Bob, a Beloved Bird

What’s clear is that someone really loved Bob the Bird. I am looking down at a copy of Sidney Lanier’s Bob: The Story of our Mockingbird that has actually been rebound to include a handwritten version of the story and has numerous photos pasted in.

Bob was one of Lanier’s few children’s books and unlike other works like King Arthur, the story was very much one from real life. According to the prefatory note, Bob became the pet of the Lanier family after being found in a helpless state and rescued by one of Lanier’s sons. The bird turned out to be remarkably intelligent and delighted the family with its songs and human-like attributes. The note reads: “Every surprising token  of intelligence, of affection, of valor displayed by Bob was hailed by Mr. Lanier with a boy’s ecstasy over a pet.” The book recounts the noble nature of the bird.

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My online version has  sixteen poorly scanned illustrations of Bob: Bob singing, Bob eating, and Bob in his cage. The physical copy before me, however, has thirty-five pictures, including photos and hand-colored illustrations. The cover is the same, but extra photos and illustrations have been pasted in. In the archive world, this is called “extra illustration.” This was not an uncommon practice in the nineteenth century as people sought to transform normal books into keepsakes. The binding on this copy of Bob has also been redone, and nicely—there is inlaid gilding on the inside cover. Someone added in more so many more illustrations, the old binding couldn’t hold them.

The electronic version tells a pleasant story, filled with tidbits of how the children fed Bob mashed potatoes and the yolks of hard-boiled eggs, but with the physical copy, you feel you are reading not simply a story, but someone’s photo album of a childhood friend. You see the love, meaning, and memory behind the words, as if the owner of the book too loved Bob “with a boy’s ecstasy over a pet.” Indeed, the bookplate says that the copy belongs to Henry Wysham Lanier, the same name as Sidney Lanier’s third son.

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