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  • John Masefi eld, The “Great Auk” of English Literature: A Bibliography
  • Marcia Karp
John Masefi eld, The “Great Auk” of English Literature: A Bibliography. By Philip W. Errington . New Castle, Del.: Oak Knoll Press, 2004. xiv, 932 pp. $125.00. ISBN 1-58456-144-0.

John Masefield himself helped name Philip W. Errington's bibliography: "It was long since decided that I am like the dodo and the great auk, no longer known as a bird at all" (viii). No specious claim, it would seem, since in his introduction [End Page 410] Errington fears that Masefield's "vast canon" has been reduced to "a mere six stanzas," those of the poems John Betjeman praised: "Sea Fever" and "Cargoes." Yet Errington, the editor of a recent selection of the poems, thinks highly, not nostalgically, of Masefield as poet, and the bibliography's nine hundred large-format pages protest against the extinction of the writer's significance.

The tasks of a bibliographer include arbitration of a standard of completeness, the ordering of information, and concern for the ease of use. Redundancies are unavoidable when thoroughness is sought and sometimes desirable, given that users will follow no prescribed order through a bibliography. Errington's providing both title and first line for every mention of a poem, however, is neither unavoidable nor desirable. Two indices link title and first lines, one with references to all pertinent entries; listing just the titles of the poems (when they exist, without variation) would have been enough and would have helped slim the volume and clarify the pages. Errington's twelve categories for Masefield's work are distinct, comprehensive, and sensibly arranged in relation to one another: books and pamphlets; books edited or with contributions; contributions to newspapers and periodicals; privately printed poetry cards; published collections of letters; anthologies; commercial recordings; archival recordings; broadcasts; miscellaneous; fugitive items; and proof copies. A single chronology is used within sections, although editions (and periodical publishers) form separate branches off the large movement through time. As for the book's ease of use, the largest obstacles are the size of the volume and the crowded pages. Bold rather than italic subheadings might have helped, but a good desk and light and a lot of temporary bookmarks should suffice to make comfortable work of tracking down a particular edition or tracking the appearance of a particular poem through volumes and editions.

The heft of this volume is not simply the result of Errington's choices; he has inherited the practices of enumerative bibliography. Changing goals and disciplinary methods can be seen by looking at the entry for Masefield's first collection, the 1902 Salt-Water Ballads, in five bibliographies. In 1921 I. A. Williams tells us the size of the book and its page count, the publisher and date of the volume, then "DITTO. Re-issued" and the same classes of information for the 1913 edition, followed by a quotation from Masefield that indicates nothing much was changed for this edition. Charles H. Simmons (1930) provides a more complete physical description and a pagination with details of the sections. Simmons lists each poem, with information on the first journal appearance and any variations between that appearance and the one in the Ballads. This covers three-plus pages, ending with a paragraph on other editions. Geoffrey Handley-Taylor's 1960 volume is also an eighty-first birthday tribute and is more handlist than bibliography, giving only name and publishing information, a long list of reprints, and a note on the famous first version of the first line of "Sea Fever." Crocker Wight's 1986 entry is about the same length as Simmons's. Their physical descriptions are similar, although the presentations differ. Wight leaves out the list of poems and uses the space for a separate description of each of four editions. His "1a Another Edition" is a quaint echo of Williams's "DITTO." Errington's entry begins on page 1 and ends on the top of 12. Five editions (and their reprints) are described. One page of the twelve is given to pictures of title pages and spines of the book (and one to pictures of other books). The notes are...


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