Saturday, August 18, 2007

Book-Scholar Jay Fliegelman Dead

The biblio-world has lost a friend. Noted Stanford University professor, author and book collector Jay Fliegelman died on 14 August after a long battle with liver disease and cancer, the Stanford News reports. He was 58.

One of the most important scholars of American Studies, Fliegelman's books include Prodigals and Pilgrims: The American Revolution Against Patriarchal Authority, 1750-1800 and Declaring Independence: Jefferson, Natural Language, and the Culture of Performance. He was working on a third monograph, Belongings: Dramas of American Book Ownership, 1660-1860, but it's unclear now when or even if that will be published.

You'll remember Fliegelman from his profile in Nick Basbanes' Patience & Fortitude, where his wonderful collection of association copies is covered at length. Each of the books in Fliegelman's collection "was the property at one time or another of a person significant in the making of American history, or someone who had a profound impact on the life of an important figure," Basbanes writes (p. 142). Belongings was to be, in Fliegelman's words "a kind of cultural history of America, disguised as a fully-illustrated catalog of my own library."

He owned Simon Bradstreet's copy of John Goodwin's Imputatio Fidei, Jefferson's Paradise Lost (which Madison borrowed and signed his name in), and copies of Frederick Douglass' autobiographies presented by the author to the Englishwoman who purchased his freedom.

Basbanes captures Fliegelman's worldview just about perfectly with this quote, I think: "I wake up sometimes and I will go to my library and move a book from one shelf to another, because in the middle of the night I thought about certain connections between the two. I am wondering, does this author belong with this author? If so, I want them to commune with one anothr, physically, right now. It's a matter of what becomes visible when I bring these two things together that's not visible when they're kept apart. All of these books are about the presence of the past in the present" (pp. 148-149).

Fliegelman is survived by his wife, his sister, his wonderful collection, and many whose lives he impacted through his work and his example.