Friday, September 25, 2009

Found in the Bonnie Brier Bush

I found this little volume by Ian MacLaren last night: Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush (Dodd, Mead & Company, 1895).

The tan cloth covers with green decoration and titles was the eye catcher along with the obvious age. Just the kind of book that might yield an interesting bookplate, inscription, or a long-gone bookseller's label. Or who knows what. You want to follow that winding path on the cover into the leaves...

Ian MacLaren was a pseudonym for Scottish author and theologian, John Watson (1850 to 1907). He traveled to America at least a few times, once as the Lyman Beecher lecturer at Yale University, and the last trip would be his last anywhere. He died traveling through Iowa.

As an author, Watson/MacLaren was best known for his tales of rural Scottish life, this book, Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush, being his first.

The front endpapers of this volume share a bit of the book's provenance--an ex libris and a gift inscription with names other than that on the ex libris, which reads: FROM THE PRIVATE LIBRARY OF FREMONT LEIDY.

The gift inscription was dated 1897, only a few years after the book's publication. Looks like Mae Simpson gave the book to Zola Martin that year, and that's about all that can be known of previous ownership.

However, flipping through the pages, I found a few interesting surprises. Pages 24-25 opened up to reveal what looks like a four-leaf clover and a few other unidentifiable botanical specimens. Could this lucky piece of clover have been picked beside the bonnie brier bush?? I haven't a clue what a bonnie brier bush is, but it would make for a nice symbolic gesture to have stored these plants in a book set in their habitat.

I doubt it. This edition was published in America (Dodd, Mead in NY) and the folks whose names appear on the front endpapers were likely Americans who bought the book in local area book shops. So these four leaves of green are likely from the red, white, and blue.

But how lucky to find a four-leaf clover, if that's what it is (it's four leaves of something), whether in a field, a bonnie brier patch, or in a book pressed between leaves of another kind. And not only once, but twice! Toward the end of the book, there's another four-leaf clover pressed between the pages, but this one has a detached leaf. Still present, but detached nonetheless. A broken four-leaf clover? I wonder if that is something akin to a broken mirror bringing bad luck.

At least I have one intact. I thought my wife would like the book with the good luck clover. She likes small, old, decorative books accenting the decor of various rooms in our home. Plus she's half Scotch-Irish (the other half being Italian) and we have fond memories of a visit to Edinburgh, which I discovered after the purchase was where the book's author lived and ministered for a time.

But with all those signs pointing to a purchase, it was the book's dedication that sealed the deal. The author states simply: To my wife. And so to my wife it goes. After all, twenty-seven years ago today we exchanged vows and rings and got this marriage kicked off.

So in lieu of a Hallmark card, why not say Happy Anniversary with a meaningful antiquarian book? But good luck finding one with an old four-leaf clover inside.


  1. Anonymous29/9/09 08:04

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  2. I have this book. It inspired my father (1910-2003) to be a minister (1929-2003) and he left it to me. Appreciate your comments