This morning I saw a fabulously quirky video about the everlasting impact of books upon people. (Thanks for sharing, Liz!)
It got me thinking that I should probably share a story about one of my own books. There are many reasons why I collect them. Sometimes I like the cover art. (Yes, I’m guilty of judging a book by its cover…every once in a while.) Other times, I’m interested in bookplates and inscriptions by previous owners. I’m also a sucker for illustrations, especially quality engravings. And finally, there’s story content; but I’ll be honest, that’s not usually a determining factor when I make a purchase. I never read my old books, as I don’t want to harm their structural integrity by opening them repeatedly.
To prove just how timeless books can be, let me show you my 1813 copy of Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake. It’s a tiny book – about six inches on the longest side, with chewed-up corners. Innocent enough, right? Despite its small size, this book leaves a large impression.
On the cover page, there is an inscription that reads “From Ma, Geo. W. Youle, Sackets Harbor.” Another inscription below that says “Miss Ann T. Youle, Presented by her Brother.” Apparently, this was a Youle family keepsake. These inscriptions intrigued me. For some reason, I had to buy it.
And so the research process began. Where is Sackets Harbor? Who were the Youles?
Sackets Harbor is a small village on Lake Ontario in the far northern region of New York State. The area was first inhabited by several groups of indigenous peoples, including the Onondaga. It was then founded by Augustus Sacket[t] in 1801 and incorporated into a village in 1814. Natural protective qualities of the harbor spurred the construction of a large Navy shipyard and outlying Army infrastructure during the War of 1812. Two battles were fought near Sackets Harbor in 1813.
George W. Youle (1803-1878) was the son of George and Ann T. Youle. From what I’ve gathered, George Youle senior was an inventor. In 1805, he patented contraptions pertaining to windmills, wood saws, and the dressing of flax. George W. Youle, however, went on to become a cashier at the Mechanics’ and Traders’ National Bank of New York in New York City. It seems that George W. Youle had a sister with the namesake of Mrs. Youle, Ann T. Based on my sleuthing, I think it is safe to conclude that The Lady of the Lake belonged to both of the Youle children. What mischievous children they were…
Once I brought my book home, I flipped through the pages to take a closer look at it. In better lighting, I saw several faint pencil scribbles on the end pages. Amidst the swirls, there was a drawing of a bald woman with an ample bosom. On the next page, there was a sentence, but I couldn’t make it out. It was written backwards. “Ah, I’ll use a mirror!” I thought naively.
In case you can’t read the reflection shown above, it says “O, what a silly ass cannot read without a glass.” I’d been duped. I screamed.
What was once a joke between siblings was now an ominous trick upon me. The Youle children are long gone, but their little book and evidence of their precociousness live on.