Here we have a particularly rare collection -- an entire library from a Jorasanko Palace. The Estate of its provenance has been documented as the most successful private enterprise in British India in the mid-19th century (Somerset Playne, Bengal and Assam, Behar and Orissa, 1917). The library itself is representative of popular British literature in the early 20th century, as was often seen in the prominent Zamindari houses.
Provenance: Private Family Collection
Starting Bid: INR 4,00,000
Estimate: INR 5,00,000 - 6,00,000
[Prinseps' Modern Art and Contemporary Sale is now live for proxy bidding. Live bidding opens at 7 P.M. on November 17th]
The most famous book in this collection, perhaps, is Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams. Uniquely, this particular edition was the first one translated into english, and published in 1913. While much need not be said about its pioneering study into human psychology, one would be remiss in not mentioning its arrival within a world which, at the turn of the 19th century, was already enthused by the emergence of a rational and scientific mode of study.
At the time, the rapid progression of industry and technology had cemented the primacy and validity of scientific rationality, yet this new form seemed strange to a world emerging from the non-modern depths of the past. A series on Applied Psychology thus presents to its readers the best ways in which one could harness cognitive abilities and put them to use in a modernising world.
It is noteworthy that a majority of the books in this collection pivot around the violence of the First World War, either preceding it in a moment of confusion, or following its trail of turmoil. In such times, the reading public in Europe and America felt a strong need to know, and it was in such a world that studies like Freud’s were incisive in their analysis, and immense in its appeal.
What went hand in hand with such a feeling was the frantic codification of the knowledge of various cultures, including their own, in an attempt to re-create a glorious past so that they could capture a frivolous future. This collection, then, is emblematic of such an enormous endeavour, one that has inevitably shaped the history of our own nation, not to mention innumerable others.
‘The sun never set on the British Empire’, it was once said, and under this light were published and distributed the myriad of knowledges of the world. This collection plays host to six sets of encyclopedias -- 12 volumes of a ‘Universal Encyclopedia’, 6 on ‘Business’, 10 for ‘Children’, 3 on the ‘British Empire, 12 on ‘Modern Agriculture’, and 6 on the ‘Household. Together, these 49 volumes are a testament to the processes of an early modernity, historical artefacts of a singular, unique value that record the enterprises of Western society at the break of a new dawn.
As the proverbial rooster to this imperious morning, The King to his People features a rare assortment of the monarch Geroge V’s speeches & messages, setting the tone, and laying down the direction for the exploits of his Empire. On the other hand, The People’s Books present to us those new attitudes which were required of the individual in an increasingly complex world. With capital making its way into every aspect of life, a series called ‘How To’ teaches its readers the ways to efficiently handle commerce and finance. It allows us to see the kind of education required of every public individual in a modern world, and imbues this collection with the stamp of a nascent, yet rapidly accelerating modernity.
To complement the growing complexity of the industrialised, Western world, one series of great popularity was titled The Wisdom of the East. It held within it those exotic secrets -- only the recent discoveries of imperial conquest -- of practices which were foreign, and therefore of interest, to the West. They include the teachings of religions such as Buddhism and Islam, even a text titled The Alchemy of Happiness. While the Western public was caught in the crosshairs of modernity in their public lives, they looked elsewhere for fruition in their personal ones. It was a necessary coupling in the ‘modern’ world.
Closer to the home of the British Empire, their native authors also contemplated issues opened up by this vast dissemination of knowledge. Noted British naturalist Alfred R. Wallace published an elaboration titled Man’s Place in the Universe, one among two in this collection writing on this theme. To further evidence the philosophical conundrums introduced in such times, this library also contains the extensive writings of James Allen, arguably the earlier philosopher-turned-self-help-guide of the era. An early edition of his most famous book, As a Man Thinketh, is only one of numerous texts on the themes of power, poverty, peace, and happiness. Lily Allen, his wife, also published with the mind of such thought, one of them being the creative exploration, In the Garden of Silence. The Allens proved to be the British people’s very own philosophical guides in those fast-changing times, here captured within this little library in memoriam of a historic era crucial to the development of our world.
Not only are these bookshelves some of rarest selections that safeguard, for posterity, the ways in which our past has unfolded, but they also illuminate us, an entire century later, on the beginnings of a road we find ourselves, now, so rapidly hurtling down. In little spaces of text, here and there, we find resonating the conundrums of our own times, with some messages that, upon reading, help us along the way to a brighter future.