Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Auction Report: Highlights and Upcoming

I've been shamefully remiss on recent auctions. Many apologies.

Bonhams London sold Printed Books, Manuscripts, Music and Photographs on 24 March. Highlights included a manuscript account of several Hudson's Bay voyages (£44,400); Rechberg and Depping's Les peuples de le Russie (Paris: 1812-13) (£25,200); a Charles Lutwidge Dodgson photograph (£28,800); and a large collection of George Orwell material which sold very well (lots 166-189).

Tomorrow, Bloomsbury London hosts a Bibliophile sale, in 710 lots.

Bonhams New York will sell a collection of books related to Hawaii and the South Pacific on 6 April. The library includes some fifty lots of Cookiana, among other interesting things.

On 8 April, two big book sales: at Sotheby's Paris, "A Select Collection of a Bookseller-Dilettante, Christope d'Astier" featuring 385 lots, and at Christie's London, Travel, Science & Natural History, including some fascinating artifacts (including a very scarce Leeuwenhoek silver microscope).

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Links & Reviews

- Sign of the times watch: Virginia Tech said this week it would be cutting $900,000 worth of journal subscriptions for the 2009-10 year ($500,000 to make budget cuts, and $400,000 to meet cost increases). The dean of university libraries is asking for input from VTech professors and researchers about which titles are most important to them in their work. In other academic library news, Emory University's libraries have cut $200,000 this fiscal year by not filling vacant positions and not hiring for other open jobs. Other measures may be put in place shortly.

- Much of Rolland Comstock's collection has now been acquired by Dick Rofritch of The Woodlands, TX, who opened a bookstore (Good Books in the Woods) to sell the books. The Houston Chronicle has the story of how Rofritch came to own the collection and get started with bookselling.

- Rare Book Review notes that the "Library of the Religious Society of Friends has completed the cataloguing of all its Pre-1801 printed materials, with an additional 7,400 Quaker titles now available for research purposes." The catalog is here. I tested it on on some very rare Thomas Maule titles I knew were supposed to be in the library, and there they were.

- Nick Basbanes has a piece on booking along Maine's Route 1. He's right, Maine's a wonderfully-bookish place.

- In the TLS, Thomas Keymer examines the first American edition of Samuel Johnson's Rasselas; the essay is taken from his introduction to the forthcoming Oxford World's Classics edition of the work.

- Staff for the National Trust for Scotland have found a copy of A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs, co-edited by Robert Burns, which Burns signed and presented to a Miss Graham, the daughter of his boss. The book will be displayed in a new Burns museum in the near future.

- An utterly amazing (and disturbing) look at "essay mills" was published in the 20 March Chronicle of Higher Ed. Highly recommended. [h/t Literary Fraud & Folly]

- Laura's off on what sounds like a fantastic trip to Germany and Egypt - I know I'm looking forward to pictures and tales!

- Caleb Crain has an essay in the NYT book review about the hilarious 1857 book The Physiology of New York Boarding-Houses, available in a new reprint from Rutgers University Press or in facsmile from Cornell University Press (or digitally via the Internet Archive or Google Books).

- Literary agent Lynn Chu argues in the WSJ that the Google Books settlement is a very bad deal for authors [h/t LISNews]

- The NYT covered the results of the Bookseller/Diagram Oddest Book Title contest, the winner this year being The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-Milligram Containers of Fromage Frais (Baboon Metaphysics took second place). The beauty of the Times piece is the quotes from the runner-up authors and past winners, which are very enjoyable. More from Alison Flood at the Guardian, who points out that the author of the winning book is a professor of management science at French business school Insead who says he has "published" more than 200,000 titles (print-on-demand econometrics reports, basically).


- In the WSJ, Mark Teaford reviews Ruth Richardson's The Making of Mr. Gray's Anatomy.

- Richard Cox reviews John Ridener's From Polders to Postmodernism: A Concise History of Archival Theory, which is high on my "to read" list as well.

- At Book Patrol, Charles Seluzicki reviews Leanne Sharpton's novel-as-auction-catalog.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Book Review: "The Last Dickens"

Matthew Pearl's third literary thriller is The Last Dickens, in which Pearl delves into the tangled web of the 19th-century publishing industry through the lens of Charles Dickens' final, unfinished work, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The hunt for the final six installments of Drood leads Dickens' American publisher James Osgood on a wild transatlantic manuscript chase that takes him from the wharves of Boston to the opium dens of London to the cellars beneath the Harvard Medical College, and finds him chased by mysterious swarthy stalkers, unscrupulous representatives of rival publishing houses, and his own ambitious desire to protect his business and see Drood through to completion, if possible.

Perhaps it's because I loved The Dante Club so much, but this book didn't have quite the same oomph for me as Pearl's previous two did. There were some small errors, and I found the break-neck series of plot-twists and red-herring revelations in the final chapters just a bit much. The sections in which Dickens' American tour are recounted, and those which feature Dickens' son Frank in the Indian police force, were fascinating, but they didn't cohere well with the main storyline.

That said, Pearl's depiction of the American tour and the publishing industry in general are excellent, and they certainly make the book worth reading. The mystery portion may be a slightly over the top, but then again that was the Victorian way. All told, another success for Pearl, and one which will certainly spur renewed interest in Dickens' final project.

Book Review: "Curious Men"

One of the newest offerings in McSweeney's Collins Library Series is Curious Men, a selection of eighteen essays from the voluminous writings of Frank Buckland, a Victorian-era surgeon-zoologist and chronicler of all things odd.

Collins brings us Buckland's tales of giants, mummies, faux-mermaids, petrified hats, trained fleas, and people who walked upside down, in a short and accessible volume that can be read quite comfortably in a single short sitting (in fact, my only quibble with the book is that a few more essays might have been welcome).

Buckland's prose is quite pithy. Here, for example, is a short riff on mermaid attractiveness, which he found rather wanting in one particular specimen he examined: "If I were a merman I should decidedly not fall in love with any mermaid who was not a great deal more particular in matters of hairdressing than our friend under the glass case" (p. 69).

The perfect diversion for a weekend afternoon.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Boston Globe Loses Book Writers

The Boston Herald reports this morning that two of the Boston Globe's finest book-writers, critic Gail Caldwell and reporter David Mehegan, have accepted buyout offers from the newspaper.

Another dark day in a long string of dark days.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Federal Court Orders Book Returned to Germany

U.S. District judge Thomas Griesa has ruled that the 16th-century Augsburger Geschlechterbuch (Augsburg Book of Nobles), taken from the collections of a Stuttgart museum at the end of WWII by a U.S. Army captain, must be returned to Germany, Bloomberg reports.

The book, a collection of prints and drawings believed to be the work of Heinrich Vogtherr, has been called a "a fascinating record of an artist's working methods in the mid-16th century" by Sotheby's Old Master specialist Dr. Nancy Bialler. The book includes 53 iron etchings in early states, many unfinished proofs, as well as 43 original drawings.

The Augsburger Geschlechterbuch was owned by the Stuttgart Staatsgalerie prior to WWII, and was stored during the war with other materials from the museum's collections in a Waldenburg castle. Its next known location was the Richmond Heights, MO home of John Hewitt Doty, a German interpreter for the 63rd Infantry Division which attacked Waldenberg at the end of the war. When Doty's books were sold in 1999, the Augsburger Geschlechterbuch was purchased by book dealer Sheldon Margulis, who in turn sold it to Rod Shene in 2001 for $3,900. Shene had the book appraised by Sotheby's (at $600,000), but when Staatsgalerie officials were contacted about it, they wanted it back, and filed suit against Shene for its return.

More than four years later, after many complicated legal maneuvers, the case has been decided. Judge Griesa ruled in favor of the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, saying that their "motion for summary judgment is granted in all respects. ... Although Doty's motives may have been admirable, this evidence nonetheless establishes that he took the book without the permission of the German owner. Shene has failed to produce any evidence to the contrary."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Codes and Codexes

Don't miss Laura's excellent post from last night about a totally obnoxious Reuters story which repeatedly refers to Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Atlanticus as the "Atlantic Code." No, "code" does not equal "codex."

As Laura notes, the problem appears to be rooted in the Wikipedia page for the codex, which as of right now, refers to the Codex Atlanticus parenthetically as (Atlantic Code).

Ironically enough, the next thing that hit my Google Reader last night after Laura's piece was a Salon interview headlined "Are we dangerously dependent on Wikipedia?" Hmmm. Well, it seems Reuters might be.

Of course the original story (minus the flub) is quite interesting: conservators are disbinding the codex.

[Update: As pointed out in comments, somebody's changed the Wikipedia entry]

This Week's Acquisitions

One notable acquisition this week, a new edition of The Travels of Cyrus, one of the two titles I have mini-collections of. (The other is The Adventures of Telemachus). I like these because there are literally hundreds of different editions of them, and most can still be had quite reasonably.

- The Travels of Cyrus. To which is annexed, a Discourse upon the Theology and Mythology of the Pagans; by Chevalier Andrew Michael Ramsay (n.p. [London], 1772). This is a fairly rare edition (ESTC lists copies at the British Library, the National Library of Scotland, the Bodleian, and the University of Illinois; WorldCat adds Brigham Young University). My copy comes to me from Ventnor Books on the Isle of Wight, and contains the bookplate of Samuel Woodyear. It is signed "S Woodyear" and "Antonetta Woodyear 1801" on the title page (I haven't done any checking on the Woodyears yet so if anyone has any information on them I'd love to know of it).

And a few other arrivals:

- Shakespeare Wrote for Money by Nick Hornby (McSweeney's, 2008). Publisher.

Curious Men: Being a Collection of Freaks, Frauds, and Fine Fellows by Frank Buckland; edited by Paul Collins (McSweeney's, 2008). Publisher.

- English as She Is Spoke: The New Guide of the Conversation, in Portuguese and English, in Two Parts by Jose da Fonseca and Pedro Carolino; edited by Paul Collins (McSweeney's, 2004). Publisher.

- Eiffel's Tower: And the World's Fair Where Buffalo Bill Beguiled Paris, the Artists Quarreled, and Thomas Edison Became a Count by Jill Jonnes (Viking, 2009). Publisher.

Portrait Withdrawn from Versace Sale Over Theft Claim

Not quite books, but fascinating anyway:

Antiques Trade Gazette reported yesterday that a 1783 portrait of Major George Maule by Johann Zaffany was withdrawn from Sotheby's 18 March sale of the contents of Gianni Versace's Lake Como villa after Maule family members saw a photo of the portrait and recognized it as having been stolen from their London home three decades ago.

Versace purchased the painting from a dealer in the mid-1990s, and estate executors and the Art Loss Registry are working to unravel the provenance. Maule family members have been able to provide a photograph showing the portrait in their home prior to the 1979 burglary.

Sotheby's experts described the painting as "previously untraced and uncatalogued" and estimated that it might sell for £40,000-60,000. The entire sale brought in more than £7m.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Request from PRB&M

Cynthy from Philadelphia Rare Books & Manuscripts posted this note to Ex-Libris yesterday and accepted my offer to repost it here as well:

"Dear Friends,

Our first week post-fire having been devoted pretty much entirely to book care, the second one began with visits from structural engineers and building contractors. Early word from them is that especially when it comes to the rear part of the second floor and to our treasured old windows throughout, much will need to be rebuilt rather than repaired; and we wonder - please, does anyone reading this have any emailable PICTURES that could help us (i.e., help the builders) with that? Interior images showing floors, transoms, and woodwork in the second
floor back hall, detail in Cynthia Williams's office (the one with the peaked "gothic" window), and
*anything* in David's back office/study (but particularly the fireplace) will be very welcome.

There is actually a GOOD deal to report as to how things evolve here, and we are working on an update to the "recovery" web-page. I will not offer it redundantly in this message.

For all your many, many kind messages, thoughts, and prayers at this hard time - many thanks!


Email any photos you might have to Cynthy at rarebks prbm.com

DARE Almost Done

The AP profiles the Dictionary of American Regional English today, noting that the fifth and final volume, covering Sl through Z, is set for publication next year thanks to a $295,000 NSF grant.

One interesting tidbit from the report: original project editor Frederic Cassidy died in 2000: his tombstone reads "On to Z!"

Following publication of the final volume, editors say they plan an online edition of the DARE.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Links & Reviews

- Laura has a fantastic list of books you need to read if you're interested in book history. I've used almost all of these in one way or another, but there are still a few of them I need to sit and read cover to cover.

- Columbia has announced the winners of the 2009 Bancroft Prize: Thomas G. Andrews for Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War (Cambridge: Harvard University Press); Drew Gilpin Faust for This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf); and Pekka Hämäläinen for The Comanche Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press).

- In the Times, a piece on the woman who stalked Charles Dickens during his 1867-8 American tour.

- Ian notes a cool new Flickr set from the National Museum of Health and Medicine. More at Wired. Not, I think for the squeamish.

- The State reported early this week that the University of South Carolina will receive a first edition of Mark Catesby's Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands (1731-43). The donor, 93-year old Susan Gibbes Robinson, said of the volumes "I’ve had a good time with Catesby. I’ve spent more time with him than with some of my family. He’s my buddy." In the agreement with the library, Robinson made clear that the books should be available for public use, and the library has agreed that when they are on display, a new page will be shown each day. [h/t RBN]

- At Princeton's Mudd Manuscript Library, digital copies of some documents from a collection of the papers of John Maclean, Princeton's tenth president have been made available.

- From Library Journal, a report on a 13 March conference on the Google Books Settlement.

- The Telegraph profiles a bizarre book of home remedies to be sold at Bonhams this week.

- Over in the (Dublin) Independent, Kevin Myers asks some tough questions about public libraries; I don't know the stats but I'd be interested to see if Irish libraries are seeing the same jump in usage that American libraries are. Seems like answer enough to his questions. And in the Guardian, Rachel Cooke calls for those who care about British libraries to man the barricades: "Make no mistake, this is a crucial time. If those of us who love books, and libraries, and believe they are a vital, beautiful and cherishable part of our cultural and social heritage, take our eye off the ball now, we will regret it. We must make a fuss, and we must name and shame those who are set on destruction."

- The BBC reported this week that a joint US-Cuban effort to preserve an archive of Hemingway papers at his Finca Vigia home. The effort began in 2002, and thus far has resulted in the conservation and digitization of nearly 3,200 documents, with another thousand items to go. Digital and microfilm copies of the material will be available at the Hemingway Archive of the JFK Library later this year. [h/t CSM Books]

- Bookfinder.com's Scott Laming has a top ten list of books on bookselling. Not the ten I'd have picked, but nonetheless, I pass it along.

- Meredith passes along some cool new resources from Reed College, including a neat Early American Handwriting site.

- Richard J. Cox has more on the politics of NARA.


- In the WaPo, Mary Beth Norton reviews Richard Beeman's new book on the Constitutional Convention, Plain, Honest Men.

- Katherine Powers reviews Drood and The Last Dickens in the Boston Globe.

- For the NYRB, Ingrid Rowland reviews a new exhibit of Maria Sibylla Merian's works, plus a biography of the artist, Chrysalis.

- Rick Ring passes along a 1945 review of scholar-librarian Margaret Bingham Stillwell's The Pageant of Benefit Street Down Through the Years.

- Richard Cox reviews Kitty Burns Florey's, Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting.

Book Review: "We-Think"

Charles Leadbeater's book We-Think was published in the UK last year; it will be released in the US by Profile Books this summer and I have to say I'll be fascinated to see how it's received. It's an intriguing and unconventional book, and I think at least some of the ideas it contains are worth thinking seriously about as we continue to move into the new world that the web has wrought.

Leadbeater defines "we-think" as his "term to comprehend how we think, play, work and create, together, en masse, thanks to the web" (p. 19). He calls his book "a defence of sharing, particularly the sharing of ideas" (p. 6) and suggests that by promoting "participation, recognition, [and] collaboration" we can change the way we perform certain tasks and, at least theoretically, harness the world's energy to improve our culture and advance knowledge, equality, and personal freedom at the same time. At root, he suggests, he seeks to determine how we can "make the most of the web's potential" (p. 5).

The ideal we-think process involves a quintet of components: a core group of workers, contributions by many others, connections between the participants, collaboration, and, ultimately, creation of some tangible product or idea. He describes various examples of how these components have successfully meshed, from resources (like Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia of Life) to games (like Second Life, World of Warcraft and the Sims) to scientific progress (various research projects) and political participation (the most recent and perhaps more important example, Obama's campaign, was just getting underway when the book was written).

Successful implementation of we-think principles involves what Leadbeater suggests is a delicate balance of "gathering self-interest for mututally beneficial ends" (p. xii). People are looking to "connect to ideas they [find] interesting for them, in their lives," and by allowing them to contribute to a greater goal in a way where they can do what they want at their own pace while feeling like their contributions are being recognized, we-think can work wonders. As I read I kept coming back to my own experiences with the Legacy Libraries project at LibraryThing ... while I coordinate the group and facilitate discussions and projects (and answer questions), it is a much larger group who work on the various library projects and bring them to fruition). The Legacy project, and perhaps even LibraryThing in general with its various components (including Common Knowledge) seem to be really concrete examples of a community's use of we-think concepts in a meaningful and extremely productive way.

Leadbeater takes the opportunity to muse about far-reaching implications of his ideas, discussing various applications of we-think to fields from education to librarianship to health care and science. In all of those areas and more I think there are opportunities to think in new and more engaging ways, and some of Leadbeater's ideas may be of use. Since librarianship is the one I can speak to, I will say that I don't entirely agree with the way the author suggests the field is headed, but I do know that a more open, collaborative process must be our goal, rather than something to be dreaded (not that most librarians are dreading it, I think many are just trying to figure out, along with the rest of us, how to make it work).

There are the obligatory devil's advocate arguments here, but Leadbeater mostly shrugs them off while admitting that we still don't really know where the web is taking us and that it is possible that we will squander our opportunities to use it wisely. By necessity, any book of this sort, which comments on hyper-current trends, is out of date even before it appears in print. Some of Leadbeater's examples have already fallen out of vogue, and some things have happened since which aren't discussed. There are several additional very minor errors, and the book does tend to be rather UK-centric (it was, to be fair, published there first), but on the whole it is an argument worth examining and perhaps putting to use under certain conditions.

This Week's Acquisitions

The last big bunch of new things for a while as I go into the spring:

- The Early Days of Joel Barlow: A Connecticut Wit - Yale Graduate, Editor, Lawyer and Poet Chaplain During the Revolutionary War - His Life and Works from 1754 to 1787 by Theodore Albert Zunder (Archon, 1969). Brattle.

Going Dutch: How England Plundered Holland's Glory by Lisa Jardine (Harper, 2008), Brattle.

'The Tyranny of Printers': Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic by Jeffrey L. Pasley (University of Virginia Press, 2003). Brattle.

The "Infamas Govener": Francis Bernard and the Origins of the American Revolution by Colin Nicolson (Northeastern University Press, 2000). Brattle.

Colonial American English: A Glossary by Richard M. Lederer (Verbatim Books, 1985). Brattle.

The Persistence of Empire: British Political Culture in the Age of the American Revolution by Eliga H. Gould (UNC Press, 2000). Commonwealth.

Books: A Memoir by Larry McMurtry (Simon & Schuster, 2008). Booksmith.

The Republic in Print: Print Culture in the Age of U.S. Nation Building, 1770-1870 by Trish Loughran (Columbia University Press, 2009). Amazon.

The Story of A: The Alphabetization of America from the New England Primer to the Scarlet Letter by Patricia Crain (Stanford University Press, 2002). Amazon.

The Beginning of the World of Books, 1450 to 1470: A Chronological Survey of the Texts Chosen for Printing During the First Twenty Years of the Printing Art, With a Synopsis of the Gutenberg Documents by Margaret Bingham Stillwell (BSA, 1972). Colophon.

Bibliography and Textual Criticism: English and American Literature, 1700 to the Present; edited by O. M. Brack, Jr. and Warner Barnes (Univerisity of Chicago Press, 1969). Colophon.

Francesco Colonna: A Fanciful Tale of the Writing of the Hypnerotomachia by Charles Nodier (Privately printed, 1929). Colophon.

Reynier Jansen of Philadelphia, Early American Printer: A Chapter in Seventeenth-Century Nonconformity by Jacobus Gerhardus Riewald (Wolters-Noordhoff, 1970). Colophon.

The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl (Random House, 2009). Amazon.

Making Freedom: The Extraordinary Life of Venture Smith by Chandler B. Saint and George A. Krimsky (Wesleyan University Press, 2009). Brattle.

How Lincoln Learned to Read: Twelve Great Americans and the Educations That Made Them by Daniel Wolff (Bloomsbury USA, 2009). Brattle.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Provenance via Auction Catalog

In my ever-expanding quest to find more Libraries of Early America (because I can't be content with the forty-six currently on my list to enter, apparently) I started poking through some old bound auction catalogs yesterday and making a list of the lots which list previous owners. I found a surprising number of books from the collection of George Read (1733-1798), a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and one of Delaware's first senators under the Constitution. The names of early Virginia poet Robert Bolling also appeared fairly often, as did Virginia historian William Stith. I even came across one book owned by the explorer John Ledyard.

I'm not sure how often I'll get a chance to go through more auction volumes, but as I do I'll continue to take notes and will probably mention any major finds. And if you stumble across any in your hunts, please feel free to shoot them my way (any Americans collecting prior to 1825).

This morning it's back to Countway to start a transcription of John Jeffries' library catalog so I can get his collection up and running fairly soon (the LEA's first balloonist!).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Book Review: "The Island of the Day Before"

Umberto Eco's The Island of the Day Before is a difficult book to review. Since finishing it last night I've been trying to figure out even what I would say, what words I would use to describe my reaction to it. It never grabbed me the way The Name of the Rose or Foucault's Pendulum did, but I didn't really dislike it (as I did Baudolino). Certain elements of the story were interesting (the search for accurate measurement of longitude at sea, the whole marooned on a boat within sight of land motif), and I really enjoyed the little old man who spoke in a variety of different languages at once. There are several very funny passages (I can't remember ever laughing out loud with Eco before).

On the other hand, I read through the entire book thinking that surely something would happen soon, that there was some missing element that would make itself known and make the book pop like some of Eco's others have for me. And that never happened.

Eco explores philosophical and historical issues in intriguing ways in all of his books, making all of them well worth the reading.

To Be (Shakespeare) or Not To Be?

That "portrait of Shakespeare" much ballyhooed last week may not be of the Bard at all, as many have suggested from the beginning. Today in the TLS, Shakespeare editor and biographer Katherine Duncan-Jones pours several gallons of cold water on Stanley Wells' identification of the "Cobbe Portrait" as Shakespeare.

Duncan-Jones calls the portrait "a splendid painting, whose sparkling colours have benefited from recent restoration." She suggests that the "italic inscription at the top of the picture, 'Principum Amicitias!' – 'the leagues of princes!' – appears too large in scale, as well as highly unusual in its deployment of an exclamation mark, and was perhaps added later." "It might have been helpful to examine the picture’s reverse for further inscriptions or telling marks," she suggests, "but at the preview the back was veiled with a brown paper screen." Finally, she believes that the man in the portrait is just "far too grand and courtier-like" to be Shakespeare: "When players dressed above their rank offstage, it tended to get them into trouble. It is hard to believe that Shakespeare would have been rash enough to permit himself to be portrayed in such grand array."

This refutation also makes a very good point about the copies made from this work: "all four versions on panel appear to have originated in the period 1610–20, while a fifth, a copy on canvas, is dated to c1630. It would seem that the subject was a man of huge interest in the Jacobean period, such that several noblemen wanted to possess a good copy of his image, but later ceased to be so. If knowledgeable contemporaries believed this to be an authentic image of 'Sweet Master Shakespeare', would there not have been a market for many further copies or engravings after Shakespeare’s literary re-birth in 1623, when the First Folio was published?"

Duncan-Jones also suggests that we must take seriously the views of National Portrait Gallery curator Dr. Tarnya Cooper and by David Piper that the Cobbe Portrait may actually be courtier Thomas Overbury, rather than Shakespeare (and I have to say it does bear a positively striking resemblance to the known original Overbury portrait, now at the Bodleian - image here, at the top of the page).

The case for Overbury seems to me to be just as good, if not better, as that for Shakespeare. Both are circumstantial, but if I had to make a call, I think Duncan-Jones has the stronger argument.

But the new Shakespeare attributions don't end there. The Telegraph reported yesterday that a new book suggests Shakespeare wrote six additional works than are usually credited to him. In Enter Pursued by a Bear, independent scholar (and psychotherapist) John Casson believes he's found Shakespeare's earliest published poem, his first comedy, and two early tragedies. Reaction to those suggestions is, I'm sure, forthcoming.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy Evacuation Day!

It may be St. Patrick's Day everywhere, but here in Boston it's Evacuation Day too, the anniversary of the British army's departure from the city in 1776. John Bell's posted a pertinent letter relating to the sailing of the fleet, in which the (apparently patriot-leaning) correspondent writes: "March is the most tempestuous month of the year upon the American coast; so that without a miracle this wretched fleet must be dispersed and lost. It is impossible that more events could concur to render their distress complete, and their ruin almost inevitable."

Bit of wishful (and rather morbid) thinking, that?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Early MA Land Deeds on Display

In the Globe today, an article highlighting a new exhibit at the Plymouth County Registry of Deeds, where notable land records from across the centuries are displayed in the building's entrance hall.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Book Review: "Banana"

Read Dan Koeppel's Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World (Hudson Street Press, 2008), and I bet you'll never look at a banana quite the same way again. Expanding on a 2005 Popular Science article, Koeppel's book is a biological, political and commercial history of the banana. It is also a call to action, since the banana as we know it may be just years away from disappearing completely thanks to a fast-moving series of pathogens which have the potential to bring its reign atop the fruit bowl to a precipitous end.

Part travelogue, part exposé, part history lesson, Koeppel's book takes us from the banana plantations to Latin America to the village plots of Africa to the research labs of Belgium, where scientists are racing against time to combat the spreading plague and make the world safe for bananas. What remains to be seen is whether the ultimately successful fruit will be the variety we currently eat (the Cavendish), or if some other version will have to be (or even can be) modified to meet the consumer needs the Cavendish currently satisfies (easily transported, hard to bruise, on a regular ripening schedule). It's happened before; the variety of banana grown and marketed until the late 1950s was the Gros Michel, which succumbed to the same cocktail of diseases our current banana faces today.

The banana's checkered past is laid bare here as Koeppel peels away the decades of nefarious practices engaged in by the large banana companies in Central and South America and the Caribbean as they fought each other for the commercial edge (and in the process greatly abused their works, the environment, and the governments of the nations they practically controlled). And Koeppel's point about the inherent weaknesses of the banana as an export crop is a good one: if we followed the precepts of locavorism, the banana would be about the last thing most of us would be eating, and perhaps that's the way it should be. But, as he writes, that seems unlikely, so perhaps at least understanding what's behind what we're eating is the best we can do for now.

A worthy book; I learned a great deal.

Book Review: "Peter's War"

In her new book Peter's War: A New England Slave Boy and the American Revolution (Yale University Press, 2009), George Mason law professor Joyce Lee Malcolm attempts to create a history of one slave's experiences during the Revolutionary War. Unfortunately, the slave she chooses - like most slaves - did not leave much of a paper trail, so the narrative Malcolm is able to draw out is at best incomplete and at worst based on a rather surprising amount of speculation for a book published by a press which normally takes scholarship very seriously.

After discovering the 1765 bill of sale for a nineteen-month old slave in Lincoln, MA, Malcolm says, she was captivated by finding out more about this boy, Peter, and what happened to him later in life. After researching, she writes, "In the end I have discovered Peter's footprints but not his voice. I have set those footprints down in the landscape he inhabited, among the people he knew and the dramatic historic events in which he participated" (p. x).

If Malcolm had done only what she said she would do, I wouldn't have minded in the slightest, (although I suspect she would not have had enough material for even a short article that way, let alone a book). Unfortunately she goes far beyond footprints, placing thoughts and motives in the head of young Peter that there is, so far as I can tell, no evidential basis for whatever.

From the very first pages, Malcolm presumes to divine Peter's thought processes: "In many ways his childhood was little different from that of other New England farm boys of the time. Sometimes it had been easy to forget the difference between slave and free and, beyond that, the racial barrier that had made him always the outsider" (p. 3). Later, we learn that by December of 1775, "Home seemed more comfortable than before" (p. 106), and when Peter's mistress dies, "He would miss her terribly" (p. 119). Malcolm suggests that when Peter's master remarried, Peter was "anxious" and "filled with uncertainty" (p. 145). We do not have a single letter or reminiscence written by Peter, so as a reader I kept asking myself, is it possible to know any of those things? Perhaps his emotions can be guessed at, but that is all Malcolm has to work with: guesswork, and unstated guesswork at that.

Malcolm writes several paragraphs about the day on which Josiah Nelson purchases Peter from the owners of his father, a slave called Jupiter. Because Josiah's wife Elizabeth doesn't sign the bill of sale, Malcolm presumes that she wasn't there. "Elizabeth was probably too embarrassed to be present," the author writes (p. 9), without any evidence testifying to her absence (let alone to her emotional state of mind) other than the lack of a signature.

Peter finds himself drawn into the Revolutionary War from its very first day, as the Nelsons' farm sat right on what we now know as Battle Road. Malcolm believes that Peter enlisted several times in local militias and the Continental Army, serving in different locations and engagements throughout the war. However, it is not at all clear to me whether the men she's following are even the same person. She suggests that Peter changed his last name to Sharon in late 1779 when he was emancipated and enlisted again, but provides only the sketchiest of evidence for why he would have done so (she suggests it is a "clear indication of deep anger and dismay", p. 193), but offers no supportive documentation of this fact. Does Peter Nelson become Peter Sharon? Perhaps, but with the evidence I have, I'm not entirely comfortable thinking so.

For reasons not entirely clear, Malcolm adds several chapters about Titus, also known as Captain (or Colonel) Tye (the ranks were 'honorary' only), an escaped slave who fights for the British, leading guerilla raids in the NY/NJ region. Titus hasn't anything to do with Peter, and his inclusion here is puzzling.

There are also several editorial slips, including a typo or two (extremely rare for a Yale book) and a rather gaping contradiction about the training of the British regulars who marched on Lexington and Concord (described on p. 52 as "hardened professionals", they are, just fifteen pages later, "young, untested troops"). But what is most troubling about this book is the complete lack of footnotes. A monograph which deals with a subject as difficult and as fragmentary as a slave's experiences positively screams for documentation, and yet Malcolm has omitted all specific references ("for ease of reading," she says, p. x). There is a brief Essay on Sources (pp. 235-241), but Malcolm does not indicate what she got from where, and for most of her conclusions it is impossible for the reader to tell. This is utterly insulting to any serious reader, who certainly should be curious about Malcolm's sources and what uses she makes of them.

Overall, a book which makes too much of the available evidence, and tries to be more than it can be.

Links & Reviews

Made the Boston bookstore rounds yesterday, visiting the Brattle (you can follow them on Twitter now), Commonwealth, and Brookline Booksmith. Found a few things and chatted with the good folks on the front lines.

- More evidence that libraries are thriving these days, from an 11 March article in the NYTimes. Key paragraph: "Indeed, the bad news on the economy is good news for libraries — so long as they can escape the budget ax that is falling on many municipal services as cities and towns struggle with declining revenue."

- A scholar working with a fifteenth-century copy of the Polychronicon at Eton has discovered a marginal note reading (in translation from Latin): "Around this time, according to popular opinion, a certain outlaw named Robin Hood, with his accomplices, infested Sherwood and other law-abiding areas of England with continuous robberies." Dr. Julian Luxford says the annotation suggests that Robin Hood may have operated later than thought, too; the note comes during the reign of Edward I, rather than Richard I.

- A new blog to follow is AuntieQuarian, started by my friend and colleague Meredith Neuman to explore new archival finds and debate questions of book history and research in an informal way. Meredith, who was a long-term fellow at MHS this fall and is now working at AAS, does fascinating work, and I'm delighted that she's going to be posting about the interesting things she discovers. She's also invited me and some others to contribute occasionally, which I look forward to doing.

- If you're an undergraduate book collector from Rhode Island, please check out the John Russell Bartlett Society's Margaret B. Stillwell Prize - you could win up to $750! Entries are due 3 April.

- A blessedly small (and solved) book crime to report: a New York woman has admitted stealing rare books, silver and other items from a private residence in Amenia, NY back in October 2007. She was on probation for a prior larceny crime at the time, and is currently serving a 1-3 year sentence on those charges. She faces another 2-4 years in prison when sentenced on 31 March. The materials, which included an early biography of Handel and some manuscripts by the composer, were recovered.

- The AP notes that an early Superman comic sold for a whopping $317,200 to John Dolmayan, a comic book dealer and the drummer for the band System of a Down (who says he bought the comic for a client). About 100 copies of this issue (Action Comics No. 1) are known to exist.

- Rare Book Review reports that author Graham Swift's personal archive has found a home at the British Library, and the LATimes adds that Aldous Huxley's literary papers are going to UCLA.

- David Mehegan has some questions (but no tough ones) to Joyce Lee Malcolm about her new book Peter's War.

- Early machines, from BibliOdyssey.

- Laura's got a Scientific American slideshow of some of the anatomy illustrations she's been studying - very cool!

- The Houston Chronicle reported recently that an early Texas document (an order to print copies of the Texas Declaration of Independence) has been rediscovered and returned to the Texas state archives. [h/t Everett Wilkie, who comments "For once a story with a non-controversial, happy ending."]

- Bibliophile Richard Prince is denying reports that he is in negotiations with the Morgan Library to donate his collection: he tells ArtInfo "I have never talked to anybody at the Morgan about this possibility and have never talked to any reporter about this possibility."

- I'm jumping into this controversy mid-battle, but Lawrence Lessig and Michael Eisen have taken on a great fight against John Conyers over copyright. Lots of links to background at the bottom of that article.

- This is a little ridiculous. A paperback copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone sold for $19,120 at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas.

- The Typefoundry blog examines a Bodoni mystery.


- Drood and The Last Dickens are jointly reviewed in The Independent. Seems like this always happens with Matthew Pearl: The Poe Shadow came out at just about the same time as The Pale Blue Eye, too. Weird.

- Eric Ormsby reviews Anthony Grafton's Worlds Made By Words in the WSJ. I didn't know Grafton had a new one out ... can't wait!

- James McConnachie reviews Andrew Robinson's Lost Languages in the Times.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

This Week's Acquisitions (and Last)

Wow, I'm definitely behind on these. Lots of new arrivals:

- This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust (Vintage, 2009). Border's.

Personal Archives and a New Archival Calling: Readings, Reflections and Ruminations by Richard J. Cox (Litwin Books, 2009). Publisher.

Eugene Morel: Pioneer of Public Libraries in France by Gaetan Benoit (Litwin Books, 2008). Publisher.

Library Daylight: Traces of Modern Librarianship, 1874-1922; edited by Rory Litwin (Library Juice Press, 2006). Publisher.

Restoring Order: The Ecole des Chartes and the Organization of Archives and Libraries in France, 1820-1870 by Lara Jennifer Moore (Litwin Books, 2008). Publisher.

From Polders to Postmodernism: A Concise History of Archival Theory by John Ridener (Litwin Books, 2009). Publisher.

Peter Mark Roget: The Man Who Became a Book by Nick Rennison (Pocket Essentials, 2007). Edward R. Hamilton.

North-East Passage to Muscovy: Stephen Borough and the First Tudor Explorations by Kit Mayers (Sutton, 2005). Edward R. Hamilton.

Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World by Dan Koeppel (Hudson Street, 2007). Edward R. Hamilton.

The Painter's Chair: George Washington and the Making of American Art by Hugh Howard (Bloomsbury, 2009). Publisher.

The Last Divine Office: Henry VIII and the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Geoffrey Moorhouse (Bluebridge, 2009). Publisher.

The Atlantic Enlightenment; edited by Susan Manning and Francis D. Cogliano (Ashgate, 2008). Publisher.

Robert Fludd: Hermetic Philosopher and Surveyor of Two Worlds by Joscelyn Godwin (Phanes Press, 1991). Edward R. Hamilton.

Henry Hobson Richardson and the Small Public Library in America: A Study in Typology by Kenneth A. Breisch (MIT Press, 2003). Edward R. Hamilton.

William Macgillivray: Creatures of Air, Land and Sea by Robert Ralph (Merrell, 2000). Edward R. Hamilton.

A Speaking Aristocracy: Transforming Public Discourse in Eighteenth-Century Connecticut by Christopher Grasso (University of North Carolina Press, 1999). Edward R. Hamilton.

Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin by Nicholas Ostler (Walker & Co., 2007). Edward R. Hamilton.

Lincoln's Smile and Other Enigmas by Alan Trachtenberg (Hill and Wang, 2007). Edward R. Hamilton.

The Great Shakespeare Fraud: The Strange, True Story of William-Henry Ireland by Patricia Pierce (Sutton, 2004). Edward R. Hamilton.

The Pagan Dream Of The Renaissance by Joscelyn Godwin (Weiser, 2005). Edward R. Hamilton.

Young Patriots: The Remarkable Story of Two Men, Their Impossible Plan and The Revolution That Created The Constitution by Charles A. Cerami (Sourcebooks, 2005). Edward R. Hamilton.

London's Pleasures: From Restoration to Regency by David Kerr Cameron (Sutton, 2001). Edward R. Hamilton.

The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon by John Ferling (Bloomsbury, 2009). Publisher.

The Library in Colonial New York by Austin Baxter Keep (Burt Franklin, 1970). Colophon.

Ronald Brunlees McKerrow: A Selection of his Essays; edited by John Phillip Immroth (Scarecrow Press, 1974). Colophon.

Thomas Frognall Dibdin: Selections; edited by Victor E. Neuberg (Scarecrow Press, 1978). Colophon.

More on Oregon Historical Society

The Oregon Historical Society's board of trustees announced on Friday that they have approved funding for "two additional positions which will enable OHS to provide access to archival collections, rare books, reference materials, and microfilm, in addition to photographs, films, and videos. These additional positions are funded through the end of May and may be renewed if funding is available. This brings total library staffing to the level of 4.5 positions." A new schedule of hours will be posted prior to the end of March.

The board's statement adds: "The Board of Trustees is actively in discussion with various entities about long-term solutions for the library. The Board understands that the library collections are a major resource for scholars and the general public alike. The Board also understands that the dedicated library staff members are an important and irreplaceable asset because of their specialized knowledge of the collections. No one on the Board feels that closure or heavily restricted hours of access to the library is an acceptable long-term solution.

All members of the Board urge citizens to make their views about the library and state funding known to their state legislators. The process of developing the 2009-11 state budget has begun in Salem, and now is the time for action."

The Oregonian has more, including a quote from OHS development and marketing director Sue Metzler: "There was quite a public outcry when access to the library was cut. This is not a situation that anyone likes."

Friday, March 13, 2009

Award Announcements

The National Books Critics Circle announced its 2008 awards earlier this week, drawing from the finalists listed back in January. Winners were:

- Nonfiction: Dexter Filkins, The Forever War.
- Biography: Patrick French, The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul.
- Autobiography: Ariel Sabar, My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq.
- Criticism: Seth Lerer, Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter.
- Fiction: Roberto Bolaño, 2666.
- Poetry (two awards, a first): August Kleinzahler, Sleeping It Off in Rapid City and Juan Felipe Herrera, Half the World in Light.

And on Tuesday, the New-York Historical Society announced that Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering won its fourth annual American History Book Prize.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

More on that Colonial Mug

On Sunday I passed along a link to a Globe story about a colonial-era mug recently acquired by the MFA after it was discovered in an abandoned safe deposit box. J.L. Bell has some questions about the story as it appears in the article, particularly about the connection to the Auchmuty family. While the Auchmuty family motto is on the mug ("Dum spiro spero," "While I breathe, I hope"), and presumably the crest is theirs as well, Bell suggests (and I agree), that given the silversmith's death in 1741, the mug was probably made for Robert Auchmuty Senior (d. 1750), rather than for his son (also Robert, d. 1788).

Bell's got several other really good points: he points out that in the movie accompanying the article, MFA curator Gerry Ward notes "that the initials on the mug’s bottom are 'M over T E,' and obviously expects those to be the initials of its first owner." But if that's what they are, who's this M over T E character?

Bell also questions the chronology, and again I think he's correct in suggesting this mug probably came into the possession of Thaddeus Mason Harris not during the Revolution but probably later in his life.

As usual, some great historical mythbusting, and some more good questions to track down.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Book Review: "Lost for Words"

Any fan of lexicographical histories (Chasing the Sun, Caught in the Web of Words, &c.) should be sure to read Lynda Mugglestone's Lost for Words: The Hidden History of the Oxford English Dictionary (Yale, 2005). Drawing extensively on the OED Archives at Oxford University Press and on James Murray's papers at the Bodleian, Mugglestone digs deep into the inner workings of the Dictionary's editorial team. This effort, she writes, "provide[s] a collective history for the making of the OED which ... can serve to change a number of conventional images" (p. xix).

Mugglestone's use of archival materials, particularly the printed proof sheets of the first edition of the OED, is absolutely fascinating. She uses these preliminary drafts to examine editorial decisions and squabbles as Murray and his team sought to fulfill their task as completely as possible while meeting the practical demands of print publication.

A major point, if an implicit one, of this book is that lexicographers are people too. Johnson's humanity may have been more overtly evident (see "oats," "lexicographer," &c.), but the OED's editors suffered the same dilemmas. Aplaintife had been overlooked in the publication of the first installment of the dictionary, so naturally a quote including that word couldn't be used to illustrate the use of garnishee, could it? (Another quote from the same year was found) (p. 53-4).

The editorial changes made during the proof-reading process were extensive: as Murray scanned the pages he frequently suggested changes to the text, as evidenced by greased pole. Henry Bradley's original draft definition was "a pole rubbed with grease to make it harder to cling to." Murray scrawled in the margin of the proof that something to the effect of "used as a frequent object of diversion at sport etc." would have to be added, otherwise "it looks as if people were so keen on climbing poles that they had to be kept at a distance by the use of grease" (p. 60). The edit was made.

Some of the other topics covered by Mugglestone are the applications of qualifying terms like "rare," "obsolete," "vulgar," &c., which were inherently subjective. I laughed out loud at Murray's refusal to admit that "fray" as a verb ("to frighten or scare away") was obsolete. In fact he used the word in his definition of the verb "huff" ("to fray by calling 'huff'"). He wrote to Bradley "My impression (subject to correction) is that [fray] is the ordinary word for 'to frighten away birds by shouting or with a rattle' .... It is my natural word for this" (p. 160-61). Murray lost that battle, though, and had to accept fray's obsolete status and change his definition of huff (which ended up reading "to scare away by calling 'huff'").

Finally, Mugglestone examines the work to supplement the dictionary (which basically began as soon as the first fascicle was published and continued throughout the publication process and beyond) and the brave new world of digital lexicography (without the limitations of the printed page, but with so many other challenges).

A great read, often amusing and always illuminating.

McSweeney's Sale!

The good folks at McSweeney's are having a sale. And it's a nice one. Lots of books, magazines, and other goodies at rock-bottom prices. Check it out. It only lasts three days.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Book Review: "This Republic of Suffering"

Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering offers a bold new perspective on the Civil War, examining that terrible conflict through the lens of the more than 600,000 deaths which resulted from it. In a series of gripping and compelling chapters, Faust covers every conceivable angle of death as it was, from the ways in which technological and tactical changes led to significant increases in killing power to the ways in which the American understanding of death had to change in order to encompass the relentless torrent.

Other topics covered include the use of propaganda to portray the enemy as "the other" (a time-honored tradition to help soldiers cope with the idea of killing people), military burial practice in policy and practice, the impact of Civil War deaths on civilian families, the identification of casualties, various rituals of death and mourning, and the philosophical doubt about life and death which began to creep into the American mind and literary canon as a result of the war.

Not an easy book to read, but one well worth reading. One of the best classes I took in college was on the history of death in America, and this book will, I'm sure, find its way onto the reading list for that course and others like it.

Notes on Bermuda

As I mentioned last week, I recently spent a few days in Bermuda, before coming back to Boston where I was greeted this morning with a nice fresh blast of winter. The weather-makers have a sick sense of humor sometimes.

I spent about half of each day (Thursday through Saturday) attending conference panels, all of which were fascinating. Some of those I heard were "Slavery and Religious Practices in the Atlantic World," "The Collector in the Americas,"Bermudians in the Early-Modern Atlantic World, 1609-1775", "Manuscripts in an Age of Print," and "Marginal Orthodoxies in Colonial New England." There were many more I would have liked to hear, but for scheduling conflicts and the burnout factor (after half a day of panels, I was ready for some outside time). The panel I was on, "Transatlantic Cultures of Print and Exchange" was quite nicely attended, worked really well, and my paper seemed well received.

The other half-days, including Wednesday afternoon when we first arrived, I gave over to exploring the island. A bunch of us went up to St. George (the first capital of Bermuda, and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and walked around there, and I spent much time wandering around looking at botanical gardens and national parks and beaches and things, as well as the interesting sites in and around Hamilton, the capital. I've posted a whole slew of pictures (probably way more than anyone really wants to see), here.

The weather was lovely (aside from a few passing showers which appeared out of nowhere and were gone just as quickly), with temperatures in the high 50s or low 60s most days, with a pleasant breeze (just my kind of weather, really). The Bermudians thought it cold, and kept asking me if I was freezing when I walked around in shirtsleeves. When I said I was from Boston they laughed in understanding. I found all the people there unfailingly nice and wonderful to talk to: I had a great chat with an elderly lady as we waited for a ferry, and a friend and I learned a great deal from two Azorean laborers working in Bermuda on landscaping projects.

The food was a bit pricey, but I highly recommend the fish chowder, which was delicious. The tap water (all gathered from rainwater, since there is no source of fresh water on the islands) was very nice as well. The conference organizers had arranged several receptions for us, including one at the Hamilton City Hall, another at the (excellent) Bermuda Maritime Museum at the Royal Navy Dockyard, and a closing event at Bacardi world headquarters (which some of us took to calling the "Bacardi Party"). The premier of Bermuda, Dr. Ewart Brown, spoke briefly at the final event.
I had a delightful time with the conference folks: it was great to see old friends from MHS and elsewhere, and to meet new people from around the country (and Boston in particular!) who are doing fascinating work.

All in all, a fascinating experience and a great vacation. I even found time to see seven new bird species, which was several more than I expected to get out of this trip. As we were taking the cab back to the airport to come home, the driver said to everyone "That guy in the middle [me], he must have had a good time, he's had a grin plastered on his face since the moment I saw him." Not too far from the truth, that.

Perhaps it's needless to say that aside from the plane rides I didn't get too much reading done, nor did I buy any books while there, since the few bookshops either weren't open when I visited or didn't have anything that struck my fancy. I did finish one book and start another, but that was the extent of it. There were too many new things to see and do.

Anyway, back to it now, but if you're looking for a place to visit, I highly recommend giving Bermuda a shot. Nice two-hour flight from Boston, great hotels, friendly people, and scenery to soak in endlessly. I'm already thinking about research projects that might enable me to get back there sooner rather than later. And several of us suggested to the SEA folks that having the meeting in Bermuda every four years might not be a bad idea!

Fire at Philly's Frankford Arsenal

Just getting word of a fire this morning at the Frankford Arsenal in Philadelphia, which houses the Philadelphia Rare Books & Manuscripts Company. Fire companies were alerted at 2:30 this morning, and the extent of the damage is unknown.

The folks there are good friends to the book world, and their offerings are always marvelous. I can only say that I hope this isn't as serious as it sounds, and I hope all of them are safe.

[Update: Things were pretty bad. Cynthy Buffington, one of the owners, reported to Ex-Libris last night that some books were lost, along with some structure and their two beloved cats, Sessa and Thalia. Thankfully none of the staff were injured.]

Shakespeare Portrait Found?

Big news from the Shakespeare world today, as a senior scholar "unveils" a portrait he believes to be that of the Bard, dating from c. 1610. Stanley Wells, professor emeritus of Shakespeare Studies at Birmingham University, says that after three years of research he's convinced that the painting, owned by the Cobbe family, represents Shakespeare at about 46 years of age. Wells, the chair of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, said of the painting: "The evidence that it represents Shakespeare and that is was done from life, though it is circumstantial, is in my view overwhelming. I feel in little doubt that this is a portrait of Shakespeare, done from life."

The current owner, Alec Cobbe, noticed what he thought was as copy of his family's painting in a National Portrait Gallery exhibit several year ago, "Searching for Shakespeare." He asked Wells to assist in authenticating the painting, and they had the portrait subjected to a battery of tests, the results of which, Wells says, make a decent case that this is the real deal (and the source for several copies).

Some paintings in the Cobbe family collection once belonged to the Earl of Southampton, a known Shakespeare patron, although it is not known if this particular one did.

The portrait will be temporarily displayed at the Shakespeare Birthplace in Stratford-on-Avon beginning next month, according to media reports.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Links & Reviews

Back from Bermuda! I'll have a full post on that with pictures and all later on tonight or tomorrow, but in the meantime, a belated links & reviews (because the overflowing Google Reader hurts my brain):

- From BibliOdyssey, artillery illustrations.

- The March Fine Books Monthly is up, so be sure to check that out at your leisure.

- There's a long article in the Financial Times about why people steal rare books. I'll probably have more on this later, but I pass it along now at any rate.

- Cool story in the Globe today about a colonial-era silver mug recently given to the MFA.

- The building housing the Historic Archive of the city of Cologne partially collapsed on Tuesday, trapping as many as three people and possibly causing great damage to the collections. Reuters: "The building was one of the biggest archives of its kind in Germany. Among its 65,000 documents were some dating back more than 1,000 years. The archive also housed half a million photos chronicling life in Cologne." More at Der Spiegel, Iconic Books, and at the Guardian on the loss of Heinrich Böll's papers, which were just received by the archive in February.

- My alma mater has put together a spiffy little video on the campus' historic design and its designer, the French architect Joseph Jacques Ramée.

- The LATimes has announced the finalists for its 2008 book awards. The winners will be announced on 24 April.

- In Slate, Paul Collins writes about Amazon's lack of charitable contributions. Doesn't buying Beedle the Bard count? That all went to charity, didn't it?

- Cass Sunstein writes on the Federalist Papers in the NYRB, and also in the NYRB is an exchange among several folks about Darnton's recent piece there.

- The Times reports that bibliophile Richard Prince is looking to give away a massive collection of books "about sex, drugs, Beat [poets], hippies, punks – and great reads," as he puts it. The Morgan Library is reportedly in negotiations to obtain Prince's library.

- A very cool site from the folks at George Mason University's Center and History and New Media: Papers of the War Department, 1784-1800. Backstory here. [h/t BU Libraries Special Collections]

- Word this week from Terry Belanger that two of G. Thomas Tanselle's classic seminar syllabi (to Introduction to Bibliography and Introduction to Scholarly Editing) are available on the Rare Book School website in PDF form.

- Via VSL:Web, Zamzar, an online program to convert files from one type to another (a huge variety of types, too!). Nifty.


- Steven Johnson's The Invention of Air is reviewed in the Philly Inquirer.

- In the NYTimes, Baz Dreisinger reviews Martha Sandweiss' Passing Strange, a new biography of Clarence King.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Off to Bermuda!

I'm headed out early tomorrow morning for a trip to Bermuda, where I will attend the Society of Early Americanists' biennial conference. I'm looking forward to hearing papers by some great folks as well as doing some historical sightseeing, a little bit of birding and having a mini-vacation in the process. I'll also be giving a paper there on Saturday morning, "The Transatlantic Book Purchases of Union College, 1796-97" (an offshoot of the thesis).

Bermuda's one of those places I've wanted to go for a long time (I think Disney's "The Sword in the Stone" might have something to do with that), so I was really happy to have a paper accepted, which provided a handy excuse for a visit.

Depending on Internet accessibility I may or may not post while I'm away; either way, I'll be back on Sunday afternoon and will at least post the week's links and reviews then (plus pictures).

My travel reading will be:
- Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello
- Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering
Lynda Mugglestone, Lost for Words: The Hidden History of the OED
Colin Woodard, The Republic of Pirates

Arizona's Turn

The dominoes continue to fall. This from the Arizona State Library Archives and Public Records Division: "On March 4, the Polly Rosenbaum State Archives and History Building Reading and Meeting rooms will be temporarily closed due to budget reductions. Archives staff will continue to receive materials for the collections and will assist with research by prior appointment or in emergencies. Non-emergency, email, and telephone messages will be answered as time permits in the order received."

Oregon New Jersey Pennsylvania Arizona

Recent Google Book Settlement News

Two bits of news from the giant Google Books settlement:

- GalleyCat reports that the Authors Guild has "disclosed the individual pay-outs that writers would receive from Google for scanning 7 million books: they will earn between $60 and $300 for each book scanned by the company." The email from the Authors Guild to its members was posted by Gawker (here).

- More importantly, Library Journal reports that the American Library Association (ALA), the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), and the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) will file an amicus brief with the court charged with handling the settlement. The brief will be written by Jonathan Band, whose "Guide to the Perplexed" is required reading for anyone interested in all this crazy business. The brief will "amplify for the court concerns library leaders voiced at recent meeting in Washington, D.C.", according to the report. ARL associate executive director Prue Adler said the brief "will not object to or urge rejection of the settlement, but would file a thoughtful brief that urges the court to address library concerns."

Monday, March 02, 2009

Book Review: "I Am Murdered"

Did you know that a signer of the Declaration of Independence was murdered? If not, Bruce Chadwick's I Am Murdered: George Wythe, Thomas Jefferson, and the Killing That Shocked a New Nation (Wiley, 2009) might be a book to add to your reading list. Wythe, a towering figure in the Virginia of the late colonial and early national periods, who counted among his pupils such leaders as Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and Henry Clay, was poisoned by his grandnephew in the summer of 1806, and Chadwick's book seeks to bring that twisted tale to light.

There are several excellent parts of this book. Chadwick is at his best when recounting the details of Wythe's long legal and political career, as well as his unorthodox but innovative and successful educational methods (which included the use of moot courts and legislatures as a way to bring law and politics to life for his students). His depiction of Wythe's longstanding relationships with many of his former students reveals just how important his influence was to an entire generation of Virginia's leaders.

The majority of the book, however, suffers from a severe lack of organization. Chadwick's narrative bounces the reader back and forth relentlessly: in one four-page chapter, for example, we are taken from 1806 to 1783 to 1794, then suddenly back to the 1760s (from which we pick up at the start of the next chapter in 1791). I had to put the book down a few times to calm an acute case of chronological whiplash. Unfortunately Chadwick also feels the need to pad the story (utterly fascinating and macabre in its own right) with lengthy digressions on such topics as Virginia's cities, gambling in antebellum America, and slave rebellions, as well as histories of poisoning, autopsies, and medical education. During the course of all this the author makes a great many speculative leaps, or at least one has to assume they're leaps, since there are no footnotes to suggest otherwise (the footnotes that are provided are good, but many more are needed).

Better editing would have cured many of the problems with Chadwick's book, and it's a shame they didn't, because there is a great story hiding within. Wythe's murderer, his teenage miscreant grandnephew George Wythe Sweeney, escapes the gallows after a trio of Virginia's best doctors "completely botch" the autopsy (Chadwick's words) and judges refuse to allow the eyewitness testimony of Wythe's freed black cook, Lydia Broadnax, as well as several slaves who witnessed Sweeney acting suspiciously.

A fascinating and horrifying episode in the history of the early republic is brought to light with this slightly flawed book.

Book Review: "Napoleon's Pyramids"

William Dietrich's Napoleon's Pyramids (Harper, 2007) makes for a perfectly suitable diversion on a late winter snow day. In fact, I read the whole thing over the course of an afternoon. A good old-fashioned adventure tale, complete with a hapless (and slightly thickheaded) hero, a sinister serpent-themed lurker, a mysterious female, and some sort of mysterious object that seems to wreak havoc wherever it goes.

Throw in Napoleon's invasion of Egypt and his merry band of savants, and you've got yourself a good story. Our protagonist, naturally, feels compelled to solve the mystery of the strange medallion that brings him and those around him nothing but trouble (and snakes), and various Indiana Jones-like capers ensue.


NJ Historical Society Ends Public Hours

Yet another state historical society down. Beginning on 17 February the New Jersey Historical Society in Newark closed its library indefinitely, furloughing staff for an undetermined period. The research library will now be open only by appointment.

The oldest cultural organization in New Jersey, the historical society was founded in 1845. Its library houses the "largest and finest collection of New Jersey-related material in existence."

[h/t Jonathan Rose]

Oregon New Jersey

Providence Athenaeum: Founders' Library

Last weekend at the LT cataloging party we met John Chiafalo, a big fan of the Providence Athenaeum. John told me about a very interesting collection at the Athenaeum, their Founders' Collection. These are the books which survived a 1758 fire that destroyed most of the original collection of the Providence Library Company (which merged with the Providence Athenaeum in 1836).

John had started an LT profile for the Founders' Collection a year ago, but had run into the difficulties finding correct editions and so forth, so I offered to give him a hand and finish it off. I took advantage of this morning's snow day to do that, and am happy to report that the sixty-eight titles known to have survived the fire are now completely entered. Thirty-one of those still remain in the Athenaeum's care today (those will include a call number in the Comments field).

I added a notation to each record giving its listing in the 1768 catalogue of the Providence Library, which includes the price originally paid for each book. John reports that he may also add photographs of the books to their LT records as well.

Completely incidentally, there is a very nice piece in today's Providence Journal about the Athenaeum and its holdings.