In the Realms of Gold

by david on 1 January 2020

Cover of “In the Realms of Gold,” with artwork by Morgan Shepard

The final poet that Ella Sterling Cummins profiles in her curious but informative 1893 review of Californian writers, The Story of the Files, is a young Italian immigrant:

Among the volumes of verse published in California none have so pathetic [i.e. emotional] a history as those written by Lorenzo Sosso. Born in Italy, young Sosso came when but a child with his parents to California, and soon forgot his native language. But the spirit of genius burned on through years of poverty and menial labor. In intervals of work poems came crowding into his brain, almost faster than he could write them. Night study brought familiarity with classic myths and the meters of the poets. His savings of years published a volume before he was twenty years of age. It contained many ideas and graceful lines, but of this edition he did not sell a copy.

Cover of “In the Realms of Gold,” with artwork by Morgan Shepard

Cummins goes on to describe several more of Sosso’s failed publications, and then, worst of all, his employment at the Post Office: “here he became part of the machine, and has been so busily employed that in the time that has since elapsed he has written not one word. But he has evidently been thinking, and, when a few more years have passed over his head, may speak again.”

That same year, Lorenzo Sosso married Emma Henley, and by 1895 they two children, so it is perhaps unsurprising that he took a job in “the machine” to support his family. As Cummins surmised, Sosso had indeed been thinking, though it took a decade to achieve results. in 1902 Elder & Shepard published Sosso’s In the Realms of Gold, a 171-page volume containing 114 poems written between 1891 and 1901. The dedication, to his wife Emma, would touch the heart of any romantic:

Cover of “In the Realms of Gold,” with artwork by Morgan Shepard

To her whose faith is still secure
Through all incertitudes of life,
The many days of joy, the few
Joyless, since she is joy thereof;
To her, the purest of the pure,
To her, the truest of the true,
The mother wedded in the wife,
I dedicate this book with love.

Paul Elder published a fair amount of original literature and poetry, but almost all of it was of poor quality, and Sosso is no exception: his verses are not memorable. There are some sparks that exhort the reader to a greater good, such as in his poem “The Socialist”:

While I hear the wailing
Of the wronged and weak
Sadly unavailing
Are the words you speak:
Where there is oppression
Manhood must resist;
Therefore this confession—
I’m a Socialist!

Every back we lighten
Of its burdens sore,
Every home we brighten
Helps us more and more:
O the millions living
Toiling in the night!
O the task of giving
To such millions light!

Cover of “In the Realms of Gold,” with artwork by Morgan Shepard

Sadly, Sosso’s wife Emma died in 1914, at the age of 53. Sosso never remarried, and died in Marin County on 2 November 1967 at the age of 98.

In the Realms of Gold was issued in a limited edition of 500 copies, printed on non-watermarked laid paper by the Murdock Press. The cover artwork is not signed but is undoubtedly by Morgan Shepard, who probably also designed the tomoye on the title page. The frontispiece, a single leaf on coated stock, is a signed portrait of Sosso. On the title page, Elder is still calling himself “D. P. Elder.” There is no colophon.

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After the War — What?

by david on 18 June 2019

Cover of “After the War – What?”

What is there to talk about except the one thing we are all thinking about–the war? … I profoundly believe that if the world is to be saved at all, it is to be saved by putting into practise some things which have long been called impractical. The world has been wrecked on the hard rocks of the “practical;” it is time to patch up the old vessel and put to open sea, on the boundless, fathomless, untried waters of the ideal.

On 13 July 1917, the University Club of San Francisco invited Mr. Stockton Axson to speak at a dinner reception for summer session faculty of the University of California. He was Professor of English at the Rice Institute (now Rice University) in Houston, Texas, but that was perhaps not the most notable thing about Axson. The most notable thing was that his brother-in-law was the President of the United States.

Stockton Axson (1867-1935)

Isaac Stockton Keith Axson II (who always went by Stockton) was born on 15 June 1867 in Rome, Georgia, the son of Rev Samuel Edward Axson and his wife Margaret Jane Hoyt. It was a troubled childhood–his mother died in childbirth and his father committed suicide–and he struggled throughout his life with mental health. Stockton was still in high school when a graduate student in political science named Woodrow Wilson began courting Stockton’s sister Ellen. They married in 1885, and Stockton and Woodrow soon became close friends.

Wilson, who became President of Princeton University before moving into politics, helped Stockton get a job at Princeton. Axson published little but was popular as an undergraduate lecturer in English literature.

Title page of “After the War – What?”

In conjunction with the publication, in sixty-nine volumes, of The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, the Princeton Legacy Library occasionally issues supplementary volumes about Wilson’s thought or actions. In 1993 they published “Brother Woodrow,” the previously unpublished recollections of the brother-in-law who knew Wilson intimately for forty years and was as deeply devoted to him as he was often puzzled by his behavior. The editors write:

This memoir of Woodrow Wilson is a long-neglected treasure, full of the candid and perceptive observations of Wilson’s brother-in-law and close friend, Stockton Axson. A charming and talented scholar of English literature, Axson became one of the few people in whom the reticent Wilson confided freely. Axson and Wilson met in 1884, when Wilson was courting Axson’s sister Ellen, while Axson was still a school boy. The friendship of the two men ended only with the president’s death in 1924. Axson’s fondness for his mentor, “Brother Woodrow,” pervades this account, but he is frank in his analysis of Wilson’s flaws. As one of only a few personal memoirs of Wilson, this book offers a uniquely intimate view of the “human side” of the introverted president–and a sensitive evocation of the social life of a bygone era.

Page 3 of “After the War – What?”

Axson begins with memories of Wilson’s father and of Wilson’s life as a young man, including his engagement and marriage to Ellen Axson and his early teaching posts. Wilson taught for twelve years at Princeton University before his accession to its presidency, and Axson also taught there during this period. After Wilson began his stormy career as president of Princeton, Axson’s bachelor quarters were often a meeting place for the “Wilson faction.” His lucid analysis of Wilson’s successes and failures as Princeton’s president is one of the highlights of the book–and probably the best record of these years of Wilson’s life.

The book ends with a look behind the scenes of Wilson’s career as governor of New Jersey and president of the United States, and an analysis of the growing complexity of his personality. “It is Uncle Joseph [Wilson’s father] in him,” observed one relative of Wilson’s seeming rigidity. From the standpoint of a loving family member, Axson offers a penetrating but sympathetic report on how Wilson changed as he bore the terrible burdens of World War I and its aftermath.

Page 14 of “After the War – What?”

Stockton Axson moved from Princeton to Rice in 1913. Excepting a two-year stint as national secretary of the American Red Cross, he remained at Rice until his death on 26 February 1935.

The book is a thin volume: only twelve pages of text, though there are almost as many blank leaves at the back as there are printed ones in the front. It is bound in brown cloth over boards, and issued with a delicate glassine dustjacket. For this title Elder used high quality Italian laid paper with a “Tuscany” watermark. The book was issued in October 1917, and may have been a vanity publication.

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The President’s War Message

11 November 2018

On hundred years ago today, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, France and Germany signed armistice documents in a railway carriage in the forest of Compiègne, France, bringing the First World War to an end. Paul Elder & Company published two short books in connection with the War. The first […]

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Drawing Room Plays

12 August 2018

Some works deserve to be forgotten, and Grace Luce Irwin’s Drawing Room Plays (1903) is one of these. Grace Adelaide Luce (1877-1914) grew up in San Diego, and after two years at Stanford University she moved to San Francisco. There she met and married Wallace Irwin, author of Paul Elder’s perhaps best-selling book, Love Sonnets of a […]

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The Boers and the Uitlanders

5 July 2018

Why did Elder & Shepard publish a book about a guerilla war in southern Africa? In 1901 the southern tip of Africa was immersed in a conflict known as the Boer War. The belligerents were the Boers, pastoral farmers who were descendants of the original 17th- and 18th-century Cape Dutch settlers, and the British Empire. […]

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The Abbey Classics

12 January 2018

Paul Elder’s Abbey Classics series comes complete with a little mystery: how many titles were there? Like the Panel Books, Paul Elder contracted The Abbey Classics from another printer, this one presumably in New York City. Publicity for the first two Abbey Classics volumes appeared in August 1907, and for the next two in November. In his “Thoughts For Your Friends” catalog […]

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Happy Holidays from paulelder.org

17 December 2017
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The Panel Books

6 December 2017

The following item appeared in the 7 Sep 1907 edition of The Publishers’ Weekly (an American book-trade journal), page 551 Paul Elder & Company, in connection with Sisley’s, of London, are about to publish a handy volume series of standard works under the general title of The Panel Books. Twenty titles will be ready in September. Sisley’s had issued The Panel Books in the […]

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Impression Classics

30 November 2017

Book series that gather and reprint public domain fiction have a long history. Perhaps the earliest series was Poets of Great Britain Complete from Chaucer to Churchill, founded by British publisher John Bell in 1777. Later British series included Routledge’s Railway Library (1848–99) and the Everyman’s Library (1906-). A well-known American example is the Modern Library (1925-70). Book series were a familiar sight at any […]

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Elizabethan Humours and the Comedy of Ben Jonson

21 November 2017

The introduction to Elizabethan Humours and the Comedy of Ben Jonson begins: “The Stanford English Club issues this little book in connection with, and in commemoration of, the presentation of Jonson’s Every Man in his Humour at Stanford University in March, 1905. “This is one of a series of presentations of old English plays in […]

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