you're reading...
2008-06, 358, Book Inscriptions, N H Sinnott

‘Two Book Inscriptions from England’

IN 1976, when I moved from England to Victoria, I brought with me a fair-sized collection of books. Some I had acquired by gift and bequest from my maternal grandparents in Oxfordshire, most of the rest I had collected while living in the London area from 1963 to 1976, as this had given me access to a wide range of new and second-hand booksellers.
In 1964, thanks to the advice of a friend, I became interested in the poetry of Swinburne (1837–1909). I bought a couple of small anthologies of Swinburne’s poetry, and later, in July 1965, I purchased The Poems of Algernon Charles Swinburne (6 vols.; New York & London: Harper & Brothers, 1904) which, according to the “Dedicatory Epistle”, was “the first collected edition of my poems”. An obvious attraction of this set was that the front flyleaf of volume one was inscribed in black ink “F. L. Leipnik/A C Swinburne”, in
what looked like the elderly Swinburne’s authentic handwriting.


From time to time over the years I consulted encyclopaedias and dictionaries of biography in the hope of finding out more about F L Leipnik, for whom Swinburne had inscribed this volume. Later I tried the internet, at first with no success. In January 2008, however, while deciding what to take to a members’ night of the Victorian branch of the Book Collectors’ Society, I decided to try Leipnik’s name again on an internet search. This time I was successful: he had finally ‘surfaced’ on Google!
I have still not found a decent biographical account of F L Leipnik, but I now know a modest amount about him.
A couple of internet sources give Ferdinand Leipnik as a Dutch friend of Siegfried Trebitsch and George Bernard Shaw. I doubt if he was, in fact, Dutch, and prefer the claim that Leipnik was a Hungarian journalist and “connoisseur” based in The Hague. This would explain why he is also described as an “intermediary” between Austria-Hungary and Britain during the First World War. (I heard or read some years ago that at one stage Austria-Hungary tried to make a separate peace with the Allies.) An internet reference mentions that one of Leipnik’s business cards (while he was in
The Hague) describes him as “Manager of the Foreign Department, Financial Times”.
Leipnik’s dates are generally given as 1869 to ca. 1924, but I can extend that range as he wrote a typescript letter in 1927 (it was advertised for sale on the internet). Two book titles are attributed to F L Leipnik: A History of French Etching from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day (London: John Lane The Bodley Head, 1924) and A History of French Engravings from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day(London: John Lane; New York: Dodd, 1924). I am not at present clear whether two quite different books are involved, or (I rather suspect) one book with variant titles,
depending on whether it was the London or New York edition.
I was particularly pleased to find that the internet mentioned a letter from Theodore Watts-Dunton (1832–1914), poet, novelist and literary critic, written to Leipnik in 1907, asking for information on Hungarian Gypsies for Watts-Dunton’s novel Carniola (never published). Swinburne dedicated the 1904 edition of his collected poems to Watts-Dunton and, during the latter part of his life, Swinburne lived with Watts-Dunton in Putney, London, at a house called The Pines. (I still have colour slides I took in the 1960s of the building.) The fact that Watts-Dunton knew Leipnik strongly confirms the genuineness of the inscription on my book.
It looks as if Ferdinand Leipnik was not Dutch by birth (even though he lived in the Netherlands), but was a Hungarian, and quite likely of Jewish origin. Leipnik is not a Magyar name, but is German, derived from Leipnik, Moravia, now in the Czech Republic and known in German as Leipnik an der Betschwa (on the river Becva ), in Czech as Lipník (from lípa, lime or linden tree) nad Becvou (on the Becva River), where there was a significant and historic Jewish community and there is still a synagogue and Jewish cemetery. And middle- and eastern European Jewish surnames, if not originating from occupations (like Cantor, Cohen, Goldsmith and Singer), are characteristically derived from place-names.
I am delighted to find I have a book not only signed by Swinburne, but associated with someone who tried to end the disgraceful First World War. In June 1966 I bought two books about the life of Charles Darwin: The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter, edited by his son Francis Darwin (3 vols.; London: John Murray, 1887), and the one-volume abridged edition of this work, Charles Darwin: His life told in an autobiographical chapter, and in a selected series of his published letters, edited by Francis Darwin (London: John Murray, 1892).


Soon afterwards I read the one-volume edition thoroughly, but both books received only slight use until early 2008 when, while reading Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything (a present from my daughters in December 2007), I spotted a reference to a Scotsman named Patrick Matthew. Matthew claimed in April 1860 he had published an account of the theory of natural selection as early as 1831, while Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace did not make their version public until July 1858. Darwin accepted this claim. In March 2008 I decided to write a short article about
Matthew and his claim and, while drafting the article, I consulted the two books edited by Sir Francis Darwin. (Matthew is mentioned in both.) While doing so, I was reminded that my copy of the abridged, one-volume edition (Charles Darwin: His life) was inscribed in slightly faded ink (on patterned paper) on the inner front cover: “W. H. Hooker./With kindest greetings/ from ‘Mater’/Xmas 1892.”
In 1966, when I bought this volume, I was working at the Herbarium of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, and I was well aware that one of Kew’s most famous directors was Sir Joseph Hooker, friend and ally of Charles Darwin. The surname Hooker, inscribed on a book about Darwin, could have been just a coincidence, but I strongly suspected otherwise. Also, I had on my shelves Leonard Huxley’s Life and Letters of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, O.M., G.C.S.I. (2 vols.; London: John Murray, 1918, purchased in April 1966), so I consulted this and, later, the internet. Sure enough, Sir
Joseph’s eldest son was William Henslow Hooker (1853–1942) but, if he was the W H Hooker in the inscription, then “Mater” would have been his step-mother (hence the quotation marks) Hyacinth, Lady Hooker (1842–1921), née Symonds but widow of Sir William Jardine, whom Sir Joseph married in 1876. William Henslow Hooker’s mother was Frances Harriett Henslow (1825–74), whom Joseph Dalton Hooker married in 1851. So I discovered I had on my shelves another nice little bibliographic treasure whose significance I didn’t realise until recently!

Nigel Sinnott



Comments are closed.


%d bloggers like this: