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We’ve Got Boswellian Mail!

I wrote last Friday’s You’ve Got Mail piece for the Houghton Blog on a major new acquisition–a lengthy 1775 letter from Boswell to his brother David. We acquired a second letter at the same time, which may not be quite as dramatic as the letter to David Boswell, but is important and interesting nonetheless.

Boswell was an important advocate for the cause of Corsican independence in the 1760s, and first found literary fame through his book An Account of Corsica. To build British support, Boswell relayed reports from the Corsican leader Pasquale Paoli to persons of influence, in this case George, Lord Lyttleton, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer. Boswell implores Lyttleton to attach his prestige to a book Boswell was preparing called British Essays in Favor of the Brave Corsicans.

If your Lordship does not forbid me I will enrich the collection with your Lordship’s letter to me in which you write in such a style as does honour both to Paoli and to your Lordship. Pray do not refuse that such a testimony to the modern Epaminondas should appear at a time when he is in distress.

Boswell was unsuccessful on both counts: Lyttleton’s letter did not appear in British Essays, and Paoli’s Corsican revolutionaries were forced to surrender to French rule the following year.

Published in:John Overholt |on June 7th, 2012 |Comments Off on We’ve Got Boswellian Mail!

A Grand, if worse for wear, Repository

As part of an effort to increase our holdings of English lexicography and linguistics, we recently acquired a very rare work: Thomas Spence‘s The Grand Repository of the English Language (1775). Spence, a Newcastle schoolteacher and political refomer, developed a phonetic alphabet that was far ahead of its time, but received little contemporary notice. Houghton’s copy of The Grand Repository is one of only three known to exist. Today, however, Spence is the subject of increasing scholarly attention.

This particular copy is also notable for its provenance; it is inscribed “Peter McCallum, Serj., 74th Regiment, Fort George, Penobsc, March 30th, 1781.” That indicates that McCallum was part of a British regiment stationed at Fort George in Maine during the American Revolution, and likely took part in one of the colonists’ most stinging military defeats just two years earlier, the Penobscot Expedition.

Published in:John Overholt |on March 10th, 2012 |Comments Off on A Grand, if worse for wear, Repository

Johnson After Three Centuries

If you attended the symposium held at Houghton in celebration of Samuel Johnson’s 300th birthday (or wished you could have) you’ll be interested to hear that a volume of proceedings from the symposium has now been published, and is available from Harvard University Press and other major retailers. Johnson After Three Centuries: New Light on Texts and Contexts contains five papers from the conference, as well as a bibliography of research on the Dictionary published between 1955 and 2009, compiled by Jack Lynch. (If you subscribe to the Harvard Library Bulletin, you should already have received this volume as a special double issue.)

Johnson After Three Centuries

Published in:John Overholt |on December 19th, 2011 |Comments Off on Johnson After Three Centuries

His Majesty’s Office Supplies

The firm run by three successive generations of Jacob Tonsons is best remembered today as one of the most important literary publishers in London in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. But its business as a stationer was just as important to the firm’s financial success, and the political connections of Jacob Tonson the Elder, one of the founders of the Whiggish Kit-Cat Club put it in a prime position to win the contract to supply the most important customer of all–the British government. A new manuscript acquisition documents in detail the workings of the arrangement in the form of an itemized bill covering most of 1722, including nearly £100 worth of paper, pens, ink, and the like.

Tonson, Jacob. Manuscript account for supplies of stationery, 1723. MS Eng 1676

Published in:John Overholt |on August 25th, 2011 |Comments Off on His Majesty’s Office Supplies

The Translator Vanishes

Houghton holds two copies of the first French translation of a substantial selection of Johnson’s Rambler essays (a complete translation would be published the following year), which is remarkable considering that only a handful of copies are known to exist. It was even more remarkable when I happened to compare them for the first time, and discovered a significant difference between them.

Morceaux choisis du Rambler, 1785. 2003J-SJ151 and EC75.J6371.Eh785b

Morceaux choisis du Rambler, 1785. 2003J-SJ151 and EC75.J6371.Eh785b

It’s hard to know for sure which state is the earlier, but it seems plausible that the translator, Antoine Marie Henri Boulard, having noted in the original version that he had given up the profession of translation, subsequently decided to remove his name (and some identifying information about his new employment) from the work altogether. He appears to have had another change of heart, however, since we own several other Boulard translations from the 1790s and early 19th century.

UPDATE 7/6/11: My colleague Stephen Ferguson, Curator of Rare Books at Princeton, points out that the Princeton copy, scanned for Google Books, is halfway between these two, lacking the name on the title page but including the text in the preface.

Published in:John Overholt |on June 29th, 2011 |Comments Off on The Translator Vanishes

Johnson’s Seven Champions

Richard Johnson’s 1596 The Famous History of the Seven Champions of Christendom, though far from great literature, held a special place in Samuel Johnson’s heart. Johnson learned to read from this popular and oft-reprinted tale as a child in his father’s bookshop, and recommended it for young readers over the moralizing children’s literature fashionable in the late 18th century.

Houghton is very pleased to have acquired Johnson’s copy of The Seven Champions, adding to our substantial collection of books from his library.

Richard Johnson, The Famous History of the Seven Champions of Christendom, 1687. EC75.J6371.Zz687j

Like most of the Johnson books in our collection, this volume does not bear Johnson’s signature, but rather has a contemporary inscription attesting to its purchase at the 1785 auction of Johnson’s library.

Richard Johnson, The Famous History of the Seven Champions of Christendom, 1687. EC75.J6371.Zz687j

Published in:John Overholt |on June 15th, 2011 |Comments Off on Johnson’s Seven Champions

Wilde About Mary

Anyone interested in Mary Hyde’s non-Johnson book collecting activities will want to read this article in the newest issue of the Electronic British Library Journal. Andrea Lloyd, Rare Books Reference Specialist for the British Library (and like me, formerly the cataloger of a Mary Hyde-bequeathed collection) takes an extensive look at the contents of the Lady Eccles Oscar Wilde Collection.

Published in:John Overholt |on December 18th, 2010 |Comments Off on Wilde About Mary

Burney-Queeney letters digitized

See my post on the Houghton Blog for information on all of our recent digitization efforts, but readers of this blog will be particularly interested to know that we’ve just digitized our collection of 65 letters between Fanny Burney and Hester, Viscountess Keith, aka Queeney Thrale.

Published in:John Overholt |on November 8th, 2010 |Comments Off on Burney-Queeney letters digitized

Boswell’s Books

Thanks to a digitzation order from a researcher, the Hydes’ copy of the 1893 auction of the library at Auchinleck, including books which belonged to Boswell, is fully scanned and available online. The catalog is extensively annotated with the names of purchasers and the prices they paid at the sale. The catalog will be used as part of the ongoing effort to document James Boswell’s library at LibraryThing.

Auchinleck sale catalog, 1893

Published in:John Overholt |on October 5th, 2010 |Comments Off on Boswell’s Books

Unfinished business

Two recent Early Modern acquisitions share a common theme: abandoned projects of important authors. In 1757, the publisher Robert Dodsley commissioned Edmund Burke to produce a compact, single-volume history of England, sensing a market unserved by the expensive multi-volume sets then available. Burke worked slowly (having also taken on the editorship of the Annual Register) but steadily on the project for several years, turning over to Dodsley sections of the manuscript as they were completed. The first 48 pages, beginning with the Roman invasion of Britain, and ending in 388 A.D., had already been printed when the project was scrapped around 1762.

Edmund Burke, An essay towards an abridgment of the English history, *EC75.B9177.760e

Thomas Percy left a number of unfinished projects at his death, including an intended edition of the works of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham (1628-1687). The section of the works including the 1672 play The Rehearsal was printed probably at some time in the 1760s, but the unpublished sheets languished for many years in the warehouse of John Nichols, where they were eventually destroyed in an 1808 fire.

George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, The Rehearsal, *EC75.P4128.770r

Both works are understandably rare: ESTC lists just four other copies of Burke’s Abridgment, and has no listing at all for the Percy work, although a copy is known to survive at the Bodleian Library at Oxford.

Published in:John Overholt |on August 31st, 2010 |Comments Off on Unfinished business

Departed genius and virtue

We just acquired a lovely engraving that was sent to the attendees at Sir Joshua Reynolds’s funeral, held at St. Paul’s Cathedral on March 3rd, 1792. (click to enlarge)

Sir Joshua Reynolds funeral engraving, Houghton *2009-2210

What’s particularly interesting about this item is that, according to a letter in the Hyde Collection, it shouldn’t exist. MS Hyde 30 is a collection of documents relating to Reynolds’s funeral and estate, and the first item is a letter from the engraver Francesco Bartolozzi to Philip Metcalfe, one of the executors, thanking him for the commission, but protesting that it will be impossible to complete the engraving he requests in time. It’s hard to understand why Bartolozzi writes “If Mr. Bartolozzi had received this Notice the day after his Decease, he would have thought himself highly honoured by the Preference shewn to him” since the Reynolds died on Feb. 23rd, and the letter is dated the 24th.

Bartolozzi to Metcalfe, MS Hyde 30 (1)

Apparently the two were able to come to an understanding (and perhaps Metcalfe soothed the engraver’s artistic vanity), since Bartlozzi’s name appears on the finished product. The design is by Edward Burney, cousin of the novelist Fanny Burney.

Published in:John Overholt |on May 21st, 2010 |Comments Off on Departed genius and virtue

Reading over Mrs. Piozzi’s shoulder

Houghton collections feature extensively in the newest addition to Harvard’s Open Collections Program, Reading: Harvard Views of Readers, Readership, and Reading History, but the items that will be of the most interest to readers of this blog are those pertaining to Hester Thrale Piozzi. The collection includes complete digital versions of five books annotated by Mrs. Piozzi and two manuscript commonplace books.

Boswell, James. The life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. London, 1807.
Boswell, James. The life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. London, 1816.

Mrs. Piozzi’s copies of Boswell’s Life are the most famous of her annotated books. A 1938 Limited Editions Club edition of Boswell’s Life printed Mrs. Piozzi’s annotations as marginal notes. At that time, the 1816 ed. was already at Harvard, as part of the Amy Lowell collection. The 1807 ed., then in the possession of Col. Ralph Isham, would join it 65 years later with the rest of the Hyde Collection.

Johnson, Samuel. The history of Rasselas, prince of Abyssinia. London, 1818.

We recently acquired a copy of Rasselas which Mrs. Piozzi inscribed first to her husband Gabriel, and then to her adopted son Sir John Salusbury Piozzi. But this copy, given to the library by its namesake, Arthur A. Houghton Jr., is even more interesting, since the extensive notes capture Mrs. Piozzi’s reflections on one of Johnson’s best known works.

Piozzi, Hester Lynch. Observations and reflections made in the course of a journey through France, Italy, and Germany. London, 1789.

Here, Mrs. Piozzi annotates her own travel memoir, as well as augmenting it with several additional pages of manuscript material, as a gift to William Augustus Conway.

The Holy Bible, containing the books of the Old and New Testaments, and the Apocrypha. Bath, 1785.

This handsome, three-volume Bible with ample margins is extensively annotated.

Piozzi, Hester Lynch. Poems and little characters, anecdotes etc. introductory to the poems (manuscript).
Piozzi, Hester Lynch. Minced meat for pyes (manuscript).

These two manuscript commonplace books are an amazingly rich and dense collection of thoughts, quotations, and personal history. I also have to thank the staff of the Weissman Preservation Center for their amazing and painstaking work on Minced Meat for Pyes, which had been an unusable Frankenstein’s-monster assemblage of pasted-in slips and sewn-together random scraps. Thanks to their work, both the original and this digital facsimile will be accessible to scholars.
Minced meat for pyes, MS Eng 231

Published in:John Overholt |on March 22nd, 2010 |Comments Off on Reading over Mrs. Piozzi’s shoulder

Hyde exhibition catalog now available

If you didn’t get a chance to pick up the catalog for my exhibition A Monument More Durable Than Brass during our symposium or at the Grolier Club, it goes on sale today from Harvard University Press.

Catalog dust jacket

Published in:John Overholt |on March 1st, 2010 |Comments Off on Hyde exhibition catalog now available

New York, New York

Just a reminder that my exhibition will be up at the Grolier Club until February 6th, so if you’re in town for Bibliography Week, I hope you’ll stop by and take a look. I won’t be there myself, but I will be giving a talk on February 3rd at 6PM. It will be free and open to the public; see the Public Events page on the Grolier Club website for RSVP information.

Published in:John Overholt |on January 23rd, 2010 |Comments Off on New York, New York

James Boswell, International Man of Mystery

A discussion on C18-L alerted me to a recently published novel called The Brothers Boswell, in which James Boswell’s criminally insane brother John stalks Boswell and Johnson, planning to murder them with a pair of golden pistols. The Washington Post has a review here, and the New York Times has posted the first chapter. Author Philip Baruth talks a bit about writing the novel here.

Published in:John Overholt |on November 21st, 2009 |Comments Off on James Boswell, International Man of Mystery