Thursday, November 21, 2013

A book and letter for Jacqueline Kennedy

In May of 1961, British journalist and author, George Bilainkin, sent an inscribed copy of his 1947 book, Second Diary of a Diplomatic Correspondent to the new First Lady of the United States, Jacqueline Kennedy. 

He also included a typed, signed letter on his letterhead and indicated a few pages of interest to the First Lady and perhaps the new President, whom he had known and met with on several occasions in 1945 at the close of World War II.

The book and letter were sent to Mrs. Kennedy in advance of an upcoming trip to London, in which the author hoped to meet with both, or at least the First Lady, and revisit a few sites pertinent to his meetings, as a journalist, with a young Jack Kennedy in 1945. He also knew the President’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., when he was the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom. Bilainkin also expresses his wish to take Mrs. Kennedy to lunch and, as if that weren't enough, further requests she bring photos of herself, her husband, and his parents!

The Kennedys, on their first trip overseas, while in the White House, went to Paris, Vienna, and London. They were in London June 4-5, 1961 and it seems all but impossible that they had the time or desire to meet with a journalist whom the President had crossed paths with in 1945. Certainly, it was never a consideration.

For the First Lady of the United States of America, from an old admirer and all-weather friend of the Kennedy clan.
George Bilainkin  May 1961

It is unknown, though, if Jacqueline Kennedy actually received this book, looked through it, and showed the author’s marked passages to the President (pages noted under the inscription above and in the Index). 

But it is intriguing to ponder that this book could have been in the possession of one or both for a time. They left no writing of ownership or annotation behind to confirm that. The book eventually found its way into a Washington, D.C. estate and later into the second-hand market, letter intact.

On its own merit, this book is an interesting history from a diplomatic correspondent’s point-of-view at the end of World War II. His intimate portraits of heads of state he met, such as Tito, de Gaulle, Churchill, and diplomats such as the aforementioned Kennedy, fill the pages of this follow-up to his 1940 published diary.

But it's the inscription and letter to First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, and the speculation that she or President Kennedy kept this on the White House bookshelves for awhile, that makes this particular copy even more interesting.

Second Diary of a Diplomatic Correspondent,
by George Bilainkin

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

An Interesting Bible Story

I'm crossposting this from another blog of mine, Archaeolibris, where the post was titled, A Stitch in Time: Hannah Darling's Book.

Looking through old Bibles can sometimes reveal interesting items that have been tucked away among the leaves for decades or centuries, or one might find traces of provenance through written lines of ownership, along with recorded family history. This First Brookfield Edition was no exception to all of the above. What likely was the exception for this particular Bible was the crafty and inventive repair of a single, torn page with the tools of an amateur book conservator: A needle and thread.


Earlier this year, I acquired this old Bible, the First Brookfield Edition, of The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments: Together with the Apocrypha: Translated Out of the Original Tongues, and with the Former Translations Diligently Compared and Revised, printed in Brookfield, Massachusetts in 1815 by Merriam and Co. Researching Brookfield, a town west of Worcester, the most interesting, or infamous, thing I can find is that a local woman, 32-year-old Bathsheba Spooner, was hanged in 1778 with three soldiers for murdering her husband. She was five months pregnant at the time (a 17-year-old Continental soldier was the father, not her husband, and hanged with her). Before I get too sidetracked on that interesting tidbit of American history (she was the first woman hanged by Americans), here's the link to her story:

Each time I thumbed through the old Bible, I seemed to find something new.

First, there was a four-leaf clover at Leviticus Chapter XVII. Then several more marking Chapters XVI and XVII of The Gospel According to St. Luke. Were those favorite passages, or just random selections for holding botanical keepsakes?

Then there was the discovery of the original owners of this Bible: Jewett Darling and his wife Hannah (nee Murdock). In space provided between the Old and New Testaments, vital statistics about the family were dutifully and carefully scripted.

Both Hannah and Jewett were born before the Revolutionary War, married in 1809, and had five children (three survived infancy). Births and deaths of several generations, including Hannah and Jewett, are written in the Darling Bible. 

From some genealogy research, I have learned that Jewett Boynton Darling served during the Revolutionary War and that Hannah's sister, Deborah, was his first wife. They had married in 1790 and in 1809, as Hannah recorded in the family Bible, he married Hannah.

Actually, this was Hannah's Bible. Perhaps Jewett bought it for her as a gift, or they acquired it some other way, but Hannah wrote her name in it for anyone then, or 200 years later, to know whose book it really was. The verso of the title page contains a decorative graphic that simulates a rudimentary bookplate. Within its boundaries, she asserted ownership with the written inscription, Hannah Darling's Book.

One final thumbing through the pages revealed something I had never seen before in an old book, or any kind of book for that matter: A hand-sewn repair of a torn page! The page was torn diagonally from near the bottom toward the binding near the top.

In the days before Scotch tape (thankfully) the Bible's owner resorted to the technology of the day to secure the page and keep the family Bible completely intact. The careful stitching looks like a painstaking task taken on sometime in the 1800s. I can't imagine anyone in the 20th century doing this. 

Was it Hannah? Perhaps a daughter or granddaughter? I'll never know.

But why go to all the trouble of stitching a torn page together?

Maybe one of the verses, Revelation 22:7, that was sewn back in place had something to do with the owner taking on such an arduous task:
Blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book.
Perhaps the interpretation was extended to keepeth intact... I suppose the real answer is that the book meant too much to Hannah or one of her descendants to have even a single page suffer in perpetuity in a torn state.

I have searched for other examples of this interesting bit of work. Did others from Hannah Darling's era repair treasured Bibles or other books in such a manner? I haven't found anything to support that. Maybe it was just a quirk of Hannah's (or whomever's) personality that the page had to be made whole again.

One thing for certain is that the job was an artistic piece of work. The torn sides match up beautifully and the repair has lasted into the 21st century. It has served its intended purpose. A stitch in time for a lifetime. And then some.