The Importance of Reference Books

The English and Anglo-French Novel - Quaritch catalogue
by Silke Lohmann

While flicking through the latest Quaritch catalogue, 'The English & Anglo-French Novel 1740-1840', I spotted a footnote that took me back to my student days and I thought it was worth using this as an opportunity to highlight the importance of reference books to collectors and dealers alike.

The majority of the 120 books included in the Quaritch catalogue refer to 'Garside, Raven and Schöwerling", illustrating how important the bibliography 'The English Novel 1770-1829' is for this period. Published in two volumes in 2000, it was the first complete and copy-based record of the production of English fiction. It was the result of ten years of Anglo-German co-operation after Prof Dr Rainer Schöwerling and his team at the University Paderborn discovered a collection of English novels in the library of Schloss Corvey in Germany.

Corvey's holdings in English fiction 1796-1834 exceed those held by other libraries, including the British Library and among the listings in the bibliography are over 100 titles, which it has been suggested are unique to Corvey.

The Corvey library was built during the last half of the 19th century by Landgrave of Hesse-Rotenburg, Viktor Amadeus (1779-1834) and his wife Elise von Hohenlohe-Langenburg (1790-1830), both bibliophiles with varied interests, thus creating a remarkable library and one of the most important collections of the Romantic era writing. Among them some particularly rare works by lesser-known, historically neglected writers, as they were able to buy nearly every contemporary title that was published.

The collection was one of the most spectacular findings in the late 1970s and in 1985, Schöwerling drew attention to the enormous importance of the collection and the university was given exclusive rights to investigate and catalogue the Corvey Library.

Donovan Rees, who was in charge of the Quaritch catalogue, emphasises: “GRS is absolutely indispensable as a reference for this sort of material and one of the most useful and comprehensive bibliographies around. It is almost impossible to find an English novel of that period that does not appear in it; where we say ‘not in Garside etc’, it is more by deliberate exclusion - as a work intended for a young audience for example. It was lovely to get a positive response from one of its authors to this catalogue.”

Quaritch's catalogue includes 44 novels from the library of Mary Hill, Marchioness of Downshire (1764-1836), from the library at Ombersley Court in Worcestershire, the seat of the Sandys family. Mary Sandys, later Hill (1764-1836), Marchioness of Downshire and Baroness Sandys, bought most if these books at time of publication or shortly afterwards. The result was an exceptional collection of contemporary female writers. She started her library as a young woman and built it until long into widowhood. She was a patron and supporter of writers and many female-led charitable causes. Fanny Burney's 'Cecilia' was one of her first purchases, now available for £250, the third edition in five volumes and with ownership signatures of Mary Sandys (1785), and signed again in 1790 as Mary Hillsborough.

Donovan added: “The Downshire collection was really fabulous - I would have loved to have seen it in situ - and I really enjoyed tracing out some of her biography and connecting it to the library. As a library it was a really fine example of a particular sort of educated buying by women at the end of the 18th century; I’ve been able to tease out some of her literary and social connections, but there must surely have been many more.”

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