An interesting story is attached to the discovery of Traherne's lost manuscripts. The name of the man who found them, on a London bookstall in 1896, is unknown but he handed them on to Alexander Grosart (1827-1899). Grosart thought they were by Henry Vaughan and was about to publish them under that name when he died. Grosart's library was then bought by Bertram Dobell (1842-1914). Dobell detected a similarity between the style of the manuscripts and that of an obscure work called A Serious and Pathetical Contemplation of the Mercies of God, in Several most Devout and Sublime Thanksgivings for the Same, published in 1699. Even then Traherne's name was not on the book's title page: he was identified as the author only in the Preface. (The name of the author of the Preface, it is almost needless to say, is also unknown.) Dobell published Traherne's poetry in 1906, his prose in 1908.
Dobell himself is an interesting, almost Dickensian, figure, who was born in 1842 in Battle, Sussex, the son of a tailor of Huguenot descent who fell on hard times when he became disabled. Bertram began his working life as a grocer's errand boy in London, graduating to assistant in the grocery store. Even as a child he bought second-hand books and pamphlets from penny boxes. In 1869 he married Eleanor Wymer. With ten pounds of capital they opened a stationer's and newsagent's in Queen's Crescent (the street is still there, still with its street market) on Haverstock Hill. In 1876 he printed his first catalogue of second-hand books. Eleven years later, he opened a bookshop in the Charing Cross Road. (Later he had two shops there. At that time it was London's main second-hand book quarter.) Serious collectors were in regular touch with him both in person and by mail, though often he would sell a book only if he thought the buyer was the right person for it. Apart from discovering Traherne, Dobell is also known for befriending James Thomson (BV) when the poet was at a very low ebb, and also for arranging publication of his work in book form.
Dobell, a poet and writer himself, in 1903 he brought out a book of poems, Rosemary and Pansies and then A Century of Sonnets in 1910. There is said to be an engraving of him in the National Portrait Gallery, although it is not yet (January 2008) in the on-line catalogue. He was well enough known in the United States to have his obituary printed in The New York Times.
- Some Thoughts on an Old Classic of English Studies: Mysticism and English Literature by Caroline F. E. Spurgeon
Dobell, Bertram. Dictionary of National Biography . Oxford University Press. Oxford, 1975.
Dobell, Bertram. New York Times, 15 December 1914
Grosart, Dr Alexander Balloch. Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Oxford, 1975.
Traherne, Thomas, Selected Writings, ed. by Dick Davis. Carcenet Press Ltd. Mancheter, 1988.
Last modified 26 January 2008