Ulysses S. Grant
By Marie Ellen Kelsey
Westport, Conn.: Praeger Publishers, 2005
Hard back: ISBN: 0313281769 Price: $119.95
The new reference work on Ulysses S. Grant by Marie Ellen Kelsey, an assistant professor at the College of St. Scholastica, a small, private university in Duluth, Minnesota, is the latest volume in the Bibliographies of the Presidents of the United States series. Grant’s canon of primary works is small. He wrote his celebrated Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant in 1885, some government reports, and precious little else. The vast bulk of the 4,242 items profiled in Kelsey’s work are secondary sources, biographies, journal and magazine articles, and so on.
Part of the fun of getting a new bibliography is playing “stump the bibliographer”—trying to dig up some arcane work you know exists and that should be in the bibliography but isn’t. My first test case was Janet Ayer Fairbank’s 1932 syrupy historical potboiler, The Bright Land. The novel is set in Galena, Illinois, Grant’s adopted hometown, and features a brief appearance by the eighteenth president. But there it is, item no. 4186, along with dozens of other Grant appearances in fiction, poems, and plays. Score one for Kelsey. As an antiquarian bookseller specializing, to a degree, in the Civil War and operating out of Galena, I thought I would have handled more U. S. Grant material than most and might just be able to stump Kelsey. Instead, she stumped me again and again. Kelsey made me aware of many Grant items I have yet to encounter. And isn’t that what bibliographies are all about?
This is a scholar’s bibliography, however, not a collector’s. Each entry contains a brief sentence or two summarizing the publication’s content, but physical description is nonexistent. The sole exception I found is the entry for Grant’s Memoirs, which, Kelsey notes, “came in five different bindings ranging in quality from cloth to tree calf.” The entry for Charles G. Ellington’s The Trial of U. S. Grant, for instance, cites the publisher, the city, and the year of publication, but doesn’t note that there is a signed, limited leather-bound edition, as well as a regular trade edition. Organization is largely chronological rather than by type of publication. In keeping with the rest of the series, there are no illustrations, much as the collector in all of us yearns to see some of the more unusual items described.