Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A puzzle

Miscellanea Marescalliana, v. II
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about two bound volumes of pamphlets and offprints from William Stubbs's library. Here I just wanted to share one more little bit from one pamphlet from one of those volumes.

The pamphlet here, the title page of which appears in the blurry image to the left, is by George William Marshall, and it identifies itself as volume II of his work Miscellanea Marescalliana, being Genealogical Notes on the Surname Marshall. It is a scarce book, I think it is safe to say: WorldCat/OCLC appears to turn up only ten or twelve copies in libraries, and the WorldCat descriptive entry on Vol. 1 indicates that there were only fifty copies for private distribution printed.

It was a labor of love, one imagines, a huge collection of 174 pages of documentary records (and indexes, etc) concerning the name "Marshall," gathered together in one place, printed, and handed out to a small circle of friends and family.

And, of course, it is always a treat for me to run across a truly rare or scarce item, even when (like this) it is unlikely to be of any great monetary value, except perhaps for folks named Marshall. But this particular pamphlet grew even more interesting for me when I took a close look at the small poem at the foot of the title page, as shown in my second picture.
Marshall's poem.
Obviously, this is some sort of puzzle: I see one "M", one "D", one "C", four "L"s, seventeen "V"s, and three "I"s, all picked out in red ink and capital letters. I make that out to be 1888, the date of publication. That would seem to cover the "When we go" part of the poem, but there should also, I think, be some way to read here the pamphlet's "From Where We Spring" bit: the foot of the title page, after all, is a very conventional place to put the date and place of publication for a book, and I don't see any reason to suppose that this little puzzle poem wouldn't be as good as its sense. 

The printer identifies himself on the final page of the pamphlet as "Robert White, Printer, Worksop" but so far I've not been able to work that out from the poem, or any other solution.  I'd love to hear from anyone who can solve the rest of this little bibliographic puzzle.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Fugitive Leaves (another "Post-Academic" post about medievalists and manuscript leaves)

Fragment purchased in 2014, showing a passage from Psalm 50.
It was my great pleasure again this past month to purchase some manuscript fragments online and to discover, quite by surprise, that I already owned another fragment from the same medieval book. The fragments I bought most recently were offered in two separate auctions; the lone piece I had before looks to have had similar use in a similar binding. As always, I will make sure that these fragments all stay together while I own them, and if I ever sell them, I will do my best to find a buyer who will also value them more together than separately.

12 more fragments, apparently from the same twelfth-century manuscript,
purchased last month as two auction lots. These stack together to make two
full leaves, the left recording Psalm 108vv2-22, and the right running from
Psalm 58v13 to the end of Psalm 59.
But beyond the excitement of putting these fugitive fragments together once more (and keeping them together when they might so easily have been further separated), a couple of incidents in the last couple of months have prompted me to write once more about manuscript leaves. (I’ve done so before, here.) The first of these incidents, which happened at SEMA, the annual conference of the Southeastern Medieval Association, was actually a series of short conversations, where various people expressed anxiety of one sort or another about the ownership of individual manuscript leaves. “I see them framed and hanging on the wall of a friend’s house” said one acquaintance, “and I just cringe inside.”

In a conversation with another friend at SEMA, I pointed out how I had sometimes done real good for old manuscript leaves, bringing them together like the fragments I just bought, even leaves long separated but never used in bindings. This person had more or less naturally assumed that any participation in the market for such leaves must actively contribute to the breaking of books in the present day. In a third conversation, a new acquaintance asked how close I was to the “grey market” in rare books (or antiquities?)—the connection, at least as I imagined it, was that dealing with medieval manuscript leaves and fragments was perhaps linked in this person’s mind to illegal, or at least problematic, activity.

But the truth is, from my perspective, the part of the market I inhabit, where manuscript leaves frequently sell for under a hundred dollars, is not really lucrative enough to support a black (or even grey) market, I think. And I hope, in the case of each of these conversations, that I managed to convey that the market in leaves need not necessarily be the object of academic medievalists’ scorn, though it often is. That message—that it is sometimes acceptable, even right, to own, treasure, and preserve for the future even a single manuscript leaf—is a message of outreach I am likely to be called upon to make, here on this blog and in meetings in person, for the foreseeable future. It is part of what I do now.

The second thing that has prompted this post was an email from a young academic friend who had received a manuscript leaf as a gift. This person asked me if I could offer any reassurance that the person who had purchased the leaf had not contributed to the modern breaking up of its manuscript. According to this person’s description, the dealer who had sold it worked in maps and prints, but didn’t seem to have a batch of similar leaves for sale. I suggested that dealers in maps and prints must occasionally come by such leaves naturally, in the course of acquiring collectors’ collections, and that this particular purchase didn’t seem to have any obvious ethical concerns attached, as a result. (On the other hand, it is easy enough, I should note, to find online dealers who do offer—as separate items—multiple leaves that clearly come from the same book; these dealers may be a different matter).

In the course of my correspondence with this young friend, however, I drew an analogy that I found both revealing and perhaps a bit troubling: these fugitive leaves (as they have long been called) are refugees. The etymological root of both words, after all, is the same. By calling them refugees, I have no wish at all to minimize or diminish the real pain and plight of human victims of violence and displacement: they are all too real, and too difficult for me to imagine, insulated as I have been from much violence in my own fortunate life. But I do want to acknowledge that the medieval manuscript leaf (or incunabula leaf, or other early printed leaf, or, indeed, many a map or print) that is cut from its book has also suffered from a kind of violence and displacement.

The person who sees a framed leaf on a friend’s wall and cringes in response, of course, is cringing in awareness of the violence done and the resulting separation and displacement. But it seems to me to be incredibly important to note that the violence is not the fault of the leaf, and the leaf should not be blamed. Likewise, the owner who has taken the fugitive leaf in, and cherished it, and given it a place of prominence in his or her home, is not necessarily to be blamed for the violence either. Owning such a leaf does not mean one condones book-breaking, any more than taking in Syrian refugees (to name only the most prominent of too many recent examples) should be taken as supporting the perpetrators of the violence that displaced them.

For the foreseeable future, my own dealings in medieval material will likely remain focused on binding fragments, on charters and documents, and not on leaves cut from books. But I, too, will almost certainly come across cut leaves naturally, as a part of my own work of doing business. I cannot take them all in: no one possibly could. But I can harbor some of them for a time, and I can try to find homes that will take them in with as much sympathy for their fugitive status as can be. When their lonely, separated existence is neither their fault nor mine, I shall do my best to do them what little good I can by keeping them and transmitting them—as tiny pieces of our shared cultural heritage—to the next generation. Should anyone, really, be ashamed to take such a refugee in?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Shelfie Thursday: A Book Bound in a Charter

1631 book bound in an older charter
I am always on the lookout for old books which have been bound in recycled or reused vellum, so it was a delight to come across this little book in the last couple of weeks. A tiny little thing, only about five inches tall, it is bound in an old charter (the first words read In Nomine D[omi]ni) probably dating from the fifteenth century.

[I should pause to say that by "charter" I mean some sort of legal document written on a loose single sheet. Here the text is practically unreadable, after the opening words, because the re-used vellum is worn, darkened, and stained. The text does respond a bit to UV light, but I've not been able to identify its place or date of origin at all, other than by script.]

The book itself is Guilelmus Spreuwen's Fasciculus Myrrhae, printed in Louvain in 1631. As a fairly undistinguished seventeenth-century book on a religious topic, the book has not been well collected: my quick search on WorldCat seemed able to trace only one institutionally-held copy, in Antwerp. For me at least, it's the binding that is far more interesting and worth collecting, though I am wise enough to know that another person might have a different view of it.
Title page

Just as interesting as the vellum binding wrap, though, were the pages of printer's waste that were used as endpapers in this binding of the book. Although Google is usually remarkably useful in identifying many old texts, I haven't found any matches for a number of the lexical collocations on these pages. Which is too bad, because even while they are fragmentary, it's clear that these pages offer some sort of historical material regarding Carolingian events, with references to Charles Martell (Martellus) of the Franks (Francorum) and the expulsion of some Saracens (Saracenis pulsis).

I should note that I have at least one additional book bound in an old charter, and I also have a binding scrap from a dated French charter of 1520, which was bound so that the plain side was on the outside. How the visual aesthetics of plain vellum or inscribed vellum were understood in this period is one of those questions that I think is fascinating to think about, especially as it must be the case that some vellum bindings use charters facing inwards, oriented in such a way that generations of owners, right up to the present, may have had no idea that the vellum is written on, on the inside. Others, like this book, have the charter writing upside down, but otherwise, right out in the open, a challenge to readers, even as the spine of this book has a title added over it in a seventeenth-century hand, in a kind of palimpsest.

And this is one more reason why these old books always fascinate me: even an old and old-fashioned religious book can end up being the opportunity for a whole variety of textual items, and practices, and ideas to be brought together.
Printed waste used as endpapers.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Shelfie Wednesday: Binding by Bayntun

1812 Froissart in 2 volumes
When I printed up my business cards, I listed "Medieval Books" as one of my areas of expertise. Of course, there was bit of intentional ambiguity and imprecision there: I buy and sell medieval textual material (mostly binding fragments and charters or other documents) as well as books about the middle ages.

I'd love to deal more often in actual medieval books, but so far at least, there's a kind of price barrier in place: I'm not really selling enough to spend the money it takes to buy a complete medieval manuscript. Much less an inventory full of them.

But, as I hope to show today, there's plenty of other books to fall in love with.

So I was at an antique auction this past weekend, where they were selling a lot of stoneware crocks, and Staffordshire china, and furniture, and primitive American iron-work, and many other interesting things. At the end of the auction were a hundred or so lots of books, and they came to the block around 11:00 at night. I think there were two bidders remaining in the auction house, though there were phone bidders and internet bidders enough to make our presence unnecessary.

I bought five lots. One was the set of books I am writing about today, the 1812 reprint of Pynson's early sixteenth-century printing of an English version of Froissart's Chronicles.
Title page of volume 1.

Froissart's work, off course, is well known to medieval historians, and the Pynson edition would probably count (for me at least) as one of those medieval books I'd love to deal in, though English language books from the 1520s are very, very scarce on the market! I bought this set, thinking not only that they would be fine books to take to Kalamazoo, but also because, from just a brief glance, I saw they were very handsomely bound.

I was doubly pleased, then, when I got the books home and looked more closely at the bindings, which turned out to be signed by Bayntun of Bath. This, of course, was one of the most notable fine binders of the first half of the twentieth century, known for handsome bindings of this very sort, as well as more opulent ones.

It is a foolish proverb, indeed, that tells us not to judge a book by its cover, and there are collectors, of course, who focus primarily upon fine bindings themselves, rather than upon their contents. Surely, though, it is the literary or historical (or, indeed, monetary) value of the contents that first prompts an owner to invest in a fine binding: the visible sign of how the contents are valued.

These books are an ornament to my shelves, and I will be delighted to bring them to Kalamazoo in the spring, to show them off, and to hopefully find a new home, where they can ornament someone else's shelves for a time. Or not, in which case they will still be treasured here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Mini-Catalogue Tuesday???

I have just finished putting together a little catalogue of ten items, mostly new acquisitions, and all new offerings, ranging from a 1685 English translation of Montaigne's Essays to a signed copy of Sinclair Lewis's Babbitt. I would say there is something for everyone here, but there's only ten things, after all.
Wharton's Book of the Homeless

The gem of the lot, given recent events, is the 1916 The Book of the Homeless, edited by Edith Wharton. Organized as a kind of fund raising efforts to help families and children--displaced homeless refugees--of the Great War, this book reminds me powerfully that the story of the refugee might be just as much the story of the twentieth (and no twenty-first) century, as W E B DuBois's color line.

Filled with contributions from authors like Thomas Hardy, Joseph Conrad, Henry James, W B Yeats and Wharton herself, as well as artwork from Rodin, Sargent, Monet and others, the book was published in a trade edition and in two limited large-paper editions. My copy is one of 175 total of those two limited editions.

It is a bit depressing to find a 99-year-old book with such topical timeliness, but that's history, I guess.

Interested browsers should be able to download the catalogue from this link. Or you can always email me.

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.

Friday, October 23, 2015

SEMA day 2. I gave my paper.

Day 2 here at SEMA, the Southeast Medieval Association annual meeting. SEMA is a conference I've been to only once before, when it was in Roanoke, Virginia. SEMA's reason for being, I think, is that it can bring together scholars in an environment that is closer and less diffuse than a conference like Kalamazoo or MLA. One gets a chance to talk to people here, and to talk to them more, perhaps.

I certainly have done more talking than I probably should, though I hope that I've mostly been able to avoid mansplaining anything! I think of myself as a bit of a misanthrope, but when I get to a place like this, I am forced to realize or recall how much I seem to love to talk about ideas with people who are thinking about some of the same issues I've been thinking on. Unfortunately, I sometimes also recognize that I seem to want to talk more than listen. Doh!

But, anyway, I went to a couple of panels this morning, and read my paper at a panel this afternoon. And I've chatted with a variety of folks, including one who confessed to being a reader of this blog, even though that's usually a pretty small group, all things considered.

And I've talked, more than once, about the difficulty of forging a place within academia for people who are not working at academic institutions. Although humanities professors frequently insist that the teaching they do is not supposed to be vocational, it remains incredible to me how very focused (and focused on the vocation of teaching) the humanities enterprise in the American academy seems to be, especially at the difficult and challenging boundary or interface between graduate students and established scholars.

Because that's part of what a conference like SEMA is for, too--it is a place where graduate students, and even some undergraduates, can give a paper in a smaller, more forgiving context than a major international conference, and it simultaneously allows those students to begin networking with both their actual peers (other grad students) and their aspirational peers (professors and professionals). But of course, when I registered for the conference online, I was given only two choices for designating my professional status: grad student or faculty member; no other type of professional was as clearly envisioned. As far as the SEMA conference is built, it seems to assume that everyone here belongs to one of those two (and only two) categories.

It is not so, of course.  There are multiple undergraduates here, of course, including at least one who is delivering a paper. I am here, with my affiliation listed as Chancery Hill Books, and at least one "Independent Scholar" is listed on program. But like so very many things in this world, the things we build are built from how we imagine them to already be: conferences, "our" imagination goes, are for teachers and (graduate) students. Other types of scholars are already here--they are literally already on the program--but because they make their living in some other context than a college or university, they slip in past the edges of academia's usual range of imagination.

There's a phrase that's often kicked around in academic circles: "imagined communities." Among the work I try to do here on this blog is to imagine the community of scholars as something that reaches beyond the vocation of teaching. And its one of the things I've been talking about here at SEMA, in one informal sort of way and another.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

SEMA day 1: my trip to North Little Rock, AR

So, here I am at my second academic conference of the year, the Southeast Medieval Association's annual meeting, which is taking place this year in Little Rock, AR. I drove here yesterday from Columbus, OH, which was about 11 hours in the car. But I was able to buy gas at under $2.00 a gallon, which was a delight.

Had a fine time last evening eating and sharing beers with a batch of old friends: David Johnson, Lindy Brady, Jill Fitzgerald, and others. I was probably too serious--I always am serious about Big Ideas, I guess--but I had fun anyway.

Checking into the hotel last evening, I broke my reading glasses--the cheap kind, and I probably should have known it would happen and packed a second pair. But of course I didn't. So I went out this morning and strolled around the local neighborhood, looking for a drug store (or similar place) where I could find a replacement pair. I stumbled across the Argenta Drug Co., which (as the linked article says) is a kind of time capsule: the brick building must be about a century old, and the interior still has the classic pressed tin ceiling, painted white. The wallpaper has been updated, but not since the 1950s, I think. They literally do no make them like this place anymore.

Papers begin this afternoon.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

1478 German Indenture

1478 German Indenture
Of course I love medieval manuscripts, and I am always happy to find a new one I can buy. This week, the mailman brought me this little gem (only about 9" long, on the longer dimension). It's a small German charter, dated 1478, and this one can legitimately be called an indenture.

The jagged cuts or 'teeth' at the top of this little charter, of course, are what gives the word 'indenture' its basic meaning, and while many, many indentures never had the jagged teeth (theoretically designed to allow one indenture to be mated up to the matching copy cut from the same sheet), as this example shows, they could have them at least late into the fifteenth century. 

The language on this example is German (except for the final dating clause "anno Milessimo quadragentesimo septuagesimo octavo") and it seems to take the form of a list of some sort, though my medieval German isn't any better than my Modern German, which I usually describe as "rudimentary." Even so, it appears that it may relate to some rights or access to the woods and water around Habkirchen (here showing up as "Haupkirchen") on the Mandelbach waterway. 

I am not always perfectly certain about what sort of animal any particular piece of vellum comes from: I suspect this piece may be on pig-skin: certainly the hair side is as brown and pebbly in feel as any piece of vellum I've ever handled. It's also a nice example for showing two contemporary scripts, plus the later German script on the reverse side:

Of course, one of the reasons I love charters, legal documents, and indentures is that they were always single sheets, rarely part of larger books or codices, and there is far less to worry about in regard to the destruction of old books. A charter is usually complete in itself, and always interesting.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Nor am I out of it.

It’s been an odd few weeks in my strange little Post-Ac world. I was asked again to give a talk to another university about some of my recent scholarship (after talks this spring at NYU and Mississippi), and I was also asked to fill in at a 2016 Kalamazoo/Medieval Congress "round table" on “The Business of Old English.” Rosemary and I (and another Morgantown friend) chatted with a former student about PhD applications and schools where he might apply, and at some close friends’ recent wedding, Rosemary and I talked with a current PhD student as well.

And this is why, in some ways, I don’t find that the “Post-Academic” label is one that fits me very well at all. Though I may not be employed in a traditional academic institution, I remain active in the world of academia, and indeed, I eagerly embrace these opportunities to meet and speak with both students and colleagues. With apologies to Christopher Marlowe, “Why this is [academia], nor am I out of it!”
But talking with current and prospective PhD candidates, one cannot help thinking about the desire (or lack of it) to take an academic position. As I told one of these folks, “An academic job is not necessarily a recipe for happiness,” and one of my close friends also pointed out to me in the last week or so that the whole academic enterprise these days might be reasonably described as a “toxic environment.”

But I also told the PhD candidate I was speaking with that she was in a great position, because she’d had another job and another career: she could judge for herself what sort of academic work she’d want, and whether a teaching line or a tenure-track line would suit her best, or whether a job away from a university might be even better. And it’s true, I think: perhaps the best advice we can offer to those on the academic job market is that they should judge the positions they are being offered, or even the ones they are considering, in comparison to other jobs they’ve had.

This would only make sense, I suppose, if doctoral candidates on the job market actually had experience of some other jobs or careers. So this week’s modest proposal is that doctoral-granting institutions, or at least their departments of English, where we think there’s an employment crisis happening, should only admit graduate students who have spent at least five years in a non-academic career.

Who can doubt that these students would come equipped to graduate school with a set of life experiences and work experience that would benefit their studies? I’d guess that they’d probably have quicker times to graduation as a result. Perhaps they would have less bright and innocent enthusiasm for the grunt work of teaching first year composition, but they’d probably understand more about the value of work, including their own work. They might also want, or need, a somewhat higher stipend to live on.

But I wonder, indeed, whether doctoral students in English who’ve never been out of school, who’ve never worked a full-time, forty-hour-a-week job for a paycheck, might not be the very kind of people most likely to be preyed upon by a system that offers adjunct teaching jobs to folks so often and so widely. 

I told one of these students last week, “Of course, if you end up adjuncting and you find that you love it, embrace that, too!”—and I think we owe that advice to adjuncts and prospective PhD students as much as we owe them the advice not to continue adjuncting if they find it soul-killing. But maybe all teachers, adjuncts and tenure-track faculty alike, will be better able to tell where on that spectrum their own job lies, if they have actually worked at other work for a time.

I recognize, of course, that this proposal can only be described as a modest proposal: it may seem reasonable on the surface, but of course it has little if any likelihood of actually being put into practice. 

And it's especially unlikely that a proposal from someone outside of academia like me will be taken seriously, anyway.