Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Rare books 14: Name Authorities



Establishing the correct name for an author, known as Authority Work, is a game of hide-and-seek, snakes-and-ladder, three-dimensional chess, or multilingual Cluedo, depending on the day of the week. Your visit to a library catalogue is based on unquestioned assumptions.Your visit to a library catalogue is based on unquestioned assumptions. One is that you will find the author if there is a book by that person in the library. Enter ‘Jerusalem Delivered’ by the tortured soul Torquato Tasso (1544-1595) (Torino, 1879) Notes: Tasso is another of those household names in Italy, due in part to school editions like this one, introduced in 215 pages and edited by C. Arborio Mella. Who’s that? asks the cataloguer. Library of Congress Name Headings (LCSH) doesn’t know him, yet reveals that he must be a member of the sweetly named Florentine family, the Arborio Mellas. There are a few of them there and on the catalogue of the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze. The preface is signed ‘Camillo Mella S.I’ (p. xvi), someone known to BNCF but only as Camillo Mella. LCSH likes the full family name. I have no choice but to establish my own heading out of this miasma, opting for the family name, making see references, and ignoring the fact he’s a Jesuit. Another book by a hard-to-define Jesuit is Johan Pinamonti’s meditations on the Passion (Regensburg, 1855) Notes: Johan shows up nowhere, until we note he is being translated from Italian. The BNCF has oodles of entries for Giovanni Pietro Pinamonti (1632-1703), several matching the German title equivalents. Curiously, however, LCSH lists seven different language variants for Pinamonti, but not the German one, leading to the conclusion that this little gem is very rare indeed. Multiple name choices likewise trip up the unwary when viewing a poetry book  with the popular title ‘Vagrant Verses’, written by the seemingly straightforward Rosa Mulholland (London, 1886) Notes: By searching for Rosa Mulholland on library databases, one notices other book titles show up in the same search by one Rosa M. Gilbert. The idea that she could be the same person leads to the discovery that she was best known in her own lifetime as Lady Gilbert, the Irish novelist encouraged by Charles Dickens to pursue her writing. LCSH’s one-page entry for her name authority is a tangled short story in itself. When she isn’t Lady Gilbert she is Ruth Millais, Ruth Murray, initials of the former (R.M.), Rosa Gilbert, and this Rosa Mulholland. Library of Congress stands firm: Gilbert, Rosa M. (Rosa Mulholland), 1841-1921. So, plenty of see references. Her wiki lists lots of her works but has never heard of ‘Vagrant Verses’. My own copy, at home, of ‘The Oxford Companion to Irish Literature’ (Oxford, 1996) doesn’t even acknowledge that she wrote poetry. Only by visiting the National Library of Ireland catalogue do I confirm that we hold a very rare first edition, in pristine condition.

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