Calderon, the Courtier (Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1850)

In 17th century Spain, Don Rodrigo Calderon is the favorite courtier of the Infant — a profligate of unparalleled proportions. Calderon is attached to the House of Lerma. A young soldier from the same house, Martin Fonseca, appears in the capitol after several years in Portugal. He’s in love with an orphaned singer, Beatriz Coello, who in his absence entered a convent. He asks Calderon’s help in freeing her so that they may marry. Calderon, though hardly known for compassion, agrees. The Infant, however, also has his eye on the girl. Beatriz is whisked away to the arranged hiding place, but Fonseca isn’t there to meet her — he’s been arrested on trumped up charges. Calderon is to hold her until the Infant arrives, but when he sees her, he realizes she’s his long-lost daughter.

Meanwhile, a conspiracy is at play in the court. With the Grand Inquisitor ‘s death, Calderon’s rivals plan to oust the courtier by installing an Inquisitor sympathetic to their cause. Fonseca is freed and rushes to the house, where Calderon has just fought off the Infant and is attempting to escape with Beatriz, but Fonseca — having been filled with the most damning reports of Calderon — thinks something quite different is happening and pulls his sword on the courtier. Beatriz jumps in front of her father and Fonseca accidentally kills her. Calderon is arrested by the Inquisitor and is tortured and put to death.

Inscriptions: a plate on the inside front cover says it was donated by John Manch to the Manch College of Music, November 23rd, 1926.

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In Defiance of the King (Chauncey C. Hotchkiss, 1895)

An historical romance set during the American Revolution. Anthony is a young doctor in Connecticut. He falls in love with Dorothy, who’s the ward of his neighbor Squire Beauchamp. Anthony and his family are patriots while Beauchamp is a loyalist and secretly conspires to deliver Dorothy into the hands of Captain Bromfield of the British army. The fight for Anthony is not only for independence but for his beloved.

The narrative, which is told from Anthony’s perspective, exists on the periphery of history. He interacts and times with real personages and learns second or third hand of greater victories and setbacks, but the world he lives in is fairly small and the war, until the climax, is far away. The only engagement Anthony takes a direct, combatant part in is the Battle of Groton Heights — the last major battle on New England soil.

Inscription: signed Alton G. Johnston on the front flyleaf. I also found two short white hairs caught up between the pages that were likely his. Alton lived in Limerick, Maine. The Maine Register for 1908 reports that he was secretary to the Board of Health.

The Last Days of Pompeii (Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1834)

In ancient Pompeii, Glaucus, a young Athenian man, falls in love with Ione, a Greek woman. However, her guardian, the Egyptian astrologer Arbaces, has long intended to claim her for his own wife. When her brother Apaecides, formerly a priest of Isis, converts to the new religion of the Nazarenes and threatens to reveal the Egyptian mysteries, Arbaces sees his chance. He kills Apaecides and frames Glaucus for the murder, seeing him sentenced to death by lion in the arena.

Nydia, a blind slave, is also in love with Glaucus. As she has knowledge of Arbaces’s crime, he’s imprisoned her in his mansion. By the time she’s freed, Glaucus has already been served to the lion, but strangely, the starved beast makes no move to attack him. The superstitious crowd takes this as proof of Glaucus’s innocence and turns on Arbaces when he is accused. He would be thrown to the lion himself, but just then, Vesuvius, the long-dormant volcano, erupts.

The city collapses into chaos. The ash vomited into the sky completely blots out the sun and the people struggle in the dark to reach the sea. Glaucus and Ione are lost in the confusing maze of streets, but Nydia, who knows the city not by sight but by feel, leads them to safety. They board a ship and escape the volcano, but Nydia, realizing now that she’s lost Glaucus to Ione forever, leaps into the water and drowns herself.

Inscription: “Alice M. Bartlett, Nov. 1897, from Mr.+Mrs. Ross”, on the front flyleaf.

Leila; or, the Siege of Granada (Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1838)

In Moorish Granada, Almamen is King Boabdil’s trusted adviser, but unknown to Boabdil, Almamen is a Jew. He is secretly plotting to deliver the city to King Ferdinand, who has promised equality to the Jews of Spain. Ferdinand takes Almamen’s daughter Leila hostage as guarantee of Almamen’s end of the bargain, but it quickly becomes apparent that the Christians will treat the Jews no better than the Muslims had and that Ferdinand has already reneged on the agreement. Almamen switches sides back to the Moors, through whom he hopes to recover his daughter, but Boabdil is fated to lose against Ferdinand. Leila, in captivity, has converted to Christianity. When Almamen at last discovers her and learns of her conversion, he kills her. Hated by the Christians, the Muslims, and his fellow Jews who blame him for the worsening of their already poor condition in Spain, he’s literally torn apart.

Inscription: a plate on the inside front cover says that the book was donated by John Manch to the Manch College of Music on November 23rd, 1926. Manch donated a complete set of Bulwer-Lytton, which is still intact and which I now own.

Lewis Rand (Mary Johnson, 1908)

In Virginia in the 1790s, Lewis Rand breaks from the tobacco planter life his father had intended for him to become a lawyer. He rises quickly in his field, and aided by his friend Thomas Jefferson, his political future in the Democratic-Republican party seems assured. He and Jacqueline Churchill fall in love and marry, much to the consternation of her Federalist family, and especially so to Ludwell Cary, who had hoped to marry her himself.

Rand falls under the spell of Aaron Burr and enlists in the conspiracy to establish an empire in the West. Before he takes the final step and ruins not only his own life but Jacqueline’s as well, Cary challenges him to a duel — the goal being to delay him long enough that the scheme unravels before Rand becomes too involved, and that’s just what happens.

Rand blames his foiled ambitions on Cary, and in a blind rage, kills him. There’s nothing that links Rand to the crime, and indeed he manages to establish a fairly convincing alibi. He escapes justice for several months, but Jacqueline’s pressing and his own conscious eventually lead to Rand giving himself up.

No inscriptions.

Trajan (Henry F. Keenan, 1885)

Trajan Gray, a young American artist in Paris, has resolved himself to suicide after being rejected by Theo Carnot. Theo, in truth, is nothing more than an adventuress and had never intended to marry Trajan at all — she was using him as part of a smuggling scheme. Trajan is rescued by Elliot Arden, also American and also young, but despite his age, he’s the head of an immensely rich Boston family. Elliot befriends Trajan, and through him, Trajan meets and ultimately falls in love with Edith, Elliot’s sister.

Now returns Theo to the story. The Carnot fortune is quite ruined and Theo has fixed upon marrying Elliot. Elliot is already semi-engaged to his cousin Bella, but that’s not a great obstacle for the master tactician Theo. The presence of Trajan is the bigger problem, but she’s aided by Elliot’s supreme naivety and she’s quite able to drive a wedge between the two friends and expel Trajan from the group.

All the while in the background of the story is Napoleon III and the tottering French Second Empire. At last, the house of cards crumbles and the country is plunged into war. Paris is seized by the Communards, whose rule, though short-lived, brings a second reign of terror dotted with robbery, rape, and murder all in the name of the Commune. Trajan, in his earlier days, was something of a radical himself, but now he finds himself targeted as a “suspect”. It goes without saying that this is Theo’s doing.

Elliot at last discovers Theo’s treachery and sets about rescuing Trajan once again. It would have been better if he hadn’t, as while Trajan is quite capable and has in fact already freed himself, Elliot isn’t and only succeeds in getting himself arrested. Now Trajan must save Elliot, which he does nearly at the cost of his own life.

In the end when all is reveled, Trajan and Elliot are reconciled, Trajan marries Edith, and Elliot marries Bella. Even Theo makes out all right and manages to land a prince and a fortune.

I’ve left out several subplots of more or less importance, but that’s the main story line.

Inscription: Signed and dated on the front fly leaf in dull pencil, Katherine F. Stone, May 1885. Kat’s also underlined several passages throughout the book that she evidently found to be of particular wit.

The Green Book; or, Freedom Under the Snow (Maurus Jokai, 1897)

A fictionalized account of the final years of Tsar Alexander I and the conspiracy to assassinate him — “the green book” being a list of conspirators all desirous of overthrowing the current government, but all for different reasons, and with contradictory goals. The indecision delays and hinders the plot, but what ultimately spells its doom is that, while the oppressed masses have their grievances and can easily be goaded into a fight, what they haven’t got is an understanding of the abstract notion of “freedom” that the conspirators expect them to die for, and any rebellion based on freedom alone must fall apart (namely the failed Decembrist Revolt).

Many of the characters are taken from or inspired by history, but wholly fictional is the ringleader of the conspiracy, Zeneida Ilmarine. Zeneida fights against Russia’s subjugation of her home country, Finland, but realizes that she and the other conspirators face almost certain death and she wants to keep her beloved Pushkin out of it. Pushkin, the poet, very much believes in capital-F Freedom. The greater part of the book focuses on Zeneida’s complex but successful plot to remove Pushkin from the danger he would plunge himself into.

The book ends with the coronation of Nicholas I and the author observing that freedom is like tree roots under the snow — invisible, but growing, and ready to spring forth when the time is right. JokaiĀ  wouldn’t live to see the revolution, which was still 21 years in the future when the book was published, but after that line, you can’t help but mentally substituting Nicholas II for Nicholas I in those final pages and marveling at how prescient Jokai was.

No inscriptions on this book. The start of chapter six is dogeared — perhaps that’s as far the original owner got.