A library with pedigrees

A package came for me the other day that turned out to be a copy of Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals’s Els Primers Comtes Catalans, which is pretty much the starting book for what I work on, an attempt to sort the national myths from the actual evidence for early Catalonia. I’d browsed for it on ABE Books on a whim and found a copy for sale in the UK. I was so pleased to score it—and it’s a nice copy too, dust-jacket has one chip and that’s all, tight, VG+, yes I did use to work in the trade since you ask—that I never thought to wonder why there was a copy for sale in the UK.

Cover of Ramon d'Abadal i de Vinyals's Els Primers Comtes Catalans

Cover of Ramon d'Abadal i de Vinyals's Els Primers Comtes Catalans

The last two trips I’ve made to Exeter have been for conferences, I mentioned one here and the other one was before the blog, and on both occasions Professor Richard Hitchcock has been selling no-longer-wanted parts of his library, as I guess he settles down to working only on what he intends to continue with. I’ve never had the money to buy the few things he was offering that touched my period, much to my chagrin. So it’s kind of amusing to find his signature in the flyleaf of my new book.

I can add this to the few volumes of Philip Grierson‘s, the couple of presents from Rosamond McKitterick and Matthew Innes and the long ton of Jinty Nelson’s cast-offs that make up a good chunk of my library. Mind you, this is not the most extreme case I know of: Matthew still has a copy of Braunfels’s Karl der Große Bd I. that he got from Rosamond, who’d been given it by Philip (who was in it). I really need to have books to give to these people to link the ends of this loop up, sadly not possible to Philip but otherwise it would be neat. I wonder if any of what I amass will be of worth to my students in the inevitable end, and if any of it will have passed to me by such means like these. How many generations can we pass books through?

A Jarrett bookcase

A Jarrett bookcase

8 responses to “A library with pedigrees

  1. I spent a summer working as an assistant for a professor looking at the “Vie St. Audree” manuscript. Part of my job also consisted of consulting the Latin edition of the “Liber Eliensis.” At the same time, I was working on a paper on the old english Orosius so I ordered a copy of Whitelock’s ’67 Stenton lecture, “The Genuine Asser,” off of abebooks as a source. I recieved the book and noted that the previous owner’s name was inside the cover. That name was E.O. Blake. The very man who had edited the “Liber Eliensis!” How strange the world can sometimes be!

  2. Oh, that’s very nice; I’d be quite pleased with that also. It’s a nice parallel to the actual sort of manuscript work we do, as well, and is of course why we should all inscribe our books just in case we eventually achieve renown…

  3. I think there is another aspect to this as well. A sort of “passing the knowledge.” I bought the first two volumes of English Historical Documents used. They previously belonged to the emeritus professor of Med. history at Boston college. He kindly included much marginalia that was as insightful and illuminating as the documents themselves. Even though I never took a class with this gentleman, he has definately taught me something.

  4. I have also been the grateful beneficiary of various volumes from esteemed and retired colleagues. I have nothing that was once in Philip Grierson’s library, but I do have something that once belonged to Pierre Chaplais. Time for the application of a bit of network theory I think!

  5. Now Pierre Chaplais was a man who saw things straight, much more of the way I deal with charters comes from him than it makes me look modern to acknowledge. Charles Insley, who was one of his last students, has some great stories about him.

    Michael, yes, we’ve acquired author’s copies of works in my department hoping for similar insights, especially where there was to have been a revised edition that never transpired. I sometimes wonder about a contradiction here; I hate marking books and am against it in principle, but when I think of various corrected typoes and added dates in margins of stuff where I knew no better, to say nothing of the entirely medieval practice of glossing! I do wonder whether I’m not missing a part of the process by my fastidiousness.

    On the other hand, some people should not be allowed writing tools. I just dug this extract out of the contents of an old online diary of mine, this from April 2000, lightly edited:

    Subject: stupid people

    I’m reading one of Roz’s articles, which is about manuscripts surviving from the Carolingian period which show the English having a hand in the intellectual revival of that time. This, as you might imagine, involves referring to a lot of Latin works by title.

    Now, you’re not reading this article unless you’re, notionally at least, trying to learn, so the attitude of the annotator I’ve encountered perplexes me. Apart from the fact that people who write in books which other people have to use are poisonous weeds anyway, especially if they write in pen as this one did. But they’ve underlined several of the titles she refers to and added in the margins, `Could the author not attempt to use more accessible language?’ and `What?’

    I am suffering from a severe urge to find this person (which is sadly impossible), hit him quite a lot and yell, `They’re book titles! They don’t get any more accessible! If you don’t know the books go look ’em up then you might actually learn something!’ and then get him sent down for time-wasting.

    Excessive, possibly, but it really does annoy me. Someone who wanted to know things could have had his place.

    17:57 Oh for gods’ sakes

    A manuscript’s origin is where it was written, OK? Its provenance is where we can prove it was kept, and obviously these are not the same thing (though sometimes they can be – but lots of places made manuscripts for other people and the origin and recoverable provenance are hardly ever the same date). Now, I know this already, but I find it to be implicit in the sentence: `Whether written in Northumbria, Rath Melsígi or Echternach, the provenance of the Echternach Gospels is acknowledged to be Echternach’. Not so our beloved annotator, who has indignantly scrawled `What is the difference?’ over it and later drawn a line between the words `origin’ and `provenance’ with a caption `same meaning!’ I ask you, unknown annotator, which is more likely, that a very learned woman presenting a paper to a conference of still more learned people has falsely drawn a spurious distinction or that she knew something that you don’t? This person is really irritating me.

    Still, he’s done this one in pencil so this file is shortly going to be the only record of his idiocy.

  6. I see your point, and one should always consider the source of the volume in question. If I buy a volume at, say, the uni bookstore, I know that volume was once in the hands of a student who may or may not know anymore than I do. If I find marginalia there, I am more apt to ignore it. As for marking a book, if it is my volume I don’t really have a problem. That said, I don’t really go in for turning the margins into a sort of diary of thought as I read the book. I pretty much just underline important sentences and will sometimes note in the margins other volumes which discuss the same topic with a dofferent slant. My pet peeve is checking a book out of the library and finding that someone has marked it as if it were private property. Library books are, I believe, sacrosanct when it comes to marking. Those guilty of leaving such marks (of course, pencil can always be erased) should be trussed up like pigs and slowly roasted over a fire.

  7. You see, this is exactly how I feel, but when someone’s done just that on a text a thousand years old it’s really interesting evidence… I guess we can take comfort in the fact that modern books really don’t have a thousand-year preservation life. You have to write on tanned sheep, it’s the only way! :-)

  8. Pingback: Quid plura? | "...live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime."

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