- The Correspondence of Samuel Richardson ed. by Anna Laetitia Barbauld
Cambridge University Press has decided to enter the photo-reproduction end of the book market, which raises several questions, most of them anticipated in the FAQ section of their Web site. Hence, to the query asking whether or not all these texts are available on line, they respond, correctly enough, by citing variable quality, bad scans, missing or illegible pages—and, of course, the fact that many of us would still rather turn pages than look at a screen. But, the questioner might then well ask, “aren’t other publishers producing print editions too?” Cambridge responds by highlighting its careful scanning, and its informative blurbs, which are not supplied by other photocopy publishers. Finally, they indicate that they started with almost one thousand titles in 2009, and will progress [End Page 250] to two thousand titles or more per year as the program continues.
This is either heartening or frightening; my own mind is undecided, in large part because I am probably no match for the accountants who have vetted the enterprise and given it their blessing. In my own poor brain, it suggests an unnecessary drain on limited Press resources, unfortunate—since nonproductive—competition with other suppliers (the same Barbauld edition, in a reprinted paperback, is available from University of Michigan Library, Nabu Press, General Books LLC, Kessinger, and Bibliobazaar), and, above all else, on editorial staff, when, as we all know, authors are being asked to do more and more of what editors once did, since university presses are no longer willing to pay for in-house copy editors, professional proofreaders, and accomplished indexers.
That being said, it is certainly good to be able to ask your librarian to purchase the Barbauld Letters for $180—unless, of course, one would rather buy a set from General Books LLC or Nabu Press for less than $150 (prices vary depending on the dealer), though these are without the Cambridge blurb, which informs us that Richardson saved his correspondence and that in 1804 Barbauld published a selection, which “provide[s] fascinating insights into Richardson’s life and literary and social activities.” Each volume also has a sentence specific to that volume, for instance, “Volume 5 contains his correspondence with (among others) Samuel Johnson.” There is no introduction or afterword to warn readers that Barbauld baulderized the letters, that many of Richardson’s letters (and those of his correspondents) never made it into the collection, and that Cambridge University Press is in the process of publishing a multi-volume edition of the correspondence. I do not think the Scriblerian will be reviewing other texts in the Cambridge Library Collection, but they will now appear on all bookselling Web sites like Amazon, ABEBooks, and the like, competing with other reproductions. As far as I can determine, price alone should decide the purchase.