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Second-hand bookshops can shock

Although second-hand bookshops are disappearing almost as fast as Oxfordshire bus services, browsing through the ones which survive can result in unexpected surprises. Here are two personal examples which pulled me up sharply.

derniereheureMore than twenty years ago I came across a poorly bound French paperback thriller entitled Dernière Heure (Stop Press). What attracted my attention was the author’s inscription on the flyleaf – ‘Gaston Goldsmidt, en souvenir de ma dèche marseillaise, cordialement’ by the author, Jean-Paul Bouguennec. This could be translated as ‘To Gaston Goldsmidt, in memory of my distressed time in Marseilles with best wishes from the author’. Recently I consulted Google to see if anything further was to be learned about Bouguennec.

I discovered he was born in Brittany in 1912. He had been a correspondent in Spain during the Civil War where he was imprisoned. He escaped and returned to France in 1939 and had an impecunious existence as a journalist. In Vichy France in 1941, having written his only novel, he came into contact with the resistance. He was arrested and escaped again reaching Britain via Spain. In Britain he joined Maurice Buckmaster’s Special Operations Executive and returned to France where he founded the Butler resistance circuit in Brittany. Arrested again, he ended the War in Buchenwald – and here came the shock – he was hanged there in September 1944. Colonel Buckmaster rated him highly, describing him as having extraordinary courage.

Who was Gaston Goldsmidt who had been given the book? Presumably a Jew in Vichy France. What was the author’s distress or poverty referred to? Bouguennec was certainly without funds at this time and it was the offer of some financial support that got him in touch with the resistance in the first place.

goldsmithsignatureThe other example is English and older. Some years ago, I came across a copy of a play in the reject bin of a second hand bookshop in Cirencester. It was called The Clandestine Marriage by George Colman and David Garrick, published in 1768.

It enjoyed great success as a new type of comedy and encouraged Oliver Goldsmith to write his first play, The Good Natured Man, and subsequently his more popular She Stoops to Conquer. To my amazement, the title page was signed ‘Oliver Goldsmith’ and somebody had written in very faint pencil on the cover ‘Goldsmith’s copy.’
The signature seems well within the normal range of variation for a signature as shown by the facsimile here of a letter from Goldsmith to Colman. One can imagine Dr Johnson holding it and praising the work of his friend David Garrick in Goldsmith’s presence. Worth a pound just to dream.

Alan Vickers

August – September 2017