I first found Charles Dickens while at the Worrell House in 1979. I have read many of his works over the years and have enjoyed them immensely. When I started working in Special Collections & Archives, I was very excited to find out that we have some of Dickens’ works in the original parts. One of my responsibilities here in the department is the make sure everything on the shelf is cataloged. There are many titles that have been on the shelf for many years, but for some reason, were never been put into the online catalog. While doing this, I realized that the British and American literature sections were cataloged using a hybrid Library of Congress classification system. Instead of grouping titles together, everything was done chronologically. This made titles hard to find. So, starting with the British literature, I started to re-catalog using the correct Library of Congress classification system. This led me to some surprising discoveries. By far the most exciting for me were two folios that were cataloged with Charles Dickens works. These two books were by James Peller Malcolm published in 1808 & 1811. Anecdotes of the manners and customs of London: during the eighteenth century, with a review of the state of society in 1807. published in 1808 and Anecdotes of the manners and customs of London from the Roman invasion to the year 1700… published in 1811. Now these two items, while rare, wouldn’t have gotten my attention normally except for two things, one they really should have been cataloged with history titles, and two, they had two bookplates on the front inside cover, one that said Charles Dickens, and another that stated “From the library of Charles Dickens, Gadshill Place June, 1870.” These particular bookplates stated that these items were in Dickens’ library at Gadshill when he died. Wanting to know more about these titles, I started to research more about them and found out that not only had they been in Dickens library, but the one published in 1808 had been used for his novel Barnaby Rudge. In J. H. Stonehouse’s Catalogue of the Library of Charles Dickens from Gadshill published in 1935, in the entry for these titles he states: “In Vol. 2 is the plate of a charming girl, in a picturesque costume, immortalized in Barnaby Rudge, and here named in Dickens’s handwriting — “Dolly Varden”. Needless to say I was very excited to learn about this important association with Dickens works. It isn’t very often that you can trace a book’s provenance other than bookplates or knowing who gave the book, but to realize that a important author actually used these books for his research makes this discovery all that more exciting. In this case the books were listed in the online catalog, but nothing had been added that stated this association with Dickens. I guess previous catalogers thought that if they were cataloged as Dickens’ works, the association would be self-explanatory. The books were bought in 1974 for $135.00 apiece for the rare books collection. There is a note handwritten in pencil on the front inside cover of the 1808 volume that indicates that the plate number #8 is the plate when Dickens made his notation. It is possible that this was written by the book dealer where we purchased the books. The books were in pretty bad shape when I cataloged them in 2011. The 1811 volume is in better shape than the 1808 volume. The 1811 volume has a back cover that is loose, and some pages at the front that have come unbound. The 1808 volume was in much worse shape with the spine completely split and many loose pages. I sent the 1808 volume down to Craig in preservation to do some repair work. It has now been beautifully repaired and is ready for scholars in English literature as well as English social customs and history to use. I will be sending the 1811 volume down shortly. If you would like to take a look, please come up to the special collections reading room and I will be glad to show you both volumes. It is times like this that I know that I am in the right profession. Not only was I able to provide better access to our collection by cataloging the volumes correctly, but I was able to work with something that belonged to and was used by my favorite author. Most days I love what I do, but on days like the day I found these volumes I can say with a huge smile on my face that I love my job!
The first issue of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost appeared in 1667. The anti-royalist Milton, blind and near sixty years old, had fallen on hard times in Restoration England, but Paradise Lost fit the apocalyptic mood of a nation that had recently suffered an outbreak of plague, the great fire of London, and defeat in the Anglo-Dutch wars.
Milton’s legal agreement with printer Samuel Simmons is one of the earliest English author contracts to survive. In it Simmons agrees to pay Milton £5 for the manuscript, plus an additional £5 after 1300 of the 1500 copy initial print run have sold, with any additional profits going to the printer. This was a fairly standard author contract of the day.
Sales of the work were sluggish at first, and Simmons reissued the first edition sheets of Paradise Lost with seven different title pages between 1667 and 1669. The 1669 reissue included, as per Simmons’s note to the reader, a 14-page “Argument” that provided a prose summary of each book’s plot.
The Printer to the Reader
Courteous Reader, There was no Argument at first intended to the Book, but for the satisfaction of many that have desired it, I have procur’d it, and whithall a reason of that which stumbled many others, why the Poem Rimes not.
It also includes Milton’s impassioned explanation of “why the Poem Rimes not”:
The Measure is English Heroic Verse without Rime, as that of Homer in Greek, and of Virgil in Latin; Rime being no necessary adjunct or true Ornament of Poem or good Verse, in longer Works especially, but the Invention of a barbarous Age, to set off wretched matter and lame Meeter…. This neglect then of Rime so little is to be taken for a defect, though it may seem so perhaps to vulgar Readers, that it rather is to be esteem’d as an example set, the first in English, of ancient liberty recover’d to Heroic Poem from the troublesom and modern bondage of Rimeing.
It is not surprising that Milton’s first readers were nonplussed by his use of unrhymed iambic pentameter, since it was seldom used at the time except for dramatic works. But his influence on succeeding generations of English poets was great, and by the 19th century blank verse was the standard form for long poems.
Wake Forest’s Special Collections holds two copies of the 1669 Paradise Lost. The first copy was purchased in 1949 by the Friends of the Wake Forest College Library in memory of alumnus Joseph Quincy Adams, who was the first Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library. This copy has been rebound in 20th century red morocco.
The second copy is from the library of Charles H. Babcock. It is bound in an unmarked brown calf leather typical of inexpensive bindings of the 16th-18th centuries. This book’s known provenance begins with a Robert Wynne who signed and dated the volume on April 20, 1719. It passed through the collections of railroad millionaire Ross Winans and well-known collector Marshall Clifford Lefferts before being purchased by Babcock, who eventually donated his library to Wake Forest College.