The Collecting of Modern Authors in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries
Interest in Ruskinʼs early works belongs to a larger fin de siècle phenomenon in book collecting whereby collectors turned their attention to modern (i.e., nineteenth‐century) authors rather than to incunabula and fine typography and illustration, which had preoccupied collectors earlier in the century. Author societies, such as those dedicated to Ruskin, Robert Browning, and Percy Shelley, organized study of every aspect of their authorsʼ lives and works; and supporting this activity, industrious bibliographers, editors, publishers, and booksellers produced reprints and editions of canonical modern authorsʼ works, including juvenilia, along with enumerative or descriptive bibliographies detailing the authorsʼ publications (see Carter, Taste and Technique in Book‐Collecting, 22).
Collectorsʼ “Mania” for Modern First Editions and Juvenilia, and the Activity of Literary Forgers
The aim was to collect a run of an authorʼs publications that was complete, down to the most minor and fugitive items, and that exhibited each item in its original material condition. These goals led to collectorsʼ competitive search for rare books (causing a rise in market prices). The juvenilia and youthful writing of modern authors—what were called early editions—acquired a cachet owing to their extreme scarcity. This goal of comprehensiveness in collecting was controversial, as collectors appeared to place exaggerated value on an authorʼs minor works. Publishers were suspected of encouraging an interest in juvenilia, since the desire could be met with reprints of works that were out of copyright or appeared to be neglected. Yet, despite these competitive incentives and keenness for the hunt, another significant motivation for collectorsʼ interest in youthful writing lay in a “sentiment” strongly attached to these early editions in their original condition, and to juvenilia in particular. This sentiment likewise proved fraught and controversial.
In historical accounts of the late‐Victorian collecting of modern authors, the less savory, competitive motivations of collectors were foregrounded, because these motivations were blamed for creating opportunities for literary forgers. In the overheated rare book market of the last decades of the century, it was all too easy to fool buyers with spurious editions of lesser known works by prolific nineteenth‐century authors. Most notoriously, Henry Buxton Forman (1842–1917) hit upon the idea—an idea aggressively pursued by Formanʼs associate, Thomas J. Wise (1859–1937)—of planting descriptions of heretofore “undiscovered” publications by modern authors in the single‐author bibliographies and “bio‐bibliographical” essays that catered to the fevered collecting interests of the period. Typically described as small pamphlets, these publications never existed, but the genius of the scam lay in the possibility of their existence, and in the convincingly faked bibliographical descriptions that backed up their alleged histories. With this foundation laid, Wise and Forman then arranged for the pamphletsʼ forgery and their insinuation onto the market (Collins, Two Forgers, 43, 82). A spectacular and daring example of these “creative forgeries” was Elizabeth Barrett Browningʼs alleged private printing in 1847 of the Sonnets from the Portuguese as a gift for Robert, a story that was fabricated by Wise and Forman, and that they followed up with forged physical copies for auction.
Modern authorsʼ youthful works proved a ready target for such fabrications, owing to the relative ease of inventing a tale about the origins of a previously little known edition of a juvenile work that was itself obscure. As it turned out, the editors of the Library Edition of Ruskinʼs Works, E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, were among the first to spot these spurious claims. They detected the improbability of the alleged “1868” pamphlet of Ruskinʼs juvenile prose tale, “Leoni”, as well as of the “1849” pamphlet of the poem, “The Scythian Guest”; and in the Library Editionʼs bibliographical notes on those works, they commented on the suspect features of these and other pamphlets allegedly published by Ruskin. Cook and Wedderburnʼs doubts apparently went unremarked by many collectors, for the spurious pamphlets continued to sell, but the editorsʼ alarms helped prompt Graham Pollard and John Carter to launch their investigation into questionable nineteenth‐century pamphlets, starting with the “1847” Sonnets from the Portuguese. (See Dickinson, John Carter, 88. Dickinson remarks that William Morris specialists also had fingered some spurious pamphlets in their field as early as 1897, and rare‐book dealers were on their guard by the late 1890s against previously unknown modern pamphlets suddenly emerging in the market [ibid., pp. 88–89].) Meanwhile, the forgersʼ obfuscations and falsehoods infiltrated the bibliographies of several modern authors—including the Complete Bibliography of . . . Ruskin (1889–93), which was started by J. P. Smart but was co‐opted by Thomas J. Wise with nefarious intent (see also Forgery and Piracy).
Despite the openings it enabled for forgery, the fashion for collecting modern “firsts” brought a number of positive scholarly developments, including an interest in juvenilia and an increased and more systematic attention to the bibliography of nineteenth‐century books. The relish for first editions—which for laypeople soon became synonymous with book collecting—was not a feature of earlier nineteenth‐century collecting. Earlier collectors, insofar as they cared about modern authors at all, had typically been drawn to later editions of modern works on the presumed strength of sounder editing or more lavish production. Now, because first‐edition collectors set a premium on copies that preserved the original condition of publication, bibliographers realized an opening for the scholarly study of the nineteenth‐century book, preparing the way for the New Bibliographers of the early twentieth century such as Carter and Pollard. The career of Carterʼs mentor, Michael Sadleir, started with collecting first editions of Victorian writers, especially the novelists. As late as 1922 in his Excursions in Victorian Bibliography, Sadleir could still quaintly characterize first‐edition collecting as “a diversion of recent growth” pursued by “hystericals” like himself. “For my part to love an author is to collect him”, he explained, and the urge could be satisfied only by first editions in their original condition: “Of the absurdity of this I am cheerfully aware” (pp. 2, 3, 6). By 1945, in his contribution to the semicentennary anniversary volume of the Bibliographical Society (London), Sadleir replaced the dilettantish tone that he thought appropriate to advising collectors in 1922 with a serious emphasis on historical bibliography and methodology. For this development, Sadleir willingly but guardedly credited late‐Victorian book collecting, which drew attention to the bibliography of modern literature, albeit neglecting the systematic study of “the changing processes, trade customs, methods of distribution and book‐buyersʼ tastes” that made nineteenth‐century books “what they are” (Sadleir, “Development of Bibliographical Study”, 147; see also Stokes, Michael Sadleir, 1–17).
Even in this later essay, Sadleirʼs characterization of bibliographical method remains steeped in the aims of the late‐Victorian book collector in one essential respect, the emphasis on biography. The aim of modern bibliography, he says, is “to weave” the investigation of book‐making processes and distribution “into the lives of . . . [the booksʼ] authors, producing as it were a garment of biography with a texture of bibliography” (Sadleir, “Development of Bibliographical Study”, 147). For the younger scholars, Carter and Pollard, the biographical emphasis in Victorian modern‐author collecting formed the impediment to bibliographical method, by introducing a distracting “sentimental element.” In their 1934 Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth‐Century Pamphlets, Carter and Pollard constructed a more modernist narrative to explain the downfall of Victorian collecting. In their view, the fashion for collecting modern firsts could never achieve scholarly method, owing to a blinding sentimentality that, combined with competitive greed, led to deserved exploitation by sharpers and forgers: “As the distance in time between collectors and the object of their enthusiasm lessened [i.e., as collectors turned to moderns instead of incunabula] their interest took on a more personal colour, and the sentimental element became gradually stronger. Collectors were interested in the lives and habits of their favourite authors; they paid more attention to minor productions; they visualised the arrival of the first copies on the authorʼs breakfast table—a powerful influence in the creation of a taste for ‘original condition’” (Carter and Pollard, Enquiry, 100–101). With this story of the rise of outmoded biographical sentiment surrounding modern “firsts”, Carter and Pollard set the stage for their exposé of forgery, by accounting for the vulnerability of the Victorian rare‐book market to gullibility and greed. The Enquiry drew on modern bibliographical methodology to expose the inauthenticity of those “certain nineteenth‐century pamphlets”, which collectors had so ardently imagined as arriving in their original wrappers on the authorʼs breakfast table. A secondary implication of this narrative was that collectors had developed an inordinate and ridiculous interest in modern authorsʼ juvenilia, a form of publication that was particularly targeted by Wise and Formanʼs forgeries.
In the Enquiry, following their narrative of how sentimentality ostensibly gained disastrous sway over the motivation of modern‐author collecting, Carter and Pollard summarize a debate, which arose in the 1890s, over the tendency of modern‐author collecting to favor first editions of minor works: among these, juvenilia are treated as a self‐evident distraction from the proper aims of collecting. The conservative position was represented by William Roberts (1862–1940), writing in the Fortnightly Review. At this time, according to Brian Allen, Roberts was building a career as an art critic for the London Times; and as such, his scholarship consisted in writing for the art trade, outside the institutional art history establishment. His authority depended on upholding normative standards for taste and expertise that he himself could wield (Allen, “Paul Mellon and Scholarship in the History of British Art”, 45). The “craze for first editions” was a ready target, having “now reached its extremest form of childishness”, Roberts fumed. He framed the trend as an offense against “rational form” of collecting properly overseen by “scholars and men of judgment” who focus on “books of importance and books with both histories and reputations”, as opposed to manias pursued by “too‐zealous persons who feed their own vanity by hanging on to the coat‐tails of eminent men and claim the title of public benefactors by ‘resurrecting’ from a well‐merited obscurity some worthless tract or obsolete and ephemeral magazine article, and trumpeting it about as a masterpiece” (Roberts, “The First Edition Mania”, 347, 349). On the opposing side stood Thomas Wise, writing in the Bookman. In defense of the upstart collecting, Wise ventured a claim about modern literary history, which happened to shore up the value and plausibility of the pamphlets he was secretly forging: “Compositions which now find a fitting path to publicity through the medium of the periodical press were formerly printed separately, and circulated in the shape of a tract or pamphlet. A guide to such ephemera would be of the utmost value to dealer and collector alike” (quoted in Carter and Pollard, Enquiry, 106). Carter and Pollard looked back on this debate from the perspective of the Enquiry, in which they were exposing Wiseʼs forgeries by means, as they saw it, of replacing dubiously fashionable tastes in collecting with scientific bibliographic method. Irresistibly, they came down on Robertsʼs side, declaring that the “collecting public” of the 1890s had in fact been “eager, credulous and greedy” and too “keen on the obscurer rarities of its favourite authors”. Consequently, “since the obscurer and more trifling” the rarity, “the greater [its] réclame”, collectors had been prepared to go as high as £42 for the “1849” pamphlet of Ruskinʼs boyhood poem, “The Scythian Guest”. The mania persisted even into the present time, Carter and Pollard were grieved to report: “in 1931 . . . the first copy to be sold of Rupert Brookeʼs schoolboy poem, “The Bastille”, fetched £70 at Sothebyʼs” (Carter and Pollard, Enquiry, 107–8; “The Bastille” was published as a very small pamphlet in 1905 at Rugby to commemorate the prize English poem for that year, won by “R.C.B.”).
In Carterʼs subsequent work, he attempted to establish a set of definitions and practices for sorting out bizarre “fashions” in collecting from good “taste” and proper technique, and he suggested that undue attention to juvenilia belongs among the former. According to his essay on “Fashions in Book‐Collecting”, the trend of attaching exaggerated importance “to the minor and ephemeral products of . . . chosen authors”, as occurred under the influence of “the Forman–Wise school” of the previous century, should be classified as mere fashion, defined as “the excrescences of a movement of taste, the mannerisms of an authentic style, the adoption by imitators of some perhaps legitimate quiddity of a great collector“ (Carter, Books and Book‐Collectors, 120). Similarly, in his book based on his Sandars Lectures in Bibliography at Cambridge University, Taste and Technique in Book‐Collecting, Carter lamented how fads derailed collectors from maintaining due reverence for the literary canon. Returning to the heyday of speculative Victorian collecting, which he and Pollard had ended with publication of the Enquiry, Carter dwelled on the mannerisms: “The main emphasis was on the poets, and though Ruskinʼs prose works were collected as reverently, if not as expensively, as his verse, it was not George Eliotʼs Adam Bede so much as a copy of Brother and Sister [a forgery] or of The Legend of Jubal and Other Poems on special paper which would excite her devotees. Tennyson, Ruskin and Swinburne were perhaps the reigning favourites” (Carter, Taste and Technique in Book‐Collecting, 23). As indicated by his negative comments on authorsʼ “minor productions”, and on the high prices for Ruskinʼs verse—for example, the prized, rare Poems (1850), or the Poems (4o, 1891) in the quarto, extra‐illustrated printing on India paper, or, most egregiously, the pamphlet issues of individual poems now known to be forgeries by Forman and Wise—it is clear that, for Carter, an epitome of “sentimental” collecting lay in acquiring expensive scarce first editions of juvenilia or sumptuously produced reprints and deluxe editions of such texts.
The “Sentiment” for Modern First Editions and Juvenilia
Carterʼs Taste and Technique has been characterized as less a scholarly or polemical history, than a rationale of approaches to collecting based on his experiences throughout a distinguished career of book dealing (Dickinson, John Carter, 176–81). The point to be taken about such a work is that, by the mid‐twentieth century, it had become non‐controversial to treat the Victorian collector, in Sadleirʼs words, with a “suspicion” that had become “deeply engrained in the mind of scholars and librarians” (“Development of Bibliographical Study”, 147). The problem with such suspicions, and with making such vague concepts as “sentimentality” operative in a historical narrative about collecting in the 1890s, is that Carterʼs normative “taste” and “technique” overwrote the debate in which Victorian collectors themselves engaged over the nature and role of sentiment for the physical book. In the 1870s through the 1890s, writers on collecting characterized a “sentiment for the book” as a new phenomenon, and the collecting community debated the nature and value of this sentiment along with the goals it sponsored—such as the value of acquiring each and every publication by a popular modern author, including “minor” productions from juvenilia to last words, in order to form a comprehensive collection of that writer (see Hanson, “Sentiment and Materiality in Late‐Victorian Book Collecting”).
For example, a popular writer of the 1890s on book collecting and a promoter of collecting “early editions”, J. H. Slater (1854–1921), used the term sentiment as roughly synonymous with bibliophily to describe an appreciation for the physical book as distinct, on the one hand, from utilitarian uses of books, and, on the other, from fashionable or eccentric forms of collecting that resulted in mutilation of books (i.e., such practices as extra‐illustration or cutting out title pages or colophons to form a separate collection). Thus, Slater anticipated Carterʼs distinction between fashion in collecting and proper taste and technique, but he did not automatically consign sentiment to the effects of fashion. For Slater, sentiment for the book was both historically recent and a phenomenon in need of analysis: “Of a truth books have only recently come to be regarded as possessing a sentimental value altogether distinct from considerations of utility” (Slater, Romance of Book‐Collecting, 95).
The new sentiment was perceived as forming especially around preservation of modern first editions in their original condition. In Slaterʼs 1894 Early Editions: A Bibliographical Survey of the Works of Some Popular Modern Authors, which Carter and Pollard regarded as the “primer” of the first edition movement (Enquiry, 103), Slater speculates why the sentiment for modern authorsʼ early works depended on maintaining the physical copy in its original condition. Such copies, he writes, were likely to have been neglected or destroyed before the authorʼs fame could bestow special interest on the publications; and thus, when “these first‐fruits, crude though they generally are”, come to light along with the rising fame of their author, they gain an appropriate sentimental value, which is compounded by their scarcity: “the fact that many people want the few copies that have escaped the wrack of neglect, makes them objects of unusual interest. The inevitable reprint comes at last, but it is not the same; sentiment still hangs around the shabby volume of years ago, with all its errors” (Slater, Early Editions, vii).
To account for the formation of this sentiment, Slater points to a number of possible origins. The collecting of modern book illustration, which started earlier in the century, instigated a search for early editions for the sake of sharper, early‐state impressions of engravings and woodcuts. Another cause of collectorsʼ sentiment for original condition was the interest in tracing textual revisions by favorite modern authors through successive editions—a scholarly attraction prompted by a tendency of certain modern writers, such as Tennyson, to publish successive, revised versions of their work (Slater, Early Editions, v–vii; see also Slater, Romance of Book‐Collecting, 118–19). In connection with the latter interest, Slater does reflect a sentimentality in Carter and Pollardʼs sense of the collectorʼs imaginary closeness to the life of a favorite author. Dramatizing the appeal of the first edition, Slater evokes a “personal connection” with the author: “It may be assumed that the author has in the vast majority of cases seen and handled the book for which he was himself responsible; the very copy we hold in our hand may have belonged to him.” Despite such over‐dramatization, Slaterʼs idea of a sentiment driving a nascient textual criticism of modern literature is legitimately scholarly, and not merely nostalgic: first editions, he argues, supply the possibility of tracing “the working of the authorʼs mind by a comparison of the wording of one edition with that of another”, and of understanding “why [the author] made the alterations” and even “enter[ing] into [the authorʼs] thoughts, and perhaps . . . appreciat[ing] his feelings” about such revisions (Slater, How to Collect Books 182).
During the height of the perceived craze, the sentiment for early editions was not necessarily controversial in itself. Whereas Carter and Pollard later presented the movement in two‐dimensional terms—opponents and supporters ranged on either side of the issue, as besotted amateurs deranged the rare‐book market with heedless investments in valueless stock—the sentiment for the materiality of early editions was recognized on both sides as a discovey worth serious attention. When William Roberts collected his Fortnightly essays in book form, he moderated his attitude: though continuing to berate the “cult” surrounding firsts, he confessed to sharing an appreciation of the “charm [that] is so much a matter of feeling” in the “attraction of a first edition”. While insisting on reserving for professional scrutiny the features of a first edition that, to a bibliographer, are “much more than sentimental” (i.e., analytical bibliographic description of papers, typefaces, and bindings that have fallen out of fashion), Roberts admits that the appeal of an early edition “falls into the category of things which are not explainable” to “the utilitarian”. The shabby volume is “esteemed as bringing our sons or grandsons nearer than any amount of written description to our own ‘old’ times”. The pleasure is “spiritual” and the “experience . . . a thing of feeling and not of argument” (Roberts, Rare Books and Their Prices, 27–29).
The Comprehensive Modern Author Collecction, Juvenilia to Last Words
What did sharply divide writers respecting the first edition movement was the value and meaning of pursuing the collection to its logical end—a comprehensive assemblage of every item an author had ever published, from juvenilia to last words, in the original condition. The ambition had grown along with the movement. Writing in 1894, Slater estimated that “the search for early editions of popular modern authors . . . [had] been carried on . . . for at least a quarter of a century” (Slater, Early Editions, vi); and Roberts, in his 1895 The Book‐Hunter in London, remarks in a chapter on “Some Modern Collectors” (pp. 299–322) that the collections of Walter Slater, Thomas J. Wise, and Clement Shorter had been “formed side by side” in recent years, with the aim of possessing “everything” by the modern authors that respectively interested them (Roberts, Book‐Hunter in London, 316–18). But while “the craze for first editions is not by any means a recent one”, Roberts pointed out in 1894, “the person who confines his attention to first editions is, it must be admitted, not so extreme a case as the man who collects every edition of certain authors”. This class of collectors has caused commercial disasters in the auction rooms, Roberts complains, while supplying no scholarly benefits. Granted, for writers who are not represented by a collected edition, “there would be some excuse for a series of the separately issued volumes . . . , but a complete collection of the first and every subsequent edition is altogether too absurd, even for a public library” (Roberts, “The First Edition Mania”, 347, 351). In 1876, during the decade when this desire for comprehensiveness must have been gathering momentum among collectors, the editors of the journal, the Athenaeum, bore witness to the phenomenon, and derided it, remarking on the “strange mania . . . of late years for collecting every scrap ever written by writers of eminence” (“Literary Gossip” [25 November 1876], 690).
Ruskin was signally collected in these terms, with many late‐century collectors building a reputation on the scope of their Ruskin holdings. In Glasgow, for example, among what was an apparently large number of Scottish collectors who aspired to acquiring Ruskin firsts and rarities, Bernard Macgeorge was considered the chief, and his collection was admiringly described in terms of its comprehensiveness: “probably as large as any in existence, numbering altogether over two hundred volumes and pamphlets”, including “nearly everything that Mr. Ruskin has written . . . , not only in the original editions but in subsequent ones” (Mason, Public and Private Libraries of Glasgow, 293–94). Macgeorgeʼs 1892 privately printed catalogue contains 186 entries for Ruskin, many of the individual entries representing multiple items, such as the collected separate part issues of Fors Clavigera, Praeterita, and other works; sets of annuals, such as Friendshipʼs Offering; collected extra illustrations for Modern Painters; proofs of engravings with touchings by Ruskin; and other sub‐groups attesting to the variety and scope of Ruskinʼs activity (Catalogue of the Library of Bernard Buchanan Macgeorge, 119–42).
In America, Charles Goodspeed (1867–1950) not only built an important comprehensive collection himself but as a bookseller improved other American Ruskin collections. According to his memoir, Goodspeed sustained the market stateside for Ruskin first editions, which he claims to have “bought more of . . . abroad than any other American dealer, building up my own collection while replenishing the stock on the shop shelves” of his well‐known Boston bookshop. Among “kindred spirit” Ruskin collectors in America, Goodspeed named Caleb B. Tillinghast, John G. Winant, and R. B. Adam II (1863–1940) (Goodspeed, Yankee Bookseller, 262, 265). Ambivalence about the trend for comprehensive collecting was expressed on the American side, as on the English. Francis Whiting Halsey, a journalist prominent in book reviewing for the New York newspapers, wrote in 1902 with some alarm over the voluminous increase in publishing over the final quarter of the nineteenth century, including the “large volume of reprints” and modern editions. While Halsey commented favorably on the high demand for modern firsts in America as in England, and treated the reprint houses as performing a public service arising from their sympathy with favorite authors, he is dubious about the state of the market for such collecting: “In this country it is early, choice, or curious editions of standard modern authors that fetch large sums” in spite of “sharp English competition” (Halsey, Our Literary Deluge, 63, 152, and see 63–76).
In the lively competition among collectors to make their modern author collections comprehensive, the controversy arose in part, as Halsey suggests, from a perceived distortion of pricing in the market for rarities. For William Roberts, excessive value was placed on copies of minor publications as compared with canonical works: “Where a collector desires to have a complete series of the works written by the author or authors to whom he devotes his attention”, Roberts remarked, a handful of first editions took on a disproportionate value merely because “they are exceedingly rare, and . . . that is about as much as can be urged in their favour”. In the case of Ruskin, for example, the value of first editions of the major works had declined in the market, while “the publications of Mr. Ruskin which more than maintain their commercial value are those which are quite unknown except to the specialist. They are little pamphlets and tracts, which were, for the most part, printed in exceedingly small numbers, and are now practically unprocurable. Although there are about a dozen collectors who have spared neither time nor money to render their Ruskiniana complete, we believe that not more than one can claim to have an absolutely final series of the works of the ‘master’. A rough calculation places the value of a complete set of Ruskin at not much short of £300 for about sixty distinct publications” (Roberts, Rare Books and Their Prices, 32–33, 41–42, 28–29).
It is clear that, for detractors, juvenilia ranked high in the list of these offending, overpriced rarities. In journalistsʼ reports on enviable book collections at the fin de siècle, certain modern juvenilia are repeatedly singled out as holding a special cachet: for example, Poems (1850) by J.R. [Ruskin]; Poems by Two Brothers (1827), by Charles and Alfred Tennyson; and The Battle of Marathon (1820) and other early books privately printed for Elizabeth Barrett by her father. A description of Macgeorgeʼs Ruskin collection highlights his prized early holdings, including “one great folio contain[ing] a large number of original pencil drawings signed and dated, done by Ruskin in his youth” (Mason, Public and Private Libraries of Glasgow, 293–94). In Macgeorgeʼs 1892 catalogue, the drawings are dated 1835–38. This portfolio rounded out what would at the time have been considered representative and enviable holdings of early Ruskin printed items: Ruskinʼs originally printed contributions to Loudonʼs Magazine of Natural History and Loudonʼs Architectural Magazine (1834–38); numerous annuals containing poems, and even touched proofs of Ruskinʼs engravings for Friendshipʼs Offering (1835–45); multiple printings of Ruskinʼs Newdigate Prize poem at Oxford, “Salsette and Elephanta”, one copy preserving the “original wrapper” (1839); an association copy (owned by Dr. John Brown) of the Poems (1850) by J.R.; and multiple copies of The King of the Golden River, one preserving “original paper boards“ (Catalogue of the Library of Bernard Buchanan Macgeorge, 137, 140–41, 119–20).
Macgeorgeʼs was a superbly curated collection. However, for collectors of ordinary means, Slater hedged his comments about the value of modern juvenilia appearing on the market, remarking for example that Elizabeth Barrett Browningʼs girlhood volume, The Battle of Marathon (1820), is “like most other early productions of authors who subsequently become famous”; that is, it should be “valued not so much on account of its intrinsic merit as for the circumstances attending its production, the personality of the writer, and its excessive rarity” (Slater, Early Editions, 40–41). Realizing the fears of conservatives like Roberts, who lamented that an appreciation of canonical monuments would be displaced by an obsession with insignificant pamphlets, the new collecting threatened not only to inflate market prices temporarily but also to debase the reverence that ought fundamentally to motivate bibliographical study, and instead to ground scholarship in thorough materialism. In an 1894 contribution to Notes and Queries, William Francis Prideaux (1840–1914) styled himself as a “complete [i.e., comprehensive] bibliographer” as distinct from a “collector”, and in that capacity he pronounced “the prices at which scarce books in favour with collectors have found a market in these latter days” to be less objectionable in themselves than in the consequent tendency he perceived among writers on collecting like Slater to rank the importance of modern first editions by their market value rather than by their solely bibliographical significance; yet, unlike Roberts, Prideaux refused to measure bibliographical significance in terms of literary importance. From his standpoint as a “complete bibliographer”, “the bibliographical importance of one book by any particular author is as great as the bibliographical importance of any other book by the same writer. Each book marks a stage in the growth or decadence of the writerʼs art”; and to “those who wish to trace [an authorʼs] literary life through his works”, “completeness” in both acquisition and bibliographical description of the physical book is a self‐sufficingly meritorious scholarly aim, and one that remains independent of either literary or market value of a particular book (Prideaux, “Complete Bibliographer”, 401, 402).
The Industry and Its Controversies surrounding Modern Author Collecting: Reprints, Bibliographies, and “Ana” Miscellanies
Lending assistance to tracing the modern authorʼs “literary life through his works”, single‐author bibliographies and other reference materials emerged as period publications aimed at collectors. Prideaux lauded the bibliographies “compiled on correct principles” as “an indispensable guide” for collectors, singling out the recently published (1889–93) Wise and Smart Complete Bibliography of . . . Ruskin as the “chef‐dʼoeuvre” of the genre (Prideaux, “Complete Bibliographer”, 401, 402). As Michael Sadleir would later remark, the proliferation of these single‐author bibliographies “published during the forty‐five years prior to 1914” formed a first stage by which “bibliographical study of nineteenth‐century books made its way into favour”. According to Sadleirʼs list, more than sixty separate single‐author bibliographies were published between 1868 and 1914, not counting revisions and reissues. They were compiled for nineteenth‐century poets (Matthew Arnold, E. B. Browning, Robert Browning, Lord Byron, S. T. Coleridge, Austin Dobson, Edward FitzGerald [and, separately, Omar Khayyam], Thomas Moore, Christina Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, P. B. Shelley, Algernon Swinburne, and Alfred Tennyson); novelists (the Brontës, Dickens, Disraeli, George Eliot, George Meredith, Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, and William Makepeace Thackeray); prose writers (Thomas Carlyle, Thomas De Quincey, William Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, Charles Lamb, William Morris, and John Ruskin); cartoonists and illustrators (Hablot Knight Browne [aka, Phiz], George Cruikshank, Charles Samuel Keene, John Leech, Thomas Rowlandson, and sporting illustrators); and prominent collectors specializing in the nineteenth century, in the form of handlists of their private libraries (Edmund Gosse, and Bernard Macgeorge). Several of these figures gained separate treatments by different compilers (Sadleir, “Development of Bibliographical Study”, 147–49). Prideaux was perhaps correct to set apart Wise and Smart, Complete Bibliography of . . . Ruskin as the “chef‐dʼoeuvre” of the these efforts, as many amounted to mere enumerative handlists compared to Wise and Smartʼs elaborate descriptive bibliography. Yet even the handlists of publications by Ruskin and of other writers that were compiled by Richard Herne Shepherd (1840–95), for example, represented significant scholarship, as Shepherd sought to make his bibliographies as exhaustive as possible, and he carried his Ruskin bibliography through five editions in pursuit of that goal. Shepherd anticipated Wise and Smart in identifying Ruskinʼs earliest publications.
Like the collecting of modern firsts itself, the reprint and bibliography industry that supported the movement irritated detractors. Roberts was annoyed that “every little volume of drivelling verse” and other “ephemera” could be “heralded as a wonderful and valuable piece of literature” by publicists (Roberts, “The First Edition Mania”, 347, 349). To the editors of the Athenaeum, it was a matter of “astonishment and regret that publishers can be found for such undertakings” as reprints and “ana” volumes—the kinds of labors for which Richard Herne Shepherd was known (Unsigned review of The Earlier Poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 766). Shepherd was perhaps the most prolific compiler of single‐author bibliographies, and he was inventive and industrious in developing other kinds of publications serving the new collecting interests. He edited reprints of neglected works by modern authors, and compiled “ana” volumes, which constructed a biographical narrative using selected earlier versions of texts that authors subsequently revised (e.g., Shepherd, Tennysoniana). Such publications made Shepherd a target by authors who resented seeing their early and ephemeral texts, and earlier versions of their more canonical texts, revived in the form of edited reprints or aids to study like the “ana” volume. Hostile authors and their representatives, such as reviewers for the Athenaeum, attacked Shepherd and his ilk as vampires and as resurrection men, meaning body snatchers. Tennyson was particularly hostile to the reprint industry, which he regarded as mere piracy, and he led the way in taking legal action against Shepherd and other editors and publishers engaged in such activity.
At the core of these court cases was a question of authorsʼ control over their oeuvre and states of their texts. Tennyson took up battle against such publications as early as 1862, when James Dykes Campbell printed a piracy of Tennysonʼs early poems “without the compilerʼs name, place of publication, without even the authorʼs name, simply titled Poems. MDCCCXXX. MDCCCXXXIII.” The alleged purpose of the volume was to aid readers who wished to study the Laureateʼs revised and suppressed states of poems, but Tennyson defiantly denied the legitimacy and legality of such an undertaking (Sinclair, “First Pirated Edition of Tennysonʼs Poems”, 177). Later, in 1875–76, Richard Herne Shepherd incurred Tennysonʼs wrath over a pirated printing of the poetʼs early work, “A Loverʼs Tale” (see Paden, “Tennysonʼs The Loverʼs Tale, Shepherd, and Wise”). Having pleaded guilty to that piracy, Shepherd soon again, in 1876, found himself at odds with a prominent author, when the Atheneaum took the part of Robert Browning in opposing a reprint that Shepherd proposed to edit, The Earlier Poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1826–1833. When Shepherd placed a notice in the press that this reprint was forthcoming, Browning asked the Athenaeum to denounce the project, arguing that its most substantial text, Barrett Browningʼs 1833 translation of Aeschylusʼs Prometheus Bound, would violate the late poetʼs wishes, as she had effectively suppressed this text by publishing a new translation of the play in 1850. It was in this context that the Athenaeum condemned the “strange mania . . . of late years for collecting every scrap ever written by writers of eminence, even when expressly suppressed by the author”. The journal belittled “the ‘completeness’ thus attained” by the collector as amounting to “no value” in itself, and as being “unjust, for the deliberate judgment of a great writer deserves to be respected” (“Literary Gossip” [25 November 1876], 690; and see Honan, “Browningʼs Testimony”, and Hanson, “Sentiment and Materiality in Late‐Victorian Book Collecting”).
When The Earlier Poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1826–1833 finally appeared in late 1877, Shepherd had bent to Robert Browningʼs wishes so far as to exclude the 1833 version of Prometheus Bound, but he retained Barrett Browningʼs shorter poems that filled out the original 1833 volume. Because Barrett Browningʼs juvenile publications were out of copyright, and copies readily available to Shepherdʼs inspection in the British Library for transcription and editing, the legality of the reprint had to be admitted by the Athenaeum. The journalʼs editors nonetheless expressed indignation that the authorʼs spouse could lose control over the public domain of Barrett Browningʼs youthful publications, and the journal proceeded to attack Shepherd on ethical grounds: “Were it a question of tables or chairs, Mr. Browning could defend the wishes of his wife; but in the case of poems, our wise laws give him no remedy, and Mr. Shepherd is quite at liberty to defy the wishes of the dead, and to outrage the feelings of the living” (“Literary Gossip” [25 November 1876], 690).
Shepherd replied to this charge by boldly asserting the scholarʼs right to materials for study, and denying that “a poet himself, or the relations of a poet, may . . . always be the best or the final judges of what should continue to hold a place in the collection of his writings”; and that far from intending an outrage of the authorʼs feelings, the “poetical student” owned a rightful claim to studying the authorʼs development, starting with the earliest flowering of literary genius—the “nameless and peculiar charm” to be found in the “early spring” of an authorʼs juvenilia (“Mrs. Browningʼs Earlier Poems”, 722). This declaration by Shepherd of the significance of juvenilia in a writer's development, and of the “poetical studentʼs” right of access to such material, was met with more than derision by the Athenaeum. In the journalʼs 1878 review of the Barrett Browning reprint, the writer, Theodore Watts‐Dunton, attacked not only the morality and professionalism of the reprintʼs editor and publisher, but also the credibility and even the national interest of this view of poetics and the study of an authorʼs development. “Early printing” by authors of promise must be discouraged, Watts‐Dunton demanded; and insofar as the publication of juvenilia proves “necessary to the full development of a countryʼs literary potentialities”, such publication should be regulated, like the young author himself or herself, in order to “discharge” as much “nonsense” as possible to the benefit the nationʼs literary history (Unsigned review of The Earlier Poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 765). According to Watts‐Dunton, the health of the nationʼs literary culture depended on the suppression of modern authorsʼ juvenilia.
The Response by the Brantwood Circle to Collecting of Modern Authors and Juvenilia
In June 1879, Richard Herne Shepherd pressed a libel suit against the Athenaeum for accusing him of dishonesty and vampirism, among other slanders. Shepherd won his case, securing £150 in damages, not long after James McNeill Whistler achieved a merely Pyrrhic victory of a farthingʼs worth of damages in his November 1878 libel trial against Ruskin. Both libel suits were concerned at a fundamental level with questions of artistic or literary value and the authority for determining such value and holding public sway over such determinations. The issues never arose between between Shepherd and Ruskin or the Brantwood Circle, because Shepherd never attempted to reprint works by Ruskin, and so a more straightforward violation of intellectual property never brought forward the grander issues of artistic value and authority. (The true property thief, T. J. Wise, meanwhile went undetected. In 1934, when he was finally accused of forgery, Wise tried to pin the crime on Shepherd; and both he and Forman had evidently tried to confuse the trail by forging Shepherdʼs piracies! See Paden, “Tennysonʼs The Loverʼs Tale, Shepherd, and Wise”, 144–45; and “Tennysonʼs The New Timon, R. H. Shepherd, and Harry Buxton Forman”.) Had Shepherdʼs research for the Bibliography of Ruskin (1878–81) led the editor to attempted piracies of Ruskinʼs youthful work, Ruskin might have been more sympathetic, however, than were either Tennyson or Robert Browning to Shepherdʼs belief in the “nameless and peculiar charm” to be found in the “early spring” of an authorʼs juvenilia. Whether because they shared this view of juvenilia or because they were vigilant to maintain control over Ruskinʼs literary estate, the relatives and associates of Ruskin at Brantwood pre‐empted any attempted piracy by printing Ruskinʼs early work themselves.
When Shepherd began sending installments of his bibliography to Ruskin, the latter responded appreciatively to its “perfect reckoning up of me”, although he added: “I will not say that you have wasted your time; but I may at least regret the quantity of trouble”. Despite this diffidence, Ruskin was “especially glad to have note of the letters to newspapers”, which Shepherd had unearthed (referring to letters reprinted in Arrows of the Chase ; see Ruskin, Works 34:537). Whether or not Ruskin and his circle were aware of Shepherdʼs reputation for piracy (the exchange predated Shepherdʼs successful libel suit), Ruskin moved quickly to appoint his former Oxford student, Alexander Wedderburn (d. 1931), to edit a reprint of these fugitive newspaper pieces. The resulting miscellanies came to be entitled Arrows of the Chase (1880) and On the Old Road (1885).
Both of these anthologies plumb Ruskinʼs youth in some fashion. On the Old Road opens with “My First Editor,” an “autobiographical reminiscence” of W. H. Harrison (ca. 1792–1878), whose relation with the author started in Ruskinʼs boyhood with editing his poetry (and whose talents for careful editorial labor resembled Shepherdʼs, minus the dubious ethics). Arrows of the Chase, as an anthology of the public letters to newspapers, could extend no further back than what Ruskin had first sent to the papers in 1843. Nonetheless, Wedderburn forced the collection backward into the juvenilia, as it were, by means of an appended volume, Ruskiniana (1890), which opened with Ruskinʽs boyhood letters to the writers James Hogg (ca. 1770–1835) and Samuel Rogers (1763–1855) (see Ruskin, Works, 34:xxxviii, 85–90, 459–68). Add to these publications the Poems (1891), a project edited by another loyal former Oxford student, W. G. Collingwood (1854–1932) and it appears that, far from objecting to the new collecting trend, or to the publishing industry supporting its enthusiasts, the Brantwood circle stepped forward to supply such publications on their own.
It should not be assumed, therefore, that Ruskinʽs publisher, George Allen (1832–1907), was motivated solely by profit when, in the 1890s, he published handsome editions of other early works, such as Poetry of Architecture (1893), Three Letters and an Essay (1893), and Letters Addressed to a College Friend (1894). Nor was T. J. Wise (1859–1937) absurdly and brazenly calculating when, in 1889, he and James P. Smart sent a prospectus for their proposed Ruskin bibliography to Brantwood that presented sample entries focused specifically on juvenilia. While the sample entries boldly included, along with the Poems (1850), an invented description of an early Wise forgery, the ostensible “1868” pamphlet of Ruskinʼs juvenile prose tale, “Leoni”, the featuring of juvenilia in such a prospectus would not necessarily have been viewed as eccentric. After all, Ruskin himself, in his autobiography, Praeterita (begun in 1885), had included not only detailed accounts of his early writing, but even a typographic and engraved facsimile of some of his juvenilia, as “an extremely perfect type of the . . . temper of my mind, at the beginning of days just as much as at their end” (Ruskin, Works, 35:56). In expressing thanks to Wise and Smart for their prospectus, Ruskin was therefore disingenuous in commenting to them, as he similarly said to Shepherd, that they had taken too much “trouble over a lot of worthless stuff” (quoted in Dearden, “Wise and Ruskin I”, 48). For the emphasis of the prospectus was in keeping with collectorsʼ sentiment for modern firsts in original condition, and with readersʼ interest in the textual origins of modern writing. The prospectus was also in keeping with themes in Ruskinʼs autobiographical writing, and with the Brantwood circleʼs anthologizing of Ruskinʼs juvenilia.
At the same time, if the Brantwood circle did not share in Tennyson and Browningʼs hostilities to collectors, the relation could be fraught and distant. In the Poems (1891), Collingwood acknowledged his debt to Wise, having “gladly availed” himself of the “full account of the published poems given” in the Complete Bibliography of . . . Ruskin (1889–93) (Poems [4o, 1891], 1:267; Poems [8o, 1891], 1: 268). Wise remained friendly also with Joan Severn. However, Wise apparently never succeeded in gaining an entrée to Brantwood, and he obtained no purchase on Ruskin manuscript treasures (Dearden, “Wise and Ruskin I”, 46–47). Collingwoodʼs guard appears to have raised, too, by Watts‐Dunton and the Athenaeumʽs animadversions on the activities of literary “resurrection men”. In the introduction to Poems (1891), Collingwood seems anxious to anticipate and exonerate himself from the charge that a finely produced edition of Ruskinʼs juvenilia could have been actuated only by an editorʼs greed, or that republication of “minor” work must have violated the rights and wishes of the author—the baseness that the Athenaeum attributed to reprint “hacks” (Unsigned review of The Earlier Poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 765). Pre‐empting such criticism, Collingwood relays the biographical justification for the study of juvenilia: “There is always a peculiar interest in watching development, in witnessing growth”. He invokes a metaphor that Shepherd had also used for the child genius as nature, “the bursting into bud and leaf of a new poetic genius” (a somewhat different metaphor from Wordsworthʼs idea of the childʼs genius developing in nature) (Poems [4o, 1891], 1:xix; Poems [8o, 1891], 1:v). But Collingwood also jealously links his “sympathy” for child genius to “ownership”; he erects a barrier against Shepherdʼs suggestion that “poetical students” may be better judges of what should be preserved from authorsʼ childhood writing than the authors themselves or their families, and that once “poems have been fully given to the world”, they become “the worldʼs possessions”, the wards of “poetical students [who] will not allow them to die, however indifferent the general public may be to them” (“Mrs. Browningʼs Earlier Poems”, 722). In contrast, Collingwood keeps the collector at bay: “When we have seen a plant burst the soil, . . . it is our own”, he emphasizes. “As we follow . . . [the] first steps [of great men] . . . they become our own by sympathy”. The plural third‐person pronoun allows some comaraderie with collectors without necessarily sharing possession: “It is no idle curiosity, then, that prompts the admirers of Mr. Ruskinʼs works to collect his boyish writings and to learn the story of his youth” (Poems [4o, 1891], 1:xix; Poems [8o, 1891], 1:v).
This coolness did not deter collectors from seeking Ruskin rarities. Despite Cook and Wedderburn being the first to raise suspicions about the pamphlet reprints of Ruskin juvenilia, thereby helping to set Carter and Pollard on the path to their 1934 exposé, these doubts did not prevent the “1868” “Leoni” from outselling other Wise forgeries by four to one in auctions between the late 1880s and 1920, or retard the bidding on the “1849” “The Scythian Guest”, which came under the hammer much less frequently than did “Leoni”, but that fetched breathtaking prices when it did appear (see “Leoni”: Composition and Publication; and “The Scythian Guest”: Composition and Publication).
Through the early 1930s, Ruskin collecting still showed signs of what Carter would soon categorize as the bizarre “fashion” of such minor fare as juvenilia distorting the market. Surprisingly high auction prices were by commanded by early Ruskin manuscripts as compared to prices for manuscripts of works written in Ruskinʼs maturity. At the Sothebyʼs Sale of Ruskin Manuscripts and Library, 1930 and the Sothebyʼs Sale of Ruskin Manuscripts and Library, 1931, manuscripts associated with Ruskinʼs youth sold for prices competitive with those for manuscripts of such canonical works as The Stones of Venice; and prices given for early manuscripts were often were significantly greater than those given for manuscripts of late works. It is possibly a sign of the ongoing “mania” for “firsts” and “early editions”, that these early manuscripts were sold alongside modern (i.e., nineteenth‐century) first editions: the 1930 sale included presentation copies by modern authors from Ruskinʼs library, along with a prominent lot of books, drawings, and letters by the childrenʼs author and illustrator, Kate Greenaway (the latter underscoring associations with childhood, as well); and the 1931 sale included a “small library . . . of modern authors” unrelated to the Ruskin collection, as well as more modern firsts from Ruskinʼs library, including correspondence by modern authors to Ruskin. Perhaps the association of these lots indicates that, as late as 1930–31, the collecting of modern‐author firsts helped to buoy the prices for Ruskinʼs manuscript juvenilia, just as Carter and Pollard remarked with dismay the princely sum given as recently as 1931 for a juvenile publication by Rupert Brooke. If these associations still held held force, Sothebyʼs auctioned the early Ruskin manuscripts in the nick of time, for after 1934 vestiges of the late‐Victorian collecting phenomenon would succumb to Carter and Pollardʼs exposé of forgery and their modernist contempt for Victorian sentimentality.