Sex Sex Sex

Mark Kishlansky

  • A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration by Jenny Uglow
    Faber, 580 pp, £25.00, October 2009, ISBN 978 0 571 21733 5

Harry Widener went down on the Titanic at the age of 27. He was the scion of a wealthy Philadelphia family whose patriarch began life as a street vendor and ended it as one of the richest men in America; one of his early coups was a contract to supply the Union army with meat. Harry grew up amid priceless collections of pictures, coins, and especially books. When he graduated from Harvard in 1907 he was already an accomplished bibliophile and by the time of his premature death, had amassed more than 3000 rare books and manuscripts. His library included autographed first editions of novels by the Brontës, Dickens and Thackeray and nearly everything that he could find associated with Robert Louis Stevenson. He also had a number of trophy items like Shakespeare’s First Folio (though copies of the Folio were not so hard to find: his contemporary Henry Folger collected 79). In 1912 the Wideners visited London, where Harry purchased a rare edition of Francis Bacon’s Essays. They set out for home on the Titanic, but only Harry’s mother arrived; her husband and son were never seen again. In her son’s memory, Eleanor Widener built the greatest university library in the world. Harry’s collection was preserved intact and housed in the heart of the building, its treasures on permanent display. Among these is Charles II’s copy of the Eikon Basilike.

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