis Press.
The sources or lack of them will play a big part in determining the structure of the planned history. There are no archive or business records relating to Scholartis. And, unlike Fanfrolico, with its four main players — Norman and Jack Lindsay, John Kirtley and PR Stephensen, all of whom wrote regularly to each other and friends — it was effectively a one-man band and, unfortunately, there appears to be no substantial collection of papers for that one man.
So what records are there? There are three main sources and all are published ones. As already noted, Partridge published a short account of the Press with an accompanying bibliography. He also wrote about the Press briefly in A Covey of Partridge, published in 1937.
But this account is misleading as he refers here to the Depression killing the market for limited editions and forcing him to abandon publishing and become a full-time author. This had led to the common misconception that the Scholartis Press ceased operations in 1931 but, as I have already mentioned, the Press continued to issue books up to and including 1935.
Then there are the catalogues it issued (including the two prospectuses mentioned previously) and, of course, the 100 or so books published by the Press. These three sources can be supported by the dozen or so letters that I have so far located (and others that I hope will turn up) plus relevant press reports — for example, those relating to the court case over the banning of Sleeveless Errand, and of course, the court records themselves. There are also reviews that could be assessed to try and determine the impact and reception of Scholartis Press titles.
A question that I need to resolve revolves around whether Scholartis was a private press or something else. I don‘t think it can be slotted into the confines of the Carter/Barker definition given in their ABC for Book Collectors, or any other definition of a private press.¹ Although it did publish limited editions aimed at the collector‘s market, most of its books appeared in editions of between 500 and 1000, with a collector‘s special or 5, 10, 25 or 50. Some of these were specially bound but many were simply the standard edition with a handwritten special edition statement, saying number x of 25 signed copies, such as the special of Inky Stephensen‘s The Well of Sleevelessness.
And the Scholartis Press never printed its own books. But this does not prevent it being classified as a private press. Many notable private presses used commercial publishers to produce their own books. But, although the Scholartis Press books were attractive and well produced, they could never be classed as fine books. Very few were illustrated and, although some were bound in full vellum, they again could not be described as being elaborately bound. In addition, with his novels, Partridge would issue a second edition if and when the first limited one sold out. This was not private press practice.
I do not think Partridge ever saw the press as simply a producer of fine books. His aim was to produce scholarly texts that would be read and consulted as well as collected. They were not just to adorn collectors‘ shelves but also to be used for study and research by scholars (via their own and institutional libraries) and students (via institutional libraries).
The blurb on the inside flap of The First Three Years describes Scholartis as a ‘semi-private publishing house’ and this is an apt description, especially at that time (1930).
I think that the Scholartis Press can be described as a literary press that produced attractive functional books rather than a private press that published fine books. The text itself was as important as the livery it came in or the way it was presented.
To conclude with Partridge‘s own rationale behind the books of the Scholartis Press:
While we believe whole-heartedly in fine editions, we hold that the final text of a book is either, and principally, its literary quality, or its historical (or social) interest.
1. John Carter ‘ABC for book collectors’, 8th edition, edited by Nicholas Barker (New Castle, Del. : Oak Knoll Press; London: British Library, 2004)