Archival Visit Report #1

For my first archival visit I decided to go to the Boston Public Library. I had previously seen in their card catalogue that they had a copy of The Philadelphia Vocabulary as well as two other texts by James Greenwood, The Royal English Grammar and The London Vocabulary, so that was my main line of inquiry for the visit. As I noted in a previous blog post, I discovered through Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography that James Greenwood and his grammars were fairly well known, so I was excited to see that the BPL had multiple texts by him.

The BPL’s copy of The Philadelphia Vocabulary is the same edition as Northeastern’s copy, both published in 1787 by Carey and Co. in Philadelphia. It should be noted, though, that the title pages don’t actually have a specific edition number, making me wonder if this is in fact the first edition of The Philadelphia Vocabulary. That would be interesting since James Greenwood died in 1737, but certainly not impossible since I believe that The Philadelphia Vocabulary is not entirely original and in fact merely an American reprint of The London Vocabulary, but more on that later.

The actual text of both Northeastern’s copy and the BPL’s copy of The Philadelphia Vocabulary are identical, but the books as objects are very different. Northeastern’s copy is full of writing, especially on the front and back endpapers and flyleaves, while the BPL copy is not. However, the BPL copy has also clearly been re-bound: it has a cloth cover and flyleaves that are machine-made (whereas the text’s pages are handmade). Since the majority of writing in the Northeastern copy is on the endpapers/flyleaves, it is possible that the BPL copy once had a lot of writing too. Now, though, the only piece of handwriting is a name, John Thomas, written on the title page.

The London Vocabulary is in a similar condition: a new marbled cover with new machine-made flyleaves that have forever lost whatever writing may have been there. I understand the conservation effort of rebinding a book, but I am saddened that blank pages with handwriting are not always thought of as valuable enough to preserve when in reality they are some of the only evidence of how a book was actually used. Of course, it’s completely possible that the endpapers and flyleaves of these copies of both The Philadelphia Vocabulary and The London Vocabulary had no handwriting on them at all. Alas, we’ll never know.

As for the text of The London Vocabulary, of which this copy is supposed to be the twenty-first edition, it is very clear that The Philadelphia Vocabulary is merely a copy of it. The words, the layout, the pictures—everything looks identical. However, it only looks identical; there are actually tiny differences between the two that lead me to believe that Carey and Co. were copying The London Vocabulary as best as they could but didn’t actually have plates of the pages or anything like that from the original London publishers. For example, while the overall format is the same between the two texts, there are certain words that are italicized in one text and not in the other. Also, the woodcuts featured at the beginning of most of the chapters look almost exactly alike between the two texts and have all of the same figures and objects featured. However, the woodcuts in The Philadelphia Vocabulary look like a recreation of the images in The London Vocabulary rather than the same exact image. For example, the woodcut in each version at the beginning of Chapter 1 is an image of Adam and Eve sitting in the same position with the same animals around them, the same two rocks in the background, the same beams of sunlight on the left, the same moon on the right, and the same angel above them. However, the image in The Philadelphia Vocabulary looks like it was created by a different hand with far less detail than the image in The London Vocabulary. This is especially noticeable in Eve’s hair: while in The London Vocabulary her hair has strands blowing in the wind, in The Philadelphia Vocabulary her hair is comprised of only straight lines hanging down to her shoulders.

I therefore believe that The Philadelphia Vocabulary is just an American reproduction of The London Vocabulary, although I’ve found no evidence of whether it is an authorized reproduction. As I mentioned, James Greenwood had already been dead for fifty years when The Philadelphia Vocabulary was printed so he clearly could not have authorized it, but perhaps the London publishers did. Or, since there were no real copyright laws at this time, Carey and Co. could have simply decided to bring this text to America and recreated it from their own copy of The London Vocabulary.

The only thing that complicates this theory of The Philadelphia Vocabulary being a reproduction of The London Vocabulary is that this version of The London Vocabulary was published in 1797, ten years after both copies I’ve seen of The Philadelphia Vocabulary. Could The London Vocabulary, or at least this edition of The London Vocabulary, actually be based off of The Philadelphia Vocabulary then? It’s certainly possible but not likely since this is supposedly the twenty-first edition and I don’t think that a book with twenty-one editions would suddenly have a complete formatting change. Also, since The London Vocabulary has so many editions, it is probably safe to assume that the first edition of The London Vocabulary was printed long before The Philadelphia Vocabulary.

The final text by James Greenwood that I examined was The Royal English Grammar, the seventh edition published in London in 1763. This text is much different from The London Vocabulary and The Philadelphia Vocabulary. Whereas those texts are primarily just lists of words with an accompanying image, this text is predominantly prose. This is definitely a different type of grammar than that of The London Vocabulary and The Philadelphia Vocabulary. This book also has what the BPL’s copies of those texts lacked: the original binding and flyleaves full of lovely little bits of handwriting.

In the first opening a “Miles Runnels” has written his name multiple times as well as some short messages, such as “Miles Runels of Lee his Book he Was Born In October the twenty ninth Day In the Year 1761.” The year “1770” is also written next to Miles’ name, indicating that Miles was nine years old when he used this book. This fact coupled with visual evidence of a difference in handwriting leads me to believe that some of the writing was not done by Miles’ own hand. In fact, in the first opening where most of this handwriting is, at the end of the Preface, and at the back of the book there is handwriting that matches and seems much more appropriate to a nine year old. This suggests to me that the words “Miles Runels of Lee his Book” were written by an adult, perhaps a parent or teacher, simply for the purpose of marking the book as belonging to Miles. However, the fact that Miles continues to write his name throughout the book suggests that he is practicing his handwriting, a notion I had already noticed in the writing of Northeastern’s The Philadelphia Vocabulary.

Miles does seem a little preoccupied with claiming the book as his own, though, since he writes on the back endpaper “steal not this book for shame for hear you see the owners name miles runnels his book.” Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that there are other names written in the book claiming ownership. For example, in that first opening the name “Enoch Runels 1770” is also written, albeit small, at the bottom of the page, and upside down. Since the last name is the same as Miles’, this could be the parent who wrote Miles’ name in the book or maybe it could be a sibling sharing the book with Miles. On the verso of the title page, a “Samuel Richardron” has written his name a few times, along with the date “Dec 21. 1769,” suggesting that he owned the book just before Miles. Finally, at the back of the book is written, “Paul Bickford his hand Ritten January 28th day Year 1771,” this suggesting that he is the owner after Miles. What strikes me as strange is that the handwriting of Enoch, Samuel, and Paul all seem much more developed than Miles’ writing. Are they older than Miles? Is Miles the same age but behind in learning how to write? Is this book meant for older students and actually belongs to an older brother “Enoch” who lets his little brother Miles write in it? These are all questions that highlight how handwritten notes can still only tell us so much about the original readers’ experiences.

In addition to the texts by James Greenwood, I also wanted to examine some other grammars to get a better sense of the genre. Unfortunately, the curators at the BPL did not have any suggestions when it came to grammars. I tried my luck at looking for a “grammar” category in the card catalogue and sure enough I was able to find a few texts. The first was titled the Nomenclatura Brevis Anglo-Latino In Usum Scholarum, which, like The Philadelphia Vocabulary, is an English-Latin grammar. It was printed in Boston in 1752, which predates The Philadelphia Vocabulary although possibly not The London Vocabulary. The text is also very similar to those vocabularies in that it lists vocabulary words with Latin translations grouped into themes. Additionally, this book also has a lot of manuscript notes in the front and back endpapers including multiple names such as “Thomas Dyson,” “John Davis,” and “Francis Gregory.”

The second grammar I looked at was actually a Greek grammar titled A Grammar of the Greek Language, which was published in Boston in 1800. This text seemed to be somewhere in-between The Philadelphia Vocabulary and The Royal English Grammar in format: it had translations list, declension charts, and prose explanations. This text also contained a lot of manuscript notes as well. In the front flyleaves a James Gates Percival wrote his name many times, as well as a lengthy paragraph in Greek. I cannot admit to knowing this off the top of my head, but a quick Google search informed me that there is a poet and geologist from Connecticut named James Gates Percival that would have been of school age in 1809, the year written inside the book next to his name. This is also exciting for another, more personal reason: that full note reads “James G Percival’s Grammer Wolcot August 14, 1809” and I am from the town Wolcott, Connecticut. It appears that this random book I happened upon at the BPL spent some time in my hometown!

I was always interested in the handwriting inside my pet book and pulling two grammars at random only to find a surplus of handwriting in those texts as well only made me more interested in manuscript notes. This interest led to the one suggestion that the curators were able to give to me: the John Adams collection. While the BPL does not take much note of handwriting in books and has no way of searching specifically for books with manuscript notes, they do have extensive documentation of the notes that John Adams wrote in his own books. However, even this documentation isn’t complete as I discovered when I looked at Adams’ copy of Aristotle’s Treatise on Government and found only some of the notes transcribed. Adams notes were expectedly different than the notes of the grammars, engaging with the text or marking topics of interest rather than practicing handwriting or marking ownership (although the curator did say that they had one of Adams’ textbooks from his youth that did contain marks like this, but unfortunately that text is in the vault). However, it looks like Adams’ engagement with the text only continued until about halfway through the text because that is where his notes end. Did Adams get tired of writing notes, or did he never get to finish Aristotle’s Treatise on Government? Again, for as much as these notes can tell us, they also raise so many more questions. For every known poet studying Greek in my hometown, there is the vague idea of a president with a possible “To Be Finished” reading list!

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