Two days after Thanksgiving, I went to the Dickens Fair at the Cow Palace in San Francisco with my two sons, Yousef and Omar, and my practically-a-nephew, John (aka Muhammad). It was my third visit to this “Victorian Christmas Card Come to Life” and the second or first for the young men mentioned. They were mightily impressed with the antics and accents of the movie-set quality actors and participants as well as with all the offerings. Even the food sellers cry out in believable Cockney tones. (It’s the kind of delight that makes a person want to buy a top hat.)
Amidst the revelries, shows and exhibits, we came upon and entered the book seller’s shop. The man seated there, presumably the moving force behind the enterprise, was charmingly attired very much as a bookseller in Dickensian London; his wares, moreover, were all collectibles, some probably dating to Dicken’s lifetime. At first I did not actually think to purchase anything, but there is something about books kept well for many decades, be they classics or magazines, that sets me to mentally drooling.
And so it was I plunked down ten dollars for a June 12, 1929 copy of Punch, a magazine that seems to have been put out by both the Motor Union Insurance Company and State Express Cigarettes. (Do magazines announce nowadays their funders/producers? Certainly not on their covers. Quaint, no?)
While I have a number of antique books inherited from my mother, like a 1918 Beatrix Potter book and an 1876 Dottie Dimple by Sophie May–a children’s book writer who penned the Little Prudy Stories (Lee and Shepard, Publishers, New York)–I have never had a magazine so old. Considering that Dickens died in 1870, this magazine came out at the halfway point between our two lifetimes. I own it, can touch it, feel it–what a way to step backwards in time.
How much have we changed? It would seem hardly at all. Though the magazine is dedicated to creative writing, one could say the same about the New Yorker or Atlantic Monthly. Halfway through is an article titled “On Writing Your Memoirs”: “In a day when, broadly speaking, everybody is writing about himself, it is not sufficiently realized that, not only is Autobiograph a distinct art, but that, so far, nobody has come forward with any handbook upon the subject. So when next you contemplate writing your Memoirs, the following hints may not come amiss:–.” The rest of the page is dedicated, quite particularly, to said memoir writing instructions, concluding with “(6) Your Index. Don’t omit this or you will madden readers. . . .” Thank you, Rachel, whoever you were!