A few weeks ago, I received a copy of Macbeth I’d ordered, printed around 1905. Its gilt title still shines in the light, and the ghost of one remains on the spine. I’d ordered it on the basis of the numerous notes that a previous owner put in the margins, and its lovely illustrations. It fulfilled ever aspect of that description: every page is covered in commentary. But what I found elsewhere turned out to be far more interesting.
At first, anything and everything written by this book’s previous owner, named B. H. Vann by the looks of it, inside the cover, in the margins, and between the lines was a mystery. His smudged scrawl might as well have been written in cuneiform for all I could read it.
Eventually I noticed a different kind of entry on the title page. Not an analysis or comment on the play, but something else entirely: a diary entry. This was something I hadn’t expected- a look into the life of the person who’d owned the book before me. After about an hour of trying to read it, and the opinions of a few friends and family members, we figured it out. It read:
“January 21- 1912,
Twilight and evening bell and one clear call for me. May there be no moaning at the bar- whew. Put out to sea.”
On the next page was the passionate, if unpracticed, original poetry of a man in love:
“Bend your brown
eyes on me darling
Smile on me and answer this-
do you love me
do you darling
Let your answer
be a kiss.”
Another short entry in the back seems to confirm him as having a girlfriend, as he asks someone to “promise me” to be true and inscribed to some unknown, nicknamed person. Whether he actually showed these to another soul I don’t know. But was he a sailor or someone in the military? “Put (out) to sea”, according to Merriam-Webster, means “to leave a port, harbor, etc., and begin traveling on the sea”. Did he later fight, and maybe die or become wounded in the devastating war that broke out only two years later? Who was the woman he loved, named only as “Booh” in his short letter? I don’t know, and I may never know. No information comes up when you type “B. H. Vann” into Google or Ancestry.
That’s why I think it’s important that I talk about this here. If his name written in a book to be seen by a handful of people is all that’s left to remember him by, aside from maybe a rarely visited grave, that’s not much. Not much for a person who once lived and loved and cared about Shakespeare and poetry. And there are, most likely, thousands of people just like him who once lived. People who may have made some contribution to the world, who raised children and looked after families, tended farms, taught, or researched, but have been lost or forgotten in the annals of time. So while this may be a small tribute, it’s something. It’s something to remember another human being with a life as valuable as mine, and who probably just wanted to not be forgotten as the years went by.
So I encourage anyone who reads this to consider doing the same for others in your life. Your friends and family. Remember their names, their accomplishments, what they gave you. Even if it’s just for mundane acts of kindness- a hot meal or support in a time of hardship- it probably helped. To be remembered, and appreciated, is an important way of saying “thank you” to people who have given us so much.