Friday, March 28, 2008

The Will of Will

In a previous post, Literary Manuscripts in the Digital Age, I referred to the will of William Shakespeare. A transcription of the will, published in Charles Williams’s abridgment of Edmund Chambers’s A Short Life of Shakespeare (Oxford, 1933), is available here.

The editor’s notes provide some information about the record itself as well as a glimpse of the process of editing historical manuscripts. For an interesting recent article on this latter topic, see

Image: Detail from Shakespeare’s funerary monument, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford Upon Avon, England, available from:

Thursday, March 20, 2008

From Manuscript, et cetera, to Book

Below is an interesting introduction, explaining how a literary manuscript, marginalia based on a lost letter, a series of lectures, and oral history culminated in the publication of a book:


[by C. S. Lewis]

When Charles Williams died in 1945 he left two works unfinished. One was a long lyric cycle on the Arthurian legend of which two installments had already appeared under the titles of Taliessin through Logres (1938) and The Region of the Summer Stars (1944). The other was a prose work on the history of the legend which was to have been entitled The Figure of Arthur. The lyrical cycle is a difficult work which, if left without a commentary, might soon become another such battlefield for competing interpretations as Blake's Prophetic Book. Since I had heard nearly all of it read aloud and expounded by the author and had questioned him closely on his meaning I felt that I might be able to comment on it, though imperfectly, yet usefully. His most systematic exposition had been given to me in a long letter which (with that usual folly which forbids us to remember that our friends can die) I did not preserve; but fortunately I had copied large extracts from it into the margin of my copy of Taliessin at the relevant passages. On these, and on memory and comparison with Williams's other works, I based a course of lectures on the cycle which I gave at Oxford in the autumn of 1945. Since a reasonable number of people appeared to be interested I then decided to make these lectures into a book.

It soon became clear that I could hardly explain the narrative assumptions of the cycle without giving some account of the earlier forms of the story—a heavy task which I shrank from undertaking. On the other hand, those to whom Williams had committed the manuscript of the unfinished Figure of Arthur were at the same time considering how that fragment could be most suitably published. The plan on which the present book has been arranged seemed to be the best solution of both problems. In it Williams the critic and literary historian provides an introduction to my study of Williams the Arthurian poet; or, if you prefer, I add to Williams’s history of the legend an account of the last poet who has contributed to it—namely, Williams himself. Chapters IV and V of his work I saw for the first time when Mrs. A. M. Hadfield sent me a typed copy of them. The two first chapters had been read aloud by the author to Professor Tolkien and myself. It may help the reader to imagine the scene; or at least it is to me both great pleasure and great pain to recall. Picture to yourself, then, an upstairs sitting-room with windows looking north into the ‘grove’ of Magdalen College on a sunshiny Monday Morning in vacation at about ten o’clock. The Professor and I, both on the chesterfield, lit our pipes and stretched out our legs. Williams in the arm-chair opposite to us threw his cigarette into the grate, took up a pile of the extremely small, loose sheets on which he habitually wrote—they came, I think, from a twopenny pad for memoranda, and began as follows:—

From Charles William and C. S. Lewis, Arthurian Torso: Containing the Posthumous Fragment of the Figure of Arthur and a Commentary on the Arthurian Poems of Charles Williams (London: Oxford University Press, 1948), 1-2.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Digital Libraries and Archives: Supplantation or Supplementation?

In an article in EDUCAUSE Review, Peter Brantley claims that current library and archival digital initiatives are “for these times … not enough.” Brantley begins by identifying a number of ways in which libraries have failed. Most of these are sins of omission rather than sins of commission—i.e., these are things that libraries have failed to do, such as evolve or innovate in a technologically dynamic environment. “Libraries,” he writes, “need to be focused on engaging the world, empowering people, thinking much more ambitiously, and sometimes taking risks that we think might border on foolish” (32).

Brantley’s focus is—and many of his assertions and recommendations concern—digital manifestations of libraries. But to what extent is a digital library a library? The first entry in the OED for “library” reads: “A place set apart to contain books for reading, study, or reference.” This definition contains four of the main elements of a library: (1) space; (2) standards; (3) stuff; and (4) service. All of these are expandable into the digital domain. But all of these remain hybrid, operating in both the physical world and the digital world. (Pace Brantley, people do go to libraries to find things; libraries are hubs of information that are enriched by library curators; and I hope that my six-year-old daughter will continue to read, or at least have access to, printed books when she is in college.)

Nevertheless, the shift that Brantley articulates is real and the types of actions that he calls for are necessary. Reading them, I was reminded of an innovative librarian from late antiquity, Cassiodorus, with whom James J. O’Donnell closes his book Avatars of the Word: From Papyrus to Cyberspace (Harvard, 1998):

Cassiodorus chose a course that succeeded in placing some new wine in some old bottles. He used the instruments, the habits, and the cultural expectations of the old Roman culture in which he had been brought up to do new things, create a new kind of library. He is not a savior of western civilization, nor should any of us expect to be. He was rather a single, responsible individual helping shape to the limits of his ability the institutions and the cultural tools that his world needed. That he accepted and thrived on the disruption of his life and expectations, and that he succeeded is using his past and his expectations so resourcefully to help him shape a future, are lessons we can all take away with us.

Link to “Architectures for Collaboration: Roles and Expectations for Digital Libraries”:

Virtual Hamlets in the Virtual World

A Romantic, says Nietzsche, is someone who always wants to be elsewhere. If that's so, then the children of the Internet are Romantics, for they perpetually wish to be someplace else …

The Internet is perhaps the most centrifugal technology ever devised. The classroom, where you sit down in one space at one time and ponder a text or an issue in slow motion, is coming to feel ever more antiquated …

For students now, life is elsewhere … students live in the future and not the present; they live with their prospects for success and pleasure. They dwell in possibility.

—Mark Edmundson, “Dwelling in Possibilities,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 14, 2008, available from:

Monday, March 17, 2008

Kierkegaard on Publishers

From Communication
That there should be publishers, men whose very existence expresses the fact that books are wares and authors tradesmen, is thoroughly immoral. In so far as money enters into an intellectual relationship (such as being an author), if a man is paid, receives royalties, etc., then the one who constitutes the intellectual relationship should also constitute the financial relationship, take over the finance, not by any means for the sake of a possibly great financial gain, far from it, but in order that some sense of shame should enter into it. If the financial relationship is such that it is the source of revenue of another person, it easily becomes insolent. There are plenty of examples of the insolence of publishers; the insolence consists in treating the productions of the mind unreservedly and to the very last as wares. In that way the public get financial control of the publisher, and the publisher again financial control of the author, and so perhaps an author (who ought to be as chaste and modest about money as a girl about the sale of her virtue) is made to blush and feel ashamed, but without the power to break away.
—Søren Kierkegaard, from an 1846 journal entry, translated by Alexander Dru (Oxford University Press, 1938, 155)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Digitization and Digits

Initially, I was going to post only the epitaph of the young Benjamin Franklin. It is rather clever, from a bibliographical as well as a theological point of view:
The Body of B. Franklin, Printer; like the Cover of an old Book, Its Contents torn out, And stript of its Lettering and Gilding, Lies here, Food for Worms. But the Work shall not be wholly lost; For it will, as he believ'd, appear once more, In a new & more perfect Edition, Corrected and amended By the Author.
(The image and transcription are available from the Library of Congress, “Benjamin Franklin … In His Own Words,”
Then I went to look something up in Franklin’s Autobiography in Google Book Search, and I discovered an unexpected set of digits:

(The Work not wholly lost here, although it is not in a new & more perfect Edition, is from the Harvard Classics edition of 1909.)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Borrowing Time

From Time
In my last post I quoted de Bury on the function of books as negations of time. But books, like everything else, also “are corrupted and decay in time.” They do, however, fare better if they are preserved in libraries. When books, records, and artifacts are curated by libraries, archives, and museums, their time and usefulness are extended. Paraphrasing de Bury, one could say that “all the glory of the world would be buried in oblivion unless God had provided mortals with the remedy of libraries, archives, and museums.”

While challenging time by extending the duration of communication and other cultural products, libraries, archives, and museums also change time. Such institutions, in the words of Randall Jimerson, “provide resources for people to examine the past, to comprehend the present, and to prepare for a better future” (“Archives for All: Professional Responsibility and Social Justice,” American Archivist 70 [2007]: 253).

Nevertheless, time remains the great destroyer. Great libraries of the past—of Ashurbanipal, Alexandria, Caesarea, and Cassiodorus (to name a few)—were overcome by time. Today, in the brave new world of digital technology, the past is often not renderable. As D. F. McKenzie observed:
It’s the durability of … textual forms that ultimately secures the continuing future of our past; it’s the evanescence of the new [digital] ones that poses the most critical problem for bibliography and any further history dependent on its scholarship (quoted in Kate Longworth, “Between Then and Now: Modern Book History,” Literature Compass 4/5 [2007]: 1432).
Image: My iPod, on which time is found under “Extras.”