Songs of Content

Songs of Content 1st ed cover
Cover of the 1903 first edition of "Songs of Content"

In April 1903, Ralph Erwin Gibbs was at his desk in his study when he heard a loud crack: a tree was falling over in his yard. Knowing his pet dog was out in the yard, he rushed outside to save it, but was himself killed by the falling tree. He was just 27 years old.

Gibbs earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in science at the University of California, Berkeley but became more interested in literature and poetry, and soon turned to writing full-time. In 1900 he became an assistant at the University Library and in the English department, where he became a protege of Charles Mills Gayley (1858-1932), professor of Classics and English. After Gibbs’s death, Gayley received the family’s permission to gather up  the manuscripts and publish them. He also wrote a moving introduction to both Gibbs and his poetry.

Ralph Erwin Gibbs
Ralph Erwin Gibbs (1876-1903)

The book was republished in 1911 with the identical text but higher quality binding and imported laid paper.

Songs of Content 1st ed title
Title page of 1st edition "Songs of Content"
Songs of Content 2nd ed cover
Cover of the 1911 second edition of "Songs of Content"
Songs of Content 2nd ed title
Title page of 2nd edition "Songs of Content"

Stray Leaves

In addition to books published under the Paul Elder imprint, the Tomoye Press also printed a number of vanity publications. Stray Leaves is a particularly handsome example. Author Mary Murphy has gathered poetry from various sources into this elegantly bound volume. I do not know the identity of the artist or bookbinder.

Stray Leaves cover
Cover of “Stray Leaves”
Stray Leaves title
Title page of “Stray Leaves”
Stray Leaves p96
“Stray Leaves”, pp 96-7

California — A Poem

Paul Elder published this beautiful booklet during the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. It’s a real gem, with striking full-color drawings by Audley B. Wells and a matching envelope.

Perhaps only after admiring the booklet do we notice the poem it contains, California, by Fred Emerson Brooks (1850-1923). Though Brooks and his poetry have been forgotten, he was very popular a century ago as a writer and speaker. Modesty, it would seem, was not one of Brooks’s character flaws. Billed in a promotional flyer as “The Man Who Never Disappoints, Always Smiling, Always There,” his Chicago publisher gushes:

Fred Emerson Brooks is one of the great men in the lyceum world … Phenomenal health, a clean life and a sunny nature give him a remarkable record. Brooks has a marvelous breadth of thought and expression—there is no passion or feeling he does not portray. He is a gifted orator with a voice ranging from that of thunder to the softness of a summer zephyr.

The flyer also includes endorsements from Presidents McKinley, Roosevelt (“I’ve heard Brooks, and he’s bully!”) and Taft.

California, A Poem
California p3
California, page 3
California p5
California, page 5
California p7
California, page 7
California p9
California, page 9
California p11
California, page 11
California p13
California, page 13
California p15
California, page 15
California envelope
matching envelope to "California"


Cover of "Consolatio"
Cover of “Consolatio”

During Stanford University’s annual commencement on 25 May 1903, professor Raymond Macdonald Alden stood to read a poem. It was an ode dedicated to the members of the class of 1903 who had died that month. Consolatio is a sobering reminder of how, not so long ago, the sudden death of young men and women was an all too common event. It is easy to forget the roll of deadly diseases—measles, mumps, diphtheria, polio, typhoid, whooping cough, scarlet fever—that we have since largely eradicated.

Alden (1873 – 1924) was born in New York and educated at the University of Pennsylvania. He held junior positions at Harvard and George Washington University before accepting the post of assistant professor of literature at Stanford in 1899. He later became chair of the English department at the University of Illinois. Alden also wrote a Christmas story Why the Chimes Rang (1909). Forgotten today, it was once quite popular. It tells the story of church bells which ring every Christmas Eve whenever someone places a special gift on the altar.

Title page of “Consolatio”

Consolatio has been digitized by the Internet Archive and is available online in a number of different formats.

Interior of "Consolatio"
Interior of “Consolatio”

By the Western Sea

Last week’s spotlight was the final book ever published by Paul Elder & Company; this week’s is the very first. The new firm of “D. P. Elder and Morgan Shepard” published By the Western Sea in 1898. The green cloth cover features an ocean wave design that wrapped around the spine onto part of the back cover. I find the design very attractive, but it appears that Elder never used that effect again on a book cover I know of only one other example of wraparound cover art in the Elder catalog. The book was printed at the Murdock Press, a firm that often printed Elder & Shepard’s publications before the creation of the Tomoye Press in 1903.

Samuel Marshall Ilsley was a Santa Barbara poet and playwright. Elder and Shepard knew him through Shepard’s wife, Mary Putnam. Ilsley was a friend of Mary and her sister Katharine Hooker (author of Wayfarers in Italy), and accompanied Katharine and her daughter Marian on a long trip to Europe in 1896.

Cover of "By the Western Sea"
Cover of “By the Western Sea”, with wraparound decoration
Title page of "By The Western Sea"
Title page of “By the Western Sea”