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Literary Blunders: A Chapter in the History of Human Error"" By Henry B. Wheatley Characters: 15671

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

THERE is no class that requires to be dealt with more leniently than do bibliographers, for pitfalls are before and behind them. It is impossible for any one man to see all the books he describes in a general bibliography; and, in consequence of the necessity of trusting to second-hand information, he is often led imperceptibly into gross error. Watt's Bibliotheca Britannica is a most useful and valuable work, but, as may be expected from so comprehensive a compilation, many mistakes have crept into it: for instance, under the head of Philip Beroaldus, we find the following title of a work: ``A short view of the Persian Monarchy, published at the end of Daniel's Works.'' The mystery of the last part of the title is cleared up when we

find that it should properly be read, ``and of Daniel's Weekes,'' it being a work on prophecy. The librarian of the old Marylebone Institution, knowing as little of Latin as the monk did of Hebrew when he described a book as having the beginning where the end should be, catalogued an edition of sop's Fables as ``sopiarum's Phdri Fabulorum.''

Two blunders that a bibliographer is very apt to fall into are the rolling of different authors of the same name into one, and the creation of an author who never existed. The first kind we may illustrate by mentioning the dismay of the worthy Bishop Jebb, when he found himself identified in Watt's Bibliotheca with his uncle, the Unitarian writer. Of the second kind we might point out the names of men whose lives have been written and yet who never existed. In the Zoological Biography of Agassiz, published by the Ray Society, there is an imaginary author, by name J. K. Broch, whose work, Entomologische Briefe, was published in 1823. This pamphlet is really anonymous, and was written by

one who signed himself J. K. Broch, is merely an explanation in the catalogue from which the entry was taken that it was a brochure. Moreri created an author, whom he styled Dorus Basilicus, out of the title of James I.'s ron basilikn>, and Bishop Walton supposed the title of the great Arabic Dictionary, the Kamoos or Ocean, to be the name of an author whom he quotes as ``Camus.'' In the article on Stenography in Rees's Cyclopdia there are two most amusing blunders. John Nicolai published a Treatise on the Signs of the Ancients at the beginning of the last century, and the writer of the article, having seen it stated that a certain fact was to be found in Nicolai, jumped to the conclusion that it was the name of a place, and wrote, ``It was at Nicolai that this method of writing was first introduced to the Greeks by Xenophon himself.'' Tn another part of the same article the oldest method of shorthand extant, entitled ``Ars Scribendi Characteris,'' is said to have been printed about the year 1412-that is, long before printing was invented. In the Biographie Univer

selle there is a life of one Nicholas Donis, by Baron Walckenaer, which is a blundering alteration of the real name of a Benedictine monk called Dominus Nicholas. This, however, is not the only time that a title has been taken for a name. An eminent bookseller is said to have received a letter signed George Winton, proposing a life of Pitt; but, as he did not know the name, he paid no attention to the letter, and was much astonished when he was afterwards told that his correspondent was no less a person than George Pretyman Tomline, Bishop of Winchester. This is akin to the mistake of the Scotch doctor attending on the Princess Charlotte during her illness, who said that ``ane Jean Saroom'' had been continually calling, but, not knowing the fellow, he had taken no notice of him. Thus the Bishop of Salisbury was sent away by one totally ignorant of his dignity. A similar blunder was made by a bibliographer, for in Hotten's Handbook to the Topography and Family History of England and Wales will be found an entry of an ``Assize Sermon by Bishop Wigorn,

in the Cathedral at Worcester, 1690.'' This was really Bishop Stillingfleet. There is a reverse case of a catalogue made by a worthy bookseller of the name of William London, which was long supposed to be the work of Dr. William Juxon, the Bishop of London at the time of publication. The entry in the Biographie Moderne of ``Brigham le jeune ou Brigham Young'' furnishes a fine instance of a writer succumbing to the ever-present temptation to be too clever by half. A somewhat similar blunder is that of the late Mr. Dircks. The first reprint of the Marquis of Worcester's Century of Inventions was issued by Thomas Payne, the highly respected bookseller of the Mews Gate, in 1746; but in Worcesteriana (1866) Mr. Dircks positively asserts that the notorious Tom Paine was the publisher of it, thus ignoring the different spelling of the two names.

In a French book on the invention of printing, the sentence ``Le berceau de l'imprimerie'' was misread by a German, who turned Le Berceau into a man{.??} D'Israeli tells us that Mantissa, the title

of the Appendix to Johnstone's History of Plants, was taken for the name of an author by D'Aquin, the French king's physician. The author of the Curiosities of Literature also relates that an Italian misread the description Enrichi de deux listes on the title-page of a French book of travels, and, taking it for the author's name, alluded to the opinions of Mons. Enrichi De Deux Listes; but really this seems almost too good to be true.

If we searched bibliographical literature we should find a fair crop of authors who never existed; for when once a blunder of this kind is set going, it seems to bear a charmed life. Mr. Daydon Jackson mentions some amusing instances of imaginary authors made out of title-pages in his Guide to the Literature of Botany. An anonymous work of A. Massalongo, entitled Graduale Passagio delle Crittogame alle Fanerogame (1876), has been entered in a German bibliography as written by G. Passagio. In an English list Kelaart's Flora Calpensis: Reminiscences of Gibraltar (1846) appears as the work of a lady-

Christian name, Flora; surname, Calpensis. In 1837 a Botanical-Lexicon was published by an author who described himself as ``The Rev. Patrick Keith, Clerk, F.L.S.'' This somewhat pedantic form deceived a foreign cataloguer, who took Clerk for the surname, and contracted ``Patrick Keith'' into the initials P.K. More inexcusable was the blunder of an American who, in describing J. E. H. Gordon's work on Electricity, changed the author's degree into the initials of a collaborator, one Cantab. The joint authors were stated to be J. E. H. Gordon and B. A. Cantab.

A very amusing, but a quite excusable error, was made by Allibone in his Dictionary of English Literature, under the heading of Isaac D'Israeli. He notices new editions of that author's works revised by the Right Hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of course Isaac's son Benjamin, afterwards Prime Minister and Earl of Beaconsfield; but unfortunately there were two Chancellors in 1858, and Allibone chooses the wrong one, printing, as useful information to the reader, that the reviser was Sir George

Cornewall Lewis. An instance of the danger of inconsiderate explanation will be found in a little book by a German lady, Fanny Lewald, entitled England and Schottland. The authoress, when in London, visited the theatre in order to see a play founded on Cooper's novel The Wept of Wish-ton Wish; and being unable to understand the title, she calls it the ``Will of the Whiston Wisp,'' which she tells us means an ignis fatuus.

A writer in a German paper was led into an amusing blunder by an English review a few years ago. The reviewer, having occasion to draw a distinction between George and Robert Cruikshank, spoke of the former as the real Simon Pure. Th

e German, not understanding the allusion, gravely told his readers that George Cruikshank was a pseudonym, the author's real name being Simon Pure. This seems almost too good to be equalled, but a countryman of our own has blundered nearly as grossly. William Taylor, in his Historic Survey of German Poetry (1830), prints the following absurd statement: ``Godfred of Berlichingen is one

of the earliest imitations of the Shakspeare tragedy which the German school has produced. It was admirably translated into English in 1799 at Edinburg by William Scott, advocate, no doubt the same person who, under the poetical but assumed name of Walter, has since become the most extensively popular of the British writers.'' The cause of this mistake we cannot explain, but the reason for it is to be found in the fact which has lately been announced that a few copies of the translation, with the misprint of William for Walter in the title, were issued before the error was discovered.

Jacob Boehm, the theosophist, wrote some Reflections on a theological treatise by one Isaiah Stiefel,[6] the title of which puzzled one of his modern French biographers. The word Stiefel in German means a boot, and the Frenchman therefore gave the title of Boehm's tract as ``Reflexions sur les Bottes d'Isaie.''

[6] ``Bedencken ber Esai Stiefels Buchlein: von dreyerley Zustandt des Menschen unnd dessen newen Geburt.'' 1639.

It is scarcely fair to make capital out

of the blunders of booksellers' catalogues, which are often printed in a great hurry, and cannot possibly possess the advantage of correction which a book does. But one or two examples may be given without any censure being intended on the booksellers.

In a French catalogue the works of the famous philosopher Robert Boyle appeared under the following singular French form: BOY (le), Chymista scepticus vel dubia et paradoxa chymico-physica, &c.

``Mr. Tul. Cicero's Epistles'' looks strange, but the mistake is but small. The very natural blunder respecting the title of Shelley's Prometheus Unbound actually did occur; and, what is more, it was expected by Theodore Hook. This is an accurate copy of the description in the catalogue of a year or two back:-

``Shelley's Prometheus Unbound.

-- another copy, in whole calf.'' and these are Hook's lines:-

``Shelley styles his new poem `Prometheus Unbound,'

And 'tis like to remain so while time circles round;

For surely an age would be spent in the finding

A reader so weak as to pay for the binding.''

When books are classified in a catalogue the compiler must be peculiarly on his guard if he has the titles only and not the books before him. Sometimes instances of incorrect classification show gross ignorance, as in the instance quoted in the Athenum lately. Here we have a crop of blunders: ``Title, Commentarii De Bello Gallico in usum Scholarum Liber Tirbius. Author, Mr. C. J. Caesoris. Subject, Religion.'' Still better is the auctioneer's entry of P. V. Maroni's The Opera. Authors, however, are usually so fond of fanciful ear-catching titles, that every excuse must be made for the cataloguer, who mistakes their meaning, and takes them in their literal signification. Who can reprove too severely the classifier who placed Swinburne's Under the Microscope in his class of Optical Instruments, or treated Ruskin's Notes on the Construction of Sheetfolds as a work on agricultural appliances? A late instance of an amusing misclassification is reported from Germany. In the Orientalische

Bibliographie, Mr. Rider Haggard's wonderful story King Solomon's Mines is entered as a contribution to ``Alttestamentliche Litteratur.''

The elaborate work by Careme, Le Patissier Pittoresque (1842), which contains designs for confectioners, deceived the bookseller from its plates of pavilions, temples, etc., into supposing it to be a book on architecture, and he accordingly placed it under that heading in his catalogue.

Mr. Daydon Jackson gives several instances of false classification in his Guide to the Literature of Botany, and remarks that some authors contrive titles seemingly of set purpose to entrap the unwary. He instances a fine example in the case of Bishop Alexander Ewing's Feamainn Earraghaidhiell: Argyllshire Seaweeds (Glasgow, 1872. 8vo). To enhance the delusion, the coloured wrapper is ornamented with some of the common marine alg, but the inside of the volume consists solely of pastoral addresses. Another example will be found in Flowers from the South, from the Hortus Siccus of an

Old Collector. By W. H. Hyett, F.R.S. Instead of a popular work on the Mediterranean flora by a scientific man, as might reasonably be expected, this is a volume of translations from the Italian and Latin poets. It is scarcely fair to blame the compiler of the Bibliotheca Historio-Naturalis for having ranked both these works among scientific treatises. The English cataloguer who treated as a botanical book Dr. Garnett's selection from Coventry Patmore's poems, entitled Florilegium Amantis, could claim less excuse for his blunder than the German had. These misleading titles are no new invention, and the great bibliographer Haller was deceived into including the title of James Howell's Dendrologia, or Dodona's Grove (1640), in his Bibliotheca Botanica. Professor Otis H. Robinson contributed a very interesting paper on the ``Titles of Books'' to the Special Report on Public Libraries in the United States of America (1876), in which he deals very fully with this difficulty of misleading titles, and some of his preliminary remarks are very much to the point. He writes:-

``No act of a man's life requires more practical common sense than the naming of his book. If he would make a grocer's sign or an invoice of a cellar of goods or a city directory, he uses no metaphors; his pen does not hesitate for the plainest word. He must make himself understood by common men. But if he makes a book the case is different. It must have the charm of a pleasing title. If there is nothing new within, the back at least must be novel and taking. He tortures his imagination for something which will predispose the reader in its favour. Mr. Parker writes a series of biographical sketches, and calls it Morning Stars of the New World. Somebody prepares seven religious essays, binds them up in a book, and calls it Seven Stormy Sundays. Mr. H. T. Tuckerman makes a book of essays on various subjects, and calls it The Optimist; and then devotes several pages of preface to an argument, lexicon in hand, proving that the applicability of the term optimist is `obvious.' An editor, at intervals of leisure, indulges his true poetic taste for the pleasure of his

friends, or the entertainment of an occasional audience. Then his book appears, entitled not Miscellaneous Poems, but Asleep in the Sanctum, by A. A. Hopkins. Sometimes, not satisfied with one enigma, another is added. Here we have The Great Iron Wheel; or, Republicanism Backwards and Christianity Reversed, by J. R. Graves. These titles are neither new nor scarce, nor limited to any particular class of books. Every case, almost every shelf, in every library contain such. They are as old as the art of book-making. David's lamentation over Saul and Jonathan was called The Bow. A single word in the poem probably suggested the name. Three of the orations of schines were styled The Graces, and his letters The Muses.''

The list of bibliographical blunders might be indefinitely extended, but the subject is somewhat technical, and the above few instances will give a sufficient indication of the pitfalls which lie in the way of the bibliographer-a worker who needs universal knowledge if he is to wend his way safely through the snares in his path.

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