Defining what is “unique” about a book can take many forms as seen in the range of posts on this blog to date. Since I started at Penn though I’ve been especially eager to discover and make known those books in our collections which are unique in the purely quantitative sense – i.e. books where Penn’s copy is the only known example of a work. To this end, I’ve worked with data from the English Short Title Catalog to determine which of the Penn Libraries pre-1800 printed books are unique to Penn. Last week I posted a piece about what I found and I thought it might be of interest to those who read Unique at Penn. One of the reasons for identifying these unique works is to encourage their use by scholars and others at Penn and I would love to see additional work and interest on these titles by anyone out there!
As long as there have been circulating libraries there have been readers who just couldn’t manage to return books on time. Several weeks ago, I found myself at the University Archives reading through some of the records of the Penn Libraries from the early 20th century. Within the stacks of book orders, ledgers recording the expense of feeding a library cat, and assorted correspondence, are a set of journals recording overdue books and late returns. Flipping through the pages I stumbled on an entry which piqued my curiosity.
The entry recorded an overdue notice for a book checked out on May 11th, 1907. The book didn’t seem too remarkable – “Gummere, F.B. Handbook of poetics” – but I was struck by the tardy borrower, reader number 2785: “Mr. E.W. Pound.”
This confirmed my suspicions that the overdue borrower was indeed the famous poet Ezra Pound who came to Penn from Wyncote in 1901 as a member of the class of 1905. He left Penn for his junior and senior years, graduating from Hamilton College in 1905. That year he returned to Penn for a masters program in Romance literature (apparently taking up his old reader number!). Pound completed his degree in 1906 but his last year at Penn, academic year 1906-07, was an unpleasant one. He failed to receive a fellowship to continue in the doctoral program and was told he would no longer be retained as an instructor .
The book Pound checked out that unhappy spring was an edition of Francis B. Gummere’s A Handbook of Poetics for Students of English Verse (Boston, 1885 – other eds.:1888, 1892, 1895,1898,1902). Today the Penn Libraries hold three copies of the text in two different editions but unfortunately none appear to be the exact copy which Pound failed to return on time . In Spring 1907, the semester in which he checked out the book, Pound was enrolled in five graduate courses: Chaucer with Prof. Clarence Child (1864-1948), Drama with Prof. Felix Schelling (1858-1945), Literary Criticism with Prof. Josiah Penniman (1868-1941), an independent study in Current Criticism, and Contemporary Poetry with Prof. Cornelius Weygandt (1871-1957). This last class, entitled in full: “The Development of English Poetry from 1850 to the Present Day” met from 11-1 every Saturday and seems a likely candidate for requiring a text like the Handbook of Poetics . Continue reading