A green and gold bound three volume-edition, ‘The Works of Shakespeare’, was among the family treasures I loved peering at in my grandparent’s little rosewood cabinet as a child. The cabinet, standing in the living room near a matching round rosewood table and a pianola, contained rolls of pianola music, sheet music and a well-worn red bound book with the words and music of songs played at family-gatherings between the wars.
The beautifully bound, three volume books of Shakespeare’s plays later found its way to my mother's bookshelves, then to mine.
Who had custody of it in earlier generations? Published by Routledge in London in 1864, printed there by R. Clay, Son, and Taylor, Printers, Bread Street Hill, it is likely to have belonged to someone in the generation of my maternal great grandparents, all born between 1846 and 1860. Edited by Howard Staunton, illustrated by John Gilbert and engraved by the Brothers Dalziel; published in London in 1864, ‘3Vol, 75/-‘ is pencilled on one of the fly pages of the first volume. This is likely to have been quite a lot of money in 1864. There is what may have been a bookmark, cut out delicately from mauve paper, esconced in the fly pages of volume I. This would have almost certainly have been made and used by a female relative at some stage.
Given its age, now 156 years old, it is very well preserved and appears to have been rarely opened. Perhaps the person it was given to was not a great reader? I have no memories of seeing anyone taking it from the rosewood cabinet and reading it.
My hypothesis is that it belonged to my maternal great grandfather, George Charles Beech Hooper (1846-1920), and was given to him by his parents, Peter Hooper and Frances Emily Freame, when he left for Australia to seek his fortune in 1867.
The ‘George Charles Beech Hooper’ hypothesis gains weight also in thinking about which ‘line’ of the family would have been most likely to disburse it to one of my grandparents - my grandmother's family appears most likely to have ensured that each person received something to treasure when her parents died.
Other great grandparents appear less likely to have owned my treasured ‘Works of Shakespeare’. My maternal great grandmother, George’s wife Emma Taylor, was born in 1847 in Wiltshire to a seafaring family, arriving in Australia in 1850, before its publication. My grandfather’s father did not leave England until 1876, aged 20 years, after its publication. A self-educated stone mason, they appear unlikely to be his. My grandfather’s mother Elizabeth Miller was born in South Australia in 1860, her parents having arrived in the Adelaide in ‘The Omega’ in 1857 well before its publication.
Based on the evidence at hand, I’m reasonably sure that my treasured elegantly bound three volume set of Shakespeare’s plays was brought to Australia by my great grandfather, George Charles Beech Hooper in 1867, a gift from his parents.
I have another treasured collection of Shakespeare’s stories - ‘William Shakespeare – the Complete Works’, published by Collins in London in 1951, last reprint 1965. Given to me by my mother on my 18th Birthday in October 1965, I treasure this book. At the time widowed and working as a bookkeeper to keep her teenage children at school, my mother must have thought so carefully when deciding to buy it for me, must have gone out of her way to find time to buy it. I clearly remember the loving expression in her face as she gave it to me and watched me open up the parcel. I will never give it away. It has a treasured place in my bookshelf, standing next to the treasured three volume set – ‘Works of Shakespeare’.