Boston Public Library Visit Part II : Oh Look, A Mistake

UPDATE 8/17/2008: I’ve just been in touch with Scott Maisano, the professor from UMass Boston who set up the exhibit.  I asked him about the “mistake” I found, and he clarified how it happened.  After the cards were printed and as the exhibit was being set up, a grad student found another copy of the Samuel Johnson (the 1795 Philadelphia).  They did not have time to print a new card, but did not want to leave the book out, so they put it in the case alongside its 1802 Boston cousin.  Scott tells me that they’ll be reprinting the card :).

Just got back from the BPL where I took a bunch of notes and pictures (albeit with my cellphone), I’ll try to put those up when I have more time.  I want to tell a better story. I’m about ready to leave, and I ask the librarian if this is all the Shakespeare material, motioning around me to the wall cases.  She says yes. 

As I’m leaving I walk past a very large standalone case and spot a picture of Caliban.  Sure enough, I’d missed a case.  “You forgot to mention this one,” I tell her with no small glare.  She doesn’t seem to care. There are three books in the case, which is titled “Coming To the USA”. 

One is a very large illustrated volume (where Caliban came from), but I don’t care all that much about it because we’ve had a few hundred years for people to do their own versions; there’s nothing really special about that one to me.

Sharing the case, though, are two smaller volumes with the name Samuel Johnson on them.  Now I’m interested. Particularly because only one of them is documented.  “Odd,” I think, “But I suppose they are just two different versions of the same book.”  Except, in rare books, are any two really the same?

The documented one is presented thusly:  “published by Munroe and Francis in 1802, the first edition published in America.”  The book itself does say Boston 1802 but makes no reference to first edition at all.

The undocumented one clearly states on its title page, “Philadelphia, first American edition, MDCCXCV.” That’s 1795, folks. Looks to me like a graduate student screwed up a little bit!  

The Munroe and Francis is titled this way:  The Dramatick works of William Shakespeare Printed complete with Dr. Samuel Johnson’s preface and notes, to which is prefixed the life of the author.”   The Philadelphia version is as follows:  The Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare, Vol 1, Collected from the latest and best London editions, with notes by Samuel Johnson, LLD to which are added a glossary and the life of the author.  embellished with a striking likeness from the collection of his Grace the Duke of Chandos.”   (I may have made a couple of transcription errors in there.)   I thought it was pretty neat.  Glad I didn’t miss that case.

2 thoughts on “Boston Public Library Visit Part II : Oh Look, A Mistake

  1. Someone certainly did screw up. As you noted, 1795 edition was the first American edition and the 1802 the second one. But of course, the Complete Works took up more than one volume: the 1795 was an 8 volume work and the 1802 was 9 volumes. I wonder what exactly was in that case.

  2. Both were small books, closer to quarto than folio sized. I want to say the 1795 was Vol 2. No specific mark that I can recall on the 1802.

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