Pet Book Report #7: The Civil War in Song and Story

An underlying theme of Gaskell’s treatment of the book trade is the way in which genre, content, business considerations like market and production cost, and how society conceptualized the proper way to read were all intimately intertwined with each other, as when he explains that “there were also conventions for the forms of other sorts of books [than fiction] on the publishers’ general lists” and then goes on to list the standard type, format, and paper size of biographies, poetry, etc (303). In this light, it seems to me particularly interesting that The Civil War in Song and Story would seem to fall through the cracks of when he explains publishers’ business strategies as producing “steady selling educational and technical works…poems and novels” (298). One suggestion as to how this might be possible is that the publisher of this reprint was P. F. Collier, called in his 1909 obituary “one of the best-known publishers in America,” with name recognition based on both his weekly magazine Collier’s Weekly and a “Collier’s Library” imprint of popular novels. The 1889 publishing date of The Civil War in Song and Story places Collier’s reprint of Moore’s work the year after his magazine was founded, called at that time Collier’s Once a Week.

The question of genre in the context of The Civil War in Song and Story‘s relationship to the book business is particularly interesting to me not just because of the way in which its publication seems to rest upon a business model which seems to emphasize diversification of the publisher’s catalog but also because of the way various iterations of Moore’s work seems to shift material across genres. The former raises question that I find difficult to answer with my current time and resources–I’d love to get a look at Collier’s documents and puzzle out what it means that The Civil War in Song and Story was reprinted by what conceived of itself of a Catholic press, which was simultaneously working with commercial fiction, a weekly periodical that would only a few years after this printing have 250,000+ subscribers, and, according to his obituary, an encyclopedia, several histories of the US armed forces, and various editions of the Bible, and how these titles might suggest a particular continuity or discontinuity in the identity as a publisher which P. F. Collier conceived of itself–but the latter I find easier to answer with advertisements and notices in newspapers. The March 22, 1866 edition of the St. Cloud Democrat describes Anecdotes, poetry, and incidents as “thousands of well-told stories…an amusing and affecting, as well as entertaining, view of every phase in the great conflict, and ‘is the book for any leisure day, hour, or moment.'” Though the advertisement closes out with a line subtitling it as “the comic history of the war,” the uses this advertisement recommends for it, as well as a comparison that it has “stories enough to fill half a dozen ordinary octavos” suggest that it is not quite intended to be shelved with History of the United States Navy and Hawthorne’s History of the United States, both of which were also published by Collier and would seem to fit more neatly into Gaskell’s conception of education works, technical works, poems, and novels. Alice Fahs writes that the Rebellion Record as a concept was rooted “within Victorian assumptions that all facts were potentially meaningful within a greater whole (even if that greater whole might only be discerned in the future)” (74). In this sense, I think it might be valuable to consider Moore’s work as being part of a 19th-century genre of collection, one which might slip between the cracks of Gaskell’s or our own conception of discrete genres because of the way in which the category of “reference works” may have changed in both content and function over time.

The advertisement I quoted from is also printed in the February 23, 1866 edition of the Bellows Falls times in exactly the same language but a very different type-setting (for example, the list of the ten major figures of whom Anecdotes, poetry, and incidents contains “Elegant Cabinet-Size Steel Portraits” has one name on each line in the Times, where it is given in a single centered paragraph in the Democrat). They’re not advertisements for the book itself, but for “a few experienced agents, male and female…to take orders for Frank Moore’s great work” on subscription. The way in which the language, but not the font, is identical from Vermont to Minnesota suggests to me that the copy of the advertisement was provided by the agent, one J. Porteus, and set by newspapers in localities which lacked permanent door-to-door book-peddlers. The copy warns the reader that Anecdotes, poetry, and incidents “is sold exclusively by subscription, and…will never be for sale in bookstores” (perhaps another explanation for how Moore might’ve obtained the funds to publish a book which doesn’t quite fit into any of Gaskell’s categories of steady-earning versus risky genres). Already one can see a difference in the business models used to sell Anecdotes, poetry, and incidents and the Rebellion Record. The July 22, 1863 edition of DC’s Evening star advertises “Part 32 of Frank Moore’s ‘Rebellion Record'” being sold by Franck Taylor, who owned Waverly Bookstore. This might suggest a difference purely in geography, that DC might’ve had the resources to furnish a bookstore where St. Cloud or Bellows Falls might not’ve, but it also might hint at the result of a change in genre, from a periodical to a book. I couldn’t find any mention of the text’s later title, The Civil War in Song and Story, in Chronicling America, suggesting too a change in the way books were advertised and distributed in the three decades between the 1866 publication of Anecdotes, poetry, and incidents and the 1889 publication of The Civil War in Song and Story.

Much of this information I was only able to determine by looking at what was meant to be discarded: the temporally-bounded ephemera of advertisements, for example. In contrast to modern books, where one might be able to find the edition size or a hint about the payment scheme within the front or back matter of the book itself (not to mention the prices printed onto the cover), this seems to me to be both a symptom of an earlier phase of bureaucracies being “partly constructed by and out of [documents]” and partly a symptom of the tendency we discussed in class for consumers to pay to hide the evidence of consumption (Gitelman 5).

The genre is interesting in another sense in the context of this week’s readings. The Rebellion Record was regularly organized into four sections: a “DIARY OF EVENTS,” “DOCUMENTS,” “POETRY,” and then a smaller section of “Incidents, Rumors, Etc.” In considering the “documents” printed under that heading, it seems to me that the Rebellion Record exemplifies Gitelman’s understanding of how documents are created. The Rebellion Record goes further than simply doing the work of “reproduction [as] one of the functions that have helped people to reckon documents as documents”; in presenting “Gen. McClellan’s Proclamation to the Soldiers of the Army of the West, June 28″ as a textual object sorted as a “document,” the Rebellion Record does the work of “fram[ing it] as or enter[ing it] into evidence” (Gitelman 1, 3). The publication of speeches, orders, and memos as an understood genre of “documents” was part of what created their document-ness. As implied by the first title of Moore’s book, Anecdotes, poetry, and incidents of the war, it’s mostly the documents which are left off as the contents of the Rebellion Record, already compressed to twelve volumes, are compressed further. The implication is that after the war ended, “documents” as a genre were less effective than those not-document artifacts, “poetry” and “incidents,” to do Moore’s documentary work to “preserve and ponder the authentic chronicle” of the war, as the Boston Transcript puts it (Fahs 52).

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