Many of the books in the Museum of Childhood’s stores contain more than we expect. In our last blog post, Morgan explored how books themselves can tell a narrative. Sometimes they are inscribed or annotated, and we often find things – such as flowers, bus tickets, and comic strips – contained within them. This week, however, we found a book that was itself contained, and which tells a beautiful love story.
Sorting through a box of colourful picture books, this worn brown paper immediately stood out. Upon closer inspection, it became clear that the paper was an envelope, which contained a book entitled Mr Barnacles and His Boat. This lovely book, published in 1858, is full of beautiful illustrations. It tells the story of a man who visits Wales to go fishing, but ends up meeting – and marrying – an old acquaintance.
We love finding charming stories like these, but this find was made even more exciting by an inscription before the title page, which says ‘Pauline Auguste Johanne Heischmann, with the author’s kind regards’. The author of this book was a William Ayrton, who also wrote a book called The Adventures of a Salmon in the River Dee in 1853 – you can find it online here. It is always great to find books signed by their authors, and in this case it seems that the author sent the book in the very same envelope in which it still rests – a remarkable thing.
However, the most remarkable thing about this book involves another inscription, written in a different hand on the page before the author’s message. It says ‘The author is William Francis Ayrton who later married Pauline Heischmann’.
It seems so romantic that almost exactly 160 years ago William Ayrton wrote this book about a gentleman finding a wife, and then sent it to the woman he would later marry. Their relationship remains a mystery, but to hold this book – still in its envelope – is a humbling and emotional experience: a little of their love remains, even if they are long gone. We can only hope that Pauline was more understanding of William’s hobbies than her fictional counterpart!
This post written by Danielle