By Dale D. Dalenberg, M.D.

September 22, 2013

Almost forgotten by the American reading public today, but
still exerting far-ranging influence among fantasists, and a cornerstone author
of the Dalenberg Library, we come to James Branch Cabell.  Like most people, I used to say his name with
an emphasis on the BELL.  But I’ve seen
it parsed out to be pronounced like the word CABLE.  Then, I came across the poem the author
himself wrote to convince people to say it his way—“Tell the rabble my name is

I came to Cabell in the 1970’s when Ballantine books were on
their 2nd printing of 6 of his wonderful fantasy novels set in a
fictitious French medieval province called Poictesme.  After that it was important to seek out his
most famous (and notorious) novel, Jurgen, which became an important footnote in
literary history as the subject of a famous obscenity trial in 1919.  Cabell speaks with a gentle and urbane voice
that is drowned out in the din of modern times.
He comes from a julet-sipping gentlemanly time from the old South, but
he remained a fantasist in a more European mold throughout his literary career,
and he never moved on to tackle all those Southern themes, like issues of class
and race, that made others of his contemporaries immortal.  Cabell is a very funny writer, but his humor
is subtle and his voice is droll.  You
either “get” him or you don’t.

As a dedicated Cabell fan, I can’t resist showing off the
Dalenberg Library, which has several really nice Cabell editions.  One of the rarest books of importance in all
of fantasy literature is The Soul of
, published by Frederick A. Stokes Company of New York in
September, 1913, one-hundred years ago this month.  There was only this one edition, as the book
was later re-titled Domnei (actually
Cabell’s original title) when it was reissued in 1920 after Cabell had become
famous in the trial over Jurgen.  Cabell later wrote that The Soul of Melicent only sold 493
copies in the autumn of 1913, and he was discouraged to continually find it
disparagingly discounted in bookstore remainder piles for the next 6 years
(until his sudden rise to fame in 1919.) A search on found only 11
copies for sale, and only one of those was inscribed by the author, and that
one not until 1920.

The Dalenberg Library copy of the book is a unique
presentation copy inscribed by the author “To Martha Hamilton Paxton from James
Branch Cabell September 1st, 1913.”
It was therefore inscribed upon the date of publication or right away
when the author got some pre-publication copies.  The identity of Miss Paxton is a
mystery.  A cursory Internet search
suggests that she may have been born in 1881, making her about 32 years old at
the time and very close in age to Mr. Cabell (who was born in 1879).

The mystery of Ms. Paxton’s identity is made even more
tantalizing by the fact that the Dalenberg Library copy of The Soul of Melicent has, tipped in, an undated postcard in
Cabell’s unique hand depicting a Northwestern View of Rockbridge Alum Springs,
a resort that Cabell frequented in those days.
On the picture side of the card, Cabell has drawn a forearm and hand
pointing to a room on the upper floor of the hotel.  On the reverse, he has written “Just to
remind you of my present address” and addressed it to “Miss Paxton, Natural
Bridge Hotel, Natural Bridge, Virginia.”

Since Cabell married in November, 1913, and moved at that
time to his famous residence Dumbarton Grange, and since he was seemingly
inviting Miss Paxton (not his future wife) to his room, and since he sent Miss
Paxton this romantic book of his very much “hot off the press”—I cannot help
but imagine that we have evidence here of a romantic assignation of 100 years
past.  Whether Miss Paxton and Mr. Cabell
ever hooked up is a detail that died with the principals, but it is amusing to
note that Miss Paxton saved the postcard with the book, so that now, years
later, they are still together.

Incidentally, the Howard Pyle illustrations are full page
color plates including the onlaid cover, frontispiece, and a few scattered
through the book.  The publication date
is posthumous for Pyle.  I believe that
the plates that were used were not original for this book, but that they were
archival Pyle works that were appropriated for this project.  To make matters more confusing for collectors
of Howard Pyle:  Pyle did do some
original paintings for Cabell stories published in Harper’s Monthly
Magazine.  Parts of the source material
for The Soul of Melicent were
published in Harper’s in 1908 and 1911.
The Pyle illustrations for the original story publications were original
works intended for the Cabell stories, but the same paintings were not used for
the book.