Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Audubon Institute at IU

Twenty high school teachers from around the country will attend a four-week institute at the University of Indiana at Bloomington, "Picturing John James Audubon."

The institute, funded by a $200,000 NEH grant and directed by Christoph Irmscher, will "feature experts on Audubon, American art and natural history. In addition to becoming immersed in all things related to Audubon, the institute's ... attendees will hone their own writing skills under the tutelage of three award-winning authors who are institute faculty members -- renowned writer Scott Russell Sanders, author of, most recently, A Private History of Awe; poet Dave Smith, chairman of the Hopkins Writing Seminar; and Canadian novelist Katherine Govier, author of Creation, a novel about Audubon. Also participating in the institute will be PBS filmmakers Diane Garey and Larry Hott, who directed Drawn from Nature, an 'American Masters' documentary about Audubon."

Many of the events and classes will be held at IU's Lilly Library, which houses a remarkable collection of Audubon materials (including a double elephant Birds). Participants will also be able to visit nearby Audubon-related locations (including Henderson, KY and Cincinnati, OH). The teachers come from a variety of disciplines (school librarians, science, history, art and literature teachers).

What a fabulous idea!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Links & Reviews

- Maira Kalman has a very nice post, "Time Wastes Too Fast," at her NYT blog. An interesting look at Jefferson and his legacy.

- Mega-publisher Elzevir's in trouble again, for offering $25 gift cards (plus a free copy of the book!) to contributors (or their friends) who would give one of their new titles a five-star review on Amazon. The company says such practices are "not their policy." [h/t librarian.net]

- From Strange Maps, Kircher's chart of Atlantis.

- Longtime Salt Lake City bookseller Sam Weller died this week at age 88. There is a very nice obituary in the SLC Tribune.

- A massive collection of John Updike material has come onto the market, Book Patrol reports. More than 500 books and other items, collected over three decades.

- In the Projo today, a profile of the PPL's special collections.

- Apropos of many conversations this week, J.L. Bell's got a post highlighting Jefferson's list of recommended reading for his friend Robert Skipwith. I've been thinking alot about this list lately. It'd be kind of fun to read all these titles today and see how they've held up, I think. ... You know, in my spare time.


- Ian Tattersall reviews Colin Tudge's The Link in the TLS. He's not convinced. Guy Gugliotta reviews the same book in the WaPo.

- Also in the WaPo, A.J. Jacobs reviews Arika Okrent's In the Land of Invented Languages.

- Alexander Nazaryan reviews Christopher Beha's The Whole Five Feet for the NYTimes (a memoir of reading the Harvard Classics).

- Carlos Ruis Zafon's The Angel's Game is reviewed by Terrence Rafferty in the NYTimes.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

This Week's Acquisitions

A box of wonderful goodies arrived from Colophon Books this week:

- Robert Dodsley: Poet, Publisher & Playwright by Ralph Straus (Burt Franklin, 1968). Colophon.

Forged Documents: Proceedings of the 1989 Houston Conference; edited by Pat Bozeman (Oak Knoll, 1990). Colophon.

Printing and Society in Early America; edited by William L. Joyce, David D. Hall, Richard D. Brown, and John B. Hench (American Antiquarian Society, 1983). Colophon.

A Directory of Printing, Publishing, Bookselling & Allied Trades in Rhode Island to 1865 by H. Glenn Brown (New York Public Library, 1958). Colophon.

The Family Romance of the Impostor-Poet Thomas Chatterton by Louise J. Kaplan (University of California Press, 1989). Colophon.

- The first printing in Jamaica ... with a discussion of the date of the first establishment of a press on the Island by Robert Baldwin. With a facsimile of the earliest extant Jamaican imprint, the second edition of the Pindarique Ode, the only known copy of which is preserved in Chetham's Library, Manchester, England; by Douglas C. McMurtrie (Priv. pr., 1942). Colophon.

- Charles Thomas Jackson: The Head Behind the Hands by Richard J. Wolfe and Richard Patterson (Norman Publishing, 2007). Book cart.

- Desolation Island by Patrick O'Brian (W. W. Norton, 1991). Commonwealth.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Book Review: "Letter Perfect"

David Sacks' Letter Perfect: The Marvelous History of Our Alphabet From A to Z (Broadway, 2004) is a letter-by-letter history and examination of the English alphabet. Sacks offers an evolutionary history of each letter as it has come down to us, and a cultural study of the letter's usages (and misusages) over time. It is, for the most part, fairly interesting, but I think if I were reading it again I would not have tried to read it straight through, but rather picked it up on occasion and read just a section or two. I found it got rather repetitive by about halfway in, and pretty much stopped caring by the time I got to R and S. What is here, though, is good: pronunciation shifts, changes in letter shapes and meanings over time, additions and subtractions of letters, &c.

Interspersed with the letter-sections are digressive sidebars on the history of writing and print, which when set off work fine, but when they force you to break out of the narrative (without convenient stopping points) I didn't particularly enjoy them. And the complete lack of citations was tricky - since I confess I don't know all that much about the minute details of alphabetical evolution, I would have preferred to know the sources of Sacks' pronouncements (there is, to be fair, a lengthy bibliography, but one wouldn't really know where to start with that).

Generally, an entirely adequate introduction to the subject (at least so far as I can tell).

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Another Big Declaration Day!

Well yesterday must have been a pretty exciting day at Christie's New York.

As expected, pride of place in the Fine Printed Books & Manuscripts, Including Americana sale was Lot 66, the first Boston printing of the Declaration of Independence, printed by John Gill, and Powars and Willis (c. 17 July 1776). This edition, of which just six copies are known (MHS, Bostonian Society, BPL, UVa and two in private hands) is the same as that which sold at Skinner in November 2007 for $693,500 ... this particular copy - which is in notably better shape than the Skinner copy - was previously sold at Sotheby's in May 1990. Christie's had put an estimate for this sale at $450,000-650,000, and that proved low: the final price realized was $722,500. No word yet on the buyer.

Other things sold fairly well too: an archive of Edith Wharton materials made $182,500; Washington's manuscript map of Mount Vernon fetched $116,500; the early edition of Champlain's voyages $68,500; the complete first octavo edition of Audubon's Birds of America didn't sell, but the imperfect copy of the same, sold by the Montclair Art Museum went for $37,500; the Lincoln assassination reward poster sold for $40,000; and the 1846 anastatic copy of the Declaration of Independence sold for the low end of the estimate at $25,000.

The Ethan Allen letter to Crevecoeur I mentioned here, and another Washington manuscript, are not mentioned among the results.

Book Review: "The First Printing in Jamaica"

Douglas McMurtrie's 1942 pamphlet The first printing in Jamaica consists of a short essay by McMurtrie on the roots of printing on the island of Jamaica, followed by a four-page facsimile of the earliest extant example of Jamaican printing, the second edition of A Pindaric Ode on the Arrival of his Excellency Sir Nicholas Lawes, Governor of Jamaica, &c.

McMurtrie argues that previous interpretations of the precise timing of the establishment of the first press in Jamaica (Robert Baldwin's) are not quite right, and bases his new timeline on the 1936 discovery of the two earliest known issues of The Weekly Jamaica Courant, the first newspaper printed on the island. Numbers 10 and 11 of the paper (30 July 1718 and 5 August 1718) were discovered in the British Museum collections as part of a binding, and this allowed the date of the first number to be extrapolated as 28 May 1718.

Governor Lawes - who had in October 1717 suggested to the Council of Trade and Plantations that a press ought to be established in Jamaica - arrived on the island in March or April 1718, and McMurtrie suggests that perhaps Baldwin and the first Jamaican printing press accompanied the governor to his post. He agrees with previous writers that the Pindarique Ode was the first job printed in the colony, with this second edition following very soon thereafter (the only known copy being regarded as the "earliest extant independent issue of the press in Jamaica").

Printed on large, high-quality paper, this is a pleasing production.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Dispatch from RBMS

Ian's got today's must-read post, a recap of this year's meeting of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) in Charlottesville. A great way to be at the conference for those of us who couldn't make it (plus he and the family did some very cool touring before and after).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Adams-Jefferson Conference Day 3

The Boston leg of the Adams-Jefferson Libraries conference concluded today, with two panels at the BPL. Richard Ryerson, Keith Thomson and Brian Steele gave papers this morning on "Adams, Jefferson, and Nationalism," and Joanne Freeman commented. In the afternoon there was a panel on "Libraries and the Enlightenment," which featured Frank Shuffelton and Billy Wayson, with comment by Mary Kelley.

The papers today were intentionally provocative, in some ways raised more questions than than answered. They all prompted good discussions. There were some amusing moments: Keith Thomson, in speaking about Jefferson's defense of the Americas against Buffon, commented on the relative warmth of Europe and North America, noting "in fact if Franklin hadn't discovered the Gulf Stream, all of Europe would be quite uninhabitable."

And I think today was probably the only time John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Klingons have been discussed in the same conversation - that came about in a discussion of cosmology and Ryerson's suggestion that Adams believed it quite possible that there was life on other planets. He quoted JA's diary for 25 April 1756: "Astronomers tell us, with good Reason, that not only all the Planets and Satellites in our Solar System, are inhabited, but all the unnumbered Worlds that revolve round the fixt Starrs are inhabited, as well as this Globe of Earth. If this is the Case all Mankind are no more in comparison of the whole rational Creation of God, than a point to the Orbit of Saturn. Perhaps all these different Ranks of Rational Beings have in a greater or less Degree, committed moral Wickedness. If so, I ask a Calvinist, whether he will subscribe to this Alternitive, 'either God almighty must assume the respective shapes of all these different Species, and suffer the Penalties of their Crimes, in their Stead, or else all these Beings must be consigned to everlasting Perdition?'" Hence, would Christ have to appear as a Klingon too for them to be saved? Probably more a thought experiment than anything else, but a very interesting one indeed.

Again, all the papers are available here, and the commenters' remarks are going to be uploaded as well (in addition, which I did not know until today, the panels were taped, and audio files of them will be edited and made available online as well, so I'll certainly note when they go live).

Following the afternoon session we bussed to Quincy to the Adams National Historical Park, to see the house lived in by several generation of Adamses. Since I (for shame) had never been, I figured what better time to go than with a group of big fans? That was a delightful little trip, and a fitting send-off for the conference. The second leg resumes in Charlottesville, VA on Thursday afternoon with a keynote address by former Sen. Gary Hart. I've got to go back to the real world tomorrow so I will miss the second section of the conference, but will look forward to the audio of the discussions and will remember the Boston leg very fondly.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Adams-Jefferson Conference Day 2

It's all Adams and Jefferson all the time for me, at least for the first part of this week. It's remarkably strange to be totally away from the computer for half a day or a full day at a time - makes one realize just how much one relies of it for things. News, email, Google Reader, even Twitter ... trying to catch up with all those things after eight or nine hours away from them is a daunting task. But well worth it today, after an absolutely top-notch full day of panel discussions, tours and other assorted events.

We began this morning at the BPL with a panel discussion on "Adams and Jefferson as Book Collectors," starring Beth Prindle, David Emblidge, and Kevin Hayes (with comments by Marcus McCorison). Each of them briefly recapped their papers (which you can read here), and then we had a wide-ranging discussion about the striking differences between the two men when it came to collecting (TJ was fairly particular, JA not so much), their acquisition habits, their motivations behind building libraries, &c.

Following the panel Beth and a colleague led tours of the BPL's McKim building and of the John Adams Library there at the library, and when the group reconvened at 2 we met at the MHS for a second panel discussion, "Libraries, Law, and Political Philosophy." David Konig, Gregg Lint, and Richard Bernstein each discussed their papers, and Mary Sarah Bilder delivered comments. Another very fascinating discussion ensued, about the ways in which legal thinking and writing shaped and was shaped by TJ, JA and their reading.

At 4 p.m. my colleagues and I made brief introductions to the Adams and Jefferson collections at the MHS (we have the largest Adams papers collection and one of the largest Jefferson collections), and then we unveiled the exhibition, which I think people seemed to enjoy quite well.

Tomorrow, panels on nationalism and the Enlightenment, which promise to be just as enthralling.

What's really remarkable to me about the conference, even beyond the good discussions, is having so many Adams and Jefferson scholars in the same room at the same time. It's a tremendous group of people, all of whom love to talk and share stories and experiences about their time spent studying Jefferson and Adams and their books. Where else could something like this happen? I'm sure I haven't managed to convey the fun of it all, but it's really a delight.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Adams-Jefferson Conference Kickoff

The first event of the John Adams & Thomas Jefferson: Libraries, Leadership and Legacy conference was held tonight: John Carter Brown library director Ted Widmer gave a keynote address titled "People of the Book: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and the Koran." Beginning with the fact that both Jefferson and Adams owned copies of the Koran (Jefferson's copy was a 1764 London edition of George Sale's translation; Adams' copy was the first American edition, printed at Springfield, MA in 1806), he discussed both the the particular aspects of their ownership of the book and the general topic of how Islam and the Koran were understood in early America.

A timely discussion, and very well researched. One of the best parts was Widmer's closing anecdote: when he visited the Library of Congress to examine Jefferson's Koran, another researcher was waiting to use it when he finished. It was a Muslim woman from Salt Lake City, who said she had read about Rep. Keith Ellison being sworn in on Jefferson's copy and wanted to see it for herself.

Tomorrow the panel discussions begin, and those promise to be interesting as well.

Links & Reviews

- There's an article in today's Globe about the Adams-Jefferson Libraries conference, which starts tonight at 5 p.m. with a speech by Ted Widmer at the BPL.

- Michael Suarez has been named the new head of Rare Book School, to succeed the retiring Terry Belanger. Suarez is currently J. A. Kavanaugh Professor of English at Fordham University and as Fellow and Tutor in English at Campion Hall, Oxford University, and the co-editor of The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, Volume 5, 1695-1830, to be published in September, and co-general editor of The Oxford Companion to the Book, expected in January 2010. Congratulations and good luck!

- Laura's got a great look at the topic of her dissertation, the Gildbook of the Barber-Surgeons of York and some other medieval medical texts.

- Ray Bradbury has taken to the barricades in support of library funding in California.

- Rick Ring posted a three-part transcription of Lawrence C. Wroth's 1939 series of articles "The Press in the United States: An Ideal Tercentenary Exhibition." Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. A delightful look at early printing in America.

- News this week that The Papers of Andrew Jackson will be added to the University of Virginia Press's Rotunda project, which offers digital editions of the papers of George Washington, the Adams family, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Dolley Madison, as well as the Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution. The seven already-published volumes of Jackson papers will soon appear in the digital clearinghouse.

- ALA President Jim Rettig requests feedback on the report [PDF] of the ALA's Special Education Task Force, as well as recent recommendations [PDF] on accreditation. Comments are being accepted via the new Standards Review blog.

- Not really bookish, but a good idea. Via Rabelais Books, word for folks in the Portland, ME area that they'll be able to join an apple CSA this fall: "Each share will include 30-40 varieties of rare, interesting and highly flavored apples over the course of the season with a wide range of uses, appearances, histories and tastes. Each week you will receive a mix of dessert apples (apples meant to be eaten fresh) and culinary apples." This sounds great, and I wish I lived close enough to Portland to take advantage of it!

- On the State Library of Massachusetts blog, special collections librarian Katie Chase writes about archivists and pencils. This post circulated around our department on Friday, since most of us also have our own little pencil quirks (my major ones include that the pencils left out for the readers to use must always be pointy-side up and extremely sharp, and that I pretty much always have to have a mechanical pencil somewhere on my person, since I'm less likely to stab myself with one of those). And I agree entirely with Katie - thumbs way down on electric pencil sharpeners.

- Over at The Millions, C. Max Magee takes a look at the Amazon Alphabet (the auto-fill suggestions that pop up in the search box when you type each letter). Very clever!

- The Guardian notes that the BL has digitized a large collection of 19th-century newspapers. Searches are free, but there is a fee for downloading.

- A copy of the first volume of the first collection edition of the Federalist Papers sold for $80,000 in an online auction this week. It had been purchased for $7 at a flea market nineteen years ago.

- In the Telegraph, Gary Dexter examines the origin of Swift's title Gulliver's Travels.


- William E. Cain reviews Jonathan Bate's Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare in the Boston Globe.

- In the WSJ, Aram Bakshian reviews Alex Storozynski's The Peasant Prince: Thaddeus Kosciuszko and the Age of Revolution.

- Gina Bellafante reviews The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet in the NYTimes.

This Week's Acquisitions

Here's what arrived this week:

- Bermuda in the Old Empire: A History of the Island from the Dissolution of the Somers Island Company until the End of the American Revolutionary War: 1684-1784 by Henry Campbell Wilkinson (Oxford University Press, 1950). Amazon (used).

The Fortune of War by Patrick O'Brian (W.W. Norton, 1991). Commonwealth.

A Son of Thunder: Patrick Henry and the American Republic by Henry Mayer (University Press of Virginia, 1992). Commonwealth.

Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750 by Jonathan I. Israel (Oxford University Press, 2002). Commonwealth.

Memoirs of the Year 2500 by Louis-Sebastien Mercier (A.M. Kelley Reprint, 1973). Amazon (used).

The Birth of Modern Politics: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and the Election of 1828 by Lynn Parsons (Oxford University Press, 2009). Brattle.

The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Doubleday, 2009). Border's.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Book Review: "The Devil's Company"

David Liss' Benjamin Weaver is back in action in The Devil's Company (forthcoming from Random House). I've enjoyed all three of the Weaver books (A Conspiracy of Paper, A Spectacle of Corruption are the two previous), but this one might be the best yet. Weaver unwittingly finds himself at the mercy of some shady characters who force him to involve himself with the inner workings of the British East India Company. As Weaver tries to extricate himself from their clutches in order to keep himself, his family and acquaintances out of debtors' prison (or worse), he's forced to realize that things are not always (or, in this case, pretty much never) what they seem. The reader (and Weaver) are kept guessing right until the last page.

As with its predecessors, this book is richly detailed and obviously painstakingly researched. Benjamin Weaver and his alter ego Elias Gordon are wonderful characters, written with a depth and wit that has begun to remind me a bit of O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin. It's always a delight to read Liss' works; I've said before and I'll say again that I think he's one of today's best writers of historical fiction.

Highly recommended.

Auction Report: Arader Sale Results

Yesterday's Graham Arader Sale at Sotheby's (discussed here) netted $3,259,884. There were 204 lots in the sale catalog, of which 167 are listed in the full results. Many of the expected highlights appear not to have sold: the 1513 Ptolemaic atlas; Redouté's Les Liliacées (1802-1816) and Les Roses (1817); a second edition of Catesby; a 1769 Bonner map of Boston; and Blaeu's 11-volume Atlas Major (1662-1665) are not listed among the results.

The highlights among those lots that did sell:

- An 1839 Robert Salmon oil painting, "Royal Naval Vessels Off Pembroke Dock, Milford Haven," made $242,500.

- A first American issue (pirated) of George Catlin's Indian Portfolio (1845) made $230,500.

- An unbroken copy of François Levaillant's Histoire naturelle des perroquets (Paris: 1801-05), made $194,500.

- Peter Rindisbacher's watercolor "Hunting the Bison" (1825) made $158,500.

- A Robert Havell, Jr. oil painting combining two of Audubon's most famous birds of prey (Red-tailed Hawk and Osprey) fetched $134,500.

- The Thomas Jeffreys American Atlas (1776) sold for $116,500.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

New Gutenberg Fragment Found

Earlier this month, an announcement was made that a previously unrecorded fragment of a Gutenberg Bible on vellum were found inside the binding of a breviary at the Bibliothèque municipale de Colmar, in France. The fragment is believed to have come from the nearby Benedictine abbey at Murbach.

Eric White, of the Bridwell Library, reported on Ex-Libris that the fragment includes text from the book of Micah.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Book Review: "The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane"

Add Katherine Howe's The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane (Voice, 2009) to the ever-expanding genre of books-in-which-a-lost-book-can-solve-a-mystery (most of which all of us biblio-folks will probably read no matter what anybody has to say about them). This is the only one I know of which tackles the Salem Witch Crisis, as protagonist Connie Goodwin (a Harvard Ph.D. candidate) finds herself drawn into a historical drama with very modern consequences for herself and those around her.

Mostly, I enjoyed this book. It's a good idea, and the way Howe handles flashbacks and historical interludes work. However, there are a few sections that seem rather overwritten, and there were times when I wanted to shake Ms. Goodwin for not getting the obvious clue that was staring her in the face. A supernatural element which rears its head late in the book was a bit much, and seemed not entirely necessary to the plot (to me, believable is almost always preferred). And I was slightly offended by her treatment of librarians, every single one of whom is portrayed as either inept, bored, rude, or a combination of the three - seems a bit harsh, really.

Howe's main theme is the (semi-rhetorical) question of what things might have been like if witchcraft (or something like it) had actually been practiced in Salem. Of course historian Chadwick Hansen made this argument in his 1969 book Witchcraft at Salem, which somehow goes unmentioned when Connie has to answer her advisor's question about the possibility that witchcraft had existed in Salem - when I heard Connie say that no one had made that argument since Cotton Mather, I cringed a bit. Aside from this, though, the way Howe handles the question is good, and she's right to ask the question of why the English tradition of "cunning women" does not seem to have existed in the American colonies.

All in all, a diverting read. It may not be the best of the bunch of this sort of book, but it certainly isn't the worst, either.

Auction Report: Upcoming

On 25 June, PBA Galleries will sell 131 lots of Fine Books and Manuscripts, including a first (English) edition of Moby-Dick ($80,000-120,000); an ornately-bound association copy of The Hobbit ($60,000-90,000); a 1483 edition of Aristotle's Organon ($15,000-25,000); and a great many other goodies.

A reminder that the day before, Christie's will be holding what promises to be the sale of the season (discussed here), with some more really amazing things.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Jefferson, Adams, and Books (Oh My!?)

I've a post up at The Beehive on some exciting upcoming events centered around the libraries of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, including the major national conference next week, an MHS exhibit, and the June Object of the Month.

Full disclosure: I had a little something to do with the latter two projects. But I hope you'll enjoy them anyway.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Links & Reviews

- More this week on the thefts from Kansas University's libraries, where pages from antique plate books are being ripped out (presumably to be sold). Midwestern librarians, be on the lookout for more of this - chances are pretty good that this is not an isolated incident.

- A Picasso notebook was stolen from a French museum this week.

- At Wynken de Worde, Sarah Werner writes about being a reader at rare book libraries. This week's must-read post.

- In his Fine Books blog, Nick Basbanes comments on his annual spring-bookshelf-weeding project.

- At first edition Origin of Species sold for £15,625 in Edinburgh this week.

- Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, Ronald Musto examines one of the major downsides to Google Book Search - its lack of quality control.

- Paul Collins notes that his next book proposal has been acquired by Harmony: it'll be called Murder of the Century, "about a Gilded Age homicide that sparked a tabloid war and led to the beginnings of modern forensics" (I'm guessing the Hawley Harvey Crippen case).

-Over at Boston 1775, John's been taking a look at the pre-Revolutionary Boston newspaper The Censor. First he examines the origins of the name, and then he looks at why the paper was doomed from the get-go. Earlier this week, John hopped into the fray over Bunker Hill Day and Evacuation Day, inserting some good sense and perspective into the conversation as always.


- Common-place has an "extra issue," released this week. It includes reviews of Thomas Truxes' Defying Empire, Vincent Brown's The Reaper's Garden, and Marcus Daniel's Scandal and Civility.

- In the WaPo, Michael Kazin reviews Simon Schama's The American Future: A History.

- There's a short review of Zafon's The Angel's Game in the Scotsman, and a longer review in the Telegraph by Lionel Shriver.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Book Review: "The Tainted Muse"

Robert Brustein, a theatre director and noted drama critic and author, tries to tackle the inner mind of Shakespeare in The Tainted Muse: Prejudice and Presumption in Shakespeare and His Time (Yale University Press, 2009). He examines six areas of Shakespeare's works (what he calls misogyny, effemiphobia, machismo, elitism and mobocracy, racialism and intelligent design), proposing that cases from each, "admittedly without conclusive proof ... may be the result of his personal convictions and experiences," as well as (in addition to) the cultural zeitgeist of his time.

Brustein notes at the outset that he "fully realize[s] the dangers of such an endeavor," recognizing A.D. Nuttall's frank conclusion in Shakespeare the Thinker that "we do not know what he [Shakespeare] thought, finally, about anything." But, he says, this doesn't stop us from speculating. It certainly doesn't in his case, as Brustein goes on to attempt to "draw a psychic biography of the man, examining how the obsessions of his characters and himself may have changed over the course of his career" (p. 9).

Through his six chapters, Brustein offers up examples which he suggests portray Shakespeare's personal feelings: toward faithless women, cowardly courtiers, manly soldier-types, the dangers of democracy and mob rule, racial minorities, and religious opinions. What he does not do (with the exception of alluding to Shakespeare's strained relations with his wife, and to Greenblatt's suggestion that Shakespeare's father might have been a Catholic) is connect these examples from Shakespeare's works with the biographical experiences which supposedly informed or shaped them. This is hardly surprising, since we don't know enough details about Shakespeare's life to make these connections. Tracking the changes in the author's views over the course of his career is interesting, but to prove his point, Brustein needs more confirmation than the historical record can provide. To his credit, he doesn't go further than the evidence warrants.

Book Review: "American Heroes"

American Heroes: Profiles of Men and Women Who Shaped Early America (W.W. Norton, 2009) is leading historian Edmund S. Morgan's new collection of (mostly) previously-published essays. Of his choices for inclusion, he writes "The people I have selected here, whether public heroes or simply my own favorites, have all surprised me in one way or another. Something about them has sent me looking at the records they left behind, often looking for a second time, having second thoughts" (p. xiii). He adds that he sees many of his characters as heroes or heroines by virtue of an "ability to say no ... in resistance to what society or its custodians demanded of them" (p. xiv).

The book, drawn as it is from very disparate essays, seems a bit of a hodgepodge. A chapter on Christopher Columbus which focuses on the clash of cultures and motives between the "conquerors" and the native Caribbean islanders they encountered is followed by a (wonderful) piece on the Yale College library and its power to shape young minds (more on this below). In "The Unyielding Indian" Morgan pays homage to the native people of North America for their resistance to European "absorption" and their high valuation of individual freedom ("we see in him what we might be if we carried some of our avowed principles to their logical conclusion", p. 53).

In a pair of essays both originally published in 1942, Morgan examines the stereotype as Puritans as sexless prudes (and finds it misses the point, as later works have continued to show), and delves into one of the most fascinating legal battles of 17th-century Boston, the long feud between heiress Anne Keayne and her impotent, money-grubbing, sometime-husband Edward Lane. He profiles Anne Hutchinson and Michael Wigglesworth ("the puritan's puritan"), and declares his admiration for Salem witchcraft players Giles Corey and Mary Easty.

Two pieces compare Yale presidents Ezra Stiles and Timothy Dwight, and Ben Franklin and George Washington, and Morgan delves further into Franklin's pragmatic streak in a separate essay. In the final two chapters, he examines the "fiction" of representation as a political reality, and discusses the vital role of the Antifederalists in the creation of the American government as we know it. Finally, he closes the book with an appreciation of his own teacher, Perry Miller.

All of these essays are written with the clarity and strength of composition which have made Morgan's works so accessible and interesting over the course of his long career (his first book was published in 1952; the first essay included here is from 1937). He can turn a phrase, and sometimes even gets off an excellent joke in the process (in the essay on Salem, he says of Cotton Mather's pre-Salem 'victory' over the devil in the case of a possessed girl "he could not refrain from from giving way to his most conspicuous weakness: he had to write a book about it", p. 118). His sense of irony never fails, and it is remarkable how timely these essays remain even though many of them first saw print more than a half-century ago (although I have not compared them to the original versions to see if they have been heavily edited for re-publication here).

For reasons obvious to those who know me, I was most taken by Morgan's chapter on the early library at Yale ("Dangerous Books," from 1959). He waxes poetic on libraries here, calling them "the great hothouses of change, where new ideas are nursed into being and then turned loose to do their work" (p. 24). He concludes the essay thus: "While libraries exist, where students and scholars can go to the original sources and discover the facts for themselves, all efforts at control will be futile ... I hope your library and mine will continue to be dangerous for many years to come" (p. 38). Hear hear!

My one quibble with this volume is that I would have liked to see the original publication information for the essays at the beginning (it is, instead, on the back of the title page in tiny print, with only the date at the end of each essay). Other than that minor detail, it was a delight.

Book Review: "H.M.S. Surprise"

Patrick O'Brian's third Aubrey-Maturin volume is H.M.S. Surprise. As I read more of these I come to enjoy them more; this was my favorite of the series so far, as Aubrey and Maturin make their way to Kampong (by way of South America and India) carrying a royal governor, grappling with French squadrons, fickle females, and bureaucrats along the way. Maturin gets the best scenes, from his reaction to finding his pet sloth drunk on ship's grog ("Jack, you have debauched my sloth"), to his casual ordering up of an elephant in India, to his gruesome self-surgery following a battle wound.

O'Brian manages to keep his examinations of ship life and naval maneuvering from becoming overpowering, breathing life into his ships and their occupants without drowning the reader in details.

This Week's Acquisitions

Two new novels this week:

- The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe (Hyperion, 2009). B&N.

The Devil's Company by David Liss (Random House, forthcoming). Publisher (via LTER).

Now, the question is, which to read first?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Joseph Stevens Buckminster's Library

Another Library of Early America is now complete, with the addition of the 1,200-title collection of Joseph Stevens Buckminster (1784-1812). Buckminster, who graduated from Harvard in 1800, was ordained the minister of Boston's Brattle Street Church in 1805. In 1806-07 he made a long tour to Europe (where he purchased a great number of the books in his library), and upon his return was very active in Boston's literary and historical communities. He was a founding member of the Anthology Society, from which sprang the Boston Athenaeum, and served as an editor of their publication, the Monthly Anthology. He was elected a member of the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1811, and was the same year named Harvard's Dexter professor of biblical criticism.

Sadly for the world, Buckminster suffered terribly from epilepsy from 1802 on, and died at the very young age of 28 on 9 June 1812. He had created during his short existence a massive library, consisting largely of classics, religious and philological texts. His LT catalog is mostly taken from the Catalogue of the library of the late Rev. J. S. Buckminster (Boston: Printed by John Eliot, Jun. 1812), a record of the auction in which his books were sold. Several other works had been presented to the Athenaeum prior to his death, and those are also included. Many of Buckminster's books ended up at the Athenaeum - where those are known I have noted it, but I suspect many others are in their collections.

A memoir of Buckminster appeared in the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1838. The author wrote "The services of him who descends to the grave, full of years as of honours, must be rememebred with gratitude; but a deeper and perhaps more lasting sentiment is excited when such ardent anticipations are blasted, as all his acquaintances indulged of our young friend. In the bright morning of his virtues, his fame, and his usefulness, - 'purpureus veluti cum flos, succisus aratro*,' - his fall is more justly bewailed than that of those who perish in the usual course of nature after exhaling all their fragrance."

Buckminster's papers are at the Athenaeum (finding guide). A two-volume edition of his works was published in 1839, and his sister Eliza Buckminster Lee published a memoir of her father and brother in 1849 (second edition in 1851). It includes many family letters, and much about Buckminster's life as a reader and book collector.

*"like a bright flower scythed by the plow" - from Catullus, via Virgil's Aeneid - thanks Google Books!

Scott Fails to Appear at Court

Raymond Scott failed to appear in Durham court today for the start of his trial (postponed from 22 May). The Northern Echo reports that his lawyer told the judge "He is presently in hospital having had an operation and I trust that your honour is satisfied this is a totally legitimate reason for him not being here today."

Scott faces six charges: stealing the Durham First Folio, handling stolen goods, and "four other separate charges of theft and handling stolen goods relating to a driving licence, credit cards and a personal organiser."

The next court appearance is now scheduled for August.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Auction Report: Bonhams

There was a Fine Books and Manuscripts sale at Bonhams New York yesterday. Full results are here. Highlights, as expected, were the first edition/first printing The Great Gatsby, which sold for $182,000; the first edition Purchas his Pilgrimes ($36,600); and the Mercator-Hondius atlas ($33,550). A Salvador Dali manuscript also made $33,550. A first American edition of Moby-Dick sold for $30,500.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Revamped Library History Bibliographies

One of the things I like most about the Library History Round Table (LHRT) newsletter is the inclusion in each issue of a bibliography of new publications in library history. LHRT Chair-Elect Bernadette Lear recently revamped the website archive of these lists, which is a great resource. There has been some talk on the LHRT listserv of creating a database of these; if anybody wants to volunteer for the job, I'm sure that would be appreciated!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Franklin Proves Recession-Proof (Auction Report: Sotheby's)

This morning's Fine Books and Manuscripts sale at Sotheby's New York (full results here) saw a whopper of a sale: the collection of three early American almanac volumes, including one of just three known copies of Ben Franklin's first issue of Poor Richard's Almanac (1733) and the only known copy of Birkett's Almanac (also 1733), smashed presale estimates ($100,000-150,000) into the ground, selling for $566,500.

The almanacs have been owned by the Berwick (PA) Historical Society for decades, but were only discovered in January when the almanac collection was examined. The society will use the proceeds to "take over and restore Jackson Mansion, which currently houses City Hall," according to local media reports.

No word yet on a buyer - if I hear, I'll update this post.

In other news from this sale, the Lewis & Clark account sold for $68,500 (not meeting estimates); A. Edward Newton's copy of Walton's Compleat Angler fetched $86,500; an 1865 reissue of McKenney and Hall's History of the Indian Tribes of North America made $80,500; the Shakespeare fourth folio did not sell.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Book Review: "Personal Archives and a New Archival Calling"

Richard J. Cox's Personal Archives and a New Archival Calling: Readings, Reflections and Ruminations (Litwin Books, 2008) is one archivist's take on the state of the field. Cox is one of the most thoughtful and always-worth-reading archivists out there, and this extended essay on the role of personal archives is certainly one that should be examined closely by those of us who continue to face every day the challenges wrought by recent technological and societal shifts.

Cox argues that as technology and a record-keeping impulse seems to be propelling people to create and maintain personal archives, professional archivists should be prepared to engage with the public in real, meaningful ways - assisting them in the retention and preservation of personal and family documents, and coming to grips with the ways in which blogs, digital photography and other digital forms will impact both personal archives and institutional collections.

This wide-ranging book reveals Cox's vast knowledge of contemporary authors and their writings. He quotes and examines everyone from Derrida to David Weinberger, Simon Worrall to Sven Birkerts, Paul Collins to Robert Darnton and Anthony Grafton. His bibliography runs to more than forty pages, and one would do well to mine it for a very useful reading list.

A timely, necessary look at the archival world as it is, and a positive prescription for how it could be.

Links & Reviews

- A sale before the start of this week's London Antiquarian Book Fair set a record: a first edition of Ulysses fetched a whopping £275,000, the most ever paid for a 20th-century first edition. Dealer Pom Harrington said this was one of just four copies from the 100-copy first print run (all signed by Joyce; this is number 45) that were unaccounted for.

- Cambridge University is putting its incunabula collection online, thanks to a £300,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The project to catalog the 4,650 books will continue for about five years.

- John Overholt notes the newest acquisitions to the Houghton Library's Johnson collection: more than 30 letters and documents from the Paula Peyraud sale at Bloomsbury, along with a small collection of books annotated by Hester Thrale Piozzi.

- June installments of Americana Exchange Monthly and Fine Books Notes were released this week. Good articles in each.

- The Raymond Scott trial, which was scheduled to begin on 22 May, has been delayed. No new date has been set.

- At Salon, a series of author interviews from BEA in which the authors recommend books for summer reading. The Gaiman clip is fantastic.

- From the Chicago Tribune, news that much of the collection of the late John Sisto was illegally removed from Italy and will be returned. Sisto immigrated to the US from Italy in the late 1950s, and claimed that he had received the books and antiquities from his father. Some 3,000 rare books, papal documents and artwork were discovered in Sisto's house after his death in 2007. [via RBN]

- Digital Defoe has debuted; launched by the Defoe Society, this is a free, peer-reviewed e-journal focusing on all things Defoe. Read the introduction here.

- The sixteenth issue of Parenthesis, the journal of the Fine Press Book Association, has been published. It includes articles on the centenary of British artist Reynolds Stone, the book designs of Herman Zapf, and other pieces.

- Vince Hancock, who manages the Chronicles of William Hone site, notes that Hone is now on Twitter, too. Promising!

- Thomas Levenson, author of Newton and the Counterfeiter, was on NPR's "Talk of the Nation" on Friday to talk about his book and Newton's career as head of the Mint.

- Back in May 2007 I posted about the Tyldesley Diary, damaged while in the care of the British Library. Peter Tyldesley has now provided an update to this case, which only gets weirder.

- Paul Collins recalls the great Monkeyfishing hoax of 2001, backdating it with an 1897 feature piece in Recreation Magazine, "Bait-casting for fox terriers." And he speculates about a recent Amazon patent application (he just might be right).

- From BibliOdyssey, bookplates from the Pratt Institute's Ex-Libris Flickr stream, which is delightful!

- Liz Jensen comments in the Independent on Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast Trilogy. She begins the essay "At the age of 15, I had an epiphany. I was halfway through the first book of the Gormenghast trilogy when it hit me, like a benign thunderbolt: writers can do anything they like."

- The AP reports that the South Carolina Department of Archives and History is putting Confederate currency on eBay, "providing the state archives with an influx of cash amid tight budgets." The forty boxes of CSA banknotes were supposed to have been destroyed during Reconstruction, but apparently these were just stashed in a storage room and forgotten. Now retired history professor Jack Meyer sifts through the boxes, pulling out the best and most interesting specimens for retention by the archives and picking other pieces to put up for sale.


- John Buchan reviews Iain Pears' Stone's Fall in the NYTimes.

- In the Boston Globe, Shelley Murphy reviews Myles O'Connor's new memoir of thievery, The Art of the Heist.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Auction Report: Arader Sale

On 19 June, Sotheby's New York will host the Graham Arader sale, 204 lots of color plate books, atlases, maps and natural history illustrations. Highlights include a 1513 Ptolemaic atlas ($350,000-450,000); Redouté's Les Liliacées (1802-1816) and Les Roses (1817) (estimated at $350,000-450,000 and 300,000-400,000 respectively); a second edition of Catesby ($250,000-275,000); a 1769 Bonner map of Boston ($220,000-260,000); and Blaeu's 11-volume Atlas Major (1662-1665), estimated at $200,000-250,000. Artdaily.org has a full report on this sale, which Arader says he's holding "for estate planning purposes."

Arader has offered to donate 20% of the hammer price for any lot to the charity of the buyer's choice, saying "In deciding to part with a portion of my holdings for estate planning purposes, I recalled the myriad libraries, universities, foundations, botanical gardens, schools, zoos and other institutions that I worked with over the years and saw an opportunity to give back to those who have supported my field and improved the quality of life for all of us. My hope is that through this sale, the works that I have treasured will find new homes that will benefit not only their owners, but the charities they designate as well."

More on Arader here. Since Mr. Arader is a known and confessed bookbreaker when it suits him (he has even called himself "the greatest breaker of books"), I can't say I'd be inclined to purchase anything from his collection even if I could afford it. But to each his own.

Book Review: "The Wednesday Wars"

Gary Schmidt's The Wednesday Wars (paperback just out from Sandpiper, a Houghton Mifflin imprint) came highly recommended by my most trusted reader of all things young adult (as well as the Newbery committee, although I tend not to trust them nearly as much). It did not disappoint. Set at the height of the Vietnam War, this is the story of a young man (the improbably named Holling Hoodhood) trying to come to grips with life, which for him includes Shakespeare, seventh grade, a most unpleasant father ... and two escaped rats.

This book does it all. It's cliched to say it, but since it's true I'll say it anyway: I laughed, I cried. I had to put it down because it disturbed me, and at other times I found myself trying to read faster to find out what would happen next. As Holling finds himself learning from Shakespeare and his teacher (who, he is convinced, must hate him for making him read it), he discovers - entirely without meaning to - that there are lessons to be learned from the Bard (as well as a few good curses).

Schmidt's captured his young narrator perfectly, and there are several passages here that are among the best I've ever read, anywhere. A top-notch use of language and humor, filled with life's struggles large and small.

This Week's Acquisitions

- The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt (Sandpiper, 2009). Amazon. Already read this one, and it's on the list to review this weekend.

The Letters of the Republic: Publication and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century America by Michael Warner (Harvard University Press, 1992). Amazon.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Obama Nominates Leach to Head NEH

Confirming several rounds of rumors, President Obama announced today that he will nominate former Republican congressman Jim Leach of Iowa to head the National Endowment for the Humanities. In a written statement, Obama said "I am confident that with Jim as its head, the National Endowment for the Humanities will continue on its vital mission of supporting the humanities and giving the American public access to the rich resources of our culture. Jim is a valued and dedicated public servant and I look forward to working with him in the months and years ahead."

As Inside Higher Ed noted last week, Leach "co-founded the Congressional Humanities Caucus during his years in Congress, fought to save the National Historical Publications and Records Commission from elimination during the Bush administration, and was widely seen as a champion for the arts and humanities, receiving the Sidney R. Yates Award for Distinguished Public Service to the Humanities from the National Humanities Alliance in 2005."

The NYTimes has more, including comments from Leach on his nomination. He told the paper "America somehow thinks that leadership relates to governance, and it certainly does. But society is much bigger than governance, and some of the truly great leadership of our society is outside the governance arena. Our culture is more shaped by the arts and humanities than it often is by politics. And in difficult times the arts, sciences and humanities vastly increase in significance. And this is one of those times." He added "What the arts and humanities are all about is providing perspective, that culture is bigger than politics and that culture is what we ought to be celebrating in the United States, and it ought to be an aspect of human endeavor that brings people together rather than divides."

Leach's nomination is subject to Senate confirmation, but he should have smooth sailing. The nomination was widely praised this afternoon, and deservedly so. It's a great pick

Auction Report: Highlights and Upcoming

- At Christie's 1 June sale, the Hogarth prints once owned by Dickens made £22,500. The first edition A Christmas Carol sold for £17,500. At the 3 June sale, the Oriental Scenery set met expectations, realizing £241,250. The 14th-century illuminated Bible fetched £217,250. A Tchaikovsky music manuscript went for £97,250. The quartet of Blaeu maps did slightly better than expected, pulling in £85,250.

- Bonhams New York will sell Fine Books and Manuscripts on 10 June at 1 p.m. Highlights include a great deal of travel and exploration literature and Hawaiiana, plus a ton of modern literary works. Among the lots are a Mercator-Hondius atlas ($20,000-30,000), a first edition of Purchas his Pilgrimes (1625-6) ($30,000-50,000); and a first edition Great Gatsby (1925) ($80,000-120,000).

- On 24 June, Christie's New York will sell Fine Printed Books & Manuscripts, Including Americana. The top spot is expected to belong to another copy of the first Boston printing of the Declaration of Independence, printed by John Gill, and Powars and Willis (c. 17 July 1776). This edition, of which just six copies are known (MHS, Bostonian Society, BPL, UVa and two in private hands) is the same as that which sold at Skinner in November 2007 for $693,500 ... this particular copy - which is in notably better shape than the Skinner copy - was previously sold at Sotheby's in May 1990. Christie's has put an estimate for this sale at $450,000-650,000.

Other highlights from the Christie's sale include a George Washington manuscript topographical map of Mount Vernon ($100,000-150,000); another Washington manuscript from after the French & Indian War ($90,000-120,000); an early edition of Champlain's voyages ($60,000-80,000); the Ethan Allen letter to Crevecoeur I mentioned here ($50,000-70,000); a first octavo edition of Audubon's Birds of America ($50,000-70,000); another, imperfect copy of the same, sold by the Montclair Art Museum ($40,000-60,000); a Lincoln assassination reward poster ($35,000-55,000); an 1846 anastatic copy of the Declaration of Independence ($25,000-35,000 - I'll be very interested to see what this does).

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

An Evening with the Ticknorites

Tonight was the annual meeting of the Ticknor Society, a great group of Boston bibliophiles. We had a very nice (and very well-attended) reception and business meeting at the St. Botolph Club, followed by a wonderful speech by Robert Darnton, the Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and director of the Harvard University Libraries.

Darnton spoke on how "old books and e-books" can complement each other, offering a glimpse into his latest book project. This promises to be incredibly fascinating - it will be a survey of the book trade in pre-Revolutionary France, in the form of a printed monograph supplemented by a vast range of online content allowing the reader delve deeper into various aspects of the trade, through additional commentary, biographical sketches, and translated transcriptions/digital versions of original documents. By combining formats and using technology, Darnton said, we can "bring across book history with a vividness and a detail that would have been impossible say fifteen years ago." I know I'll be waiting impatiently for the book now, that's for sure!

The Ticknorites have also done me the great honor to elect me a member-at-large of the board, so you should all expect some lobbying efforts in which I urge anyone who is not yet a member of this active and interesting group to join up!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Book Review: "The MHS: A Bicentennial History"

[Note: Since I work there, I probably shouldn't be "reviewing" a book about the Society. But since it covers a period long before I came, I feel alright in commenting on it as a work. Consider this full disclosure.]

Every venerable organization should have a bicentennial history, and Louis Leonard Tucker's The Massachusetts Historical Society: A Bicentennial History, 1791-1991 (The Society, 1995) fills this niche ably for the MHS. Tucker provides a broad narrative survey of the first two centuries of the Society's existence, drawing on the published Proceedings and the vast unpublished organizational archives (as well as various outside books, articles, and manuscript collections). He chronicles the Society through good times and bad, recounting the changes and continuities which characterize the life of any longstanding institution.

Through biographical sketches of the principal leaders and staff members who have served the MHS over the course of its first centuries, plus anecdotes (some very humorous), and reports of organizational and financial activities, Tucker offers a (mostly) unvarnished examination of the Society's inner workings and public outreach. As an introduction to the subject, no better entry point has been published.

Useful appendices to the text list all members of the MHS from 1791 through 1991, as well as those who served in leadership and major staff capacities. This section of the book I use regularly, but until now I had not sat down and read the narrative chapters. These were worth the wait, and offered much new perspective about those who came before.