FROM THE LIBRARY OF STEPHEN KEYNES, THE SON OF GEOFFREY KEYNES
WHO CONSIDERED LEONARD WOOLF HIS ‘BEST FRIEND IN THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP’

WOOLF, Leonard Sidney and Dora CARRINGTON (artist). Stories of the East. Richmond: Leonard and Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press, 1921. 

Octavo (192 x 120mm), pp. 55, [1 (publisher’s advertisement)]. (A few light spots.) Original light-orange/buff printed wrappers with woodcut design by and after Carrington printed in red, yapp-edges. (Light spotting on free endpapers, staples slightly oxidised, wrappers lightly marked and darkened, yapp-edges rubbed and creased as often.) A very good, clean copy in the original wrappers. Provenance: loosely-inserted, clipped bookseller’s catalogue description, presumably of this copy, priced at £350 and with red dot – Stephen John Keynes OBE, FLS (1927-2017).

First edition, one of 300 copies. The writer, publisher, and political theoretician Leonard Woolf (1880-1969) was educated at St Paul’s School and Trinity College, Cambridge, where his friends included Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell, and Thoby Stephen (the brother of Virginia and Vanessa Stephen). At Cambridge Woolf became a member of the Apostles, through which he met John Maynard Keynes, Roger Fry, and E. M. Forster, and he found himself at the centre of a circle which would provide the foundations of the Bloomsbury Group. Following graduation, in 1904 ‘Woolf joined the colonial civil service in Ceylon rather than becoming a schoolmaster or lawyer. He served for seven years, at Jaffna, Kandy, and finally, Hambantota where, as the youngest assistant government agent in the service, he administered 100,000 Sinhalese in a district of 1000 miles. There he continued what he later called his anti-imperialist education. Striving to improve the lives of the villagers with an efficiency that was at times ruthless, he became increasingly ambivalent about his government’s mismanagement of jungle agriculture, the absurdity of one civilization imposing itself on another, and the hypocrisy of the British failure to prepare its colony for self-government’ (ODNB). The disillusioned Woolf resigned from the Civil Service in 1912 and married Virginia Stephen, with whom he founded the Hogarth Press in 1917. 

The early publications of the press were drawn from their own writings and those of their friends, and were often illustrated by artists who were members of or associated with the Bloomsbury Group. Leonard Woolf’s Stories of the Eastis composed of three stories – ‘A Tale Told by Moonlight’, ‘Pearls and Swine’, and ‘The Two Brahmans’ – which Woolf wrote after his resignation from the Civil Service and draw upon his experiences in Sri Lanka. The book was typeset by Leonard and Virginia Woolf and printed by them on the original Hogarth Press handpress, and the ‘ravishing paper cover’ (Victoria Glendinning, Leonard Woolf (London, 2006), p. 228) was illustrated with a woodcut depicting a tiger between two palm trees by the Bloomsbury artist Dora Carrington (1893-1932). Stories of the East was published in April 1921 in an edition of 300 copies and it ‘received on 2 May 1921 a rave review by H. Hamilton Fyfe in the Daily Mail, in particular for the Ceylon pearl-fishing story, “Pearls and Swine”, which should find a place “among the best short stories of the world”’ (loc. cit.). As Luedeking and Edmonds comment, quoting Virginia Woolf’s correspondence, the favourable reviews ‘left the amateur publishers “flooded with orders” […] and 261 copies (nearly the entire edition) sold out in the first 5 months’, making it was one of the most successful early publications of the Hogarth Press.

This copy is from the library of the noted bibliophile Stephen Keynes, a great-grandson of Charles Darwin, the founder and chairman of the Charles Darwin Trust, and a member of the Roxburghe Club. Both Stephen Keynes’ father Geoffrey Keynes and his uncle John Maynard Keynes were friends of the Woolfs, and both Geoffrey and Maynard Keynes lived at 38 Brunswick Square, the large Bloomsbury town house which was leased by Maynard Keynes and became the home of Virginia Woolf, Duncan Grant, Adrian Stephen, Leonard Woolf, and other members of the Bloomsbury Group at various times between 1912 and 1915. 

Leonard Woolf had moved into the house on his return from Sri Lanka and lived there with Virginia after their marriage in August 1912, while the physician Geoffrey Keynes had moved to the house in October 1913. One evening Keynes returned from St Bartholomew’s Hospital ‘to find the whole house in a state of consternation because Virginia had been found insensible in her room, having just made her first attempt at suicide by means of a large dose of a narcotic drug’ (The Gates of Memory (Oxford, 1981), pp. 115-116). Keynes determined that a stomach pump was the best instrument to deal with the overdose and ‘Leonard Woolf and I dashed through the streets to Bart’s in a taxicab waving aside the policemen (in the then absence of traffic lights) shouting “Doctor! Doctor!” if they tried to stop us. However it was that we accomplished our task, we succeeded. The stomach pump was fetched’ and Virginia Woolf’s life was saved (op. cit., p. 116). Leonard Woolf – whom Keynes and his wife ‘regarded as our best friend in the Bloomsbury group’ (loc. cit.) later gave Keynes the manuscript of Virginia Woolf’s essay ‘On Being Ill’ in gratitude for his life-saving first aid.

Luedeking and Edmonds, Leonard Woolf, A18a; Woolmer, Hogarth Press, 16.

£1,250

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