The charm of an old Tennyson book

Tintagel coastline

Tintagel coastline in England. Image couresty of alanmort, Morguefile.

A relative of mine recently gave me an old book to read. This is a really old book. The front of the book has an inscription of the original owner’s name and the notation “Xmas 1897”.

The book is Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. I’m looking forward to reading it because it’s the story of Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot and the others of the Camelot story. I’ve been to British sites associated with Arthurian legends such as Tintagel in North Cornwall (see more of its spectacular scenery here) and Glastonbury, so it’s going to be fun to imagine it all against the backdrop of that wonderful British scenery.

I love browsing through old books like this one and it looks like the original publisher went to a lot of care when the book was made. There are sheets of transparent, tissue-thin paper protecting the illustrations, although I’m not sure why. Maybe the paper is to prevent the ink in the illustration from rubbing off onto other printed pages? That’s a mystery.

The top of the book has gilded edges, and I wonder about that feature, too. Were the sides and bottom of each page gilded originally and did the book’s readers cause the gilding to be worn off throughout the years since the book was published 116 years ago?

But my favorite features are this book’s smell and its cover. Tennyson’s book has that marvelous, evocative “old paper” smell that modern e-readers just can’t duplicate. (Sorry, Kindle and Nook devotees.)

The floral cover is also beautiful (see photo, below). It’s faded with time but still attractive. I wonder what it looked like in 1897, when the colors were fresh and vibrant?

Tennyson book

Cover of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. Photo: Blogger’s own.

It’s going to be an entertaining read, I think, even if I have to enlist Sparknotes or Wikipedia to figure out what the heck’s going on sometimes. We’ll see.



Filed under Writing

23 responses to “The charm of an old Tennyson book

  1. There’s a real magic to old books that can’t be duplicated. Actually, I think there is some magic in all old things … pottery, books, painting, photographs … They all carry memories and magic. I had a very weird experience at Glastonbury Tor. Did you? It’s a strange place …

  2. I love old books, too. A few of mine are about the same age as yours. They have the illustration protectors and gold edges around the pages, as well, with worn ribbons to mark the reader’s place. Good idea for a future blog post. Thanks for sharing yours. 🙂

  3. What wonders old books hold within their crumbling pages and musty odors. They are treasures inside and out.

  4. Impybat

    I have a copy of a grade school primer, entitled “the Primer”, from 1910. I really love old books, and yours sounds completely magical. Did you watch “Merlin” (the series with Colin Morgan) when it was on?

  5. Jaclyn

    What a treasure! You lucky reader, you. 🙂 Thanks for sharing about your new book, and enjoy! (I’ve been to Tintagel, too – beautiful.)

  6. The book is probably noticably heavier than its contemporary partners in literature. Old books seem to weigh more–denser paper, perhaps? Enjoy. Tennyson covered the Arthur legend quite well.

  7. My great grandmother had a huge collection of old books, and as a child I would smell them! So I’m with you on the smell of a good old book.

    Sadly they got passed to a charity shop when she passed, and I don’t have any old books. The new ones, although they have a smell, they don’t compare to their older counterparts.

    Enjoy your book! 🙂

  8. Wow! That’s so old. Let your five senses feast upon it as you read (well, except for your taste. It might be weird to lick your book)

  9. I love books! Old books hold that mystery of who the readers were before me, and what was going on in their lives at the time. It’s fun to imagine the journey of where a book began and where it has ended up. In whose possession did it find itself down through the years? Thanks for sharing your thoughts and enjoy your journey inside Tennyson’s work!

  10. What a treasure… have you got it just to read, or for keeps…?
    Sounds like one to keep!!!!

  11. Dad had this book in his collection. Thus, I read about Camelot at an early age. I too have made pilgrimages to sites linked to Arthur. I read a history of the period which presented a persuasive argument as to why Arthur was the last Roman authority figure in Britain. Cited the Tenth Century monk Nennious among others. Sad to read about the Roman citizens left behind when Rome abandoned Britain in the Fourth Century.


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