Greta had followed along on my Katherine Philips research during our last semester together in the U.S. She respected my mission to uncover this nearly-forgotten poet. On our last day together in Germany, she took me to an antiquarian bookseller in Frankfurt. She went up to the proprietor who disappeared behind a curtain and came out a few minutes later with a leather bound volume that he held out to me.
“I’d like to buy this for you,” she said quietly.
It was a 1710 edition of Katherine Philips’s poetry.
I was blown away.
“How much does this cost?” I asked the bookseller.
“350 American,” he replied, a broad smile on his face. He sensed an easy sale.
My relationship with money on this trip was complicated. On the one hand, I had given myself permission to pay for a steady stream of student discounted experiences. That’s what I was there for. I had also purchased several dozen books – popular British paperbacks such as Mary Wesley and some hardcover research texts – which were in a new duffel back at Greta’s parents house. But I was also on a budget that I could not expect my mother to bail me out of.
At one point during the summer semester, I’d been walking past the dorm phone banks when another student asked me to hold her receiver. She dashed back to her room for something. Her mother was on the line. My classmate was calling home for an extra $500 to take a long weekend trip to Greece.
“Does she really mean to fly to Greece?” Her mother asked me, sounding bewildered.
“It doesn’t seem far away once you’re here,” I replied, trying to help my classmate’s case.
I thought about my options. I certainly didn’t have an extra $350 in my budget, and there was no $350 at home that my mother could wire me for a book, even a rare book of Katherine Philips’s poetry.
I thumbed through and read a favorite, the poem that inspired Lucasia and Orinda Day back in my Women’s Studies class.
To the Excellent Mrs. Anne Owen, upon her receiving the name of Lucasia, and Adoption into our Society, December 28, 1651
We are compleat, and Fate hath now
No greater blessing to bestow:
Nay the dull World must now confess
We have all worth, all happiness
Annals of state are trifles to our fame
Now ’tis made sacred by Lucasia’s name
Nations will own us now to be
A Temple of Divinity;
And Pilgrims shall ten Ages hence
Approach our Tombs with reverence.
May then that time which did such bliss convey
Be kept by us perpetual Holy-day.
I couldn’t let Greta spend that much on me. I wanted the book, don’t get me wrong, oh how I wanted that book, but I couldn’t accept such a valuable gift. $350 was an astronomical sum to me.
To this day, 26 years later, an original edition is still on my bucket list. I’ve talked to conservators about how to care for it in my home. I’ve identified who may be willing to build me an appropriate display case. In fact, I already know where it’s going to rest. Hubby is fully on board with budgeting for this purchase. Someday, I’ll have one, although the prices are likely much higher now that Philips’s profile is so much greater.
But when I was 21, standing in that bookstore with a copy in my hands, I couldn’t let her spend it on me and I couldn’t ask my mother to wire it to me. Greta was disappointed. She hadn’t bought it without checking with me first, because it was a lot of money.
We walked away from the store slowly, the moment a let down for both of us.