Collecting to Teach / Teaching to Collect: The James Wilson Bright Collection of the Julia Rogers Library, Goucher College, Baltimore, MD


Victoria Van Hyning (Goucher, 2006) and Arnold Sanders, Associate Professor of English


            James Bright left no catalog or formal statement about his collecting practices.  Description of his nearly 5,000 volume collection is something of a puzzle once one gets beyond the obvious concentrations of materials in Anglo-Saxon philology, especially Anglo-Saxon translations of Biblical and Latin texts.   I have been gradually assembling a database of his books as recorded in the Library’s Accession Book between 1926 and 1936 to reconstruct a picture of his collection before many books were distributed to the Main Collection and, in some cases, de-accessioned.   [Image Chart]  This chart based on 547 volumes, roughly the first ten percent of the collection accessioned in 1926, helps quantify the strength of Bright’s interest in books identified by Dewey Decimal classification as “Literature,” 64% of the total.  In almost all cases they are original early print editions of the works or modern editions from manuscript or early print.  Though a voracious nineteenth-century reader, he owned hardly any novels, though the collection does contain Austen’s Persuasion, and Victoria assures me that he owned the works of Poe.  Books classified as Religious, about twenty percent, are also usually editions of Anglo-Saxon, Middle English, or Early Modern English translations of the Bible, Boethius, and early commentaries.  Books on philology and history each represent slightly more than ten percent of the sample, but I believe that is an artifact of the early stage of accession.  Goucher’s librarians were eager to get his rare books cataloged, but they also appear to have wanted to build the Main Collection’s literature holdings. 

All of this was far from obvious when we began this project eighteen months ago.  During that period, we have accumulated a better understanding of Bright’s collecting interests while working against time to make the books, themselves, ready for Special Collections’ move, in the summer of 2009, from its current basement bunker to more spacious quarters in the new library currently under construction. [IMAGE PAIR]  Nevertheless, based on Bright’s correspondence with Johns Hopkins University, to which Victoria has referred, and on early evidence from the database, his was a teaching collection rather than a connoisseur’s collection.  [IMAGE BRIGHT OFFICE]  It would have been impossible for a university professor in the age of Victorian “bibliomania” to collect all or “the best” of a particular type of book or manuscript.  Rather, he sought books that would support active research in English philology and Biblical translation.  Bright apparently read nearly all of the thousands of books he collected, and he annotated many of them.  While buying books for his primary research interests, however, he also occasionally picked up items known to be rare or not described in standard bibliographies, especially those that appealed to his interests in English dialects, religious disputes and political controversies,.  I will close the talk with illustrations of some of those items.

Bright Collection books are not gorgeously bound or copiously illustrated and hand-colored.  To anyone who has handled, very carefully, the kinds of tattered books Bright tended to purchase, his collection would resemble those valued by the Rare Book School at University of Virginia [IMAGE SEQUENCE]: boards loose or off and binding bands and binders’ waste exposed to plain view; pages often annotated in pen—the archivist’s bete noir—sometimes even used for penmanship practice by young seventeenth-century tyros, as in the case of this collection of satires by George Wither which was used by generations of young men to test their literacy and their pen nibs.  [Image of spine break]  As Terry Belanger would say, “it’s just our kind of old book.”  Its damaged state made it affordable while offering Bright and his students an intact readable text, and to the modern student, it has still more lessons to teach.

Today’s undergraduates, “born digital,” as they say, are often unacquainted with hardcover printed books.  They can learn valuable new lessons from these documents.  This is a 1698 edition by Christopher Rawlinson of Franciscus Junius’ transcription of Alfred’s Anglo-Saxon prose translation of Boethius.  This important witness to a manuscript that has not survived is still being consulted by modern Anglo-Saxonists.  [Image—binding]  The damaged spine exposes the construction of the book, offering two lessons in one: it demonstrates early binders’ parsimonious use of printers’ waste from another edition to strengthen the binding, and it gives students a fragment of that edition to identify and describe.  Upon opening the Junius Boethius, they encounter extensive annotation, comparing and correcting the text from the surviving Cottonian manuscript of Alfred’s translation.  At first, we might assume the hand was Bright’s, but its letter forms were more angular than his.  [Image “F” comparison POINTER!]  He never published on the Alfred Boethius, but his undergraduate Anglo-Saxon teacher, Francis March, did.  Comparison between the capital “F” in the “Folio” note on the left beside the engraving with the capital “F” in Francis March’s signature on the right suggested Bright’s teacher could have used the Junius while preparing his 1870 Anglo-Saxon Reader[Image “f” comparison POINTER!] Further comparison of March’s hand in proof corrections to his personal copy of the Reader, which Bright obtained from the sale of March’s library, offers students further opportunities to test this hypothesis. 

All of this is quite different from the uses for which Bright originally assembled these books.  Bright’s collection of  Anglo-Saxon, Middle English, and Early Modern English editions supported scholarship in the historical study of English, its grammar and usage as they changed over the centuries.  [Image article bib 1895-1890]  The titles of the earliest of his forty-nine published articles, especially those written between his arrival at Hopkins and his promotion to the Donovan Chair of English in 1904, communicate discrete linguistic observations in one or two-page double-column documents, much like field observations from a working botanist studying a new ecosystem.  Even before his post-graduate study in Germany in the winter of 1883-4, Bright was trained in a thoroughly “Germanized” approach to the study of modern languages via their historical origins.  In the Johns Hopkins program, where he earned his doctorate, the study of German and English was so closely intertwined that they were originally taught together as “Teutonic Studies,” and when Bright graduated in 1882 as Hopkins’ first Ph.D. in English, the English Department was still headed by Henry Wood, a Professor of German with a Ph.D. from the University of Leipzig.

The Bright Collection records the earliest development of the study of English as a university discipline, a field that German scholars have pioneered since the 1970s as Wissenschaftsgeschichte.  The widespread emergence of English studies on a systematic basis occurred first in German universities in response nationalistic interest in cultural origins, resulting in state funding of teaching chairs and research in English Philology at all major universities in the German speaking lands.  Apart from the Rawlinson Chair in Anglo-Saxon, endowed at Oxford in 1795, most English universities resisted the notion that their vernacular literature merited the same advanced study as Greek, Latin or Sanskrit.  F. J. Furnivall, the “great instigator” of the Early English Text Society, pointedly referred to this contrast in the “Seventh Report of the [EETS] Committee” just after the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871:

“[T]he love of Fatherland that was shown so strikingly by the German nation at the outbreak of the war, and has been called forth from the French during its continuance, justifies the Committee in referring with renewed emphasis to the memorable words of Professor Seeley . . . ‘Classical studies may make a man intellectual, but the study of the native literature has a moral effect as well.  It is the true ground and foundation of patriotism.” [ . . .  Furnivall continues] Not dilettante Antiquarianism, but duty to England, is the motive of the Society’s workers: and they do not hesitate to call on all men interested in Literature who can feel that motive, to come forward and help them in their work” (Singleton 94, EETS’s italics).

This patriotic philological competition pitted German state-funded researchers against the English scholars who, except for those few with university appointments, had to fund their own research.  Every year, dozens of German scholars and their students came to English libraries to study and edit Anglo-Saxon and Middle English manuscripts.  Whereas English scholars tended to edit and publish individual manuscript versions of a text, German graduate students, under the influence of Karl Lachmann, compared multiple manuscript and early print editions of a work to publish a “best text” edition from which future generations of scholars could be trained.  Ernst Kölbing, for instance, taught fifty-seven successful doctoral candidates using this method.  Published exclusively in German, their editions of early English literature began to establish a kind of cultural hegemony upon the study of Anglo-Saxon which English and American scholars fought with equal combativeness in their search for unedited manuscripts, and for points upon which the German scholars’ could be challenged.  Animosity between the two camps often broke out in introductions and notes to scholarly editions, and in book reviews.  Henry Sweet interrupted the preface to his 1885 edition of The Oldest English Texts to object that English study “was being rapidly annexed by the Germans” and Walter Skeat ironically suggested that some might find him “to some extent . . . disqualified” to edit the 1888 Chaucer’s Minor Poems because he was “merely a native of London, in which city Chaucer himself was born” rather than a practitioner of German Textkritic (Utz 11).  Nevertheless, English scholars eventually borrowed many German methods and used them selectively to develop more consistent editing practices.  Americans, standing somewhat to the side of the fray, seem to have embraced the Germanic approach whole-heartedly, perhaps nowhere with such enthusiasm as at Johns Hopkins, and perhaps by no Hopkins English professor so completely as James Bright.

Bright’s nineteenth-century volumes are often annotated with references to articles in Anglia and Englische Studien.  As he told President Gilman, he had joined the philological effort set the study of English upon a scientific basis by studying it inductively, amassing great amounts of evidence from which he could derive rules for the language’s operation, and setting down both his method and conclusions in a fashion other scholars could reproduce and students could learn.  To support this effort, he bought the published work of all the major Anglo-Saxonists of his own era, which made him acutely aware of the combative social climate in which the German, English, and American Anglo-Saxonists worked.  He also anticipated the modern study of his discipline’s history, investigating the work of Elizabethan Anglo-Saxonists such as Franciscus Junius.  [IMAGE]  As Victoria discovered, he also acquired portions of the library of James Mitchell Kemble, the English scholar of Anglo-Saxon charters whose despair at attracting Oxford students to the study of Beowulf in the 1830s led him to pursue a career in Germany.

Public quarrels in print over philological minutiae were common, as when Bright questioned a German reviewer’s understanding of “front mutation” in forming the Germanic ablaut, and the reviewer replied, also in print, that he refused to undergo the “foolishness” (allotris) of explaining himself.  [IMAGE BIB]  We are used to treating as modern innovations the Internet “flame wars” that erupt within hours when bloggers and pundits disagree, but so intense was nineteenth-century English philological competition that, even in print, disputes arose within days of publication.  One way to understand the sheer size of Bright’s collection is to think of it as a fortification erected to protect himself from such attacks by following them closely in print.

  For instance, Bright’s copy of Max Müller’s Three Lectures on the Science of Languages (Oxford: 1889), has a tipped-in clipping from the Times, a letter from the English Anglo-Saxonist, A. L. Maydew, taking Müller sternly to task for a three sentence paragraph containing a single reference to an errant etymology for a Modern English word (“The Etymology of Whole,” No. 902, August 17, 1889).  [IMAGES]  Note that Bright has taken notice in the margin of Müller’s offending remark which Mayhew demolishes with evidence drawn from Old English, Old Nose, Old High German, Gothic, Latin, Old Bulgarian, Old Prussian, and Old Irish, concluding “I hardly think that any Indo-Germanist would be found at the present day to favour such an hypothesis.”  What most impresses me is that the Times type-setters could execute such daily wonders of polyglot composition in eight-point type. 

Nevertheless, despite these controversies, Bright succeeded in making a major positive contribution to the historical study of English.  Drawing upon his collection of early Anglo-Saxon editions, and following in the footsteps of his undergraduate teacher, Francis March, Bright published An Anglo-Saxon Reader ed., with notes, a complete glossary, a chapter on versification and an outline of Anglo-Saxon grammar in 1891.  An astonishingly successful publication, it went through at least eleven London and Boston editions during his lifetime, and was revised by Cassidy and Ringler, as late as 1971.  [BIB of EDITIONS WITH COVER IMAGES]  The Cassidy-Ringler-Bright was the textbook in my Anglo-Saxon course with Geoffrey Russom at Brown in 1983, and one copy of the Reader in Goucher’s collection comes not from Bright’s library, but from the collection of Alberta Burke, who appears to have studied her Anglo-Saxon at Goucher in the Fall Semester of 1928, before she had begun to collect Jane Austen.  Bright’s reader was in hot competition with Henry Sweet’s reader but went out of copyright after the Cassidy-Ringler revision.  Then, in 2002, it was digitized by Sean Crist at the University of Pennsylvania.  Paradoxically, the existence of Bright’s Reader in a free, digitized, public domain form, while Sweet’s Reader is still being sold in print for twenty pounds by Oxford University Press, probably will insure Bright’s ubiquity on the Internet as the Anglo-Saxon reader of the digital age. 

Bright also taught generations of Hopkins doctoral candidates to apply the same methods to his collection’s supply of early literature.  He produced fifty-five doctorates, nearly matching Kölbing’s total.  Their studies, like Constance Pessels’ 1896 dissertation on Present and Past Periphrastic Tenses in Anglo-Saxon, and George Shipley’s 1903 dissertation on Genitive Case in Anglo-Saxon Poetry, formed necessary steps in the consolidation of Anglo-Saxon as a field of study, though they are not much read now.  Their work has been absorbed into the grammatical apparatus of modern textbooks.

            Bright’s second scholarly interest in collecting was English church history and theology, from Anglo-Saxon times to the present day.  [IMAGE]  This would have been essential to his editions of the Gospels and the Psalms in West Saxon, published between 1893 and 1906.  Bright’s West-Saxon Gospels went through several editions in his lifetime, and his Gospel of Luke was republished as recently as last year.  Admittedly its sales rank is only 3,111,559 as of last week, but it has to be the fastest selling Anglo-Saxon gospel currently in print. 

            Beyond Bright’s motives as a teacher and researcher, his collecting interests show a marked appetite for odd, usually small, rare books.  Their condition was bad enough to put off elite collectors.  Nearly read to death by their owners, these pages bear witness to some hard knocks.  [IMAGES]

Our first example is the title page from an incomplete octavo edition of the anonymous doggerel poem, The Spyte of Spaine or, a thankfull remembrance of Gods mercie in Britanes dileuerie from the Spanish Armado, printed in 1628 in Edinburgh by “The Heirs of Andro Hart.”  The poem’s irregular stanzas warn readers, in lively street-English, to beware the Spanish during the crisis caused by the king’s inability to fund the war with Spain without extraordinary taxation.  Our eight-leaf copy is more complete than that in the National Library of Scotland, which contains only the second and seventh leaves.

Giles Widdowes’ The Kneelesse, Lawless, Schismatical Puritan illustrates the violent rhetoric aroused by controversialists with an interest in liturgical ceremony.  The ranting title and its attack on a specific previous publication illustrates the extraordinary passions that would lead to the upheavals of the next decade.  As in the case of “Spyte,” Bright’s interest may have been aroused by the way the English of political invective brings out non-standard usages characteristic of local idioms.

A Shrill Cry in the Eares of Cavaliers, Apostates, and Presbyteres published six days after Charles II’s execution, provides annotated “talking points” for readers who want to take the case for killing the king to the streets.  Its printer, Theodore Jennings, took significant risks in allowing his name to appear on the title page.

William Winstanley’s The Loyall Martyrology, celebrating the lives of those executed for the Royalist cause, was published after the Restoration, when it was manifestly safe to do so.  It is a nice example of the fusion of religious, political, and mercenary publishing motives.  Winstanley was known to have stolen almost everything published under his own name: as his DNB biographer observes, he had formerly been a tailor and in his new career as author, he had not given up his shears.

I’ll end this survey of Bright oddities with Bernardus Ziegler’s Themata Ordinariae Disputatio, a 1544 Leipzig octavo which survives in only one other copy we recently located in the Austrian State Library.  We have digitized the leaves of this booklet and they are available directly from the library catalog, with the other images from the digitization portion of the project.

These pamphlets vividly illustrate the earliest stages of vernacular English mass literacy, when a booklet defending the king’s execution could be on the street within days of his death.  Bright’s purchases allow modern students to study early book production at a time when they learn to read and write online.  [LAST IMAGE]  Because they encounter the book most frequently on the Internet in digital surrogates, often entered “sideways” to individual pages in a Google Book search, they are growing unused to operating print books’ apparatus, like tables of contents or indices, prefaces, afterwards and glossaries, and they tend not to look for them or use them when they are available.  Most have never seen early-print-production details like watermarks in paper and leather bindings.  For that reason, Bright’s collection will be crucial to my teaching in “English 241: Archeology of Text,” a new undergraduate course in the pre-Internet technology of print and manuscript books.  The course also will train future Bright Collection workers in the archival study techniques needed to discover what old books have to tell us about the first seven centuries of mass literacy.

Arnold Sanders, Goucher College English Department

Collectors and Collections Conference, Chawton House Library (UK), 19 July 2007