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Some Humors of Book Catalogues
(Note: This is taken from W. Roberts' The Book-Hunter in London.)
An interesting and curious pendant to Mr. H. B. Wheatley's 'Literary Blunders' might be made up of the errors which have occurred from time to time in booksellers' catalogues. These errors are sometimes grotesquely amusing, and are perhaps as often attributable to the ingenuity of the printer as to the ignorance of the cataloguer. Booksellers usually content themselves with seeing one proof of their catalogues, and as the variety of books dealt with is so great, it would need at least half a dozen careful revisions to secure anything like correctness. As a general rule, the catalogues of London booksellers are exceptionally free of blunders, provincial compilers (notably one or two in Birmingham) being far behind their Metropolitan rivals. The example of
is almost too well known to again bear repeating; the same may be said of the instance in which Ruskin's 'Notes on the Construction of Sheepfolds' was catalogued as a book for farmers, and of that in which Swinburne's 'Under the Microscope' was classed among optical instruments. The cross-reference of
'God: see Fiske, J.,'
is a gem of absent-mindedness. Here are four more gems which appeared in the catalogue of a public library:
'Aristophanes: The Clouds of the Greek Text.'
'Boy's Own Annual: Magazine of Gymnastics.'
'Swedenborg: Conjugal Love and its Opposite.'
'Tiziano (Titian), Vicelli Da Cadore.'
The following is a good specimen of a bookseller's inspiration in reference to the entry 'Bible—2 vols., 12mo., Edin., 1811' in his catalogue: 'Sir Brunet and Dibdin in praise of this beautiful edition. As most nearly approaching unimaculateness a better copy than the present one could not be found.' This example is on a par with that in which an early Missal is catalogued as an 'extremely rare old printing and engraved work,' its author being 'Horæ B. V. Mariæ and usum Romanum,' whilst it is stated to be bound by 'Chamholfen Duru,' whoever he may be. Equally intelligent is another item from the same source, 'Newcastle (Marguis de Methode, etc.), œuvre auquel on apprende,' etc. Perhaps it was the cheapness—sixpence each—which prevented two items from having fuller descriptions:
'Horace, the Poems of, very interesting.'
Jokely, very interesting, 12 months.'
Perhaps '12 months' is the term of imprisonment which any bookseller deserves for publishing such absurdities. Another gem in the way of blunders is the following:
'There's (Lord and Lady) Legends of the Library at Lilies,
2 vols., 8vo., bds., 2s. 6d., 1832.'
The book catalogued in this puzzling manner is by Lord and Lady Nugent, and is entitled 'Legends of the Library at Lilies [the Nugents' residence], by the Lord and Lady thereof.' A similar carelessness resulted in Sir Astley Cooper's 'Treatise on Dislocations,' 1822, being catalogued as follows: 'Bart (C. A.), a Treatise on Discolourations and Fractures of the Joints,' etc., and also of books by Sir James Y. Simpson, Bart., as by 'Bart (S.)' and 'Bart (J.).' The following entries speak for themselves:
'Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Pottery.'
'The New Wig Guide.'
'The Rose and the Ring by R. Browing.'
'Marryat's "Pirate and Three Butlers."'
Under 'Devil, The,' we find the following entry: 'Le Deuil sou observation dans tous les Temps,' 1877; and under Numismatics the following delightful bull: 'Money, a comedy, a poor copy, 1s.'
As an instance of official cataloguing, it would be difficult to beat the following description of a familiar classic which appeared in a list issued a few years ago (according to a writer in Notes and Queries) in a certain presidency of India, 'by order of the Right Hon. the Governor in Council':
'Title—Commentarii (sic) De Bello Gallico in usum Scholarum,
Liber Tirtius (sic).
Author—Mr. C. J. Caesoris. Subject—Religion.'
Nichols, in his 'Literary Anecdotes' (iv. 493), mentions that Dr. Taylor, who about the year 1732 was librarian at Cambridge, used to relate of himself that one day throwing books in heaps for the purpose of classing and arranging them, he put one among works on Mensuration, because his eye caught the word height in the title-page, and another which had the word salt conspicuous he threw among books on Chemistry or Cookery. But when he began a regular classification, it appeared that the former was 'Longinus on the Sublime,' and the other a 'Theological Discourse on the Salt of the World, that good Christians ought to be seasoned with.' Thus, in a catalogue published about eighty years ago the 'Flowers of Ancient Literature' are found among books on Gardening and Botany, and Burton's 'Anatomy of Melancholy' is placed among works on Medicine and Surgery. Some blundering bibliographer has classed the 'Fuggerarum Imagines,' the account of the once mighty Italian family, among botanical works, under the 'Resemblance of Ferns.' Dibdin states that he once saw the first Aldine Homer in a country bookseller's catalogue described as 'a beautiful copy of the Koraun.' The Rev. John Mitford sent to a Woodbridge bookseller for a copy of Shelley's 'Prometheus Unbound,' and received the answer that no copy of 'Prometheus' in sheets could be obtained—a misconception which Bernard Barton promptly forwarded to London, to Charles Lamb's great content. We have heard of the following blunder, but have never actually seen it:
The nearest approach to it occurred a few years ago in a Glasgow auctioneer's catalogue: 'Lot 282, Sir Noel Paton's Illustrations, Shelley's Prometheus, unbound, 12 plates, n.d.' As a matter of fact, the copy was bound in cloth. 'Please send the ax relating to a justus pease' is a phrase which will be remembered by readers of 'Guy Mannering.' Only recently a post-card reached Messrs. Smith, Elder and Co. requesting the immediate despatch of a copy of 'Hard on Horace,' which was the inaccurate, or perhaps waggish, sender's rendering of the 'Hawarden Horace.' This will be remembered with the request for 'The Crockit Minister,' by Stickett, and 'Sheep that Pass in the Night.' Some of the foregoing budget can scarcely be placed to the discredit of the cataloguer, but they are sufficiently apropos to be included here.
The following amusing entry occurs in the sale catalogue of the library of the late Mr. R. Montgomery, which was dispersed by auction at Antwerp the other day: 'Plain or Ringlets? by Alfred Tennyson, Poet Laureate, with illustrations by John Leech. London, s.d., 8o d. rel. dos et coins chagr. rouge, tête dorée, figg. coloriées et noires.' Messrs. Longmans had a letter a few weeks ago asking for a copy of 'Chips from a German Workshop,' by Max Müller, for review in a trade paper dealing with carpentering, etc.! This reminds one of the story of Edwardes, the Republican bookseller of a century ago, who put a Government spy to confusion by re-binding a Bible and giving it the seditious title, 'The Rights of Man.' Burke's 'Thoughts on the French Revolution' was advertised by him as 'The Gospel according to St. Burke.' Outside a certain bookseller's shop, Mr. R. C. Christie once saw a book in six duodecimo volumes, bound in dark antique calf, and lettered 'Calvini Opera.' Knowing of no edition of the works of Calvin in that form, Mr. Christie took down a volume, and found it was 'Faublas!' It was the original edition in thirteen parts, with the seventeen engravings, and was so lettered, no doubt, by its former owner to shelter it from indiscreet curiosity!
The practice of giving books of poetry, novels, etc., what may be described as floricultural titles, has landed cataloguers into an astonishing number and variety of errors, some of which have been pointed out by Mr. B. Daydon Jackson in the Bibliographer. The chief sinners have been foreign bibliographers, who, not being able to examine the books which they catalogue, depend entirely upon the titles. The same error occurs frequently here in this country. An English trade journal included Dr. Garnett's selection from Coventry Patmore's poems, 'Florilegium Amantis,' under 'Botany, Farming, and Gardening.' Two of Mayne Reid's novels, 'The Forest Exiles' and 'The Plant-Hunters,' have been included among scientific books, but in these cases the errors seem to have arisen from the misleadingly translated titles, the former in Italian ('Gli esuli nella foresta; cognizioni di scienza fiscia e naturale'), and the latter in French, 'Le Chasseur de Plantes.' The learned Pritzel included among botanical treatises 'The Lotus, or Faery Flower of the Poets.' In the earlier part of the century a story was in circulation relative to an erudite collector who was accustomed to boast of his discoveries in Venetian history from the perusal of a rare quarto, 'De Re Venaticâ.' A brother bibliographer one day lowered his pretensions by gravely informing him that the historical discoveries to which he laid claim had been anticipated by Mr. Beckford, who, towards the close of the last century, published them to the world under the analogous title of 'Thoughts on Hunting.'
There is a good deal of amusement to be got sometimes out of even such an unpromising source as an auctioneer's catalogue, especially when it includes books. The list of a miscellaneous lot of things lately sold at a South London depository comes in this category. One of the items, for example, is entered as 'Dickin's works bound in half,' but who Mr. 'Dickin' is, or was, or what the 'half' indicates, the reader is left to find out. 'Goldsmith lover' also seems a trifle confusing, until the lot is hunted up and the discovery made that Goldsmith's 'Works' is intended. Lytton's 'King John' suggests a work hitherto unknown to readers of the author of 'My Novel,' until examination proves it to be 'King Arthur,' and 'McCauley's History of England' is rather suggestive of a scathing indictment of English misrule by an author from the 'distressful country' than of the picturesque prose of the Whig statesman and book-collector.
© All applicable material D. J. McAdam.