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Wise and the Trial Book Fallacy: Review Essay William E. Fredeman University of British Columbia Roger C. Lewis. Thomas James Wise and the Trial Book Fallacy Aldershot: Scolar Press; Brookfield, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 1995 xxiii + 244 pp. $79.95 A forger named Thomas J. Wise, Thought rarities always a prize: "If the facts don't quite make 'em, I always can fake 'em, And pass them off in disguise." —posthumous limerick, Dante Gabriel Rossetti WHILE AUTHENTICITY is the sine qua non of all literary scholarship , not all scholars are sensitive to the potential bibliographical and textual, even canonical, havoc engendered by the unscrupulous activities of forgers, counterfeiters, and pirates. Because the victims are frequently collectors of fashionable books and manuscripts, the work of these scoundrels is too often dismissed as little more than mischiefmaking . British literary history, however, is replete with examples of more serious frauds, from Chatterton, Macpherson, and William Ireland in the eighteenth century to John Payne Collier in the nineteenth, the last two of whom tampered with the canon of Shakespeare, the most famous writer in English. In two chapters in The Scholar Adventurers (1950), Richard D. Altick explored the rise and subsequent exposure of several nineteenth-century forgers, whose combined enterprises involved manuscripts and printed volumes by many of the greatest writers of the last century, including a half-dozen whose careers extended into the next. 437 ELT 40:4 1997 Scholars working in any field ignore at their peril the possibility of forgery, which may range in diminishing scale from fabricated texts to falsified chirography to fraudulent imprints, all of which are intentionally designed to obfuscate the primacy of literary texts. The volume noticed in this article exemplifies in detail the subtle subterfuges employed by one of the greatest literary forgers of recent memory to manipulate nineteenth- and twentieth-century textual history and provides a bibliogrpahical exemplum on the value of the skeptical imperative in literary research. Since 1934, when John Carter and Graham Pollard published An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets, their classic exposure of the distinguished collector, bibliographer, and literary pooh-bah, Thomas J. Wise, the ranks of their successors have swollen to proportions sufficient to transform the pursuit into a virtual genre, if not, indeed, a bona fide field of scholarship. These later enquirers, sequelers, and other bibliographical sleuths have subjected to microscopic scrutiny every aspect of Wise's life as bibliographer and collector. Sifting through hundreds of entries in the eleven-volume catalogue of his Ashley Library, examining his correspondence with a wide range of collectors, book dealers, and literary associates, and submitting his pompous and dogmatic pronouncements on books and authors to rigid tests, they have identified further examples of his nefarious meddling with literary texts, implicated positively at least one co-conspirator, and revealed several new and unsuspected levels of perfidy on the part of this past president of the Bibliographical Society of whom a later president wrote, Wise's merits must not be underrated. He put on record more facts about the books and periodical writings of the authors he was concerned with than anyone had done before or, in many instances, than anyone else has attempted to do since.1 His limitation was that he "tended to see all his freaks as swans."2 To the roster of later distinguished Wise specialists, which includes, among others, Fannie Ratchford, Wilfred Partington, William B. Todd, W. D. Paden, David Foxon, Maurice Pariser, Simon Nowell-Smith, Nicolas Barker, and John Collins, must now be added the name of Roger Lewis, though he had already staked his claim in the field of Wiseiana in two earlier articles, the first on the trial books of Rossetti's Poems (1870) in The Journal of Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic Studies (1989), 438 FREDEMAN : TRIAL BOOK FALLACY the second on the text of Rossetti's "Autumn Song" in The Book Collector (1990). Revised versions of both articles are incorporated into Chapter 3 of the present volume. As the pursuit of Wise has widened, the taxonomical categories of his fabrications have also broadened beyond the piracies, forgeries, and "suspects" castigated by the Enquirers to include more recondite subcategories , sometimes evident in single...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 437-447
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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