As bookdealers, most of us are necrophiles; to be any good at this job you need to have a deep and abiding love for dead things.
Dead people especially, but also dead cities, dead languages, dead habits and long dead obsessions. I personally am deeply in love with many dead people; Mervyn Peake, Angela Carter, H.P. Lovecraft, Anais Nin, William Hope Hodgson, Erasmus, Pauline Reage,Charles Darwin, John Wilmot Earl of Rochester, Byron, Shelley and Dr. John William Polidori.
To name but a few.
I know one bookdealer who is madly and passionately in love with a long dead French balloonist and another who goes wobbly at the mention of Moina Mathers.
This is John William Polidori:
He didn’t live very long (7 September 1795 – 24 August 1821), but he did quite a lot. He graduated as a doctor of medicicine from Edinburgh University at the age of 19, and the very next year in 1816 he became personal travelling physician to none other than the notoriously delicious Lord Byron, the world’s biggest rockstar before there were any rockstars.
So one day he’s the young, gifted son of an exiled Italian scholar, the next day he’s touring Europe as the travelling companion of a man more famous than Jesus, more notorious than Lucifer and a good deal more likely to pull than either of them.
One of the reasons I love John Polidori is because he was very young, very smart and it all went straight to his head. He was tremendously fallible (which is why he is continuously portrayed as either an easily manipulated man muppet, a girly whining fop consumed by jealousy or a cunning little manipulator; Renfield to Byron’s Dracula), he made frequent social faux pas, he argued with Shelley (which is almost a dictionary definition of pointless), he reckoned he was in with a chance with just about every woman within a ten mile radius of Lake Como, couldn’t hold his drink (which in the company of Byron and his cronies was definitely a serious handicap), couldn’t shoot straight, couldn’t write straight and certainly couldn’t swim the Hellespont.
There he was sitting having after dinner conversation with Mary Shelley, Byron, John Cam Hobhouse, Percy Shelleyand all the social moths who inevitably gathered wherever Byron lit, and he just wasn’t rock and roll. It would be like me hanging out with Keith Richards, Jimmy Page and Janis Joplin trying to impress them with a couple of crap guitar riffs and story about how I once got really, really stoned.
This is Byron:
But John William Polidori, for all his faults, his youth, his argumentative whininess and his inability to understand that standing next a genius doesn’t naturally mean you will become one, contributed at least one massively important thing to culture, pop, high or otherwise…
Which became this:
and, unaccountably, eventually, this:
More to follow…