The Burgess Foundation’s collection of Anthony Burgess’s private library contains over 8000 volumes, many of which have come to us from Burgess’s houses around the world. Travels in Malaya, Malta, Italy and elsewhere, as well as the ravages of time, have unfortunately damaged some of the books: termites, floods, heat, sunlight and vigorous reading have all been dangerous over the years to these valuable objects. We have worked with Formbys Bookbinders of Ramsbottom since 2011 to conserve and restore selected items from our book collection so that we can make them available to visiting researchers.
One of these books is The Faber Book of Modern Verse, edited by Michael Roberts. Bearing the inscriptions ‘jbw/lw’ — for ‘John Burgess Wilson’ and ‘Lynne Wilson’, Burgess’s first wife — it was obviously much used, and in its battered state required complete restoration of the binding and rebacking of the spine and back board in cloth to match. The endpapers have also been replaced with acid free paper, and the surfaces were all carefully cleaned. The volume is now returned to a stable and useable state, and helps us understand more about Burgess’s reading and influences.
The Faber Book of Modern Verse was a very important anthology for Burgess as it contains poetry by a generation of writers who for him defined the modernist movement. These included Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose ‘Wreck of the Deutschland’ Burgess set for choir and orchestra in 1982, and W.B. Yeats, described by Burgess in 1985 as ‘perhaps the greatest poet of the twentieth century’. There are also four poems by D. H. Lawrence, which Burgess set to music for a chamber ensemble in 1984, presumably while looking at this very book; and T.S. Eliot. This text of The Waste Land is marked up for performance, perhaps for a student production while Burgess was teaching at Banbury Grammar School in the 1950s.
Our programme of book restoration is continuing, with the help of Formbys, into 2020 and beyond. Further work is currently being carried out on a number of other important volumes. These include Vladimir Nabokov’s four-volume edition of Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin; a signed and inscribed copy of To Be King by Robert DeMaria, a novel about Christopher Marlowe and a precursor to Burgess’s own Dead Man in Deptford; and Lynne Wilson’s copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam from 1931, which is one of the oldest books in the collection.