Sunday, February 28, 2010

Dr. Jeffries' Shakespeare

I spent much of yesterday morning over at Harvard's Houghton Library looking at books from the library of Dr. John Jeffries (1745-1819), at left. With the addition of those titles I've finished entering all the books known so far from Jeffries' personal library (782 titles).

Jeffries is a fascinating character - trained at Harvard and the University of Aberdeen, he opened a medical practice in Boston in 1769, but his loyalist sympathies caused him to evacuate with the British in 1776; he served as a military surgeon, then moved to England and didn't return to America until 1789.

Beginning a general medical practice in London, Jeffries did very well for himself, and soon began focusing on pediatrics and obstetrics. He was interested in scientific pursuits, and on 30 November 1784 financed a balloon flight with Jean Pierre Blanchard in Hyde Park, London. On 7 January 1785, Jeffries and Blanchard went further, crossing the English Channel from Dover and landing in France. The two were taken to Paris, where they were wined and dined (Jeffries even met with John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, to whom he delivered the first recorded air mail (having brought letters on the balloon). Jeffries returned to Dover on 27 February, and wrote up an account of his aerial voyages (later published).

To settle certain family business, Jeffries returned to Boston in November 1789, where he was warmly greeted by his old friends (including John Adams, Elbridge Gerry, and others). Jeffries determined soon after to stay in Boston, and began a medical practice in April 1790. From then until his death in 1819, it is said that he delivered some 2,000 babies in Boston.

Jeffries acquired a large medical library while he was abroad, and the catalog of that collection forms the basis of his LT catalog (the catalog, along with some of the books, are now at Harvard's Countway Library). But it was the non-medical books at Harvard that I went to see yesterday - these, I expect, were divvied up amongst Jeffries' surviving children (unfortunately we don't know exactly how many there were, but I'd certainly appreciate information from any corner on additional known Jeffries titles).

Among the very interesting things I found yesterday: in a 1707 Bible Jeffries had cut his bookplate in two, using each half to sandwich the bookplate of a previous owner (in this case, that of Governor Joseph Dudley). That book was given to his daughter Catherine in March, 1819, a few months before the doctor's death. A copy of Jeffries' own publication about his balloon voyages was both unbound and untrimmed; the loose sheets could be unfolded to show exactly how they came off the printing press (a great way to demonstrate book production).

But the set that really captured my interest (and could probably have kept me busy for hours if I'd allowed it to) was Jeffries' ten volumes of Shakespeare (London, 1785), the version edited by Johnson and Steevens (this version with revisions by Isaac Reed). I laughed at the price notation pencilled in front: "10 Vols, $10" (even ex-lib sets of this edition sell for $500 or more now). Either Jeffries or a another owner has tipped in hundreds of clippings about Shakespeare and his works, plus engravings related to the plays, and there are significant marginal notations in some portions of the text.

One of the first clippings tells a story also recounted by Dibdin, titled "Bibliomanic Rage," about the 1790 purchase of the Duke of Roxburghe's copy of the First Folio: "A singular story is extant about the purchase of the late Duke of Roxburghe's copy of the first edition of Shakespeare. A friend was bidding for him in the sale-room, his grace had retired to one end of the room, coolly to view the result of the contest. The biddings rose quickly to twenty guineas – a great sum in former times, when collecting was not quite so fashionable as it has since become; but the duke was not to be daunted or defeated. A slip of paper was handed to him, upon which the impropriety of continuing the contest was suggested. His grace took out his pencil; and with a coolness which would have done credit to Prince Eugene, he wrote on the same slip of paper, by way of reply: -- 'Lay on, Macduff! / And d----d be he who first cries 'hold, enough'!' Such a spirit was irresistible; it bore down all opposition, and was worthy of the cause in which it was engaged. The duke was of course declared victor, and he marched off triumphantly, with the volume under his arm.” The duke eventually had his book for 34 pounds and change (it's now at the Huntington Library).

I started adding Jeffries' books way back in August (after having transcribed the catalog at Countway last winter), so it was fun to finally get a chance to turn some of their pages (and see some very intriguing bits of bibliographic history). Now, I hope others who know of additional extant Jeffries books will let me know of them, so I can be sure to keep the lists up to date.

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