Monday, March 31, 2008

Book Review: "The Somnambulist"

It's been a long time since I've read a book quite as strange as Jonathan Barnes' debut novel The Somnambulist (recently out from William Morrow). Filled with fiendishly odd characters, a whole mess of entirely unexplained subplots, unreliable narrators, shady conspiracies and a healthy dose of the neo-Gothic, this is a bizarre, not-entirely-satisfying volume that does - I think - exactly what it intends to do.

I found The Somnambulist demanded a close read just to keep all the various lines straight (and even then I don't think I quite managed it all the time). It held my attention very well, mainly because I had no idea what was coming next or whose perspective it was going to come from (or which long-dead English poet would suddenly appear and start rampaging, Hulk-like, through downtown London).

Incredibly weird, but puzzlingly fun.

Book Review: "A Letter to America"

Former senator and current University of Oklahoma president David Boren has written a timely and very much worth-reading short book, A Letter to America (Univ. of OK Press). Boren, a strong centrist, takes a close look at the shabby shape of American politics and political discourse today and offers some meaningful advice which if followed might allow us to begin emerging from the hyper-partisan morass we've become engulfed in.

Boren's policy ideas are largely uncontroversial - he makes the sort of common-sense suggestions that 90% of people could agree on immediately (and do, when asked in polls), but which don't get acted upon because the political process is too gummed up with partisan shenanigans. "Many of the solutions are obvious," he writes, "but each party is afraid to act because of the attacks they know will come from the other side to artfully press the emotional hot buttons of American voters" (p. 45). We all know we've got to come up with real ways to solve the major problems we face: entitlement solvency, energy reform, gigantic deficits, climate change and the negative global perceptions of America. But those tough issues and many more have fallen prey to the never-ending campaign cycle and the shrill-toned blather which currently passes for political debate.

At just 110 pages, Boren's book is a very accessible, very succinct, and very clear exposition of the centrist worldview. I recommend it highly, and hope it will be widely read. His is a voice of reason when more of those are sorely needed.

Upcoming Auctions

Quite a few big, exciting auctions coming up soon. A sampling:

- On Wednesday (2 April), Christies New York will sell the Kenyon Starling Library of Charles Dickens, an absolutely remarkable collection of some two hundred lots of Dickensiana. Notable highlights include a manuscript leaf from The Pickwick Papers in Dickens' hand ($150,000-200,000); and a presentation copy of Oliver Twist, in exquisite binding and inscribed to William Harrison Ainsworth ($200,000-300,000). The total sale is estimated to bring in $1.8-2.8 million.

- Sotheby's will hold a sale of Presidential and Other American Manuscripts on 3 April; the highlights here are a whole slew of Lincoln manuscripts, including a letter written from the White House in April 1864 in response to a petition from 195 children calling on Lincoln to free the slaves. That letter alone is estimated to sell for $3-5 million).

- Bloomsbury New York has two major sales this week: on 5 April they'll auction Important Printed Books and Manuscripts, and on 9 April they've got an American Civil War sale. The first will include a composite manuscript, "consisting of a compendium of discretely produced manuscripts, originally from more than one codex, that were assembled in the 13th century to provide the entire corpus of works that make up the Aristotelian Organon ('The Instrument') ($200,000-250,000), several important incunabula, an Isaac Newton manuscript page ($35,000-40,000), a first edition of Phillis Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects ($20,000-30,000), and some very nice sets.

The Civil War sale will include some very notable broadsides, an official facsimile printing of South Carolina's act of secession ($20,000-30,000), a convention delegate's copy of the final Confederate constitution ($50,000-70,000) and a lovely copy of Alexander Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the War, containing 100 original silver albumen photographs ($130,000-150,000).

I'll keep an eye on these and report on any interesting results.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Links & Reviews

- The Legacy Libraries got some cool blog-mentions this week: Deeplinking points out some of the interesting holdings from a few of the libraries, and Craig Burrell at All Manner of Thing notes the completion of the Walker Percy library.

- Lee Hadden at LIS News recommends an article in the 22 March New Scientist (not available online), "When the Internet Was Made of Paper." It discusses the pre-computer, index card-based information systems that were all the rage a few decades ago. [Update: I should have known, this article's by Paul Collins, who comments on it here].

- On 20 March, Rachel at Liminal Librarian wrote about a library-world phenomenon that's always bothered me: the self-righteous and defensive attitudes which (some!) MLS-holding librarians seem to take toward their colleagues who haven't taken the degree. Rachel's post attracted a huge number of comments and prompted much discussion (see her follow-up post for a synopsis). I think her take on this issue is entirely spot-on, and can't agree more with her concluding comments: "When MLS vs. non-MLS condescension drives people away from wanting to earn the degree, we have a problem. When we fail to credit valuable input because of its source, we have a problem. Librarianship is inherently an interdisciplinary profession — we overlap with so many other fields, and our strength lies in our ability to assimilate the best of each. Let’s extend that ability to the people that work in our libraries, as well." Well said (I might even go a step further, since I think we're all got a great deal to learn from people who don't necessarily work in libraries as well).

- From BibliOdyssey, images from the first volume of Martin Frobenius Ledermüller's Amusement Microscopique tant pour l'Esprit, que pour les Yeux; Contenant Cinquante Estampes [..] Dessinées d'après Nature et Enluminées, avec leurs Explications (1766-1768, with engravings by Winterschmidt).


- Mary Roach's new book Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex is reviewed by Pamela Paul for the NYTimes. Paul writes that Roach "takes an entertaining topic and showcases its creepier side. And then she makes the creepy funny" (as in her previous two books, Stiffs and Spook).

- James Morrow's latest, The Philosopher's Apprentice, is reviewed in The Telegraph by Ed Lake. He did not enjoy the book.

- Richard Cox discusses Gordon Wood's The Purpose of the Past: Reflections on the Uses of History (just out from Penguin Press). The book is a collection of Wood's review essays from the last quarter-century or so.

The Latest on Brubaker

Here's the FBI press release announcing Brubaker's arrest, and here's Travis' first take on the indictment. He reports at UD that Brubaker was known to be hanging around with John Hellson, now 76, who was sentenced to two years in prison for stealing items from the University of California's Lowie Museum back in 1981.

There are so many more shoes left to drop in this case.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Book Review: "The Mobile Library: Mr. Dixon Disappears"

Apparently I've been on a sequels kick this week, having also finished the second book in Ian Sansom's Mobile Library series, Mr. Dixon Disappears. Israel Armstrong's chaotic adventures in Tumdrum continue when he accidentally (but entirely predictably) gets caught up in an investigation into the disappearance of department-store magnate (and amateur magician) Mr. Dixon.

This book had less to do with the mobile library than The Case of the Missing Books did (although here we see that dilapidated old book-van put to more, eh, extra-curricular uses, including kitchen, press room, and canine maternity ward), and the mystery itself ends up being a bit of a snoozer, but Sansom's knack for telling a strange story well continues to shine here.

Book Review: "More Letters from a Nut"

As soon as I discovered there were sequels to Letters from a Nut (review) I knew I'd have to pick them up before long, and did (for less than $1 apiece, by the way - behold, the magic of the Internet). Ted L. Nancy's zany correspondence continues in More Letters from a Nut, in which our faithful nut requests information about 'upcoming' nude baboon races, asks permission to open 1,032 Hungry Mosquito Restaurants in Las Cruces, and gets Dick Butkus to sign a spatula. As amusing as the first book, particularly for the number of responses in this volume which seem completely unphased by Nancy's completely outlandish comments.

One of the most amusing exchanges (of many) from these letters comes toward the end of the book, when Nancy writes to the Turkish Department of Tourism requesting information on how to bring his camel, Andrew, to Turkey to participate in one of the annual Camel Wrestling Festivals. Nancy writes "Please tell me when is the best time to come to Turkey and watch camel wrestling? I would like to travel with Andrew but I will come alone if my camel can not get a good rate from the airlines. The bus company lets him travel as a senior. He looks out the window. I have disguised him as a hairy older women named Margaret."

Hulya Ulgun (Directoress of the Izmir Directorate of Tourism) writes back in part "We searched the ways bring Andrew here. None of the airlines can accept Andrew. Yo should look for the ways of bringing Andrew by a ship. You'll probably have to disguise him again as a 'hairy older woman named Margaret.'"

Friday, March 28, 2008

Declaration Broadside Offer Clarified

In late January I reported on an email solicitation sent to several libraries offering a Dunlap broadside of the Declaration of Independence for sale. The firm responsible for the solicitation, Atam Sahmanian, Inc., has released a statement today clarifying the email and noting that the broadside was mistakenly identified as a Dunlap when it is in fact a copy of the 1825 Stone facsimile broadside.

The press release notes that the company "would like to acknowledge that between January 21 and January 25 of this year a sales associate contacted prospective collectors of a copy of the Declaration of Independence via e-mail and incorrectly identified the attached image as a Dunlap Broadside edition. The image attached to the e-mail was, in fact, a Stone copy which the company owns."

Director Michael Atadika adds "The incorrect representation of our Stone version was limited to this one set of e-mails sent out by our sales associate. This was clearly a substantive, though completely unintentional, error. The image attached to the e-mails in question was an actual photo of the Stone version that we possess. We believe the clear differences in appearance of the two versions would likely have been immediately recognized by the institutions contacted due to their familiarity with the subject matter.

As background, we began marketing our Stone version in anticipation of renewed interest in such a document during an election year. We wanted to present our clients with a truly rare buying opportunity. Atam Sahmanian, Inc. accepts full responsibility for incorrectly identifying the copy of The Declaration of Independence in its possession and regrets the undue alarm it caused certain recipients of its correspondence. The company's principals have formally apologized to those individuals who received the erroneous information. As further assurance of our integrity, the Stone copy has been submitted to the Smithsonian Institute for authoritative confirmation of its authenticity. Upon receipt, the Smithsonian report will be immediately communicated to all interested parties, including those recipients of the original e-mail.."

The full press release is here. I'm happy this has been straightened out.

More Brubaker News

The Seattle Times and Great Falls Tribune have more complete stories this morning on yesterday's news that James Brubaker has been arrested and charged with interstate transportation of stolen property worth more than $5,000. So far, Brubaker has only been charged for the theft of four maps from Western Washington University, although police recovered items believed to have come from more than 100 libraries across the country.

A detention hearing for Brubaker is scheduled for 1 April, and he's in custody until then, the papers report. Court documents reveal that during their search of Brubaker's home, police discovered "magnets they believe Brubaker used to deactivate alarms used by libraries to prevent theft, and materials that could be used to remove library identification markings from books."

I'm trying to get a copy of the indictment, and if I can do that I'll certainly share its contents. Travis promises to weigh in today as well.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Brubaker Case Hits the News

Back in January I noted reports that a major book/map theft case was about to hit the news. Smithsonian Magazine has a piece on the story now, reporting that the December search of Brubaker's house revealed "roughly 1,000 books from the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries that had been taken from at least 100 university and local libraries across the country," plus "some 20,000 individual pages of maps and other documents, each apparently ripped from a book."

The Smithsonian article does not name the suspect [James Brubaker, if the earlier reports hold] but notes that an indictment is (still) expected. More if I can get it.

[Update: Thanks to MTHistory for adding a comment. Yes, the Great Falls Tribune is reporting this afternoon that James Brubaker, 74 73, has been arrested and made an initial court appearance today. This is a follow-up to their story in today's newspaper which provides some further background on the case. There will almost certainly be more in tomorrow's newspapers about this, so I'll keep updating as events warrant.]

[Further update: Television reports say Brubaker was charged with interstate transportation of stolen property, and add "Authorities say hundreds of maps and lithographs found during the search were in envelopes ready for sale on the Internet."]

Extra Links

I've gotten myself a bit swamped this week, so here are a hodgepodge of things I've love to post individually but haven't got quite enough time for.

- A bunch of elementary school students from Pittsfield, MA (and a few other interested parties) are trying to get the legislature to pass a law declaring Moby-Dick the "official book" of Massachusetts. Setting aside the ridiculousness of the stunt (does anyone seriously think the elementary school students have actually read Moby-Dick and evaluated its importance?), I disagree strongly that Melville's book - important as it is - ought to be accorded "official" status. Thoreau? Emerson? Hawthorne? Not to mention the 'current' official book, William Bradford's Of Plimouth Plantation (so designated in 1897), which retains its importance as an early chronicle of the settlement of Massachusetts.

- J.L. Bell's got some more excellent fact-checks for the most recent "John Adams" episode: here's his quiz about Episode 3, and here are the answers. John also rated a positive mention in yesterday's Globe column by Alex Beam about historically accurate t.v. (Beam's a bit too melodramatic for me, but his underlying point is quite fair).

- John Overholt's got an update on the digitization of Houghton's Samuel Johnson correspondence; he notes that 232 letters from Johnson to Hester Thrale Piozzi are now available, among many other things.

- From BibliOdyssey, a compilation of images from the Othmer Library of Chemical History.

- At PaperCuts, Bob Harris reveals his "Seven Deadly Words of Book Reviewing." Quite a fair list.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Book Review: "Four Queens"

Quadruple-biographies are difficult to pull off, but Nancy Goldstone's done a worthy job with Four Queens: The Provenal Sisters Who Ruled Europe (just out in paperback from Penguin). Goldstone's subjects are Marguerite, Eleanor, Sanchia and Beatrice, the four daughters of Count Raymond V of Provence who became the queens of France, England, Sicily and Germany.

In the tradition of Alison Weir and Antonia Fraser, Goldstone has written a richly-narrated popular history focused squarely on the influences of the women she views as being at the heart of medieval Europe's political, religious and social culture. Some of her divergences are just as interesting as the main narrative (which alternates between the sisters in a smooth and effective way).

I must fault the book for its total lack of footnotes, especially since - as Goldstone notes - several of her characters have not been the subject of recent biographies. The illustrations which accompany the text are somewhat useful, although I found the maps too stylized to be of much use. I had minor issues with some anachronistic thinking that crept into the text, and a few of Goldstone's glib generalizations bothered me, but on the whole this was an engaging casual read.


A prize to the first person who can find me an available-for-purchase copy of Justin Winsor, Scholar-Librarian (edited by Wayne Cutler and Michael H. Harris). It was published by Libraries Unlimited in 1980 (ISBN 0872872009).

Significance will be explained soon, but I'm anxious to find a copy of this title.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

NC Wins its Bill of Rights

A five-year legal battle over North Carolina's copy of the Bill of Rights ended yesterday when a judge ruled that the document officially belongs to the state.

Manuscript copies of the Bill of Rights were dispatched to each state during the ratification process in 1789. North Carolina's was snatched by a Union soldier during the Civil War and made its way to Ohio, then to Indiana before disappearing for years. In 2000, Connecticut antiques dealer Wayne Pratt and real estate broker Robert Matthews bought the document; they tried to sell it to the National Constitution Center in 2003; a federal judge ordered the Bill of Rights seized instead. In 2005 the document was returned to North Carolina, but legal chaos continued until it was brought to a halt yesterday by Superior Court Judge Henry Hight's ruling.

News reports from the Asheville Citizen-Times, WRAL, and the News & Observer.

For background on the case, see this article from the 8 August 2005 Christian Science Monitor, and their earlier piece on the 2003 sting operation.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Links & Reviews

- LT has added some new stats for each user, including a wonderful page showing overlap with the legacy libraries. We're up to 13 completed legacies now, having this week added the libraries of Walker Percy, Ezra Pound and W.H. Auden. My overlap page is here ... or you can check out John Adams' here (yes, he did share a book with Susan B. Anthony). The work continues, with newly-begun efforts to add the libraries of James Smithson, John Muir, Rembrandt and the Finnish poet Eeva-Liisa Manner. LT was also discussed this week on NPR's "All Things Considered" (and the story is still one of the most-emailed).

- Over at bookn3rd, Laura writes brilliantly about the difficulty of explaining "book history" as a field of study, suggesting that an opening section from Robert Darnton's The Business of Enlightenment could serve as a useful handout. I heartily agree.

- Jennifer Schuessler's post at Paper Cuts about bookshelf etiquette has attracted many interesting comments, which are recommended reading.

- J.L. Bell has been doing a spectacular fact-checking job on HBO's "John Adams," and continues that this week with an excellent post outlining the differences between the screen version of the Boston Massacre trial(s) and the actual events, and another one discussing what's missing from the t.v. version of the Adams household (I was gleeful to note that one of the things he mentions is Adams' books, but of course am sad to know that the film version omits them).

- Paul Collins notes his Slate piece on the history and future of phone books, and his Tin House essay on the 1958 book How To Do Nothing With Nobody All Alone By Yourself (basically, he writes, "a step-by-step guide to grinding oyster shells against the front stoop for no damn reason, to turning buttons and string into buzzsaws that won't cut anything, and to making paper boomerangs that don't come back, Nothing is about what you do when you're nine years old and have neither money nor anyone paying much attention to you, and where your one guiding principle is that you avoid grown-ups and don't ask for help").

- Rick Ring comments on Charles W. Janson's 1807 book The Stranger in America, an Englishman's snarky account of life in the southern states during the early national period.

- In the Guardian's book blog, Belinda Webb writes about Mary Wollstonecraft's fictional writings. Webb suggests Wollstonecraft wrote literature "as intelligent protest."


- In the Boston Globe, William Martin reviews the new Revolutionary War novel, Jerome Charyn's Johnny One-Eye. Martin writes "If you think that Charyn owes historical figures their truth, even in fiction, you might want to stay away. If you believe that he owes less to history than to the fiction he fashions from it, read on." Wendy Smith also reviews Johnny One-Eye, for the Washington Post.

At The Little Professor, Miriam Burstein reviews Michael Cox's The Meaning of Night, which I reviewed almost exactly a year ago.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Manuscript Diaries Stolen

Everett Wilkie posted the following at ExLibris this afternoon, and I pass it along since it is of both local interest and obvious importance:

"On March 7, 2008, 10:05pm, a black courier bag containing four diaries of the noted John Deere engineer Theo Brown was stolen at the bus terminal, South Station, Boston, Massachusetts. The volumes lost were 1916, 1922, 1939, and 1943. All volumes were enclosed in gray boxes (phase boxes) labeled in black letter with "MS 2 Theo Brown Diaries". The diaries contain notes, black and white photographs, and color illustrations of John Deere tractors and agricultural equipment. They also contain personal writings, photographs, clippings, and color illustrations relating to Theo Brown, his family, and events of his time. All volumes are bound in leather, consist of 365+ pages, and are labeled and/or inscribed with the date of the volume and "Theo Brown". The 1916 volume measures roughly 4"x8"x1", bound brown leather with a detached front cover. The 1922 volume measures roughly 6"x8"x1", bound in black leather with "1926" prominently displayed on the front cover. The 1939 volume measures roughly 6"x9"x2", bound in brown leather, labeled "1939 Theo Brown" in gold letters on front cover. The 1943 volume measures roughly 6"x9"x3", bound in brown leather, labeled "1943 Theo Brown" in gold letters on front cover.

Please contact the Archives & Special Collections, Worcester Polytechnic Institute at 508-831-6612 or if you have any information on these missing diaries."

Book Review: "The Serpent's Tale"

As expected, Ariana Franklin has penned a sequel to last year's Mistress of the Art of Death. The Serpent's Tale (Putnam) features most of the same characters, but Adelia's charge this time is to discover the killer of King Henry II's favorite mistress before England erupts into civil war. Like the earlier book, this one captures some interesting practices and custom of medieval England, and, while not literature of the highest order, kept my attention well and offered a nice little mystery to mull over.

Well It Really Was Only a Matter of Time ...

A commenter reports that the inevitable has happened: the Transy Four are about to get their movie. W Magazine notes this month (the URL is not working at the moment) that documentary filmmaker Nanette Burstein is adapting the November Vanity Fair article about the boys.


I'm working to get more information.

[Update: Here's the W Magazine piece. Under "Director's Next Project": "A feature adaptation of a December 2007 Vanity Fair story about college guys who steal rare books." Yup, sounds about right.]

Friday, March 21, 2008

Previously Unrecognized Copy of Novgorod Chronicles Discovered

Russian media outlets are reporting that a team of researchers from the history faculty of St. Petersburg State University have found "an unknown copy of Novgorod First Chronicle in the Manuscript Department of the State Library of Berlin."

Alexander Mayorov, Doctor of History and Head of Museology Department, said of the 169-sheet document "This manuscript is unique for the fact that it contains excerpts, which had been lost in all other Chronicle copies found before."

[h/t Shelf:Life]

Apologies for the short posts lately - some big news coming again soon.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Villepin's Napoleon Collection Sells

More than 330 books and letters related to Napoleon Bonaparte sold at Paris' Drouot auction house on Wednesday, the Times of India reports. The collection was created by former French PM Dominique de Villepin, the author of several books on the Little Corporal's reign (Villepin has now decided to turn his scholarly attention to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries).

The Times reports that a "large crowd of buyers and onlookers pressed into the bidding room ... with dozens left standing in the door."

"Several rare volumes sparked fierce bidding battles, with a manuscript decree signed by the early 19th-century emperor snapped up for 28,000 euros by France's National Archives. The Napoleon museum in Fontainebleau, south of Paris, bid successfully on an English pamphlet against the emperor, drawing cheers from the room and cries of 'Vive l'Empereur!'

"An almanac dedicated to the Empress Josephine and bearing the seal of Napoleon's brother Louis fetched 18,500 euros, while a royal almanac marked with the seal of Marie-Antoinette fetched 20,000 euros. Marcello Pacini, an Italian private collector born on Elba, fought hard for a manuscript letter written by Napoleon during his exile on the island, which he clinched for 14,000 euros, 14 times the starting price."

Sounds like a good, exciting sale!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Panmure House for Sale

The Edinburgh house where economist Adam Smith lived for the last twelve years of his life is on the market for £700,000, the Scotsman reported last week. Panmure House, originally built for the Earl of Panmure in 1691, is currently owned by the Edinburgh City Council and has been used in recent years as a "centre for troubled youngsters."

Professor Sir Alan Peacock told the paper "It's a disgrace that the council has agreed to dispose of a building as significant as this. It should be saved for the nation." He adds in a letter the following day "I was quoted correctly but readers may be left with the impression that I was opposed to sale to a private buyer. This is not true, though a case might be made for some restriction on its use as a building of historic interest . As your leader suggests, it would be an excellent opportunity for private initiative, perhaps with a view to promoting genuine interest in and concern for the Enlightenment tradition."

A group of economists from Edinburgh University added their voices to Peacock's, writing in a letter published yesterday that Panmure House "has important associations for anyone interested in the Scottish Enlightenment, in economics and philosophy, or in the history of Edinburgh ... The availability of Panmure House is an excellent opportunity for a new and exciting development of an historically important building near the Scottish Parliament. It would be ideal as the base for a research or policy institute for economics in Scotland. It could also serve as a study centre for Adam Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment. ... The possibility of the house being lost to the public is extremely worrying."

The director of the Adam Smith Institute told the press "We've thought about approaching the council about Panmure House in the past to see what we could do. I doubt we'd be able to bid for it." He added "Even if we thought we could manage to buy it, what can we do with it? Whether there are enough artefacts to make a museum that takes up a whole house is not known. But it would be nice if whoever buys it remembers him in some way and gives people something to look at."

I'll keep an eye on this one.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Hobbit Breaks Records

A signed first issue of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit set a new auction record today, selling for £60,000 at Bonhams.

More on the Bonhams auction later.

Adamspalooza Continues

I knew this mini-series would be a big deal for those few (we happy few) of us who regularly live and breathe John Adams, but I honestly never expected the amount of response, interest and discussion that it has engendered. It's pretty amazing. Sales of My Dearest Friend have been way up (it's #301 on Amazon right now, and #71[!] on B&N), and of course David McCullough's John Adams continues to sell well too (#58 on Amazon, #47 on B&N).

We've started receiving what I'm sure are the first of many inquiries about the mini-series, and have had many visitors so far for the "John Adams: A Life in Letters" exhibit here at MHS (which, by the way, continues to evolve - so if you came once, you may want to stop by again before the end of the show in May, since just about everything may be different by then).

And the reviews continue to roll in. From Slate yesterday, Kent Sepkowitz made one of the most original critiques of the film I've seen, criticizing the appearance of the actors' teeth (they were too white). I'm assured by those who've seen more episodes that this situation will change, and quickly. Other recent reviews from the Madison Capital Times, and American Heritage.

In today's Boston Globe, Peter Canellos covers a Capitol Hill premiere of the HBO show's first episode, tossing in some commentary (which I pass along with no editorial comment) about Adams' role in bringing about the first party system. Over at The New Republic, John Patrick Diggins and Steven Waldman have begun an exchange about the series. Steven Dubner says he won't be watching the rest of the episodes (he doesn't like Giamatti as JA, and has some serious issues with some of the historical inaccuracies). Trust me, I have issues with them too, and I agree with all of Dubner's quibbles ... but hey, it's a movie. As JA said, "Facts are stubborn things," and they're out there for the finding even if every detail's not quite perfect.

Some of us were discussing the "resurrection" of John Adams' reputation, which many seem to be crediting to David McCullough these days. He certainly contributed, but two major events from the mid-1970s played a major role as well. "The Adams Chronicles," an award-winning PBS mini-series about several generations of the Adams Family (which is, incidentally, about to be released on DVD) contributed, as did the musical and screen versions of "1776," in which William Daniels performs (brilliantly) as the only singing John Adams I'm aware of. Most of that movie, naturally, is available through the magic of YouTube (begin here).

And of course there's my own personal JA project, the LT-edition of his library. I've finished editing now, and am just working to add the links to the digital versions of his books. Want to see what he wrote in the first book we know he owned? Look no further (click the "Digital Version" link). Lots more of those to add, and then some additional tweaking. But it's getting there!

[Update: J.L. Bell has a great post outlining some of the major differences between "real life" and the mini-series. Recommended reading. And I now have the tape of the first two episodes, which I'm really anxious to watch.]

Monday, March 17, 2008

Book Review: "The Uncommon Reader"

Alan Bennett (of The Madness of George III and The History Boys fame) turns his attention to reading in The Uncommon Reader, a sprightly novella which sees the Queen of England suddenly discover the art of reading. And read she does, in spectacular fashion. What happens when the British monarch suddenly starts asking her subjects "What are you reading at the moment?" as she greets them? How does the ship of state fare when its captain has her royal nose perpetually buried in a book?

Full of wit and of the joy every reader feels when experiencing a good book for the first (or umpteenth) time, Bennett's captured the allure brilliantly.

Book Review: Letters from a Nut

If you're looking for an absolutely hilarious way to spend a few hours, I wholeheartedly recommend Letters from a Nut, an utterly ridiculous collection of correspondence between the pseudonymous Mr. Ted L. Nancy and various businesses, hotels, restaurants, casinos and other organizations. Mr. Nancy. I can't remember reading anything at which I've laughed out loud with such frequency (after one trip I decided I had to read it at home so people on the train wouldn't think me deranged).

Mr. Nancy (who may be Jerry Seinfeld, the author of the book's introduction) writes to make suggestions (for new types of underwear, candy, &c.), ask permission (to bring 2200 red ants into a hotel room, for example, or to travel by plane wearing his Angelo the Rotting Radish costume), inquire about lost objects (a tooth, a Prussian military sword, a bag of otter hair) ... you get the idea. The letters are a riot, and the responses tend to be even funnier.

Silly, fun and completely enjoyable. And, I discovered when looking up the LT-link to the title, there are sequels! Oh boy!

RBMS Turns 50

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA) - yes, that's RBMS of ACRL of ALA. At the ALA's Midwinter meeting in January, a resolution was passed to salute and commend RBMS "for 50 years of excellence in promoting the value of rare books, manuscripts, and special collections, and providing leadership to the special collections library profession."

You can read a short history of RBMS here.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Sunday Links

- From BibliOdyssey, image details from Leiden's Blaeu atlas, newly digitized as I noted on Wednesday.

- Tim Spalding has been named one of Library Journal's 2008 "Movers and Shakers." Congrats, Tim - well deserved!

- Paul Collins has one from the archives, discussing a 2002 piece he wrote on hemacite (a disgusting "proto-plastic" somehow made from cow's blood and sawdust. Now, he notes, somebody's gone a written a book on one of hemacite's precursors.

- Rare Books Review notes an upcoming auction: PBA will sell books from all fields (concentrating on illustrated and children's books) on 20 March.

- The New York Public Library has mounted a new exhibit to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the birth of John Milton, Bloomberg notes.

- Joyce likes Google Books. And she's even found a way to "reverse OCR" the text"! I like it too, most of the time. It's become a handy way - in certain cases - to find information about a topic that you didn't know was out there. For example, I was writing a book description recently and wanted to find out a little something about a former owner. Plugging his name into Google Books yielded a necrology from the New Hampshire Historical Society with a full, detailed biography of the man. Would I have ever thought in a million years to look for that book in the library? Nope.

Didn't find any notable reviews this week, I guess. Must write a paper today, then it's back to finishing up John Adams' library (about a fifth of the records left to edit, then it's adding links to the digital versions and further enhancing the records).

Reviewing "John Adams"

As I've been mentioning (incessantly) lately, HBO's "John Adams" mini-series makes its public debut tomorrow night (Sunday, 8 p.m.). The reviews have started to pour in:

- In the New Yorker, historian Jill Lepore notes - rightly, of course - that JA wasn't single-handedly responsible for bringing about, sustaining and winning the American Revolution - but in a bio-centric film, I don't think anyone ought to be surprised that he's portrayed that way. She criticizes the films' inaccuracies (naturally there are a few), while praising its overall feel: "Eighteenth-century Boston, and much else besides, is beautifully realized: lush and bustling, with ships’ masts looming and halyards clanking. If there’s a film that better captures the look of Colonial America, I haven’t seen it," she writes.

- Writing for the Boston Globe Matthew Gilbert rhapsodizes about the camera work, the acting (Giamatti, he writes, "is riveting. He has the time to let Adams's principled nobility emerge slowly, alongside his vanities and egotism, and he also has time to show a man change over the course of his life, as he gains political footing"), and the tone, which he says "conveys a daunting, haunting sense of personal risks taken and disaster averted." The Herald's reviewer, Mark Perigard, is less effusive, calling Giamatti the film's "biggest liability" and concluding "There are moments when the miniseries manages to convincingly re-create 1770s Boston on what appears to be a USA Network budget. Still, it’s hard to imagine HBO sustaining a large audience for this project. The first two approximately 70-minute episodes stroll at a leisurely pace. The birth of a nation never went through so many undramatic contractions."

- Even Perigard's judgment of Giamatti isn't as harsh as that leveled by the New York Times' reviewer, Alessandra Staley, who declares that the actor "looks like Shrek." She compares him unfavorably to the inimitable William Daniels, the man who (brilliantly, I must add) portrayed Adams in the stage and screen versions of Peter Stone's "1776." Not exactly a fair point of reference, I think. She seemed to have liked the rest of the production, but Giamatti really got under Staley's skin.

- Writing for Slate, Troy Patterson offers up a mixed review, declaring Tom Wilkinson's Ben Frankin "the best thing on screen here" (Staley preferred Stephen Dillane's brooding Jefferson).

- In Newsweek, David Ansen also praises and damns, declaring the first episode drab and "pokey," but assuring us that it gets better. He, like almost every other review, adds a paragraph on the John-Abigail partnership (Linney's portrayal of Abigail, I must note, is universally applauded): "Among the many things that make "John Adams" resonate—its emphasis on the importance of diplomacy in world affairs, its reminder of the contested principles upon which the country was based—is the marriage of John and Abigail, which feels strikingly modern without being anachronistic. It's a lovely, quirky portrait of a union based on true friendship and intellectual equality."

- Other reviews: Louisville Courier-Journal, Connecticut Post, Deseret Morning News, Sioux City Journal, Washington Post (in which Tom Shales gets some major facts wrong - Sam is not, of course, John's brother, but offers high praise for the production).

- J.L. Bell at Boston 1775 links to Ira Stoll's New York Sun review, which takes further issue with historical inaccuracies (I'm guessing we should start putting together an FAQ about the film so that when the reference questions start rolling in we can be ready). Bell also asks whether JA would approve of all this fuss and bother being made about his life. I agree with John's conclusion - publicly he would demur, but he'd be loving every minute of it.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Literary Indigestion

Over at the Guardian books blog, Olivia Laing has some suggestions for those who find themselves suffering from that most unpleasant of maladies: literary indigestion.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Auction Report: Sotheby's

The eleventh portion (English books and manuscripts) of the sale of the Earl of Macclesfield's library was held in two sessions today at Sotheby's in London. The first session realized 1.269 million GBP total (the results of the second session will be out fairly soon). Prices include buyer's premium.

Scoring big in the morning session, as expected, was John Eliot's Indian Grammar Begun (1666), the first copy at auction in at least a century. Sotheby's had estimated the Grammar at 70,000-100,000 GBP; it sold for 288,500 GBP. Another big seller was a collection of four tracts on early America, including the first account of New York printed in English, two of the first guides to Virginia settlers, and Francis Higginson's New Englands Plantation (1630). That also beat its estimate, hammering down at 150,500 GBP.

The little Indian Primer (Boston: Bartholomew Green, 1720), a little book of parallel English and Wampanoag texts, much surpassed its high estimate of 15,000 GBP, making 82,100 GBP.

More on the afternoon session as the prices come in.

[Update: the second session has now finished up; the total tally for both sessions was 2.321 million GBP. Manuscripts were the highlight in the afternoon: a collection of Henry Morgan documents pertaining to the sack of Panama made 132,500 GBP (better than quadrupling its estimate) and a sailor's journal from a 1697/8 voyage to China fetched 156,500 GBP (triple its estimate). And continuing the high prices from earlier in the day, a copy of Roger Williams' Key Into the Language of America (1643) beat estimates, selling for 38,900 GBP. If I get any word on buyers, I'll add another update.]

Open House @ MHS This Saturday

To mark the 225th anniversary of George Washington's Newburgh Address, the MHS will be holding an Open House this Saturday, 15 March, from 1-4 p.m. The original manuscript copy of the address will be on display (it's also on the web, but is naturally much cooler in person), and at 2 p.m. former MHS director Bill Fowler will speak about the speech and its significance.

Guided tours of the building will be offered at 1, 1:30, 2:30 and 3, and visitors will be able to view the current exhibit, "John Adams: A Life in Letters" (part of Adamspalooza). There will, of course, be "special refreshments."

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Book Review: "About a Boy"

After reading Nick Hornby's Slam earlier this year (review) and enjoying it fairly well, I thought I might read a few others from his backlist, since they seem to be nice light reads quite suited to train rides and down moments. About a Boy is the first of those I've picked up, and I found it even a bit funnier than Slam. As in Slam, Hornby has mastered the perspective of an adolescent boy; he complements that here by also mastering the perspective of an adolescent man (who manages to grow up a bit whether he likes it or not).

Dealing with deeply emotional issues (divorce, suicide, &c.) in an affecting way by combining depth with his trademark humor, quirky style, and fascinatingly rich (and reliably odd) characters, Hornby pulls it off again with this one.

Quick Links

Just to clear out my inbox a bit, a few things that have come through so far this week:

- The BL is hosting a conference regarding library security on 20 May sponsored by the Ligue des Bibliothèques Européennes de Recherche/Association of European Research Libraries (LIBER). "The aim of this conference is to share information on market intelligence, technology watch, trend analysis and research into collection security. It will provide a forum to share experience in managing risks to library collections, investigating incidents and preventing loss. International speakers from law enforcement organisations and national libraries as well as leading academics have been invited." Program and registration information here.

- The Friends of Coleridge have set up a site to document the ongoing debate over the attribution to Coleridge of an 1821 translation of Faust. This will be very useful; I'll check in often.

- Everett Wilkie noted on Ex-Libris yesterday this article about the new Pennsylvania State Library facility. He writes "One interesting aspect of the new library is that they seemed to have banned traditional writing instruments entirely from the reading room" (the article says "No pens or pencils are allowed here, lest graphite dust and stray ink mar its treasures. Instead, patrons can use laptop computers to take notes"). Not allowing even pencils is a step that I know of no other library taking (if there are others, I'd love to hear of them). Everyone's just supposed to have a laptop now? Of course it's entirely possible the author misunderstood the policy (she notes elsewhere in the piece that Franklin's "kite-and-key" experiment "resulted in the discovery of electricity", which is, of course, not the case).

- Paul van den Brink reports on MapHist that the Leiden Archives have digitized their Toonneel des Aerdrycks, ofte Nieuwe Atlas of 1659 (by Blaeu). Another very "high tech" viewer, but if the images will load on your computer it looks excellent. The website text is in Dutch.

Stanford Gets Fliegelman's Books

The Stanford Report notes today that Stanford University has acquired the wonderful collection of association copies created by the late Jay Fliegelman, who died in August at the age of 58. Stanford paid an undisclosed sum for the 258-volume collection, which was partially donated by Fliegelman's widow, independent scholar Christine Guth.

There's some good background on Fliegelman's collection and collecting habits in the article, so I recommend reading the whole thing. I have not yet heard what if any plans are being made to publish Fliegelman's final manuscript, a book about his collections tentatively titled Belongings: Dramas in American Book Ownership, 1660-1860.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Now That's a Donation!

The NYTimes reports today that Steven Schwarzman, a Wall Street "buyout guru," has "agreed to jump-start a $1 billion expansion of the library system with a guaranteed $100 million of his own." The donation is being hailed as one of "the largest to any cultural institution in the city’s history."

The main NYPL library building on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street will be named for Schwarzman, library officials said. Current plans call for some major renovations to the building over the next few years: a "new circulating library will be situated in a vast space that currently houses eight levels of stacks below the Main Reading Room and overlooks Bryant Park through strip windows. The stacks will be moved to an existing three-acre storage area beneath the park, opening the way for the space to be gutted and reconfigured with new rooms for children and teenagers and ample computer work stations. ... The plan also calls for a new cafe and information center to enliven Astor Hall just inside the Fifth Avenue entrance, wireless Internet access throughout the building, refurbishment of branch libraries and the creation of two new libraries in Upper Manhattan and Staten Island."

Secret's Out!

I've a post over at LibraryThing which explains my radio silence this weekend - I was trying to edit 1,600+ books in John Adams' library. That proved slightly ambitious in the end: I'm still only about halfway done. I probably could have finished, but I figured sleep was a little more important. So we've released JA's library in beta form, and I'll continue the process of adding notes, reviews, tags, transcriptions of Adams' marginalia and links to digital scans of the Adams books.

This project is pretty exciting, not only for its timing but also for the level of collaboration we've been able to achieve: LT's MARC guy worked with BPL staff to arrange a batch import of the raw records, and now I'm working with the great JALibrary folks to make the enhancements that will really bring this catalog to life.

I should also note that I've now officially become the "historical consultant" for LT, which I'm pretty excited about. The possibilities are endless!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Miller Gets 18 Months

Travis reports that Jay Miller was sentenced on Friday to 18 months in prison, the exact sentence sought by the prosecution (the defense had requested 8 months). Travis adds "all things considered, not a horrible sentence. Since he’s been in jail for almost a year now, I think we can expect him to be out in six months. At that point he’s got three years of supervised release." He was also ordered to pay more than $10,000 in restitution.

Should have been more time, but 18 months is better than nothing.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Links & Reviews

- In today's Boston Globe, JCB Library director Ted Widmer has an essay on Samuel de Champlain's New England voyages and the 400th anniversary of Quebec's founding. An exhibit curated by the JCB, "Champlain's America: New England and New France," will run at the Boston Public Library from 13 March to 31 May.

- Paul Collins expands on Paul Constant's The Stranger piece on chasing book thieves. Travis notes "the profile of this group is almost exactly like the profile of my book thieves, just younger. My guys are white, middle-aged, males with some education, money problems and (often) mommy issues. I couldn’t help thinking, after reading the article, that these thefts were gateway book crimes. In ten years that idiot who threw A People’s History into Puget Sound is going to be cutting up a Blaeu Atlas."

- Three men have been arrested in India for trying to sell Mughal-era Quran manuscripts. "The exact source of the books is yet to be traced, [but] police said they were stolen from either Haryana or Rajasthan."

- Michael Lieberman has a post on the Booksellers Provident Retreat, founded in 1843 and still in existence as "the only estate dedicated to providing homes for people who have worked in book publishing, distribution or sales, where they can live safe in the knowledge that they have a home for as long as they need it, within a community of like-minded people who share a common interest." Michael asks "How long is the waiting list?"

- In Paper Cuts, Jennifer Schuessler comments on Nicholson Baker's Deletopedia idea (which I mentioned here last week). She also points out a profile of Baker which recently appeared in the NYTimes.

From BibliOdyssey, a collection of anthropomorphic trade cards and images of the Montgolfier balloons.

- Laura at Bookn3rd has found a fascinating new book on birds: Walter Buller's A History of the Birds of New Zealand (online here). NB: Seeing a kiwi in person is one of the things that's on my list of things to do before I die.

- Bauman Rare Books is opening a showroom in Las Vegas. (h/t Book Patrol)

- David King notes the impending publication of his new book, Vienna, 1814.

- LT unveiled another fun new feature this week, LibraryThing Local.

- David Rubenstein, who bought the Magna Carta in December, returned the document to the National Archives this week. (h/t fade theory)

- In the TLS, Peter Porter comments on Shakespeare as poet and dramatist.

- Fort Wayne, Indiana's Lincoln Museum will close on 30 June, the Journal-Gazette reported recently.
"Much of the ... extensive collection – a treasure trove for historians that includes 18,000 books and 350 documents signed by Lincoln, among other rarities – will be digitized or sent to other museums around the country, possibly making it more difficult for researchers to access them all." (h/t RBN)


- In the NYTimes, Robert Sullivan reviews Jonathan Rosen's The Life of the Skies, which he calls "
part birding history, part birding travelogue."

- In the Washington Post, Michael Dirda reviews Steven Waldman's Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Run Silent, Run Deep

Just a quick note that I'm entering what will hopefully be a short period of radio silence so that I can (hopefully) finish up a big editing project and make an exciting announcement during the early part of next week. In the meantime, as part of Adamspalooza, NPR will be airing a series of Adams-related segments next week ... you can get a sneak preview here.

I'll try to put up links and reviews tomorrow at some point, and if I hear what happened at the Jay Miller sentencing yesterday I'll be sure to post that too.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Recent Acquisitions

- Penn State has acquired a collection of Ernest Hemingway correspondence called "the last sizeable and significant known collection of the famed novelist's letters still in private hands. Amassed by his sister Madelaine "Sunny" Hemingway Mainland and passed on to her son, Ernest Hemingway Mainland, the set includes more than 100 unpublished letters, telegrams, and notes from Hemingway to his family between 1917 and 1957." The archive will be cataloged and available for research use later in the year.

- Emory University will house an 1,100-box collection of materials from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a major civil rights organization. "Highlights of the collection include photographs documenting events such as voter registration workshops during the civil rights movement, and drafts of speeches by Ralph David Abernathy and others - many annotated in the hands of their authors." Emory purchased the archive for an undisclosed sum.

- And from BYU, a brief overview of the special collections acquisitions process.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Murder Pamphlet Exhibit at NLM

Stephen Greenberg writes:

"The History of Medicine Division (HMD) of the National Library of Medicine is pleased to announce the opening of a new exhibit, "MOST HORRIBLE & SHOCKING MURDERS: True crime murder pamphlets in the collection of the National Library of Medicine." It is located in display cases in the HMD Reading Room, on the first floor of the National Library of Medicine, Building 38, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland. The exhibit is open Monday through Friday, 8:30am to 5:00pm, and Saturday 8:30am to 2:30pm, through June 15, 2008.

Ever since the mid-1400s, the public's appetite for tales of shocking murders-"true crime"-has been one of the most durable facts of the market for printed material. Murder pamphlets were hawked on street corners, taverns, coffeehouses, newsstands, and bookshops. Typically, the pamphlets claimed to be true accounts of a murder, consisting of a narrative, trial transcript, or written confession of the murderer before his or her execution. Sometimes they featured medical commentary. The pamphlets on display in "MOST HORRIBLE & SHOCKING MURDERS" were printed between 1692 and 1881. Some deal with cases of interest to the emerging field of forensic medicine. Others deal with cases in which doctors were accused of-or were victims of-heinous crimes. Still others have no medical connection whatsoever. Today, murder pamphlets are a rich source for historians and crime novelists, who mine them to study the history of medicine, class, gender, the law, the city, religion and other topics.

The exhibit was curated by Michael Sappol, PhD. For further information on the exhibit, contact Stephen Greenberg, e-mail, phone 301-435-4995. Due to current security measures at NIH, off-campus visitors are advised to consult the NIH Visitors and Security website at:"

If crime broadsides are up your alley, don't forget to check out Harvard's digital collection of more than 500 examples.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Book Review: "Rebellion in the Ranks"

I had been looking forward to John Nagy's Rebellion in the Ranks: Mutinies of the American Revolution (2008, Westholme), and started reading it this week so as to coincide with the 225th anniversary of Washington's famous Newburgh Address, which we'll celebrate on 15 March.

Unfortunately, I wasn't even able to make it through the introduction, though I did sample long sections from several chapters later in the book just to see if things got better. The prose is incredibly clunky, and the text appears to have entirely escaped even a moment of an editor's time (I found at least eight typos in the first four pages, and I wasn't even looking). It is simply impossible to take seriously a piece of writing which contains such noticeable and prominent errors (including, I must add, a printing mistake on the title page).

I could continue to pile on (I thought about providing sample paragraphs) but I'll refrain. The only circumstance under which I would ever recommend this book to anyone is if they were looking to do their own research on mutinies: the bibliography is not horrible. Otherwise, unless you have a much higher tolerance for misspelled words and short, choppy sentences than I do, steer clear.

Book Review: "The Forgery of Venus"

Michael Gruber's second novel in two years (after 2007's The Book of Air and Shadows) is The Forgery of Venus, forthcoming from William Morrow. Like its predecessor, this one fits squarely into the literary thriller genre, although its plot focus is the art world rather than rare books. Also like Air and Shadows, this one kept me guessing, mainly because it's difficult to tell from first to last what's real and what's not.

Using a 21st-century version of a classic literary framing device, Gruber's story is told in the form of digital audio files which artist Charles P. Wilmot Jr. (aka Chaz) passes off to a friend after drunkenly informing him that he's responsible for painting a newly-discovered work by Diego Velázquez. The main portion of the novel consists of the narration in the files, revealing Chaz's tale of a "creativity drug" trial which takes a bizarrely supernatural turn and a descent into the glamorous but dangerous underworld of European art forgery.

Nice use of art history, psychological suspense and imagination. Interesting characters (even if some seemed a bit flat) and a plot that held my attention and made me want to know what the heck was going on. Recommended without reservation.

Faustus Editor Responds

Frederick Burwick, one of the editors of Faustus, From the German of Goethe, Translated by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, has responded to my post regarding a review essay [PDF] critical of the attribution. Please see his comments here.

Maine to Appeal Declaration Decision

I thought I'd look this morning and see if there were any updates on a case I posted about back in early December: the state of Maine had sued a Virginia man in an attempt to force the return of a 1776 printing of the Declaration of Independence (all the backstory is here). The trial in Fairfax County was set for 15 January, but I hadn't - until this morning - been able to find any discussion of what happened.

Portland's WMTW reports today that the Virginia judge ruled last month in favor of Richard L. Adams, Jr., the current owner of the Declaration, but that Maine officials have decided to appeal the ruling. I haven't yet been able to figure out how to pull up the case in the Virginia court system database so I don't have any further information than that just yet - but as soon as I can find anything, I'll post more.

[Update: Still don't have the text, but Everett Wilkie found another news piece about the case in the 28 February issue of the Wiscasset Newspaper.

Long excerpt: "Several factors hurt Maine's case. One was the testimony from Maine's own expert witness, Albert H. Whitaker, Jr. who said the 'broadsides were not typically kept.' The court found that Maine had not proved its public record statute applied in this case, and even if it did, the statute defines public records as 'received and maintained' by a municipality. 'Whether the Pownalborough Print was 'maintained' by Pownalborough or Wiscasset has not been conclusively established here,' the court said.

"Maine tried to prove that the print was kept by the town clerk because of the manner in which it was folded, the 'docketing' on the back of the print, and the fact that Sol Holbrook was the town clerk and the print was found in his daughter's attic. Specialists in colonial era documents from Sotheby's testified that they had seen between 80 and 100 broadsides of the Declaration of Independence, and that all of them were folded because of the odd size of the paper, but not necessarily because they were kept by town clerks. Another expert witness testified that 'anyone could have made the docketing entries, and that one docketing struck him as incorrect because it identified it as a 'warrant,' when in fact, it was not a warrant.'

"Maine argued that because the Pownalborough Print was not one of the many town documents recorded in the town book, 'it must have been wrongfully removed.'

"But the court found that such records of documents - 'an index, in effect of what was retained - were presumably passed from clerk to clerk. Any clerk doing an inventory of the town records would have known which records were missing by looking at the town book. If the original print was to be retained as an official town record, then, at some point, some clerk receiving the book without also receiving the broadside would have realized that it was missing. Yet, Maine presented no evidence that any town clerk ever realized the Pownalborough Print was not among the town records, and, as a result, sought it out. The print was never believed 'missing' until Maine learned of its sale.'

"Maine tried to prove ownership because it was found in the attic of town clerk Sol Holbrook's daughter. However, the court said since Sol Holbrook never lived in the house where the print was found, there was no evidence this was true.

"And, even if Sol Holbrook had once had it in his possession, the court said, 'It still begs the ultimate question… whether Sol Holbrook gave to someone a town record as opposed to a discarded broadside.'"

Without having read the full text, the ruling actually seems quite fair to me. I'll be interested to see what grounds Maine chooses to appeal on.]

[Further update: A colleague's forwarded me another local newspaper story, this one from the Lincoln County News. Another very interesting bit from the court's ruling: "The State of Maine introduced no evidence that any applicable statute in effect in 1776 required a state or town to retain broadsides generally or the Pownalborough print specifically. In fact, the Order printed on the Pownalborough print only requires it be read by the ministers of each parish and then delivered to the town clerks so that the clerks could record the words into the town books." Such a recording was made 10 November, 1776.

"The court reasoned under Virginia law, Maine as the party not possessing the copy had to bear the burden of proof that the print was 'converted' from its rightful owner." Maine's claims failed to meet this burden, the court ruled.]

All Adams, All the Time

As you may have heard, HBO is about to air a mini-series based on David McCullough's John Adams, with Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney starring as John and Abigail. The very flashy series website contains trailers, clips, interviews, and all sorts of other goodies. HBO has arranged a tie-in marketing campaign with the US Postal Service which is highlighted at among other things, first class letters will be postmarked with a special cancellation in March containing a 1765 quote from JA: "Let us dare to read, think, speak and write."

The USPS website also contains "see the original letters" links to the Adams Electronic Archive here at MHS, where you can view images and transcriptions of the entire John-Abigail correspondence (among other things). Our web guru has also mounted a brand-new site designed specifically to complement the HBO mini-series.

Beyond the virtual, there will be two physical exhibits of Adams letters and other manuscript materials. Here at the MHS in Boston, "John Adams: A Life in Letters" will be open to the public from 8 March through 31 (Monday through Saturday, 1-4 p.m.). And at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY, "My Dearest Friend" will run from 5-30 April in the Frederick Ferris Thompson Memorial Library.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Recent Catalogs

- Oak Knoll's having a Bibliographies Sale for March: 588 titles offered.

- E.K. Schreiber Rare Books offer their Spring List [PDF]. Forty-five titles, published from 1467-1767. The list is elegantly designed, with very nice descriptions.

- Philadelphia Rare Books and Manuscripts has a whole bunch of new web catalogs up - these are always eminently browsable, well-illustrated and with a great selection of books. The list: Illustrated Books, Arabica, Agriculture, Conduct, and 18th Century. They write "The first and last of these are long, and we have taken to reminding webshop visitors that it can be rewarding, when it comes to such extensive offerings, to be merrily illogical. Instead of starting at "A" and marching on through, try a Bi-Bz or a Cor-Cz, then K-Le, then N-Pk - let chance have its chance, as it would if you were poking around on our *actual* shelves here at the Arsenal!"

Audubon's Birds, Digitally

It is an absolutely beautiful early spring morning in Boston today: my walk to work was filled with the sounds of birdsong, the sight of plants started to poke through the leaf litter and that wonderful, elusive smell that only wafts in on a warm spring breeze. (Of course, true to New England form, it's going to rain this afternoon, but hey, we'll take what we can get).

Mornings like this usually make me feel a little bit guilty that I didn't get up much earlier and go out birding - I can do some by ear on my walk in, but not at the leisurely pace I'd prefer. So I was absolutely delighted to learn this morning from a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the University of Pittsburgh's Darlington Digital Library has mounted the first complete digital version of John James Audubon's Birds of America: all 435 plates plus the accompanying text from the five-volume Ornithological Biographies.

I like the layout and design of the site, and I especially like that they have retained Audubon's original order of the birds (they were released to subscribers in batches of five, with each batch generally containing one large bird, one medium-sized bird, and three small birds).

Monday, March 03, 2008

Miller (Probably) Gets Wrist-Slap

Jay Miller, our most recent cross-country book thief, is set to be sentenced on Friday, and Travis has the skinny on the prosecution's sentencing recommendation: "The government is recommending 18 months. And we haven’t even heard from the defense yet. Unless there’s some rogue, super strict federal judge - in the Northern District of California - don’t expect any more than that." Travis runs through the sentencing guidelines to show how that number was reached, and also lays out what should have happened.

Scholars Urge Caution on Coleridge Attribution

In last weekend's links and reviews post I noted the TLS review of a new Oxford University Press edition of an 1821 translation of Goethe's Faustus, which has been attributed by Frederick Burwick and James C. McKusick to Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Not so fast, say Roger Paulin, William St Clair and Elinor Shaffer, who have rushed a 35-page review essay [PDF] into publication via the Institute of English Studies at the University of London's School of Advanced Study.

Paulin, St Clair and Shaffer take strong exception to the presentation of the volume as "containing a work of Coleridge not previously accepted as such. ... The attribution of Faustus to Coleridge is presented ... not as a hypothesis but as established fact. Nowhere in this volume is any indication given that the question is an open one, a decision that raises the scholarly stakes. If the attribution of the translation can be validated, the republication of Faustus would indeed be a major event. On the other hand, if Faustus is not a translation made by Coleridge, or is not likely to have been made by Coleridge, in whole or in part, then it is not only the reputation of the volume's editors that is hazarded but those of the managers, the academic advisers, and the Delegates of Oxford University Press who decided that it deserved to be published in the uncompromising form in which it has now appeared."

The team walks us through the entire "contemporaneous biographical documentary record" using transcriptions of letters between Coleridge and the publishers Boosey and Sons, the firm by which the Faustus edition in question was first published. From the correspondence they conclude, as they note previous scholars have also done: "The sequence seems clear. Booseys, who had heard that Coleridge had once intended to translate of Faust [sic] ... approached him with a proposal; Coleridge declined the invitation; Booseys thanked him and turned elsewhere, picking up some of Coleridge's suggestions. ... The conjecture [made by Burwick and McKusick] requires that, after the completed exchanges with Booseys in May 1820, there was another exchange, or series of exchanges, that are unrecorded. The conjecture requires that Coleridge changed his mind, took an initiative, decided to break an agreement that he had made in 1814 with the publisher Murray, went back to Booseys, and despite his earlier indignant protests that he would never accept anonymous subliterary jobbing work, and that he would never bargain, he nevertheless negotiated a publishing agreement. ... The conjecture also requires that Coleridge, a writer well known for his table talk and loose tongue, acted so far out of character that he never permitted a hint of his involvement with Faustus to pass his lips. Indeed it requires that he misled his closest friends over the remainder of his life." Well when you put it like that ...

The review essay includes several items of correspondence which appear rather damaging to the editors' claims if taken at face value. A letter from Maria Gisborne recording a 25 June 1820 visit with Coleridge reads in part "He should like to translate the Faust, but he thinks that there are parts which could not be endured in english and by the English, and he does not like to attempt it with the necessity of the smallest mutilation." And, the team notes, "For their conjecture to be sustained, Burwick and McKusick have to disregard or overturn explicit denials made by Coleridge near the end of his life" ("I need not tell you, that I never put pen to paper as translator of Faust," he said on 16 February 1833). A series of correspondence from Boosey and Sons to Goethe (through an intermediary) regarding the translation and publication of his works and some accompanying engravings fails entirely to mention Coleridge.

Another section of the review essay takes up the question of the engravings which appeared in the Boosey and Sons volume, reproductions of those done by Henry Moses in 1820. They take issue with the way the images have been portrayed by Burwick and McKusick - arguing, and fairly so in my view, that rather than seeing the engravings as simple illustrations to a printed text, it was the text which "presented itself as a piece of subliterary work that was a useful ancillary to the engravings." Burwick and McKusick have, they argue, "forced a modest text that was commissioned, designed, and manufactured to accompany an art publication into the conventions of a literary text with inserted illustrations."

But that's not all. Paulin, St Clair and Shaffer also claim that Burwick and McKusick have cherry-picked evidence from contemporary reviews to support their hypothesis - and the evidence for this is remarkably clear (see pp. 24-27).

The authors conclude their essay by suggesting several possible sources for the translation, including George Soane (who has been the accepted translator for quite some time), and by noting flatly "The case that Faustus is a work by Coleridge has not been made. The conclusion of the predecessors of Burwick and McKusick, who went over the ground with the information available in 1947 and decided that the piece was not written by him, has not been overturned. Indeed, the large amount of more recent research, and the new archival, unnoticed and other information that we ourselves have added, makes the attribution even less plausible." They suggest that the volume "could have been presented as a matter on which questions of attribution are more open - entitled, for example, 'Goethe's Faust: Translations, prefaces, engravings, analyses, and other writings associated with the early reception of Goethe's Faust into English.' ... As it is, with Faustus, From the German of Goethe, Translated by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, potential purchasers and readers should be warned. This volume is not what it appears to be. Nor is it consistent with the normal standards of Oxford University Press. We suggest that [OUP] should consider amending their website or including a reference to this review article."

The current OUP web-catalog text certainly doesn't leave any room for the reasonable doubt which I think has been inserted into the debate: "The major work of German literature, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust (1808), was translated into English by one of Britain's most capable mediators of German literature and philosophy, Samuel Taylor Coleridge." Not being by any stretch a Coleridge scholar, I don't have a dog in this fight - but I think the review essay does raise extremely serious questions about the attribution that I hope Burwick and McKusick (as well as OUP) will see fit to answer.

[Update: Please see Frederick's Burwick's reponse to this post in the comments]