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2002-06, 333, 334, Brian Taylor, Editorial

EDITORIAL

This issue of Biblionews is a memorial one for our late President, Dr Ben Haneman, who died on 18 December 2001 after collapsing suddenly while on the phone to a friend at the State Library of New South Wales the day before. The issue is also a first for the Book Collectors’ Society: it consists of two issues in one, something which other journals do and have done, but which I and my two late editorial predecessors, Walter Stone and John Fletcher, as far as I know, never did – before now. The reasons for this break with tradition are twofold.

Since the last meeting that Ben Haneman chaired, the November one last year, was a “show and tell” meeting without a speaker, the last paper that he actually chaired before his death was my own on collecting in the area of Australian English, which I gave at the Annual General Meeting in September 2001, so it seemed appropriate to publish that paper in his memorial issue. However, I lost the manuscript of that paper soon afterwards and had to start again. Unfortunately the death of my father and my aged mother’s illnesses and hospitalisations since then on top of all else I’ve had to do – especially intensive collecting for the bibliography that will be mentioned in my article – kept me from working on the issue till recently, and I confess that it is only in September 2002 that I am putting this issue together. In view of the many tributes to Ben plus the need for space for additional articles and reviews that have been waiting some time for publication, and for the Publications Received and the Index to the 2001 issues, the whole has become too long for a normal single issue.

My own article has, in the event, become much longer than the paper Ben heard, so long that it has been decided to hold it over as a two -part one for the September and December issues later in the year, otherwise we would have had to produce now a double double-issue.

There is also the fact that in the next couple of months, when the next issue would have to be being put together, on the one hand Betty and Jeff Bidgood, who help with the production and despatch of issues, will be selling and vacating their present home in Croydon to move into retirement accommodation in Ryde (where Society meetings may be held from December on), and on the other hand I will be in Germany for some six weeks, partly on account of the aforesaid bibliography. Putting out this double issue will enable us to accommodate the amount of material and get the journal much more up to date than it would otherwise have been. I trust that our members and readers will approve. Ben, who was always supportive and understanding of my chronic problems as editor, would definitely have.

I corresponded with Ben Haneman long before I actually met him. The families of recently deceased German-speaking pre-war immigrants to Australia often rang the Department of German at the University of Sydney to ask if anyone would be interested in taking their forebear’s unwanted German-language library, and either John Fletcher or I would arrange to do so. As a result I ended up with a few German editions of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote  that I didn’t especially want. John told me of this Dr Ben Haneman who had a remarkable Quixote collection and who might like my copies. I therefore wrote to this gentleman, and it turned out that he didn’t have these editions and also didn’t have the version in Spanish for schools of which I had picked up a badly “shaken” copy along with Cortina’s Spanish in 20 lessons at Dymocks’ George Street bookshop secondhand section in my own schooldays. So off they went to Ben, who, on extracting from me the confession that I didn’t have an English version of D.Q., reciprocated by sending me one, since “every educated man should have a copy of Don Quixote”. It was the quite handsome 1923 reprint of The adventures of Don Quixote of La Mancha, originally published in 1902 with illustrations by W. Heath Robinson (London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd/ New York: E.P. Dutton & Co.; xiii, 531), whose cover and title page are reproduced in this issue. (See Illustrations 1 – the cover – and 2 – the title page, pp.12 and 16 respectively.)

I don’t think I actually laid eyes on Ben until the sad occasion in 1992 when we both gave eulogies at John Fletcher’s funeral – subsequently published in the September 1992 (295th) issue of Biblionews 17(3), pp.80-83. But it was only when he became President of the Society and began attendance at each meeting – if he didn’t happen to be in his beloved Spain or some other Spanish-speaking country – that I got to know him at all well. It quickly became obvious to me that he had a tremendous knowledge about books – and about a lot of other things too – and a wide network of contacts in the book collecting and book selling world, which enabled him to find a range of excellent speakers for our meetings. He had the welfare of the Society very much at heart and lots of ideas about how it might continue to prosper in times where there was again and again the fear that the reading of books was gradually being undermined by other means whereby people could access information.

At that last November meeting – which I missed because I was in Hong Kong -, he, as always, presented a bottle of wine from his considerable cellar to the one adjudged by him to be the best “show-andteller” of the day. It therefore came as an awful shock to us, especially those who had seen him there, when the news arrived such a short time later that he had suddenly passed away. But, as has been said often since, if he had known he had to go, then he would certainly have chosen to go as he did – surrounded by the wonderful collection that is our State Library of New South Wales.

The Committee of the Book Collectors’ Society was represented at Ben’s funeral by Dr Neil Radford, Rose Smith and Graham Stone. The funeral address of 20 December by Rabbi Raymond Apple is reproduced in this memorial issue. On the 17 January following, a packed memorial gathering was held at the State Library and speakers representing Ben’s various fields of endeavour – medicine, family, synagogue, Spain, book collecting, socialist politics and simply being humane – paid their tributes to him. Again the Society was represented by Rose Smith and Graham Stone, and I too was privileged to attend (and to be spoken to by others there who told me they read Biblionews – and to be told by Justice David Levine, nephew of that great collector of books on Judaica and the history of dentistry Sydney Levine, that he, David, was thinking of contributing an article: I hope he hasn’t forgotten). The brief tribute by Ben’s son Peter is printed in this issue, as is one from Rose Smith, not given there but sent to me later specifically for this memorial issue, and I have excerpted from the obituary by Susan Tompkins, assisted by Gerard Windsor, which appeared in the “This Life” section of the Sydney Morning Herald of 25 January 2002 and which is based on the tribute she delivered at the Library gathering. That occasion was organised, and excellently organised, by Rosemary (Rosie) Block, the State Library’s Curator of Oral History, and I have included her tribute from the Autumn/Winter 2002 issue of Upfront. There are also excerpts from Chantal Abitbol’s article in the Australian Jewish News  that provide supplementary information about the gathering.

Finally, there is Neil Radford’s little item and a reprint of a short article by Ben from the June 1995 (306th) issue of Biblionews, which between them will fill out Ben’s personality as book collector very nicely. And perhaps this is the point at which to mention that at his last Annual General Meeting of the Society, Ben did something unprecedented in the Society’s history (which is why he wouldn’t object to this double issue): he had a Vice-President appointed in the person of Neil Radford, the Society’s first ever Vice-President (and, by way of a reminder to readers, Reviews Editor). But the creation of that office was timely – and one can only wonder about Ben’s prescience here -, for, on Ben’s passing, Neil automatically became President in a smooth transition.

The remaining material was not sent specifically by way of memorial to Ben, but he would have liked to know it was in the issue too. I hope Jürgen Wegner won’t mind my saying that his contributions have something of the challenging “quirkiness” that Ben’s writings showed. Neil Radford’s news from the sale room is the kind of thing Ben would have loved to see as a regular feature, just as Colin Steele’s much praised reviews have become.

Finally, I would like to thank Rosie Block and those others who sent me material for this double issue and the authors for not objecting to the use of their material here. I trust that they will not mind that I have at some points edited contributions, e.g. to save excessive repetition of the same information. I would also like to draw to members’ and readers’ attention to the fact that in May this year The Ben Haneman Memorial Fund of the State Library of New South Wales Foundation was set up. Anyone interested in donating to the Fund can make enquiries by telephoning (02) 9273 1593, faxing (02) 9273 1270, emailing foundation@sl.nsw.gov.au  or writing to: John Lechner, Executive Director, State Library of New South Wales Foundation, Macquarie Street, Sydney 2000.

 

Illustration 1

The cover of The Adventures of Don Quixote of La Mancha (London/New York, 1923)

 

Illustration 2

The title page of the 1923 reprint

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