THE HARVARD COLLEGE LIBRARY came into existence two years after the foundation of the College, largely through the bequest in 1638 of more than 300 titles (in all, more than 400 volumes) from the collection of the Reverend John Harvard, whose name the College in Newtown adopted as its own.1 Newtown itself was shortly renamed Cambridge.2 The first published reference to the library is in New England’s First Fruits (London, 1643), where it is described as “a large Library with some Bookes to it, the gifts of divers of our friends.” From about 1640 it was housed in the southeast chamber on the second floor of the Old College building, a structure located on or near the site of the present Grays Hall,3 perhaps preserved in some kind of cupboard, expanding to additional cupboards or bookshelves as the collection grew. Its growth was slow and depended entirely on private benefaction. For more than a century there were no endowed funds to support the purchase of books.
In the summer of 1676, when the Old College had become dilapidated beyond repair, the library was moved to the so-called New College (also known as Harvard Hall, the first of that name, and on the site of its present namesake) and installed in the central chamber on the second floor.4 It occupied that room when the Catalogus of 1723–35 was compiled, and until the disastrous fire of 1764. The “Præmonitio ad lectorem” of the Catalogus describes in general terms the structure of the shelving and the arrangement of books on the shelves, and further details can be gleaned from analysis of the printed shelf-marks, but nothing is known of the architecture of the bookcases or of the accommodation for readers beyond the meagre record that in 1679 the College paid John Palfrey £1.16.0.“for 1 doz. Stooles” for the library; that in 1695 the Corporation voted “That six leather Chairs be forthwith provided for ye Use of ye Library, & six more before ye Commencement in Case ye Treasury will allow of it” (but whether allowed or not is unknown); and that in 1741 three library tables were borrowed to augment the furniture for a grand banquet given in honor of Governor William Shirley’s inauguration.5
Each volume was assigned a three-part number: thus John Gauden’s Three Select Sermons (London, 1642) was marked 9.7.2, indicating that it was the second book on the seventh shelf from the bottom of the ninth bookcase; but another work by Gauden was shelved elsewhere. Such arrangements were awkward, as Thomas Hollis (third of that name)6 complained to President Benjamin Colman in a letter dated February 27, 1723/24:
Looking over your Catalogue, I remark, a fault as I think, all books of One Author, of same size, should stand together, wheras Goodwin, Owen &c. have divers others intervening, which is not easy to observ in a cursory viewe, unles a man read over the whole letter.7
Books were shelved by size, and evidently in the order in which they were received or processed. There was some attempt to keep broad subject categories together; thus theology and rabbinical works occupied nearly all of cases 1–11, but within this and other sections there was no consistent order, though sets remained together as a matter of course, and small segments were arranged alphabetically. The collection as it stood was a patchwork that could not have been easy to consult. Nevertheless it was a system familiar to anyone who knew the collegiate libraries in Oxford and Cambridge, and one that is still used in many closed-stack and storage libraries today.
In the early Harvard College Library the shelf-marks were written, usually in ink, on a front fly-leaf or the titlepage, and the last element of the number was also written on the fore-edge, showing that at first the books were shelved with their spines turned in. This was logical enough, since most books did not have spine titles until the latter part of the 17th century, and numbering in ink would not show up well on the generally prevalent dark brown bindings. Once a shelf-mark was assigned it was seldom changed.
The shelf-marks show that in 1723 the library filled twenty-three bookcases of seven shelves each, numbered from the lowest to the highest. How the bookcases were situated is unknown. Presumably most were placed at right angles to the walls and back to back, because otherwise the chamber could hardly have accommodated them. Given Harvard’s close relation to the colleges of Cambridge University, it is not surprising to find models in the early 17th-century fittings of such libraries as those of St. John’s College (1623–27), Peterhouse (1633), and the South Room of the Old University Library (1649).8 By the time the Supplementum was published in 1725, a twenty-fourth case had been added, and the Continuatio of 1735 indicates that two more were required during the next decade. We do not know how many more were needed before the fire of 1764, or exactly how they fitted into the library chamber.
The technical term for bookcase, as in English and continental libraries, was classis.9 Without much doubt the shelves were fixed in position. The lowest shelves were devoted to folios with the largest at the bottom, the uppermost to octavos and smaller formats, and the middle shelves to small folios, quartos, and large octavos—with exceptions, as expedient, in the boundaries where these formats met and mingled. By reconstituting a shelf of large folios using the shelf-marks as a guide, Hugh Amory has calculated that the bookcases were about five feet wide. They must have been some seven or eight feet tall.
Like their English models, the bookcases probably had provision for labels over them or on their ends, and to each was affixed a manuscript index or catalogue of the works it contained. None of these have survived, but we may assume from the extant Alcove Lists of the later library that they were true shelf lists. They recorded author, title, number of volumes, format, and shelf-mark, but not the place and date of publication. They may have provided the information from which the printed catalogue was compiled.10 There is no evidence that the library materially altered the arrangement of the books on its shelves during the next four decades, though it must have been increasingly cramped and inconvenient as it continued to grow.
With only four windows there can hardly have been enough natural light for the librarian and his readers, while the configuration of the room must have made it difficult to arrange furnishings and collections in a rational manner. Thomas Hollis III was not impressed by what he heard of the facility. In a letter to Benjamin Colman dated June 7, 1725, he wrote,
Your library is reckoned here to be ill managed, by the account I have of some that know it. You want seats to sett and read, and chains to your valluable books like our Bodleian library, or Sion College in London. You let your books be taken at pleasure home to Mens houses, and many are lost. Your (boyish) Students take them to their chambers, and teare out pictures and Maps to adorne the Walls; such things are not good.11
We do know that the room contained portraits of benefactors (including Thomas Hollis III) and others, and plaster and marble busts of writers and classical subjects. The College’s equipment for demonstrations in natural philosophy and its small museum collection were housed in a room on the floor below, and then and later were apparently in the care of the librarian. He generally dealt with his responsibilities single-handed, and he found the necessity of showing visitors the museum and its curiosities a burdensome distraction from his customary work in the library.
During the night of January 14–15, 1764, Harvard Hall caught fire and the books and philosophical apparatus it contained were destroyed. At that date it was the most substantial library in British North America. The General Court, the legislative body of the Province of Massachusetts, had taken over the Hall for its deliberations because of an outbreak of smallpox in Boston. The weather was cold, and a fireplace had been permitted to burn all night, setting fire to a beam below the hearthstone. A broadside printed the next day describes the loss.12 More than 5,000 volumes were consumed. The only survivors were the few that members of the college community had been permitted to withdraw and a hundred or so that had been received but not yet unpacked and put on the shelves: sixty-four volumes13 given by Thomas Hollis of Lincoln’s Inn (fifth of that name) and a consignment purchased with the bequest in 1761 of £50 from the late Lieutenant Governor Dummer, which the Corporation had been slow to spend.
The broadside launched an appeal for help in rebuilding the collection. There were many subscribers in the colonies.14 Thomas Hollis V inserted notices in the London journals soliciting gifts of money and books, and during the next six or seven years he contributed between two and three thousand volumes, most of them carefully selected and specially bound. On his death in 1764 he bequeathed £500 to establish the library’s first endowed fund, which still buys books today. His advertisements and his personal appeals inspired many other Englishmen to make contributions, large and small, of both cash and books.
For its part, the General Court undertook to rebuild Harvard Hall. The structure was completed within two years. Meantime the books poured in, their numbers more than making up for the lost collection. The library, increasing by leaps and bounds, moved into the west chamber on the second floor of the rebuilt Hall. Its new accommodation was larger and better lit than its former quarters; it occupied about two thousand square feet, with five large windows on each side and three more in the western end. The side windows were flanked on each side by two bookcases of about the same size as those in the Old Library, making ten alcoves of four cases each, very much on the English pattern.15 We have few details of the furnishings, but an attempt was made to replace such things as the portraits that once adorned the walls, for in the summer of 1764 Edward Wigglesworth, the first Hollis Professor of Divinity, wrote to Thomas Hollis V requesting him to give the college a new portrait of Thomas Hollis III. Thomas V immediately commissioned his favorite artist, Giovanni Battista Cipriani, to execute the picture, while modestly declining the invitation to supply a portrait “of another Person”—himself. The painting was shipped from London in September. In a letter to President Edward Holyoke of September 13, 1764, Hollis gave minute instructions about how it should be hung in order to be lit to best advantage, and how it should be cleaned should the need arise. The portrait still hangs in the Harvard College Library.
Kenneth E. Carpenter has traced the history of the attempts to cope with the stream of new accessions.16 The librarian whose tenure spanned both the fire and the beginning of renewal (1763–1767) was Andrew Eliot, Jr., of the Harvard class of 1762, the son of the Reverend Andrew Eliot who was one of Thomas Hollis V’s regular American correspondents. Young Eliot began an alphabetical catalogue of the library in 1765, working mainly from the donor lists. Little more than a simple inventory, his catalogue contained no shelf-marks; as in the Old Library, users had to rely on the manuscript Alcove Lists to find the books they wanted.17 Although he reserved spaces in his manuscript to insert later acquisitions, by 1768 it was crowded with interlineations and a supplement was begun, only to suffer the same fate within two years. Three librarians in rapid succession wrestled with the problem between 1767 and 1769, when William Mayhew assumed the post and produced a fresh alphabetical catalogue based on Eliot’s, for which the Corporation voted him £5 for twenty-five days of “extraordinary services” over and above his regular duties. But locating books remained a problem, for Mayhew, like Eliot, recorded no shelf-marks.
A more satisfactory catalogue was compiled during the next two or three years by the Reverend Amos Adams of the class of 1752, minister of the First Church in Roxbury and by statute a member of the Harvard Board of Overseers. He was particularly interested in the library and served on several committees concerned with it. Adams’s alphabetical catalogue is surprisingly orderly and systematic, suggesting that he may have constructed some kind of slip-file to prepare for it. To be sure, it was soon marred by interlineations and interleaving to accommodate current accessions, and the last datable entry was made in 1774, but it was a genuine finding aid and must have been invaluable for users of the library. He recorded shelf-marks as well as the names of donors, both innovations. The shelf-marks now had four elements: alcove, bookcase (classis), shelf (altitude), and position on the shelf (liber 1, 2, 3, etc.). The alcoves were numbered 1–10, with the odd numbers on one side of the room and the even on the other. In each alcove the cases were numbered 1–4, and the shelves, as before, were numbered from bottom to top. Cases contained eight or occasionally nine shelves. Tradition dies hard, particularly in New England, and the shelves were apparently five feet long, as in the Old Library. Charles William Eliot would have been gratified. While in the pre-fire library the last element of the shelf-number was written on the fore-edge, in the new library the college binder stamped the last element in gold in large numerals on the spine of most volumes.
A major innovation was the decision to keep certain large gifts as separate units. All eight bookcases in Alcoves 2 and 4 were reserved for books given by Thomas Hollis V, with some overflow in Case 1 of Alcove 6. Among the other gifts received was £300 voted by the General Assembly of the Province of New Hampshire for its own university, but generously transferred to Harvard after the fire. The 743 volumes it bought were placed in Alcove 3. Thomas Hancock of Boston had promised £500, but died before fulfilling his pledge; his nephew, John Hancock, not only carried out his uncle’s wishes but gave an additional £54 4s., thus adding more than a thousand volumes, which were kept in Alcove 1. Other substantial benefactions were similarly segregated. Tablets in the appropriate alcoves recorded the names of the donors. Soon after 1774, continued growth forced the introduction of a fifth bookcase in most alcoves, containing two or in some instances three shelves and probably located under the window.18 There was some apparent effort to arrange the remaining books roughly by subject, but once again the shelves presented a patchwork of small clusters, and must have been correspondingly hard to consult with only one small manuscript volume to identify both the works and their shelf-marks. The awkward alternative was to search through the inventories of individual alcoves.
The Catalogus librorum, in Bibliotheca Cantabrigiensi selectus, frequentiorum in usum Harvardinatum qui gradu Baccalaurei in artibus nondum sunt donati, is the first American library catalogue purporting to address an undergraduate audience, and responds to new directions in the curriculum and governance of the college and thus in the use of the library. Under the laws of 1767, Junior Sophisters were admitted to the library for the first time, and the librarian was directed to draw up a list of books in “common use”; in instruction, the professors were deserting the compendia of logic and physics of an earlier age, and their subjects were being distributed into faculties.19 The College had even acquired an instructor in French. Like its predecessor of fifty years earlier, the 1773 Catalogus prints the shelf-marks except when it recommends a work in multiple volumes or the entire works of an author, when it gives only the alcove number or the alcove and classis. Since it does not always specify the number of volumes in such instances, it is impossible to calculate with accuracy the number of books to which it offered access or to know what proportion of the library it represented. It was selective according to unstated rules, and rapidly outdated as the library continued its remarkable growth.
Meanwhile there was another abortive attempt to begin a catalogue in manuscript, interrupted by the British occupation of Boston, when troops of the Continental Army were quartered in College buildings and it was deemed prudent to evacuate a large part of the library to the town of Concord for safekeeping. When the books returned to Cambridge, yet another manuscript catalogue was compiled devoted to the previously unlisted collection of tracts or pamphlets.
The library as it stood at another milestone was described by an unidentified writer in the Massachusetts Magazine for June, 1790
Over the Chapel, on the second floor [of Harvard Hall], is the Library, containing thirteen thousand books, disposed in ten alcoves, in each of which is a window, and over the windows inscriptions to perpetuate the names of the benefactors. . . . The floor of the library is covered with a rich carpet, and the walls are ornamented with various paintings and prints.”20
Governor John Hancock had provided the carpet. Three years earlier, when Isaac Smith became librarian, the library numbered more than ten thousand volumes. Its crowded and unsystematic shelves became increasingly difficult to consult. The Corporation set up a Committee to examine the state of the library, as a result of which a new catalogue was undertaken with the intention of having it printed. This produced the Catalogus of 1790, now organized by subject, as discussed below (p. XXIII). But, probably to reduce its bulk and the expense of printing it, shelf-marks were not included. Away from the premises, one could discover whether the library had a given book, but not where it might be found on the shelves.
Interleaved and annotated copies of the Catalogus provided the essential tools for readers and a glimpse of the physical arrangement of the library at that stage. Three special quarto copies on writing paper, all annotated differently, are preserved in the Harvard Archives.21 They are sturdily and plainly bound in brown calf, each in two volumes. Copy B contains more of the original shelf-marks than the others and appears to have been the control copy. A note pasted on the flyleaf of volume I states: “Marked by the Commee. of 1822,” referring to a group designated to oversee the reorganization and reshelving of the collection, which by that date was beginning to approach 30,000 volumes—an early warning of a geometric growth, which would turn alarmingly hyperbolic around 1890.22 Although it is not a part of the present story, it should be noted that the Committee of 1822 (and subsequent years), working with a succession of scholarly librarians,23 determined that with few exceptions, shelving by donors should be abandoned in favor of subject classification. Thus, Bibles, concordances, orientalia and rabbinic literature were placed in Alcove 11; logic and metaphysics in 12; classical authors and critica sacra in 13; ethics, law, trade, and commerce in 14; and so on. The celebrated Harvard practice of browsing was now possible. (As a matter of piety, some of the handsomest volumes presented by Thomas Hollis V were kept together, a custom continued to the present day.) The Committee used Copy C to record the new shelf-marks in a sanguine crayon, the same with which the numbers were written in the books themselves. As they did so, they crossed out the old shelf-marks in Copy B. Copy A contains the original shelf-marks only up to p. 211, the fifth page of the catalogue of tracts. It was evidently a spare copy intended to cover only the more important part of the library.
Long before 1822 the library had expanded to occupy the whole second floor of Harvard Hall, with twenty alcoves together with four cabinets for oversize volumes and several drawers for maps and prints. On the basis of the work of the Committee, the next (and last) printed catalogue of the Harvard Library was compiled by Benjamin Peirce and published in 1830. It describes the appearance of the library at that time:
Over the windows of several of [the alcoves] are inscribed the names of Hollis, Hancock, Lee, Palmer, Thorndike, Eliot [the last three being 19th-century donors]. The apartments are decorated with pictures and busts, particularly of the principal benefactors of the University and great men of our country, executed by Copley, Stuart, and other distinguished artists.24
Its arrangement was strictly alphabetical, in two volumes with a third volume devoted to a subject index—but again printed without shelf-marks. Not until 1840, on the eve of moving the collection into its own new building in Gore Hall, did Peirce’s successor Thaddeus William Harris persuade the Corporation to authorize the first card catalogue, able to grow and change with the library and with every entry including a call-number.
Until then, the interleaved copies recorded changes in the library. “Lost” books were marked as such; volumes irreparably damaged in 1795 by a leaky roof over Alcove 5 were noted as “removed”; those sold by order of the Corporation in 1815 were so recorded; books prohibited from circulation were properly marked. When a separate library for the Medical School was established, the volumes transferred from the general collection were marked “Removed to Holden [Chapel, the first medical classroom]”; similar transfers for the new Law School Library were also recorded—the beginning of decentralization at Harvard. We can only be grateful for the preservation of historical evidence that these documents represent.
THE THREE CATALOGUES reproduced in this volume were compiled in a style unfamiliar to the modern reader, and each has its own peculiar features. No one should be surprised at this; standards for cataloguing were unknown, reference works were few, and the compilers had no formal training. They were concerned to record the contents of the library to the best of their knowledge and ability. The librarians had neither means nor training to regularize their work. Consequently anomalies abound. The Index and Concordance is designed to alleviate the difficulties encountered by modern readers.
In the absence of established standards and given the lack of reference books, the early cataloguers were frequently unable to identify the authors of anonymous works. They often employed two or more forms of name for known authors (the champion being Paolo Sarpi, who appears under seven more or less confusing variants in addition to his own name). Occasionally elements of the title were mistaken for the name of the author, or vice versa. Titles were mistranscribed, or intentionally inverted in order to emphasize what the cataloguer considered the most important words (a kind of primitive subject-cataloguing). A few defective books lacking titlepages were simply assigned what the librarian thought might be an appropriate title. Places and dates were sometimes wrongly read or garbled. Of course there was also the usual complement of typographical errors.
However it may have appeared to an eighteenth-century scholar, the Catalogus of 1723 is especially baffling for the present-day user. It groups the books first of all by format (folios, p. 1–35; quartos, p. 35–65; octavos &c., p. 65–99), a system followed by the Supplementum published with it (p. 100–102), the Continuatio Supplementi of 1725 (paged 103–112), and the Continuatio Catalogi of 1735 (paged 113–124). Within each of the twelve groups so created, books are arranged alphabetically by the first letter of the name assigned to the author, or of the title if anonymous; but they are not further alphabetized. Instead they are listed in the order of the twenty-six bookcases in which they were housed, then by the shelf in the case, and finally by their position on the shelf. Anyone wishing to determine whether the “Old Library” included a certain work or edition, or works by a given author, must therefore search the entire catalogue, and be prepared to interpret its eccentricities. Its greatest virtue is that it prints a positive location for every book it lists, and thus helps us to visualize the layout of the library.
Catalogus librorum . . . selectus, frequentiorum in usum (1773) was the first catalogue published after the fire of 1764 destroyed most of the original collection. It is the shortest of the three, and is arranged in a single alphabetical sequence (there are a few exceptions, but they are accidental). Therefore it most resembles what a modem reader would expect, but it too has its share of variants and errors. Like the earlier Catalogus it states the location for all or most volumes, but location does not affect the order in which books and authors are listed. It is the first published record of the arrangement of the post-fire library, and shows that the books were now housed in nine alcoves, each containing four bookcases. There was a tenth alcove, but at first it was vacant and presumably represented space for expansion.
The Catalogus of 1790 represented an attempt to make the library more accessible by adopting a subject approach. In “Pars I” entries are listed under fifty-four topics ranging from “Agricultura” to “Vocabularia,” and in each section they are arranged alphabetically by author (or title, for anonyma). “Pars II” lists tracts (pamphlets) under fourteen topics, from “Tractatus Biographici” to “Tractatus Theologici,” alphabetically as in “Pars I.” No locations were recorded, probably because they would have unduly swelled the size of the publication. Instead, shelf-marks were written in the margins of several copies kept available for reference. These copies were also interleaved in order to record subsequent accessions. In addition, each alcove had a catalogue or shelf-list in manuscript. (The same was probably true of the pre-fire library.)
While an improvement, this system had drawbacks. There was no index. The cataloguer was not always sure to which subject a book should be assigned, and might be misled into choosing the wrong topic. Many books could be entered under more than one subject, sometimes but not always resulting in duplicate entries. When baffled by the choice, the puzzled librarian often recorded them under “Miscellanea,” a grab-bag of twenty-four pages exceeded in length only by “Theologia,” or in the fifteen and a half pages of “Tractatus Miscellanei.” While it is somewhat easier for a modern reader to locate a book or author in the 1790 catalogue than in that of 1723–35, it still can be an uncertain quest.
Many sources have been consulted in the attempt to identify the entries in the three catalogues. These include the card catalogues in the Harvard Library known as the Public Catalogue, the Bridge Catalogue in the Houghton Library, as much of the Official Catalogue in Widener Library as remained before it was discarded, and the machine-readable catalogues known as HOLLIS. The data-base of ESTC proved extremely fruitful and easy to search for many difficult titles and authors, although it presents some problems with duplicate entries and variant names. The most useful printed catalogues were those of the Bibliothéque Nationale, the British Museum (searched in book form and on CD-ROM, which proved less easy to consult), the National Union Catalogue, and the Thomason and McAlpin Catalogues, along with STC and Wing and various subject and author bibliographies and such standard references as Halkett & Laing. Some stubborn entries yielded only to the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century compilations of Georgi, Draud and Lipen.
My co-editor, Hugh Amory, solved most of the many puzzles remaining after I had exhausted these resources, and he explored the mysteries of digital scanning for facsimile reproduction. He also reduced to logical order some of the most complex sections of the index, such as Great Britain and Bible. Other library colleagues, in particular Katharine F. Pantzer and Charles Berlin, gave invaluable help with difficult identifications. Responsibility for whatever inaccuracies survive must remain with the compiler.
The editors will welcome revisions, corrections, and suggestions from its users. A passage from the fourteenth-century catalogue of the Benedictine Priory of St. Martin at Dover is very much to the point in enterprises like this: “And in truth the compiler will not be offended but will honestly love anyone who shall bring this register—which is still faulty in many respects—into better order, even if he should see fit to place his own name at the head of the whole work.”25 The last word remains with the author of the preface to the 1790 Catalogus: “Quæcunque errata in hac editione inveniantur, in alterâ castigari possint”—if there should chance to be another edition.
W. H. B.
THE 1723 CATALOGUE responded to requests by Thomas Hollis, a wealthy Baptist ironmonger, and Daniel Neal, the first librarian of Dr. Williams’s Library in London, the great repository of English Nonconformist literature. Neal had recently published an account of Harvard College Library in his History of New-England (1720):
Harvard College being built, a Foundation was laid for a Publick Library, which was a Work of absolute Necessity; Books being so scarce in the Country that it was impossible for the Students to purchase them; the first furniture of this Library was the Books of Dr. William Ames . . . whose Widow and Children, after the Dr’s. Death transported themselves, and their Effects, into these Parts . . . but the most considerable Accession . . . came by the Death of the Rev. Mr. Theophilus Gale, an independent Minister in London . . . since which time  it has only received some small Additions, from private Hands, and yet before the End of the Century, it was encreased to between three and four Thousand Volumes . . .26
The account is indeed surprisingly inaccurate: the foundation collection was not, of course, Ames’s library, which was sold after his death in 1634 in Amsterdam,27 but John Harvard’s; Gale’s collection, though large (it increased the size of the library by a third) was not the last considerable gift that Harvard had received, for Sir John Maynard’s bequest was so important that it led to a sale of duplicates in 1698.28 The plight of the seventeenth-century student, moreover, was not greatly alleviated by the existence of a “public library” to which only the Corporation and seniors enjoyed access.
So misinformed, however, Hollis wrote to President Wadsworth offering assistance:
My Cousin Neale did hint to you and I now second it that you should doe well to send over to him and to some others a printed Catalogue of your College library that they may know what books you have and it is now a likely time for you to be supplied with many, that you may want, by one hand and another.29
The Corporation accordingly directed Joshua Gee to prepare a catalogue of the library, presumably based on the “Library book” that, since 1667, had recorded the books in three sequences: author-title (but without imprint data, which Gee was unable to recover without the books in hand); by shelf-mark; and by benefactor.30 In late December 1723, after he had left the Library to become a minister at Old North Church, Gee submitted his bills, which survive in the Harvard University Archives.31 These show that Harvard employed the bookseller Samuel Gerrish as its principal agent in the matter: though he does not appear in the imprint, he supplied the paper, and folded and stitched the catalogues ready for use.32 The actual printing was done by Bartholomew Green Jr., “Academiæ typographus” as he styles himself in the imprint, and as his father had been before him. Despite this grand title, Green ventured little more than his labor, and he did not find the task an easy one, as Gee explained in his letter transmitting the accounts:
The Printers first Agreement was to work for 30/ a Sheet. But he tells me that he found the work, by reason of so much Latin in it abundantly more difficult than he at first expected [& he?] has therefore added 5/ a Sheet, in confidence that the Rev CORPORATION would not have any be loosers by working for them as he must be according to his first Proposal.
30 shillings a sheet for 400 copies (the equivalent of 75 shillings for 1000 copies) was already on the high side; Green’s successor, John Draper, charged only 50/ or 60/ per 1000 copies for most jobs.33 Green’s confidence in the Corporation’s generosity, then, was somewhat disingenuous, but the Corporation added 40 shillings (or about 3/ a sheet) to the original price, making £22 5s. instead of the £23 12s. 6d. that he had hoped for.
Gerrish had apparently arranged to take 100 copies of the catalogue for himself, paying only for the paper, but he forgot to include the cost of folding and stitching, and regretted this advantageous bargain (as it might seem to us today). He therefore submitted three alternative accounts to Gee, for (1) the paper used to print the Corporation’s 300 copies; (2) the paper and stitching for these 300 copies; and (3) the paper and stitching for all 400 copies. With amazing gall, he explained,
You will easily observe that upon the first Acco[un]t I shall not only be damnified 3li 15s in [have]ing no pay for my Stiching 300 But that the Paper on w[hi]ch I printed the fourth hundred will be lost to me (if the Catalogues sh[oul]d not sell) which article alone amounts to 3li 12s. so that in all I shall be a looser above £7.
The Corporation, not surprisingly, rejected this reasoning, and paid only his lowest bill, of £11 14s., voting to “consider of his other acc[oun]ts, if he shall find himself obliged on a further tryall of his Market to desire a further Consideration thereof.”34 “Further Consideration,” however, seems to have proved unnecessary.
These accounts reveal some unexpected inefficiencies in the production of the catalogue, at least by comparison with English practice. Gerrish charged the Corporation for nine reams fourteen quires of “Large fine Printing Paper” at 24s. a ream, to print their 300 copies. There were 13 ½ sheets in the 1723 Catalogus, so that 300 copies should have required 4050 sheets in all. A ream is nominally 500 sheets, as supplied by the paper maker, but printers customarily reckon 20 of these as “waste” to allow for short counts, imperfect sheets, and proofing; and a quire is a twentieth of a ream, making 25 sheets as supplied or 24 sheets as “perfected.” Depending on whether Gerrish supplied perfected or unperfected reams, Green used between 4656 and 4850 sheets of paper to print Harvard’s copies; in short, he produced roughly 418 usable sheets per ream, at a wastage of between 13% and 17%, compared with the customary allowance (on unperfected reams) of 4% in London.
What this inefficiency represents, however, is harder to say, and not just because of the uncertain size of the ream; Gerrish’s arithmetic is wobbly, or he charges the same items at different rates. Thus he billed the 100 copies that he ordered for himself at only three reams, which works out to 450 sheets per ream, a more credible margin of waste (though still a little high). Conceivably, the difference between his copies and Harvard’s means that his copies were “last out,” i.e. printed after Harvard had absorbed the cost of the proofing; more likely, given the primitive state of eighteenth-century accounting, and the exceptionally high rate of Green’s “waste”, we should assume that Green overprinted copies on his own account, and charged them to Harvard. John Usher’s privilege for the Massachusetts Laws of 1672 explicitly provides against such practices and, as “Academiæ typographus,” Green may have been accustomed to some douceur. Certainly the Corporation was more indulgent to his incompetence than to Gerrish’s, and other colonial printers were no better: in a bill of 1784 for printing the Laws of Connecticut, Timothy Green printed some 422 usable sheets per ream.35 Assuming that Gerrish provided reams of 480 sheets, and that Green operated at a uniform rate of 6% waste (i.e. 30 sheets per ream, or Gerrish’s rate), we might calculate that Green overprinted 24 copies for himself at the Corporation’s expense, or garnered in 13 ½ quires of paper, worth about 17s. 6d.
On these assumptions, 424 copies of the 1723 Catalogus were actually printed: 100 for sale by Samuel Gerrish; 24 for Bartholomew Green; and 300 to be distributed hors commerce by the College. The College paid £20 to Joshua Gee for “preparing the Catalogue,” £11 14s. to Gerrish for the paper, and £22 5s. to Green for printing 400 copies; Gerrish bore the cost of stitching all 400 copies (£5) and of the paper of his 100 copies (£3 12s.). The cost of the College’s copies was thus about 3s. 7d.; of Gerrish’s, about 8 ½ d.; and of Green’s, little or nothing. In 1740, when one imagines that Gerrish’s and Green’s stocks were exhausted, the College finally allowed Senior Sophisters to purchase a copy for 5s.36 Green’s copies presumably sold locally, but Gerrish, like other Boston booksellers of the time, probably had a wider market, extending up and down the Atlantic seaboard—not that there could ever have been much demand for the catalogue outside of Boston.
Even though it gave shelf marks, so that, as Joshua Gee pointed out in his preface, “the location of every book in its case should be quite easy to find,” the 1723 Catalogus could not often have provided access to the books: the manuscript “Library book” and the manuscript “indexes” on the end of each case or classis were more convenient for this purpose and more up-to-date. The purpose of the Catalogus was rather to build the collections. The Corporation immediately dispatched 100 copies of the catalogue to England, to be distributed among likely donors: 6 to the Colony’s present London agent Samuel Shute, 6 to its agent extraordinary, Elisha Cooke, and 12 to its former agent, Jeremiah Dummer; 6 to the College agent, Henry Newman; 6 to John Chamberlayne, author of the annual Magnæ Britanniæ Notitia and an old friend of New England (who, however, died before they arrived); 4 to John Lloyd, a merchant; and 30 apiece to the instigators of the project, Hollis and Neal.37 Neal, however, failed to pass out more than eighteen catalogues and gave the rest of his share to Hollis, who gave them away and asked for 30 more. The actual harvest of books that resulted from this distribution was mostly limited to his own benefactions and to those of Nonconformist ministers like Benjamin Avery (whom poor President Colman, at Hollis’s direction, had to thank in rather rusty Latin).38 The merchants who met at the New England Coffeehouse, Hollis reported, were not greatly interested in the project, “saying how Rich, how numerous you are, and able to buy what you want of yourselves &c.”39 In Massachusetts itself, copies were presented to the Overseers (the Congregational ministers of Boston and the five townships adjoining it), the President and Fellows of Harvard, the two Professors and five tutors, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, making some 30 complimentary Colonial copies in all.
About 160 copies, or well over half the College stock, then, were immediately given away, most of them in England; it is of some interest that none of these English copies can be identified today, not even in Dr. Williams’s Library, where Neal presided, and whose trustees figure prominently among the recipients of the catalogues. The only contemporary English provenances known to me are Nathaniel Crynes’s, at the Bodleian, and Sir Richard Ellys’s, still stabbed, as issued, now in Blickling Hall;40 the Cambridge University Library copy was acquired in the nineteenth century and its previous history is obscure. Ellys had dissenting connections, as, perhaps, had Crynes, since a Nathaniel Crynes was elected a member of the Ancient and Hnourable Artillery Company of Boston in 1685. The early provenance of American copies is exclusively Harvardian, as we might expect: Nicholas Sever (hc 1701; MH-H); Thomas Prince (hc 1707; MB); Samuel Gerrish (hc 1733; CtHWatk); Isaiah Dunster (hc 1741; MBAt); Robert Treat Paine, the Signer (hc 1749; MH Archives); James Bowdoin, Jr. (hc 1771; MeB); and Thaddeus Mason Harris (hc 1787; MSaE).41 Only Sever is likely to have acquired his copy ex officio, since Bowdoin and Harris only became officials after the 1764 fire; Dunster and Paine bought their copies as Seniors from the College for 5s.; and Gerrish was the bookseller’s son. None of these copies show much evidence of use; few owners could have read their copies as attentively as Hollis, who complained that the entries were not in strict alphabetical order and that the librarian should not have set Dr. Avery’s name to his Occasional Papers when Avery himself saw fit to conceal it.42
Bartholomew Green was certainly operating out of his usual depth, since his only experience in printing Latin was the annual half-sheet Harvard Theses and Quæstiones, and it must be said that the Green family, though famous for the number of early colonial printers it supplied, was wanting in initiative. Latin has different typographical requirements than English, for which Green was better equipped, and his Greek type is of a different size from his pica roman and italic. The alphabetical arrangement strained Green’s limited resources (the variety of initial capitals, both italic and roman, is only too visible). The unusual format (quarto in 2s) almost certainly reflects these limitations: by setting and printing only 4 pages at a time (i.e. two copies of each signature per sheet, by “half-sheet imposition”), Green conserved his stock of type. In all these respects, the catalogue is clearly “illiterate.”
The Continuation of 1725, prepared by John Hancock, describes the books received as a result of Hollis’s efforts: Gerrish charged £6 17s. 6d. for paper and stitching 300 copies.43 James Diman prepared the 1735 Continuation, printed by Green’s successor and son-in-law, John Draper, in only 200 copies.44 There is no evidence that the second Continuation was ever distributed in England, or that either Continuation was sold to Seniors, and the reduced 1735 print-run might suggest that the Corporation only pursued the project out of deference to Hollis, who died in 1731. Perhaps because of the efforts of Hollis and his friends, the overwhelming emphasis of the library on divinity persisted.
The 1773 Catalogue looks back to a provision of the 1767 Library Laws, for a catalogue of books in “common use”, and manuscript copies may have circulated before its appearance in print.45 Its printing and publication is somewhat mysterious, in part because Thomas Hubbard, the Treasurer, died before the bills came due. The Corporation unwisely appointed John Hancock as his successor, who left for the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1774, taking the Harvard records with him, which were not retrieved for three years. The only cash book to survive for his tenure did not enter the Harvard Archives until 1926, and it ends at about the time when he left town, with no record of payment to the printers. The Corporation records name only a “Committee for Preparing Catalogues for the Library,” which presumably included the fainéant Librarian, James Winthrop, to whom it is usually attributed. Printing was still incomplete on 31 Jan. 1774, when the Corporation resolved to present a copy “to each member of the Hon[oura]ble House of Representatives, whenever they are printed.”46 In 1775, when the British Army occupied Boston, the College removed itself and the Library to Concord and one suspects that the Catalogue—for all its emphasis on practical realities—in fact saw little use. Indeed, unless the College paid their bill, Edes and Gill may have sold the catalogue on their own account to anyone who would buy it.
The 1790 catalogue too was prepared by a committee, of the Librarian Isaac Smith, the Hancock Professor Stephen Sewall, and the Assistant Librarian Hezekiah Packard.47 It was printed in a run of 300 copies, but the printers, Thomas and Jonathan Fleet, wisely refrained from producing more on their own account; we may also note that the Fleets provided their own paper. Their peculiar accounting for a “book” of 300 pp. at 3s. each, plus 4 ¼ sheets at 2d. each implies that the Committee originally estimated that the catalogue would be complete in 300 pp. (or 18 ¾ sheets octavo),48 and requested estimates on this basis. The charge of 2d. a sheet is roughly at the same rate as the charge of 36d. for a “book” of 18 ¾ sheets. In addition to the ordinary-paper octavos, 4 special quarto copies on “writing Demy” paper were printed, with “large Margin” ready to be annotated with shelf marks and future acquisitions; three of these copies survive today in the Harvard Archives, so annotated. Two hundred copies in ordinary paper received a temporary binding of “Marble and blue Paper,” ready for distribution; one survives so bound in the Essex Institute. The most interesting copy of the catalogue, however, is Thaddeus Mason Harris’s (Smith’s successor), who annotated it with many additions during his tenure as Librarian (1791–94),49 and it is clear from this copy that Harris drew up a printed errata slip, known to me only from the Brinley copy at the Watkinson Library in Hartford, and reproduced in this edition.
The schedule of distribution forms a fascinating contrast to that of 1723: 50 copies were assigned to the Library, 24 of them “not to be lent out”; 12 more to the Governor and other officials of Massachusetts; one each to the President, Fellows, professors and tutors of Harvard—making some 20 copies in all; and perhaps 20 more to the Harvard Overseers. Seven copies were sent to the President and other high officials of the United States, some fifteen to American colleges and learned societies, and “one to each Academy in this Commonwealth”—making in all perhaps 32 American copies outside Harvard’s governance. Overseas, Harvard sent copies to the British Museum, Derby College, and five British and three French learned societies and eight British benefactors including Joseph Priestley.50 Harvard now located itself and its library in an international, nonsectarian world of learning; an interest reciprocated by figures like Christoph Daniel Ebeling, whose collection of Americana, assembled for the instruction of his merchant students in Hamburg, was eventually purchased for Harvard. The College had come a long way since 1725, when the Corporation demurred at a gift of Pierre Bayle’s Dictionnaire historique et critique and the proceedings of the Académie des inscriptions because they were in French.
The relation between these catalogues and the functioning of Harvard College is not easily made out. Before 1723, the only evidence of use is from the books that the 1723 catalogue records as missing; most of these (including about a fifth of John Harvard’s gift), I suppose, were already missing in 1667, when the Corporation first appointed a librarian and established “laws” for the library. The inadequacy of the collection for scholarly work, even after 1723, appears from a 278 page folio list of “The Lives, Characters & Works of All the Authors in Those Arts & Sciences w[hi]ch I intend to gain an insight into,” drawn up by the tutor Nathan Prince in the 1720s and 1730s. His main sources for these desiderata were John Wilford’s Monthly Catalogue (1726–32), the Acta Eruditorum of Leipzig, the Philosophical Transactions, and Thomas Hyde’s catalogue of the Bodleian Library.51 The charging records of the books in the 1790 catalogue survive, and as Thomas Jay Siegel has argued, suggest that the liberalization of the curriculum was, as we would expect, accompanied by a broadening in the use of the library; but the change is difficult to date without evidence for the use of the earlier library.52
The 1773 catalogue of books that were “more frequently used” is probably prescriptive rather than descriptive, though evidence is scanty. The private manuscript catalogue of Ebenezer Thayer’s library, drawn up 1760–66, when he was a Harvard tutor, is, however, suggestive. He owned only 304 volumes and 220 sermons (possibly unbound), yet a number of officers, friends and other tutors resorted to this collection rather than to the College Library for loans, including “Mr John Adams of Braintree (Lawyer)” and even “ye Presdt” Edward Holyoke.53 And a few volumes survive from student libraries that should remind us how many fish there were in the sea that were never netted in the Bibliotheca Harvardina: Samuel Browne (HC 1727), for example, owned a volume of Restoration drama, though College rules forbade the performance of plays on threat of suspension.54 Finally, the accounts of Jeremy Condy show that Harvard students were among his most important customers for titles listed in the Gentleman’s Magazine,55 a class of material poorly represented in the pre-fire collection.
The most visible change between the pre- and post-fire libraries is surely the enormous expansion of the pamphlets or “tractatus”. Before the fire, pamphlets were relatively infrequent, separately bound, and treated on a par with books, as a glance at the top shelves and the productions of the Mathers shows. After the fire, they were bound up in tract volumes by subject—a treatment so usual, indeed, that one inevitably wonders whether the pre-fire library did not in fact include a similar collection that was never catalogued. Certainly, even in European libraries, cataloguing of such materials often remained primitive down to the twentieth century, and it is interesting that Harvard librarians recognized the importance of this material just when, as Bernard Bailyn has shown, it was becoming particularly significant for American culture. The cataloguing, indeed, is often so imperfect that (as Professor Bond and I have found to our cost) the identification of the piece in the modern collection is inordinately time-consuming. Nevertheless, it is in such material, and not in theologians like Zanchius and Ames, oddities like the Malabaric New Testament, or occasional copies of Spenser that “the Book in New England” centers.56
The 1790 library is still unrepresentative of popular book-culture—of, for example, the overwhelming numbers of English Bibles, ballads, chapbooks and almanacs in general possession, to say nothing of novels or even of American imprints; but it has a familiar face, to a Harvard librarian, whereas the 1723 library is strange, resembling a rare-book library that is somehow assuming the airs of a core collection. Two large groups of books survived the fire: the “backlog” that the Librarian had never unpacked (a topic of recurrent concern to the Corporation), and the “duplicates” that (despite the 1723 Catalogus and its continuations) were generated by the gifts of Hollis and his friends. The latter, in accordance with his wishes, were passed along to the Hollis Professor of Divinity and only returned to general use in 1982. Scattered volumes that were out on loan or “missing” also survived, some of which only returned to Harvard many years later.57 Perhaps it took total destruction to awake Harvard’s awareness of its value, but before the 1764 fire, like a poem, the Library did not mean, but be.
Finally, users should be aware that these catalogues record books that were given to the library, not necessarily the books that the Librarians wanted or would have acquired if they had had the funds. The Library’s first book fund dates from 1774, the gift of Thomas Hollis of Lincoln’s Inn; the second from 1801, from Samuel Shapleigh. James Gilreath reaches the “irresistible conclusion” that “colonial libraries were unused warehouses of the discarded books of previous generations”, a sort of Grandmother’s Attic.58 This is true enough, but it does not follow that they tell us little about the circulation and distribution of books; only that we should look to them for the books of an earlier generation and its interests. The 1723 Catalogue is a cumulated record of libraries that were formed in the seventeenth century, the 1790 Catalogue of pre-Revolutionary collections; these subjects, one hopes, are not without their interest.