Little Journey into the Grim

Categories lit, non fiction

Poictesme’s Editor, Lauren Chartuk, recently bought an unassuming book that had a spooky surprise in store, when she uncovered an inserted photo. 

One idyllic Saturday afternoon, I took a walk around a Richmond neighborhood and I ducked into Black Swan Books, a rare book dealer – these kinds of shops prefer “dealer” over seller. I wondered the tall stacks, careful not to touch anything, merely smelling the old beautiful books.

In one particularly tucked back corner I found a little brown book. I reached up on my toes to grab the book that was just subtly marker on the cover. I mostly wanted to touch its suede cover, but the title Little Journeys: Samuel Johnson, interested me. I felt captivated by this little brown book, so I brought it home with me. I cheerfully walked home with my new book in a bag with Black Swan Book’s logo scrawled on the side: “… where old books meet new friends.”

The book was published in 1898, by Elbert Hubbard. The book’s title page and initials are hand illuminated by an artist. The colors are a bright contrast to the handmade pages. The pages were also imprinted with an opaque watermark of Roycroft printers – the watermark made it feel extra National Treasures.

Nestled between two pages was a small photo cut out of a newspaper of Reverend Maltbie Davenport Babcock. The looked stoic and formal in his portrait, and home-y, so I decided to google his name. He was a clergyman in New England. Babcock, along with others, took a pilgrimage to Naples, Italy. In Italy, Babcock, in a feverous fit, commits suicide. In Naples, Italy he slit his wrists and consumed “corrosive sublimate” or mercuric chloride.

The pedestrian, little, reverend in my new book, turned out to be tied to a grim tale of a gruesome death.

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