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A few days ago I commented on the wonderful news that the British Library is to make available to Kindle users some of its rare first editions as free digital downloads.

More details of the digital books have now been released.  All are unique to the British Library collection. Go here to read a press release from the British Library with all the delightful details.

As a fan of early 19th century theatre I can’t wait to read The Amorous Knight and the Belle Widow, (1809): a three act original comedy produced in dedication of Valentine’s Day…and the intriguingly titled The Bishop and the Parson’s Beard, a tale in verse (1810)

And this book, A Useful Compendium of Many Important and Curious Branches of Science and General Knowledge by the Rev. Thomas Watson (1812) sounds irresistible ;-)

These will also be available  to buy as print-on-demand editions. So we will have the best of both worlds. Amazing.

but not the Deirdre Le Faye edition…..the Brabourne edition;-)

This may initially appear to you as a strange thing to include in a  book review, a set of books that have been out of print for over 100 years…but wait …you well probably be as surprised and pleased as I was to discover that Cambridge University Press have recently taken on the concept of print-on-demand books and have made it into something that has the potential to be very special indeed.

They are re-issuing scholarly out of print books from the unimaginably wide range of books in their libraries.

The edition of Jane Austen’s letters edited by Jane Austen’s nephew, Lord Brabourne, is among the first digitally reprinted books to be issued in the new series –The Cambridge Library Collection

It comes in the form of two very reasonably priced volumes, both in paperback editions.

They are facsimiles of the original books, first published in 1884 by Richard Bentley and Son.

The originals have become so expensive that I have long since put my reasonably-priced-when-bought-all those- years-ago volumes on The Not To Be Touched Shelf.

So now I am pleased to own these two volumes in this accessible form so that I can examine them once again without fear of breaking the spine, spilling tea over them  or otherwise damaging them in my usual klutzy way.

This Brabourne collection is, of course, available on-line, and has been superseded by the Le Faye Edition, but it still has some merits, the introductions by Lord Barbourne and interesting family documents etc, and there is a charm in examining the first proper selection of Jane Austen’s letters in its original form. Especially when the original volumes are now so scarce and…so ruinously and hideously expensive.  And despite, or rather because of being a fond Kindle owner, I find I do like to hold a book in my hands, rather than read one on line, especially if I’m doing it for prolonged periods of time. So this re-issue is wonderful.

My only gripe is that the two illustrations in the books are quite fuzzy and indistinct.

The portrait supposedly of Jane Austen as a child, commonly known as The Rice Portrait ,

is rendered (as in the original books) in black and white but as you can see, below, this version is very blurred :

The view of Godmersham from The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 7 (1798) by Edward Hasted in Volume II of the letters is also not particularly clear…

…especially if you compare it with the original print , of which I have a copy

However this is nitpicking on my part, a minor quibble. It is the text that is important and these books deliver it in a perfectly legible way.

The Cambridge University Press have only just begun to reissue many titles on many subjects in this series. Follow this link here to read a general introduction, and this link here gives the current list, subject by subject

Below is a very lovely and informative video of the whole process-accompanied by heavenly music by William Byrd sung by the choir of Girton College. Just click on it to play….

I love the idea that they are open to suggestions for further reprints and  I am compiling a list with a few suggestions. Their own collection of books must be mind bogglingly immense, but if you suggest a title of  merit that they do not own or is not out of copyright  but out of print ,they will attempt to pursue the matter and try to produce their own edition of the books.

As someone whose ancestor was John Baskerville, who was commissioned to print books for  Cambridge University in the 18th century, I have always had an affection for the CUP. I can only laud this whole process, and urge you to take advantage of this opportunity to own your own copies of hard to find and sometimes impossibly expensive texts.

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