Mary Webb. Precious Bane. London: Jonathan Cape Ltd., 1924. First edition, in original dust jacket. The printed dedication reads: “to my dear H. B. L. W.” The dedicatee’s copy, inscribed by him on the front free endpaper: “H. B. L. Webb / 5 The Grove / N.W.3. / 1924.”
British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. Autograph letter signed, January 14, 1927, on 10 Downing Street, Whitehall stationery, to Mary Webb, two pages on one leaf, with the original envelope. In this letter, Baldwin says: “I hope you will not think it an impertinence on my part if I tell you with what keen delight I have read “Precious Bane”. . . . I think it is a really first class piece of work and I have not enjoyed a book so much for years. . . . I thank you a thousand times for it.” This singular copy of Webb’s masterpiece was purchased by Greville Worthington from widower Henry Webb. The purchase is recounted in David A. Randall’s Dukedom Large Enough (1962):
“It seemed that on Worthington’s arrival, Mr. Webb began examining closets, drawers and the like where such of Mary’s letters, manuscripts and books which had survived were stored. The more he examined them the sadder he became: he literally wept over a copy of The Golden Arrow, her first novel (London, 1916) dedicated ‘To A Noble Lover H.L.W.’ and well he should have. Her last novel, Precious Bane, at the start no more successful than its predecessors, was also dedicated to him, though his copy was not inscribed, as she gave it to him personally. Inserted in it, however, was Baldwin’s glowing letter to her on his first reading the book, dated ‘Downing Street, Jan. 14, 1927,’ well preceding his speech at a dinner of the Royal Literary Fund which struck the effective note of appreciation that led to the great demand for her work which followed.
As he perused these, Webb became more and more loath to part with them, and quite understandably so. Worthington had about given up any hope of obtaining them when the second Mrs. Webb, who had been off somewhere, appeared just at the end of teatime. When she heard that the ragged and tattered remnants of books and papers were worth the modest sum offered for them, she commanded her husband to accept Worthington’s offer and ‘get that trash out of here before the fool changes his mind.’”