Friday, November 27, 2015

Book Review: "Bibliotheca Fictiva" & "Fakes, Lies, and Forgeries"

Arthur Freeman, Bibliotheca Fictiva: A Collection of Books & Manuscripts Relating to Literary Forgery, 400 BC–AD 2000. London: Bernard Quaritch Ltd, 2014.

Earle Havens, ed. Fakes, Lies, and Forgeries: Rare Books and Manuscripts from the Arthur and Janet Freeman Bibliotheca Fictiva Collection. Baltimore: Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University, 2014.

When I am asked what sort of books I collect, I usually lead with "books about books" and "catalogs of peoples' libraries," but it's almost always the next one, "books about literary forgeries and hoaxes" that the questioner proves most interested in talking about. (Only later might I bring up the collection I actually work at the most, of Fenelon's Télémaque). Arthur and Janet Freeman, creators of the magnificent, dare I say well-nigh unsurpassable forgery collection documented in Bibliotheca Fictiva, are surely familiar with the particular reaction that the mention of forgeries not infrequently elicits: a sort of conspiratorial, knowing nod, eyebrows half-raised, as if what you'd actually said was that you make literary forgeries rather than collect and study them.

When I received my copy of Bibliotheca Fictiva, impressively produced by Quaritch, and began reading through it, one of my first thoughts was that I might just as well give up the ghost on my own meagre collection of forgery-related material: the thought of building a collection that could rival this is daunting to the extreme. There can be no contest, but there needn't be; I've neither the time, resources, nor inclination to collect as comprehensively as the Freemans have done, and there's plenty of good material out there to fill the small niche I'm interested in, anyway. Once I'd gotten over that initial, overwhelmed state and really dug into this volume, I found it immensely interesting and useful.

As Arthur Freeman notes in his preface, the collection was more than five decades in the making, eventually with an eye toward the composition of "a comprehensive history of literary and historical forgery, as a genre or tradition from antiquity to the near-present" (xi) which did not come to fruition. In 2011 the Sheridan Libraries at Johns Hopkins University began to acquire the collection, and this volume covers it to that time, with some of the additions made since. The "intimidating" outlines of the library, Freeman acknowledges, are "to some extent arbitrary and even personal" (xi): it covers "the entire range of literary forgery, that is to say the forgery of texts, whether historical, religious, philological, or 'creatively' artistic, in all languages and countries of the civilized Western world, from c. 400 BC to the end of the twentieth century" (xii). But not just the original texts: also their "first and ongoing exposures (or obstinate endorsements), in whatever printed editions seemed most significant (along with manuscripts and correspondence when applicable), with a special emphasis, inevitable for us, on evocative annotated and association copies" (xii). No small task, indeed.

Freeman introduces the collection with an eighty-page overview, broken into eleven sections (Classical and Judeo-Christian Forgery to the Fall of Rome; Medieval Forgery, Religious and Secular; Renaissance Forgery, to 1600; Seventeenth-Century Forgery; Eighteenth-Century British Forgery; Nineteenth-Century British and American Forgery; France After 1700; German, Austrian, and Dutch Forgery; Italy and Spain; Central Europe, Russia, and Greece; and The Twentieth Century). In each he briefly surveys the collection's holdings in that area, so these eleven sections taken together—given the wide scope of the library and the breadth of its holdings—can fairly effectively serve as a de facto introduction to the genre. While there are a whole lot of names, dates, and titles packed in here, Freeman manages to keep things moving nicely.

The meat of Bibliotheca Fictiva is what Freeman has termed "The Handlist," a catalog of the collection as it stood at the time of acquisition by Johns Hopkins. Items retained by the Freemans are noted (these include, Freeman reports, duplicates, modern reference books, certain association items, and collections related to the Fortsas hoax and the Guglielmo Libri thefts). In the introductory headnote to the Handlist Freeman outlines several areas in which the Bibliotheca Fictiva complements existing holdings at Hopkins (including the Book of Mormon). The Handlist is organized into thirteen sections—roughly corresponding to the eleven above—next by forger or topic, and finally by date (the index will be of great use). Some 1,676 entries follow, often with annotations as to their provenance, some with descriptions of the binding, and most with a short explanation of their significance.

Reading right through these entries, or at least for any particular area you have an interest in, will be well worth it: even setting aside from the scope, the library includes some truly remarkable material. There's the (unique?) single-sheet prospectus for the Irelands' Miscellaneous Papers and Legal Instruments, with Samuel Ireland's manuscript addition offering a subscription refund to doubters; or there's Hugh Trevor-Roper's annotated review copy of Morton Smith's The Secret Gospel; or John Carter's own copy of Enquiry, with a letter from Pollard dated "the day after publication," calling the book "too much of a curate's egg." It takes sixty pages to document the vast sub-collection of materials relating to John Payne Collier's life and works. From the vile (Protocols of the Elders of Zion) to the ridiculous, they're here, and this volume is one anyone with even the slightest interest in the topic will want to have and refer to often.

The Freemans' laudable decision to transfer the Bibliotheca Fictiva collection to Hopkins has prompted the publication of additional, complementary texts. The proceedings of a 2012 conference, "Literary Forgery and Patriotic Mythology in Europe, 1450–1800" will soon be published, and a lovely catalog of a Sheridan Libraries exhibition, Fakes, Lies, and Forgeries was released in 2014. As Winston Tabb notes in his Foreword, it is through "exhibitions and publications like this one, which share the fascinating hidden histories of fakes and forgeries throughout the ages and inspire future generations to explore them further" (iv) that we can acknowledge and thank the Freemans for providing the fruits of their long collecting labors to the scholarly community.

In his introduction, Earle Havens, the catalog's editor, outlines how the decision was taken not only to bring the collection to Baltimore, but also to keep it together, allowing for use, promotion, and study of collection as a whole, not simply as disparate items divorced from their context. He builds a good case for the relevance and usefulness of studying forgeries and their creators as a key component of the historical and cultural record: "to treat forgery as a mode, and at times even an expressive art, of literature" (vii). Along with a checklist of the exhibition, five interpretive essays are included. Earle Havens' "Catastrophe? Species and Genres of Literary and Historical Forgery" offers a broad overview of scholarly treatments of forgeries over time and a gallop through the "species of forgery" to be found in the Bibliotheca Fictiva, while Neil Weijer explores how one might grapple with historical forgeries (that is, forgeries of historical documents) when both "history" and "forgery" are pretty tough terms to pin down, "if all historical writing is essentially fiction?" (43). Walter Stephens provides an excellent overview of Annius of Viterbo's works and their afterlives, and Janet E. Gomez treats the distinction between "literature" and "literary forgery" using the Ireland Shakespeare forgeries, the Alberti Tasso forgeries, and Psalmanazar's Formosa as case studies. Finally, John Hoffmann delves into the nastiness, tackling the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as well other 19th- and 20th-century racist productions about miscegenation and the like. His conclusion is a fitting one for the whole book and for the topic: "The most important fact for a forger to keep in mind is the prejudice of his audience, and forgers play upon the public's credulity by indulging unquestioned assumptions. ... Forgeries make illusions seem real, but most important, they bring about real effects" (112).

Fakes, Lies, and Forgeries is beautifully designed and produced, with lovely color illustrations throughout. I await its companion volume with anticipation, and I hope that its contents, along with those of Bibliotheca Fictiva, will prompt much future scholarly inquiry. There could be no better monument to the work of the great collectors who built the Bibliotheca Fictiva.

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