Saturday, August 04, 2012

Book Review: "The Library of Richard Porson"

I'm always fascinated to see how editors compile, structure, and present personal library catalogs, so I'm quite pleased to have a chance to read and examine UCLA Librarian Emeritus P. G. Naiditch's The Library of Richard Porson (XLibris, 2011). Porson (1759-1808) was an important British classical scholar who published editions of Aeschylus and Euripides; his impressive library has proved quite fruitful for a full bibliographical study.

Naiditch writes in an opening note that he was intrigued by three questions: "What books and pamphlets did Richard Porson own? From whom did he acquire these materials? What has become of his holdings?" The book tackles each, in minute detail.

Following a short note and acknowledgements comes a 128-page Prolegomena, consisting of thirty-eight short sections followed by forty-two pages of endnotes and and an index to the entire Prolegomena. The sections include an introduction which examines the fates of libraries of other British classical scholars (Routh, Bywater, Gow, Housman, Bentley, Gibbon); a biographical note on Porson; a note on the size of his library; charts on the development of the library by year and by auction where Porson purchased books (based on Naiditch's analysis of auction catalogs and sale records), &c. Several sections analyze the 1809 sale of a portion of Porson's library, noting prices paid, lists of active bidders, identification (or attempts at identification) of the 116 bidders at the sale.

Naiditch even attempts to document how Porson might have arranged his books (though nothing on the point is known), notes books one might expect to find in Porson's collection which he doesn't seem to have owned, and documents Porson's ill-treatment of his own books and those he borrowed from others (as well as himself—Naiditch includes several contemporary descriptions: "he evidently had been rolling in the kennel"; "the greatest sloven ever"). Naiditch takes Porson's comment that he had "more bad copies of good books than any private gentlemen in England" as evidence that Porson could "affect indifference and even hostility to bibliophily" (lxvii). Other sections analyze Porson's marginal notations and his habit of annotating books and manuscripts he didn't own; the final sections examine Porson's Greek and Roman scripts.

The Catalogue itself contains 1935 entries, which include author, title, edition where known, format, publication information, &c. Where possible, Naiditch has included information on any pre-Porson owners, how Porson obtained the book and (if known) what he paid, notes on who purchased the book at the sale of Porson's library, any later owners, and the current location of the book if known. He's packed a whole lot into each entry, and they can be fairly tricky to puzzle out, although with enough attention it can be done.

But the catalog isn't the end of it. Naiditch has added seven different indexes: of pre-Porson owners of Porson's books, of the known sources from which Porson obtained his books (tracking them back to the numbered entries in the Catalogue); a concordance of the sale of Porson's books with the numbered Catalogue entries; a concordance of the buyers at the sale of Porson's books with the numbered Catalogue entries; ditto of later owners and present locations of Porson's books; and finally a general index.

As one would expect with a volume of this detail, just a few typographical errors have crept into the text, and at various points some brackets (< and >) appear where they don't appear to be intended. Some judicious use of bold text might have made for a slightly clearer presentation in the Catalogue section, but as I note above the entries become clear enough after just a bit of concentration.

Obviously a labor of love, this volume is a remarkable achievement, and will certainly add much to future studies of Porson's scholarship. As an exercise in library reconstruction too it provides a very useful template and example, particularly in the processes and techniques used to gather the data. While each of these projects is very much its own animal, based on the sources, disposition, and ultimate fate of the library in question, Naiditch's effort here is well worth a thorough exploration.

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