Thursday, 30 November 2017

Bibliomania, The Evidence Accumulates

Fortunately, “bibliomania is not a psychological disorder recognized by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. However, according to Mark D. Griffiths, “taxonomic collecting” (“attempt[ing] to own an example of every type of a series of items produced”) and “the multiple purchasing of the same book” are probably either “fetishistic” or a symptom of an obsessive-compulsive disorder. While Griffiths notes that there is “very little academic research on the topic”—research reviewed in his article—he concludes that “book collecting can be compulsive.”

It is unlikely anyone who has jokingly described themselves as a bibliomaniac will disagree with this conclusion, just as it is unlikely that many of these same people are likely to agree with Freud that collecting is “a manifestation of anal-erotic impulses” or a “neurotic defence against pre-oedipal or oedipal traumas”—statements also quoted by Griffiths. In Civilisation and its Discontents (1930), 56–57, Freud argues, that “putting out fire by urinating” on it represents a “sexual act” and that controlling this desire is an achievement, a heterosexual masculine victory of culture-over-nature which is both “without a prototype” and “impossible” for women. Which tells you a great deal about Freud and his credibility, and very little about fire. And the capacity of women to urinate on it.

Returning to taxonomic collecting and purchasing multiple copies of the same book—if these are symptoms of bibliomania, then I am a bibliomaniac. In 1887, Augustine Birrell said, in relation to book collecting, that “until you have ten thousand volumes the less you say about your library the better.” But I am talking about bibliomania, not book-collecting, and by Griffiths’ definition, it is possible to be a bibliomaniac by repeatedly buying copies of only one book. Buying a dozen copies of Birrell’s Obiter Dicta, for instance, would be enough to make you a bibliomaniac.

Anyway, I was thinking about compulsive behaviour the other day when two more sets of Haywood’s Female Spectator arrived—these being my sixth and seventh set of the “Second” edition, i.e. Ab.60.5 the first London, duodecimo edition, which is not really the second London edition, and was not the first duodecimo edition. When I set out, without much premeditation, to collect Haywood taxonomically, I had not thought that I would end up with so many “duplicates” as well. Of course, very few hand-press books are genuine "duplicates" bibliographically-speaking (there are often slight differences, as I discuss here), and every book has its own history, more or less recoverable, which makes it unique (even volumes from the same set, as I discuss here).

Still, seven sets of the 1748 “Second” London edition does seem excessive, even to me. The vendor, whose outstanding collection on Hume ended up as in a Japanese university, assured me that he had had a dozen copies of many of Hune's works before he parted with his collection. And David Levy assures me that his Hoyle collection also includes a significant number of “duplicates” of some items. Both said I had nothing to be concerned about. But I am not sure I should be taking advice from people whose bibliomania is more advanced than my own.

Having gone online to self-diagnose, I found the Wikipedia entry on Bibliomania, and passed from that to the article by Griffiths, which I have been quoting from (“In Excess. Hooked and Booked. A brief look at bibliomania,” Psychology Today, 17 September 2013). Having read Griffiths’ essay, it appears that I now have to decide which diagnosis is worse, an obsessive-compulsive disorder or a paraphilia.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Knitting for Bibliographers, by Professor Greenough

As Wikipedia explains, Chester Noyes Greenough (1874–1938) was Professor of English (from 1915) and Dean at Harvard University (1919–27). Inasmuch as he is known to bibliographers today, he is known for his Bibliography of the Theophrastan Character (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1947) and his unpublished card catalogue of “English Prose Fiction, 1470-1832,” which is held at Harvard University’s Widener Library.

I was not aware of either work until quite recently, when I encountered a reference to the “Greenough catalogue” as a bibliographical reference to a “lost” work of eighteenth century erotica. Searching online, I found a few more references to this mysterious catalogue. A good example is, Allene Gregory, The French Revolution and the English Novel (New York: Putnam’s Sons, 1915), 321; Gregory writes “I wish to acknowledge an especial indebtedness to a manuscript card list of prose fiction by Professor C. N. Greenough, which formed the basis for my working list of Revolutionary fiction.”

In 1921, PMLA published an article by our good friend George F. Whicher—Eliza Haywood’s first bibliographer—as an appendix to their 1921 volume (George F. Whicher, “The Present Status of the Bibliography of English Prose Fiction between 1660 and 1800,”PMLA, 36 (1921): c–cvi). In it, Whicher describes how Greenough had compiled his catalogue. Describing two unpublished bibliographies, which have “carried forward the listing of prose fiction through the later years of the eighteenth century,” he explains,

One of them is the compilation of that indefatigable collector of literary information, Professor Chester N. Greenough of Harvard. He has collected between 3,000 and 4,000 titles covering the entire period—in fact his list extends to 1832—and has recorded editions besides the first. He has examined, though not with systematic thoroughness, the usual sources of bibliographical information. The feature of his collection which promises to be of greatest value is the large number of clippings from modern booksellers’ catalogues that it contains. As every student of the novel knows, editions and even books not available in any of the great libraries are constantly turning up in dealers’ lists. A collection of these items, such as Professor Greenough, may do much to supplement information gathered from other sources. Professor Greenough has courteously expressed his willingness to have his cards consulted by other workers in the bibliographical field.

(The second card catalogue, begun ca.1906 by John M. Clapp (1870–1953), was bequeathed to Whicher when Clapp retired as Head 
of the Department of English at Indiana University, ca. 1920. By 1922, it was in Amhurst College Library—for its fate, see below.)

Ruth Greenough’s account of her husband’s life, including his life as a scholar, was published in 1940. In this biography, she mentions Chester’s work on his catalogue of “English Prose Fiction”—which he referred to as his “B.P.F.” According to Ruth, Chester had an “almost boyish enthusiasm” when contemplating the “prospect of its attaining finished form” (Ruth Hornblower Greenough, Chester Noyes Greenough; an account of his life as teacher, dean, master & scholar (Cambridge, MA: Merrymount Press, 1940), 287). The “B.P.F.” was begun ca. 1920, “in the early years of his deanship to employ [his] spare moments” (287). The three or four thousand cards Whicher reports in 1922 grew to approximately two hundred thousand cards, catalogued under four hundred tentative subject headings, by the time of his death (286). Inspired by Robert Watt’s Bibliotheca Britannica; Or, A General Index to British and Foreign Literature (1824), Chester’s “B.P.F.” was both a productive way to use of his spare moments, and a break from his duties as Dean.

In 1929, after almost a decade of work on the project, Chester received some research funds, so he employed research assistants to expand on his work and—when this grant money ran out—continued to pay his RAs to work on it. Not surprisingly, Chester was very anxious to see the work finished: when he was Dean (1919–27), “he never ceased to regret … the fact that his own work was lying idle” (117), when he first received his grant money he advised his RA to “Spend like a drunken sailor!” (287), and even after he was paying for the work from his own pocket, he wanted his RA to “push faster”—increasing his hours to increase his output. Ruth says that “he kept a tray of cards” at hand, which he “played with, rearranged, added to” (117), “quieting his nerves by compiling, assorting and indexing the cards”—something “he called his knitting work” (287). His RA adds, “Often in spare moments before going to classes he would finger over the cards and express delight in the accumulation [he was making] for future scholars” (288).

* * * * *

Prof. Chester Noyes Greenough’s “accumulation” is described in a FAQ answer on the Harvard University Library website (here):

Professor Chester Noyes Greenough’s “Catalogue of English Prose Fiction, 1470-1832” is still an index card file kept in a large wooden case in Houghton Library. It is located in an area not normally open to the public, so it is necessary to contact Houghton to arrange to consult it in person: houghref@fas.harvard.edu.


The staff at the Haughton were kind enough to answer a query of mine concerning Frailties of Fashion; Or, Adventures of an Irish Smock (1782), which I have mentioned on this blog before (here) and which is the subject of a forthcoming essay I have co-authored for Notes and Queries, supplying images of the card concerned (front, above; back, below). As you can see, the card records the title, format, price, publisher, the novel is characterised (probably from a review), and it has been checked in the British Museum catalogue. It appears the initial details were taken from The Monthly Review; a subtitle and a reference were later added—“CR LV 234,” which is a reference to the Critical Review, 55 ([1783]): 234—plus information on cross-references from subtitle, and subjects (Ireland and Fashion)—later still, details taken from Jules Gay’s Bibliographie des ouvrages relatifs à l'amour, aux femmes, au mariage et des livres (1871), 1.36, were add to the back of the card. (Identifiable as such, since Gay is responsible for the ghost “Randall (1875?)” edition.)


Below the transcript from Gay on the back is a stamp: “This card given to the Harvard College Library by J. M. Clapp January, 1929”—a statement of provenance that explains the cataloguing date on the front “8.11.09” (i.e., 8 November 1909), a decade before Greenough commenced his “Catalogue of English Prose Fiction, 1470-1832,” but three years after Clapp began his. From these details it seems that Clapp’s card catalogue collections were bequeathed to Whicher, who passed them on to Amhurst (where they resided in 1922); but that the collection was passed on to Harvard in 1929—whether by Clapp (who was still alive), Whicher (ditto), or Amhurst itself, is unclear—and added to the Greenough “Catalogue,” precisely at the moment Greenough was dispersing grant money “like a drunken sailor” to accelerate the expansion of his own card catalogue. From which, it seems likely that the first hand is Clapp’s, and the remainder either Greenough’s or his RA’s.

In my database Checklist of Eighteenth-Century Erotica I record remarkably similar details to those recorded by Clapp and Greenough. Because of the limited scope of my Checklist (fewer than two thousand titles), and the greater ease with which details can be added to virtual “cards” in FileMaker, I have the luxury of adding more of the same sort of details: more detailed title-page information, more advertisements and reviews, more details of copies located, etc. So it is not really surprising that my working methods are also much the same, my regrets about being kept from my Checklist by teaching and admin, ditto, and now the name I use for the time I spend on what has become my “knitting.”

If the card above is typical of the Clapp/Greenough catalogue, as I am tempted to refer to it as now, it is a remarkable achievement. It is a shame it is not better known.