Book Chats on Book Collecting.
"Ye Sette of Odd Volumes".
This page last updated here in July 2020. We have just been reading an 1817 edition of D. E. Macdonnel's:
“A Dictionary of Quotations in most Frequent Use" (taken chiefly from the Latin and French but comprising many from the Greek, Spanish & Italian languages; Translated into English).
The Title Page bears the delightful quotation from Moth, in Shakespeare's “Love Labours Lost”
“He has been at a great feast of languages, and stolen all the scraps!”. What a feast indeed!
Under the initial letters heading DO -DU (the leaves are unpaginated), I came across the following gem....
“Dulce est desipere in loco”.
How that rang a bell....!
Macdonnel renders this epigram from Horace rather stiffly as:
“It is pleasant to play the fool in a proper place”.
However, it was immortalised by Bernard Quaritch on the 4th of April 1878, when he founded “Ye Sette of Odd Volumes” at St. John's Gate, Clerkenwell, and took the phrase as his masthead, with the more relaxed version.....
“Delightful, is it, to play the fool when we're out of School”.
An imprint of this from an 1885 Odd Volume is shown in the image below (query. Who is W.M.T?).......
Macdonnel goes further....”There are seasons when it is permitted that wisdom may take the garb of frivolity, and without incurring any reproach”. Indeed!
The Sette was In fact a select group of literary, artistic and scientific people (always an odd number, like 99, and chosen by invitation), who met as a dining club, at which one member would speak on a topic of interest.
But..and here is the interesting bit...the speaker would produce a small volume to go with it. This was an Opusculum...and there was always a small number printed (normally an odd number, but occasionally even), hence the rarity and desirability to collectors.
These are little literary gems and now much collected. They are small and square and known in the trade as Dumpy Twelves. Dr George C Willamson gives a marvellous article on them in his 1921 volume “Behind My Library Door”. We currently have twenty-six of them and a small selection is shown below.
To view them...just enter "Sette" in "Keywords" after clicking here....
Prices range from a few pounds to several tens, with the one on Frederick Rolfe (Baron Corvo) being something of a rarity. We will save Frederick Rolfe for a later chat......
(Meanwhile below: some views of "The Library of Babel" by Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges (1899 - 1996). This short story first appeared in English in "Labyrinths", having been published by New Directions in 1962 and translated by James E Irby. What bliss...the library of all possible books......).