Wednesday 13 April 2011

Collecting Eighteenth Century Literature

Over lunch yesterday I read Carl Spadoni's Collecting Eighteenth-Century English Novels in the Twenty-First Century, which was published in Eighteenth-Century Fiction in 2002 (vol. 14, no. 3). Carl gets a mention in the Acknowledgements to my Bibliography for the help he offered me during my lightning tour of North America in the summer of 1995.

He begins with an amusing anecdote about an novel by Elizabeth Blower that he was offered, which McMaster didn't have. He uses it is a way of introducing the subject of the astonishing rarity of eighteenth-century novels in general, and particularly the works of "minor" writers.

As a rare book librarian, he is particularly interested in what this means to librarians in terms of collection development: the need to move beyond high-spot collecting to preserve works which—despite microfilms, scanning projects etc—remain on the brink of annihilation. But also, the need to collect writers in depth. As a modest collector of eighteenth-century literature, particularly women writers, and one particular writer in depth (Haywood obviously), this was music to my ears!

Carl reminds his readers that McMaster's holdings in the eighteenth century "particularly with respect to novels, was, and continues to be, strong, the largest of its kind in Canada and one of the best in North America": similar to Monash in fact. The ESTC code-finder I mentioned in my last post provides a count of ESTC records as well as providing ESTC codes. A search for Australian libraries reveals that the top ten institutions (those with more than one thousand ESTC items) are:

1. University of Sydney Library (NU) 7511
2. National Library of Australia (ANL) 7452
3. Monash University (VMoU) 4837
4. State Library of Victoria (VSL) 4060
5. State Library of SA (SSL) 2873
6. University of Adelaide (SUA) 2597
7. University of Melbourne (VU) 2294
8. State Library of NSW, Rare Books (NSL-RB) 1199
9. Private collection, SA (PC-S) 1171
10. State Library of NSW (NSL) 1008

Of course, if you combine NSL with NSL-M etc you get a slightly different top ten:

1. University of Sydney Library (NU) [combined] 7515
2. National Library of Australia (ANL) 7452
3. Monash University (VMoU) 4837
4. State Library of Victoria (VSL) 4060
5. University of Melbourne [combined] 2900
6. State Library of SA (SSL) 2873
7. University of Adelaide (SUA) 2597
8. State Library of NSW (NSL) [combined] 2478
9. Private collection, SA 1171
10. University of Queensland 979

One third of the 303 Australian ESTC codes are recorded as holding nothing (!), a further one third have five or fewer listings, only about one tenth have one hundred or more works. Number 9 is a private collection in South Australia, which is certainly impressive, but it puts all institutional libraries with fewer than one thousand items in the shade (sorry QU: you're out).

* * * * *

Returning to Carl's article, although these ESTC holdings include all pre-1800 books, you can see that the Monash holdings are "strong" and one of the largest of its kind in Australia. So his reflections on collection development seem particularly apt. I will quote them as length:

As James Raven has rightly pointed out, the dominance of best-selling authors "inevitably introduces distortion into the history of the early period of the 'rise of the novel.''' Practically all discussion about collecting eighteenth-century novels focuses on the works of major authors … Competition for first editions of this kind will always be fierce … [but] a research library with an eighteenth-century collection will want to own not just first editions of major novelists but necessarily later editions as well. Scholars have learned the hard lesson that not all texts of a work are the same and even within an edition there are often textual variants. … While it may not be possible in practical terms to collect all major novelists in depth, certainly an attempt should be made to collect a few major authors in this way so that editions, issues, and reprintings of an author's works are housed in one institution.

Research libraries such as McMaster University … have a responsibility to collect these treasured resources before they disappear altogether from the antiquarian market. Under ordinary circumstances, and especially with an eye on budgetary constraints, one might be inclined to take a more measured approach to collecting eighteenth-century fiction so that one eventually acquires a collection representative of a variety of different narrative techniques … Indeed, one could push the point further by arguing that only the best novels from each sub-type should be collected … But this approach overlooks the dire fact that to a great extent we are in a race against time with diminishing resources to build collections.

Unless a library already has a core collection of good eighteenth-century novels and is prepared to add to it vigilantly on an individual basis, it would be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to build a great collection of this kind. While it is certainly true that there is still an abundance of good eighteenth-century books for sale, works of fiction appear much less frequently in antiquarian catalogues in comparison to other genres of literature such as poetry and drama. Antiquarian dealers are increasingly aware of the scarcity of eighteenth-century novels. In their catalogue descriptions they not only provide commentary about the novelist and the work, they also state the number of known copies available and where they are located. Scarcity itself has driven up all prices regardless of the stature of the author or the merit of the novel.

So, any library not already in the top half-dozen in Australia for this sort of material can probably forget building a great collection, and those that are in the top half-dozen need to "add to it vigilantly" now while the relative "abundance of good eighteenth-century books" persists.

* * * * *

As a collector, what stands out for me is that, since "practically all discussion about collecting eighteenth-century novels" focused on the works of major, male authors, there was an opportunity (until 2002 and to a much more limited extent now) to build a collection on a few major authors in depth, while collecting other, minor, works "before they disappear altogether from the antiquarian market".

In the last week I have received a few catalogues and found another online that have hammered home the "Time is—time was—time's past"-message. Bauman Rare Books have a handful of Shakespeare Quartos (including a 1639 Henry IV Part 1 for $185,000). Among the items listed is a book that I put on a wants list in 1984: the $20,000 price tag suggests that "time's past" (i.e., it is time to accept that I will never be able to afford) Cornelius Agrippa's Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy of 1655.

Bauman's cater to high-point collectors with deep pockets. They regularly have works from the eighteenth century, but these are mostly books of historical importance, rather than high-point eighteenth-century literature. However, they do have quite a bit of high-point seventeenth-century literature. Clearly, we have not quite reached the point where eighteenth-century literature in general is rare, and the high-point items are impossibly rare, as we have for seventeenth-century literature (almost all seventeenth-century books, let alone one in decent/complete condition, are quite rare). This rarity is a necessary pre-condition for the inventive prices—$20,000 for Agrippa's Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy—that Bauman's specialise in. After all, they can only really get away with this such prices when they are the only dealers carrying the books they are selling

Although Bauman's do not deal much in eighteenth-century literature, others do, and the stellar prices they ask are clearly not that far away. And a perfect example of this is a set of Haywood's Invisible Spy that has been circulating among dealers for four years!

The set turned up in March 2007 at Gorringes, an auction house in Lewes, East Sussex. The estimate was £150–200; I bid £420, but it went for £700 to James Burmester; who listed it in his Catalogue 75 in July 2009 for £1750. It was bought by David Brass Rare Books, who listed it at US$8,500. It hasn't sold. After all, it isn't rare and it isn't particularly important to a Haywood collector, let alone a collector of eighteenth-century literature. Betsy Thoughtless is important, though common; Love in Excess is important and rare as hen's teeth. But Invisible Spy?

I am not sure whether the under-bidder at Gorringes was also a dealer, but I do know that the value (the price at which a copy will actually sell to a collector/library) is less than the £700 paid by James. Most likely, it is £420, the amount I offered, since I suspect I was and remain the only collector in the market. I subsequently got a copy for USD125—one 68th of the price David Brass is asking.

The importance of David Brass's inventive price is that it is an indication that major authors of the eighteenth century are beginning to attract the attention of speculative dealers. Carl's message, that "time is" for those libraries and collectors who have already made a start on eighteenth-century literature to add to their collections "vigilantly" now while they can. Once Bauman-prices rule, we can give up and start on something else.

**A final note: another way of arranging the top ten is by state: ACT (14,967), Victoria (11,797), SA (6641), NSW (2478), QLD (979). Who'd have thought that NSW was so far behind the rest of Australia?!

[UPDATE 2023.03.24—I have updated the URL for the ESTC code-finder; see here for my "Eighteenth-Century Books in Australian Libraries, revisited"]

Monday 4 April 2011

Colonial Bias and Changing ESTC Codes

When I compiled my Bibliography of Eliza Haywood I used ESTC codes for America and the UK, but rejected the ESTC codes for Europe and Australasia.

The UK and US ESTC codes are based on codes established in each country. Australia had long had its own library codes which were in universal use and which were utterly unlike the ESTC codes (Monash University is VMoU in Oz, and MELmu on ESTC).

To have a fresh set of overseas-invented codes foisted upon us rankled. Like Such is Life I am by "temper democratic" and by "bias, offensively Australian"—and I'd be damned before I would let anyone get away with pushing around the colonials!

Likewise, I thought it was pretty outrageous, that ESTC—which was supposed to a co-operative international union catalogue of 18C books—should respect North American tradition to the point of duplication, but impose new codes on libraries everywhere else. (There are four cases in my Bibliography where the same ESTC library code is used by two separate institutions in the US and UK: C, Ct, L and O.)

Also, although ESTC differentiated locations in their listings (UK, US, Other) they did not do so in their codes. So, it is not immediately clear that a code is for a library in Germany or Australia: they are both exist in the sub-class "Other": not-British and not-American. (An exception was made for Canada—which has the country prefix "Ca"; an exception that makes the omission for other countries more obvioius!)

So, what I did in my Bibliography was use Australasian library codes prefixed by "Au"; and created a set of European codes that identified each European country with its own prefix "Eu" and then separated the countries with codes that identified France (with an "F"), Germany (with a "G") etc.

* * * * *

I was reminded of all of this very recently when I was working through the proofs of an article I have finished for Script & Print on "The Publication of Teresia Constantia Phillips’s Apology (1748–49)." Through force of habit, I had used EuGG for the Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, Göttingen, Germany (EuGG = Europe, Germany, Göttingen). But the ESTC code is (or was) GOT.

Shef Rogers pointed out to me the following web page on ESTC Contributing Libraries: Library Codes, where it explains that ESTC are going to adopt at least part of my plan!

For libraries in other parts of the world the ESTC has … changed to a new region code ‘e’, for continental Europe (those libraries were previously included in region ‘o’) … For Australia, the Australian National Library has already created a standard list of codes, and in the next few months the traditional ESTC codes for approximately 88 contributing libraries will be changed to comply with this list, with the region code ‘o’ and Australian country code ‘Au’ as added prefixes.

Of course, the Australian National Library has not created a standard list of codes, it is simply being asked to provide a standard list of codes, a list that was available to the editors of ESTC decades ago if they had had the slightest interest in adopting local codes. They didn't.

Note also that Australian (not Asian and Australasian) libraries remain lumbered with the opprobrious region code "o"—for Other. It can hardly be a coincidence that "o" follows both "b" (for the British Isles) and "n" (for North America). (And now "e" for Europe—better late than never, eh?)

And do I have to point out that "o" is not a region code at all? But if "a" or "au" had been used (Asia and Australasia are regions, and Australia is a continent, so there would be some justification for using it too) these library codes would appear before UK and US libraries. Instead, Australian libraries are to be kept at a safe distance. Segregated. At the back of the bus.

This page explains that

eventually all ESTC contributing libraries will have standardized codes either created by a national library or drawn from the USMARC lists.

Excellent. Again with the "better late than never." However, "No change to present coding is contemplated" for the 56 libraries of New Zealand, or for the 16 libraries of India, "which lacks a country prefix." Make of that what you will.

* * * * *

BTW: among the 25 libraries which have changed codes for other reasons, that are listed on the ESTC Contributing Libraries: Library Codes page, are three that were used in my Bibliography which I will update for the second edition in 2014. These are

Yale University, Lewis Walpole Library [code changed from CtY-Walpole to CtY-LW]

Brooklyn Public Library [code changed from NB to NBPu]

University of Rhode Island Library [code changed from RU to RUn]

I will also be dropping Minneapolis Public Library (MnM), because this library no longer exists, and the only Haywood item held by this library has been sold with the rest of the collection. And I will be adding some more European codes, as I have explained in various posts on recent new finds.

Sunday 3 April 2011

Secret Sex Poems of the Eighteenth Century

The BBC published an article in February reporting the discovery that Rochester wrote bawdy verse—and that the bawdy verse in The Works of the Earls of Rochester and Roscommon was what made the collection popular in the eighteenth century. When the article was re-posted on the 18th Century Interdisciplinary Discussion List, the response was "So what?"

As Rik Myslewski quipped recently "In other news, Pope Benedict XVI has been revealed to be a Roman Catholic, and a common ursus americanus was discovered relieving himself in a shady copse."

With a title like Secret sex poems 'key to 18th Century book's success' you'd expect fatuous twaddle and—despite the fact that this is the BBC, and not The Daily Mail—fatuous twaddle is what you get.

But, despite the BBC, there is a genuine story here.

* * * * *

In my database of eighteenth-century erotica I include eighteen editions (to 1801) of The Works of the Earls of Rochester, Roscomon, And Dorset: Also those of the Dukes of Devonshire, And Buckinghamshire to which are added, The Cabinet of Love, And several other Poems On diverse Subjects.

This collection changed from edition to edition, ranging from three poems (1714), to thirteen (1735). The thirteen titles in the 1735 collection are: “The Discovery,” “Arbor Vitae” [two cantos], “Dildoides,” “The Delights of Venus,” “Lord Rochester against his Whore-Pipe,” “An Interlude,” “A Panegyrick upon Cundums,” “Satire on a Whore,” “Advice to the Kind Ladies,” “Mrs Knight’s Advice,” “The Insatiable,” “A Drinking Song” and “The Anniversary.”

The Cabinet of Love has been of intermittent scholarly interest since at least 1927 when many of the poems were listed in Johannes Prinz, John Wilmot Earl of Rochester, His Life and Writings With His Lordship’s Private Correspondence, Various Other Documents, And a Bibliography of His Works and of The Literature on Him (Leipzig: Mayer & Müller, 1927).

Dr Claudine van Hensbergen may indeed be "the first" attribute "the success of The Works" to the bawdy poems, as the BBC article states. It is a bold claim, but I am inclined to agree. Certainly the collection with the bawdy poems was popular, at least as popular as the version of The Works of the Earls of… without The Cabinet.

When I started researching this collection I assumed—as others have—that this anthology was the clandestine edition of The Works Of the Earls of… and that the version without The Cabinet of Love was the edition openly published and advertised. This suggests that the bulk of the market for The Works of the Earls of… was satisfied by the legitimate edition lacking The Cabinet of Love, and that only a few brave/debauched souls would want the clandestine edition with The Cabinet of Love. What I found is that the two versions seems to have been equally successful and they were both openly advertised, or at least, advertised equally as often.

Dr van Hensbergen is also quoted as claiming that "the circulation of The Cabinet alongside The Works of the Earl of Rochester helped cement his scandalous reputation"—which also seems possible from my research.

Obviously, Rochester would have his scandalous reputation without The Cabinet of Love. No question. But almost all of his eighteenth-century readers encountered his works beside those Roscomon, Dorset, Devonshire, and Buckinghamshire, and roughly half of his eighteenth-century readers also encountered his works beside those in The Cabinet of Love—even though the poems in The Cabinet of Love were clearly not attributed to him, or any of the other named Dukes. These other works provide the context: naughty Rochester, poet of the naughty times of the naughty Charles II. If you read Rochester, you are a naughty, naughty boy.

Of course it is stupid to claim "The success of … was down to pornographic poems hidden in the book"—the poems weren't hidden, and they were far from being the sole attraction of the collection. But, to be fair, that is likely the work of the breathless—and anonymous—BBC writer, not Dr van Hensbergen. The same breathless—and anonymous—BBC writer who added "depth" (and a photo) to their article with the observation that "In [the] 2004 film The Libertine, the notorious Earl … was played by Johnny Depp."

[UPDATE 23 October 2013: two editions of "The Cabinet of Love" are now available on Google Books; you will find them here in my (sporadically updated) list of "Eighteenth-Century Erotic Texts Online."]

Arranging Books by Colour

I had a good friend who organised her books by colour—and she had a lot of them—in strict spectrum-style. It took a while, but was very impressive. (It helped that many of them were had been bought at library sales and so they were bound in a range of strong, solid colours.) This video reminded me of her Sandy Bay library.

Saturday 2 April 2011

Strahov Library vs Faust House in Prague

The Strahov Library in Prague—the library in the Strahov Monastery—is #402 of 645 things to do in Prague according to Lonely Planet online, which tells you more about the Lonely Planet demographic than it does about the Strahov Library. However, when I was in Prague I didn't go there either. It being a Monastery library and all, housed in the Theological Hall, I couldn't muster any enthusiasm for the trip.**

Now, thanks to the "World's Largest indoor Photo," I don't need to return to Prague to see it and neither do you! You can

See the inside of an 18th century library in Prague in 360 degrees. Read the titles on the books and enjoy the trompe l'oeil painting on the ceiling

You can do this thanks to a forty Gigapixel photo hosted here. (For the record, a gigapixel is one billion pixels. Forty gigapixels is 40,000 x 1 megapixel.) Here is a pan-and-scan tour.

* * * * *

**The first place I visited was the house Dr. John Dee stayed in when he was in Prague in the late 16C (photo below). This is the Faust House (Faustuv dum), a gothic house on the corner of Charles Square which is still closed to the public. Apparently, the Faust House rates even lower among tourists than both the Strahov Library and Jindrisska Tower (#544/645), which is the second place I visited and which is described as not on the regular tourist circuit (!)

The house was bought in 1590 by Dee's long-time companion Edward Kelly, but Dee probably spent more time in the castle dungeon than he did in this house. Kelly certainly did! The house was rebuilt in the 1720s and all that remains of the original gothic building is the lower floor and basement (which is all that I photographed when I visited). It is suitably grim. (See here for more on the Mysterious Faust House.)

When I was looking for something online about this house I was reminded of another Dee landmark in Prague: the house of Dr. Tadeáš Hájek that once stood in the NW corner of Bethlehem Square (Betlémské náměstí). Unfortunately, I no longer have the guide book that directed my steps to the Faust House, which also mentioned Hájek's "The House at the Green Mounds" (Dům u zelených hájků). But according to what I could find online (here) historic house no. 253 was destroyed in 1837, and in 1896 no. 252 was also destroyed. These two buildings, combined, formed Hájek's house.

Fortunately, tourists can still visit the castle dungeon and the Mihulka Powder Tower which had, when I was there, a fabulous exhibition about Dee, Kelly and Rudolf II's passion for alchemy. No photos were allowed, and there were attendants everywhere, and it was dark, and I had an old-style manual SLR camera—making it hard to hide, focus and hold still, while discreetly taking a photo—and so this was the best I could do!