Wednesday 5 January 2011

Google Books and the National Library of Malta

I started 2011 by doing one of my regular internet searches for all things Haywood. This time, by checking Google Books for references to some of the more obscure European translations of Haywood's works. I have to do this regularly, as Google puts fresh material online all the time.

The last two posts contain the first fruits of these labours. I found an etext of Der übernatürliche Philosoph (Berlin, 1742), and decided to create a page of links to works not by Haywood, but which had been attributed to her, so that I would have somewhere to keep it (here). I also found a review of Jemmy et Sophie, ou les Méprises de l’Amour, and decided it deserved translation and a page of its own (here).

I have also located a short review of La Spectatrice (text and translation here) and a long review of Die Zuschauerin (see here for an earlier post of my copy of this book), which I am going to have to get someone else to help me translate (both are beyond my limited abilities). Once done, I will publish these translations here too.

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These are finds are both interesting and useful, but the real find was this book, held at the Bodleian library and scanned by them for Google Books: Cesare Vassallo, Catalogo dei libri esistenti nella pubblica biblioteca di Malta (Valletta, Malta: 1843).

Malta is an amazing place. As Wikipedia explains: It is one of the world's smallest and most densely populated countries; it's strategic importance led to a sequence of colonisers including the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Fatimids, Sicilians, Knights of St John, French and the British!

The National Library of Malta was established in 1776; Malta officially became a part of the British Empire in 1814 and achieved its independence in 1964. (For more details about the library's history, see here.) Cesare Vassallo's Catalogo appeared, then, early in the period of British rule.

Vassallo was the librarian of the public library and "an enthusiastic antiquary" "possessing both zeal and knowledge." Having discovered that the National Library of Malta contains two very rare, and one quite rare, Eliza Haywood translations I contacted the library for more information and discovered that Ms Maroma Camilleri, Senior Assistant Librarian, possesses the same enthusiasm, zeal and knowledge as Vassallo.

The library does not have an online computer catalogue—they have limited resources and have wisely been spending their money on fire-proof doors and other safety equipment instead—but Ms Camilleri was able to supply call numbers and other details very quickly indeed. (In fact, as of August 2010, the library has no director and desperately needs funds for the restoration its early books—a situation that is covered in this article.)

Anyway, as the result of finding this 1844 catalogue, and with Ms Camilleri's assistance, I have been able to double the known copies of La Spettatrice (1753), a translation from the French into Italian of the first six books of The Female Spectator; increase from three to four the number of copies known of Memorie d’un Giovane Nobile Sventurato (1745), a translation into Italian of the first volume of Memoirs of an Unfortunate Young Nobleman; and add a twelfth location for the third French edition of La Spectatrice (1751), the French translation of The Female Spectator.

I have also added another library, and another country to the coverage of my Bibliography, which means that one day—when I am preparing the second edition—I will have
an excusea reason to visit this beautiful library and fascinating country.

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There is a lot that I could say about Google Books and online text bases right now. Positive and negative. I have stuck with the positive today. Because the Bodleian holds and Google Books has scanned and posted online Vassallo's 1844 catalogue—a book it never occurred to me to look into and, if it had occurred to me, I wouldn't have been able to look in without visiting Sydney (the only copy in Oz)—I have discovered that the National Library of Malta hold three important Haywood items.

It is not clear how long it will be before the National Library of Malta is able to completely catalogue its collection, and when those electronic catalogue records will become available online. Until they do, this 167 year old book is the only window into the collection for overseas researches like me. This window was not provided by the National Library of Malta, or by a philanthropic organisation, but by that monomaniacal monolith, Google.

Vassallo's Catalogo was dumped onto the internet—I am guessing—without the slightest idea (on the part of either Google or the Bodleian library) that they were producing a defacto online catalogue to the early printed books at the National Library of Malta. And—in all likelihood—the National Library of Malta were unaware that Google/Bodleian library was about to perform this service for them. But I am sure that the queries sent to the library, like those I sent, will have alerted them to this fact pretty quickly.

And, I can't resist a final, if somewhat clichéd reflection on what Cesare Vassallo would have made of this. He clearly intended his guide to publicise the collections of the National Library of Malta, of which he was, rightly, proud. No doubt, he wanted to make scholars (such as those consulting his Catalogo in the Bodleian library at Oxford) aware of the riches of this overlooked collection. Surely he would be pleased then that, after 167 years, this guide is still serving this purpose! How many works of scholarship have a shelf life that long?!

[UPDATE: 2 July 2016: After all my pictures disappeared again I decided to give up on external hosts for large versions (1000px) of my image files and, for now on, will stick with the smaller images (500px), which Blogger is prepared to host.]

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