Each week the Antiquarian Bookman, house organ of rare-book dealers, lists around 15,000 out-of-print, hard-to-locate (and generally expensive) books. There are a good many unexpected sporting books among them. Somebody is always trying to find a copy of Edward McIlhenny's The Wild Turkey and Its Hunting, for example, first published in 1914 for $2.50 and selling for about $12 now. Some collector, or some library or some horse lover is always advertising for a copy of Frank Forester's semi-classic Horse and Horsemanship in the United States, published in 1858 and now worth $25 per copy. It is impossible to read the books-wanted advertisements in the Antiquarian Bookman and not wonder about the books and their buyers. What is Rice's How to Beat the Horses? Who is the book buyer who is constantly advertising for a copy of Baldwin's Playing Blackjack to Win? And for that matter, who are the customers searching ceaselessly for Dalrymple's Ice Fishing for Everyone, or Almirall's Coyote Coursing or Brown's Responses of the Large-Mouth Black Bass to Colors?
Many of the sought-for out-of-print books are scholarly works needed by candidates for college degrees, but the sporting items add color and variety to the lists. And tie busy market is creating a subsidiary business that is providing some inexpensive, good reading. If enough people want a collector's item it is likely to appear in a facsimile edition. The University of Florida Press is currently publishing a remarkable series of old Florida and Latin American rarities, incorporating all the features of the originals except the price. They look more like old books than old books do. One of the works in this series, Rambler's Guide to Florida ($7.50), is a copy of an 1875 volume that was largely concerned with telling potential visitors from the North where they could hunt and fish. In its original version the book was a commercial proposition, a hack job hastily turned out for the American News Company; quaint, dated, but written in a fresh and unstudied prose that effectively communicates the Florida scene before tourists took it over.
Whoever Rambler was, he had a gift for picturing outdoor life in casually vivid phrases. The visitor could not merely hunt deer; he could enjoy some of the finest sport on earth deer hunting in the palmetto scrub on extraordinarily fast little ponies. In May the bears appeared on the Florida beaches to eat turtle eggs, and "nothing can be more inspiriting than a moonlight bear hunt on the beach." Rambler said there were plenty of wild turkeys around Lake Worth, but "turkeys are shrewd birds. The novice will find it much easier to kill a deer." The best fishing was around Jupiter, but there were no accommodations there; the visitor had to camp out if he wished to see the inlets where bluefish, pompano and cavallo "lash [the] waters into a foam." He was well informed, this gifted hack writer, reporting the successful hunt of the Earl of Dunraven from the head of Indian River down to Jupiter Inlet in 1874; he was honest, noting that the great trouble with guides was their fondness for liquor; and he loved Florida. According to the scholarly editors of the University of Florida Press he was also accurate, though he erred in placing Ponce de Leon's-arrival in 1512 instead of 1513, and on the map Withlacoochee was misspelled.
History under the sea by Mendel Peterson (Smithsonian Institution, $2). Neither a reprint nor a facsimile, this is nevertheless a bargain. It consists of brief reports on undersea explorations with which the Smithsonian has been involved, instructions on surveying wreck sites, tables giving the dimensions of anchors and cannons (so you can date the wrecks you find) and helpful hints on how to protect the artifacts you bring up so they will not disintegrate when exposed to the air after centuries of immersion. The author is chairman of the Armed Forces History Museum of the Smithsonian. He writes as a scientist, describing his own work in the third person, with such detachment that he makes crawling about the ruins of the sunken city of Port Royal seem about as engrossing as sweeping a city street. Yet his account of the route followed by the Spanish treasure ships sometimes gives History under the Sea an elusive air of mystery. The gold from Peru was picked up at Panama. The ships loaded more treasure from the Philippines and Mexico City at Veracruz. The convoys angled northeast to avoid reefs off Yucatàn, then sailed down the west coast of Florida and past the Dry Tortugas to Havana. It was a well-organized, highly disciplined operation, effectively protected against human enemies but so vulnerable to storms that "hundreds of shipwrecks dot the length of this route." The author says that electronic methods are revolutionizing undersea exploration, and even more remarkable finds can be expected than the great treasures already discovered.
September 12, 1965
CARDANO: THE GAMBLING SCHOLAR by Oystein Ore (Dover, $1.60). This is a reprint of a Princeton University Press book published 12 years ago. Gerolamo Cardano, born in Milan in 1501 and the most celebrated physician of his time except for Vesalius, was a compulsive gambler who wrote a book on the odds in dice and card games. It is considered one of the sources of the probability theory in mathematics. Cardano's writings also provide one of the few sources on old card games, such as primero (the ancestor of poker), played with 40 cards, the 8s, 9s and 10s being removed. Cardano was a mathematician, astrologer, card shark, professor and a doctor so renowned he was called to Edinburgh to treat the Archbishop of Scotland for asthma, receiving 1,800 gold crowns for a fee. Cardano was jailed as a heretic, and though later released he was forbidden to have any more of his books printed. He prescribed gambling for small stakes as a healthful recreation; with high stakes it became "a rack and torture of the mind." And when in deep sorrow he personally found "no little solace in playing constantly at dice." Yet he regretted opening his house to gamblers. One of his sons killed a faithless wife and, after torture, was executed as a murderer. Another son became a habitual criminal and led his gang to burglarize his father's house. Still Cardano felt that he would have been worse off if he had not had the qualities that made him a good gambler, especially foresight: "I lacked physical strength, had few friends, many enemies,...was without human understanding and had a bad memory."
Last of the curlews by Fred Bodsworth (Dodd, Mead & Co., $1.75). The current popularity of novels like The Golden Eagle, written with scientific exactitude but from the point of view of birds, adds interest to this pioneer Canadian book first published in 1954 and now appearing as a paperback reprint. Here the central figure is an Eskimo curlew, and in the opening chapters it does not understand why things are no longer working out right: it is almost the only-Eskimo curlew left on earth. After a lonely arctic summer it joins a flock of golden plovers heading for Patagonia, 8,000 miles away. Plovers are the only birds around that fly at their normal speed of 50 miles an hour. Also, they follow the old route of the curlews, heading directly over the ocean after leaving Labrador, and fly nonstop until they reach South America. This 60-hour ordeal is the climax of Last of the Curlews, the possessed, inflexible, unbeatable struggle of the birds with snow, wind and stormy darkness—made still stranger in the case of the curlew because the purpose of the migration has vanished and it has no species to perpetuate, or almost none, for one female still exists.
The expression of emotion in man and animals by Charles Darwin (University of Chicago Press, $1.95). Darwin's famous work, originally published in 1872 and long out of print, was being sold at auctions of rare books in 1952. In his introduction to this paperback reissue Konrad Lorenz credits the book with creating the first principle of ethnology; Darwin established that "behavior patterns are just as conservatively and reliably characters of species as are the forms of bones, teeth or any other bodily structure." What is startling to a reader who knows the reputation of this book, but has never had a chance to see a copy, is Darwin's chatty, familiar style. He goes on at length about walking his dog, about his children, and the pages of pictures of crying children, like masterpieces of pop art, give this pathfinding work the scientific air of a good, old-fashioned family album.
A Lady's ride across spanish honduras by Maria Soltera (University of Florida Press, $8.50). Mrs. Doris Stone, the daughter of Samuel Zemurray of the United Fruit Company, lives in San Jose, Costa Rica, is an authority on Central America and has edited this beautiful facsimile edition of a once-famous travel book that had almost literally vanished from the earth. That is, copies could be bought, for $85 or so, but few were for sale. Maria Soltera, meaning Mary Spinster, was the pen name of a brilliant, courageous, somewhat caustic English girl, the daughter and sister of soldiers who died for their country, as she often pointed out to people trying to persuade her to turn back. Even the native women sometimes spoke well of her, saying, "She is nice looking and small for an Englishwoman." Maria had been serving as a governess in a planter's family on the Fiji Islands. She answered an advertisement for a teacher in the school of a colony of Irish immigrants in Honduras. The colony was headed by one Dr. Pope. Accepted, she was in the Palace Hotel in San Francisco when she realized she would not have money to reach the colony by conventional means, so she crossed Honduras—300 miles—on a sidesaddle. In 1881 that was a taxing way to travel. A kindly Englishman, who knew the country, shuddered, said, "I hope you won't get murdered," and gave her a revolver. People lied, mules ran away, guides wanted more money, Dr. Pope turned out to be a drunken fraud, and once, reaching a wretched house in a torrential rain, "I fell down in a dead faint." But usually Mary Spinster was fascinated by the glimmering opal light of the mountains, the elastic air, the cascading rivers. Of one man who helped her in her trials she wrote: "I always look back upon him as being my model American. Of course there are many such, but I have not, hitherto, been fortunate enough to meet them." In its blue-and-gold binding this facsimile is so well done it is almost a counterfeit; even the paper has a slight discoloration of age.