In Book Traces, Andrew M. Stauffer reads nineteenth-century poetry through the clues and objects earlier readers left behind in their books and defends the value of the physical, circulating collections of nineteenth-century volumes in academic libraries.
2021 | 288 pages | Cloth $49.95
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Images in Lava: Felicia Hemans, Sentiment, and Annotation
Chapter 2. Gardens of Verse: Botanical Souvenirs and Lyric Reading
Chapter 3. Time Machines: Poetry, Memory, and the Date-Marked Book
Chapter 4. Velveteen Rabbits: Sentiment and the Transfiguration of Books
Chapter 5. Postcard from the Volcano: On the Future of Library Print Collections
"This is not a book of history." So begins Michel Foucault's 1979 essay "Lives of Infamous Men," a preface to a planned collection of prisoners' micro-biographies that he found in the state papers at the Bibliothèque Nationale, which he called "brief lives, encountered by chance in books and documents": "The selection found here was guided by nothing more substantial than my taste, my pleasure, an emotion, laughter, surprise, a certain dread, or some other feeling whose intensity I might have trouble justifying, now that the first moment of discovery has passed." As it was in much of Foucault's work, the impetus behind "Lives of Infamous Men" is reanimation, "to revivify, to bring something back that had been buried deep in oblivion," and to reflect on the paradoxical aspects of that critical thaumaturgy. Foucault set for himself the task of creating an "emphatic theater of the quotidian" (165), one that might not only stage the lives of these eighteenth-century characters but also transmit his own sense of discovery and emotional engagement at the moment of their emergence from the archives. He aimed "to restore their intensity" (158).
It was crucial for Foucault, therefore, that his subjects be unknown and their records be only brief but evocative fragments, "that they would have belonged to those billions of existences destined to pass away without a trace; that in their misfortunes, their passions, in those loves and hatred there would be something gray and ordinary in comparison with what is usually deemed worthy of being recounted. . . . I had gone in search of these sorts of particles endowed with an energy all the greater for their being small and difficult to discern" (Foucault 161-62).
Several points relevant to the book you are reading can be drawn from these passages. First, Foucault's emphasis on "chance" and "discovery," on what Alan Liu has called the "serendipitous and adventitious" aspects of the new historicist project, frames the anecdotes as "always merely found, always merely picked up." Second, Foucault emphasizes the counter-historical force of this material ("This is not a book of history"), its apparent escape from the orders of historical knowledge along two vectors, its idiosyncratic-yet-quotidian nature (i.e., it is not that which is "usually deemed worthy of being recounted"), and the emphatic affective response of the interpreter to it. Finally, as the essay moves forward, a paradoxical dialectic between order and disorder structures Foucault's representation of fragments from the archive. As Catherine Gallagher and Stephen Greenblatt argue, the counter-historical anecdote has a dark obverse: the entropic disorder of "thought in ruins," wherein "everything is in shreds and there is no possibility of repair" (72). The critic wants to drive an anecdote like a wedge into some settled historical narrative ordering, breaking it open to new possibilities; but this can also produce what seem mere piles of rubble, an anecdotal anti-order so profound in its deracination that it approaches the sublime, like the atomized "lone and level sands" that conclude that quintessentially anecdotal Romantic sonnet "Ozymandias" or the "wreckage upon wreckage" piled at the feet of Walter Benjamin's angel of history.
"Brief lives, encountered by chance in books." Foucault's statement describes the foundational material and method of Book Traces, a project that began when I started listening to unnoticed voices in the stacks, the voices of unknown nineteenth-century readers who left marks in their books: inscriptions, marginalia, flowers, drawings, locks of hair, and other things that altered the volumes in subtle, far-reaching ways. Donated to academic institutions, these books had been on open library shelves for generations, yet their unique features were invisible to all forms of search but one: going book by book, turning every page, eyes open for traces. That was the method, and it has involved the hands of many students, librarians, and colleagues at multiple institutions. This is their book, too, its argument grounded in marked books that required a community of searchers to detect and interpret. It also belongs to those past readers whose shades we summoned to help map an underlying affective economy in nineteenth-century American society that shaped, and was shaped by, book use. Finally, it belongs to you, the reader, who may find in it a partial road map for the future of our academic library collections and, by extension, for the work of the humanities.
Foucault's prisoner records were not only contingent traces in their own right; their preservation and discovery depended also on chance: "it had to be just this document, among so many others scattered and lost, which came down to us and be rediscovered and read" (163). Caught in the archival apparatus of state power like flies in amber, the brief notices of the lives of his prisoners (many of them condemned men) get transmitted at the moment of their deaths; their records survive thanks to the institutions of power that condemned them—and that also paradoxically enable the disciplinary procedures of the critic. The books and readers presented here have more varied histories and have left more traces than Foucault's examples, yet their relationship to the institutions of cultural memory that produced and sustain them is part of the story I have to tell. In framing it, I have tried to choose examples resonant with particular energy and emotion that might serve as touchstones of nineteenth-century reading practices, rather than attempting to give a synoptic view of readers writing in books. I have gravitated toward examples that help me get conceptual purchase on several questions: what were nineteenth-century books of poetry, and what are they now? And in what sense can the individual book—as an instance of a specific, case-bound case history—speak within a larger framework of cultural analysis?
Book Traces adopts guided serendipity as a tactic in pursuit of two goals: first, to read nineteenth-century poetry through the traces left by ordinary nineteenth-century readers in their books; and second, to defend the value of the physical, circulating collections of nineteenth-century volumes in academic libraries. The vulnerability of those printed books—both their material fragility and their institutional precarity in the digital age—underlies the contributions I hope to make to the history of reading and to library policy conversations. In addition, I engage debates about the relative value of close and distant reading, primarily by grounding my argument in a method that might be called intimate or micro-reading: paying close attention to what a poem in a particular material vehicle meant to a specific individual. Sentimental attachment is part of both my subject and my method. For a number of reasons that this book explores, the examples I have chosen tend toward narratives of loss. In almost every case presented here, I start from a particular book of poetry pulled by hand (and, in a sense, by chance) from a shelf in the open stacks of a college or university library, uncatalogued except as a copy of that edition and available to be checked out by patrons. In these books I found inscriptions, annotations, and insertions made by their original owners, and, using these as exemplary cases, I have turned to rare-book rooms, special collections, and online resources to unpack their histories. The marks in question were not made by library patrons; rather, they can be definitively traced to specific nineteenth-century readers who transformed their own books by marking them. In so doing, the readers have illuminated the braided significance of poems and particular books as sites of sociability and reverie, of love and melancholy.
Sentimentality is integral to these books and how they were marked, in two ways. First, most of them contain verse by poets whom we tend to classify, at least in part, under the heading of the sentimental: Thomas Moore, Felicia Hemans, Jean Ingelow, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, James Whitcomb Riley, and other popular authors of the century on both sides of the Atlantic. Second, the inscriptions themselves are charged with emotion—mourning lost beloveds and dead children, recording moments of recognition, and using poetry to build a language for the self in episodes of passion. And if we think we can resist the emotional appeals of sentimental nineteenth-century verse, the marginalia can surprise us. When we as modern critics encounter these old books with their handwritten traces of former lives, we are drawn toward a fresh encounter with the poetry, reawakened by affect. We read the poetry through the eyes of someone for whom it was personal. In this way, we arrive at a clearer understanding of the value of our inherited library of nineteenth-century books. Not only do they give us direct evidence of what poetry and books meant to the culture that is our object of study, but they reorient our perspective on literary value by channeling the sympathy and sentiment of the past. Further, these marked copies elevate the individual, the specimen, the example, and the case—they counter the views of copies as duplicates and lives as reducible to the mass data of demography. In that way, they amount to a defense of the humanities.
An example by way of orientation: an 1881 book titled Geraldine: A Souvenir of the St. Lawrence, from the circulating collection at the University of Louisville, once owned by Esther Annie Brown (1863-1936) of Cloverport, Kentucky. This is the first edition of Alphonso Alva Hopkins's long narrative poem of romance, Geraldine, written in anapestic couplets and bearing close similarities to Owen Meredith's wildly popular verse novel Lucile (1860). Sometime before 1887, when she married Arthur Younger Ford, Brown wrote on the flyleaf, "Esther A. Brown's / Geraldine / Handle with care & / return promptly." The imperative nature of that inscription points to the fact that this book circulated among a group of readers, at least four of whom (including Brown herself) annotated it heavily in pencil. Beyond making these orthographic marks, someone also inserted several honeysuckle blossoms between the pages. Many passages were marked as worthy of special attention with brackets, underlining, and X's, and, in the margins of 80 of the book's 321 pages, Brown and her friends wrote verbal remarks on the poem, frequently in dialogue with one another. Marginalia like these offer a detailed view of readers' responses to poetry while also revealing the sociability of the reading and interpretation that occurred on the pages of a shared volume. A little world is encoded there.
The amount of marginalia in this volume of Geraldine, and the interactive character of that marginalia, establishes the book as an object of special interest for the historian of reading. As one examines the penciled commentaries, each in a recognizably different hand, a community of readers begins to emerge. Next to lines in the poem describing life as a "battle-field wide," one reader has written, "A true but sad story of life's struggle" (171). But after an inset lyric about life as the "Valley of Tears," a different reader has commented, "I do not take such a 'tearful' view of life. Its valleys of tears are not quite dark & we do not have to remain in them long" (197). In this copy, the poem frequently prompts such meditations when its readers react to passages as texts that stand alone, apart from their dramatic context. For example, next to the lines "Woman lost Eden to man; / But he finds it again in her love," one reader has written, "A happy hit, if true," and a second has replied (perhaps with irony), "it must be true from the many happy homes" (84). Near a passage regretting that men do not bear "the respect that they ought for all women," one reader has remarked, "True & it is to man's shame" (55). It is fascinatingly possible in a book like this to observe nineteenth-century poetry as readerly practice, its strategies worked out collaboratively over time by means of marginal annotations. Next to the poem's supposition "if poetry means / to bewilder the senses with fanciful scenes," Brown has penciled "not my idea of poetry," and directly beneath that, a second reader has written "nor mine" (8).
The marginalia in Brown's book display a range of responses, including those that spot connections to other poems. But the majority of the annotations in this copy focus on the characters of the poem and their behavior in the romance plot—with special attention to the manipulative Isabel Lee, whom these readers love to hate. Throughout the volume, less is written by the annotators about the saintly heroine, Geraldine, whom one reader calls in her marginal notes only "a noble character" and "a lovely woman" (200, 253). But of Isabel, one writes, "I do not like her" (213), and another writes elsewhere, "I have no patience with Mrs. Lee" (111). Annotating Isabel's proclamation of love's power—"Such a love as a man gives one woman in life"—one reader writes, "Beautiful," but another takes a dimmer view: "The thought is beautiful but it came not from her heart so I think this deceit destroys" (98). Brown's comment on the same passage puts a fine point on it: "She talks well but I detest her" (98). On one particular pair of pages (see Figures 1a and 1b), we see at least four different hands commenting on Isabel's character; one writes, "It is hard to tell whether she is simply acting a part or showing her real heart & its language," and another, "I doubt her sincerity and rather suspect that she is a trained 'flirt'" (99).
If we pay close attention to the various kinds of handwriting in this copy of Geraldine, personalities start to emerge. On a passage describing the "lingering kisses" between the hero, Percy Trent, and Isabel, one wry reader remarks in the margin, "They are a little fond of that pastime," and another follows that with "Who blames them?" (113). Later, that sardonic first reader writes after Isabel's submissive praise of Trent's genius as a poet, "enough to make a man forget himself" (211). Of Isabel's lament that she is haunted by the ghost of Trent in his absence, this same reader comments, "She is making this 'ghost' of hers a cause for frequent appeals. It's a troublesome ghost" (234). And she responds to Isabel's epistolary question to Trent, "Am I writing / Unreason?" with the salty retort, "I think so—and forgetting that it would have been nobler to help Trent be true to his duty in forgetting her, than to be making his burden harder to bear by telling of such love" (240). At the end of that section of the poem, she adds the annotation "Take warning friends, and be sure of your affections before your committal." But another reader takes a different view, following this remark with an opinion written just beneath it: "Miss Lee spoke only in fun; he was a fool for being so easily duped" (146).
These annotations evince a culture of reading and book use whose features both recall our current social media exchanges (e.g., sharing, texting, liking, commenting on comments) and also seem part of a lost world, given their penciled form on the pages of a long narrative poem in anapestic couplets. That is, the marginalians' use of the poem involves strategies we recognize, such as spotting allusions and close reading for character, and ones that are less familiar, like the decontextualized commentary on poetic phrases as philosophical propositions, a kind of aphoristic reading practice by which people incorporated poetry into the operating systems of their lives. As I will emphasize in the chapters that follow, another, less familiar type of annotation used by nineteenth-century readers of poetry appears in Brown's volume, a type that involves personalization and memorialization. Midway through Geraldine, the narrator laments the end of a day of sweet happiness: "If it take / Of our heart's-ease, and cruelly leave but the ache / Of disquietude, hunger, and longing, what need / That we wonder and grieve?" In her copy, Esther has bracketed these lines and written a date in the margin, "Jan. 19th, '82" (193). Drawing a quiet analogy between the words of the poem and remembered events, she reads the lines as an expression of her own fate, adopting their words as the language of emotion. A little more light is shed later in the book, where Esther comments on a passage in which Trent parts from Isabel, saying, "I am going away. . . . We must follow the line / Of our separate fates" (237). In the margin, Brown writes, "Leaves from rose room to hear Faust, Jan. 1882," a miniature vignette of romantic parting in the rose room, when a beloved headed to the opera without her. Date-stamping her copy this way, Brown turns Geraldine into a souvenir—not of the "St. Lawrence" of its subtitle, but of her own emotional life. Finding this particular book on a library shelf, the modern critic engages with Hopkins's Geraldine according to neglected modes of personal reading that made poetry crucial to identity in the nineteenth century.
Through its marginalia, Brown's copy of Geraldine has been transfigured in ways that help us see what books and poems were to nineteenth-century readers—how they functioned as social objects, remembrancers, and fields upon which those readers developed their identities. In taking this annotated copy as a primary source, I am working within a robust tradition of reading history that has demonstrated the evidentiary value of marginalia and other physical traces left in books, from the doodled snails decorating medieval manuscripts, to the classical and biblical commentaries crowding around early printed texts, to the scholarly annotation of copies of Erasmus, to the running marginal skirmishes between Blake and Reynolds, and beyond. Most of the critical and historical work on these traces has focused on medieval and early modern readers and their books, including Kathryn M. Rudy's Postcards on Parchment: The Social Lives of Medieval Books, William Sherman's Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England, Stephen Orgel's The Reader in the Book, the essay collection Women's Bookscapes in Early Modern England, and Abigail Williams's The Social Life of Books: Reading Together in the Eighteenth-Century Home. Heather Jackson's seminal work Marginalia exposed and taxonomized a great number of examples of the practice of readers writing in books in the period before 1830, after which, as she argued in a later work, she sees the practice of book annotation as "in retreat." After the Romantic era, Jackson writes, "What seems to have happened is that by and large readers retreated into themselves, and annotation became predominantly a private affair, a matter of self-expression. Annotating readers went underground" (Romantic Readers 73). But a book like Brown's Geraldine challenges that assumption, suggesting that more work needs to be done on the readers of the long nineteenth century. The rise of middle-class reading and book culture in the Victorian era has been an oft-told history, but personal copies have so far played a minor role.
Part of the problem has been the great quantity and dispersal of nineteenth-century volumes, their medium-rare status making them more available for casual reading but, in some ways, less suitable for scholarly study than earlier materials held, well catalogued and preserved, in rare-book rooms. Many academic libraries in North America built their general collections primarily through donations and bequests of family libraries, particularly before World War II. Usually the rarer and older books would receive high levels of care and descriptive record keeping, but the vast range of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century imprints were conscripted to fill the shelves of the general research libraries. Such books were meant to circulate as mere copies rather than to abide as permanent artifacts. Their browsable discoverability has been foundational for the Book Traces project, which uses many hands and eyes to discover and help catalogue the inscribed and annotated books from library shelves. Yet those shelves—a tiny percentage of which we have been able to traverse thus far—are also places of vulnerability, especially now.
The fact that many nineteenth-century books are currently in circulating collections rather than rare book rooms amplifies concerns regarding their future. In many academic libraries, plans to decrease the size of physical collections are well under way. Nineteenth-century print volumes are particularly vulnerable to downsizing, for a number of reasons. Most books printed before 1800 have been moved to special collections, and most books printed after 1923 remain in copyright in the United States and thus cannot be shared freely online. In addition, many nineteenth-century books are in bad condition, due not only to the cheaper materials used in their making as the century went forward but also to the sheer length of time they have spent in the circulating collections of libraries. This is even more true of books printed after 1860, when wood-pulp paper—now often tan and brittle from the acids used in its making—came into general use in the publishing trade. In addition, many of these books are not valuable first editions but rather reprints, collections, and later printings that typically have not been given much attention by collectors or scholars. The result is a neglected set of materials, increasingly housed in offsite storage warehouses and represented by online surrogates offered by Google, HathiTrust, and others.
Yet we need the lessons these books have to teach, the stories they have to tell. The great age of print produced our reading habits and the academic institutions within which we now operate. That is, it reflected and elaborated the legacies of Romanticism that continue to shape our understanding of time and memory and of the humanities and their materials of study. If we want to make good decisions regarding the disposition and preservation of these books, we need to look at them afresh, as bibliographic interfaces that encouraged various forms of interaction, as affective souvenirs and platforms for self-development, and as literary objects that for a time helped make poetry a household word. Emerging from many hours and from hands moving through the library stacks, what follows is an attempt to gather examples, anecdotal but evocative and evidentiary, left by the ordinary readers of the great age of mass literacy and industrial printing (roughly 1830 to the early twentieth century)—the age when books were king.
Two important recent studies have unfolded and elucidated the bibliographically inflected imaginations of readers in the nineteenth century. In How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain, Leah Price explores "representations and perceptions of, and fantasies and illusions about, the circulation of books" during this period (36). She reveals the operative tensions among the reading, handling, and circulating of books across the Victorian era and conducts a rich survey of its book culture by looking at episodes of what she calls nonreading and excessive reading. Her stated aim is to "reconstruct nineteenth-century understandings of, and feelings toward, the uses of printed matter" (5). Like me, she is interested in the ways books get turned by their users into operational objects: go-betweens, shields, agents—ultimately, carriers of relationships. Similarly, in Dreaming in Books: The Making of the Bibliographic Imagination in the Romantic Age, Andrew Piper asks "how we became bookish at the turn of the nineteenth century" and demonstrates "how the printed book was a far more richly imagined and a far more diversely used media object than we have traditionally assumed" (3, 4).
Both Price and Piper expand our historical conceptions of reading by thinking bibliographically, or rather by examining intersections of literary content and book form as cultural nodes. As Piper writes, "It was through Romantic literature where individuals came to understand their books, and it was through their books where they came to understand themselves" (Dreaming 4). For Piper, the "bibliographic surplus" of the nineteenth century gave rise to a proliferation of book formats and genres, and this diversity opened up new networks of expression that enlivened thinking about the relationship of the individual to the social and the material to the cultural (5). Nineteenth-century books were explicitly open, unfinished, and interrelational: their cultural roles emerged out of ongoing negotiations among authors, publishers, printers, illustrators, and readers. Piper offers a vision of books as primarily social objects, whose details of production and reception left traces that are key to their significance and meaning. Moreover, whereas Price depends primarily on textual (i.e., linguistic) evidence for discerning the Victorians' attitudes toward print, Piper "insists upon a hands-on encounter with books as the central means of understanding our bibliographic heritage" (8). His work takes us back to specific editions, and in some cases specific copies, to meditate on the meanings of their interlocking verbal and bibliographic codes.
Book Traces is an experiment based on the book in the hand, a return to the specific material objects once held and used by nineteenth-century readers. At the same time, my study attends to the hand in the book: the marks left behind in those individual copies by their owners. Witness a traced hand on the rear free endpaper of an 1853 copy of the Works of William Shakespeare, with the schoolgirl Miriam Trowbridge's teasing inscription, "Ruthie Whitehead's ugly hand—Oh! No, I mean beautiful one—" (see Plate 1). Made circa 1855 when the girls were classmates at Madame Chegary's fashionable boarding school in New York, these hand tracings make visible the somatic, haptic processes of reading, calling us to attend to historical books as physical and social interfaces and suggesting the presence of past lives that accumulate in books as they move through time. Price proceeds toward such phenomena by way of metaphor, first recalling The Mill on the Floss and Maggie Tulliver's encounter with an old book with its "corners turned down in many places," in which "some hand, now forever quiet, had made at certain passages strong pen and ink marks, long since browned by time." Maggie follows those brown marginal notations—were they manicules?—toward a conversion experience, a "thrill of awe" and "ecstasy" brought about by her guided reading (G. Eliot 310). Recalling this scene, Price sets her agenda: "the most interesting question to ask of these hands now quiet may be not what they felt about the book but why they felt so much. To grope our way back into their intellectual and emotional and ethical investments in paper . . ." (How to Do Things 18). Amplifying Price's metaphor, I have grounded this book in the examination of individual copies of nineteenth-century volumes—primarily of poetry—that have been marked by their original owners and readers. Handling a great many of these books, I have made uncertain contact with the hands of the dead, like Swinburne with his book of Baudelaire's poems: "These I salute, these touch, these clasp and fold / As though a hand were in my hand to hold." Or perhaps like Whitman: "This is no book, / Who touches this, touches a man, / (Is it night? Are we here alone?) / It is I you hold, and who holds you, / I spring from the pages into your arms."
In emphasizing my contact with the past, I am following Gillian Silverman's recent work on nineteenth-century reading and "the fantasy of communion." And we both follow the work of Stephen Greenblatt, who wrote famously in his 1988 Shakespearian Negotiations, "I began with the desire to speak with the dead. . . . [T]he dead had contrived to leave textual traces of themselves, and those traces make themselves heard in the voices of the living. Many of the traces have little resonance, though every one, even the most trivial or tedious, contains some fragment of lost life; others seem uncannily full of the will to be heard." Like Greenblatt, I am interested in "trying to track what can only be glimpsed, as it were, at the margins of the text" and in so doing, explicate "a poetics of culture" (4, 5). For him, the "textual traces" left by the dead resolve to "voices." Working from Shakespeare and focusing on the discursive exchanges of that era, he finds his metaphor of contact in sound: "speak," "resonance," "heard." My own method is more bibliographically minded and materially based, depending not only on verbal content but also on the material formats of books and the physical traces left in them by past readers: the marks, lines, notations, and other modifications made to their personal volumes. I am invested in the detailed, pathos-driven anecdote as the primary mode of engagement with the past, Greenblatt's "speak[ing] with the dead" by employing "some fragment of lost life." As Alan Liu has argued, New Historicist criticism finds its center in "its passion for constructing micro-worlds each . . . intricately detailed, yet also . . . expansive in mythic possibility." Liu identifies a legacy of Romanticism and its pursuit of "transcendental release" via fragments and "minute particulars" (76): the idiosyncratic local detail of past lives and "lost life-worlds" (86). The result here is what Foucault describes as "an anthology of existences: singular lives, transformed into strange poems[,] . . . that . . . I decided to gather into a kind of herbarium" (157).
I turn to printed books of nineteenth-century poems as sites of uncertain memory, a phenomenon visible not only in the personalizing, appropriative, revisited marks left by everyday readers but also in the reveries that encounters with books inspired and continue to evoke. As Silverman puts it, books were "recognized by nineteenth-century readers as deeply personal communications, the touch of which could conjure up the hand of the long-dead author"; at times "the reader recognizes in the used book the traces of another (the stranger, the friend, even the very reader herself at an earlier moment), and the book becomes revered as a material record of a human past" (79). Such marks and reveries help us understand the place of books as domestic and social objects, as scenes for imaginative projection that transformed personal volumes into souvenirs, diaries, love letters, and memorial sites—into bargains with mortality. They also reveal how poems were integrated into, and in some sense were the occasion for, the emotional lives of their readers. But marked copies not only show us the lives of the long dead; they also allow us to trace the roots of our own emotionally charged attitudes toward the book as both a platform and an interface, attitudes inherited from the nineteenth century and now perhaps changing in response to new forms of media. How did we learn to love the secular book with an intimacy, even a ferocity, beyond the scope of its contents? What did it mean for modern, middle-class readers to involve their lives with books and poems beyond holy scriptures, and what gains and losses were enjoined upon them with that bargain? How can a richer understanding of that history help inform our collective decisions about the future of print collections in the digital age?
Answering such questions means confronting the limits of our standard models of close and distant reading, both of which depend on asserting an objective stance toward linguistic structures and textual information. It is clear that, following the modernist rejection of nineteenth-century mushiness, many literary critics are still wary of sentimental literary works and emotional responses to them. W. K. Wimsatt's doctrine of the affective fallacy still holds an uneven sway. For the close reader, a poem generates its meanings in networks of language; for the distant reader, large networks of language can be organized according to statistical, evolutionary models of culture. But neither mode has much to say about what a particular poem meant to a particular reader or about the larger importance of personal, human reading habits for literary history. Yet for nineteenth-century readers of poetry, sentiment was a crucial category, as it remains for historians of reading. Robyn R. Warhol writes that, although feminist academics have "rehabilitated" sentimentality "particularly in nineteenth-century U.S. women's literature, . . . [t]races of distaste for being made to cry still surface . . . in what even the most progressive critics say—or don't say—about sentimentality." My attraction to sentiment involves its origins in both impulse and reflection, the doubled or mediated reaction that James Chandler takes as his subject in An Archaeology of Sympathy. As he puts it, "Sentiments . . . are the result of a projective imagination across a network or relay of regard" (12)—precisely the marginalian's mode of reaction, in which emotion is rendered into marks legible (at least in part) to other readers in a real or envisioned network.
In writing about my own emotional reactions to the books I present here, I am similarly in search of a sentimental idiom that might carry us through to a rediscovered mode of critical engagement. Recently, Rita Felski has made the case for the affective phenomenology of reading: she argues that we literary critics have been too skeptical, demystifying and diagnosing literary texts while excluding readers' "emphatic experiences" of literature, including our own. In responding to Felski's call, I want to emphasize that those interactions are embodied and embedded not only within language (by which they move from affect to sentiment), but also within media that have a cultural history of their own. What follows is an attempt to see my way into those emphatic experiences of previous readers and book users, making room for the legacy of sentiment, attachment, and emotional experience transmitted by nineteenth-century volumes. I am tracing empathic moments often communicated by means of emphatic traces: underlining, brackets, check marks, and handwritten pointers of various kinds.
Under such conditions, reading becomes vertiginous. On the table is the specific physical book, itself a layered construction; on its pages, the verbal text, printed and perhaps marked or annotated; above the text, the reader, shaped by the past; around the reader, the institutions that inform the scene of reading. At every level, not only has the evidence been determined by multiple cultural forces that could be adduced and analyzed, but also every attempt to read such evidence has been structured by the larger phenomenon under investigation—that is, by the dynamics of modern memory and its relation to the codex. As Pierre Nora has characterized it, memory in "our hopelessly forgetful modern societies" is vestigial, mediated, "nothing more in fact than sifted and sorted historical traces." He writes, "Modern memory is, above all, archival. It relies entirely on the materiality of the trace," which enables the "thaumaturgical operation" of the interpreter (13, 18). Like Felski, and like Greenblatt speaking with the dead, Nora in effect calls for a personally inflected critical method, one that admits the interpreter into the frame, "an art of implementation, practiced in the fragile happiness derived from relating to rehabilitated objects and from the involvement of the historian in his or her subject" (24). So, book, text, and reader are in a layered field of analysis and enchantment, an affective biblio-critical method that can move among the words of a poem, its material embodiments and markings, and the interpretive scene itself, redeeming for a moment the vanished past and revealing the heterochronic, eventful nature of books as constellations of encounters.
A reader's traces elevate to visibility and even legibility some fragment of a book's past. That fragment might serve as evidence in a historical narrative of reading practices, even as we acknowledge that, as Michael C. Cohen has written, "given that so much reading goes unmarked, any reader who has left behind a trace of his or her readings is no longer a representative reader." Price writes in a similar vein, "The most impassioned reading destroys its own traces. The greater a reader's engagement with the text, the less likely he or she is to pause long enough to leave a record: if an uncut page signals withdrawal, a blank margin just as often betrays an absorption too rapt for note taking. Can a book mark us if we mark it?" The short answer is yes, a claim I attempt to make good on with the examples presented here. Although their presence is anomalous, marginalia make at least partially visible that which is normally lost: the reader's encounter with pages as interfaces, as individual sites of engagement within the larger bundle called the book and within the larger culture of book use in which that encounter took place. We find evidence not merely of reading but also of the navigation, interaction, and modification of bibliographic media from various impulses and toward various ends. Marks in books transform our own experience of the book, tilting it toward an artifactual encounter, a way out of the fierce presentism of our personal and professional lives. Unique marks in printed books remind us forcefully of the individuality of every copy, which in turn evokes the individual who owned or borrowed the book and made those marks in the first place. Set against the sameness of the mass-produced book, and asserting the lived experience of individual persons against the wash of time, marginalia and inscriptions transform the codex from a container of verbal content into a memorial, time capsule, or message in a bottle. The future of books is predicated on the futures evoked by their individual, heterochronic pasts. Personal markings alter our reception of books in ways both intellectual and institutional, and both of these influences shape the future of the nineteenth-century book.
In her study of the history of the document as such, Lisa Gitelman pays close attention to specific subgenres of text objects in an attempt "to adjust the focus of media studies away from grand catchall categories like 'manuscript' and 'print' and toward an embarrassment of material forms that have together supported such a varied and evolving scriptural economy." Gitelman unfolds the history of things like the movie ticket, the library card, and the application form, revealing the underlying material economies of documentary production and use in American society from 1870 to the present. Gitelman's habits of attention provide a crucial supplement to the abstract theoretical frameworks of book history, and my own work moves even further toward that "embarrassment of material forms" by attending to specific books—that is, singular, individual copies, each with its own history. As Benjamin adapts the Latin tag habent sua fata libelli, "not only books but also copies of books have their fates" (Illuminations, 61). Copy-level attention takes us beneath genre for a moment, revealing the layered and variable quality of books whose category we thought we knew. Looking at individual volumes, we find traces—we could call them hypodata—that challenge the certainties of metadata and of our assumptions about the sameness of books printed in the industrial era. Personal inscriptions, dates, annotations, and records of lives interact with the ostensible content of the printed books. Yet such books also strike one as eccentric, partial, even private: they remain stubbornly anecdotal in a world of big data, wherein the verbal contents of hundreds or thousands of books are available for computational analysis. Under the wide-angle lens of the distant reader, the single copy—unless we are talking about the medieval or early modern book, long recognized as sites of evidentiary import, or the book owned and marked by someone famous —fades to insignificance. This is a different order of "the great unread": the millions of copies of nineteenth-century books now held by academic libraries but passed over for the sake of modern editions, including digital ones. How can we begin to integrate this massive, distributed archive into our histories of nineteenth-century reading?
Quantitative analysis might help. Networked archives can be searched and manipulated in ways that produce new objects for analysis: lists, graphs, statistical reports, topic clusters, and the like, which provide new perspectives on nineteenth-century reading outside the book-reader relation. Indeed, digital technology seems to offer ways to exploit the virtual to make the past operational, beyond the materiality of the trace and the embodied reading practices engendered thereby. But in these chapters, I model a kind of intimate micro-reading. I proceed by way of a small-scale, associative method, investing in biographical detail and giving space to a range of subjective responses. That is, I have chosen a qualitative over a quantitative approach, avoiding any attempt at statistical significance (except, perhaps, in my final chapter) and choosing resonant examples emblematic of larger practices of book use in the nineteenth century and evocative of our abidingly Romantic attitudes toward the historical book. I am persuaded by Theodore M. Porter, who has argued that "quantification is a technology of distance," the whole ethos of which is "the exclusion of judgment, the struggle against subjectivity." Distant reading proceeds from an assumption that distance brings an empirical clarity unavailable at close range, avoiding the partiality of the lovingly curated anecdote and responding to John Plotz's concern "that those who claim too close a proximity to their material often end up telling stories of their own lives and minds, not of those they set out to map." I suppose humanistic interpretation always takes that risk, submerging currents of personal investment in scholarly argument or diverting them through channels of intellectual rigor, but in either case implanting some portion of the evidence that interpretation purports to discover. This I deem a risk worth running: a liability, if it is one, that remains inextricable from certain sorts of reward—witness Emerson's "alienated majesty" of selfhood on detour—that humanist scholarship seeks. Given the nature of the material I am presenting (individual personal copies of books) and of the questions I am pursuing (what did books mean, and what do they mean now?), doubling down on subjectivities within networks, and even committing to sentiment, seems appropriate. As Nicholas Dames speculates, "What if you didn't resist nostalgia, face it with political suspicion, or mask it with sophistication, but immersed yourself in it so directly that you ended up coming out the other side? You'd risk sentimentality and obviousness, but you'd have taken a stab at clarity."
Svetlana Boym helps us move in this direction, offering a renewed vision of nostalgia in which "longing and critical thinking are not opposed to one another." For Boym, nostalgia is a "rebellion against the modern idea of time," a mental state that "can present an ethical and creative challenge, not merely a pretext for midnight melancholias" (xv, xvii). She defines nostalgia as "the mourning of displacement and temporal irreversibility," and she places it "at the very core of the modern condition," "a historical emotion that came of age at the time of Romanticism and is coeval with the birth of mass culture" (xvi, 16). In other words, it is an emotion bound up with the history of the modern book. Part of this involvement has to do with the fragmentation and deracination of the archive. Boym writes, "Reflective nostalgia cherishes shattered fragments of memory . . . the incompleteness, the fossil, the ruin, the miniature, the souvenir, not the total recreation of a past" (49, 16). The surplus of paper that haunted the nineteenth-century imagination also fed it, providing ready materials for longing after immemorial traces. At the same time, modern ideas of reading significantly overlap the nostalgic reverie: the escape from time's current, a move that Christina Lupton explores as reading's "irregularity and the dream of revolt against . . . regimens of productivity." In Boym's description, one could easily replace "longing" with "reading": "There is, after all, something pleasantly outmoded about the very idea of longing. We long to prolong our time, to make it free, to daydream, against all odds resisting external pressures and flickering computer screens. . . . Nostalgic time is that time-out-of-time of daydreaming and longing that jeopardizes one's timetables" (xix). The contrast here between the dream time of nostalgia and the "pressures" associated with the "flickering computer screen" is telling in its resemblance to laments over the end of deep reading in the digital age. In other words, the charge of nostalgia leveled against the sentimental attachment to old books is completely overdetermined. Within a literary horizon, it cannot be evaded, if only because post-Enlightenment ideas of books and identity, and of reading and longing, have always been entangled. Moreover, poetry in the long Romantic tradition made its business the elaboration of these entanglements. From Keats with his Chapman's Homer (or even Crabbe with his parish register) onward, much of the enduring verse of the nineteenth century uses this kind of reverie—a synthesis of reading and longing meant to evoke its sympathetic double in the reader—as its driving engine. As Lupton says, "It's reading poetry that gets you out of time" (Reading 13).
Marginalia, sentimentality, nostalgia, and poetry seem wound inextricably together in the nineteenth century. Throughout the Romantic and Victorian eras, poetry in particular inspired readers to become annotators. Books were growing cheaper and more commonplace, literacy was rising precipitously, and printed poetry was permeating middle-class life in the form of gift books, albums, periodicals, collected editions, scrapbooks, and other media of transmission. In addition, poetry on the page was often surrounded by white space for annotation. For some who were critical of what they saw as poetry's decline toward the domestic and the conventional, the cheapness of the books and the cheapness of the sentiments went hand in hand, both prompts to the annotating reader. Volumes of nineteenth-century poetry implicitly ask us to confront the claims of nostalgia in nuanced ways, as we recognize the deep engagement of that era's book culture with commonplace affect and the rhetoric of the full catastrophe of our human compulsions, triumphs, and bereavements. Our analysis of nineteenth-century books cannot be merely sentimental, but neither can it remain wholly disengaged from the sentiment that forms part of the historical record. We need to approach the nineteenth-century book in a spirit of rigorous nostalgia: an essentially homeopathic method whereby our nostalgia for the nineteenth century can run interference, make an opening through that century's nostalgia for the many traditions that its own industrial modernity had estranged it from, and in the process bring us closer to a doubled truth, its own and ours.
Since the mid-twentieth century, academic libraries in the United States have usually divided their print collections into two categories: special and circulating. Books in special or rare collections are counted as unique objects, meriting augmented cataloguing, extra security, preservation in the form of custom-made housings and regulated storage conditions, rules for careful handling, and conservation efforts to repair wear and damage. This attention is predicated on the idea that researchers, now and in the future, will need ongoing access to a particular artifact, not merely a copy of a work (e.g., Henry David Thoreau's A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers) or even an instance of an edition (e.g., the 1849 Boston edition of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers) but a physical item with its own history and individual features (e.g., Walt Whitman's annotated copy of the 1849 edition of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, now in the Library of Congress). It almost goes without saying that most of these books are valuable assets in their own right; they are collectors' items and would fetch significant sums if sold. Circulating books, on the other hand, receive comparatively low levels of support. The assumption is that they are indeed copies, not especially rare, and replaceable as needed. Instances of circulating books fall easily into the category of duplicates, imagined as identical for the purposes of scholarship. Humanities research in fact depends on the duplicate nature of the scholarly record, the idea that the physical copy or digital version of this book you are reading is, in essence, the same as the one currently being read by someone else across the country. Hence libraries' reliance on interlibrary loans or Google book scans (created mostly from books found in the circulating stacks) for many nineteenth-century circulating materials. Put simply, circulating collections supply access to content in replaceable copies, whereas special collections supply access to unique bibliographic objects that have acquired value either for sheer rarity or insofar as they are differentiated from other instances of their type.
I rehearse these matters for the obvious reason: most of the books discussed in this study were found in the circulating collections of academic libraries. Discovered by students, faculty members, and librarians during hands-on searches, these books challenge the distinction between special and circulating collections in their emphatic singularity, in their marks of individual history, in their visible traces of provenance and use. All used books bear such traces to some degree. The question becomes, what can we make of such evidence? Or perhaps, what types and levels of marking are sufficient to draw attention (and resources) to a singular physical book? A single scuff mark on a binding is not going to be enough, but an elaborate set of annotations might be—especially if they were made by an original owner of the book, a historical reader whose reactions we have come to value because of the passage of time. Do markings need to be made by a Coleridge to matter, or, as the nineteenth century recedes, do the everyday readers of that era merit our attention? This book is an attempt to demonstrate the dividends of attention paid to a specific subset of such materials: books of poetry found on library shelves.
Like all archives, this one has a broader social history unique to the American context. John Higham reminds us, "In 1860, there was no American university fully worthy of the name. The United States had no libraries of national or international renown." Most academic libraries either were departmental affairs or, as the century wore on, consisted of a single room and a few thousand volumes at most. But, according to the library historian Phyllis Dain, as American colleges and universities grew and professionalized in the early twentieth century, library collections began "a steep move upward in holdings," which were in many cases built up by donations of books by alumni, professors, literary societies, trustees, and local families—often the descendants of the books' original nineteenth-century owners and readers. As Dain says, at many academic institutions, "not until well into the twentieth century did reliance upon gifts . . . give way to substantial regular general appropriations" (15). So large numbers of nineteenth-century volumes came into academic libraries from private donors during this period, roughly until the transformative academic growth of the post-World War II era. Unless these books were in fine condition, rare and valuable, or were associated with a well-known historical personage, they went onto the circulating shelves, where they formed a substantial but unevenly relevant (and casually preserved) component of the research collections. In fact, according to Neil Harris, "before the 1930s . . . few universities had well-established rare book or special collections departments," so the stacks may have been the only option for some donated books. This arrangement worked out well anyway, because libraries at that time wanted large print collections to enhance their status. And at many colleges and universities, those books still occupy the same open shelves, having mostly failed as circulating materials and never been reclassified as "special," because of the relative plenitude of books from the age of industrial printing. The result is that one of the greatest archives of American middle-class reading remains hidden in plain sight, uncatalogued as such and distributed across the library shelves of academic institutions—and now endangered, as readers prefer modern or digital editions and libraries are moving away from commitments to their local print collections.
In this distributed archive, it appears that approximately 10 percent of the books printed before 1923 contain inscriptions, annotations, and other marks made by their original owners and readers. Such traces are even more common in books of poetry, in which female readers feature prominently—as they do in the examples I present here. By the end of this book, you will have encountered Esther Brown and Miriam Trowbridge (again), Ellen Pierrepont, Charlotte Cocke, Deborah Adams, Annie Deering, Henrietta Partridge, Elsie Barlow, Mary Cosby, Juliana Shields, Jane Slaughter, Sallie Meredith, Emily Clark, and others. They all are nineteenth-century readers of poetry whose books contain evidence of their interactions, opinions, and experiences. I did not set out to write a history of women's reading, but their books emerged to provide terms and examples that had a compelling unity and force. Part of my impetus was to get outside traditional library protocols that privilege famous (typically male) writers and readers, to start paying attention to other orders of the archive. Of course, these orders have their own exclusions, because most—though not all—of the nineteenth-century books donated to academic libraries came from white, wealthy families of that era. But at least this is a beginning—a first look at the marks in books on the shelves. What were the communities of readers that contributed to the collections, and what did books and poems mean for those communities? In order to pursue these questions, we need the books to remain available at their institutions.
To us now, printed books are a technology of patience; old books seem heavy with time. In the following chapters, I attempt to reinhabit some of the volumes on the shelves and draw out a poetics of reading that might enlarge our sense of the nineteenth-century book. As the books and their layered marks dictate, my four primary chapters are heuristic and thematic, with considerable overlap among them. The chapter titles relate to nineteenth-century literary works whose titles offer provisional answers to my earlier questions: what were nineteenth-century books of poetry then, and what are they now? Each of these answers—"Images in Lava," "Gardens of Verse," "Time Machines," and "Velveteen Rabbits"—is meant to evoke a cluster of relations among poets, publishers, and readers, visible chronically in the poems, the books, and the traces left in individual copies. My final chapter, "Postcard from the Volcano," turns to issues of academic library policy and the future of the print collections on which my research has depended. Far from offering a comprehensive survey, this book is resolutely meant as a series of braided case studies involving a prevalent strain of poetic reading among a primarily female, middle-class, American audience. I am carving a relatively narrow swath through the archive in pursuit of evidence of a distinctive nineteenth-century mode: the personal appropriation of poetry, which depends in part on the rise of Romantic reading practices and the sociocultural developments that brought printed books into everyday domestic life in nineteenth-century Britain and America. Taken as a whole, these chapters suggest several larger themes governing the use of poetry and poetic volumes in the long nineteenth century, including personalization, adoption, revisitation, memorialization, and interpersonal exchange—a range of activities and experiences that fall under the larger heading of interacting with print. At the same time, I mean to point out the ways in which our own critical methods are productively involved with the affective dynamics that these examples model. Book Traces is a contribution to, and a brief on behalf of, the new sentimentalism in book history.
Chapter 1, "Images in Lava: Felicia Hemans, Sentiment, and Annotation," presents the origin story of the Book Traces project in the University of Virginia library stacks, and it uses nineteenth-century copies of Felicia Hemans's poetry to address a paradox in her reception history. Modern critics have often attempted to rescue Hemans from the terms of her own popularity; what if instead we immersed ourselves in the dynamics of sentiment that propelled her to fame, and allowed ourselves to read her work unencumbered by the prejudices of later reactions against it? Beginning with an annotated copy of Hemans's works discovered in the library stacks by my students, I examine marginalia of longing and bereavement by female readers of Hemans, by means of which their books come to resemble Hemans's poem "Image in Lava": a "thing of years departed" upon which "woman's heart hath left a trace." Such books help make a case for the importance of affect and personal emotion in our apprehension of nineteenth-century poetry, which its readers valued as a collaborative, intimate language for the heart. Specific historical copies allow us best to apprehend the evidence of such personal application, bringing to view what Hemans, and what books of poetry more generally, offered to readers. We need to find ways to integrate such books into our accounts of nineteenth-century literary history, and to do this we need them to remain in our library collections. As Hemans puts it in the last line of her poem (using italics as if it were a marginalian's emphatic underlining), "It must, it must be so!"
My second chapter, "Gardens of Verse: Botanical Souvenirs and Lyric Reading," focuses on poetry books that have flowers and leaves pressed between their pages. Using examples found in the University of Miami library stacks and elsewhere, I show how botanical material was pervasively and complexly involved with poetry as it was written, published, and read in this era. Poets such as Letitia Landon, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Jean Ingelow wrote, knowing that floral, botanical practices were part of the field of reception; publishers and illustrators designed books that called them forth and echoed them; and readers engaged in this layered scene of reception as they inserted blossoms and buds between the leaves. Emblems of ephemerality and resurrection, of memory and its fading, the pressed flowers come to incarnate the lyric reading moment. Botanical insertions in books of poems create souvenirs of Romantic reading, involved with nature and ideas about the self in time. Further, I argue that readers' alterations of their books by means of such insertions amount to interpretive deformations of the page, formal experiments in design and meaning making that anticipate modernist aesthetics. I show how illustrators alluded to those practices in later Victorian editions of both Wordsworth and Ingelow, depicting inserted flowers in a trompe l'oeil mode, and I connect these books to anxieties over the fate of individuality in modern culture. What does it mean to be a copy, a specimen, an instance? A flower in a personalized book of sentimental poetry is an incarnate meditation on the question.
In Chapter 3, "Time Machines: Poetry, Memory, and the Date-Marked Book," I examine the readerly practice of affixing specific dates to poems, anchoring them along one's personal timeline and within an ethos of rereading. The two prime Romantic modes of poetic reading—sublime discovery and nostalgic revisitation—converge in books marked with dates, which preserve multiple reading moments in their marginalia. Thomas Hardy's "Her Initials" and W. B. Yeats's "When You Are Old" model poetic reading as a process of recognition and nostalgia, epiphany and longing. Four books of poetry (found in the stacks at Virginia, Columbia, and Louisville) form the heart of the chapter. Each one contains annotations by a different pair of nineteenth-century lovers, written next to poems and revisited and re-annotated later; those marks enhance and make visible the multiple temporal layers of the book. The poems presented in these books—by Winthrop Mackworth Praed, James Wright Simmons, Thomas Moore, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow—provide our reading couples with occasions for flirtation, personalization, disagreement, affinity, longing, and loss. In turn, the books demonstrate poetry's integration into the emotional and romantic lives of its readers over time. These books suggest the origins of our own attitudes toward nineteenth-century books as objects in (and out of) time, instinct with the passions of the dead. They remind us of the complex temporality and affective overloading of the historical book.
Chapter 4, "Velveteen Rabbits: Sentiment and the Transfiguration of Books," takes the Margery Williams story about a plush rabbit becoming real as a parable of the balance between investment and damage that can transform books into artifacts and heirlooms, objects in relation to the bodies of their owners and readers. Well-loved volumes seem to conjure past readers and past selves with the marks and scars they bear, as bibliophilic poetry of the nineteenth century reflects. Worn copies, like the locks of hair they sometimes contain, remind us of the embodied nature of reading even as they inspire reveries of lost time, of childhood, of the ghosts of readings past. In this chapter, I present a series of poems—by Barrett Browning, Walter Learned, Frank L. Stanton, Eliza Cook, Hemans, Tennyson, and others—in individually marked nineteenth-century volumes that reflect readers' oscillation between looking at books as material remains and viewing poems in terms of transcendent memory. Our phenomenologies of reading need to account for the material book itself as a sentimental, transitional object that is fundamental to the affective processing of its contents. Its evolution from pristine copy to marked and worn relic is driven by multiple readerly engagements, its defacement a kind of transfiguration.
My final chapter, "Postcard from the Volcano: On the Future of Library Print Collections," presents a defense of library print collections in the digital age, a call to action on the part of scholars, students, and librarians to reengage with the granular bibliographic history embedded in those collections. Proponents of shared print networks and the downsizing of print have, in general, overestimated the extent to which one copy of any book can truly serve as a duplicate for another. Libraries are now contending with the preservation and access issues surrounding their legacy print collections even as they are experiencing almost irresistible pressures to make room for more study space, more digital resources, and more-flexible research environments. All of that means fewer books on the open shelves. If they would like to resist the warehousing and deduplication of little-used multiple copies, scholars of the nineteenth century must demonstrate now, in their research and teaching, that those copies still matter, that individual physical volumes are necessary as part of an alternative conception of the content of books. I close with a defense of the book-filled academic library as a laboratory and research site crucial to the humanities disciplines that also serves as an archive of each institution, community, and region that built its collections over time. Housed and preserved in spaces of collective discovery, these battered, enhanced volumes are envoys to a future that will need them.