Saturday, May 5, 2012

Derby Day

A. Edward Newton
When in Burke's Books in Memphis, I came across a hardcover copy (with dust jacket) of Derby Day and Other Adventures by A. Edward Newton. I chuckled when I saw the title as my hometown is famous for the Derby and I usually try to escape its madness. This book is not about the Kentucky Derby though, but rather the Derby at Epsom Downs in England.

As today is the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby, I felt it was fitting that I should read what Mr. Newton had to say about the Other Derby. I pulled the book out of one of my bags. It is a collection of essays by an American author I had not heard of but upon further investigation I see that Newton (1863-1940) is best known as an avid book collector and is the author of The Amenities of Book Collecting which was published in 1918 and became a bestseller.  Wikipedia notes that at the time of his death he had over 10,000 books in his collection.

The first essay is "Derby Day" about the race that Newton attended in 1932 -- 80 years ago. He writes of fashion, betting, the expense of refreshment, the push of the crowd, difficulty in actually seeing a horse, and standing for seven hours in the sun. Sounds just like what the folks at Churchill Downs are experiencing.

Newton has a droll sense of humor. He asks a British friend how to go to the Derby and the response he receives is to buy a white top hat, an overcoat, spats, and to travel by motorcar.

Newton interrupts his friend:

"Sir James, you know perfectly well that I have to more idea of buying a lot of clothes and a top hat and going to the Derby in my own motor than I have of asking the King if he can give me a seat in the Royal Box. Let me put my question another way. If you were going the the Derby, as I am, by train, would you go from Charing Cross to Tattenham Corner, or would you go from Victoria to Epsom Downs? That is what I want to know."

"I know nothing about going to the Derby by train," replied Sir James. "One does not go that way. It's not done."

I love that this book has illustrations and photographs - some in color. Of the sixteen essays, six are about literature and literary figures, four are on sport, and six are personal travel narratives.

This is just the sort of treasure I delight in.

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