In the News

"William Steig's Sylvester and the Magic Pebble: A Golden Anniversary" Opens May 4

Amherst, MA --The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art celebrates the golden anniversary... read more

Book of Ottoman Dress is Top Lot at Freeman's Virginia House Museum Sale

Philadelphia — On Wednesday, April 10, Freeman’s had the privilege of auctioning nearly 500... read more

Heritage Auctions' Americana & Political Sale Includes Collection of Robert E. Lee Photographs

Dallas, TX - Consignments from five private collections, including one of the most comprehensive... read more

Series of Exhibits & Events at the Library of Congress for Whitman's 200th Birthday

The Library of Congress will celebrate the 200th anniversary of American poet and changemaker... read more

New Photobook Documents the Notorious Burning Man

Smallworks Press, an independent publishing company specializing in limited edition, exquisitely-printed books focusing on... read more

"Cuban Caricature and Culture" Opens at the Wolfsonian-FIU in June 2019

Miami Beach, FL — In a focused installation, The Wolfsonian-Florida International University will highlight... read more

2019 New England Society Book Awards Finalists Announced

WHAT: The New England Society in the City of New York (NES) is pleased... read more

Wolfson History Prize 2019 Shortlist Revealed

London — The shortlist for the Wolfson History Prize 2019 is revealed today, celebrating... read more

Follow us on TwitterLike us on Facebook
Auction Guide
Advertise with Us
2015 Bookseller Resource Guide
Fine Books Excerpt

Culture Club


i Roscoe, Life of William Roscoe, 2:553-54; Thomas Frognall Dibdin, The Bibliomania; or, Book-Madness: Containing Some Account of the History, Symptoms, and Cure of This Fatal Disease (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1809); Nicholas Basbanes, A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books (New York: Henry Holt, 1995), 25.

ii Anne Cabot Lowell to Anne Grant, Boston, 23 July 1810, quoted in Mann, “A Nation First,” 16. Lowell anticipates the famous Scottish taunt from Sydney Smith: “Who reads an American book? Or goes to an American play? Or looks at an American statue?” (Edinburgh Review, January 1820).

iii Quoted in Quincy, “Biographical Notes,” in History 15. The two “gigantic” names that might seem less than gigantic to us now were, presumably, John Cudworth (1656-1726), who wrote on the early doctrine of the Church of England, and John Selden (1584-1654), the author of Table Talk, a posthumously published collection of essays.

iv Alain Corbain, “The Secret of the Individual,” in ed. Michelle Perrot, A History of Private Life: From the Fires of Revolution to the Great War (Cambridge: Harvard University Press/Belknap Press, 1990), 4:545. See also Werner L. Muensterberger, Collecting: An Unruly Passion (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993); John Elsner and Roger Cardinal, eds., The Cultures of Collecting (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994); and Basbanes, Gentle Madness.

v According to Richard Bushman, responses to the problem of America’s status as a “cultural province of Great Britain” varied; he describes two extremes: a “renewed boosterism,” in which Americans are moved to claim sophistication on their behalf, and the insistence on a “noble” and “simplistic” native style. On the whole, early Athenaeum advocates fell into the first camp. Richard L. Bushman, “American High-Style and Vernacular Cultures,” in Colonial British America: Essays in the New History of the Early Modern Era, eds. Jack P. Greene and J.R. Pole (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984), 309.

vi Simpson, Federalist Literary Mind, 31.

vii For more on Buckminster, see Andrews Norton, “Character of the Rev. Joseph Stevens Buckminster (1812), in The Works of Joseph Stevens Buckminster, with Memoirs of His Life (Boston: James Monroe, 1839); Eliza Buckminster Lee, Memoirs of Rev. Joseph Buckminster, D.D., and His Son, Rev. Joseph Stevens Buckminster, D.D. (Boston: Wm. Crosby and H. P. Nicholas, 1849); Lawrence Buell, “Joseph Stevens Buckminster: The Making of a New England Saint,” Canadian Review of American Studies 10 (Spring 1979): 1-29; and Lewis P. Simpson, The Man of Letters in New England and the South: Essays on the History of the Literary Vocation in America (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1973), 3-31.

viii Raven, London Booksellers, 7; David D. Hall, comments on “learned culture” for the ongoing A History of the Book in America, vol. 3, The Industrial Book, 1840-1880 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press / American Antiquarian Society, 2007). I am grateful to Professor Hall for sharing his work-in-progress years ago.

ix William Smith Shaw, Boston, to Joseph Stevens Buckminster, London, 1 December 1806.

x Shaw, Boston, to Buckminster, London, 13 December 1806. Shaw considered any Athenaeum member who was traveling abroad as a potential “book scout” for the institution. The Athenaeum would be chartered by the state legislature on February 13, 1807: see Simpson, Federalist Literary Mind, 29; Quincy, History, 18-22.

xi A paraphrase of that letter (July 16, 1806) is given in Felt, Memorials, 215. The original appears to be missing from the Shaw Papers at the Athenaeum.

xii Shaw, Boston, to Buckminster, London, 13 May 1807, quoted in Felt, Memorials, 243; Shaw, Boston, to Buckminster, London, 13 December 1806.

xiii “Reflections on the Literary Delinquency of America,” North-American Review and Miscellaneous Journal, November 1815, 37, 39-43.

xiv Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography and Other Writings, ed. Kenneth Silverman (New York: Viking/Penguin Books, 1986 [1771], 77.

xv See Cathy N. Davidson, Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 27-30; David Kaser, A Book for a Sixpence: The Circulating Library in America (Pittsburgh: Beta Phi Mu, 1980); and Paul Kaufman, “The Community Library,” in Libraries and Their Users: Collected Papers in Library History (London: Library Association, 1969).

xvi Richard Brown, “Communications and Commerce: Information Diffusion in Northern Ports from the 1760s to the 1790s,” in his Knowledge is Power: The Diffusion of Information in Early America, 1700-1865 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989); Michael Wentworth, with Elizabeth Lamb Clark, The Boston Library Society, 1794-1994: An Exhibition of Portraits, Views, and Materials Related to the Foundation of the Society and Some of Its Early Members (Boston: Boston Athenaeum, 1995); Samuel S. Shaw, The Boston Library Society: Historical Sketch (Boston, 1895); Peter Dobkin Hall, “‘To make us bold and learn to read—to be friend to each other and friends to the world’: Libraries and the Origins of Civil Society in the United States,” Libraries & Culture 31 (Winter 1996): 14-35.

xvii The North American Review would again serve as a forum for these discussions. A book about its editors and contributors suggests that that journal was the most influential voice for cultural issues at the time. See Marshall Foletta, Coming to Terms with Democracy: Federalist Intellectuals and the Shaping of American Culture (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001).

xviii Nathan Hale, “Boston Athenaeum,” North American Review 23 (June 1826): 206; Buckminster to Shaw, 3 April 1807, quoted in Simpson, Federalist Literary Mind, 30. Shaw had apparently requested from Buckminster only the dry transactions of various English learned societies.

xix Seth Bass had been the “keeper” of the East India Marine Society’s Museum, in Salem; he was also a shareholder of the Salem Athenaeum. The Boston Athenaeum made a financial investment in professionalism by increasing its expenditure for a librarian from a mere $562 in 1825 (a year before Bass’s tenure began) to $2,375 in 1839. Bass continued as head librarian until 1846, at which point Charles Folsom was hired from Harvard, and Bass became assistant librarian. See BA Proprietors’ Records, 2 January 1826 and 6 January 1840; BA Trustees’ Records, 28 January 1825.

xx A harmonious tone had pervaded the Anthology Society, too; assumptions about a shared audience and a shared purpose were common to both the original society and the Athenaeum. See Catherine O’Donnell Kaplan, “‘We Have Joys They Do Not Know:’ Letters, Federalism, and Sentiment in the New Nation, 1790-1812” (Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 1998), 174; Johns, Nature of the Book, 379.

comments powered by Disqus