Page 1


RV. laphA t unpublished writings and unprinted designs by poets and artists, he also makes clear his reasons for tracing down such materials that might have been lost, portioned off in such a way as to destroy their value to future readers, or ferreted away for the selfish pleasure of a private collector. In acquiring his French collections, Lake sought out materials “for purposes of research,” declaring that “everything has its relative importance. No one can predict what may prove useful to a scholarly investigation.” In his conclusion to his book, Lake confesses that when Harry Ransom “first proposed that I exchange the private delights of private collecting for the broader concerns of institutional collecting, I had to take it on faith that the other kinds of satisfaction would follow. Twenty years later, I know that they have.” Rather than enjoying “one of the more by the time you have spent thirty-five or forty years digging out rare books and manuscripts in half the civilized countries of the world, when you pick up a book or a manuscript and you turn the pages and you palpate them and you fondle them, at some point there are vibrations that begin to pass out of the book or the manuscript into your fingers and your hands and up your arms and into your brain, and then suddenly and very clearly, you get the message …. AKE’S FIRST amative encounter with a book came in 1936 when he bought a copy of the 1857 first edition of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal, which contained a presentation inscription from Baudelaire to a pioneer photographer. As Lake remarks, “Nothing gives a book more savor than to have an association that intimate. …” But it was his next encounter in Bologna, with a copy of Baudelaire’s Les Paradis artificial from 1860, that gave him that tingle of anticipation, that shiver of delight … that comes to every collector when he picks up a book that for him ex udes a very special kind of perfume, one that seems to attack directly his nerve ends and start the palpitations that let him know this is for him.” Once Lake has purchased this rare edition of a book bound in Russia and originally part of the Imperial Library at Tsarskoye Selo, the odyssey is just beginning, for the copy is stolen in Italy from its new owner, recovered miraculously, purloined in the United States, and rescued in Paris at a sale Lake only happened onto at the very moment the book was being auctioned. This coming, going, and returning of a single volume is told in a suspenseful narrative that reads like a spy or detective thriller, by turns involving international “intrigue,” romance gone wrong, the sensual-aesthetic appeal of an inanimate object, Russians, Italians. Americans, Frenchmen, Amy Lowell, George Sand, Chopin, and oriental rugs all woven together by a delicate, humorous, delicious narrative. Lake’s tale of his affair with Baudelaire’s first editions beats any story of boy meets girl, gets her, loses her, and finally wins her back disproving, after all, Dr .. Rosenbach’s claim. After this opening scene from the titillating and treacherous world of book collecting, Lake’s Confessions recount in 10 chapters the story of his acquisition of books, manuscripts, and drawings by many of the major figures in 19thand 20th-century French literature, art, and music. Among these are Paul Eluard, Arthur Rimbaud, Henri de ToulouseLautrec, Alfred Jarry, Henri Matisse, Celine, Jean Cocteau, Maurice Ravel, and Paul Valery. In addition, Lake’s recollections of his career as a collector provide fascinating portraits of many booksellers with whom he had dealings in Paris, as well as of associates of the writers and artists whose works he collected. In some cases these figures are depicted as avaricious and conniving as evidenced by Jean Voilier, Valery’s lover at the end of his life whose declaration of her intention to marry another man so devastated the poet that it rendered him incapable of completing what he hoped would be his masterpiece, Mon Faust. More often, Confessions recalls those dealers and associates who, by their love of great literature and art and their admiration for those who create them, somehow moved Lake. For example, Lake says of Edouard Loewy, from whom he bought books across three decades, He loved books and wrote about them in an amorous way, sometimes tenderly, sometimes ecstatically, but always at great length and not always without hyperbole. But for a lover, hyperbole is a very small sin … He was invariably good-natured, with plenty of time for talk about books and their authors, regardless of the likeli hood of its leading to a sale. Of another dealer. Marc Loliee, Lake comments that he was “the fairest and least greedy of all the booksellers I frequented over the years.” In this case, the dealer “liked to buy and he liked to sell, but trade, for him, was an exchange of goodwill and shared enthusiasm.” Rather than Carlton Lake communicates the exhilaration he has felt as an excavator of pardonable forms of self-indulgence,” Carlton Lake opted for putting his French collections at the disposal of “the expanding needs of a great research library” and for the satisfaction of “helping push back the frontiers of knowledge.” Lake’s Confessions also includes a wide range of topics from a feel for the streets and shops of Paris to the habits of local bookdealers and tax collectors to the secret of how French women at 70 can still, to their advantage, wear a bikini. All of this presented as a cleanly written, provocative view from the inside. Each chapter begins with a revealing moment in the life or death of a subject a funeral atinduction into the French Academy through the acquisition of materials of a writer, artist, or composer, comes full circle to a philosophical or psychological conclusion. Chapter 10 on Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe develops from a consideration of the meaning of “objective chance,” which Lake defines as a need or a desire that “emerges at a precise moment as we encounter some sign in the world around us to which it corresponds.” Lake illustrates this notion by recounting the story of his acquisition of a group of Ravel manuscripts, including the collector’s beloved Daphnis et Chloe. This tale of now-you-haveit now-you-don’t is typical of Lake’s experiences, but as with all his stories, in the end “he gets his man”-uscript. Fortunately for Texans and for others interested in seeing and studying the real thing, Carlton Lake chose to share such successes as resulted from “objective chance” by placing his collections in a public institution. And for readers who merely love a spicy, compelling frolic, Confessions of a Literary Archaeologist is just what Dr. Rosenbach ordered. C3 18 MARCH 22, 1991