John Collis Snaith 1876-1936

We include a cricket book by JC Snaith in our next list.

Willow, The King: The Story of a Cricket Match (London: Ward, Lock and Co. Limited: no date) [1899] Illustrated by Lucien Davis , R.I., comprising a frontispiece and three plates.

I was curious to find out something about the author. The most interesting source of information is Kevin Telfer’s book on JM Barrie’s cricket team, the Allahakbarries, Peter Pan’s First XI: The extraordinary story of J. M. Barrie’s cricket team. I’m waiting for a copy I bought to arrive in the mail, but meanwhile, I quote from it:

…the real cricketer of note who made his debut this year against the Artists was JC Snaith. Born in 1876…the left-handed John Collis Snaith played his one and only first-class game for Nottinghamshire in 1900. He made a reasonably promising twenty-one in his own innings in that game, but never got the opportunity to follow it up. He certainly excelled in club cricket and for the Allahakbarries proved to be a dangerous and greatly feared bowler who could skittle sides out – something which he accomplished the following month in the next match against the Artists. Charles Tennyson, who later played for the Alaahakbarries described him as ‘a medium or slow-medium left hand bowler, and on certain types of wicket he had the power of bringing the ball in very quickly off the pitch time after time, just bail high, with a ‘naturally unnatural’ break from the off, which was fatal to second class batsmen.’

The essay in which this description appears is called ‘The Too-Serious Snaith’, for Tennyson writes that he was an intense and introverted man who found it difficult to socialise and generally led a very private life. He was pale, gaunt and wore scholarly glasses, had straight black hair and slightly stopping shoulders. He enjoyed playing chess with a select group of companions and loved more than anything else to play cricket. And of course he was a writer, though not a writer with the fame of many of the other members of the Allahakbarries team. Tennyson, however, writes that Snaith’s story Willow the King, which was published in 1899, ‘has often been referred to as the best cricket story ever written’.

Snaith was so ardent about his cricket that one member of the Allahakbarries recalled that on the south lawn of Black Lake Cottage, ‘when the traditional match of Gentlemen (left-handed) against Ladies was being played wit customary hilarity, Snaith smote Mrs Barrie on the ankle with a fast Yorker and was with difficulty restrained from claiming lbw.’

He was sometimes called ‘the gloomy scribe’, such was his generally overcast disposition, and it seems that the rest of the team aimed some gentle jokes in his direction. He had first been introduced to Barrie in 1898 and, quite typically, Barrie saw him as an interesting character study. And when Prichard published the book about his travels to South America, Adventures through the Heart of Patagonia, in 1902, which described his hunt for the giant sloth, Barrie ‘immediately invented a shy and formidable and even more mysterious animal , The Giant Snaith, about which he delighted to weave grotesquely appropriate fantasies in his slow rich Scottish drawl.’

He does not, however, seem to have found his way into Barrie’s written fiction, but his exploits on the cricket pitch must have delighted the little Scot. In this first match of the season he took an unspectacular but useful four wickets and scored sixteen, but they still lost the match by twenty-two runs. Far better performances were just around the corner, and he proved to be one of the team’s strongest players.

To this one can add a piece of ephemera:

Snaith letter
JC Snaith’s letter on cricket auctioned in 2015.

John Collis Snaith. Nottinghamshire (one match) 1900. Two page handwritten letter from Snaith, dated 31st December 1932 to A.W. Shelton, Secretary (and later President) of Nottinghamshire C.C.C. enclosing a small donation for John Dixon’s Widow, Dixon died in June 1931, and played 235 matches for the county 1882-1905, he captained the side between 1889-99. ‘There was only one John Dixon’. Snaith adapts the famous lines on Alfred Mynn (William Jeffrey Prowse) after his death to lament Dixon’s passing ‘My friend [E.V.] Lucas may have kept them in mind. I rather hope so’. Signed in ink by Snaith. VG – cricket The Sale Room

Snaith picture

According to Wormwoodiana’s piece The Genius of JC Snaith, he is an unjustly neglected writer.

Several critics agreed, I later found, that J.C. Snaith was the author of a masterpiece. Unfortunately for him, none of them could agree which book of his that was, while all of them did agree that the others were not worth much attention. That must be a uniquely frustrating position. Essayist S.P.B. Mais acclaimed his novel The Sailor (1916): others lauded his humorous and Pickwickian cricketing novel Willow, the King (1899). There are champions for others of his books too.

Snaith’s reputation has suffered, I think, from his work being too various. Comedy, sport, historical romance, criminous thrillers, psychological meditations, visionary works, it was all too much for the reader and reviewer to get a grasp upon. Nevertheless, with the advantage of retrospect, we can winnow out those that stand distinctive. Whichever work one chooses, though, it is sure that Snaith was an original, as eccentric in his outlook and his style as, say, M.P. Shiel or Baron Corvo.

He was not always so neglected and, indeed, I think that Telfer may not have appreciated that in his day, Snaith was a notable and popular writer. Enter R. (Reginald) Brimley Johnson was a biographer, critic, and editor specializing in nineteenth century English literature and literary figures. In particular he was a noted authority on Austen and he edited Shelley-Leigh Hunt: how friendship made history and extended the bounds of human freedom and thought. 

Johnson, Reginald Brimley.

Adm. pens. at CORPUS CHRISTI, Oct. 1, 1886.
[Youngest] s. of William Henry Farthing (1843), schoolmaster, of Llandaff House, Cambridge [ Cambridgeshire ]. B. Dec. 6, 1867, at Cambridge [ Cambridgeshire ].
School, Llandaff House, Cambridge [ Cambridgeshire ], and Crawford College, Maidenhead [ Berkshire ].
Matric. Michs. 1886.
Established a small publishing business in London and Edinburgh [ Scotland ] in 1900, for the purpose of issuing early books by G. K. Chesterton, G. Lowes Dickinson, and others.
Founded, in October, 1909, The Gownsman and edited it, 1912-13.
Author, Jane Austen, a critical study; Jane Austen, her Life, her Work, her Family and her Critics; The Women Novelists ( Fanny Burney to George Eliot ); Fanny Burney and the Burneys, etc.
Also edited numerous collections of the novels, poems, plays, letters, etc. of many other well-known writers.
Died May 18, 1932, in London .
Brother of George W. (1876) and Augustine H. (1884), etc.
(Scott, MSS.; Who was Who, 1929-40; The Times, May 20, 1932; English Cat. of Books; Cambridge Review, May 27, 1932.)

In 1922 Johnson published his Some Contemporary Novelists (men), in the introduction of which he segues from DH Lawrence to JC Snaith. Indeed, where Lawrence, Buchan and EM Forster each receive 10 pages, Snaith has eighteen. One might add that Johnson does not even seem aware of Willow King, which is neither discussed nor mentioned in the works by Snaith that he lists, evidently under the impression that Snaith’s first novel was some years after this was published. Perhaps he was aware of it and in the scheme of the literary critic, a cricket book just isn’t cricket.

Snaith married Madeline Ruth Armstrong in 1913. She died in 1931. There do not seem to have been any children. He is listed in the Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club’s wiki page just above Garfield Sobers.

His quotes to be found online include:

Cricket is quite a gentle, harmless game, but he is a lucky man who has not to sweat some blood before he’s done with it .


Beside a perfectly-timed boundary hit on a hard ground from fast bowling, all other delights of this life are a nothingness.

He is credited by the Oxford dictionary with the earliest use of the expression ‘street person’ and also, in the fine tradition of turning nouns into adjectives, the first use of the expression ‘pince-nezed’ to mean, wearing a pince-nez.

Another contemporary appraisal reveals the high regard in which he was held.

The Bookseller, Newsdealer and Stationer, Volume 45
Excelsior Publishing House, 1916 p. 187 The steady development of the literary genius of John Collis Snaith over a period of some twenty years is one of the remarkable incidents of contemporary English literature. Mr Snaith is a young Englishman who makes his home now in London. At the age of eighteen he wrote a remarkable novel full of the faults of youth full of the inspiration of a really imaginative mind. It had a marked success and still stands in a distinguished place amongst English modern fiction. He then produced in regular order half a dozen novels of different types, some historical, some contemporary, some with a political flavour, some with a strong romantic character development tone. Each book is very different from the last. The author very gradually finding himself, was way too original, too independent to stick to his last. The craftsman in him instinctively rebelled against any set mold for his work. Meanwhile the author himself, who is a quiet, reserved Englishman, a member of certain established literary and artistic clubs in London, lived his own life partly retired from the busy whirl of the great city, working out his own problems and the development of his art. Many times reviewers have noted as one book after another has appeared that some day Snaith would come into his own when he found the proper mediums for what was unquestionably real genius. After Broke from Covenden in 1909 came Ariminta, Anne Feversham and now his latest book The Sailor.  Both the America (sic) and British reviewers of this long novel have been quite unstinted in  their praise and in their acknowledgement that the author has at last reached the high place he was bound to occupy eventually. Mr Snaith is still a young man, hardly forty years old, and his great work is still ahead of him. The promise of another great British writer of the Thomas Hardy type is here.

Elsewhere in the issue, The Sailor is described as ‘one of the season’s big novels’.

His death on December 10, 1936, received a small notice in the Melbourne Argus, where it was listed above that of Pirandello.




Where should I buy my book?

I was asked today where a friend should buy books, secondhand and otherwise. It goes without saying that if you have a local secondhand shop, that is the place to go for a browse, but supposing you don’t, or you are looking for something specific that  you know you have to go further afield to find.


Booksandcollectibles is the best site online to find a collective of Australian sellers – not only Australian, but certainly forming the core of their database. It was set up in the late nineties to serve the Australian bookselling community and although it has grown past that, it keeps its homegrown feeling. It is a simple, not flashy interface sitting between the seller and the customer.

Biblio is the best of the international collectives. It isn’t the biggest, but it is big enough for most purposes and it’s certainly the one I go to first. It has a clean interface, it is an independent organisation run by people who really care about books and those who love them. So if you care about that sort of thing, who is running the business you are buying from and what are their values etc etc, this is absolutely a first port of call. I don’t understand why it is that they don’t have a bigger share of the pie.

ABE  is not a site I recommend anymore as it is owned by Amazon.


As far as new books go, if you are in Melbourne you have some nice choices of shops, but if you must buy online I have no good options for you. We – living in Switzerland without English shops – do shop online from time to time and we use The Book Depository. I was one of their early supporters as they offered a choice to shopping at Amazon, including free shipping, which is so attractive to Australians, of course. But like ABE, the predatorial Amazon has bought The Book Depository too. We still use it, but not with any joy in our hearts.

If anybody has other suggestions for new and old book shopping, please leave a comment!




Books as investment

Long ago as a teenager, I decided to sell my collection of first edition Mary Grant Bruces and Ethel Turners. I sold them to Reg O’Connell for $50. They’d cost me almost nothing, having been picked up at opshops. One could argue I’d made an nice profit.

But that wasn’t the point. You really should buy books because you like them, not because you think they are going to make you money. The Rare Book Monthly has a really interesting article about books as investment which I thoroughly recommend. It comes, of course, to the same conclusion.

My apartment in Geneva is covered in bookshelves, we have thousands of books here. Almost none of them are worth more than a dollar or two, but we love being surrounded by them. In fact when I tried, on one occasion, to suggest replacing a much loved series in the most tatty paperbacks with a nice hardcover set, I faced rebellion. ‘But these are the ones I first read, they are the ones I value.’ The value, in other words, has nothing to do with money.

So when we talk of books as investment, whilst the financial adviser is looking at whether it is better to buy a book or a share, a human being should be looking at emotional investment and emotional gains. I’d say that matters at the highest and lowest ends of the market. Buy the first edition 1945 in dust-jacket for thousands of dollars because of how it will make you feel, not because you hope it will perform better than buying mining shares. Buy the tatty everyman edition in the opshop for $2 because it reminds you of your first time with the book. Books should be about feelings. Should you happen to end up with a book that turns out to be a financial windfall, that’s not even the icing on the cake.




Crimean War: a medico’s view

We are listing next week a group of military books which includes:

An Edinburgh Boy
A Story of Active Service in Foreign Lands.
Extracts from Letters sent home from the Crimea 1854-1856 

(Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons: 1886) First Edition.
Half leather (that is, hard covers) pp. viii, 262.

We observe this notice of its publication in The Spectator 1 JANUARY 1887, Page 34

A Story of Active Service in Foreign Lands :

Extracts from Letters sent Home from the Crimea, 1854-1856. By “An Edinburgh Boy.” (William Blackwood and Sons.)—All who are old enough to remember the Crimean War, and all who care to know what war is when stripped of its tinsel and its glamour, will find profit, and possibly take pleasure, in the reading of this book. The author was an Army surgeon who went out to the Crimea towards the close of 1854, and remained there until the end of the campaign. Daring this time he wrote regularly to his friends, and his lettere, now first published, give a plain and unvarnished, yet vivid and realistic account of his experiences during the war. Not being a newspaper correspondent, he was under no temptation to write for effect ; and his position as an actor in the drama makes his testimony both more valuable and more truthful than that of a mere observer, however quicksighted and painstaking. One of the sensations of the war was Russell’s letters to the Times, describing the condition of the Army after the battle of Balaclava, the blenders of the Com. missariat, the lack of comforts, and the misery of the men. The excitement these letters caused in England was intense. They overthrew a Government, and ruined the reputation of a Minister. Yet, judging from the testimony of “An Edinburgh Boy,” and of other participators in the strife, it does not appear that the sufferings of our troops were either so terrible or so extraordinary as was represented at the time ; nothing to be compared, for instance, with the sufferings endured by the Russian and French armies during the retreat from Moscow, of the Russian Army which forced the passage of the Balkans in the last Turkish War, or of Bourbaki’s army when it was forced to retreat through the passes of the Jam into the neutral territory of Switzerland. But in 1854 there had been no European war for forty years; the English of that age had forgotten that wars are not made with rose-water ; Russell’s letters thrilled them with horror and compassion, and they allowed indignation to get the better a their judgment. War spells suffering ; and the most fortunate soldiers are probably those who meet with instant death on the field of battle ; its minor as well as its greater miseries can be known only to those who, like oar author, have seen active service, and survived the perils of a cam- paign. But all who would form some idea of them at second-hand, may do so very effectually by reading his truthful and interesting book.

Of Books and Auction Sales part 2 by Paul Depasquale

Of Books and Auction Sales part 2

Prices and Value

Is the best value in collectable books to be found in book shops or at auctions?

The answer must necessarily depend upon how well you know your chosen area and how determined you are to buy as soon as possible. When books are offered in box or shelf lots, the dealer has the advantage because his interests will be wider than those of any collector—large lots at mart auctions are rarely if ever sorted by category, meaning that the books represent many fields. In this context the collector must be distinguished from the accumulator, though it is not uncommon for accumulators to call themselves collectors. The collector is given his chance through the increasing tendency of the auction houses to offer books singly, a trend most noticeable at present at Small & Whitfieldʼs and at Megaw & Hoggʼs: for a desirable single item the collector always has the opportunity of beating the trade. Not everyone, however, is comfortable about buying at auction, and there is something about finding a desired book in a shop which is entirely sui generis. There is also the advantage that, in a shop, you may change your mind while you browse—how often have we not all picked up the first ʻmust buyʼ only to put it back when something even more ʻmust buyableʼ comes to hand?—whereas at an auction you cannot change your mind. A bought lot is yours and at your risk from the fall of the hammer: there are no second chances.

Another problem at auctions is that nothing has a fixed price, so that you cannot foretell how much particular items will make: it is therefore difficult to budget. Again, this must favour the trade. One is often left in the position of having to think sharply on oneʼs feet after having clinched a few lots at or above oneʼs pre-set maxima: how far to go for the next lot or lots? Compare this jungle atmosphere with the civilized, the gentle joys of browsing. However, if you are of the temperament which the sports commentators term ʻcompetitiveʼ, and you derive pleasure from beating others, then auctions are for you, for every time an item is sold by auction someone ʻwinsʼ and someone else ʻlosesʼ.

Of course, the ʻwinnerʼ may not necessarily be the person who makes the purchase, for, of all the fallacies which surround collecting, one of the more pernicious is to the effect that if you buy at auction you cannot be paying too much. Indeed, for every ʻbargainʼ buy at a lively mart auction (there are days when most lots are bargains) there will be a buy made at or above shop price. Again, the first principle of buying at auction must be restated: know your area and keep to it.

It takes all types to make an auction, from the over-cautious bidder who all too often is left lamenting that he did not ʻgo one more jumpʼ to the swaggering bravo who bids with the almost mad enthusiasm of Errol Flynn playing a pirate king. The sale room is to a large extent a theatre wherein we all play our parts, including the freewheeling swordsman who likes to cut his way to the treasure whatever the cost. This sort of thing cannot last, unless perhaps if the hero has an independent income of great proportions—in which case, why would he do his own buying at auction if it were not for the theatrical impact of his triumphs? It is not unknown for audiences (I mean audiences, which may include buyers) at auctions to burst into applause at the end of a spectacular bidding duel.

To buy advantageously at auction needs much preparation: books have to be examined as to condition, edition and completeness. At our own (Pioneer Books) auctions this is done by us to the best of our ability, and the results are in the catalogue. We have had some errors, but happily not too often: the fact is that no auctioneer can give absolute surety, but especially is this so at mart auctions. Here you bid for what the auctioneer displays and you buy, in the end, according to your judgement. No auctioneer would last long if the house did not act in good faith—deliberate false representation is unthinkable—but there is no way in which any mart auctioneer could collate and fully describe the books he offers—that is up to the would-be purchaser. The auctioneer is bound to do his best for the vendor and for the purchaser, which is a unique position to be in, for he must get the best price he can for the vendor while the purchaserʼs aim is to buy as cheaply as possible. Nevertheless, the house will answer your questions to the best of its ability, for it is the competition between two or more would-be buyers that makes an auction, not some amazing sleight of hand on the auctioneerʼs part.

I have found the staffs of all five houses discussed here to be both friendly and helpful: if they ever seem less than that to you, pause to consider the pressure on them not only on sale days but during the preparation of sales. There is no auction unless buyers attend, and I cannot imagine a house which would do anything to upset visitors. They know that the casual visitor of today is the vendor or the buyer of tomorrow: it is just a matter of letting them hook themselves. For those of us who are already addicted, life would be much more dull without the mart sales by auction.