Yes, I do know: this is not the most exciting book in my stock. It is, however, the oldest, in the sense of the one that I have had for the longest length of time. Well, of course, booksellers’ stocks consists of books they haven’t sold. But there are limits. I acquired Sir John Eamer’s Defence way back in the 20th Century
The picture above and the biographical details below are all lifted from the website of The Kempe Trust which has an article on Eamer by Adrian Barlow. Sir John Eamer (1750-1823) was Lord Mayor of London in 1801. This portrait by Mather Brown hangs in The Guildhall. Here is what Barlow has to say about the painting: “In a stunning piece of myth making, he is shown not as Lord Mayor but as Colonel of a regiment of the City of London Militia (a commission he did not purchase until after his year of office as Lord Mayor was over; even by his own account, he did not assume command of the regiment until 1803). As painted, he stands, flushed and supremely confident in scarlet uniform, his right elbow resting on the muzzle of a tall canon. Immediately behind him, his massive horse is draped in a cheetah-skin saddlecloth. Above and behind the horse loom the arms of the City of London, supported as heraldry demands by a griffin. Below, in a distant view barely glimpsed between the horse’s legs, soldiers can be seen drilling on a parade ground with St. Paul’s Cathedral in the background.” For the rest of his article you’ll have to go the website of The Kempe Trust.
Meanwhile back to the boring book. I acquired it from The National Army Museum which coincidentally turned sixty this month. Architecturally 1960 was an unexciting year. No wonder NAM has been trying to move next door ever since.
John Randall and I were lured through the glass doors by the promise of a few interesting travel books and vast numbers of tedious military books. Amongst the latter – you guessed – was Eamer’s Defence. A priceless treasure (see B for Butani) I thought to myself: I bet there are no other copies for sale in the UK. I was right. There weren’t then. There still aren’t. How can this be? Why has no-one snapped it up?
THE THEORY OF NEGATIVE VALUE
The answer is simple. Nobody in their right mind would pay a penny for it. Worse still – my friend Glenn Mitchell’s Theory of Negative Value applies to it. Eamer’s Defence is not only worth nothing in itself. It actually devalues anything it is anywhere near. (Admit it – are you looking forward to F when E is as boring as Eamer?) So Eamer is worth not nothing but less than nothing – a negative amount. In the days when he ran a bookshop on The Charing Cross Road, Glenn used to prove the truth of the first part of his theory by having a book barrow outside with everything in it priced at minus 5p. People used to browse. Occasionally a brave soul would venture in and enquire what minus 5p meant. Yes, it did mean they would be given 5p to take one of these treasures away with them. And guess how many people took one.
The second part of the theory is trickier. I still spend quite a lot of time trying to persuade people to throw books away. Such and such a group of books will look so much better minus the books with their covers hanging off. Not only will it look better, it will sell better. The old dogs are worth a minus amount. But people won’t believe it. Nor, for that matter, do I. Eamer is still gracing my shelves a quarter of a century on.
Back to The National Army Museum all those years ago. Museum curators versus the sordid book trade round one. Would we object if they applied a ‘withdrawn’ stamp to all the titlepages? John Randall had to explain that we were buying the books as viewed rather than with the addition of a rubber stamp. Round two took longer. There were an awful lot of books that neither John Randall nor I wanted. Negative value again. We loaded them on to a stack of their own and suggested anyone who wanted take anything (or indeed everything) for free. No dice. It was only after we’d carried the ghastly rubbish up from the basement and dumped it in the skips that the curators sprang to life and into the skips. Happy days.
I suppose I’d better say a word or two about Eamer’s Defence. The East London Militia was a descendant of the London Trained Bands instituted by Queen Elizabeth I in 1572 when the threat of Spanish invasion made it necessary to reform the militia. Professional soldiers were hired to drill householders whose existing obligations to arm themselves and to serve in the defence of London when ordered were enforced. They were quite efficient though one rather thinks a Spanish tercio would have made short work of them. They remained well trained in the first half of the Seventeenth Century and did good service for Parliament in the English Civil War though with a tendency to whinge when asked to serve at any distance from London. Thereafter they declined.
Fast forward to 1804. Napoleon and a large army are encamped at Boulogne. They have hundreds of barges in various ports. As this cartoonist is aware the thing most likely to stop the evil Emperor is the Royal Navy. But the wind may fail to co-operate. The army is stretched; out of a theoretical strength of 132,000, less than 50,000 are serving at home. A Reserve Army of second battalions is in the course of formation but there are (to put it mildly) teething problems. Government thinks militia units may again have a function.
Cue Sir John Eamer. Sir John has done well out of sugar and slaves. He has served the City “in the exalted Station of Chief Magistrate” and spent a fortune entertaining the Prince of Wales on Easter Monday 1802. Now he decides to do his bit for King and Country. Nobody takes the East London Militia seriously. Gentlemen of the press tend to take a tilt at it when they have nothing better to aim at. Sir John takes on the command of the regiment and sets out to reform it. He knows this will cost him time and money. What he doesn’t expect is that “the ruin of my character, the destruction of my peace, and the blasting of my fair fame were to be the price of my duty so discharged.”
Put simply Sir John’s officers ganged up together to accuse him of “oppressive behaviour.” His oppressiveness consisted very largely of expecting them to do something and telling them so in no uncertain times. The officers were discharged. Sir John was exonerated on all charges though advised to moderate his language.
Sir John’s problems weren’t at an end. In 1810 he was accused by the Court of Common Council of misappropriating money voted for the equipment of the regiment. Sir John defended himself vigorously and refused to account for the money. Words were exchanged and he was again court martialled for ‘behaving in a scandalous infamous manner.” He was once again exonerated. But it was a trial too many. He retired to Brighton where he died in 1823.
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