One of my favorite books is “Here I Stand: a Life of Martin Luther” by Roland Bainton (1894-1984). Bainton was Titus Street Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Yale for 42 years. The book was first published in 1950. It remains in print, and still sells well enough to be found today on the shelves at Borders and Barnes & Noble. In Here I Stand, Bainton gives a lively account of how Martin Luther bravely stood up to the Papacy, and then orchestrated the Reformation from Wartburg Castle tower under the political and military protection of Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony and one-time nominee for Holy Roman Emperor.
A couple of years ago I was browsing at Bookmans, a chain of busy used book stores here in Arizona, when I came across a copy of the original paperback published in 1950 by Abington Press. At $3 it was a bargain, and I bought it. Later, looking at the book, I noticed that there was a signature on the inside cover page:
I could not imagine Roland Bainton sitting at table in a New Haven or Manhattan bookstore in 1950 with a line of people getting him to sign his book. It was a religious history biography written by a scholarly professor, not a New York Times bestseller after all. So, I thought it was unlikely to be an autographed copy, though if it was, I was likely one of the very few who would value it. I noticed that the middle initial was a unique star-like character. I looked up Bainton on the internet. His middle name was Herbert, so the star was an “h”. The uniqueness of the “h” led me to believe that it might be easy to compare this signature with a known signature of his.
After a little googling, I found out that his papers were archived at the Yale Divinity School. I emailed an inquiry to the Divinity School and the archivist emailed a reply offering to mail me a copy of one of Bainton’s signatures from his correspondence. I received the following page from one of his letters:
You can see from this enlarged signature from the letter that it matches the signature on the copy of Here I Stand I bought.
This memento was a blessing to me, small on the scale of blessings I suppose, but a thrill to have found a rare autographed copy of a 1950 book by a Yale history professor that had special meaning to me. The providence of God was evident. How else would this improbable autographed book find me?