Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Deliberately Non-Partisan Post

This week’s book was chosen as a comment on the real, existential threat our country faces from a President who openly colludes with, gives comfort to, and has received both financial aid and stolen state secrets from our adversaries and enemies overseas -- particularly those in the Kremlin.

The son of a prominent banker, James Paul Warburg was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1896. After his family came to the United States, Warburg graduate from Harvard and then joined the Navy Flying Corps during WWI. After the War, he quickly rose the ranks through the banking and financial services industry in New York City. In 1932, while working for the Bank of the Manhattan Company, he was chosen by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to serve as a financial adviser to the administration. This relationship soured in 1934, however, when Warburg had a falling out with Roosevelt over some parts of the New Deal. 

In 1941, however, he returned to government service, working with the Office of War Information to promote American military intervention in Europe and to counter those arguing for isolationism. After WWII, he was an advocate for nuclear disarmament and diplomatic negotiation rather than military confrontation with the Soviet Union; to this end, he joined the Council on Foreign Relations, and co-founded the Institute for Policy Studies. He is perhaps best remembered for his February 17, 1950 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in which he stated, “We shall have world government, whether or not we like it. The question is only whether world government will be achieved by consent or by conquest.” He was an adviser to John F. Kennedy and, for his efforts to prevent the Cold War from becoming hot, he won the Gandhi Peace Award in 1963. After retiring to Greenwich, Connecticut, Warburg died in 1969.

Warburg was a prolific writer, bringing his political, economic, and diplomatic ideas to a broad audience through his many books and pamphlets (including the pointedly titled, 1949 Rearming Germany—How Stupid Can We Be?). He also wrote politically and economically inspired verse (including his, according to Kirkus Review, “vociferous” and “declamatory”, 1942 anti-Nazi sonnet sequence Man’s Enemy and Man), as well as song lyrics for the 1929 hit song “Can’tWe Be Friends”, for his first wife, composer and musician Kay Swift, and for their 1930 musical Fine and Dandy.

On February 29, 1952, Warburg’s twenty-fifth publication, How To Co-Exist Without Playing the Kremlin’s Game: The 6 Imperatives of a Policy of Liberation to Halt the Totalitarian Tide Without War, was published by the Unitarian Universalist Church’s politically inclined Beacon Press, located at 25 Beacon Street in Boston; there were no further editions. My copy of the book is a paperback, 14cm x 21cm, 228 pages. While there was only one edition of How to Co-Exist, the book was released in three issues. The first, of which my copy is one, was a paperback “Special Advance Edition” that included an inserted leaf promoting the book but which is, otherwise, identical to the subsequent, hard-cover retail edition (sold for $3). It was simultaneously published in pamphlet form by the Current Affairs Press of New York City, sold for $1. The cover art (dust-jacket art on the red cloth hard-cover issue) was by Boston calligrapher and artist Edward A. Karr.

Warburg wanted his book to start conversations and to that end, he included a “Discussion Guide” as an appendix, aimed at helping readers bring up his ideas with their friends, family, and neighbors. Intriguingly, the promotional insert indicates that readers of the advance copy are welcome to “point out whatever flaws you may find in the case presented, or make suggestions as to how the argument might be made more persuasive” – which suggests that Warburg was open to revising the book at some point (or, alternatively, the invitation may have simply been a marketing scheme to make the advance readers feel that their views were being considered). The insert also asks advance readers to provide the names of others who might be interested in copies, to buy additional copies to distribute or buy them in bulk for groups or organizations, to pay for their advance copy (to make it possible “to increase the free distribution to key citizens”), and simply to talk-up the book with others.

How to Co-Exist advocates for a concerted effort to reform both domestic and foreign policy in order to combat communism through economic, cultural, and social means, rather than explicitly military means. Warburg’s principle argument centers on the assumption that a war with the Soviet Union or its satellites would be not winnable, in that the use of nuclear weapons would necessarily result in the end of humanity. For victory, Warburg contends that an aggressive campaign of global education is required, that America needs to demonstrate to other countries the best qualities of American values of liberty, free market capitalism, racial justice, universal civil rights, and egalitarianism. He sounds a warning against ignorance (especially ignorance of communism and what it actually is), saber-rattling, and any government actions that might undermine absolute confidence in the transparency and fairness of a free state. Ultimately, Warburg believes that “if we can gain time without permitting the outbreak of a major armed conflict, a way can and must be found to wipe the curse of war from the face of this long-suffering earth” (p. 8).

I’d send my copy to the White House, gratis, but I doubt it would be of much use there.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Hannah More and the Women of Rank and Fortune

After a hiatus of nearly five years, during which time Tarquin Tar's Bookcase was in abeyance to make way for the arrival of first one child and then a second, as well as three moves, I felt it was time to get things started again. Posts will likely be less often than once per week, but I will endeavor to keep at least some life flowing through this blog from time to time.

This week's book was chosen in light of the impending election of the first woman President of the United States. Hannah More (1745-1833) was a famed English educator, reformer, and social activist, perhaps best known for being a leader in the abolitionist movement. In addition to her political writings, More was an accomplished poet and -- early in her life -- dramatist. As a Christian Evangelical, her view of women's place in society differed from that of other early feminists, who argued for the equality of men and women. Rather, More articulated a vision of women's place in society that saw them as qualitatively different from men, but also critiqued the patriarchal society of her England for failing to appropriately and effectively make it possible for women to occupy that place.

More's Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education, with a View of the Principles and Conduct Prevalent Among Women of Rank and Fortune was first published in 1799 by T. Cadell, Junior, and W. Davies in London and by William Porter and P. Wogan in Dublin. This was followed by editions in 1800 in London and Dublin again, as well as in Philadelphia (1800), Charlestown, Massachusetts (1800), and beyond. Its popularity can be measured by its recurrent publication throughout the nineteenth century. My copy is the first New York edition, published as two volumes bound into one by Evert Duyckinck and printed by George Long. Duyckinck (1764?-1833), whose office was at 102 Pearl Street in New York City, was the father of the better known Evert Augustus Duyckinck, a prominent publisher and leader in the nationalist Young America Movement. George Long was an accomplished New York printer who routinely worked for Duyckinck (the two were evidently good friends: in 1828, Duyckinck named his second son, George Long Duyckinck).

The importance of More's Strictures is best explained by Anne K. Mellor, in "Hannah More, Revolutionary Reformer", in "Women, Morality, and Advice Literature" (Adam Matthew Publications, 2016):

Fundamental to Hannah More’s project of social revolution was a transformation of the role played by woman of all classes in the formation of national culture. Unlike Mary Wollstonecraft, who argued that the two sexes were in all significant aspects the same, Hannah More insisted on the innate difference between the sexes. To women she assigns a greater delicacy of perception and feeling and above all, a greater moral purity and capacity for virtue. Men on the other hand have better judgement, based on their wider experience of the public world; at the same time their manners are coarse, with “rough angles and asperities” (VI : 266). If a “revolution in manners” is to occur, then, it must be carried out by women.

But first women must be educated to understand their proper function in society. More’s Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education (1799) lays out her program for the education of “excellent women” (III : 200): a systematic development of the innate female capacity for virtue and piety through a judicious reading of the Bible, devotional tracts and serious literature, extended by rational conversation and manifested in the active exercise of compassion and generosity. The goal of More’s educational project for woman is no less than a cultural redefinition of female virtue. As summed up in that “pattern daughter … [who] will make a pattern wife,” Lucilla Stanley, the heroine of More’s novel, Coelebs in Search of a Wife (1808: 246), female virtue is equated with rational intelligence, modesty and chastity, a sincere commitment to spiritual values and the Christian religion, an affectionate devotion to one’s family, active service on behalf of one’s community, and an insistence on keeping promises. More’s concept of female virtue thus stands in stark contrast to the prevailing cultural definition of the ideal woman as one who possessed physical beauty and numerous accomplishments and who could effectively entice a man of substance into marriage.

More’s concept of female virtue also stands in opposition to the prevailing masculine concept of virtue as “devotion to the public good,” and “the practice … of relations of equality between citizens” could no longer be reconciled with the “ideals” of commerce which required an exchange between non-equals, credit and dependence. Hence masculine “virtue” was redefined as the possession of property and “the practice and refinement of polished manners,” manners which would engage the trust and credit of like-minded men of property (Pocock 41-8). This specifically male “commercial humanism” seemed to More to be soul-less and mechanistic, substituting the form of good manners for the substance. Female virtue was not a matter of credit and exchange but rather a matter of spiritual conviction, sincere compassion for the welfare of others, humility and self-sacrifice.

Embedded in More’s program for the education of women was a new career for middle-class women, namely, a sustained and increasingly institutionalised effort to relieve the sufferings of the less fortunate. As Lucilla Stanley’s mother defines this career: “Charity is the calling of a lady; the care of the poor is her profession”(Coelebs 138; More’s italics). More here conceptualises for the first time the career of what we would now call the “social worker,” the organised and corporate - as opposed to the spontaneous and individualistic - practice of philanthropy. As exemplified by Lucilla Stanley, this profession involves spending one day each week collecting “necessaries” for the poor - food, clothing, medicine - and two evenings each week visiting them in their own cottages where she can best determine “their wants and their characters” (Coelebs 63).
In her Strictures on Female Education, More advocates a more institutionalised philanthropy, a “regular systematical good” resulting in a “broad stream of bounty … flowing through and refreshing whole districts” (Strictures III 270). She urges her women readers to participate actively in the organisation of voluntary benevolent societies and in the foundation of hospitals, orphanages, Sunday Schools and all-week charity or “ragged” schools for the education and relief of the poor. And her call was heard: literally thousands of voluntary societies sprang up in the opening decades of the nineteenth century to serve the needs of every imaginable group of sufferers, from the Bristol Orphan Asylum to the Sailors Home, from the Poor Printers Fund to the Pensioners at Wrington, to name only four among the 71 charities to which More herself contributed generously in her will.

The book is 10.5cm x 17.5cm, bound in leather, and is paginated ix, 124 (vol. 1); 130 (vol. 2). There are no apparent errors in pagination, composition, or the sequencing of gatherings. Some of the inking looks like it was done rather hurriedly, but overall it's a well produced book.

On the title-page, a small, elegant hand has written in ink, "Adeline P. Rockwell. 1821." There seems to be only one person who fits the name and date parameters of this inscription: Adeline P. Rockwell was the daughter of Joel Peabody, lived in New Hampshire, and died in 1890. (Another Adeline Rockwell, daughter of James Rockwell and Anna Miner of Connecticut, was born in 1816, so may have been too young to make her the owner of the book). The only other marginalia are in Volume 2, Chapter 16 ("On dissipation, and the modern habit of fashionable life"), where a pencil line is drawn alongside passages refuting the charge that reading literature weakens women's minds and morals (p. 64), defending the practice of pursuing pleasurable activities only in moderation (p. 66), and arguing against the habit of men who choose their wives as if they were picking out a painting to hang in their houses ("the picture being passive, he is able to fix it there" but women are "not become private property"; "women are not mere portraits, their value not being determinable by a glance of the eye") (p. 69).

As I flip through my copy of More's Strictures, I can't help but imagine what she would have thought of the possibility that a woman is likely going to become the leader of the most powerful nation in the world -- or what she would have made of the gross and demeaning insults and flat lies, and the crude, sexist, and misogynistic attacks that Hillary Clinton has suffered as a result of her lifelong commitment to serving her country while being, also, a woman.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Support Tarquin's Bookcase and Your Own!

If you're a regular reader of my blog, you may recall a time long ago when I deaccessioned some items that would be of interest to other collectors by selling them on eBay.

That time has come again!

This is a great chance for you to add a few titles from Tarquin Tar's Bookcase to your own collection and, in the process, help support the continued growth of Tarquin's Bookcase as well.

The first item up for auction (at a very low starting price and with no reserve or handling fee) is a terrific and rare early (1801) Boston imprint of plays and poetry by a leading figure in the 18th-century English abolitionist movement.

Go check it out and be sure to bid strong and bid often!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Off With His Head! A Broken and Rebound Collection of 18th Century Drama

This week’s book is a fine owner-made collection of seven plays (six comedies and one historical tragedy) written and staged by the famed London actor-manager Colley Cibber (1671-1757; right) in the early eighteenth century. It is evident from the signatures that a previous owner had disbound the plays from what had been a two-volume collection and then the owner who purchased the disbound works had them bound together himself into the extant single volume.

The contents in the volume (not including two initial blanks and two final blanks inserted by the second owner at the time of re-binding) are as follows:

Love’s Last Shift: or, The Fool in Fashion. A Comedy. As it is Acted At the Theatre Royal in Drury-Lane, By His Majesty’s Servants. Written by C. Cibber. Printed in London, 1721. [Premiered and first published in 1696.] (viii) 74. 4o: [#]A4-C4(-C4+π1.2) D4(±D4?) E4-L1: $2. Roman numeral signatures added in the lower margins of the fourth leaf in occasional gatherings indicate that this play was taken from Volume I of the original collection. The preliminaries include: title-page; Cibber’s dedication to Richard Norton, Esq., of Southwick; prologue “By a Friend” and spoken by “Mr. Verbrughen”; epilogue spoken by “Miss Cross (who sung Cupid)”; full dramatis personae with character descriptions and the names of the players (Cibber played Sir Novelty Fashion, “A Coxcomb that loves to be the first in all Foppery”).

The Lady’s Last Stake, or, The Wife’s Resentment. A Comedy. As it is Acted at the Queen’s Theatre in the Hay-Market, By Her Majesty’s Servants. [Written by Cibber and premiered in 1707.] [viii] 97. 4o: A4-N1: $2. This play was the first in the second volume and gathering N continues into the next play in the collection. The preliminaries include: title-page; Cibber’s dedication to the Marquis of Kent, the Queen’s Lord Chamberlain; prologue; sparse dramatis personae with the character names and the names of the players (Cibber played Lord George Brillant [sic]). The play ends with an epilogue, spoken (and sung) by Cibber.

The Rival Fools: or, Wit, at Several Weapons. A Comedy. As it is Acted at the Theatre-Royal By Her Majesty’s Servants. [Written by Cibber and premiered in 1709; an adaptation of John Fletcher’s Wit at Several Weapons of c. 1609-20]. [iv] 103-184. 4o: N2-4 O4-Z4: $2. This play was continuous from the previous in Volume II of the original collection. The preliminaries include the title-page, prologue (ending with the ridiculous couplet: “But if [our] humble Jests shou’d fail to win ye, / We beg some Grace for Signior Cibberini.”), and the sparse dramatis personae giving the actors’ names with their parts (Cibber played Samuel Simple). The play ends with an epilogue in the form of a comic dialogue between the actors Pinkethman and Bullock. According to the catchword on Z4v, the next play after this in the original Volume II was Ximena, a comic adaptation of Corneille’s tragicomedy The Cid, written by Cibber in 1712. In the extant collection, however, Ximena is missing.

The Non-Juror. A Comedy. As it is Acted at the Theatre-Royal, By His Majesty’s Servants. [Cibber’s politicized and heavily anti-Catholic 1717 adaptation of Molière’s Tartuffe.] [271]-364. 4o: 2N4-3A2. The preliminaries include the title-page, a lavish dedication to the new Hanoverian King George I (in which Cibber alludes to the defeat of the Jacobite rebels of 1715), a prologue (largely political and anti-Catholic and bearing no real relevance to Cibber’s play) written by English poet and first editor of Shakespeare’s plays (in 1709) Nicholas Rowe, and a sparse dramatis personae with actors’ names (Cibber played Doctor Wolf) and the scene. The play ends with a rousing rhyming couplet that takes the characters out of the world of the play to address the royal audience (“Grant us but this, and then of course you’ll own, / To guard that Freedom, GEORGE must fill the Throne”) and an epilogue, spoken by Mrs. Oldfield, that continues in the same vein (“How wild, how frantick is the vain Essay, / That builds on modern Politicks a Play! / Methinks to write at all is bold enough, / But in a Play, to stand a Faction, Buff! / Not Rome’s old Stage presum’d (or Fame’s a Fibber) / And Moderns to attempt it! well said CIBBER!”). The play that follows this in the original Volume II is again missing (whatever it was, according to the catchword on 3A2v it began with “The”).

She Wou’d and She Wou’d Not, or, The Kind Imposter. A Comedy. As it is Acted at the Theatre Royal in Drury-Lane. By His Majsty’s [sic] Servants. Written by Mr. Cibber. Printed in the Year 1721. [Premiered in 1702.] [241]-324. 4o: 2I4-2T2: $2(-2T2). The preliminaries include the title-page, Cibber’s (again, quite political) dedication to James, Duke of Ormond, the prologue and epilogue, and slightly detailed dramatis personae list with actors’ names (Cibber played Don Manuel) and scene (Madrid, a refreshing change from the usual Cibber setting of London). Based on the pagination, this play likely came out of the original Volume I, but – oddly – no clear designation of this appears in the signatures. It’s possible that the play came from another book altogether; the font is of a smaller size than in the other plays (the others fit 36 lines per page; this fits 38 lines per page) and some of the devices don’t appear elsewhere in the collection.

The Tragical History of King Richard III. As it is now Acted At the Theatre Royal in Drury-Lane. Alter’d from SHAKESPEAR, by Mr. CIBBER. Printed in London in 1721 [premiered in 1699]. [75]-140. 4o: [L2-4] M4-T2: $2. The preliminaries are remarkably sparse given that this was probably Cibber’s most famous play: a single leaf with the title-page on the recto and elegant by spare dramatis personae list on the verso, with – oddly for Cibber, no actors’ names. Based on markings in the lower margin this was from the original Volume I of the collection and, based on the pagination, this was the second play in the book, following Love’s Last Shift. Cibber’s adaptation of Richard III – participating in the Restoration and eighteenth-century tradition of “improving” Shakespeare by adapting his works for the radically different English stage of the period – is the source of the now famous line, “Off with his head!” (see below).

Love makes a Man: or, The Fop’s Fortune. A Comedy. As it is now Acted at the Theatre Royal In Drury-Lane. By His Majesty’s Servants. By Cibber and premiered in 1700; Cibber made this play by merging two plays by John Fletcher (The Elder Brother and The Custom of the Country). [141]-[220]. 4o: [T3-4] U4-2F2: $2(-2F2). The preliminaries include the title-page, prologue, and dramatis personae list with actors’ names (Cibber played Clodio, “a pert Coxcomb”); the play ends with an epilogue.

Throughout the entirety, additional marks (asterisks, daggers, and inverted crosses in the plays taken from Volume I and tiny Arabic numerals in the plays taken from Volume II) in the lower margin of some sheets may have been used at the time of printing in order to aid in imposition or binding.

The printer has used very elegant devices, decorated majuscules, and ornaments throughout the play. At times the ornamentation – often constructed by carefully arranging tiny pieces of decorative type into large patterns – competes with the text of the plays themselves for the eye’s attention. Only rarely do any devices, ornaments, or majuscules repeat, even within the two different volumes; this speaks to the elaborate nature of the printing project and suggests it was expansive enough to merit essentially all of the attention and equipment of the compositor(s) who were working on it. The printing was very careful and cleanly done; there are few immediately evident errors and judicious use of page space makes the text extremely clear and readable. The printer was also attentive to how his work could illuminate the plays themselves; for example, he used tiny crown ornaments to separate the end of Act II in Richard the Third from the start of Act III – a point in the play where Richard ominously welcomes his nephew, Prince Edward, to London (see below).

The paper used for both volumes is a typical sturdy laid stock measuring 22.5cm x 27.5cm, with horizontal chain-lines that vary between 2.5cm and 3cm intervals. In the plays from Volume II, the chain-lines actually alternate between the two distances; in all the plays from Volume I except for Love’s Last Shift they are largely consistent at 3cm. (In the blanks added for the rebinding, the chain-lines are 3.5cm.) This suggests that two stocks of paper were used; the first stock was split between Volumes I and II and the second stock reserved only for Volume II. This is confirmed by the distribution of watermarks. 

A sample of Cibber's writing style.
No watermarks appear in Love’s Last Shift or any of the plays from Volume II. The remaining plays from Volume I, however, bear a watermark that indicate the use of a side-by-side paper mould; as is typical of quarto imposition, the mark crosses the middle of the spine fold – meaning that when the mark appears, it is either the top half or bottom half and it is within the inner gutter of the page. With only a few exceptions, the mark tends to follow the conventional quarto format of division across conjugate leaves (for example, if the top half appears on S4, the bottom half is on S1, or if the top half is on Q3, the bottom half is on Q2). The mark is virtually identical to what paper historians describe as the “Strasbourg bend” (Gaskell’s fig. 30 on p. 68, but without the countermark), consisting of a fleur de lys sitting atop a shield design bearing a stripe, or “bend”, diagonally across it.

The book that these plays came from was clearly Plays Written by Mr. Cibber, In Two Volumes published in London in 1721 by a consortium of stationers made up of Jacob Tonson, Bernard Lintot, William Mears, and William Chetwood (OCLC #228742382). Tonson’s name was evidently dropped from the imprint of Volume II, which suggests he pulled out of the project prior to the printing of that part of the book. It was a subscription publication and a list of subscribers can be found in most extant copies of Volume I. The OCLC description confirms that this is the source of the plays in my collection with the following note: “Each play in vol. 1 has a separate dated title page, but pagination and register are continuous in each volume.” No indication is given, however, as to whom the accomplished printer was that produced the project for the stationers.

My copy has been bound into paper-covered boards; the front and back paper has a feathered marbling that has been subjected to some wear and damage over time. The spine is a heavily painted brown paper meant to imitate leather; there are six compartments separated by raised gilded bands. A red leather label bears the gilded title “Plays”. The hinges, front and back, are cracked and rather loose from use, but nothing is detached.

The only marginalia in the entire book is an owner’s inscription in a confident eighteenth-century hand using copperplate ink, on the front pastedown:

Thomas Beecroft
No 23
Pater Noster Row.

Scouring genealogical records turns up a Thomas Beecroft born to John and Elizabeth Beecroft of London on January 16, 1754. Pater Noster Row in London was the city’s principal book trade neighborhood and so my initial suspicion is that Beecroft was somehow associated with the industry. Consulting the Exeter Working Papers in Book History, which lists individuals who were part of the book trade in eighteenth century England, confirms my suspicions. 

Thomas’s father, John Beecroft – son of gentleman John Beecroft of Norwich – was a wholesale bookseller working and living on Pater Noster Row since 1740. In 1767 he moved to 23 Pater Noster Row. In 1773 he became one of the masters of the Stationers’ Company, the guild for printers and booksellers. He was particularly known for his publication of music and because he served as a bookselling agent for Cambridge University. In 1779, however, he died of an apoplectic fit and his twenty-five year-old son, Thomas Beecroft, who had likely served his apprenticeship under his father, inherited the shop at 23 Pater Noster Row. He ran the shop for only about two years, from 1780 to 1781; after being elected to a livery in the Stationers’ Company in 1781, he pulled up roots and moved to Walthamstow, Essex. He died on June 1, 1787 in Saxethorpe, Norfolk.

Because Beecroft was likely working in his father’s shop as a boy – or at the very least living in the family’s quarters on the floors above the shop – it’s impossible to say when he owned these plays and if he was the person responsible for having them bound together. The handwriting seems rather mature, so perhaps he was at least an adolescent when he inscribed the book. But why these plays in particular? City apprentices were famously dedicated attendees at London theaters, so perhaps he had actually seen them staged in reprises. The fact that most of them had appeared on stage around fifty years before Thomas was even born suggests they must have had staying power for him. Had a previous owner, perhaps closer to Cibber’s day, bound the book together to include plays he had seen, or read, and liked? Or had Beecroft, through his connections with the book trade, obtained the disbound plays and simply lumped them together with no regard for order (the order is not chronological, alphabetical, or even generic)? Or was it simply a matter of availability: a copy of the original two-volume collection was damaged and these were the only salvageable portions. I somehow doubt this last option because the text block is in remarkably good condition and has survived completely intact. I suspect, sadly, that this was simply a case of some unscrupulous owner or dealer taking the knife to a complete book so that he could sell many books rather than just the one.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Elephants and Camels From an Early American Book Empire

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the worthwhile goal of owning an example imprint from specific, influential printers, such as the House of Elsevir. This week’s book picks up that theme again, though in this case the book in question is from the family of an important early publisher rather than printer.

While Ben Franklin might be the more familiar name as a major early American printer-publisher, the name of radical patriot and newspaperman Isaiah Thomas (1749-1831; shown above in a portrait owned by the American Antiquarian Society) is perhaps just as important though perhaps less well known. Beside printing revolutionary newspapers – many of which were the first of their kind in the colonies – Thomas also published books, perhaps most importantly a series of children’s books by author John Newberry. In his time, the Thomas empire produced more than 1,000 titles (far more than any of his rivals, including Franklin) and was bolstered by many shrewd business moves, including buying a book bindery in Worcester in 1782 and progressively opening branches and partnerships in Boston, Newburyport, Springfield, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, and Baltimore. In addition to magazines, newspapers, almanacs, and other ephemera, the books from Thomas’s sixteen presses included the first American editions of major English novelists such as Laurence Sterne and Oliver Goldsmith, the first American novel (The Power of Sympathy, or, The Triumph of Nature, 1789, by William Hill Brown), and the earliest American edition of Mother Goose (1786). His decision to acquire the copyright to all of Noah Webster’s spelling and grammar books, in 1789, proved a particularly shrewd investment. After his development of the first truly successful interstate publishing and retailing network in the history of America’s book trade, Thomas, in his retirement after 1802, penned the monumental and still relevant History of Printing in America (in which he provides the first comprehensive and authoritative description of the people and firms at the heart of the country’s colonial and late 18th-century through early 19th century book industry) and in 1812 founded the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, whose vast collection of pre-1876 American imprints (most donated by Thomas) is rivaled only by the Library of Congress.

One of my goals has been to acquire a Thomas imprint – book, pamphlet, or newspaper – in good condition. This week’s item comes close: like the Elsevir I wrote of before, however, this item is from a later family member in the trade. Upon his “retirement” from the trade in 1802, Thomas passed his business on to his son, Isaiah Thomas, Junior (for simplicity, I will refer to Thomas, Junior as Thomas from this point; if I refer to the father, I will use Thomas, Senior). Like his father, Thomas rested a substantial portion of the firm’s income upon that always reliable staple of the industry: textbooks.

This book is The Understanding Reader: or, Knowledge Before Oratory, Being a New Selection of Lessons, Suited to the Understanding and Capacities of Youth, and Designed for Their Improvement. Its goal is to teach students about "Reading”, “The Definition of Words”, and “Spelling, Particularly Compound and Derivative Words.” The title-page promises that the book offers “A Method Wholly Different From Any Thing of the Kind Ever Before Published.” It also offers an observation attributed to Ben Franklin: “Our boys often read as parots [sic] speak, knowing little or nothing of the meaning.” The book is by Daniel Adams (1773-1864), a Leominster, Massachusetts-based academic and physician who eventually moved to New Hampshire, where he became a state legislator in 1838. Adams’s textbooks were popular and this was no exception, going through over two dozen editions from various publishers between its first printing (by [Daniel] Adams & Wilder for Adams, in 1804) and its last (by Hori Brown of Leicester, MA in 1821); according to the lavishly descriptive copyright statement on the verso of the title-page (typical for its day), the book was entered for copyright in Massachusetts by the Commonwealth’s district clerk (and Salem native) Nathaniel Goodale, on “the 27th day of September, in the twenty eighth year of the independence of the United States of America” (that is, Sept. 27, 1804; because Adams’s preface is dated “Leominster, Sept. 29, 1803” some descriptions of the book by dealers, Wikipedia, etc. misattribute the copyright to that date – instead, oddly, it seems that nearly a full year elapsed between Adams’s completion of the book and its appearance in print). 

The Thomas firm evidently obtained the copyright shortly after – perhaps almost concurrent with – the appearance of the first Adams & Wilder edition. This particular title is an excellent demonstration of the reach of the Thomas empire, for most of his editions were printed in different cities and towns around the country and for retail by different specific booksellers in those cities and towns, but nearly all of them were published by Thomas and bear his family’s name. Like his father before him, Thomas mastered the lucrative art of book wholesaling.

My copy is of the sixth edition of The Understanding Reader. It was published by Thomas – who prominently points out in his imprint that he is the “Proprietor of the Copy Right” – and “Sold Wholesale and Retail by him in Worcester, and by all the principal Booksellers in the United States.” It was printed by Ebenezer Merriam (1777-1858) in Brookfield (today’s West Brookfield), Massachusetts; the relationship between the Merriam firm, which specialized in textbooks, and the Thomas family was a productive one, even after the Merriams left Brookfield for Springfield in 1831. Eventually, in 1843, the Merriams would obtain from the Thomas clan the copyright to one of their most successful titles, Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, giving rise to the title by which the book is more generally known today: The Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

The final page, T6v, presents one of those intriguing publisher’s advertisements that reveals a bit about the book market at the time of publication. The advertisement, headed “Valuable School Books”, notifies readers that “[t]he following valuable School Books are published by ISAIAH THOMAS, Jun. and are kept constantly for Sale at his respective Bookstores in Boston and Worcester, Wholesale and Retail; also by said THOMAS and WHIPPLE, Newburyport.” The titles listed are Scott’s Lessons on Elocution, Murray’s Abridgment of English Grammar, the third Worcester edition of Murray’s English Grammar (copied from the sixteenth London edition; the blurb gives evidence of the pride Thomas took in his work: “No pains nor expense have been spared in rendering the Third Edition worthy of the liberal patronage which the former Editions have received; and the Proprietor thinks he may justly pronounce this Edition superior to any impression of the work in America; and he flatters himself, that by its increasing demand, he shall be remunerated for the expense and labor he has bestowed”), Parish’s Compendious System of Universal Geography, and Perry’s Only Sure Guide to the English Tongue (“the proprietor thinks no other recommendation can be necessary than only to mention that from THIRD to FORTY THOUSAND of the Improved Edition of Perry’s Spelling Book sell yearly”). The ad ends with a note that, “The Trade are informed that they can be supplied with any of the above in Sheets or Bound, in large or small quantities, on as low Terms as any similar works are sold for in the United States.”

As with most such textbooks, the aim of Adams’s book is to expand and enrich the student’s command over vocabulary and spelling in anticipation of his or her later lessons in rhetoric and oratory. The contents comprise sample passages, organized by themes, in some instances being extracts drawn from notable sources (from Milton to Franklin and the Bible to Goldsmith); in the margin beside each passage, Adams has pulled out in italics the key vocabulary word for the student to master. In an innovative use of pointing, those words that the student is to learn to spell are marked with a period and those that the student is to learn to define are marked with “a note of interrogation” (i.e., a question mark). Glancing through the book, it’s difficult to resist the temptation simply to read down the margin and imagine the words there are some kind of surreal staccato dialogue out of a lost play by Samuel Beckett.

Adams’s preface bears quoting at length in several places because of the insight it affords into early American pedagogical theories about how, and why, students learned to read and use language. First, after explaining the punctuation system and how teachers can use it to drill students who have practiced with the book, Adams explains the “advantages to be derived from accustoming youth to give definitions of words”; the value of this, he insists, goes beyond “simply that of becoming acquainted with the meaning of them”:

1.     Their minds will be excited to inquiry. In this way they will arrive to an understanding of many ideas of the Writer, which otherwise would have been wholly lost to them. 
2.     It will enlarge their acquaintance with language, not only by a knowledge of those particular words which they would define, but also by bringing many new words to their view. 
3.     It will help them to a readiness and facility of expressing their ideas. There is nothing in which frequent use and practice do more for a man, than in this one thing. If a man has never been accustomed to express himself on any subject or thing, he will be much put to it and appear exceeding awkward at first, however well he may understand the subject on which he would speak. 
4.     It will inspire them with a confidence in themselves, and in their own understandings, which will go further and be of more use to them on any public or private occasion than whole months or even years declamation on the stage.

The ideas Adams presents hint at dual nature of early American teaching: it was both rooted in the classical and often mechanical systems of the European Renaissance (memorization, oration, etc.) and also pushing towards the more open-ended and progressive systems of the American Enlightenment and soon-to-develop education reform movement (provocations to inquiry and exploration, the inspiring of confidence, training in the tools in addition to the content of learning, etc.).

At the same time, however, Adams – like most compilers of textbooks for children in the period – understood that the kinds of material he set before students, the ideas presented in the extracts, would also be of paramount importance in shaping their young minds and instilling in them “proper” thoughts and conduct. Finally, at the end of each chapter, Adams provides a set of questions about the content of the section and encourages teachers to pose such questions to students in order to ensure that on top of mastering the language they are also grasping the ideas presented to them (which span natural history, geography, literature, biblical narrative, and morality).

The paper is a typical early-19th century cheap wove stock often seen in textbooks of the period; they measure 11cm x 17cm. The binding is an unremarkable, thick tanned pigskin – a hide that, given its extreme durability, was a frequent choice for binders of early textbooks – cut very unevenly and glued inexpertly onto the boards (probably done by an amateur or owner rather than Thomas’s bindery; as indicated by the ad quoted above, Thomas, like other publishers, often sold his textbooks unbound and the buyer would be responsible for binding or paying for binding). There’s no printing on the binding, but it does look like a faint handwriting is on the back board; it is now, however, illegible. The book is 228 pages and may be described collationally as 2o in 6s: [#] A6-T6 [π]: $1 and 3 [as miniscule with “2”]. There are no catchwords and no errors in either pagination or running titles, which are identical throughout the book (except for the preliminaries, which were printed on sheet A) and suggest the use of a skeleton forme. There are a few obvious compositional errors – such as setting “thier” instead of “their” – and, judging from frequent blotting, the inking was evidently done quickly and with little regard for precision. In general, the book is in fair condition with some chipping on the binding and some tears to pages and water stains throughout the block with no loss of text and no loose pages.

Aside from a pen squiggle on p. 185 (Q3r) there are no marginal markings. A previous owner has inserted three slips of paper, but these seem to be meant simply to mark the book’s only three (unattributed) illustrative plates (a reindeer on p.39; a camel on p. 124; and an elephant on p. 177). There is, however, some owner’s provenance on the front flyleaf. On the recto of the leaf a cursive, early ninteenth-century hand has written “Caroline P. Goodnow’s” and, beneath that in a lighter ink, “Caroline P. Goodnows | Book Febry 24th 1816”. The only precise match that I can find for this name in any historical records is a Caroline P. Goodnow who married Captain Lucius Brigham in Princeton, Massachusetts, in October 1832. One genealogy website guesses that her death date was around 1848, but in the New England Historic-Genealogical Society’s 1860 Genealogies of the Families and Descendants of the Early Settlers of Watertown, Massachusetts she is described as still alive in October 1852 when her grandmother died at her house in Lexington at the impressive age of 104. Given the marriage date, it seems probable that this is the same person that owned my book; as a young girl in the early 1810s, Goodnow purchased Adams’s Understanding Reader, possibly for school purposes. It’s always exciting to obtain a book bearing woman’s ownership provenance from an age when literacy education for women was still struggling to gain a foothold. The fact that Caroline Goodnow owned Adams’s book stands as a reminder that Adams’s own casual assumption that his reader would be “a man” (see his goal #3, quoted above) was, by the early 1800s, an already outdated social convention.