MASON, William Monck. Esq. The History and Antiquities of the Collegiate and Cathedral Church of St. Patrick, from its foundation in 1190, to the year 1819. Comprising a topographical account of the lands and parishes appropriated to the community of the Cathedral, and to its members; and biographical memoirs of its deans.


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With a map and six engravings. Dublin: Printed for the Author, by W. Folds, Strand Street, 1820. Quarto. pp. [x], 478, [ii], xcvii. Contemporary full panelled calf, title in gilt on original black morocco label on professionally restored spine. Engraved bookplate of Shane Leslie on front pastedown, with manuscript note by him on final blank. Occasional spotting to a few plates. A near fine crisp copy. Scarce.
COPAC locates 10 copies only.
William Monck Mason (1775-1859), historian, was born in 1775 in Dublin, the eldest son of Henry Monck Mason, a colonel of engineers, and his second wife, Jane Mason (née Mosse), a daughter of the surgeon and philanthropist Bartholomew Mosse. His uncle was John Monck Mason, the politician and literary commentator, and his brother was Henry Joseph Monck Mason, the writer, librarian, and evangelical reformer. In 1796 William succeeded his father as land waiter for exports in the Dublin revenue department, a sinecure that allowed him to dedicate his life to historical scholarship. He began work on a vastly ambitious topographical study of Ireland, that was never completed, but which created great interest. The first part, The history and antiquities of the collegiate and cathedral church of St Patrick, was published in 1819 and included a lengthy biography of Jonathan Swift. The book won much praise, but Mason did not complete his intended sequel, a history of Christ Church. In 1823 he published a prospectus for a new history of Dublin, and this was followed in 1825 by a pamphlet of suggestions for the survey and valuation of Ireland. Both were critical of existing works, but neither led to anything further. After his sinecure was abolished in 1826 Mason was awarded an annual pension by the government and he left Ireland to travel on the continent. He sold his library and various collections of fine art in London between 1834 and 1837, and thereafter concentrated on the study of philology. In 1848 he moved to England, where he resided for the remainder of his life. Within a few years he had amassed another enormous library, which he sold at auction in 1852. His literary collections and notes on Irish history were also sold at auction, in 1858. He died 6 March 1859 at Surbiton, Surrey. He married, but there are no details of his wife.
Plates: South View of St. Patrick’s Cathedral; View of the Choir of St. Patrick’s Cathedral; Ground Plan of the Precincts of St. Patrick’s Cathedral; Monument of Dean Sutton; Monument of Dean Fyche; Jonathan Swift; Monument for Richard, First Earl of Cork.
The biography of Jonathan Swift occupies p. 225-444. “Appendix to the History of St. Patrick’s Cathedral”: pages [i]-xlvi. “Additional notes and illustrations”: pages [xlvii]-xcvii. Plates engraved by W. Smith (perhaps William Raymond Smith), Richard Roffe, Barak Longmate, Edward Scriven, and W. Findlay, variously after Patrick Byrne, John Longfield, Francis Bindon, and one Grattan. This was intended to be the first in a series entitled “Hibernia Antiqua et Hodierna”, of which no more were published; some of the plates are headed “For Mason’s Hibernia. Includes bibliographical references.
Provenance: From the library of Shane Leslie, with his bookplate. Sir John Randolph Leslie, 3rd Baronet, generally known as Shane Leslie (1885-1971), diplomat and writer was born in Glaslough, County Monaghan, into a wealthy Anglo-Irish landowning family. His father, Sir John Leslie, 2nd Baronet, and his mother, Leonie Jerome, was the sister of Winston Churchill’s mother, Jennie. In 1908, Leslie became a Roman Catholic and supported Irish Home Rule.
In January 1934, Shane Leslie, that denizen of County Monaghan, was in Philadelphia to give the third series of lectures of the Rosenbach Fellowship in Bibliography. His main subject was ‘The Script of Swift’, with side excursions into Irish history and rare books. The lecture hall on the three Thursdays he spoke was filled by a faithful contingent of nuns, who came to play tribute to the faithful son of the Church with usual energy Dr Rosenbach saw to it that the papers were fed with advance publicity and, tongue-in-cheek, apologised to Shane for the inconvenience he was causing by having reporters meet him at the boat. Through Frank Hogan and others Rosenbach arranged engagements under the auspices of Cardinals O’Connell of Boston, Hayes of New York, and Mundelein of Chicago. Leslie went up and down the seaboard and into the Middle West, feted by the Catholic laity, charming all by his blarney and with an Oxford (via Cambridge) accent, receiving rewards spiritual and definitely financial.
Leslie was a handsome Irishman with strong Cambridge ties, a literary reputation, little money, and a wealth of connections - his mother was one of the three beautiful daughters of the fabulous American Leonard Jerome (the other two mothered Winston Churchill and Clare Sheridan) - which he was willing to employ on the Doctor’s behalf. Rosenbach had never been to Ireland, and Leslie thought it was time he came. Perhaps the green hills and the peaty smells and a visit with the Leslies at Glass Lough Castle could have been bait enough to lure him across the Irish Channel but there were Shane’s tales of virgin libraries panting for a seducer. No gentleman ever refuses such an invitation. Dr Rosenbach arrived in Belfast early in April 1934. Leslie had his itinerary well-scheduled and there was not a moment to waste. It was off to Clandeboye for lunch with Lord Dufferin. His father the first Marquis of Dufferin and Ava, had been a distinguished diplomat during the reign of Queen Victoria, serving as ambassador at St. Petersburg, Constantinople, Cairo, Rome, and Paris, and, most impressively, he also served as Governor-General of India. His wife had literary tastes and the friendships of literary men. When she built a towered library at Clandeboye, the English men of letters vied to do her and “Helen’s Tower” honour. The result was a rich harvest of manuscript poems and presentation copies from such men as Carlyle, Dickens, Thackeray, Disraeli, and Tennyson.
Lord Dufferin had confessed to Leslie that an urgent need for cash made him desirous of selling his books, but that his whole estate was entailed. He could not therefore turn them over to Dr Rosenbach. However, Dufferin did suggest, that if the Dr were to give him a cheque, and then if Leslie were to burgle the books at night, he would not be in the position of handing them over. With an electric torch that night, Shane Leslie crept into the library, gathered the books together, put them in a sack his host had obligingly provided, and hid them in a hollow oak in the park. Leslie assured the Dr all would be well and so it turned out to be. Years later, the family discovered the “theft” and sued for the recovery of the volumes. With injured dignity Dr Rosenbach replied that he had a cancelled cheque as evidence of a bona fide business transaction; besides, many of the books had been sold and were scattered; and, finally, the law of entail had no teeth in the United States.
The Dufferin books were merely an apéritif; the main course was reserved for the next day. After breakfast at Glasslough, Leslie took the Dr over to see one of his neighbours, the Earl of Caledon, at Tyrone. He must have some books, Shane told the Dr, for he had inherited a good part of the library of that literate Bishop of Dromore, Thomas Percy, the editor of the ‘Reliques of Ancient English Poetry’. More than that Leslie had not said, for neither he nor any other book-knowledgeable person had been through the shelves of Caledon within the memory of man. The Earl received the American bookman with great courtesy, and after polite preliminaries, during which Dr Rosenbach sat glancing around the library walled with mellowed books, he offered the Dr a drink and the freedom of his shelves. No unleashed greyhound ever bounded faster after rabbit than the portly Dr rushed to the books. Shane Leslie, who had seen him in action before, watched the succeeding performance in dumbfounded amazement. Dr Rosenbach ran his fingers along a shelf, gently pulled a volume down, blew the dust from the top, opened it, and placed it on a table in the centre of the room. Again and again he repeated the process, quickly, unhesitatingly, with calm assurance. In a matter of minutes, it seemed, he had skimmed along the last shelf, and on the table was a not impressively large pile of old books. The little stack of selected volumes included, Bishop Percy’s Annotated copy of ‘First Folio of Shakespeare’, not quite perfect, but with a sentimental and critical value more than compensating for its condition. There, too, was what had once been the twin of the famous collection of 1619 Shakespeare quartos which the Dr had sold to Folger from the Perry Collection, and of which he remarked in ‘Books and Bidders’ - “I do not hesitate to say that this book would bring at least $200,000 if it were sold on the block today”. There was also in this collection the first edition of Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnets’, 1609, a volume of such rarity that Folger had been satisfied to pay $10,500 for the Jones copy in 1919 even though it lacked two leaves; the Caleden copy was quite perfect. The acquisition of the Caleden first was an example of serendipity so fortunate that Dr Rosenbach did not want to spoil his luck by selling it. He took it home, and it stayed at DeLancey Street until after his death.
With Dufferin and Caleden under his belt, Dr Rosenbach could afford to relax. He motored to Carrickmacross, looked at the collection of Evelyn Philip Shirley, and filed his recollections for future reference. The following year Leslie persuaded Shirley to accept £2,000 for a group of manuscripts, for which he received “In the spirit in which it was sent” £300 as an honorarium for his excellent work in procuring them. - Wolf & Fleming Rosenbach, Cleveland and New York, 1960.


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