Before you wonder whether I’ve taken leave of my senses, let me explain. The composer himself never reached the New World; nor am I setting this post in some alternative universe. Instead, I’m going to look at slim, curious volume produced over a century ago in East Aurora, New York State.

Hubbard  Little journeys to the homes of great musicians: Handel (publ. 1902)

Hubbard  Little Journeys: Handel
The rather battered suede front cover

We stock a substantial quantity of material about Handel, ranging from general interest to scholarly studies on specific areas of his output. And that’s just the books. Our scores range from opera libretti and vocal scores published during his lifetime to the latest urtext editions. This booklet (a small A5 publication of 20 or so pages) stands out in a number of ways as something you might not expect to find in a public library.

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First off, this copy is no. 554 (of 940 produced) – so a limited edition, signed by Elbert Hubbard, the author. The binding is a completely impractical suede leather and the paper is hand made. Looking at the details of the imprint also gives the impression of something not produced by a standard publisher.

Elbert Hubbard and the Roycrofters

Hubbard - Little journeys - Handel
The elaborate title page

Elbert Hubbard  was an American  writer, artist, and philosopher; in this context, he was also the founder of an artisan community in New York State called the Roycrofters . It won’t be a surprise to learn that they espoused William Morris’ Arts and Crafts movement. They also ran their own press. Earlier in his life, he had connections with the new socialist movement in the UK; later, he moved away from them. Hubbard also described himself as an anarchist. One essay he wrote and published has the intriguing title Jesus was an anarchist. Here’s a flavour:

I am an Anarchist. All good men are Anarchists. All cultured, kindly men; all gentlemen; all just men are Anarchists. Jesus was an Anarchist.

The whole title page of our booklet reminds me both of Morris’ wallpaper designs and his book calligraphy. Hubbard produced numerous Little Journeys, ‘visiting’ people as diverse as Walt Whitman, Thomas Jefferson, and Robert Ingersoll.

This quote from the Wikipedia article on Hubbard seems apposite:

The Roycrofters produced handsome, if sometimes eccentric, books printed on handmade paper, and operated a fine bindery, a furniture shop, and shops producing modelled leather and hammered copper goods.

Roycroft town hall
Roycroft town hall (photo: Manda L. Isch) Public domain

‘Eccentric’ is a good way to describe the information content of this booklet. Here’s part of the first page’s offering (it’s numbered 59 for some reason and continues from there) :

“Did you meet Michael Angelo while you were in Rome?” asked a good Roycroft girl of me the other day.

“No, my dear, no,” I answered, and then I gulped hard to keep back foolish tears. “No, I did not meet Michael Angelo,” I said, “I expected to,” … 

But how natural was this question asked me by a bright country girl!

And where’s Handel in all this?

Hubbard  Little journey - Handel
The first page of text.

When Hubbard does turn his attention to the composer, the text is a curious mixture of facts without detail and whimsy; sometimes the writing borders on breathless:

Young Handel had spent two years in Italy, had visited most of the capitals of Europe, had composed several operas and numerous songs. He was handsome, gracious and talented. Money may use its jimmy to break into the Upper Circles; but to Beauty, Grace, and Talent that does not shiver or shrink, all doors fly open. And now the English noblemen requested – nay, insisted – that Handel should accompany them back to merry England.

There’s another example of Hubbard’s writing style included in one of the illustrations below.

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So why do we keep this book in stock? It’s hardly a fund of wisdom on Handel and his music. Well, it is a work of book design and art. It has a history all of its own, as we’ve discovered, and it appears to be the only obvious copy in a UK library. Perhaps it has earned its place after all.