A recent TLS article in its weekly back page NB column is devoted to the Queen Anne Press. This was written in response to the publication of a special issue of the Book Collector magazine devoted to Ian Fleming. The QAP was started 65 years ago in 1952 by Fleming as part of his efforts to revive the Book Collector. The special issue includes a checklist of the QAP’s publications. Among early items was Waugh’s The Holy Places published in a limited edition in 1952 with specially commissioned engravings by Reynolds Stone. The text (but not the illustrations) was based on Waugh’s article for Life magazine (“The Plight of the Holy Places,” 24 December 1951). The QAP’s book was reviewed by Patrick Leigh Fermor in the Sunday Times (21 December 1952). He declared: “Few minor pleasures equal the delight of opening a book as beautifully presented as this.” Although not mentioned in the TLS article, Leigh Fermor also took issue with Waugh’s criticism of certain practices of Orthodox churchmen at shrines in the Holy Land for failing to take account of the impact on them lingering from the Great Schism and the depredations of the Fourth Crusade. As noted in the TLS, notwithstanding Leigh Fermor’s praise of the book’s production standards, Waugh was unhappy with the result. He warned Nancy Mitford to have nothing to do with the QAP. The misprints were “many and glaring” and the engravings “by a protege of Betjeman’s” were “dull as be damned.”
The next QAP book to be published was by Leigh Fermor himself. This was entitled A Time to Keep Silence and was based on his visits to several monasteries. There may have been a little self promotion in Leigh Fermor’s praise of the production quality of Waugh’s book since he would have known that his own effort would be up to the same standards. As fate would have it, Waugh reviewed Leigh Fermor’s book in Time and Tide (“Luxurious Editions and Austere Lives,” 20 June 1953). The TLS columnist may not be aware of this review because it is not included in Waugh’s collected journalism. Waugh begins by praising the efforts of the QAP to raise the standards of fine book production in postwar Britain. He goes on to describe Leigh Fermor’s book as “one of their more creditable adventures…made of durable materials and well designed.” This faint praise is then followed by a catalogue of “uneven press work,” “excessive and imperfect” paper sizing, “ill-drawn and unsightly” decorations, stains running down the corners, clumsy blocking of the back label, etc. Waugh concludes this discussion with more but even fainter praise: “Taken all in all, however, this is a very decent little book technically and therefore an enjoyable rarity.” He then begins on Leigh Fermor’s text, first offering more fulsome praise: “the young wallowing in a rich vocabulary…as a writer decriptive of sensual experience Mr Leigh Fermor is very good indeed” and comparing him to Sacherverell Sitwell. But then he gets his own back for the Fourth Crusade reference by spending the last half of the review explaining how Leigh Fermor failed to understand the monastic life he attempts to describe because of his own agnosticism.
Returning to the TLS article, the columnist “J C” mentions his never having encountered a QAP book on his frequently mentioned expeditions to book barrows and market stalls. But he does spot a copy of Waugh’s book on ABE for £45 with a “dull-as-be-damned dust jacket” and Leigh Fermor’s book for £1350 with a scarce John Craxton dust jacket. Thanks to our reader Peggy Troupin for sending us a copy of the article which is not available on the internet.