- Publishing, Editing, and Reception: Essays in Honor of Donald H. Reiman ed. by Michael Edson
The twelve essays by friends and colleagues of Donald H. Reiman celebrate his long, productive, and influential scholarly career. Arranged in four groups of three in line with the book's title, the authors are, in alphabetical order, B. C. Barker-Benfield; Nora Crook; Stuart Curran; Hermione de Almeida; Neil Fraistat; David Greetham; Steven E. Jones; Alice Levine; Michael J. Neth; Michael O'Neill; Charles E. Robinson; and Timothy Webb. Although mainly about Shelley, the essays cover aspects of Shelley's family, friends, and fellow writers. In addition, we are given an overview by Michael Edson, a select bibliography that lists only a small fraction of Reiman's printed writings, and an amusing and affectionate memoir of life within the Pforzheimer Library by Doucet Devin Fischer.
As is the convention of a festschrift, the essays are written by professional practitioners in the field, mainly with other practitioners in mind: other readers will select from the titles available on the online blurb. But the volume also provides an opportunity to look back over the post-World War II work on Shelley and draw out themes. At the risk of oversimplification, and with a faulty memory, I offer a first draft of a unifying narrative.
When Reiman first began his work on Shelley, the English so-called "New Critics," such as F. R. Leavis, were enjoying their brief ascendancy. Picking up on Victorian attitudes, they disdained the Romantic poets as a group and Shelley in particular. To T. S. Eliot, Shelley's views were "repellent." By elevating the lyric above the longer forms favored by the Romantics (that were often accompanied by prose notes), they dehistoricized, and they neutered. By concentrating on a metaphysical "text," they neglected the materiality of the "book."
Across the Atlantic—and trips from Europe were infrequent then—another trend was visible. In the decades after World War II, the United States authorities saw that the country's own amazing and apparently limitless prosperity depended upon the recycling of its financial trade surpluses through Marshall aid and other imaginative measures to the recovering economies of Europe and elsewhere. In the era of the almighty dollar, sometimes combined with almighty tax advantages, Europe was a gigantic bargain basement for the few things that America could not itself make, notably old works of art, old books, and old manuscripts.
In Romantic studies, Newman Ivey White in 1948 and Leslie A. Marchand in 1956, by the simple expedient of gathering and contextualizing primary documents, transformed the world's knowledge of the lives of Shelley and Byron. By rescuing the Romantics from costumed romance of André Maurois, and taking them seriously as authors and thinkers, the two American biographers led the [End Page 152] way towards a new professionalism. The center of this new world of Romantic studies was the Carl H. Pforzheimer Library in New York that bought up any materials relatable to Shelley that came on the market.
Before Reiman arrived there, in succession to Kenneth Neil Cameron, the Pforzheimer was run like a nobleman's private library. Even in the 1970s, when Reiman had begun a slow liberalization, the telephone number was a secret vouchsafed only to the "synetoi," as Shelley might have called us, and it was the only library I had ever visited where it was forbidden to look at the catalog of manuscripts. Access to those manuscripts destined for ultimate publication was restricted to a chosen few who were given exclusive rights. And the manuscripts themselves, as capital assets, were to be sweated, in accordance with an updated capitalistic/nobleman model, to provide a stream of grand publications, Shelley and His Circle, which would enhance the family's reputation for philanthropy and love of literature. It is to Reiman's lasting credit that he was gradually able to mitigate the exercise of raw power over careers that these arrangements gave the institution. His personal generosity to fellow...