Dead scholars’ books II

Some books that once belonged to Professor Nicholas Brooks

The books I now own that Nicholas Brooks used to own

In very late August 2014 I found myself the recipient of a slightly morbid parcel of books that had once been in the library of Professor Nicholas Brooks. His academic library was sold off via Amazon to raise money for cancer research, and so there were all kinds of reasons I wanted to stake some kind of a claim, not least that this was an excellent chance to get hold of some things that are hard to find nowadays. But it’s still somewhat vulture-like. I suppose that Professor Brooks would have been pleased to think they would go on being useful and used, but obviously the reason they’ve come to be mine is not one I’d ever have chosen. It’s a complex set of feelings when bibliophilia overlaps with mourning. Anyway, it had me pondering how much of my own academic library is thus inherited.

Ann Johnston's copies of the Cambridge Ancient History XIII and Chris Howgego's Ancient History from Coins

Ann Johnston’s copies of the Cambridge Ancient History XIII and Chris Howgego’s Ancient History from Coins

Of course, pretty much anything that one’s bought second-hand may have such an origin. Mostly, one doesn’t know, but sometimes it’s part of what they’re selling. But much more heavily loaded than anything for which money changed hands are those books that were given freely. These two belonged to Ann Johnston, and were brought into the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Department of Coins and Medals and offered up, and these were the ones I came away with. They’ve been of occasional use and will surely continue to be but mainly I like to remember her by them.

Books I was allowed to inherit from the library of Philip Grierson

Books I was allowed to inherit from the library of Philip Grierson

These are a lot more complex. I never actually met Professor Philip Grierson, and the books were the residue of what was left in the library after his college’s Fellows and the History Faculty librarian had been allowed to choose. And yet, I simply could not have managed the level of work I’ve done over the last few years without my own copy of Bonnassie, the Metz book is amazingly hard to find and really useful and I’m just very pleased about the leather-bound one at the end, which is Ferdinand Lot’s Les derniers carolingiens, a book that some day I may replace. I wrote here long ago about how much of an influence on me Philip Grierson’s work was at a formative stage, it continues to be in my current role of course, but along with his starting the project that gave me work that first brought me into the Fitzwilliam, it is hard to calculate what I owe this man I never met. These are however some of it. And the complexities can be traced further; I happen to know that one of the volumes I haven’t mentioned by name there was a gift of the author to Professor Grierson. That author also taught me, and now I have a presentation copy of her book, but not one she gave to me. I know that out there somewhere is also Professor Grierson’s author’s copy of Braunfels’s Karl der Große Band 1, not something one often sees, which he passed on to this same teacher of mine, and she then passed on to my doctoral supervisor, who may well still have it, while I, whom he taught, now have the copy of another book that his supervisor gave the man who first owned that book she gave him. Think about it too hard and one’s grammar breaks down…

Beooks once belonging to Andrew Mills, translator

Books I have from the late Andrew Mills

Of course this is a privileged situation. Professor Brooks’s books were up for open sale but I did get some advanced warning of this and was online pretty much as they were uploaded. These other two sets, I could only have obtained by being in the Fitzwilliam’s coin room in 2007, and there’s no way that’s not privilege as well as luck. This last set, though, could have happened to anyone. Andrew Mills was a translator, whose interest in history was strictly amateur, who lived a few doors down the road from where I grew up in what was then a small one-floor cottage, mainly full of books. He got to know my father, largely because my father was active in the local residents’ association and so knew everybody, but they got on, and we spent occasional dinners in each others’ houses and so on. None of this, you see, is much more than happenstance and people being nice. When Andrew gathered I was going back to Cambridge to do an M. Phil. in medieval history he basically offered me the pick of his relevant shelves, on the understanding that if his own son, then about six, ever wanted them back I’d duly return them. It’s an odd selection in retrospect, and I’ve not used all of them, but one or two of them have been absolute lifesavers at times, and I’m still frequently grateful for his generosity. I don’t suppose Chris Mills knows where to find me by now, and maybe sticking this online will help with that; if you do read this, Chris, I can spare them now if you’d like them back… But until then, I’ve been really lucky with the help that people have given me whom I can no longer thank, and this is some way of acknowledging that. Acknowledging all the help from the living would be a much larger task, and involve rather more books too, but it’s also easier because one can do it in person. For the dead scholars, this is the best I can do. My thanks to them all…

6 responses to “Dead scholars’ books II

  1. A friend of mine in grad school managed to nab Rosemond Tuve’s copy of C. S. Lewis’s The Discarded Image, with her marginalia. I’ve always envied that.

  2. I have about five volumes of Early Church Fathers that used to be owned by Geoffrey de St Croix, replete with very heavy underlining (Gregory the Great, Leo the Great, Cassian and others). All bought at the Classics Bookshop in Oxford. The same visit to that same shop also got me E.A. Thompson’s two volumes of the LOEB Sidonius. I think I would have bought the Sidonius volumes even I already owned a set.

    • I did look through the Nicholas Brooks books for marginalia when I got them, but they were largely limited to a very few question marks scattered through things he was reviewing. They’re quite telling, but not extensive…

      Marginalia always leave me conflicted. I would never mark a book, and hate to find it has been extensively done, but enough work that I’ve read and use rests on marginal annotations by people that I sometimes wonder if I should mark up mine…

  3. I have bought many books secondhand via Amazon’s booksellers, mainly because. they being aimed at the academic market, they are otherwise prohibitive for the individual to buy. But I confess I’ve not given much thought to who previously owned them. Now I find I hold a book and mull on it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.