Saturday, 29 May 2021

Gossip in a Library, redux

The last time I mentioned Edmund Gosse and his puningly-titled essay collection, Gossip in a Library (1891; see here), I was rather hard on both the writer and his essay ("What Ann Lang Read").

Since I wrote that post in 2012, I have given four lectures on Gosse and his essay collection, in a variety of teaching units at Monash, and have continued to be equally hard on both.

In light of this, it may seem a little odd that I would spend a reasonable sum of money to buy the volume illustrated in this post, which is a signed, limited edition of Gossip in a Library containing a photogravure of Gosse.

Given that this limited edition was published a year later than the first edition, a copy of which I already have, I was clearly not motivated by any high-minded bibliographical or collecting principle: this is in no way better than a first edition. Quite the opposite, in fact.

However, the 1892, limited-to-one-hundred-copies, signed-by-the-author, deckled-edged, large-paper edition, has—as I mentioned—a photogravure of Gosse, and this sort of artwork is just the thing I need want for my book on Haywood's readers.

Looking online, I can only find one site which uses this 1892 photogravure. Not only is their reproduction (here) watermarked with text, it is also rather small: I will do better!

My only other justification for buying this kind-of duplicate is that it contains a two-page supplement of reviews ("Opinions of the Press"), which is not present in the 1891 edition of Gossip in a Library on Google Books (see here), and which will also be rather useful for my chapter of Gosse.

Sunday, 23 May 2021

Marginal Notes, Now Published

Marginal Notes: Social Reading and the Literal Margins, edited by Patrick Spedding, Paul Tankard and Mia Goodwin (London: Palgrave, 2021)—the latest volume in the New Directions in Book History series—was issued on 29 March 2021. However, as far as I am concerned it was only really published yesterday, when I got to sit down on a quiet and relaxed Saturday morning, with a fresh coffee, and with the book in hand, like this:

The book, which is extremely satisfying to handle, is the final product of a conference collaboration that I first discussed with Paul Tankard in late 2015. The cover is also illustrated with the same image that graced the poster for our original conference (of the same name, and from which the book sprung) in September 2016 (announced on this blog, here).

I am inordinately proud of the cover image, since it contains a rebus—made slightly more obvious, I hope, by the positioning of image and title on the cover. As you can see in the original photo above, the annotator of my copy of Samuel Croxall's Fables of Aesop, not only glossed difficult words and phrases in the text, but also illustrated the silver tankard that is a central feature of this tale (which the thief is seeking at the bottom of the well). Not only is Paul's surname thus illustrated by way of annotation and rebus on the cover, mine is kind-of implied too: the "arch dissembler" being in the process of running or speeding (!) away. (Yes, this is lame, but it is a little less lame to me since, if I do not spell out my name, letter by letter, it is unfailingly recorded as "Speeding"!)

Moving on … of course, once I had a calm, reflective browse of the contents of our collection—I found one alarming error after another. And so I stopped, picked up my pencil, and annotated my copy with the corrections illustrated below. If you happen to read the book, or any of the essays in this collection, and find any more errors, please don't tell me. Rather, do as I have done, and as readers have long done, correct your copy too.

Saturday, 1 May 2021

Oracles and the renaissance

Recently, my scholar-cousin found a roll of film in a canister marked: "Spedding. Berlin." Since he and I thought this might be 24 long-lost happy-snaps from a trip to Berlin, I asked him to send the film to me unopened, and asap.

As it happens, I should have asked him to look at it more closely first because, not only was it not a long-lost film of happy-snaps, the film was not from Berlin. Instead, it was a microfilm I had ordered for him from the British Library back in 1995, when I was in London.

It seems that, at that time, he needed to chase up a reference to an obscure Latin work, which contained a list of -mancy words. Johann Albert Fabricius, Bibliographia antiqvaria, sive introdvctio in notitiam scriptorvm qvi antiqvitates hebraicas, graecas, romanas et christianas scriptis illvstrarvnt (1713), CAPUT XII, §2. "De divinationibus, Vatibus, miraculis, Magia, juramentis et votis, scriptores." [oracles, soothsayers, magic, oaths and vows, writing].

Although there was a copy of this book in Australia, that copy was at the University of Melbourne, one thousand kilometers away from Sydney (where he lived at the time). Also, the University of Melbourne was not set up for copying as easily or cheaply as the British Library—where I was busy at work on my Haywood bibliography.

So, rather than him taking a long road-trip to check the reference, or pay a small fortune for photographs to be taken of each page, I paid £3.53 for a duplicate microfilm at the British Library. When the microfilm arrived, I obviously rationalised the many microfilms I had accumulated for my research, and sent him his film in a spare canister.

So, mystery solved. But it struck me that this vignette of antipodean scholarly industry was worth relating, if only to compare it to the ease with which we can chase up a reference to an obscure** Latin work today. Totally unsurprisingly, this obscure Latin work has been freely available online since 2017 via Google Books.

And, because [1] it is freely available online, and [2] there is little demand for obscure Latin scholarship, you can buy an even earlier edition than held anywhere in Australia for USD75.00. I am not sure what this 1708 edition (below) might have been priced at in 1995, but my guess is between five and ten times as much as it is now.

Of course, [1] is directly related to [2]: there are now almost no libraries seeking to establish a collection of such scholarly depth that they are filling Rare Books collections with obscure Latin scholarship, in the way that the University of Melbourne once did.

When the classical heritage of the West was returned to us via the East, it prompted a renaissance—two of them actually: one in the Twelfth century and one two or three centuries later, which we call either the Renaissance or the Italian Renaissance.

It seems to me that the boggling scholarly riches readily available to us in the twenty-first century should be prompting a third renaissance in the Humanities. The time that scholars previously wasted in overcoming the tyranny of distance (via travel and cumbersome copying) can now be spent in pushing forward research: much further and faster than was possible in the twentieth century.

Perhaps this third renaissance is underway. If so, evidence for a twenty-first century renaissance is no easier to find than Fabricius's Bibliographia antiqvaria was in 1995.

**Although Wikipedia tells us that Fabricius was a celebrated bibliographer and collector of manuscripts, who is credited with compiling 128 books, there are very few references to Fabricius' "De divinationibus" online, before or after 1995.