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The Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott

On a recent sunny Saturday afternoon at a local brocante amid an array of stalls loaded with every sort of bric-a-brac, in the depths of a cardboard box I discovered a book. Truly one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure. I’m not into classics, I live on detective novels, but this book, The Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott had a feeling about it as soon as I picked it up. The embossed, padded, leather-bound cover showed signs of great age, but also of great care, and the gold lettering is still bright today considering it’s over one hundred years old.

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The fact that it was an English book was the cherry on top, since my grasp of the French language is still fairly hopeless. The stall owner wanted the princely sum of five Euros which I was happy to pay.

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Later at home I inspected my treasure more closely. It was published in New York in 1901 by The Henneberry Company who I quickly researched. It appears to be one of their collection of ‘Favorite Medallion Poets’ described as follows: printed on an extra quality of woven paper, embellished with numerous illustrations, superb cover-designs in gold, with a portrait of the author in solid gold leaf, illuminated title page, full gold edges, silk ribbon bookmarks. Each in a box. My book no longer has its box or its bookmark but I can hardly complain after a hundred years

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It appears that the book was either purchased by or donated to St Joseph’s Academy in Crookston, Minnesota, for their library. It has a stamp on the second page.

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There is a long history to the congregation of St Joseph (a Roman Catholic order of women). Here is a potted version:

Founded in Le Puy, France in 1650, and then disbanded during the French revolution, revived in 1807 at Lyon. In 1819 a foundation from the mother house in Lyon was established in the Diocese of Belley under the leadership of Mother Saint Joseph Chaney. In 1823 the sisters of the diocese formally separated from Lyon and became a new independent diocesan congregation.

In 1854 the sisters were sent from Bourg to establish a house at Bay St Louis, Mississippi in the diocese of Natchez. In 1863 a novitiate was opened in New Orleans where they opened schools, hospitals and an orphanage. In 1893 sisters from the New Orleans group went to Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1903 sisters from the mother-house in Bourg were sent to Argyle, Minnesota. In 1907 the group in Argyle opened a convent and school in Crookston, Minnesota.

It would appear that my book probably found its first home in the convent library at Crookston, but at some later date it was sent or brought to France by one of the Crookston sisters and given to one of the sisters of St Joseph at Miribel. It is stamped on the first page: Institution Saint Joseph 01- Miribel.

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Also, one of the lovely things about this book is the personal message on the inside of the front cover.

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I suppose it’s entirely possible that my assumed history of the book could be the reverse. Maybe it actually started life in the library at Miribel, France, was sent to the sisters at the Crookston library, and somehow found its way back. I’ll never know. What I find most fascinating is the thought of how many hands have held it and eyes have read it, and dreams have been conjured in heads as pages have been turned.

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