Friday, December 30, 2011

An Atlantean Mystery In Civil War Packaging

It’s a truism of studies of books from the hand-press period (roughly up to 1850) that no two copies of any book are alike – even if the two come from the same print-run. The nature of inking and pulling, the slippage of type and “furniture”, and of course the practice of proof-correcting sheets in the middle of a run without discarding the previous (erroneous) sheets meant that the permutations of variance between copies are legion.

And yet it would be a mistake to assume that the advent of the machine press rectified these kinds of problems. A small subset of Tarquin Tar’s Bookcase now includes several modern books that serve as peculiar reminders of how technology can go awry, resulting in the production of unique or at least highly rare copies of what would seem – on the surface – unremarkable books.

The title on the spine of this week’s book is They Met at Gettysburg, a popular account of the events leading up to and including the famed Civil War battle. The book was written by General Edward Stackpole (founder of Stackpole Books in Harrisburg, PA) and was first published by Stackpole in 1956; it even inspired a board game version from Spearhead Games in 1996. Beneath the title on the spine is the publisher’s name: Bonanza. According to WorldCat, the New York firm Bonanza published their reprint of Stackpole’s third edition of 1982 in 1984. The binding itself consists of blue cloth boards (some dealers describe them as green) bearing some slight discoloration from moisture but otherwise in good condition. It was originally sold in a dust-jacket, but my copy is without.

When the cover of my copy is opened, however, They Met at Gettysburg is not to be found. Instead, the reader is greeted with the following title-page:

The contents of the book are the “Modern Revised Edition” of Ignatius Donnelly’s 1882 classic Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, as edited by Egerton Sykes and published by Gramercy Publishing of New York (a division of Harper & Row Publishers). Donnelly (1831-1901) was a Minnesota populist congressman, best-selling writer, and futurist/conspiracy theorist widely known today as “The Prince of Cranks”. In his 2005 article on Donnelly in the magazine The Believer, J. M. Tyree notes, “Donnelly represents the paranoiac streak in the country, the Conspiracy Theorist, the Buff of Secret Theories that Explain Everything. Donnelly was probably the greatest crackpot that ever lived.” His book on Atlantis -- filled with fantastic contortions of geography, linguistics, archaeology, and logic -- is the source of many of today’s popular myths about the supposedly lost continent and apparently also influenced the filmmakers of the 2009 blockbuster 2012. Many editions followed the book’s first appearance in 1882.

The modern edition’s editor, British diplomat and intelligence officer Sykes (1894-1983), was also a conspiracy theorist with a particular expertise (so to speak) in “Atlantology”. In addition to his foreword and commentary (which takes the form of italicized passages inserted directly into the text of the book following whatever text of Donnelly’s they comment upon), the Gramercy edition includes twelve photographic plates (following page 170), an “Appreciation of Donnelly” by conspiracy theorist H. S. Bellamy, and a biography of Donnelly by Scottish folklorist, poet, and occultist Lewis Spence. This prefatory material is paginated [i]-xix beginning with the half-title before the full title-page; the remainder is paginated 1-355, with the 8 pages of illustrations after p. 170 unnumbered. A blue-green endpaper is used for the front and rear flyleaves. There is some slight water-staining on the bottom of these flyleaves, but otherwise the interior is clean and undamaged. A dealer has penciled a price ($3) and a note (“Wrong Binding!”) on the recto of the front flyleaf. Above this there is an owner’s sticker: “F. B. Stevens / R.D. 1 / New Woodstock, NY 13122”. I’ve had no luck figuring out who this is, though I did purchase the book from a dealer in central New York.

The Gramercy edition was published in 1949 and, according to the printer’s code on the verso of the title-page, my copy is likely of the eighteenth printing of that edition. While this speaks to the popularity of the book, it was not again published in the U.S. until 1976 by Dover. Despite my best efforts, I can’t work out how it came to be that the binder of the 1984 Bonanza edition of Stackpole’s They Met at Gettysburg accidentally inserted the full textblock of the 1949 edition of Atlantis. What was Donnelly’s book doing lying around in the binder’s shop? How many more of these are there? Why did F. B. Stevens buy the book? Hoping for They Met at Gettysburg? If so, what was his or her reaction when he or she opened the book? It seems some real mysteries truly do lie hidden with Atlantis…just not quite the mysteries that Donnelly and Sykes thought.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Crown Jewel of Tarquin Tar's Bookcase

To celebrate the holiday season, this week’s featured book is no less than the crown jewel in my collection: a first edition of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher’s Comedies and Tragedies, published in London by Humphrey Robinson and Humphrey Moseley in 1647. So much has been written about this book that I won’t go into too much detail.

The Beaumont and Fletcher folio, as it is known, is the third of the three great, transformative folio collections of early modern dramatists (after Jonson’s of 1616 and Shakespeare’s of 1623) that marked the transition of plays from the status of ephemera to the status of literature and the transition of dramatists from mere entertainers to recognized “authors”. Beaumont and Fletcher’s posthumous collection was assembled by actors in the King’s Men, who had originally performed the plays (Fletcher, who had trained as a playwright by collaborating with Shakespeare as the bard prepared to retire, eventually took over as the principal playwright for the leading English theater troupe). 

The book appeared in 1647 – five years after the English Civil War resulted in the closing of all the playhouses – and so its publication is generally thought to be as much about the actors trying to make some quick cash as about celebrating the literary reputation of the late dramatists (Fletcher had died in 1625; Beaumont in 1616). Several other plays by Fletcher – widely viewed as one of the pioneers of English tragicomic drama – had appeared in print previously, to great success, and so the publishers of the 1647 made it a selling point on their title-page to emphasize that these works were “Never printed before” and were now “published by the authors’ original copies” (a claim that scholars now view as not entirely true).

Like most large publications from the period, the Beaumont and Fletcher folio enjoys a richly complex printing history. It is estimated that eight or more different printing shops (and so at least as many different compositors) contributed to the printing of the lengthy preliminaries, with each shop employing slightly different practices in terms of setting type, casting off copy, ordering work, and so forth, as well as different sets of type, printer’s devices, and ornamentation (which appears often throughout the book). The result is that none of the surviving Beaumont and Fletcher folios (several hundred out of the original 2,500 copy print-run) precisely resembles any other. A single style of type was used for all the plays, but these too were likely divided up between printing houses in order to increase the speed of production and so the paper stock changes slightly at places in the volume. Another result of this division of labor is that the signatures on the gatherings – to say nothing of the pagination numbers – are hopelessly mixed up. I will spare you the collational formula, suffice it to say the book comprises 223 gatherings. It’s worth noting here that one of the printers involved with the Beaumont and Fletcher folio was a woman, Susan Islip; the book trade was one of the few industries in the period in which a widow could inherit and keep the business after her husband’s death.

The 35 plays and 1 masque that are included are mostly by Fletcher (though it’s missing at least 20, and includes at least 2 that belong to other dramatists), along with a number that were collaboratively written by Fletcher and Philip Massinger (ironically, despite the title, only 2 are Beaumont-Fletcher collaborations; none are by Beaumont alone). In addition to these, the folio includes a lengthy set of preliminaries that includes two prefaces to the reader (one by playwright James Shirley and one by Moseley, dated February 14, 164[7]), the actors’ dedication to Philip, Earl of Pembroke, and 37 commendatory verses and memorial verses on Fletcher and Beaumont from gentlemen, poets, and other writers, such as professional dramatists Ben Jonson and Richard Brome and amateur dramatists Sir Aston Cockayne and Jasper Mayne. Even the stationer, Moseley, contributed a verse. 

The plays themselves are set in double columns with ample marginal spaces and straight rules dividing the columns and used to separate headers for act and scene breaks. Elaborate ornamentation decorates the start of each play above the title (it seems that almost every ornamentation is different, but I couldn’t say for certain). The type is generally roman for speeches and italic for speech prefixes and stage directions, though in some cases the stage directions are also in roman.

My copy is complete, except for the final work – The Masque of the Inner Temple and Gray’s Inn – and the frontispiece portrait of Fletcher; because this highly coveted engraving by W. Marshall is missing, the actual market value of my copy – despite the fact that it contains all the plays and is in excellent condition otherwise – is markedly low (which is also how, of course, I came to be able to afford it). Some pages have been repaired by a professional conservationist and only a few (mainly in the preliminaries) have lost substantial amounts of text because of this damage. One of these, unfortunately, is the peculiar “Postscript” at the end of the commendatory verses in which Moseley mentions a few things he forgot to write into his preface (that the work of printing the verses was divided among several printers, that Beaumont and Fletcher rarely wrote the prologues and epilogues to their own plays, and similar bibliographic details). The verso of the damaged page is the “Catalogue”, or table of contents, and so that too is missing a large portion of text.

The binding is exquisite late eighteenth century gilded green leather that is still, but for a few chips and bumps and some pulling at the top of the spine, in good condition. The page edges have been gilded all around and the book overall measures a substantial 22cm wide x 32cm tall x 6.5cm deep. While there is no substantive marginalia, my copy has clearly seen use by several readers, as evidenced by slight markings throughout (pencil lines and crosses in the margin and underlining, some faint inked crosses in the margins, and so forth). Inside the front cover is the bookplate of Fairfax of Cameron, a Scottish peerage since 1627; the Fairfax family owned property in Virginia and Maryland into the twentieth century, so perhaps that is how this particular copy of this beautiful, historically important, literary treasure came to be in the New World and, ultimately, in Tarquin Tar’s Bookcase.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pamphlet Warfare in the Eighteenth Century


A couple of years ago I gave an example of the dangers associated with judging books by their covers – particularly if it’s an intriguing old book with a less-than-intriguing new binding. This week, I have another example of the same.This item comprises two publications issued in a kind of pamphlet war in the mid-eighteenth century. They have been bound together by an owner in a completely characterless paper cover with a simple black leather band on the spine. A careless eye looking over this outer shell in a bookstore might pass by and never be aware of the treasurers lying within.

The first of the two publications is a pamphlet titled (in full) Letters, On the Spirit of Patriotism: On the Idea of a Patriot King: and On the State of Parties, At the Accession of King George the First. This copy was published by J. Smith of Dublin, whose shop was at “The Philosopher’s Heads” on “the Blind-Quay”, in 1749. The contents begin with an “Advertisement” from the “editor” justifying the publication (iii-vii); this is followed by three anonymous “letters” from 1736, 1738, and (the last) an unspecified year. It runs 216 pages and may be described collationally as 12o:[A1]-[I11]: $6. 

The second publication is The Impostor Detected and Convicted: or, The Principles and Practices of the Author of a Pamphlet Lately Published, On the Spirit of Patriotism, &c. Set Forth in a Clear Light, In a Letter to a Member of Parliament in Town, From his Friend in the Country. This was published first in London and then reprinted in Dublin in 1754, though the “letter” it contains is dated May 1749, indicating that its author produced it hard upon the heels of the appearance of Letters. The speed with which the Dublin edition was issued is attested to in the garbled imprint: “London: Printed: And / Dublin: Reprinted, in thn Year / MDCCXLIX.” It runs 23 pages and is collated as 4o: [A4]-[C4]: $1.

The first of these was written (largely in self-defense) by the English politician and sometime-philosopher/historian Henry St. John Bolingbroke (1678-1751). George I’s accession in 1714 was a tremendous political blow to Bolingbroke, who had long backed the opposing Jacobite party. With the rise of his rivals, Bolingbroke fled England and took to writing more than legislating (he gained some notoriety as a followed of John Locke and as an outspoken Deist who was highly critical of Christianity). His Letters on the Spirit of Patriotism predate these writings, however, and set out a remarkably forward-looking (that is, humanistic) and practical (that is, proto-republican) view of politics, for which he was soundly skewered by many of his foes. Fatefully, in his May 1749 Letters, Bolingbroke singled out Alexander Pope for attack and in doing so he attracted the ire of many other writers, effectively triggering a pamphlet war that produced at least six subsequent publications (on these, see, for example, Austin Wright’s “John Spence as Defender of Pope’s Reputation” in Modern Philology 36.2 [November 1938]).

It would be as tiresome here to recount the particulars of the disgruntled parties as it is to read the actual pamphlets. Suffice it to say that personal, and in some cases literary, egos were bruised more than any strictly political views crossed. Indeed, this was the usual nature of pamphlet wars throughout the period: private polemics boiling over into public discourse. They flared up quickly and died down with little lasting effect. The cheaply produced publications used to wage the war were usually so poorly printed and so widely read that they rarely survive in any great numbers or good condition.

The first edition of Bolingbroke’s Letters appeared in London in 1749 under the imprint of A. Millar and immediately caused a sensation; its republication in Philadelphia (by no less a firm than Ben Franklin and D. Hall – perhaps related to Samuel Hall?) and Dublin (my copy) testifies to its popularity. Subsequent London editions followed from Millar in 1750 and 1752 and T. Davies in 1775. The Imposter was less prevalent: besides my Dublin edition, I have only been able to find a reference to one other edition, published in London by John Barnes of the London Gazette in 1749. There seems to be no reliable evidence as to the authorship of the rejoinder. It’s tempting to guess that the same Dublin publisher issued both pamphlets, but there are sufficient differences in the typography to strongly suggest otherwise.

My copy of the two pamphlets is in rough condition: all the pages are present and all the text is intact, but the edges of the paper were burned as some point and some mildewing and water staining is evident on the paper. The gatherings are effectively free of the spine and some individual pages have separated also. Such damage speaks to the fact that the book has been used in its time. Also standing as evidence of such are the marginal markings. A dealer’s price is penciled on the title page of the first pamphlet ($150!).

A different pencil has added marginal vertical lines and check-marks alongside passages of interest and occasional marginal notes (these appear in both pamphlets), including the note “Timely” beside a paragraph that begins, “As to all thread-bare stale Accusations of Maintaining Soldiers in Time of Peace; of the Nation’s being loaded with heavy Taxes; and that the Publick Money  has been profusely squandered away…” (Imposter, 16; a complaint so generic and applicable to so many time periods, however, as to render the excerpt without use in dating the marginalia). A third pencil has added a “#2” on the title page of Letters, implying that it was at one point part of a larger collection; the same pencil has written “Warburton” (that is, literary scholar and anti-Deist William Warburton) on the title page of Letters and added a note on the title page of Imposter noting “In defence of Pope”.

The only ownership provenance is a name written on the title page of Letters in blue ink: “Walter McIntosh Merrill”. The hand just seems to resemble that of the pencil that added the attribution to Warburton and the marginalia. Born in Evanston, Illinois in 1915, Merrill was a scholar and author who published on American history and especially on William Lloyd Garrison from the 1940s through the 1980s. Before his turn toward the famed nineteenth-century American abolitionist, however, Merrill specialized in – as it happens – the work of Henry St. John Bolingbroke. He completed his Ph.D. dissertation, Bolingbroke’s Deism, at Harvard in 1945 and subsequently published it as From Statesman to Philosopher: A Study in Bolingbroke’s Deism (New York: Philosophical Library, 1949). (Interestingly, though from Illinois, Merrill’s mother briefly lived in my old hometown of Salem and in Marblehead, where I went to school. The coincidence has nothing to do with my acquiring of the book, however; it was one of the lots from my June 2011 visit to New England Book Auctions in Northampton, MA.) Merrill was a professor of English at Wichita State University, where he was chair of the department for a time in the mid-1960s. Because he does not mention Imposter in his book on Bolingbroke, I suspect he obtained the pamphlets only after the book was published in 1949.

This ownership provenance helps clear up the presence of the added name “Warburton” on Letters: rather than an ascription of authorship (which would have been completely unbelievable, especially for a scholar specializing in Bolinbroke) I think it indicates Merrill’s knowledge that this particular copy of the pamphlet belonged to the anti-Deist. This makes it possible that Warburton was in fact the author of the accompanying pamphlet, Imposter – a possibility effectively confirmed by the falsely modest “signature” that accompanies the “letter” that is the content of Imposter: “W-------n”.

As I turn toward revising (really wholesale rewriting) my own dissertation this week, it seems fitting to discover that one of the items on my shelf hearkens back to similar work done by a scholar of an earlier generation (even if he did acquire it only after his work on the subject was published). I’m glad – and not ashamed to admit a bit sentimental – that the book that sat at the center of his research passion is today still extant and part of my own collection. Perhaps some day I, too, will own one of the actual texts that I study.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Boston and the Country Adjacent, 1894

Since my wife and I are heading back to the Boston area for a holiday party this weekend, I thought it would be fitting to do a brief post on an item with links to Boston. The item in question is a Map of Boston and the Country Adjacent, From Actual Surveys, published by the firm of Damrell & Upham, located at 283 Washington Street in Boston – the self-titled “Boston Map Store” – in 1894. This version of the map was essentially a reprint of the 1892 map published by George H. Walker & Company. 

As travel became easier for more and more members of the general public, the turn of the century saw a marked increase in the number of pocket maps showing routes that could be travelled by bicycle, train, or the new automobile. The technologies used to survey land and measure distances were also improving exponentially.

The map folds out to approximately 62cm x 90cm and is on a flimsy stock. For protection, one corner of it was pasted into boards of pebbled brown cloth with blue paper on the interior (10.5cm x 17cm). This binding – really more of a folder – bears the gilded title “Damrell & Upham’s New Road Map of Country Around Boston”. Inside the front cover is an advertisement for the store:

Boston Map Store
Damrell & Upham,
“Old Corner Bookstore,”
283 Washington, cor. of School St.,
Where everything in the way of Maps may be found.

Beneath this runs an advertisement for the map in question:
We have just published
of the
Useful for Driving, Wheeling, Walking, Boating and Fishing Purposes.

The map was sold in two sizes: a large version for wall mounting and spanning thirty miles north and south from the city, and a smaller version for pocket use and spanning fifteen miles north and south. Mine is of this second version; it retailed for 50 cents (about $13 in today’s money).

The map itself is colored to demarcate the borders between towns. It also shows parks (in green) and bicycling routes (in red). The scale is one-inch to the mile, and the area covered stretches from north Salem down to Cohasset and from the islands of Boston Harbor (all the way out to Outer Brewster) to Sudbury in the west. There is some slight damage to my copy – a modest tear on two of the folds and the complete separation of most of the map from the folder in which it was once pasted (the corner that was pasted into the folder – consisting mostly of Acton – is still glued into the folder). The pebbled cover has some marks that are likely the result of having been reinforced by tape at one point. Many of the corners of the folds have also been reinforced in the back with scotch tape.

As with all old maps, the best part of this Damrell & Upham map is casting an eye over known landmarks, seeing what was once there, what is still there, and how much the land with which I’m so familiar has changed over the years. I don’t know who owned this copy, or whether they used it for “wheeling” (bicycling) or perhaps fishing, but its damage indicates that it did certainly see use in its day.