memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for the ‘old books’ Category

Great great-uncle shoots tiger in cave

My great grand-mother, Annie Horsley, was born on Nov. 27th 1854 at Pallamcottah in Southern India, where her father worked as civil engineer; he held the rank of Colonel in the Royal Engineers. She was the youngest child, having one older sister and five older brothers. On  their father’s retirement at the surprisingly young age of 41 – a reorganisation of the Indian Army making many officers redundant, Annie’s mother’s two brothers-in-law, Col. William Cantis and Col. Archibald Young both retiring on Pension at the same time – the family returned to England and settled in Canterbury.

Canterbury Cathedral Large Restrike Etching by Anonymous

Canterbury Cathedral at the time when the boys were there.

All the five boys were sent to the ancient King’s School, in the precincts of the vast candle-lit Cathedral. They were contemporaries with their cousins John and Stephen; Canon Horsley recalls how they were all identified in order, in the old manner, Horsley Primus to Horsley Septimus. Of these seven boys, all but one – Canon Horsley himself – passed their working lives abroad in the service of God and the Queen, so strong was the family tradition. Annie’s eldest brother William entered the Indian Civil Service from Cambridge and after a career as forest officer served as a judge in the state of Hyderabad.

He has left a vivid memorial of himself in a series of letters from India which he wrote to his father between 1870 and 1891. The conditions of the correspondence were ideal – an affectionate son writing to a father who had lived almost the same life, and would follow every detail with interest and knowledge. There is an old typescript of the letters on rice-paper (perhaps made up for the father) which is in my brother Gamaliel’s possession, well worth reading for themselves, not merely as family records. They provide in fresh authentic detail, the raw material that Rudyard Kippling was to work up into some of the finest of his elaborately polished short stories. According to family tradition an episode from William The Conqueror – presumably the goat feeding – was furnished by Horsley’s experiences in famine relief; and many parts of the finer story The Tomb of his Ancestors – including the local setting – seem to come straight from the text of the letters. What contact there was between the men is not clear, but contact there must have been.

William Horsley was a good talker, who in later life loved to hold his hearers with tales of forest and hill. Stories of bison-hunt and tiger kill, and of his carefree days as a bachelor forest officer, on his own in his little kingdom in the Satpura hills, an un-mapped forest 200 miles from to end; and the occasion when he, along with an Indian tracker, silently pursued a wounded marauding tiger until they cornered it in a cave whereupon he entered the cave and shot the tiger.


There may be significance in the dates; Kippling settled in England in 1889; Horsley retired in 1892; The Day’s Work was published in 1894. (I have a 1st Edition of it).

William Horsley died in 1915.  A fine photograph brings before us the splendid old man. But even better is the poem in which his daughter evokes …


Tiger stories told to me at night by the fire in the library

Light, deflected from the reading lamp, falls close,

Cutting angles on the muscled hand, 

Glittering on the  glinting greying hair.

His tired eyes, wrinkled be the Indian glare,

Stare at the big guns resting on their stand …

My father´s face remains forever fixed, 

His features burnt in steel. 

His tired eyes do not see me,

They reveal steep wooded ghauts,

Ravines drenched in rain.

Sailing to Byzantium (1)

Sailing to Byzantium (1).

Smuggling book out of the Papal States

One of my favourite forebears is my great-great-great-uncle William Milner who died tragically young in 1813 of tuberculosis.
He, like both his elder brothers, was educated at the Hipperholme School, (a famous contemporary was Lawrence Sterne, author of that literary anomaly Tristram Shandy)  near Bradford and took up an interest in modern languages – German and Italian.

In his youth he travelled extensively on the Continent and spent some time in Germany where, according to his cousin Thomas Asline Ward, he lived upwards of a year in Brunswick where he entered into all the gaieties of that dissipated place, and visited at the court of the Duke.



I have a small, fat, old, calfskin-bound, 17th century Italian book of his –IL Correiro Svaligliato, publicato da Ginifaccio Spironcini. MDCXLIV (1644), obviously acquired on the same occasion, because he first signed his name (in German script), then read it and was either rather scandalized by the its contents or more likely perhaps worried that he would be detained at the frontier of one the Papal States with the book in his possession.
Be that as it may, he carefully scraped away his surname from the title page, though it can still be made out (just) two centuries later.

What was it all about? My father describes the book thus:
It is indeed a curiosity – a collection of squibs or pasquinades violently attacking the Barberini pope Urban VIII, his rapacious family and the corruptions of the papal court. They are associated with the name of Ferrante Pallavicino and one (section) vividly records his betrayal by an agent provocateur, his trial and execution by the papal forces. After three and a half centuries the binding is sound and good – a tribute to the magnificent material.

17th century calf-skin


In my mind’s eye I can see the young man, bent over the page, gently scraping away with a razor, his face absorbed in the candle-light.

In 1811 he was diagnosed with the disease that was to kill him and transferred to the Isle of Wight for a cure. We have a letter from there to his father:
… he then hoped he was recovering and he would be soon back in Town. He thinks he has benefitted from the use of a kind of tobacco, Strabonum Herb Tobacco, which he smokes in a pipe. It has done (him) more good (sic) than fresh air or any other medicine.

(Over two centuries, does one detect the whiff of cannabis?

Staying in his boarding house is a Mrs. Campbell, widow of General Campbell who died lately in Portugal in consequence of his too great fatigue and exertions in disciplining the Portuguese Levies.
William died two years after the date of this letter and was buried at Attercliffe in Yorkshire.

My Nonesuch Shakespeare


Of all my beloved books, my most cherished is, perhaps, my Nonesuch Shakespeare.

My father bought the seven elegant leather-bound volumes in 1940 for one hundred pounds and treasured them all his life. They graced his book-shelves in London, Paris, Cologne and South Yorkshire. At present they have a home on my shelves here in Portugal. They are still in well-nigh perfect condition.

I recently checked out an identical set for sale on the net and read the following technical description:

Nonesuch shakespeare

Seven octavo volumes (24.3 x 16.5 cm). full limitation of 1,600 sets. Designed by Francis Meynell and printed by Walter Lewis, Printer to the University, at the Cambridge University Press in Monotype Fournier, with new capital letters made for this edition, on Pannekoek mould-made laid paper.

Bound in London by A.W. Bain in publisher’s full gilt tan niger morocco leather, spines in six compartments, top edges colored pale pink and gilt on the rough, other edges uncut.

The text is printed litteratim from the First Folio, except in the case of Pericles and the poems which were not included in the Folio and hence are reprinted from the Quartos…. The Shakespeare represents the chef d’œuvre of the Nonesuch Press and is a model of careful proof reading and imaginative setting. The best of ancient and modern conjectural emendations are unobtrusively set in the margin for the benefit of a glancing eye. This is the finest of all editions of our greatest poet. (Meynell, The Nonesuch Century, p. 69.)

About 40 years ago, on leave from the Algerian desert and with my pockets jingling & jangling with cash, I went to visit my brother in Norwich where he had been roosting for a couple of years after attending the university there (UEA). During my visit I haunted the inevitable second-hands bookshops with which such medieval cathedral-cities so richly abounded and came across the first public edition (1935) of T. E. Lawrence’s The Seven Pillars of Wisdom produced by Jonathan Cape in tan-coloured buckram.

A big, heavy impressive object – I had to have it! I dithered, weighing up the pros & cons (as one does) … it did have the Kennington Plates showing all the tribal sheiks … but on the other hand 5 quid bought a lot of pub-time in those days … I prevaricated, stepped out of the shop, stepped back in again. I think I’ll take this one, I remarked casually to the shop owner and carried off my prize. What was the point of that little vignette, I can hear you (who are still reading this) ask?

Simply this. What the opinion of a writer whose life and work I greatly admire (T. E. Lawrence) thought about the Nonesuch Shakespeare brought a warm glow of approbation in my heart. In a letter to David Garnet, Lawrence writes:

We turn over to the Nonesuch Shakespeare. There you have created a most marvelous pleasure…. It satisfies. It is final, like the Kelmscott Chaucer or the Ashendene Virgil. And it is a book which charms one to read slowly, an art which is almost gone from us in these times. Every word which Shakespeare uses stands out glowing. A really great edition.

I think that it is very fitting that the work of the towering genius of English literature … is not clothed in borrowed robes.



My Lyre of David

I have occasionally wondered about the relationship between Psalter, Lyre and Music.

(Get a life, will ya!)

The word psalms is derived from the Greek Ψαλμοί (Psalmoi), perhaps originally meaning music of the lyre or songs sung to a harp and then to any piece of music.

From psallein play upon a stringed instrument and then to make music in any fashion.

No historical personage comes more readily to mind than the biblical King David when the word harp is mentioned. Yet the instrument, kinnor, translated harp in the King James Version of the Bible, was not a harp at all, but a lyre. The other stringed instrument David played, nevel, translated as psaltery by the KJV, was likewise not a psaltery, and it may not have been a true harp either.

Vocal melodies and instrumental accompaniment at that time were commonly conducted using gestures of the hands and fingers. Apparently the Hebrew Scriptures were sung to melodies conducted by a gestural system, for a transcription of such gestures is still found in the Hebrew Masoretic Text. Indeed I believe that to this day the Torah is sung, rather than read, in some synagogues.

Be that as it may let us turn our attention to my copy of the LYRE OF DAVID

Of this my father recorded that:

Lyra Prophetica

Davidis Regis





… Londini MDCLXIV 


Inscribed: Gamaliel Milner (name also in Hebrew letters) and Westminster School.

A word by word analysis of the Psalms printed entirely in Hebrew and Latin, it was acquired by my grandfather while he was still at school; the book was already two centuries old (1664). He took his Hebrew studies very seriously and read from the Hebrew Bible regularly until the end of his life. (Not bad going for a Church of England vicar!) He has inserted the 18th century Milner book plate.

The print is clear, clean and crisp and easy to read although I doubt if it will appear on Kindle.

I had the book rebound in full leather at «my» book binders in Oporto in 2000 and as usual a very fine job they made of it.


I like to heft it in my hands, savouring that four-centuries-old-book smell and admiring the binding – this is good for another couple of centuries, I think.

My Biblia Sacra

About the weight, shape, size and density of a small brick, the BIBLIA SACRA published in Basle in 1591, has landed into my hands, in transit on through the generations of our family.

Already well over four centuries old, it once belonged to Joseph Addison (1672 – 1719)* and was bought second hand by my great grandfather.

My father was surprisingly terse about this diminutive but venerable old Bible (perhaps in his case it was an embarras de richesses); heaven knows his library contained a dozen or so Bibles of various shapes, dates and sizes (including one translated into Maori)!

Inscribed on title page –  (E) Libris  Jo. Addison

                                      –    Summa niti pulchrum

And in an earlier hand    In manibus Domini 

                                                 Sortes meae.

Some neat underlining and notes by an earlier reader have been cropped by the binder, probably before Addison acquired the book. This reader, a serious scholar, corrected some surprising misprints. I think the second motto must be his. Addison’s sounds more philosophical than religious.

As this book has a bookseller’s note it must have bought second hand, probably by my grandfather. He would certainly have annotated it had it been an old family bible. He acquired a modern edition of the Vulgate when he was at Oxford.

My father, who had the binding repaired, told me that he had had Addison’s autograph verified at the British Museum.

*Joseph Addison 1672 – 1719 essayist and politician, associated with Pope, Dryden and Steele with whom he founded the Spectator; he was satirised as Atticus by Alexander Pope. In 1717 he was appointed Secretary of State under Sunderland but later resigned his post because failing health.

Nice old map of Paradise.

–          Well golly gosh and we all thought that it was in Utah or Florida or Arizona or somewhere else in God’s chosen land … turns out it was in Mesopotamia between the rivers Euphrates and Tigris; well be darned … let me see what’s that region called these days? Wiki it for me, will ya Chuck?

–          These days it’s called Iraq, Mr Secretary.

–          Whoops!

BIBLIA SACRA – printed in BASLE in 1591

My Delphin Virgil

Another old family book is the OPERA of P. VIRGILII MARONIS published in London 1759 (a reprint of 1722 folio edition).

It is dedicated to Serenissimi DELPHINI

My father writes The original Delphin was I think the son of Louis XIV. He never reigned of course, Louis being eventially succeeded by his great-grandson. This classical series was widely used in the 18th century.


There is also a card in my great-grandfather Gamaliel’s careless writing:

This copy of the Delphin Edition of Virgil has my Grandfather’s name in it & and also that my uncle W P Milner. Unfortunately I took it to Westminster School & another boy there spoiled this book by cutting the binding – GM

That’s not only thing that this boy spoiled:


His favourite medium seems to have been ink!


Thus staining the look of this compact little volume:

And this future Magistrate or Bishop or Member of Parliament really went to town on Dido’s feast:


We can see in close-up that the future Rural Dean couldn’t resist embelleshing or making an improvement on Dido’s natural charms:

More defacement from our future Editor of  the Times includes decorating the word BUCOLICA

And drawing a couple of suggestive bubbles over Aenis’s head during the Council of Love was just too difficult for our future Rector of St. Andrew’s to resist:


And no comment about this one from the future Director of The National Gallery:

(By the way the erudite and knowing referencing from the text to each illustration are great-granfather’s work).

So when I got to the fold-out map of Mare Nostrum I feared the worst but my fears were unfounded.

But more seriously the rest of the text is decent and readable. The text & side-commentaries & foot-notes are all in Latin and book itself is dedicated to a French prince, so when my father wrote about a wide readership he meant a trans-European one, wherever there existed that class of people, the members of which felt obliged to impose on themselves a Classical Education.


My grandfather Hugh Cantis Milner, who cared about such things, had the book rebound although if one looks carefully one sees that the spine  and red title panel (see above) is the original 18th century whilst the side-boards are early 20th century.

So six generations of my family (father-to-son) have owned this VIRGIL and soon it will be over to one my sons…

I have carried on the family book-binding tradition – I found an excellent Book Binder’s in a narrow street in the old centre of Porto and over the years I had about a dozen of my father’s old family books bound including this tiny Hyrogliphic Bible for children:

The illustrations are sweet little wood carvings:

%d bloggers like this: