Lloyd Emerson Siberell (1905-1968)

      Lloyd Emerson Siberell, born in Kingston, Ohio, was an official of the Norfolk and Western Railroad, but his main interest in life was books and bibiography. He used to refer to himself as a railroad man by vocation and a literary man by avocation. Above all, he was an enthusiastic collector of Powysiana, which had preeminence over the rest of his activities, for he strongly believed that the Powys, and John Cowper especially, would be one day recognised as the great writers they were.

      He had read all he could of the Powys since he was 17. He wrote to the three Powys brothers in 1932, when still a young man, expressing his admiration for their work. At that time he already entertained the project of a Bibliography of Powys books. He visited John Cowper at Phudd Bottom in July 1933, and again just before John Cowper left America, in May 1934.

      After many difficulties, on the 8th of October 1934 he finally brought out 350 copies of A Bibliography of the first Editions of John Cowper Powys, with an Introduction 1 by John Cowper Powys, as a commemoration of John Cowper's 62nd birthday, with the imprint of his Ailanthus Press, Cincinnati. It was not a financial success: out of these 350 copies only about 50 were sold.

Siberell chose the ailanthus because he had noticed the trees in Patchin Place and because of John Cowper's poem The Ailanthus. Some years later, the lines 'Candles they are, that on a wayside bare Re-gather what the human heart forgets' were incorporated into Siberell's bookplate, which was designed by Mathias Noheimer of Cincinnati, who was to illustrate Llewelyn Powys's A Baker's Dozen for Hal Trovillion's edition.

Lloyd Emerson Siberell's bookplate

      Siberell had many projects around the Powys. One should mention his publication, in 1947, of The Brothers Powys, from the forty page manuscript of Louis Wilkinson's lecture, given to the Royal Society of Literature in London the winter before. And he also entertained the idea of publishing an anthology, a selection from John Cowper's writings for Simon & Schuster, but that never materialised.

      Siberell was also instrumental in the venture of Llewelyn Powys's A Baker's Dozen being published by Hal Trovillion. When Hal Trovillion wrote to Siberell, mentioning his wish while in Europe to meet John Cowper, Siberell replied:
"Yes, you must by all means see Powys. I'll wager you'll never see another like him anywhere. He is a remarkable figure in Modern Literature... Powys is the only one I have met. The rest are letter paper acquaintances."
      The visit proved to be a success and when the Trovillions came back to the States, Hal wrote to Llewelyn describing his private press and wondering if Llewelyn would be interested to have one of his books published by him. They finally agreed on some Essays. The title was chosen by Llewelyn.

      Llewelyn, a month before he died, wrote to Siberell, mentioning the photo Siberell had sent him of himself:
What a powerful, formidable looking fellow you are. By god I was impressed by your countenance... I signed the sheets Mr Trovillion sent to me... I eagerly look forward to the book's coming out. I long to see it. I believe I am getting better so perhaps I shall yet live to see you one day when Hitler is safely housed on St. Helena and we are able to loll at ease under the unvanquished Sun... Your old friend Llewelyn Powys."
Finally, the last great idea Siberell entertained was that of creating an Anglo-American Powyseana Society. In 1953 he wrote to John Cowper:
... my plans are to ultimately get all the Powys fans and enthusiasts together into a Society whereby they may become better acquainted with the Powys works and the unusual people who read and collect the works of the Powys family. I plan to publish a roster of all such people and disseminate it to all interested parties to further the Powys cause.
A few years later, he also thought of putting up a Powys Society newsletter, but finally nothing was accomplished and the "Society" soon ceased to exist. The first Powys Society with exactly the same program would come into existence some twenty years after, at Cambridge, U.K., in 1972. One wonders what Siberell would have thought of that, but he died very suddenly, in December 1968, a few days before retiring.

For more detailed information about Lloyd Emerson Siberell, see Melvon L. Ankeny's fascinating and exhaustive essay Lloyd Emerson Siberell, Powys 'Bibliomaniac' and 'Extravagantic', in the Powys Journal, 1996, vol. VI. I am much endebted to Melvon L. Ankeny for this article.

1 If I were to attempt a personal and yet detached criticism of my book-history up to date I should unhesitatingly put down the improvement in the quality of my work to two things, to my good fortune in having the assistance of expert criticism; and to the fact that I have been enabled to live in more or less retired life in one spot and to cease from lavishing my sensations and ideas to the four winds in the less careful and less measured art of speech. Although I hope I shall always remain 'a windy oracle', for the spirit cometh and goeth on the wind, I am anxious that my books, unlike my words for thirty years, should not melt into thin air. And any 'improvement' in the quality of my work, as these books may show, seems to me as I survey it now — and pray the Lord the same process is going to continue; — to consist in what I might call, if I may borrow the popular word, the 'sublimation' of my vices, manias, prejudices, apathies, antipathies, sympathies, obsessions, hostilities, aversions, predilections, humours, self-indulgencies, and even of my pride, vanity, conceit and endless self-deceptions, into thoughts and images whose meaning and value extend beyond the circumference of myself.
John Cowper Powys, Introduction to A Bibliography of the first editions of John Cowper Powys, quoted by Derek Langridge in John Cowper Powys, A Record of Achievement.