Lost Books

Review: Lost Books: Reconstructing the Print World of Pre-Industrial Europe. Ed. Flavia Bruni and Andrew Pettegree. Library of the Written Word 46 / The Handpress World 34. Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2016. 523 pages.


We solicited this book for review because we have been keenly aware that we cannot take what has been transcribed and preserved through the digitisation processes of Early English Books Online and the Text Creation Partnership as an accurate indication of all the material that was printed in the early modern period. Setting aside the idiosyncrasies of selectivity in the composition of EEBO-TCP, which have been documented elsewhere, there is a prior ‘selectivity’ about what survived to be catalogued.

The volume collects together the proceedings of the Lost Books conference held at the University of St Andrews in June 2014, and divisions within the volume loosely reflect those of the original call.

Pettegree’s introduction, “The Legion of the Lost” is a full-length essay discussing not only how books become lost but how one can know about what has been lost. It is accessible and engaging and would be a worthy reading assignment for undergraduates or masters students studying book history. As observed in a prior blogpost, “While the chapter … performs the function of uniting what follows, and does at times point to specific contents in the coming chapters, there is nothing of the clunkiness that one sometimes observes in the introduction of an edited collection.”

The two essays that follow both approach the challenge of assessing the loss of incunabula, i.e. print materials from pre-1500. Falk Eisermann begins with a comparison of the listings in the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke with the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue. He probes possible methods for distinguishing items that were printed (and lost) from items never-printed, giving examples from archival sources that defy expectation: “lost editions by unknown printers (sometimes located in incunabulistic ghost towns), containing texts not preserved anywhere else, even representing works of hitherto unrecorded authors” (43). The book historians’ task, one may imagine, is an uphill struggle; optimistically, there is fresh work to be done as no one has yet analysed the customary discussion of other printed works in paratext “with regard to dark matter” (50). Jonathan Green and Frank McIntyre (Chapter 3) aim to quantify the losses, offering an open discussion of the pitfalls of particular statistical approaches to this question. They recommend modelling the counts of surviving copies as a negative binomial distribution, accommodating correlation in loss and survival. For—and this is significant to LDNA—“books are not preserved or destroyed independently of each other” (59). Small items are more likely to survive if bound together; volumes in a library often share a common destiny. In addition, taste is a cultural construct with ideas of fashion and significance affecting more than one owner’s decision to dispose of or conserve. Taking into account variations of format, Green and McIntyre suggest that as much as 30 per cent of Quarto editions may have been lost entirely, comparing with 60 per cent of Broadsides and 15 per cent of Folios.

Part 2 is composed of national case-studies covering vocal scores from Renaissance Spain (Chapter 4, showing a markedly persistent repertoire conserved by copying when required); evidence of book ownership and circulation in pre-Reformation Scandinavia (Chapter 5, conducted with the help of inventories); the meticulous reconstruction of a lost Polish original on the basis of later editions (Chapter 6, touching also on the circulation of fortune-telling books throughout early modern Europe); a study of the Stationers’ Company Register (Chapter 7); a sheet-count- based model for calculating loss of seventeenth-century materials based on records for the Southern Netherlands—using the metadata-rich STCV, which also positions title-page engraving and roman typeface as features positively correlated with survival (Chapter 8); the identification of patterns of loss using book advertisements from the Dutch Republic (Chapter 9—exposing partly the proliferation of multiple localised editions); and a report weaving together a census of seventeenth-century Sicilian printing activity with a legal dispute over the library of Francesco Branciforti, attesting strong local attachment to this private collection (Chapter 10).

In Part 3, Christine Bénévent and Malcolm Walsby revisit the publication history of Guillaume Budé’s apophthegms (Chapter 11), combining careful study of the layout to demonstrate Gazeau’s compositor pretended to a new edition by replacing the first quire, with a call not to dismiss the “intellectual value” of later editions, noting the Paris copy of De L’Institution du Prince had the highest survival rate and was owned “by the most influential and powerful in early modern Europe” (including Edward VI, 252). Michele Camaioni aims to reconstruct a censored (but popular) mystical text using its censorship record (Chapter 12). Three further chapters draw on data from the RICI project, a study of Italian religious orders’ book ownership based on a Vatican-led census: Rosa Marisa Borraccini documents Girolamo de Palermo’s “unknown best-seller”, a devotional work running to “plausibly . . . more than one hundred” editions (Chapter 13); Roberto Rusconi probes weaknesses in the cataloguing, involving misspelt transcriptions, inadequate shorthand (opera omnia, etc.) and perhaps the deliberate disguising of works by disapproved authors (Chapter 14); and Giovanni Granata attempts to merge statistical extrapolation of lost works with study of specific lost editions based on the bibliographic records produced by the census (Chapter 15).

Part 4 is dedicated to lost libraries. Anna Giulia Cavagna observes the motives of Alfonso del Carretto, an exiled monarch whose self-catalogued collection prioritised texts pertaining (mostly through paratext such as dedications) to people whose powerful patronage he wished to secure, revealing books as “vectors of social relations” (357, Chapter 16). Martine Julia van Ittersum pursues the preservation and loss of Hugo Grotius’ personal collections, observing that preservation required “neglect, though not too much of it” (384) and that the preservation of printed materials was correlated with loss of manuscript (Chapter 17). Federico Cesi, the target of Maria Teresa Biagetti’s study (Chapter 18), was the founder of the Accademia dei Lincei in Rome; his now dispersed collection included works of botany, zoology, alchemy, and medical texts, its components known through correspondence and post mortem inventory. Sir Hans Sloane’s collections, including printed books “estimated at about 45,000 volumes”, formed the kernel of what is now the British Library; Alison Walker explains the difficulties of tracing Sloane’s books, which when duplicated by other collections were often dispersed through sale or gifting, or migrated at the creation of new specialist institutions such as the National History Museum. By reconstructing the collection, Walker argues, one may attain a “reflection . . . of the intellectual environment of the day” and of “Sloane himself as a scientist and physician” (412, Chapter 19). The last chapter in Part 4 outlines the hopes of the AHRC research network ‘Community Libraries: Connecting Readers in the Atlantic World’, using a case study from Wigtown (NW Scotland) to show how archival resources about the creation and use of libraries yield insight into sociability (Chapter 20); we find widows borrowing while patrons gain more from the bureaucracy and facilitation than the library’s holdings.

The last section (Part 5), entitled “War and Peace”, considers the woes that have befallen historic collections in more recent times. Jan Alessandrini discusses Hamburg’s collections, protection measures during the Second World, the seizure of private Jewish libraries, and the political challenges of reconstruction (with some prospect of help from Russian digitisation, Chapter 21). Tomasz Nastulczyk acknowledges that “Swedish pillaging paradoxically helped to preserve” books from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth that might otherwise have been lost (462, Chapter 22). Co-editor Flavia Bruni writes of the successful preservation of Italian archives and libraries aided by “a clear and centralised policy” in WW2, arguing that “international agreements” are also essential if cultural heritage is to be preserved (484, Chapter 23). The closing chapter is devoted to broadsheet ordinances, lost—or perhaps missing—as a result of the collapse of Cologne city archives in 2009; happily, microfilm means all is not lost, and Saskia Limbach also successfully traces invoices and other evidence of print activity through a range of archival sources (Chapter 24).

It will be evident from this account that the case studies are drawn from across Europe, with three chapters directly addressing British material. Of these, Alexandra Hill’s intersects most closely with the period Linguistic DNA has focused on so far, with the Register containing “with some exceptions [e.g. government publications and school books], . . . all the books authorised to be printed during the Elizabethan, Jacobean and early Caroline periods” (144–5). Comparing this information with the English Short Title Catalogue, Hill shows that for the 1590s, the survival rate of fiction and ballads is significantly lower than other genres of publication; in addition, within a relatively well-preserved domain such as religious literature, subcategories may fare disproportionately badly as is the case for prayer books, destroyed—Hill hypothesises—by continual use. These kinds of absences need to be borne in mind as we proceed to analyse the survivors. Of course, given the cultural traffic of early modern Europe, much of what is learned from non-British collections is also relevant for thinking critically about how texts survived, how others were lost, and how Linguistic DNA should correspondingly limit the claims built on the print discourse of EEBO-TCP.

On “Lost Books” (ed. Bruni & Pettegree)

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