Tuesday, June 25, 2019

James Branch Cabell's Precious Balms

In 1924, Arthur Machen published a small volume entitled Precious Balms, collecting bad reviews his works had received over his publishing career.  The title came from Psalm 141: 
Let the righteous rather smite me friendly, and reprove me. But let not their precious balms break my head
Machen was not the first to be entertained by disseminating his own bad reviews. James Branch Cabell did it, in a bunch of pages at the back of his book Beyond Life (1919), where the pages look just like advertisements for Cabell's other works, until you start reading the copy.  And in various printings of the book Cabell added to the pages, and changed some of the reviews. When he compiled the Storisende edition of his works, he put the reviews within a different title, Straws and Prayer-Books (1930).  I copy a some examples below, including the early version of the Jurgen page, and the final version.  At that end of this post, I post the details for the bibliographically inclined.  Thanks to Bill Lloyd of The Silver Stallion website for helping me with details on the various printings. 
Gallantry (1907) 
In Gallantry the characters, their costumes, manners, ideas and actions have about the naturalness of a modern costume ball. The author tries hard to maintain a stilted style, but frequently loses patience with it and relieves himself with the most modern of slang. --New York Sun
 The Cords of Vanity (1909)
 About as poor stuff as one can find in a book put out by a reputable publisher. The whole thing is slushy and disgusting. --Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ohio
The Certain Hour (1916)
A collection of "romantic" tales about poets dead and gone, prefaced by a fatuous essay on literature. Two poems, far from poetic, are included in the book. --The Independent
From the Hidden Way (1916) 
From the Hidden Way was published by Robert M. McBride & Company, in 1916. The rest was silence. --Louis Untermeyer, in the Literary Review
Beyond Life (1919)
Theses as devoid of interest as they have been, these last hundred years, of mportance. --Floyd Dell, in The Liberator 
Straws and Prayer-Books (1924)
Oh! are we never to hear the last of Jurgen--must this stupid, stilted, silly book be forever flaunted in our reluctant face? Mr. Cabell goes on descanting about his experiences with the vice squad in New York, or wherever it was, as if he were a decadent small boy, proud of being haled into the police court for chalking dirty words on a wall. The Jurgen episode seems to have gone to Mr. Cabell's head, it would seem to have developed in him a sort of megalomania. He writes with a fatuous self-exploitation which arouses, in a sensitive reader, something akin to the curious personal sense of shame felt when a speaker or singer or player makes an absurd display before an audience. --Hartford Courant, Connecticut
Domnei (1913)

Jurgen (1919)
Jurgen (1919)
Beyond Life
New York: Robert M. McBride & Company, 1919
“Published January, 1919”
“Second Printing, March, 1919”
“Third Printing, August 1920”
“Fourth Printing, May, 1921”
“Fifth Edition” 1924 [year on title page]
“Sixth Printing, December, 1930”
In Storisende edition, the reviews are moved to Straws and Prayer-Books (1930), pp. 279-297

Beyond Life

In the first printing, the rear pages are numbered as follows:

p. 359. “Some Other Books by Mr. Cabell (With Tributes of the Press)”
p. 360. The Cream of the Jest
p. 361. The Rivet in Grandfather's Neck
p. 362. The Certain Hour
p. 363. The Cords of Vanity
p. 364. The Soul of Melicent
p. 365. Chivalry, Gallantry, The Line of Love
p. 366. The Eagle's Shadow

The second printing retains the same text, but the page numbers have been removed.

The third printing has twelve (unnumbered) pages of such reviews:

[1] “Some Other Books by Mr. Cabell (With Tributes of the Press)”
[2] The Cream of the Jest
[3] The Rivet in Grandfather's Neck
[4] The Certain Hour
[5] The Cords of Vanity
[6] Domnei
[7] Beyond Life
[8] The Line of Love
[9] Gallantry
[10] Chivalry
[11] Jurgen
[12] The Eagle's Shadow

The fourth printing has fourteen pages of such reviews, adding these two after Jurgen and before The Eagle's Shadow:

[11+1] Figures of Earth
[11+2] From the Hidden Way

The Fifth Edition and Sixth Printing match the fourth.

The catalog was reordered and expanded (by the last four titles) in Straws and Prayer-Books (1930), pp. 279-297

p. 279 “Books by Mr Cabell in the Order of Their Publication, with Tributes of the Press”
p. 281 The Eagle's Shadow
p. 282 The Line of Love
p. 283 Gallantry
p. 284 The Cords of Vanity
p. 285 Chivalry
p. 286 Domnei
p. 287 The Rivet in Grandfather's Neck
p. 288 The Certain Hour
p. 289 From the Hidden Way
p. 290 The Cream of the Jest
p. 291 Beyond Life
p. 292 Jurgen
p. 293 Figures of Earth
p. 294 The High Place
p. 295 Straws and Prayer-Books
p. 296 The Silver Stallion
p. 297 Something About Eve

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