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Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Spasmodic Gap: Textual Notes

Posted by Ray Davis on 04/16/05 at 07:02 PM

Although the editors and authors of Victorian Poetry, Vol. 42, No. 4, don't feel the need to issue a manifesto, they clearly enough share ideals of class mobility and aesthetic diversity.

I wonder if any have considered that their work can only be reached by associates of fairly well funded institutions?

By that I don't mean to imply hypocrisy. I'm certain they're all trying to do a good job while scraping by as best they can.

But I'm also genuinely fascinated by how habitually we treat our present circumstances in our present day as somehow exceptional (or, equivalently, somehow universal). If there's any point to the study of history, literary or otherwise, it must be to combat such exceptionalism.

And yet even among historians it's there, undefeated, indefatigable.

Moving on to primary sources, should you be fortunate enough to have a large state university library at hand, you still might not find Spasmodic material. Its moment of mainstream popularity came just too early for most collections.

Here at Berkeley, W. E. Aytoun's victorious Firmilian is just as unavailable. Oh, digital publishing behemoth Proquest / Chadwyck-Healey lists it in their "English Drama" collection. But with robotic literalness, that collection transcribes only the imaginary "play" itself, "Preliminaries and introductory matter omitted." With the source text in front of them, and with no space limitations to consider, Chadwyck-Healey's staff discarded the preface which gave the satire its point.

(And yes, in case you're wondering, their "English Poetry" collection similarly excludes the preface from Lyrical Ballads. 'Cause any fool can see just by lookin' that ain't poetry.)


A few comments about access:

Over 850 libraries in North America, including many public libraries, subscribe to the journal Victorian Poetry (full information on library holdings is available to researchers through WorldCat).  Victorian Poetry is also made available through a number of electronic databases, including Literature Resource Center and Wilson Select Plus, which are frequently available to public library patrons as well as university library patrons. Most, if not all, state university libraries allow residents of that state to visit the premises and read hard copy and digital materials on site. 

Key Spasmodic texts, including Philip Bailey’s Festus, Alexander Smith’s “A Life Drama,” and Sydney Dobell’s “Balder” are, in fact, easily accessible at most university libraries.  At Berkeley/NRLF, for instance, there are 5 copies of Festus; Sydney Dobell’s Poetical Works (1875), which includes “Balder”; and an 1859 American edition of Smith’s “A Life-Drama”. In addition, “Balder” and “Festus” are available through the Chadwyck-Healey English Poetry database.

Aytoun’s Firmilian is available at many university libraries on microform through the “English and American drama of the nineteenth century” series. Although that microform is not held by UCB, it is held by other UC libraries and can easily be requested for delivery to your campus.

Most university libraries and large public libraries participate in inter-library loan, which allows patrons to request items from other institutions.

By Mel on 04/16/05 at 10:16 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Good points all, Mel, except the claim about state university libraries letting unaffiliated people in is not consistent with my experience.  Do UC libraries do that, Ray?

By on 04/17/05 at 03:44 AM | Permanent link to this comment

No, Josh, there’s no free access to the UC Berkeley stacks. By paying a yearly fee, it’s possible to get check-out privileges at some libraries, but electronic access to journals isn’t part of the deal.

Mel, I’m not sure about “most” university libraries owning early editions of “Festus” (very different from the later ones) or the 1859 “A Life-Drama”. But trying inter-library loan is a very good point—I should have made it and turned down the glumness accordingly.

Otherwise, we don’t seem to disagree except in tone. It’s possible that you’ve more often lived near the full half of the half-full glass and I’ve spent more time in the empty half.

By Ray Davis on 04/17/05 at 10:09 AM | Permanent link to this comment

It’s my impression that many of the Cal State system campuses allow state residents access.  Sure, not all public universities allow nonaffiliates to check out materials—but some do, for a small fee. But most will allow users to visit the premises, use databases (including electronic publications) while on site, and read hardcopy materials while on site.  And, in my experience, many private schools have very generous policies allowing visitors to enter the library building and use materials on site. There are only maybe 20 libraries in this country that have closed stacks. In an open stack library, you are usually free to sit and read and take notes as much as you like.

By Mel on 04/17/05 at 01:30 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Mel, all I can say is that my experiences haven’t been so sanguine. Are you sure about that “20 libraries” figure? If so, I’ve been extraordinarily unlucky. I’d certainly prefer to believe that than to believe that more people can see my buffoonish summary of the Victorian Poetry issue than can reach the issue itself.

By Ray Davis on 04/17/05 at 01:45 PM | Permanent link to this comment

But “closed stacks” means that you can’t get access to the shelves once you’re in; it’s a different issue from what Ray and I are claiming about admission to the libraries.  The 42nd Street NYPL has, I think, closed stacks, but is of course open to the public.  Of the four cities I’ve lived in with university libraries, though, two have general admission and two don’t:  a student or faculty ID, for example, is required for admission to both the major private school’s libraries and the major public school’s libraries here in Philadelphia.

But as Joan Wallach Scott observed, “in my experience” don’t cut it all by itself.  I wonder if there’s a way to get hard data on the controversy.

By on 04/17/05 at 02:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

UCSantaCruz’ McHenry Library, and it’s a nice one, has a thing you can become a “friend of”, or could, for a small remuneration, and get access to the stacks (and a newsletter!) no inter-library, no reserve, no nexis-lexis et cetera. The fee was low enough in ‘01 it was a boon to penurious me. Changed my life for the better.

By on 04/20/05 at 12:20 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Access meaning borrowing privileges. Last time I was there anyone could come in and read from the stacks and use the computers. That may have changed in the last couple of years. I hope not.

By on 04/20/05 at 12:28 AM | Permanent link to this comment

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