Friday, November 6, 2015

Collectanea Miscellanea: Two Volumes from William Stubbs's Library

2 volumes from the library
of William Stubbs
I am pleased to be able to say that even after my fiftieth year, I continue to have a real joy of learning. To my further delight, this week I realized that I have much the same feeling when I find a book that is a true rarity or other gem. In both cases, I want to run out and share my new discovery with all my friends and acquaintances.

I suppose that's one of the functions of this blog, as it turns out.

So this week, the postal system brought me two volumes labeled on their spines "Collectanea Miscella." and numbered "II." and "III." Presumably, at some point, there was at least a volume 1, and very possibly further volumes as well, but these two volumes were the only ones on offer. I bought them via eBay, where they were listed in separate auctions, so I've done some good for these books already, keeping them together, where they otherwise might have been separated.

It was no trouble at all to discover that these collections had been put together by William Stubbs, the bishop of Chester for a time in the late nineteenth century, and the seller I bought these from had identified them as such. But I recognized Stubbs more for his reputation as an important historian of the English middle ages, and some of the offprints included here address medieval topics, so I was very interested. One of the strangest things about working in medieval studies is the fact that medieval studies is a field that itself has a centuries-spanning history: Stubbs's books, in some ways, now have a historical interest in their own right, part of the history of our discipline.

The offprints included in these volumes generally date from the 1870s and 1880s, and some of them are pretty unusual, or scarce, or otherwise interesting: there are several offprints from John Evans, describing hoards of Anglo-Saxon coins, including some with illustrations; A Sketch of the History of Scots Law; Samuel Andrews's "The Seven Holy Crosses of Oldham" (an 8-page pamphlet; WorldCat records copies only in the British Library and the University of Oxford). Some items are accompanied by hand-written letters from their authors, which Stubbs had bound in.

First Page of the Krebs edition
of the Old English Dialogues
The item I personally found most interesting however, was titled "An Anglo-Saxon Version of Gregory's Dialogues." This piece, 96 pages in length, is the beginning of the text portion of a printed edition. Each gathering has a hand-written comment, either "Worked Sheet" or "Proof: Not corrected by Author." No author's name is given, though, and when I looked in the standard reference work, A Bibliography of Publications on Old English Literature to the End of 1972 (Greenfield and Robinson, 1980), I discovered that there was no printed version of the Dialogues before 1900. Fascinatingly, Greenfield and Robinson do record an edition by Heinrich Krebs (their item 5525), a unique item "Deposited in the Taylorian Institute, Oxford, as ms 8oE.15": 52 pages of a manuscript Introduction followed by "96 corrected page proofs dated 28 September 1878."

There seems little doubt, then, that Krebs was working on an edition of this item that never saw final publication, though a substantial portion of the edition reached the proof stage. One copy of these proofs, somehow, made its way into Stubbs's hands. It would have been, of course, the first printed edition of the Old English version of the Dialogues: it still is, in some sense. But one presumes that very few of these proof copies were ever made, and probably fewer survive. This item must be a true rarity in Anglo-Saxon studies, and as such it neatly combines my academic interest in the middle ages and my delight in rare books.

One doubts, of course, that there will be many folks scrabbling to add this embryonic edition to their collections: rarity does not always translate into either interest or monetary value. And yet, even beyond the scarcity of any of the items they contain, each of these volumes is truly unique: nowhere else were these various items ever gathered together, and the books that hold them together now have all of the uniqueness within the world of a medieval (or other) manuscript. I find that uniqueness compelling, regardless of the dollar-value involved: it captures my attention, in a way no digital representation ever could.

The Stubbs/Congregational
Library Bookplate
somewhat unfocused.
But there is more to say: for a time, I was not even sure that I would be able to own these books legitimately: Stubbs's library, as an easy internet search revealed, was sold after his death, by Quaritch, to the Congregational Library in Boston. This internet search, too, was stunningly easy, since a Bishop Stubbs/Congregational Library bookplate remains in both volumes. I emailed the reference desk at the Congregational Library, asking if they could give me any information on whether these books were legitimately deaccessioned (some of the Stubbs books were apparently sold to Yale, for example), or whether they might have been illegitimately deaccessioned.

In a brief response yesterday, they told me that they certainly had sold the books at some point, and so I don't think there's any reason to think the books were stolen. Like many books over time, though, they have been been assessed at varying levels of value or usefulness at different points in their history. As have we all, I suppose.

I'm delighted to own them, at least for the moment, but I will probably also hope to find them a more permanent home at some point. But for now, I still have more work to do, to learn about what other treasures might be hidden in their pages.
A fold-out facsimile of a late-medieval will.


  1. Fascinating! I'm particularly interested in the OE Dialogues and wonder why it was so neglected when other Alfredian texts excited interest in the nineteenth century (and sometimes before). What a wonderful find!

    I'm afraid in your position, I'd be bothered by finding vols. 2 and 3 but not vol. 1 until I finally got vol. 1—or died.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Nicole! I will probably not be quite that anxious about volume 1, though of course it would be nice to find it or locate it. But as you know, I've accustomed myself to the hazards of textual fragmentation. It seems to me like one of the unavoidable aspects of all our work with the past, even when (or especially when?) we work to find meaning and wholeness in such fragments.

  2. I've just across this post, and find it VERY interesting. Will you (or have you already) posted a list of its contents?