The Third Leader: Book keeping

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The Independent Online

Fascinating, in this age of proud electronic ephemeralism, that an old book can sell for £2.8m. Well, all right, not any old book: a Shakespeare First Folio. But not unique, either: almost a third of the copies printed in 1623 have survived. And it's not as if the Bard did any signing sessions, or might have thumbed through it, as he'd popped his quill some years before, never having got round to his own collected version.

We get closer when we remember that, without the First Folio, the likes (as if!) of Macbeth, The Tempest, Twelfth Night and Julius Caesar, which it published for the first time, might have been lost, along with brief candles, dusty death, sounds and sweet airs, Sir Toby and the lean and hungry one. Closer still when we recognise the uncanny hold the mind of whomever he was has had on the world for 400 years.

The better qualified can try to explain that; it would be more fitting here to celebrate the mechanicals who did the deed, principally John Heminges and Henry Condell, his old player friends, who assembled and edited the collection, and Edward Blount, who along with Masters Jaggard, Smethwick and Aspley, took the punt on publishing it, priced £1.

Well done, all: belated thanks from a grateful nation to a calling that has been much traduced (no speculation, please, how many times the Folio had already been rejected). Splendidly, too, Condell was the son of a fishmonger and Heminges was also a grocer, trades even more maligned in literary matters, particularly those of punctuation.

No, after you: all's well that ends well, eh?