My attention was recently drawn to this rather assertive, not to say pugnacious, example of cataloguing from the excellent William Reese Company of Connecticut. A little barbed for some tastes, perhaps, but the point is a well-made and timely one. It may also provide us with a useful model and a way forward in attempting to deal with the relentless accretion of false bibliography which is cluttering up the internet: there is scarcely a collected author about at least one of whose books some demonstrably untrue – or at least highly dubious – claim is not being made.
It is timely, first in that I am due next week to give lectures at the London Rare Books School on both “Bibliography in the Book Trade” and “Cataloguing in the Book Trade”. This will provide a useful case-study in how these things can go wrong. By my count, there are currently five different copies of this Brooke pamphlet listed on the internet stating that it was “limited to only 500 copies”; “published in an edition of only 500 copies”; “only 500 copies printed”, or some variant of that formula. All five appear on the appalling ABE, home of bibliographical iniquity, which comes as no great surprise, but it is more than a little alarming that two also appear on the ILAB website. Quite who has copied whom, or whether perhaps all these descriptions derive from some earlier misconception now disappeared from the listings, it is impossible to say. Certainly there is no credible source for the claim.
The Keynes bibliography is quite unambiguous that 20,000 copies were printed and the earlier Danielson bibliography does not bother listing the pamphlet at all – all five sonnets had previously appeared more than once elsewhere – although this is the earliest form in which most people would have encountered them and the pamphlet has an interest and a particular resonance all of its own. The “500” mistake – and I have no doubt that it is a mistake rather than a deliberate attempt to mislead – presumably derives in some fashion from the fact that only 500 copies were printed of Brooke’s “Poems” in 1911. Take away the inverted commas and the statement that Brooke’s poems were first printed in an edition of 500 copies is both true and thoroughly misleading.
We all make mistakes – I know that full well. I discovered something of a howler of my own while researching the lecture: a case of actually being misled by the bibliography itself and not double-checking in the index. But spotted and quickly corrected and some mistakes are more culpable than others. This “500” error is a serious one. It implies that the pamphlet is far more scarce and therefore more valuable than it actually is and, perhaps worse, there is an implied suggestion that the culprits know rather more of these matters than other booksellers, who quite properly make no mention of the supposedly small number of copies printed, and are thereby made to look as if they are the ones who have not done their homework.
What makes matters worse in this instance is that three of the culprits go on to say that “this scarce pamphlet is Brooke’s third appearance in print”; “This was Brooke’s third appearance in print” or “His third overall appearance in print” – a claim even more extravagant and extraordinary than the “500 copies”. If we exclude the prize poems privately published at Rugby, the corrected reprints of the 1911 “Poems”, the “Appius and Virginia” offprint, the probably earlier “War Poems” privately printed for Lady Desborough, the probably earlier American copyright copies of “1914 and Other Poems”, as well as the possibly earlier American-published play, “Lithuania” – which is rather a lot to exclude – then it might just be possible to claim the pamphlet as his third separate publication or his third conventionally published book of poems – but that is clearly not the same thing at all as his “third appearance in print”, for which to be true we would also have to exclude the dozens and dozens of Brooke’s lifetime contributions to periodicals – “The Meteor”, “The Phoenix”, “The Vulture” and “The Venture” at Rugby, “The Westminster Gazette” and “Saturday Westminster”, “The Cambridge Review” (well over thirty contributions to that alone between 1907 and 1913), as well as contributions to “Basileon”, “The English Review”, “The Modern Language Review”, “The Nation”, “The Gownsman”, “The Spectator”, “The New Age”, “The Eye Witness”, “The Poetry Review”, “The Cambridge Magazine”, “Rhythm”, “Internationale Monats-Schrift für Wissenschaft Kunst und Technik”, “Poetry and Drama”, “The Blue Review”, “New Numbers” and “The New Statesman”.
I think what is actually meant or what lies behind this “third appearance” remark, perhaps its genesis, is that this might be thought the third appearance in print of these particular poems. If we exclude their appearance in the eighty-seven copies of the unpublished American printing of “1914 and Other Poems” produced to secure copyright, and in Lady Desborough’s “War Poems”, both of which probably pre-date the pamphlet, this may be true of four of them, but certainly not the fifth. All five of these war sonnets first appeared in the fourth issue of Lascelles Abercrombie’s fairly obscure quarterly “New Numbers”, published in deepest Gloucestershire in December 1914, and were then posthumously reprinted in the London edition of “1914 and Other Poems” in June 1915, before appearing in the pamphlet in November of that year. In the interim Brooke had both died and become suddenly famous – hence the spectacular leap to a print-run of 20,000 copies – with Dr Inge, Dean of St. Paul’s, quoting from “The Soldier” (If I should die) in his Easter sermon in April 1915. This led to the poem being printed, in full, in the press both at that time and again three weeks later when news of Brooke’s untimely death began to filter through.
Here it is in the “Western Daily Press” on Tuesday 6th April 1915 and in the “Gloucestershire Echo” on Tuesday 27th April 1915. It certainly also appeared elsewhere in the newspapers of the day and in the Poetry Bookshop’s “Georgian Poetry 1913-1915”, published in November 1915 and which may also pre-date the pamphlet. Whichever way you look at it, this “third appearance in print” claim is complete and utter nonsense. It is not even true of one of the poems , let alone of Brooke’s entire published output. The appearance of this wholly implausible, improbable and untenable claim on these public websites damages the reputation of the book-trade as a whole.
The second way in which this highlighting of malfeasance is all rather timely is that the finishing touches are currently being put to the ABA’s new set of Guidelines which will accompany its Code of Practice. Regular readers will have seen my posts on this topic from earlier in the year. For some years past there has already been an injunction in place against plagiarism and the lifting of other booksellers’ catalogue descriptions, which is another aspect of this, especially if carried out in so uncritical a fashion. I do not believe for a moment that the culprits in this case – none of whom, I must make clear, is an ABA member – have all independently come up with these “500 copies” and “third appearance in print” claims. Someone has plainly been cribbing.
Just as pertinently, there has always been a general instruction in the Code that “Members are responsible for the identification and accurate bibliographical description of all material offered for sale”, which of itself covers the case fairly adequately, but – for the avoidance of doubt, as the lawyers say – we now intend to add the following sentence to the Guidelines: “They must have access to the most appropriate and up-to-date bibliographical resources and demonstrate their skill and scholarship in using them. References must be sufficient and appropriate, and misleading statements or implication through selective quotation, omission, or uncritical use of outdated sources is strictly unacceptable”.
This is a testing standard, especially as much of our bibliographical inheritance may indeed be outdated, in particular the older point-mongering collectors’ guides. I doubt very much that this applies to the Keynes bibliography of Rupert Brooke, but this was first published in 1954 and last revised (as far as I am aware) in 1964 – over fifty years ago. I have no reason at all to doubt his figure of 20,000 copies for the pamphlet: he was at school with Brooke, began collecting his work at that time, and was familiar with his circle. Although he does not give an explicit source for the 20,000 figure, an acknowledgement in the preface of help received from the publishers, Sidgwick & Jackson, “for information concerning the printing of Brooke’s works”, strongly suggests that the figure was taken direct from the publisher’s archive. But even so, after this lapse of time, it may be worth someone having another look. It’s the “uncritical use” of sources, wherever found – on the web or on the shelves – that is the problem.
Postscript: For a measured response from the always-worth-listening-to Jim Hinck of the go-to website for finding books, viaLibri – visit his own blog at https://blog.vialibri.net/the-bibliographic-blunder-of-the-five-sonnets-five/.
Jim makes some excellent points, of course, and there is little to disagree with, but to respond briefly: No – I certainly don’t hold the internet responsible for the creation of duff bibliographical information – there was plenty of that around before, especially, as I say, in the “older point-mongering collectors’ guides”. But the internet has caused its far more rapid and far-reaching dissemination and I am by no means as sanguine as he is that these examples can ever now be extirpated (see my “Not Peevish” post of 20th December 2013 and then check today’s online listings of “Dombey & Son” – I’m still waiting for someone to show me a copy of the book where Captain Cuttle’s hook is on his right arm).