A Pilgrim’s Progress

A few years ago, in the midst of my doctoral studies, I had the privilege of joining with a professor of early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame to teach a course on pilgrimage. One of the central tenants of our exploration of this religious phenomenon was an old adage: “Often, it is not so much the destination, but the journey of getting there.” Each year, for example, tens of thousands come and go from the Way of Santiago de Compostella in Spain . Some travel the entire length of the Way, and others only a few miles. Many will never see the great Cathedral, but it is, in the end, about the journey. I was reminded of this a week or so ago when one of the bibliographers in our Antiquarian, Rare, and Collectable Books section shared with me a tattered blue volume bearing the name of Aldous Huxley.

In my hands I held a first U.S. edition, first printing (stated G-T) of Time Must Have a Stop, Huxley’s 1944 dystopia. Huxley is, of course, more widely known as the author of Brave New World, the first of a series of rather famous novels which would appear in the mid-20th century, depicting the future downfall of society. It would be followed by Orwell’s 1984 in 1949 and Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 in 1953. It is fairly unremarkable as far as first editions go; it is one of Huxley’s later works and is in less than mint condition. Nevertheless, this volume has captivated my attention for the last few days.

As I began to thumb through it, I discovered a number of ephemeron between the leaves: a New York Times clipping of a ‘study’ of James Joyce dated 22 December 1957, the front and rear flaps of the missing dust jacket, and pages 509-512 of C. Rolo’s omnibus of Huxley’s work, The World of Aldous Huxley. Perhaps most interesting, though, is a post card addressed to one J. Richard Stafford of Elyria, Ohio, from none other than Aldous Huxley. “Thank you,” Huxley writes in his own hand, “for your friendly letter. I can’t answer your Questions [sic.] about Pound, as I know too little of his work. Aldous Huxley.” The stationery bears the name of Aldous L. Huxley, Wrightwood , California . Huxley has marked through Wrightwood and written above it: “3276 Deronda , LA 28” (now 90068 – there’s a neat ‘street view’ on Google™ Maps).

 I cannot describe how captivating I found this volume. I began to examine each page of the volume, looking for notes, doodles, anything to tell me more about this Mr. Stafford. Was he a familiar of Huxley’s? of Pound’s? Was he a scholar? Was he simply drawing parallels between the work of the two men? Alas, I have found nothing, though not for lack of trying. The postmark of the card is not completely visible; I can only make out December. The rate for a postcard, however, was 2-cents, so it was likely after January 1952 when that new rate took effect (it had been 1-cent since 1898!). There is, at present, a home at the address to which Huxley addressed the card, but I have not been able to reach anyone there, though it is not as if estates were retained in families as in days gone by. But, I digress. Enough!

This short journey of mine to explore the life-history of this particular book – its various relics and hagiography – and its presumed owner, Mr. Stafford, as well as the latter’s relationship with Huxley, has consumed my days of late. It is as if this particular volume is on its own pilgrimage, from owner to owner, from shelf to shelf, giving witness not only to itself but to those with whom it has come into contact. I, on the other hand, am more like a spectator than a pilgrim. Yet, without we spectators, who were somehow foreseen like Waugh’s builders of Brideshead, these pilgrims would fall victim to a fate too horrible to imagine. It is their journey that we share and, in doing so, share in those of one another. I am happy to have been along its way and to have shared in its journey.

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