- Bibliography and the Book Trades: Studies in the Print Culture of Early New England
Bibliography and the Book Trades presents seven essays (six of them reprinted in some form) by the late Hugh Amory, longtime librarian at Harvard's Houghton Library and coeditor of the landmark Colonial Book in the Atlantic World. David D. Hall, a collaborator and admirer, provides a general introduction, helpful chapter headnotes, and where necessary, clarifications or corrections. No one can doubt the erudition of Hugh Amory or his contribution to colonial American studies, which has flourished of late by more vigorous attention to the history of the book. Each chapter carries his iconoclastic stamp, using material evidence to attack any number of scholarly or historiographic soft spots. Amory railed against literary historians that remained "oblivious to the traditions of American bibliography" (1) and his thoroughly grounded analyses anticipate a number of contemporary trends, particularly the recent trans Atlantic turn in colonial studies. There is a certain pleasure in watching a scholarly wrecking ball chip away at truisms, and that pleasure feels justified when the wreckage leads our thinking in new directions.
But the erudition and influence of the author in this case does not yield what we typically regard as a coherent, compelling book. Rather, the seven chapters provide glimpses into a remarkable career. The brilliant lead essay, "The Trout and the Milk", coins a new field of academic study, "ethnobibliography"; Amory applies a biblical scrap that was exhumed from a Mashan-tucket Pequot grave to reexamine conversion efforts in Puritan New England. He possessed a genius for combining evidence from the expected sources (i.e., the collections at the Houghton Library) with the less expected: wills, legal inventories, and whatnot. Particularly effective in collaboration with other scholars, these essays broaden our understanding of a given book's place and purpose within a society. Amory practiced bibliography as a kind of sociology, turning textual studies to the lives of Indians, clergy, [End Page 131] politicians, merchants, printers, merchants, and collectors. One of the more delightful chapters directs a keen (almost acerbic) eye to the classic Bay Psalm Book, addressing the book's initial production against the history of its canonization in the nineteenth century. The careers of bookseller Michael Perry and collector Thomas Prince are used to shed light onto the bibliographic culture and literary marketplace of colonial Boston. Lastly, a long chapter from The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World (plus a shorter "Note on Statistics" from the same work) opens new questions about the relationship between the clergy and the press, Cambridge and Boston, and "New World" versus "Old World" imprints.
One cannot finish this volume without appreciating the impact of Hugh Amory's career, particularly as the history of the book continues to reshape the field of early American studies. Yet it must also be said that this volume (in fairness, published posthumously) suffers from a certain insularity. With the major exception of a chapter from The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World, nearly every chapter was originally prepared for a specialized journal or local audience. Hall's headnotes contextualize the arguments and explain why they matter theoretically. But even then, the problem of scope remains. What to do with references to "trans-solar skrælings" (30), "antipaedobaptism" (35), "chilbains" (81), or the "Puginesque qualities in Copley Square" (149)? Arcane terms or concepts—or more appropriately, the arguments surrounding them—require clarification. The headnotes and general introduction provide an excellent handrail for the uninitiated. And apart from the function of explication, they give this book a compelling subtext. This volume may be read as the tribute to an erudite friend.
But does that make Bibliography and the Book Trade the proper measure of a strong career? As an outsider to scholarship on the book, and as one who remains largely "oblivious to the traditions of American bibliography", I could not help but feel a disconnect between the initial intent and finished shape of this volume. Given...