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Collecting Eighteenth-Century English Novels in the Twenty-First Century
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Collecting Eighteenth-Century English Novels in the Twenty-First Century Carl Spadoni Let Novel-Writers Spin Their Tales, And think insipid Bulk prevails; Here Satire, Wit, and Naturejoin, To yield Delight in ev'ry Line.1 Five years ago while I was browsing in Steven Temple's antiquarian bookstore in Toronto, Temple mentioned to me rather casually that he had an eighteenth-century novel in stock. Entitled George Bateman and attributed to Elizabeth Blower (born 1757/63?, died after 1816), the novel in three volumes was printed in London for J. Dodsley in 1782. Deserted at the age of three, George Bateman is rescued by Mrs Everard, a rector's wife. He is raised by the Everards, and much ofthe novel concerns his relationship with their daughter, Cecilia, the object of his unswerving devotion. At one point in the narrative Cecilia turns to George and says: "my father used to urge, as an objection to the reading ofNovels, that they were apt to soften the mind too much" (3:77) . The reviewers considered Blower's novel 1 From the title-page of The Adventures ofJack Smart (London: S. Crowder and H. Woodgate, 1756). EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION, Volume 14, Numbers 3-4, April-July 2002 798EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION to have an agreeable style but criticized it for being laborious and imitative.2 Temple asked me whether McMaster University Library, where I work as a rare book librarian, was interested in purchasing George Bateman. I told Temple that of course we would consider purchasing it, but in a mood of supreme confidence, I informed him that, given the range and depth of our eighteenth-century collection, it was quite unlikely that we would not have the book. Temple's bookstore specializes in Canadian literature, a far cry from the hand-press period of the eighteenth century. Temple is currently the president of the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of Canada. "I bet you a dollar that you don't have the book," he quipped in a good-natured way. Apparently, he had already done a bit of homework about the novel's scarcity. But I felt that I was on pretty secure ground. The dealer was certainly astute, but he was no expert in the eighteenth century. Moreover, our holding in the eighteenth century at McMaster , particularly with respect to novels, was, and continues to be, strong, the largest of its kind in Canada and one of the best in North America. The fact that the book was printed forJ. Dodsley, the younger brother of the famous bookseller and author Robert Dodsley , only added to the likelihood that the book was not as scarce as Temple believed. True, I had never heard of Elizabeth Blower, who was also a poet and an accomplished actress,3 and I really knew nothing about the book. But I still thought that the odds were wholly in my favour. When I checked on the book, I discovered much to my surprise that not only did McMaster not own a copy, but no copywas recorded in the National Union Catalog or in any bibliographic database.4 The attribution to Blower is based on the fact that she wrote three other novels. All of them are extraordinarily scarce. The first novel attributed to her, The Parsonage-House, is epistolary in form and is said to 2 James Raven and Antonia Forster, with the assistance ofStephen Bending, TheEnglish Novel 1 770-1829: A Bibliographical Survey ofProse Fiction Published in the British Isles, vol 1: 17701799 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), item 1782:14. 3 See the biographical entry for Blower by Rebeca P. Bocchicchio, An Encyclopedia of British Women Writers, ed. Paul Schlueter and June Schiuder (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1988), pp. 62-63. 4 A graduate student at McMaster, Isabel White, subsequentlyfound an uncatalogued copy at the British Library. Raven and Forster (item 1782:14) also locate a copy at Bristol University Library, Early Novels Collection. COLLECTING EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY NOVELS 799 be by a young lady. But there are no copies of the first edition, printed in 1780 by J. Macgowan in London in three volumes. Of the Dublin edition, printed and sold by S. Colbert a year...