Reports crop up from time to time of a book here or there bound in human skin. Sounds totally creepy to us nowadays, especially after World War II. But of course preserving relics of famous people, saints especially, has a long, and not unrespectable history. Publishing Cambridge provides a link to this post from The British Library English and Drama blog by Julian Walker which talks about the significance of touching things touched by famous authors. Clearly original manuscript is an obvious contender, but it goes further.

Hair of P. B. Shelley and Mary Shelley bound into a manuscript volume

Hair of P. B. Shelley and Mary Shelley bound into a manuscript volume

Locks of hair contained in brooches or necklace pendants were more of a thing a hundred years and more ago.  Maybe I come from an unemotional family, but I am not aware of a single instance where I have encountered a real relic of a family member — or actually anyone else. I suppose we have all heard of people who get their baby’s first bootees bronzed — and I’m willing to believe that such things exist. But the impulse seems totally alien to our modern sensibility, doesn’t it?

“Medieval relics were ‘created’ by laying cloths on the bones of saints – the cloths would have the same power as the bones.” I did not know this. I guess that means that taking your paperback edition of Frankenstein to the British Library and laying it on top of this manuscript volume, should endow it with some magical powers. Those who believe in the power of touching a relic should probably accept this too. For me Shelley’s or Mary Shelley’s works, even in modern edition form, are a sufficient relic of the authors. Their toe-nail clippings would not add anything to my experience. But collectors . . .

Here’s a review of Frankenstein, written by the author’s husband before publication, but not printed apparently until 14 years later. He liked it! (You can read this by clicking on the image. It can be accessed, as can more items from the Library by clicking on the links in Julian Walker’s piece.) The article following it, about raising a public subscription to secure Abbotsford for the use of Sir Walter Scott’s family, is actually more interesting to me.

athenaeum-review-B20119-21

Advertisements