"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth". Listening to the radio yesterday morning, I realised it's 400 years since the King James bible was first published (1611). These words in Genesis 1:1 still reverberate in my mind, as do so many verses and phrases in the bible, even though I am no longer a religious person (but that's another story). I can remember reading endless psalms in Church as a teenager, when the vicar's sermons were particularly tedious and boring. Much of the beautiful and stirring language has remained with me through the years, particularly stories from the Old Testament.
title page from a recent acquisition
It was my great-grandfather (Henry Guppy, 1861 to 1948) who instilled in me a love of books and words. He became librarian of the John Rylands Library in Manchester in 1899 until his death aged 86. He procured for me books for my birthdays and at Christmas throughout the second world war, when they were hard to come by. Natural history and poetry, mainly, all rather too advanced for my then young years, but still a source of joy even now. I suddenly remembered that his speciality was history of the bible and somewhere I still have a copy of his treatise on the classics scholar, Miles Coverdale, who was instrumental in producing the first complete printed English Bible in the 1500s. But I digress; it was the radio programme that brought HG back to mind, and he would be horrified I am sure to know that I now buy old books to rip apart for collage!
an early 1900s bible, bought for 're-purposing', sitting atop my 'junk-journal' on my writing/art desk; on the top is a candle-holder bought in the gift shop at Tewkesbury Abbey. Book and Candle, it only wants the Bell to symbolise ex-communication.
I cannot resist second-hand bookshops and have been collecting 'remainders' or interesting-looking books for as long as I can remember, but only recently to take apart for collage. On holiday in the Welsh Marches a couple of months ago, I walked into a shop the like of which I have never seen before. It was vast, with rooms and racks of shelves from floor to ceiling, and boxes spilling out all over the floor; difficult to step around them. I rummaged about, and then found this old bible, minus covers, stained and somewhat tattered. A little searching on the floor revealed the covers. £10.00 was rather more than I intended to pay, but it seemed perfect for the new journaling challenge I had set myself. I could not find anyone to pay and was on the point of returning the book to the box where I had found it when I spotted a notice - "please pay at the gift shop down the street". Obviously honest folk in this little Welsh town.
But I felt like a thief and not wanting to be accused of actually being one (having numerous bags about my person into which I could have stuffed it), I marched along the pavement with the book held out in front of me as if I was on the way to the stake. Paid, and delighted, I looked for the first quote that I would use on the journal page. And then I had qualms, felt guilty; should I really rip up a bible? It seemed somehow sacrilegious. Should I in fact be tearing apart books that could be re-purposed again and again if I adopted a different procedure? So this is what I now do: I carefully slice the pages apart and scan them, then crop and print the part I want to use on 45gsm layout paper. In a way, my conscience is clear; I have the book (and the scans) to use again and again. Maybe my great-grandfather need not turn in his grave after all. And don't you love the bible's inscription: "Sarah Price, her book. Aged 11, December 1913". Amen.