Every time that I used Mark Baldwins book ‘Canal Books’ to refer to some item or other I was always tempted by the sight of the book in the middle of the top shelf. Since Baldwin’s book came out in 1982, it must be from at least that time that I had been looking for a copy of that book – ‘ Life in the Cut’. 'The description that Baldwin gives of it as being the first full length canal novel ( and an imaginative one at that )which was published in 1889 in a cheap ‘yellowback’ edition primarily for sale on railway bookstores,was very tempting and particularly so with its eye catching pictorial cover.The very fact that it was cheaply produced and printed meant of course that it had a short life and that survivors are few and far between ,which is my blog understatement of the year - I had never seen one at auction or for sale by bookdealers in 40 years of looking.
So it was with some excitement that I attended Mark’s library sale in November last where this book was to be amongst the books auctioned.Needless to say it went for far more than an old pensioners means allowed, selling for over £500 to a guy who had travelled some distance just to buy this one book.Well I guess the story would have ended there with visions of more endless years searching (well not exactly endless as age is beginning to feature here!!!) and I was beginning to think that I would have to settle for the British Library’s copy in its Historically important reprint series. When -------
A couple of months later I bought this battered and waterstained copy of the book on Ebay.
I had thought that the yellowback version of 1889 was the only printing since the canal bibliography gives this as the only publication date. However it turns out that my purchase is in fact a First edition copy published the previous year in 1888.
The illustration on the cover is by the artist H Johnston whose engravings were used to illustrate Guy Mark Pearse’s ‘Rob Rat’ and which seem to have been used as stock images to illustrate many of the canal articles of the time eg the Graphic canal title page of 1875.
Illustrations by H Johnson in Rob Rat.
Interestingly the Frontispiece illustration of the Waterwitch in the First edition appears to be a swim ended Thames lighter.Compare this with the Narrow Boat ‘Waterwitch’ on the yellowback cover.
Dedication to the well known canal reformer in the First Edition.
CONCLUSION. – Well I guess if theres any conclusion its – Dont give up looking!! Even on ebay bargains are still to be found even if its just once in 40 years!!!