Review of George Healey, The Cornell Wordsworth Collection. A Catalogue of Books and Manuscripts.

[Review of George Healey, The Cornell Wordsworth Collection. A Catalogue of Books and Manuscripts Presented to the University by Mr Victor Emanuel. The Book-Collector VII 3 (autumn 1958): 318-21.]


The nucleus of this collection was formed by Mrs Cynthia Morgan St John of Ithaca in the forty years up to 1919.  Mrs St John’s collecting started modestly enough.  As a girl her imagination was fired by Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey; the present of a copy of the 4-volume Boston 1824 edition of Wordsworth’s Poetical Works – the first American collective edition – stimulated her desire to acquire other editions, especially American, of Wordsworth’s writing.  In 1883, after her marriage, her collecting began in earnest with her first visit to England.  She was not a wealthy woman: indeed it is said that her early purchases were made from what she could save from the housekeeping money.  At that time, this was possible; for in 1885 she could have bought Lyrical Ballads 1800 for 10s., and a fine copy of the first edition of Peter Bell in original boards for 12s 6d.  Even after the turn of the century, when she was well-known as a Wordsworth collector and prices had increased many times, she was able to acquire her copy of Lyrical Ballads, Bristol 1798, for $375 when only two other copies were then known to exist.  By 1904 her collection of first editions was complete except for two items (both of which turned up shortly after) and she started to prepare a Wordsworth bibliography.  A fire in her summer house in 1909 – the first year she had not taken her collection there – destroyed the manuscript of the bibliography, only the proofs of the introduction surviving.  But she continued to add to her collection, and when she died in August 1919 it contained more than 1000 items.  In 1925 Mr Victor Emanuel acquired the collection intact and presented it to Cornell so that it should not leave Ithaca, the town where it had been formed.

In 1931 the first curator, Professor L. N. Broughton, compiled a 124-page catalogue of the collection as originally formed, and in 1942 issued an 81-page Supplement describing the additions made through Mr Emanuel’s generosity.  Now that the collection has more than trebled in size, the present curator has consolidated the catalogue to date with 3206 entries set forth in a volume of impressive size, handsomely printed by the Cambridge University Press, and limited to 750 copies.

The Catalogue is arranged in ten sections.  Of these, the first is the most important to the bibliographer: 157 entries of Wordsworth’s ‘Writings in Book Form 1793-1850’, described in meticulous detail ‘because the bibliographies of Wordsworth in which some of them have been set forth are either out of date or otherwise unpopular’.  The descriptions are impeccable; and particular attention has been paid to original bindings – a practice which should remove some misapprehensions from the study of original state in this period.  Almost every edition is here, the missing items being represented in the collection for the time being by photostats.  In some cases – the Bristol and the London Lyrical Ballads 1798, and Lyrical Ballads 1800 (of which Cornell has six copies, one with the uncancelled Preface leaf) – account is taken of copies outside the collection and of previous examinations of cruces; but in general one would have preferred a clearer indication of the relation of these actual copies to the ideal copy.  Nevertheless this is the first landmark in modern Wordsworth bibliography.

Mrs St John cared less for manuscripts than for printed books and is known to have declined offers of choice manuscripts at reasonable prices.  The 925 entries in Part IX, ‘Manuscripts’, represent the most impressive addition to the collection since 1925.  The 244 Wordsworth letters, 80 Coleridge letters, Cottle’s scrapbook, and more than 500 items for Southey, Lamb, Sara Coleridge, Charles Lloyd, and many others, give substance to Professor Bald’s statement in 1950 that, outside Dove Cottage and Dr Williams’s Library, there is nowhere ‘so large a body of manuscript material in the handwriting of Wordsworth and his household as at Cornell’.

Part V ‘Wordsworthiana’ is the largest section with 1131 entries: reviews, parodies, critical and biographical studies, books referring to Wordsworth.  By an inversion of typographical emphasis this is the most prominent section as well as the longest.  ‘The aim,’ Professor Healey explains in his Preface, ‘has been to make available at Cornell, either within the collection or within the University Library that shelters it, a record of everything significant that has been written about Wordsworth or that is likely to help in understanding him.’  Even as a record of the scholarly resources for Wordsworth study at Cornell the list is then incomplete; yet if it had been complete this book would no longer have been a catalogue of the collection it set out to describe.  This problem is perhaps insoluble.  The unevenness of a partial or interim collection with such an inclusive purpose could be mitigated, for scholarly purposes, only by full analytical comment and an extensive system of cross-reference – something rather beyond the normal scope of descriptive bibliography.

Part VIII describes fifty-nine association books, most of them with Wordsworth’s signature, five with Coleridge’s signature or notes – as compared with nineteen titles in the original collection.  Here, as with the Coleridge editions in Part VI, collations would have been of interest.  The twenty-four entries for ‘Wordsworth’s Writings in Early Periodicals’ are particularly interesting, as are the fifty-nine entries for publication in anthologies and other books during Wordsworth’s lifetime.  The index is admirably complete and clearly arranged.

For the history of collecting one would have liked to see a distinctive mark to show which items were collected by Mrs St John.  Is entry 74 or 75, the Boston 1824 edition, the actual germ from which the whole collection grew?