The Bibliographical Way

The Bibliographical Way

[This essay originated as an address given by Lawrence Wroth at a joint meeting of the Bibliographical Society of America and the American Historical Association held in the John Carter Brown Library on December 30, 1936. It was later published in The Colophon (Spring, 1938) and reprinted in About Books: A Gathering of Essays (1941). Another address with the same title was given at the University of Kansas by Fredson Bowers twenty years after this essay appeared. Bowers’ “Bibliographical Way” was published by the University of Kansas in 1959, and reprinted in Essays in Bibliography, Text, and Editing (Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 1977). Bowers explained the concept of a bibliographical way as “a method, a state of mind if you will; it is also one road to truth.” It is curious that he never mentioned Wroth’s work, even though he must have been aware of it.]

A friend who had grown weary of listening to my invective and hyperbole on the subject of historians who consistently ignore the printed book in favor of manuscript source materials finally suggested that I come down from the soap-box and put my ideas into a paper. This is the paper. I hope no one will read into it anything so extravagant as a claim of superiority for the printed book in comparison with the manuscript source. It is not, indeed, a question of comparison. My purpose is simply to emphasize the importance of printed materials even in this day of open and openly arrived at archives, and to suggest that in his approach to the book as a source the student of history take the high-road which I call The Bibliographical Way.

Faith in the prime importance of the printed source arises from the conviction that the content of the printed document is, humanly and normally, the studied and reasoned belief of its writer, presented carefully, in the hope of its withstanding criticism and rebuttal. It is a conscious exaggeration, untenable but heartening, to assert that everything worth recording of a period finds its way into contemporary print, that its manuscript remains are a residuum which may or may not supplement the knowledge gained from the printed record. If one holds this conviction and recognizes the value of this exaggeration as a stimulus, he will strongly maintain the need of a method in the study of the printed source, the need, in brief, of pursuing this Bibliographical Way, which is not a goal but a road that leads far when persistently travelled.
In the sense in which I have learned to regard it, bibliography is a process in the study of texts, particularly in the study of their history and transmission. Its examination of formats, papers, bindings, and printing practices; the apparatus of symbols by which it records its findings; all its mysteries, which, in truth, are not in the least mysterious, are means to the end of identifying or describing a printed text, of making clear its differences from other texts of the same work, of determining the circumstances under which it was produced, and of postulating the relationship of those circumstances to the problem with which the book is concerned. The practice of bibliography as an end in itself is an activity that frequently brings gratification to the practitioner, but just now we are concerned only with the practice of it as a process in the study of texts, differing from textual criticism in that its indices are primarily, though not exclusively, external and material factors.
Because of the enlightening influence of bibliography as applied to literary studies, a knowledge of its method and the practice of it have become part of the normal equipment of the student of English literature. Graduate students from isolated small colleges as well as from the great universities nowadays know their McKerrow and move easily about in the Stationer’s Register and the Short Title Catalogue. This knowledge and the practical application of it have pleasantly diversified their studies and have given them a supplementary approach to the solution of their difficulties. But this solace has not been brought into the life of the graduate student of American history; no new approach, no diversification of interest has stimulated him or freshened his practice for a century. He does not know his McKerrow, and what is worse, and now I am speaking in dead earnest, he does not know his way about in Evans’s American Bibliography and Sabin’s Dictionary of Books Relating to America. More than once, indeed, I have had advanced students at work in the John Carter Brown Library who literally had not heard of either of our great national bibliographies.
With its chronological arrangement projecting upon the consciousness a record of the life and national interests of a year, a decade, or a century, Evans’s American Bibliography is the most important single textbook for a student of the colonial history of English North America. If the student is investigating a constitutional question in a given colony, his knowledge of it is enriched by learning from Evans of the publications on that and related questions in other colonies. Furthermore, the background of his particular subject is made intelligible to him by his knowledge, gained from Evans, of the intellectual constitution of his period; of what other subjects—religious, political, social, or literary—were giving concern to the people in the years of his interest; of what was the geographical or sectional distribution of those questions; who were the persons agitating them; how extensive was the literature on his special subject; and to what extent certain books upon it were republished. Or, if he learns from Evans that no printed writings exist on the subject of his concern, he is thereby incited to essay the explanation of that fact as a ponderable element in his study.
But especially if this student is investigating a period, rather than a man or an event, is Evans’s bibliographical record his textbook—its important entries and its unimportant, its philosophical essays and its broadside ballads, its religious pamphlets and its commercial advertisements. In this printed expression of trained thinkers and common men is embodied the intellectual concern of the day; in it are recorded its hopes and fears and aspirations, its daily affairs and its concept of the eternal values. How else than by living with this material day by day is the student to enter into the consciousness of his period, how else is he to discriminate between what was important to it and what was trivial, how else to know that his period was alive with a quick and passionate life, that in the old time ginger was as hot upon the tongues of men as it is today upon his own?
Historians find difficulty in crediting the bibliographer with a rational plan. They understand the list of references placed at the end of a book with the heading “Bibliography,” a list which contains only the best editions of the best books on the subject. They are irritated when the bibliographer proceeds to form a list comprising all editions of all books, good and bad, related to the investigation. There was protest in high quarters not many months ago when the final appropriation was made for the continuation of Sabin. The editors of Sabin, said some of those whose consent was important to the continuance of the project, should content themselves with entering the first edition only of each book. It is wasteful, they said, to give a page or five pages to the entry of all discoverable subsequent editions. It was not easy to convince these men that the number of editions, the geographical origin of the editions, and the very fact that subsequent editions existed are in themselves significant circumstances in the history of that book and its author, and consequently in the history of the movement, the period, or the place with which it was concerned. The discovery that there was published more than one edition of the book causes the astute investigator to study its matter with interest and to cogitate upon the relationship of its particular contents to the cause in which it appeared. If, for example, we did not know all about the Stamp Act it would open wide a door into the subject to learn that Daniel Dulany’s Considerations had been published in eight editions, that these had proceeded: two from Annapolis, one from New York, one probably from Philadelphia, one from Boston, one from a source not yet identified, and two from London. And if in pursuing the investigation of that treatise it developed that Pitt had held a copy of the book in his hand and read from it in the course of his speech in the House of Commons urging the repeal of the Stamp Act, a whole set of ideas about that episode would come at once into being.
And if one were interested in the Stamp Act Congress, his study of Evans would lead him to inquire why it was that only one contemporary report of that conference had been published in the colonies, and that by the press of Annapolis. The answer to this question must be regarded as having potentialities for the student of the incident with which it is concerned. Examining that Annapolis edition of the Stamp Act Congress Proceedings with care, he would find appended to it a statement of expenses of the Maryland delegate s to the Congress and a letter from the delegates to the Maryland agent in London. A further investigation along bibliographical lines would inform him that the pamphlet had been printed in September, 1766, and he would conclude that it had been published as a report, or perhaps an apologia, to the Assembly which was to convene in November. At that point, bibliographically speaking, the investigations might end, but just here the historian would ask himself why such an elaborate and expensive report to the Assembly had been considered necessary by the delegates, and, pursuing this reflection, he might soon find himself involved in that Maryland struggle between the Upper and Lower Houses which, continuing throughout the colonial period, was a factor of national interest in the French and Indian War, and which, indeed, must be regarded as one of those perennial local conflicts in which the seed of the Revolution was germinated. An interesting line of inquiry might thus be opened because this historian had asked himself a question as to the relation between the publication of a text and the events with which it was concerned.
It is a fact that the Albany Congress of 1754, also, was reported in only one American publication, a political tract of Newport origin. In a discussion of this circumstance, a young historian of the period who is as much at home with his pamphlets as with his manuscript sources has told me that the North Carolina Assembly ordered copies of the Albany Congress minutes to be printed, and, further, that William Smith of New York wrote in his diary that, lest the French be forewarned, the proceedings of the Congress and its proposed Plan of Union were guarded with such secrecy that his father, the elder William Smith, delegate to the Congress, would not tell even him what had transpired at the sessions. But two things seem clear enough: that no issue of the Proceedings came from the North Carolina press despite the Assembly’s order to print; and that, however strictly it may have been held in New York, the idea of secrecy did not prevail in Rhode Island. The historian facing these bibliographical problems asks himself questions in both cases. I do not know whether it was influence, indifference, or belated caution that caused the stifling of North Carolina publication. That problem is still to be followed up. It is obvious, however, that the account of the Congress, with the most important of its minutes, came out in print in Rhode Island because the political enemies of Stephen Hopkins accused him of various crimes and indiscretions as a delegate, and he, forgetting or ignoring the need of secrecy, or being convinced that the need for it had passed, spread the record of the Congress upon the printed page. We have in the John Carter Brown Library a contemporary manuscript journal of the sessions of the Albany Congress and a copy of that printed compression of the minutes which Stephen Hopkins brought out in defence of himself and of the proposed Plan of Union. Though the manuscript is much more complete than the printed version, there exists a difference in the implications of the two documents so great as to make the manuscript a pallid thing alongside the printed pamphlet.
The historian who writes about the settlement of Maryland is tempted always to base his study upon the singularly fine Relatio of the Jesuit missionary, Father Andrew White, a manuscript source which is found in English in two forms: first, in a nineteenth-century translation of the original Latin document; and, second, in a complete contemporary translation of the same narrative known as the Lechford version, discovered, still in manuscript, in 1894. Both these manuscript versions have a freshness and charm hardly to be found elsewhere in accounts of American settlement; they contain a full relation of the long voyage out from England preceding the actual settlement, and they carry the story of the colony along to the moment when one of the ships was about to return with news of the happy outcome of the venture. They represent, therefore, the basic account of the Maryland settlement before the necessities of successful colony promoting had dictated a certain amount of revision of their statements. But immediately upon the arrival of these accounts in England, Lord Baltimore made a recension of them which he published under the title, A Relation of the successfull beginnings of Mary-land. This printed version gives in many instances fuller information of events than is found in the manuscript versions, or, in a few cases, information on matters not found in them in any form. It corrects at least one essential date; it contains the names of several actual participants in the adventure as witnesses to the truth of the account; and it contains three pages embodying the “Conditions of Plantation.” Here is a more important document for the modern historian than either of the manuscript versions of Father White’s narrative. There are in it, to begin with, the amended date and the expansions and contractions of matter and incident already mentioned. But more important than these is the inclusion in the printed book of the “Conditions of Plantation” here referred to. The conditions of settlement and land tenure of the Maryland colony underwent progressive change in the first two years of the venture. Knowledge of the form in which they are found in this second of the Maryland colonization tracts is essential to a full and orderly reconstruction of the social and economic history of the colony.
The historian of the past century who has neglected this printed Relation of Maryland of 1634 is not to be blamed except for having assumed that it was simply a duplication of the matter of Father White’s Relatio, and for believing that at any cost he must go, when possible, to the original manuscript sources for his facts. The circumstance that the printed Relation of 1634 exists only in the British Museum and John Carter Brown copies made it unlikely that any except the most enterprising student would have an actual sight of it. And, furthermore, everyone was misled by the nineteenth-century editor who reprinted it from the British Museum copy and, being devoid of bibliographical sensibility, omitted from his reprint, without comment, the attestation of the narrative and the very important “Conditions of Plantation.” Later the question arose as to whether this editor could knowingly have taken so great a liberty as this with his text. Is it not possible, it used to be asked, that the British Museum copy lacks the pages 11-14 in which these features are found? But that, as I have made certain with my own eyes, is not the case. Because those who have written of it have lacked bibliographical curiosity, the prime account of the Maryland settlement has been almost entirely neglected by historians in favor of a manuscript version of the same document which, in the particulars mentioned, is a notably inferior source.
There is a copy of Park’s Laws of Maryland in the John Carter Brown Library which has two title-pages. One of them was found in the copy concerned serving as a lining paper of the leather cover. But that salvaged leaf is more than a piece of paper, for its printed face varies in an important detail from the title-page with which the book was published. It proclaims that with this complete collection of the Laws was to be printed the Charter of the Province. But the Charter was not published with the book and no mention of it occurs upon the title-page actually used. I do not pretend to explain this last-minute change of mind, but I wish I could. The explanation would be worth a paragraph in a history of Maryland, and a sentence or two in any general history of the colonial period. All I know is that in this year of 1727 the Upper and Lower Houses of the Maryland Assembly—Court and Country, Privilege and the People—were already well advanced upon the contest which affected the life of that province throughout the colonial period, and which, as suggested earlier, became a factor in national politics in the period of the French and Indian War. And I know that in Maryland at this time, Daniel Dulaney, the Elder, was learnedly fighting, to use the title of his tract, for The Right of the Inhabitants of Maryland to the Benefit of the English Laws. Somebody, on one side or the other of one of these, or of some other question, did not want the Maryland charter published for all to read at this juncture. Or was its omission simply the result of a decision taken in committee for the sake of economy? Let the anti-climax be ignored. What we are affirming is that interest in cancelled leaves, or in the reprinting of preliminaries, is something that concerns historians as well as bibliographers.
The bibliographer is sometimes reproached for his too great concern with plates and maps, with their states and editions, or with the question whether “they belong with the book.” But there is reason for his concern. It is elementary to observe that an early state of a map bound in with a revised text, or a late state bound with an early text, or any other of the numerous incorrect permutations and combinations which can innocently be brought about by bookseller or collector in making up what he believes to be a perfect copy of a book, can cause endless trouble to an investigator. In cases of this sort the interposition between him and his source of some such minute bibliographical study as that which Wilberforce Eames carried out in connection with the Captain John Smith maps and books in Sabin’s Dictionary is accepted with gratitude. But not every book can be so thoroughly studied as were the Smith works by Mr. Eames, so that the historian must learn to apply for himself the bibliographical tests which determine the relationship of the map to the book in which it is found.
Recently I have had an experience in which days of effort turned out to have been wasted when it was shown that a certain map and a certain book, both of great rarity, had been issued together for the purpose of mutual illustration. I speak of this incident with some hesitancy because it reflects upon my own ability as a research assistant, but confession will be good for me. My aid was requested by a visitor to the John Carter Brown Library who found himself interested in a map of the Gulf Stream by William Gerard De Brahm, his Majesty’s Surveyor General for the Southern District of North America. The map in question had every appearance of importance, but to say that it was truly important it was necessary to know upon what data it had been constructed: whether upon original observations by De Brahm, or by the selection of data from earlier maps and sailors’ traditions. Knowing that De Brahm was an eccentric, who later wrote a mathematico-mystical treatise called Apocalyptic Gnomon points out Eternity’s Divisibility rated with Time, pointed at by Gnomon’s Sidereals, my investigator was proceeding cautiously in his evaluation of the Gulf Stream map. Throughout the several days of his visit, we came back again and again to the question of the credibility of De Brahm in connection with the map. But it was not until after he had left that it occurred to me to question a premise we had both taken for true, that is, that the Gulf Stream map was a unit in itself, a detached, separately published statement without supporting documents. Almost at once, by examination of the Library’s copy of De Brahm’s Atlantic Pilot of London, 1772, I found that the Gulf Stream map was not a point in space unrelated to anything else but an integral part of a book on the navigation of the North Atlantic; that it was, indeed, the graphic representation of a long and arduous experiment, the result in graphic projection of innumerable observations of position, courses, drift, and other nautical factors entering into the comprehension of that great ocean current. And furthermore the circumstances of the voyage and the figures upon which the chart was based were set down at large in the pages of the book to which it belonged. Here was the authentication of the De Brahm map, long sought by our investigator because in none of the references to it previously seen by him was the map related to the book. It is an unusual book with an unusual map, neither previously the subject of a bibliographical study.
I like these concrete examples of the Bibliographical Way. I hope you do, because there are more of them to come. There is the case of John Huske’s Present State of North America. That book is an illustrious example of the effectiveness of giving a dog a bad name. Its earliest reviewer was one of those lazy lads who review books without reading them. Writing in the Gentleman’s Magazine, he said that this book was chiefly drawn from Butel-Dumont’s Histoire et Commerce des Colonies Angloises of the same year. The small amount of truth in his statement was that the two books were on the same subject. The appalling untruth in it lies in the fact that one of these treatises sets forth the French side of the controversy, the other, most emphatically, the English. But the Huske book has been virtually without influence among historians because one commentator after another has repeated that calumny and few have troubled to look into the text for verification of it. You can still buy it, indeed, for less than it is worth because booksellers continue to catalogue it as an English rehash of Butel-Dumont. Then, too, for long years the book was said to be by Ellis Huske, postmaster of Boston, who, in fact, died in Boston while the book was being written in London. In reality it was composed by John Huske, the son of Ellis, who was a friend of Franklin’s, a publicist, and a Member of Parliament. Its record was further complicated by the old John Carter Brown Catalogue which, Heaven help us all, entered it from a binder’s title as by John Hushe. Still more, it is referred to generally as of London, 1755, with occasionally, but only occasionally, a reference to a second edition. But following the bibliographical way we find that in the year 1755 there was a second edition of London, an edition of Dublin, two of Boston, and a translation into German, published in three issues in Frankfurt in 1755 and 1756, one of them joined to a translation of Butel-Dumont’s book. The second Boston edition proclaims it a most important work, and other contemporary American evidence testifies to its value. Now here is rich food for the reflective historian. It does not matter what we think of the causes of the French and Indian War. The important thing is what the people who were to suffer from that war thought of those causes. In trying to learn what they thought it is surely a mistake to overlook a book which, from its widespread distribution, its evident appeal, seems to have had in it something that satisfied the people most concerned, some delicate balance in its statement of the causes at issue, some recognition of what was truly the point of the barb which excited these people to action against their neighbors. This book is a most important document to students of the French and Indian War. And yet, I do not believe it has been thoroughly studied by those students.
I have in mind another example. Dr. Thomas Bray’s Proposals for the Encouragement of Religion in Foreign Plantations is piece of two leaves in folio which, with notable exceptions, has usually been dated as of 1700 or 1702, making it an interesting but not an important document in the history of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, the first of which was founded in 1697, the second, an outgrowth of the first, in 1701. But it now appears as the result of a bibliographical investigation which I need not detail that the piece was published in 1696; that the second part of it was not by Bray but by Sir Thomas Lawrence, Secretary of Maryland; and that there were in 1696 at least three editions published instead of the one edition formerly recognized and improperly dated by a succession of historians and bibliographers. We have before us as the result of this investigation the earliest printed document, the foundation document, in fact, in the history of these great societies which are so closely associated with the story of British imperial expansion throughout the world, a document, by the way, ignored by the official historians of both Societies; we have an edition of a Maryland production not hitherto known, by an individual not formerly recognized as its author; we have knowledge that the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge did not spring into being but that it was reared by Dr. Bray with labor and pain. These are important facts because of their suggestions. They have been brought out because one investigator felt that it would be a good idea to compare three copies of the Proposals that came to his attention at different times, and to compare the texts of each of them with other writings of Dr. Bray and with Maryland archival material.
Historians have written about and philosophers have discussed for many generations the Salem Witchcraft trials, but the outstanding contribution to this subject of recent years was made by Thomas J. Holmes in his Bibliography of Increase Mather. His intensive study of the circumstances attending the composition and publication of his author’s Cases of Conscience enabled him to rewrite a chapter in the early history of the country. There have been many a more fruitful employment of a scholarly method than was made in this instance, but it has not come within the range of my knowledge.
Then there is that impressive incident in which Vernor W. Crane, following the Bibliographical Way, set out to identify certain anonymous contributions to the American propaganda of the Revolutionary period, and, as the result of investigations carried through after the subject had been considered closed for a generation, laid down the framework of a new canon of the writings of Benjamin Franklin. Not only did this investigation concern itself with articles in the newspaper and periodical presses, but it piled up proof in the debated question of Franklin’s authorship of the Interest of Great Britain considered, and finally it corrected the absurd heedlessness by which for generations all of us, bibliographers and historians alike, had attributed to Governor Francis Bernard a tract almost certainly by Franklin entitled The Causes of the present Distractions in America explained. In this case bibliography did not show itself to be, in the words of the old tag, the handmaid of history, but history itself.
It would be easy to multiply instances, but I have done. In the very moment of feeling that I may have successfully made my point, it occurs to me that perhaps the point did not need to be made, that I have been stating an undisputed thing with grim solemnity. But I recall, to offset this feeling of depression, that I speak and write from long experience as the custodian of a great collection of printed documents of earlier centuries. The books that surround me in the John Carter Brown Library are used less by historians than by bibliographers, students of literature, book collectors, booksellers, and geographers. I believe that the keepers of similar collections elsewhere would report the same experience, and I believe that in consequence of this neglect writings on American history are less vital, less rich, less exciting to the spirit than they should be in view of the material at hand and the method provided by bibliographical science for its utilization.

The Press in the United States, Part III

The following is a transcription (Part III of III) of an article by Lawrence Wroth in his “Notes for Bibliophiles” column in the New York Herald Tribune, which ran 70 years ago.

The Press in the United States: A Perfect Tercentenary Exhibition, Part III (Conclusion)
[September 10, 1939]

In this department for Aug. 13 and 27 we indulged ourselves with the idea of setting up, with books borrowed from many libraries in this country and England, an exhibition of the first and unusual issues of the Colonial American press to celebrate the tercentenary of its establishment at Cambridge, Mass., in 1639. In those two articles we discussed the early presses of Massachusetts, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina. We continue with the story of the other colonies in which the printing press was found before the conclusion of the Revolution.

The press in New Jersey was established in 1754. Its earliest issue was “The Votes and Proceedings of the Assembly of New Jersey” of April, 1754, issued in the year named by James Parker, who had just moved his establishment to Woodbridge, in that colony. Again the Public Record Office in London would have to be drawn upon for a copy of this first New Jersey imprint for display in our exhibition. We have already spoken of Parker in connection with printing in New York, as one of the most skillful and enterprising printers of the colonies.

The press in New Hampshire was begun by Daniel Fowle, a printer of Boston, who, in 1754, issued a pamphlet entitled “The Monster of Monsters,” by Thomas Thumb, which was held to reflect upon the Massachusetts Assembly. After his pamphlet had been condemned and burned by the hangman and Fowle had been reprimanded, jailed, and ordered to pay costs, he turned his back upon Boston and settled with his press in Portsmouth, N. H. The earliest issue of his press in that place was the prospectus of a newspaper. No copy of that prospectus is now known, so that the first number of the newspaper itself, dated Oct. 7, 1756, must be regarded as the earliest known production of the New Hampshire press.

A journeyman printer named James Adams, after several years of service, left the firm of Franklin & Hall, of Philadelphia, in 1761, and went to Wilmington, Del., where, soon afterward, he announced that he had published a schoolbook, a ready reckoner, the “Wilmington Almanack for 1762” and a piece called “The Advice of Evan Ellis to his Daughter when at Sea.” No copies remain of the ready reckoner or the spelling book, but two at least of the known imprints of Adams’s first year are represented by actual copies. Four libraries, among them the Wilmington Institute Free Library and the American Antiquarian Society, are known to possess copies of the “Almanack,” and the John Carter Brown Library has a broadside entitled “The Advice of Evan Ellis to his Daughter when at Sea,” printed by James Adams in Wilmington, which, in all probability, is from the edition in question. Perhaps the best known issue of the Wilmington press in the eighteenth century was the celebrated “Discovery, Settlement and present State of Kentucke,” by John Filson, which James Adams printed in 1784, though the great map of Kentucky that went with it was engraved and printed in Philadelphia.

Though James Johnston went to Georgia in 1762 and received the appointment of printer to that colony, it is probable that he was not equipped with press and type at that time. At any rate, it was not until April, 1763, that he began the publication of a newspaper, and it was only in June of that year that he printed a group of acts of the Georgia Assembly, some of which had been passed four years earlier. It is generally assumed that the first of these to be mentioned in Johnston’s advertisement—that is, “An Act to prevent Stealing of Horses and Meat Cattle”—is the earliest Georgia imprint other than the “Georgia Gazette.” Copies of this act and of others of the group are found in the John Carter Brown and the Massachusetts Historical Society libraries.

The first press in Louisiana was set up in New Orleans at that critical moment in the history of the colony when France was in process of ceding it to Spain. The earliest piece brought out by Denis Braud, the first New Orleans printer, was a broadside of 1764 entitled “Extrait de la Lettre du Roi, a M. Dabbadie.” This was a notification to the Director General of the colony that Louisiana had been ceded to Spain—tragic news for the French settlers of Louisiana. The only known copy of that broadside is described by Douglas C. McMurtrie in “Early Printing in New Orleans” as in the Louisiana collection of Edward Alexander Parsons, of New Orleans. The early history of the press in Louisiana is of unusual interest because of its participation in the political changes of a period through which the country was, in turn, French, Spanish, French and American.

If we are to pay attention to present-day boundaries, the press in Vermont began in Westminster in 1780 with a Thanksgiving proclamation for that year printed by Judah Padock Spooner and Timothy Green. The beginnings of Vermont printing, however, are more interesting than this, for the first Vermont press was actually established in New Hampshire in the town of Dresden, now called Hanover. At that time Vermont was claiming as hers both banks of the Connecticut River, and Dresden lay on the eastern bank of the river, within the debatable territory. Here in the fall of 1778 the newly established Vermont Republic brought Alden Spooner, a printer of New London, and during the next two years that printer took an active part in the struggle of the Vermont settlers against the governments of New York and New Hampshire in carrying on what was known as the New Hampshire Grants controversy. A thanksgiving proclamation dated Oct. 18, 1778, and a sermon preached by Eden Burroughs, entitled “A sincere Regard to Righteousness and Piety,” are the earliest known issues of the Dresden press. A copy of the thanksgiving proclamation could be displayed only by courtesy of the Dartmouth College Library, but either the Library of the University of Vermont or the John Carter Brown Library could be called upon to lend a copy of the Eden Burroughs sermon.

A short-lived printing establishment was set up in Florida when, in 1783, William Charles and John Wells, sons of a loyalist printer and newspaper publisher of Charleston, S. C., fled before the American occupation of that city under Gen. Nathaniel Green. Together with many other South Carolina loyalists, they went to the British colony of East Florida and at St. Augustine began the publication of “The East Florida Gazette” in February, 1783. In 1784 two pamphlets are known to have come from the press. Probably the first of these was Samuel Gale’s “Essay II, On the Nature and Principles of Public Credit.” The other was the “Case of the Inhabitants of East Florida,” which is a presentation of the claims to compensation of the loyalists, an unhappy group who had hardly settled and taken up land in East Florida when they found the country ceded by Great Britain to Spain as the result of the Treaty of Paris. It would not be impossible to make a good showing of these early Florida imprints. A few numbers of “The East Florida Gazette,” the first St. Augustine newspaper, are found in the Public Record Office, London. The New York Public Library and the John Carter Brown Library have copies of the “Case of the Inhabitants of East Florida.” The only known copy of Gale’s “Essay II” in the St. Augustine edition, is in the possession of Mr. Thomas W. Streeter, of Morristown, N. J., who also owns a copy of the “Case of the Inhabitants.”

An exhibition of printing in the colonies would be incomplete without reference to certain foreign presses which operated in different parts of the country, especially in Pennsylvania, where the German element was always strong, and where, toward the eighteenth century came great numbers of French refugees from Santo Domingo. The printing establishment of Christopher Sauer, the elder, was responsible for the publication, in 1743, of “Biblia, Das ist: Die Heilige Schrift Altes und Neues Testaments,” the second Bible known with certainty to have been printed in America and the first to be published in a European language. The press of the Seventh Day Baptists Monastery, at Ephrata, Pa., began about the year 1745 a long series of books of great interest in the religious and social history of the Pennsylvania Germans. Among these was “Der Blutige Schau-Platz,” printed by the Ephrata brothers for the Mennonites of Pennsylvania. Completed in 1748, this book of 1,512 pages was the largest issue of the press in colonial America.

Among the notable French presses of Philadelphia was that established by Fleury Mesplet in 1774, and used by the Continental Congress for its propaganda addressed to the French of Canada. Later in the century, after the Santo Domingan revolution, the press of Moreau de St. Mery issued a number of extremely interesting political and sociological books. In Philadelphia, and in Boston also, French newspapers were published in the eighteenth century, and many pamphlets of interest to refugees from the West Indies and from France were issued.

The exhibition we have discussed in these three articles in “Notes for Bibliophiles” would represent material of fundamental, social and literary interest in the life and history of the United States, and would celebrate the beginnings of one of the most important present-day industries of the country.

Th Press in the United States, Part II

The following is a transcription (Part II of III) of an article by Lawrence Wroth in his “Notes for Bibliophiles” column in the New York Herald Tribune, which ran 70 years ago.

The Press in the United States: A Perfect Tercentenary Exhibition, Part II
[August 27, 1939]

In this department for August 13, we proposed to set up an exhibition of first and notable issues of the Colonial American press, celebrating in this way the beginning of printing in the United States by the press established at Cambridge, Mass., in 1639. Because of the wide dissemination of those first issues of the presses of the Colonies, a perfect, or nearly perfect, collection of them could be made for exhibition purposes only in the imagination. It is in the imagination, therefore, that we proceed with our borrowing for the purposes of our display of some of the rarest books known to the collector. We have already brought together, in our earlier installment, the “firsts” of the presses of Massachusetts, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York.

Printing began in Connecticut with the establishment of a press at New London in 1709 by Thomas Short. The first issues of Short’s press in that place and year were a separate “Act (for emitting Bills of Public Credit)” and a broadside entitled “By the Honourable Gordon Saltonstall Esq. Governour . . . of Connecticut . . . A Proclamation for a Fast.” The first of these could be contributed to the exhibition only by the Yale University Library; the second, by the Massachusetts Historical Society. The most important of the early issues of the Short press and one which would occupy a prominent place in the exhibition is “A Confession of Faith . . . Consented to . . . at Say-Brook September 9th, 1708.” This celebrated “Saybrook Platform” was printed in New London in 1710, though it seems likely that its publication did not occur until a year later. Short’s successor in New London was Timothy Green, one of whose early publications was the “Acts and Laws of Connecticut” of 1715. Timothy was a descendant of Samuel Green, the well remembered printer of Eliot’s Indian Bible and other important works of the Cambridge press. Beginning their devotion to printing with long service to the earliest press of the United States, the Green family is found active in the operation of establishments in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Maryland down to the year 1839, almost 200 years of continuous service to the craft by the members of a single family, an unusual American record.

James Franklin’s conflict with the Massachusetts authorities, arising out of certain publications in his “New England Courant,” was responsible for the establishment of the press in Newport, whither he and his wife, Anne, removed in the year 1727. Their earliest publication of that year, John Hammett’s “Vindication . . . of his separating from the Baptists” has disappeared completely from knowledge. The earliest extant Newport imprint, therefore, would be the copy of Poor Robin’s “Rhode-Island Almanack for the Year 1728” (printed in 1727), which would be represented in the exhibition by copies from the almanac collections of the Library of Congress and the Boston Public Library. Various libraries would be able to produce works that issued from the Newport press in 1728. The Rhode Island Historical Society has two or three items of that year including James Honeyman’s “Faults on All Sides,” a copy of which is also found in the John Carter Brown Library. This seems to be the most extensive book up to that time issued from the Newport press.

Printing began in Providence in 1762, when William Goddard established his press there and issued, first, a broadside announcing the fall of Morro Castle at Havana, and second, a circular for a theatrical performance. Neither of these can be shown in the exhibition because copies of them have not been located in any collection of today. The earliest issues of the Goddard press in Providence now to be found are a broadside “In Memory of Obadiah Brown” and a prospectus soliciting subscriptions to the “Providence Gazette,” which began publication on October 20, 1762. Both these pieces are known in unique copies in the Rhode Island Historical Society.

The prohibition of the press in Virginia by special orders of the King, in 1682, was effective in its operation for nearly fifty years. It was not until 1730 that William Parks, then public printer of Maryland, added to his duties the same office under the Virginia government and opened an establishment in Williamsburg. His earliest publications were “All the Publick Acts of Assembly in Virginia” of 1730; an edition of “The New Virginia Tobacco Law,” and a ready reckoner known as “The Dealer’s Pocket Companion.” None of these imprints is known today in an actual copy. The earliest of his issues of that year known to exist is the unique “Charge to the Grand Jury” by Governor Gooch, which is found in the Archives of Fulham Palace and, if shown, would have to be loaned to our exhibition by the Bishop of London. The other known publication of that year is “Typographia, an Ode on Printing,” by John Markland. This is the earliest American contribution to the literature of typography. The only recorded copy of the poem is found in the John Carter Brown Library. That library could also contribute to the exhibition a copy of the “Virginia and Maryland Almanack for 1732,” the earliest extant copy of an almanac published south of Pennsylvania, though Parks began his almanac publishing three years before the date of this item with John Warner’s “Almanack for the Year 1729,” published in Annapolis in 1728.

The first printers of South Carolina were George Webb, Eleazer Phillips jr., and Thomas Whitemarsh, all three of whom appeared in Charleston at about the same time as the result of actions at cross purposes by the Assembly and the Governor and Council. Late in 1731 a compromise was brought about as the result of which all of the three printers were given employment. Whitemarsh and Phillips established newspapers in 1732, but before this important service had been performed George Webb had brought out at least two pamphlets which must be regarded as the first issues of the press in South Carolina. Copies of these were discovered by Douglas C. McMurtrie a few years ago in England. They comprise a small pamphlet entitled “Anno Quinto Georgii II. Regis. At a Council . . . Tuesday, Oct. 19, 1731,” and a broadside proclamation by the governor dated “Nov. 4, 1731.” For the exhibition we are discussing it would be necessary to borrow both these pieces from the Public Record Office in London, where we have already found so many unique early American imprints, more especially, of course, such as relate to the governmental affairs of the colonies. Philips and Whitemarsh died in 1732 and 1733 respectively, and after his first publication of 1731, George Webb disappeared from the scene. The press was put upon a firm basis in South Carolina only when Lewis Timothy, a Huguenot who had been a journeyman of Franklin’s, went to Charleston in 1733, and took up the work begun by Whitemarsh, a former associate in Philadelphia.

In our display of South Carolina printing we would want to see also “An Essay on Currency,” which Timothy published in 1734 and which, until the discovery of the two Webb imprints, was regarded as the earliest issue of the South Carolina press in book or pamphlet form. That work would have to be borrowed for the exhibition from the Charleston Library. The most striking of the publications of the early Carolina press is unquestionably the edition of the “Laws of the Province of South Carolina,” compiled by Nicholas Trott and printed by Lewis Timothy in 1736. This was one of the earliest English-American books to be printed with a rubricated title-page.

To secure a proper representation of the work of the first printer of North Carolina, James Davis, of Newbern, it would be necessary again to go to the Public Record Office, that great repository of documents relating to England and her colonies, where would be found his first imprint, the “Journal of the House of Burgesses,” of September, 1749. All the North Carolina imprints which antedate the volume containing the Acts of Assembly, published in 1751, are to be found only in the Public Record Office. The “Collection of all the Acts of Assembly of North Carolina,” of Newbern, 1751, is the earliest publication of the North Carolina press existing in any considerable number of libraries.

The Press In the United States, Part 1

The following is a transcription (Part I of III) of an article by Lawrence Wroth in his “Notes for Bibliophiles column in the New York Herald Tribune, which ran 70 years ago.

The Press in the United States: An Ideal Tercentenary Exhibition
[August 13, 1939]

Many libraries have been putting on exhibitions this year to celebrate the tercentenary of the establishment of printing in the United States at Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1639. No library in existence has all the things needed to make a complete showing of first printings in each of the original colonies but it is possible to have a good deal of fun constructing imaginatively the best possible exhibition and, still in the realm of fancy, borrowing for it unique titles from their owners. Such an exhibition could be held anywhere the fancy suggests, but because of the association between the first Cambridge press and the “College,” we might plan to set it up in the Treasure Room of the Harvard College Library.

It is impossible, of course, to make such an exhibition perfect, even in dreams. There is no copy known, for example, of the very first thing printed by Stephen Day on his press in Cambridge, that is, the “Oath of a Free-man,” the celebrated formulary used by the Massachusetts government which, though a simple broadside, had implications of considerable importance in the political life of the country. The earliest printed form known to us at present of the “Oath of a Free-man” appears in a pamphlet of London, 1647, by John Child, entitled “New-England’s Jonas cast up at London.”

The second thing printed by the Cambridge Press was an almanac of which also no copy is known to be in existence today. Its third issue, the earliest of which there exists a known copy, has the distinction of being regarded as the first book printed in the United States. This was the “Whole Booke of Psalmes,” translated from the Hebrew by a committee of Massachusetts divines and printed in Cambridge in the year 1640. Though one of the most valuable of all books it is not by any means the rarest. Seven public libraries in the United States and England and three private individuals in the United States would be able to contribute eleven copies in varying states of completeness to our ideal exhibition. Without doubt the best copy to display as our beginning entry would be the perfect John Carter Brown Library copy, which first belonged to Richard Mather, one of the translators, and the editor of the volume. Another production of the Cambridge Press which would find place in this exhibition would be a “Declaration of Former Passages and Proceedings betwixt the English and the Narrowgansets,” a piece known more popularly as the “Narragansett Declaration,” and sometimes characterized as the first historical writing to proceed from the American press.

Another Cambridge book of special significance is the “Book of the General Lawes and Libertyes of the Massachusets” of the year 1648. That cornerstone of the structure of American legal and constitutional publication could be displayed only if the Huntington Library were able to lend its unique copy. John Eliot’s translation of the Bible into the Indian language, Cambridge, 1663, marks the high point of the New England effort to Christianize the Indians. Copies of that and of the “Platform of Church Discipline” of 1649 could be borrowed from a good many public and private collections.

When the Cambridge Press went out of existence in 1692 a printing house had already been operating in near-by Boston for seventeen years. Increase Mather’s “Wicked Man’s Portion,” printed in Boston, by John Foster in 1675, is said to be the earliest issue of the press in a city that ranked as the most distinguished publishing center of the country throughout the greater part of the Colonial period. In addition to this book our exhibition would have to show as an important publication of the early Boston press, William Hubbard’s “Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians.” The presence in this volume of a woodcut map of New England made by John Foster, the printer, gives it consequence as the first illustrated book of the United States.
The dissemination of printing in the United States was by no means regular and orderly in its geographical progress. The establishment of the press in Boston in 1675 was succeeded by the setting up of a press in Jamestown, Virginia, by William Nuthead in 1682. Unfortunately Nuthead was prohibited the exercise of his craft after he had run off a few trial sheets of the Assembly Proceedings. No copies of these are known to exist, and the press of Virginia does not find representation in our exhibition until nearly fifty years later. But the Jamestown printer, William Nuthead, removed to Maryland and established himself as a printer in St. Mary’s City. The earliest known product of the Maryland press, a blank form, was printed sometime before August, 1685, and would have to be procured from the Land Office at Annapolis, Maryland.
In order to exhibit an item from the Nuthead Press of greater interest than its legal forms, it would be necessary to borrow from the Public Record Office, London, the only known copy of an important broadside printed by William Nuthead in 1689, entitled “The Address of the Representatives of their Majestyes Protestant Subjects in the Province of Maryland.” The Nuthead Press was succeeded by the press of Thomas Reading, who in 1700 published the first Maryland book of collected laws, the earliest work of the sort printed outside Massachusetts, known today by the unique and imperfect copy in the Library of Congress. Reading was followed in Annapolis by the well remembered printer William Parks, afterward established in Williamsburg; and by Jonas Green, whose editions of Bacon’s “Laws of Maryland,” published in Annapolis, in 1765, is one of the handsomest and most elaborate publications of the Colonial printing house.

The press in Pennsylvania was begun in Dec., 1685, with the printing of William Bradford’s “Kalendarium Pennsilvaniense,” an almanac which could best be shown in the exhibition by borrowing two copies, that one owned by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the variant in the private library of Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach, of Philadelphia and New York. The press in Pennsylvania held the premier position among Colonial presses throughout the second half of the eighteenth century.

No exhibition of American printing would be adequate without a representation of the work of Benjamin Franklin. Every one would expect to see displayed a copy of his “Cato Major” of 1744, and since the Historical Society of Pennsylvania has shown by a recent publication the splendid typographical qualities of his Indian treaties it would be necessary to put in a few specimens of those important and handsomely printed documents. An excellent example of the group would be the “Minutes of Conferences, held with the Indians at Harris’s Ferry,” published by Franklin & Hall in 1757.

It might have been said of William Bradford by his contemporaries that he had the unworldly quality of choosing troublesome friends and remaining loyal to them. Such a comment would arise from the fact that Bradford supported George Keith, the rebel Quaker, in his attacks upon the Pennsylvania ruling organization, and so got into trouble with the government. The feeling of the authorities was so strong against him that when he was released from prison he found it desirable to remove himself to New York, where, in 1693, he established the first press in the small town later to become the metropolis of the country. Because of the difficulty of deciding what was the first issue of Bradford’s New York press it would be necessary to display two books in our exhibition. One of these would be a copy of “New England’s Spirit of Persecution Transmitted to Pennsilvania . . . in the Tryal of Peter Boss, George Keith, Thomas Budd and William Bradford,” a narrative largely prepared by George Keith and today found in several American collections, and “A Paraphrastical Exposition on a Letter from a Gentleman in Philadelphia to his Friend in Boston,” a poem by John Phillips directed against Samuel Jennings, who had presided at the Bradford trial. It would be necessary to draw upon the private collection of Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach for the only copy of “Paraphrastical Exposition” known today.

Among the more notable successors to Bradford in New York were John Peter Zenger, whose trial for libel in 1735 was an important incident in the long struggle for the liberty of the press; James Parker, James Rivington and Hugh Gaine. From Zenger’s list of publications one would display his “Charter of the City of New York,” 1735, and from Parker’s the “Charter of the College of New-York in America,” as representing works of typographical excellence as well as historical importance.