London: Country Life, 1938. Item #03946
Publisher's Special Binding
The Silent Traveller (Chiang Yee) in London
YEE, Chiang. The Silent Traveller in London. By Chiang Yee Author of the Silent Traveller in Lakeland, of The Chinese Eye and of Chinese Calligraphy. London: Country Life, .
First edition. Specially bound by Leighton-Straker.
Octavo (8 7/8 x 5 3/4 inches; 225 x 145 mm.). xix, [i, blank], 255, , [4, blank] pp. Thirteen plates including two in color.
Specially bound by Leighton-Straker ca. 1938 (stamp-signed in gilt on rear turn-in). Full red morocco, upper cover lettered in gilt with Chinese characters, smooth spine lettered in gilt and Chinese characters, publisher's decorative end-papers, top edge gilt, others uncut. A fine example.
Chiang Yee (1903-1977), self-styled as "The Silent Traveller", was a Chinese poet, author, painter and calligrapher. In 1925 he graduated from Nanjing University (then named National Southeastern University), not only one of the world's oldest institutions of learning but also re-launched in 1920 as one of China's earlier modern universities. He served for over a year in the Chinese army during the Second Sino-Japanese War, then taught chemistry in middle schools, lectured at National Chengchi University, and worked as assistant editor of a Hangzhou newspaper. He subsequently served as magistrate of three counties (Jiujang in Jiangxi, and Dangtu and Wuhu in Anhui.) Unhappy with the situation in China at that time, he departed for England in 1933, to study for an MSc in Economics at the London School of Economics, focusing on municipal administration, leaving wife and family behind. From 1935 to 1938 he taught Chinese at the School of Oriental Studies (now School of Oriental and African Studies), University of London, and 1938 to 1940 worked at the Wellcome Museum of Anatomy and Pathology. During this period, he wrote and illustrated a well-received series of books entitled The Silent Traveller in… His first was The Silent Traveller: a Chinese Artist in Lakeland (1937), written from a journal of a fortnight in the English Lake District in August 1936. Others followed: The Silent Traveller in London (1938), the The Silent Traveller in the Yorkshire Dales (1941), and The Silent Traveller in Oxford (1944). Despite paper shortages and rationing, these books were kept in print. He wrote The Silent Traveller in Wartime (1939) and, after World War II ended, the series gradually ventured further afield, to Edinburgh, Dublin, Paris, New York, San Francisco, and Boston, concluding in 1972 with The Silent Traveller in Japan (1972).
The books characteristically bring a fresh 'sideways look' in a peaceful and non-judgemental way to places perhaps unfamiliar at the time to a Chinese national: the author was struck by things the locals might not notice, such as beards, or the fact that the so-called Lion's Haunch on Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh is actually far more like a sleeping elephant. In his wartime books, Chiang Yee made it plain that he was fervently opposed to Nazism. His writings exude a feeling of positive curiosity, life-enhancing in a unique way. Some of his books have been re-issued in modern times, sometimes with fresh introductions.
In this fine little book is a paragraph (pp. 126/127) which mentions my Great Uncle Sam Joseph. I shall quote in context: "Hannen Swaffer has written a passage in the Daily Herald under the title "Ye Olde Bookes." He says: "When the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association which has members in all the world's important cities, met for its annual dinner at the Café Monico in London, last night, it was grumbling. Business has fallen off; good copies of rare books are hard to find. The best specimens all went to America in the boom……"
I hope that the Second-hand booksellers' Association, if any exists, would not grumble so much that the bad specimens all went to China in the boom! After all, simply to collect books is a great joy, and there is no need to buy the most expensive editions. Mr, Swaffer has also written Kleptomaniac.
"In Charing Cross Road," he says, "London's book-selling centre, Sam Joseph tells me, dealers have regular clients who turn up every day at one, read the books in the boxes outside, and at two o'clock, before going back to work, turn down the corner of a page to mark it for the next day! They still tell the story of the old gentleman with plenty of money and a passion for stealing rare copies. Every three weeks or so, he would do the rounds of the dealers' shops, "lifting" a book here and there. They knew him of course, and kept a check on the copies that disappeared. Regularly they sent the bill in to his secretary, who promptly paid. This suited everyone concerned, until somebody found out that one or two of the less honest dealers were sending in bills for books that he hadn't stolen, as well as for those he had…"
The bookbinding firm of Leighton-Straker bound many fine editions. amongst the most notable are the signed limited edition of Churchill's Marlborough, Rex Whistler's illustrated edition of Hans Andersen, and many books for the Cresset, Golden Cockerel and Nonesuch Presses.