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Re: Commonplace Books, one more time

Hi Sam,

        There was an extensive thread on the history of commonplace books on the
SHARP listserve ("SHARP-L Society for the History of Authorship,Reading &
Publishing"> last March.  Check the archives at
http://listserv.indiana.edu/archives/sharp-l.html for the full discussion;
below is one of the many interesting excerpts that I saved, to give you a
taste of the quality of the discussion.



I am working on a generously donated private collection of over 80 British
commonplace books as part of the Open University Book History Group research
project 'Was there a reading revolution? Change in the British reading
experience, 1700-1740, 1800-1840.' As David Szewczyk has commented
commonplace books remained common in England after the seventeenth century,
and examples are found throughout the C18th and C19th. However, in the
sample I have undertaken there are some differences between the C18 books
and the later versions. The C18 books tend to be closer in format to the
book described by Locke in the essay 'A new method of a commonplace book'
published in English in 1706. Locke divided the contents of the book,
designed to contain extracts from books read, into subjects, and emphasised
the need for an index, headings, and references. Extracts were to be short
and contain an argument, written as a summary of the text read, in the
margin. History and philosophy were the commonest subjects for such
treatment although literary texts do also feature. It was possible to buy a
'blank' commonplace book containing notes on Locke's index, or 'an
improvement on Locke's index' well into the following century. Keats's
 publisher John Taylor published a 'Pocket Common Place with Locke's Index'
in the 1820s.

The majority of C19th books, in the sample I have undertaken, appear to have
been bought as blank books, or are a collection of sheets bound together
some time after they have been written on. The majority are not indexed and
contain transcripts of contemporary poetry. The poems of Scott, Byron,
Thomas Moore, and L.E. Landon are particularly frequently reproduced. Some
prose and newspaper extracts also appear. The owners of these self-made
anthologies refer to them as commonplace books or albums, and as David
suggested, they are often written in many hands. Often they contain 'scraps'
cut out from contemporary magazines and newspapers and pasted in, i.e. they
have something of the function of scrap books.

They are similar to the gift-books and annuals that appear in Britain after
1822, but Scott, Byron and Moore all appeared very infrequently in such
published anthologies, and these books continued to be made alongside the
published versions. Several in my sample include transcripts from annuals
such as the Literary Souvenir.

I am also constructing a finding list of British commonplace books, and I
hope that any SHARP-L readers who have details about the location of such
books (particularly those held in private hands) will give me the details
off list.

Dr Stephen Colclough

At 07:18 PM 8/6/98 -0400, Sam Lanham wrote:
>Bookish friends--
>OK, OK.  Since I got no responses to my question about the history of
>commonplace books it has occurred to me and has been suggested by an
>eminent member of the list that the term "commonplace book" is not very
>Sam Lanham (slanham@hctc.net)
Patricia L. Chalmers                  email:  pchalmers@admin.ukings.ns.ca
Assistant Librarian                   Phone:  (902)422-1271 ext. 174
University of King's College          Fax:    (902)423-3357
Halifax,Nova Scotia

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