Lost Books

SCEMS member and occasional book historian Dr Iona Hine offers some reflections based on her recent review of Lost Books (ed. Andrew Pettegree & Flavia Bruni; Leiden: Brill, 2016)

How do you know when a book gets lost? Lost Books has plenty of punchy lines and even after several discontinuous months of reading, some chapters continue to stand out. So in addition to the full length review published on the Linguistic DNA site, here are some insights tailored to colleagues and other readers of the Book History @ Sheffield blog.

Pettegree’s introduction (Chapter 1) is praised in the full (if descriptive) review over on the Linguistic DNA website. I’ve said it before but it bears saying again: this is an introduction to the volume that has independent value, and could be wisely assigned as student reading. Here we come to understand different kinds of lost books: individual copies significant because of their role in a particular private collection, lost first editions, works that—despite (or perhaps because of) their apparent popularity—are known only through archival evidence of their former existence. Equipped with this wide-ranging conception of the lost, one can be commensurately awed by the endeavours all the volume’s scholars have undertaken to reassemble missing works, to calculate objects that cannot be studied, and to estimate the significance of collections long since destroyed or dispersed.

Also distinctive is Anna Giulia Cavagna on the logic of Alfonso del Carretto’s lost library (Chapter 16). The make-up of this collection is known only because Carretto scrupulously noted down bibliographic details in a manner any book historian will envy. The nature of his notes often make it possible to identify the exact editions missing, but they also expose his agency in assembling it. For as Cavagna observes, Carretto was especially attentive to social capital. As a monarch in exile, he saw his book collection as a part of his political campaign to gain the European patronage necessary to the restoration of his domain. Thus when he records the subjects of dedications, the authors of forewords, and so on, it is because he sees these people as instruments to assist his cause, and their invocations on the printed page as opportunities to engage with and understand the social world around them and make use of that knowledge. Carretto’s books are, as Cavagna puts it, ‘vectors of social relations’.

Also of plausible interest to colleagues is the AHRC research network, ‘Community Libraries: Connecting Readers in the Atlantic World’, reported on briefly in Chapter 20.

At 24 chapters, there is much more that can be said about this book. To find out more about its contents, see the full review on Linguistic DNA . There are also some more wide-roaming reflections prompted by Pettegree’s opening chapter and a visit to the Parker Library at Corpus Christi College Cambridge on my independent blog.