Antiquarian authorship: D'Israeli's miscellany of literary curiosity and the question of secondary genres.
Genres of collection, compilation, and republication, they were typically gathered under the suspect sign of "book-making," regarded less as literary forms than as adjuncts of the book trade. Frequently initiated by booksellers rather than authors, they were understood as contingent and ramshackle collections rather than compositions, modes of lazy and opportunistic publication that exploited the technological power of the press to transfer and reproduce text rather than the mental powers proper to authorship and literary genres. (6) As an intervention in public culture, they threatened to strip the book of both its traditional learned aura and its newer authorial identity not just by turning it into a commodity but by eliding the distinction between reading and writing whose centrality to generic hierarchy in the Romantic literary field Lucy Newlyn has recently traced. (7) D'Israeli's own literary pragmatics is symptomatic. So long as a book is useful and agreeable, he argues in defense of the hybrid essay-extracts initiated in the Curiosities of Literature, "I believe the Public care little whether the Author has written every sentence himself, or like me, stands deeply indebted to the works of other Writers." (8) But wherein lay "the useful" to justify this casual dismissal of the original in out-of-the-way productions like the antiquarian miscellany? Other genres of collection such as the pedagogically-minded poetical anthologies directed at schoolboys or middle-class ladies might serve social utility by training inexperienced readers to develop aesthetic taste and literary knowledge, for they were made up of texts "publicly known and universally celebrated" (to cite the emphatic phrase of Vicesimus Knox). (9) When it came to a collection of heterogeneous "curiosities," however--by definition attached to the odd, obscure and irregular--utility even in the symbolic form of cultural capital for upwardly mobile readers was more elusive. An active figure in the critical debate such publications occasioned, D'Israeli argued for the obscure site of the antiquary's archive as central to the formation of middle-class public culture. Developing a model of the literary field foregrounding generally overlooked literary energies--energies ill accommodated by concepts of singular authors or singular volumes--he adumbrated a theory of the secondary through which he carved out a properly literary space for the ever-thickening band of intermediary genres appearing in his time.
Although miscellaneity has been attracting a good deal of attention, especially as notions from print culture studies and book history have sifted into literary history and criticism, genres like "Curiosities of Literature" continue to sit uneasily in critical discourse, relegated as Jerome McGann has quipped to "the imagination's rust belt." (10) Explicitly middle-brow genres, they lack the kind of gravitas we tend to attach (albeit in different ways) to those of either high and low culture, "middling" publications of vaguely embarrassing import except as source material for larger projects of literary and cultural analysis. But it was to the author of the Curiosities of Literature that Bulwer Lytton dedicated "View of the Intellectual Spirit of the Time" in England and the English (1833), where he posed a key question in relation to the broad literary culture of the early nineteenth century: "It is a great literary age--we have great literary men--but where are their works?" A moment's reflection, Bulwer says, gives us the answer: "we must seek them [i.e. their works] not in detached and avowed standard publications, but in periodical miscellanies." (11) Anticipating an argument to be reiterated throughout the century and beyond, he suggests that intellectual energies have gravitated to the heterogeneity of the serial, abandoning the wholeness of the "work." Herein lies the key to his dedication, for while D'Israeli was not himself deeply involved in periodical culture (despite his connection to the Quarterly Review), his entire career was defined by an allegiance to forms of literary activity that did not issue in what he called "the continuity of a text." The "multiplied means" of modern knowledge, he explains, have "raised up the most diversified objects. These ... can never melt together in the continuity of a text." (12) If D'Israeli's commitment to literary culture makes him part of the wider movement in the late eighteenth century to valorize literature as the new repository of public and national virtue--he repeatedly surfaces in Paul Keen's chapter on "Men of Letters" in the 1790s, for example (13)--his antiquarian bias in favor of partial and specific views makes the alliance more tenuous than it may initially seem. Where, as critics like Keen have argued, the new cultural authority of literature derived in part from its appropriation of the aristocratic political claim to a whole or general view, the antiquarian model of literature promulgated by D'Israeli rewrote the literary in terms of the piecemeal. Miscellany lay at its heart, articulating reading, writing and publication in ways that challenged even as they converged with the operations of a periodical literary sphere equally shaped by what Leah Price has dubbed "a culture of the excerpt" (Anthology and the Rise of the Novel 5).
1. The Antiquary-miscellanist and the "Subterraneous" Realm of Letters
Miscellanists by definition present a problem of categorization. Where to locate someone like D'Israeli in the literary field? What kind of writer or author might he be? For Allan Cunningham, pondering the question in the Athenaeum in 1833 (the same year that Bulwer published England and the English), the answer was far from clear. After deciding to place him among the historians, Cunningham immediately added a qualification: "In placing Isaac D'Israeli among historians, I know not that I am right; he is, however, a great writer of some kind, and all his productions are of a historic character." (14) His tentativeness underlines the difficulty presented by a career built on volumes featuring titles such as Curiosities of ..., Miscellanies ..., Inquiry into ..., Amenities OF ..., Commentaries on ..., and so forth. Such designations point to a literary activity that understands itself as plural and provisional, outside the denomination of a particular name. As D'Israeli observed late in his career, "the diversified literature in which I have so long indulged ... has never obtained a name" (Amenities vii-viii). He himself invoked a variety of names for his books, as in the subtitle to the second series of his Curiosities: A Second Series of Curiosities of Literature: Consisting of Researches in Literary, Biographical, and Political History, or Critical and Philosophical Inquiries, and of Secret History (1823). In foregrounding "researches" and "inquiries" across a range of fields, the subtitle underlines D'Israeli's interest in a model of miscellany answering to a broader conception of literature than the category of imaginative writing to which it was becoming increasingly narrowed. (15)
The miscellany of literary curiosity is emphatically not a literary miscellany in this more restricted sense. "Of all Europe, we have excelled in the miscellaneous mode of writing," D'Israeli noted in 1796, "but our's [sic] has been generally addressed to the imagination, and not much to literary curiosity." (16) It was to fill this gap that he entered upon the project that was to make his name: the celebrated Curiosities of Literature, which he continually reissued, revised, and expanded for half a century after their initial publication and which continued to be republished for decades following his death in 1848. The volumes feature hundreds of articles from the wide realm of "letters" (e.g. literary history, political history, criticism, philosophy, folklore, philology, etc.), and D'Israeli repeatedly stresses their French rather than English generic provenance. Recalling the genesis of the Curiosities in an 1839 preface, for instance, he claims that late eighteenth-century England offered "no collection of the res litterariae." (17) D'Israeli admits the significant contributions of Joseph and Thomas Warton, along with that of Samuel Johnson, but for him these literary figures preceded "the age of philosophical thinking," while contemporary anecdotal collections such as those of his friends James Petit Andrews and William Seward consisted "wholly of confectionary." "I conceived the idea of a collection of a different complexion," he declares (Curiosities vii), and he turned for a model to the French Ana, the best of which provided him "materials to work on." Supplementing these "materials" with whatever English materials he could find, he composed the initial volume of the Curiosities, sending it out anonymously ("without a name"); its success confirmed the lack in the English literary market he had intuited: "I had not miscalculated the wants of others by my own" (Curiosities vii, viii).
From the outset, then, D'Israeli locates his miscellany of literary curiosity in spatial terms of dissemination and transmission rather than in the temporal terms (the "test of time") on which literary value--and literary anthologies--more conventionally rested, inserting it into the modern scene of reading specifically as an extension of the range of texts in circulation for the general reader. (18) Targeting in particular if not exclusively the "commercial" and "fashionable" classes, D'Israeli set out to select for them "[w]hatever is most interesting in books rarely to be met with, or whatever is most agreeable in compilations which it would be impossible for them to peruse with patience." (19) Like the related miscellaneous form of travel writing, the antiquarian literary miscellany thus extended the view of English readers, but it did so by bringing home the realm of exotic reading rather than exotic being. Reproducing the rare and the recondite found in the private libraries and public archives of European aristocratic and learned culture, it claimed for the general reader and for the category of public culture dimensions of literacy typically beyond the purview--or even interest--of an amorphous "reading public." "Of the greater part of the topics which he has discussed," comments Tait's Edinburgh Review in an assessment of the impact of D'Israeli, "that numerous and important division of society, the Reading Public, as distinguished from the learned and the studious, would, save for him have known nothing and cared nothing." (20) The review draws special attention to his fostering a taste for "the enjoyments of varied literature" among readers who, once they had satiated an adolescent appetite for fiction, would have stopped reading or been repelled by "mere learning." Making a similar point about expanding literary range, the Eclectic Review proclaimed D'Israeli "the first writer who endeavoured to allure the general reader from the beaten path of popular history and every day literature" into the "bye ways" previously restricted to antiquaries and book-worms. (21)
What the Eclectic read in positive terms, however, a periodical like the British Critic approached more warily, suspecting that the success of a genre like the miscellany of literary curiosity in fact signalled a debasement of literature and knowledge, a catering to the prevailing taste for the easily digested, and hence an impoverishment rather than enrichment of general reading practices: "It may be feared lest minds accustomed to them should reject severer diet....[S]hould the taste for them grow into a rage, it will be an alarming symptom for literature." (22) What rendered such genres an especially "alarming symptom" was that the "miscellaneous reading" they at once embodied and encouraged represented a reading outside discipline: "that kind of reading where there is no necessity for previous study, or for severe thinking in its progress." (23) For D'Israeli that was precisely the point. "Miscellaneous reading" was a reading impelled only by the readily available and unfocused mental energy of "curiosity." Hearkening back to an understanding of reading as the garnering or gleaning of a textual field for one's own or the community's use--the notion of reading behind commonplace books and similar modes of textual extraction still prevalent at the turn of the nineteenth century (24)--his miscellany of literary curiosity reinflected it on behalf of new readers and a new age, aligning "miscellaneous reading" with the inductions of empirical science.
Routinely invoking Bacon and the language of fact--"We collect facts, and the reader must draw his own conclusions" ("Singularities of War," Curiosities 176)--D'Israeli deployed the scientific analogy (much leaned-on by essayists in general in the period) not just to lend to a collection of musty extracts a modern authority but to promote a model of reading as active engagement rather than passive reception or absorption. So the essay "On Reading" contrasts a reading that stimulates "ideas" from one that simply produces "tumultuous sensations," drawing on the idiom of empiricist psychology to link the latter with "the facile pleasures of perception" and the former with "the laborious habit of forming them into ideas." (25) D'Israeli characterized his own collections as "materials for thinking," (26) reinforcing the point by his frequent recourse to terms like "speculation," "inquiry," and "research." Moreover, in offering the reader gaps and spaces to be filled, the disconnected form of miscellany itself served as a stimulus to mental energy, prompting the acts of construction and reflection through which D'Israeli sought to maintain for his day a reciprocity of literature and learning unravelling under the pressure of the ongoing contest over literary authority in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.
Standing in equivocal relation to both cultural realms, the miscellany of literary curiosity occupied an ambiguous position in this contest. As Jonathan Kramnick has argued, over the course of the eighteenth century the categories of literature and learning were being pulled apart in the struggle over letters between an emergent discourse of literary criticism located in periodical culture and an established discourse of scholarly expertise attached to an older learned culture. (27) Intent on identifying letters with the communicable realm of the public sphere, periodical critics relentlessly evoked the counter trope of the pedant--obsessive, opaque, isolated, and probably mad--to establish by contrast their own balance, transparence, sanity, and sociability. Equally, however, especially as literary criticism itself became more professionalized toward the turn of the century, they resisted and denigrated popularizers such as abridgers, miscellanists and anthologists as light and derivative beings lacking properly literary seriousness. (28) "The life of a collector of biographical anecdotes and literary relics must be one of the pleasantest in the world" proclaimed the Critical Review on the occasion of a sixth edition of the Curiosities of Literature, invoking a standard image of the miscellanist as an amiable literary scavenger. "Without undergoing the drudgery of authorship," the review notes, such a collector simply "wanders from library to library," prying into one obscure volume after another, skimming closely-printed pages (so as to save himself "the trouble of reading"), and randomly gathering "scraps." These, when sufficient in number, he finally "strings ... together by connecting paragraphs, and amuses the world with what has delighted himself." (29) So distanced from the critic-reviewer, the antiquary-miscellanist stands in uncomfortable proximity to the irresponsible idler on the one hand and the introverted pedant on the other. Any public benefit that might accrue from his works is but the spillover of a random and self-indulgent "curiosity," a reading devoid of focus, critical discrimination, and fundamental seriousness. To secure for this suspect figure a viable and valuable public role, D'Israeli thus had to negotiate tricky rhetorical ground, and he did so by deploying the ritualized rivalry of letters and learning ("The Miscellanists satirise the Pedants, and the Pedants abuse the Miscellanists," Miscellanies, or Literary Recreations 3) to generate a hybrid figure straddling both spheres.
The quotation comes from an essay "Of Miscellanies" which itself enters the fray conventionally enough on the side of the miscellanists, denigrating pedants as an inbred, closed circle unable to reach a wider public. By contrast, it identifies miscellanists as those who form "a communication between the learned and the unlearned, and, as it were throw a bridge between these two great divides of the public" (Miscellanies, or Literary Recreations 3). So rehearsing the banishment of the learned figure from the communicable world of letters, this and similar essays such as "On Erudition and Philosophy" identify the miscellanist with the polite man of letters. At the same time, however, the commitment of D'Israeli's miscellanist to the reading of rare and obscure old texts allies him with the antiquary, whose mole-like burrowing among the rubbish of the past made him a favored target of men of taste and polite learning. Hence D'Israeli evidences a distinct ambivalence when it comes to antiquaries, anxious to dissociate his miscellanist from their myopic "dull industry" but equally anxious to promote the cultural value of antiquarian "labours" in the archive. To resolve the dilemma and to rescue intellectual authority for those "labours" he effects a division whereby a debased form absorbs the standard charges of minuteness and inutility, allowing the emergence of a valorized form characterized by a wider interest in "ancient manners" or the "history of the human mind." Two footnotes on facing pages of the text of A Dissertation on Anecdotes included in Literary Miscellanies (1801) provide a succinct and graphic demonstration. A long note on page eight opens with the declaration: "There will always be antiquaries, to solace themselves with the hope, that dull industry will compensate for a total want of the energy of genius." An almost equally long note on page nine opens with the declaration: "Antiquarian studies begin to rank high in the mind of the philosopher." What accounts for the difference in evaluation is that antiquarian researches have broadened their inquiries from specialized philological study (the deciphering of "obliterated inscriptions") to the more general historical investigation of "ancient manners" (Literary Miscellanies 8n, 9n). A similar move propels the argument launching D'Israeli's negative review of Samuel Pegge's Anonymiana; or Ten Centuries of Observations on various Authors and Subjects, where he declares that antiquarian studies "have received a nobler impulse since the days of Pegge, by their alliance with taste and philosophy; and whenever an antiquary shall now be found a trifler, we may be certain that the fault is more in himself than in his studies; since those studies are not merely curious or entertaining, but may be directed to important purposes." (30)
A renovated antiquarianism then sets the stage for an identification of the antiquary and the miscellanist in a more intellectual register, and the two fuse in D'Israeli's model of the "man of letters" as a cultivator of knowledge. (31) This figure, located in the concrete bookish space of the archive with its "literary labours" (rather than the more abstract circles of literary circulation and sociability) invests the notion of " cultivation" with a quasi-physical charge, as D'Israeli repeatedly exploits its material as well as mental inflections. "Let us no longer look upon this retired and peculiar class as useless members of our busy race," D'Israeli urges. "There are mental as well as material labourers." (32) The claim itself is standard enough--a way of investing literary work with positive social value for the "busy race" of middle-class readers--and squarely aimed at Adam Smith's notorious allocation of writers to the category of unproductive laborers. But D'Israeli also deploys his literary laborers more specifically to throw into relief layers of energy and productivity generally overlooked in standard models of literary production. His men of letters, cultivating the terrain of literature and knowledge shaped by others, typically inhabit minor and often invisible roles, linked to ongoing processes rather than to finished products. They thus transfer attention from the singular achievements generally understood as definitive of literary culture to the buried, collaborative, and often anonymous energies and forces which underlie them.
Suggestively, D'Israeli's own attempt at a more connected literary history, Amenities of Literature, not only focuses on public opinion and the centrality of the press but stresses that the art of printing--the catalyst of modern culture--was not a singular or sudden invention: "what if the art can boast of no single inventor, and was not the product of a single act?" he asks (Amenities 1: 324-25). Speculating that the knowledge which developed the printing press was an incremental development, largely promulgated by unnamed and mobile figures such as travelers, he sets this account against that of the general historian, noting that "all such slight notices escape the detection of an historian; nothing can reach him but the excellences of some successful artist" (Amenities t: 330. Like the unknown figures who made possible the art of printing, D'Israeli's men of letters also operate in the realm of "slight notices" that elude official narratives, connectors rather than self-possessed units within the field. "Such are the cultivators of knowledge," he comments in The Literary Character "who are rarely authors, but who are often, however, contributing to the works of others, and without whose secret labours the public would not have possessed many valued ones" (Miscellanies of Literature 466).
This model of the man of letters yields D'lsraeli's governing trope of literary culture--that of "subterraneous" energies--articulated in his earlier Essay on the Manners and Genius of the Literary Character, which stresses the reliance of William Robertson's historical narrative on the findings of the antiquary Thomas Birch. Researchers like Birch, D'Israeli suggests, "may be compared to those subterraneous streams, which flow into spacious lakes, and which, though they flow invisibly, enlarge the waters which attract the public eye." (33) D'Israeli's miscellanies themselves evidence a keen interest in reflecting on what generally escapes "the public eye": paratextual forms (e.g. prefaces, titles of books); ephemeral genres (e.g. pamphlets, newspapers, anecdotes); low-status literary practitioners (e.g. abridgers, bibliographers, translators). (34) The turn to the subterraneous hence brings into view networks of literary cultivation and dissemination obscured by conventional binary divisions of the literary field into authors/ readers, public/private, production/reproduction, and so forth. At this level, for instance, authorial functions typically merge with readerly operations, as in the production of editions, annotations, translations, and various forms of commentary. Hybrid publishing institutions such as the book club and printing society, both early nineteenth-century inventions, blur the line between public and private, as does the transformation and use of libraries (a favorite D'Israeli topic). Here too the double status of the book itself as at once a public and a private good moves into sharper focus: the distinction William Hazlitt drew between a "perishable and personal commodity" (such as articles of food or fuel) and an "idea which is accessible to all, and may be multiplied without end." (35) Thus, on the one hand, phenomena such as book-collection and its intensification in the bibliomania that swept certain classes in the early decades of the nineteenth century strip the book of its publicness and confirm it as a purely private and material commodity; on the other, publishing activities of collection, reprinting and other modes of popular re-circulation confirm its status as a public good available for concurrent and not exclusive consumption.
In opening out literary discussion to such questions through the trope of the subterraneous, D'Israeli performs what Virgil Nemoianu calls a "strategic lowering of sights." Discussing "semi-literary genres" such as travels, diaries, and anatomies, Nemoianu argues that they come into existence primarily as vehicles for approaching the secondary, defined as objects and details outside the reach of the general models of science or philosophy. In putting-different-subjects-on-the-same-level, he explains, such genres enact a gesture asserting a "strategic lowering of sights." (36) D'Israeli himself, defending the "closer knowledge of Research," explicitly advocates a quite literal lowering of sights: "The Researchers are like the inhabitants of a city who live among its ancient edifices, and are in the market-places and the streets: but the theorists, occupied by perspective views, with a more artist-like pencil may impose on us a general resemblance of things; but often shall we find in those shadowy outlines how the real objects are nearly, if not wholly lost" (Miscellanies of Literature 29). Giving voice to the antiquary's characteristic distrust of general narratives and concepts, the passage pits "researchers" operating in the discontinuities of the street against "theorists" seeking the control of perspective views. But D'Israeli's admission that the theorists do after all succeed in producing "a general resemblance of things" even as they ironically lose the "real objects" in the process leads to a more subtle point: the asymmetry of analytic levels whereby the "same" object yields very different representations at distinct levels of analysis, none of which can rule one another out. Summing up this situation, much canvassed among historiographers, Siegfried Kracauer gives it memorable articulation when pondering the relationship between a historical idea and the historical materials it expresses: "While it is always possible to proceed from an idea down to its underlying material, the reverse way from the material up to the idea is by no means a straight route.... You will have to jump to capture it." (37)
Antiquary-miscellanists like D'Israeli are those who make apparent that "jump," proliferating particulars so as to disturb the security of the "straight route." To induce a certain discomfort in the idea or general narrative and, crucially, to maintain a density of particulars allowing, at least potentially, for other routes is the justification for projects such as his own. This is not to suggest that D'Israeli was a proto-postmodernist; on the contrary, he was very much a quietist late Enlightenment man of his time. But his commitment to Enlightenment sceptical thinkers like Pierre Bayle and Moses Mendelssohn on the one hand, along with his antiquarian attraction to fragments and "curious" materials on the other, means that general ideas and narratives typically either failed to interest him or appeared as objects of distrust. "Few writers," Benjamin Disraeli comments, "have been more successful in inducing us to pause before we accepted without a scruple the traditionary opinion that has distorted a fact or calumniated a character" ("On the Life and Writings of Mr. Disraeli," Curiosities 50). The provocative title of an early essay, "Historical Characters are False Representations of Nature" helps make the son's point. D'Israeli's essay itself pursues a standard antiquarian argument about the deceptive rhetorical power of historical narratives, but it is animated by a stress on how history's focus on a few glamorous figures distorts the socially valuable energies of sympathy: "If it were possible to read the histories of those who are doomed to have no historian, and to glance into those domestic journals, as well as into national archives we should then perceive the unjust prodigality of our sympathy to those few names, which eloquence has adorned with all the seduction of her graces" (Miscellanies 68-69).
Behind D'Israeli's valorization of secondary genres and antiquarian authorship thus lies an ethic of reading, one that underlines not only his commitment to active reading but also the peculiar mix of conservative and speculative energies shaping his own miscellaneous imagination. Witness a telling moment in the preface to "Our Anecdotage," a collection of anecdotes gleaned from manuscript sources and printed by D'Israeli in the New Monthly Magazine in 1832. Every day, D'Israeli reports, a man of letters turns up a "variety of curious information" condemned to perish because it falls outside conceptual systems or textual totalities, appearing only as isolated "particles" not readily assimilable into "elaborate works." Immediately, however, he reassures his readers that such "particles" as he has gathered in the New Monthly will not dislodge received narratives: "they will not interfere with what already lies on our shelves." All the same, he cannot resist speculating on their implication for potential rather than established narratives: "Histories of books and authors which were unknown to their critics, or life-writers, may yet be told. Many pieces of secret history too detached to enter into the general view of more formal history may be preserved." (38) Imbued with the antiquary's sense that the past can never be fully settled--there is always more in the archive--D'Israeli presents the simple printing of his ana as allowing for a potential plurality of pasts (stories that may "yet be told") or for a different past (a story that may be told differently). More generally, the disconnected fragments of antiquarian miscellany, thrown together, at once confirm and confound the famously empty homogeneous time of print. If the evenness of such time makes possible the collocation of heterogeneous items across time-space, as various critics have argued, their entry into that time space serves as well to cut across and confuse its ready flow. The antiquarian book miscellanies produced and theorized by D'Israeli--thickly printed, crowded, ever-expanding--attest not so much to the transparency and rationality of modern historical time as to its density and multiplicity.
2. "Literary Curiosity" and the Dissolution of the Book
Central to the project of these miscellanies is the reiterated but elusive term "literary curiosity," whose task it is both to keep in play this thickness of discursive possibility and to ensure that "literature" itself remains a capacious category. "Literary curiosity" points in the first place to an active, even aggressive, mental energy of inquiry and only in the second place to the objects (the "curiosities") discovered or discerned by that faculty. As Barbara Benedict has reminded us, curiosity denotes "the search for information by empirical means," (39) so that in one of its bearings it denotes the wish for an immediate and personal relationship to the objects of knowledge: the wish to know "for one's self." In the case of literary curiosity those objects are written records--"the history of the human mind"--which provoke in D'Israeli what he calls a "fervour of research which brings everything nearer to our eye and close to our touch." (40) Motivating this "fervour" is a keen interest in those materials that have not moved into general knowledge, along with a scepticism about standard readings of those that have, that is, a desire "to show how accepted truths become suspicious" (Miscellanies of Literature 154). Curiosity, Benedict argues, is a form of discontent, "always a sign of the rejection of the known as inadequate, incorrect, even uninteresting" (Curiosity 4). In contrast to the absorbed reading linked to imaginative (notably fictional) genres, a reading motivated by "literary curiosity" refuses to leave its object alone or to swallow it whole. Further, the miscellanies produced by literary curiosity not only refuse wholeness for themselves, as do other forms of miscellany, but actively break up wholes in ways that have implications for the status of the book itself in the culture.
D'Israeli designates as "the father of literary curiosity," the French philosopher Pierre Bayle, whose monumental Critical and Historical Dictionary (1697) attempted to subject to scrutiny the whole of received European knowledge by returning to particular sources ("Modern Literature--Bayle's Critical Dictionary," Curiosities 313). As much as its content, the physical layout of Bayle's massive book embodies the method of critique. The Dictionary arranges its subjects in alphabetical order, but it surrounds them with such a mass of commentary as to defeat any clarity and ease of reference thereby achieved. "'Tis a Dictionary of a new and singular kind," states his biographer in a sketch appended to later editions (I quote the 1734 English translation). "In the text or body of the articles, Mr. Bayle gives a succinct, tho' very exact account of those persons whose lives he writes: but then he fully gratifies the Reader's curiosity, by the remarks subjoined to the text, which are a commentary on it." (41) This "subjoined" commentary is the Dictionary's distinctive feature. (42) An extraordinary profusion of notes on notes crowds the margins of the folio pages to nibble away from the sides and bottom of the consolidations of received knowledge occupying the "body" of the book. Blocking any sense of completion, such a layout implies that the texts of the past always remain open to precisely the kind of "researches" and "inquiry" under which D'Israeli understood his own reading and publishing activities. "The horizon of Research is illimitable," he observes with some satisfaction (Essay on Literary Character 62). The consequence is that not only the "remains" of the past but the historian's or miscellanist's own texts, no matter their authority or provenance, become material for ongoing commentary and revision. Indeed Bayle's eighteenth-century English editors felt quite free to make their own additions, thereby making the Dictionary ever less complete and authorial a work.
This notion of commentary is central to an understanding of D'Israeli's antiquarian miscellany. If his own practice, as Stuart Peterfreund has argued, owes something to the Talmudic method of continuous commentary, it was Bayle who gave commentary the modern critical edge that allowed D'Israeli to establish his own modernity in a post-rabbinical, post-traditional age. (43) As demonstrated in the layout of his Dictionary, the critical potential of commentary for Bayle inhered quite literally in its position as a supplement, a writing on the edges of a discursive system or conceptual order. "Whether it adds or substitutes itself," Derrida states in his classic account, "the supplement is exterior, outside of the positivity to which it is super-added." (44) Making visible from the margins of the page the limits and boundaries of the main text, the space of Bayle's commentary implies that exteriority itself releases the constructive negativity of critical and philosophical reflection and inquiry. Imbued with a similar if much less intense sense of the critical power of supplementarity, D'Israeli eschews its striking physical embodiment--his notes are relatively restrained--but he constantly insists on and protects the supplementary status of practices of miscellany. So he vindicates literary antiquaries as providing "the supplements of knowledge"; declares that researches such as his own "form supplements to our previous knowledge"; and defines his favored genre of secret history as "the supplement of history itself." (45) What attracts D'Israeli to the supplement in particular is the unboundedness of writing consequent on its exteriority, for in this position outside wholeness lies the possibility of the continual revision, addition, deletion, and transformation of discourse.
Continuity of commentary is fundamental to his understanding of the cultural agency of letters, and it yields a generative rather than definitive model of the book. D'Israeli's own bibliography exemplifies the point: almost every title is modified by phrases such as "revised and republished as," "revised and republished in" or simply "expanded." The original one-volume Curiosities of 1791, to take the best known instance, was enlarged to two volumes in 1793, and enlarged yet again to three volumes in 1817; in 1823 a three-volume Second Series appeared, which itself underwent revision and enlargement in 1838 even though (by that point) both series had been combined into a six-volume edition in 1834. The Contents of the Curiosities dramatically shift and alter, as do those of other collections such as the original Miscellanies, while a text like An Essay on the Literary Character undergoes very substantial revision between initial publication in 1795 and final revision in 1840. (46) Indeed D'Israeli alerts readers to its ongoingness in the 1840 preface by announcing: "For the fifth time I revise a subject which has occupied my inquiries from early life, with feelings still delightful, and an enthusiasm not wholly diminished" (Miscellanies of Literature 363).
Rereading and revision thus become the signs of antiquarian authorship. D'Israeli not only continually reorders and rewrites (even as he repeats) his texts, but he tends to retain rather than erase traces of fluctuations of mind, gaps in research, new information, and so on, as in an exemplary moment in his Commentaries on Charles the First (1828). Commenting on the story of the arrest of Charles's queen by the papal legate in Amiens on her way to England, he adds a note expressing some suspicion of the truth of this story. To this note he then adds another note, explaining: "Since writing this long note, which I leave as I had first written, that the reader may have an instance before him of the difficulty which exists in ascertaining the minuter points of history, I am induced to think that...." (47) And he goes on to specify the new research that has confirmed what he had earlier only suspected. A similar retention of the marks of the historian's processes of inquiry and writing governs his handling of an early essay on James I that appeared in the first set of Curiosities ridiculing him as a "royal pedant." D'Israeli reprints this essay in later editions of the Curiosities even though he has come to regard James as a much maligned man of genuine learning and published a monograph (An Inquiry into the Literary and Political Character of James the First) to make that case; moreover, he appends a note to the re printed essay drawing deliberate attention to his change of mind. It is thus not surprising to find him commending painters of antiquity for designating their works via "imperfect inscriptions, and half designations": "They marked them by imperfect inscriptions, and half designations; as thus--Appelles was doing this picture; Polycletus was sculpturing this image, as if they were but begun, and never could be finished by their hands" ("Of Miscellanies," Literary Miscellanies 75). A resonant image recalling D'Israeli's miscellanies themselves, these antique painters underline his own antiquarian investment in unfinishedness. (48) Anxious to keep readers "curiously" reading (including the author himself), his volumes converge with rather than resist contingency, forms of antiquarian collection that operate less as acts of preservation (although this dimension is undeniable) than as catalysts of energy.
If few altered their books quite so intensively or reflected quite so extensively on the notion of literary production as D'Israeli, early nineteenth-century antiquarian miscellanies and collections were typically marked by the energies of expansion and revision. Bearing the traces of time and high-lighting processes of revision, such publications testify to a sense of the book as provisional and contingent. In embracing this view antiquary-miscellanists stand in telling contrast to other readings of the book and of bookishness in the period. Thomas Carlyle's Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches (1845) presents a striking example. In response to an influx of new Cromwell letters after publication of the first edition, Carlyle produced a second edition in 1846. His preface to this second edition concentrates on the quandary in which this new material placed him: what to do with such letters when, on his reading, they did not modify "in any essential particular, what had already been set down, and sent forth to the world as a kind of continuous connected Book"? (49) With some reluctance Carlyle incorporates some of the letters, throwing the rest into an Appendix he images as "a loose back-room or lumber-room, not bound to be organic or habitable" (Cromwell vi). Declaring his task now done, he designates this second edition "the final one." Nonetheless a third edition appeared a few years later. The preface to this third edition notes the incorporation of a "small leakage of new Cromwell matter" on the same principles as the second edition, and refers as well to the addition of historical glossaries and other material carefully separated from the book proper, including its index. Carlyle devotes most of this preface, however, to an attempt to regulate the reading of his work so as to rescue an "intrinsic" book immune to the contingency of inflowing materials: "let me again say plainly that all these Appendixes and Adjuncts are insignificant, that the Life of Cromwell lies in the Text; and that a serious reader ... will not readily stir from that on any call of Appendixes, etc." (Cromwell viii). Unlike D'Israeli, he seeks to stabilize the processes of literacy and print that enter into the making of his book, defining revision and addition as simply superfluities ("intrinsically superfluous if extrinsically necessary") and directing the reader to ignore the repositories he has created to contain their distracting effects.
Behind Carlyle's insistence lies an acute sense of the loss and illegibility of the past. Cromwell's Letters and Speeches opens with a chapter titled "Anti-Dryasdust," which pronounces the seventeenth century "inaccessible" and presents the archive as a "shoreless chaos" whose documents and records are so much "scattered waste": "There they lie, printed, written, to the extent of tons and square miles, as shot-rubbish; unedited, unsorted, not so much as indexed; full of every conceivable confusion" (Cromwell 2). But Carlyle's profoundest frustration stems from the failure of these heaps of text to yield, except in glimpses, "the faces of our vanished Fathers" (Cromwell 8). Seeking and failing to find in the archive the "beyond" of written records and direct access to the grounds of historical origin, he is unable to live in its mediation and endless commentary. His rhetoric thus recalls Carolyn Steedman's recent argument that the discontinuity of the archive ("[y]ou find nothing in the Archive but stories caught halfway through the middle of things: discontinuities") has typically yielded two opposing images: Dust and Waste. (50) Waste, answering to a sense of destruction, points to the loss of the past and our exclusion from it; whereas Dust, representing the principle of imperishability, points to the circularity of the past and the impossibility of things disappearing. To live in Dust is to live in an uncertain temporality, one in which the line between past and present that underwrites modern historical understanding cannot be firmly drawn. It is also to live in an interminable writing and writing over, a thickness of discourse that for someone like D'Israeli represents the possibility of endless productivity but for those less thoroughly at home in book culture spells endless bafflement and frustration.
Carlyle's recoil from the archive points to the way in which the first half of the nineteenth century saw the print-culture figure of the "bookman" taking over from the more generalized learned-culture figure of the pedant as the adversary haunting the literary sphere. If D'Israeli welcomed "this growing world of books" ("Life and Habits of a Literary Antiquary, Curiosities 562), others were less sanguine: in such a world it was perhaps becoming impossible to think an outside to books and hence to think of something at all. As Alvin Kernan and others have pointed out, anxieties of proliferation and inundation had long shadowed print culture. (51) But they intensified in the rapidly expanding book culture of the early nineteenth century, which threw up well-publicized phenomena such as bibliomania, obsessive book collection and book production (not to mention "indefatigable" book readers such as D'Israeli himself), conjuring up the nightmare scenario of an infinite regress not just of books but of books that referred only to other books: "books made of other books and those again of others, without end." The words are those of Hazlitt ("On the Ignorance of the Learned," Works 8: 73), and they appear in the same essay from which I cited his dismissal of the book-worm in my opening. What disturbs is the willingness of the book-worm to live at secondhand. "Nature puts him out," Hazlitt complains (Works 8: 70), and the complaint underscores the recoding of literary space underway in the early nineteenth century. Where eighteenth-century men of letters deployed the asocial pedant to establish by contrast the sociability of literary space, as Kramnick has argued (Making the English Canon), Romantic critics such as Hazlitt and Carlyle were more likely to invoke the claustrophobic figure of the bookman to confirm its access to a nature outside the mediation of either civilized sociability or traditional learning. Thus Hazlitt observes, commending the writing of Godwin in The Spirit of the Age, that it has "no look of patch-work and plagiarism, the beggarly copiousness of borrowed wealth; no tracery-work from worm-eaten manuscripts, from forgotten chronicles, nor piecing out of vague traditions with fragments and snatches of old ballads." (52) Original, whole and modem, Godwin's words bypass saturated circuits of reproduction, republication, and compilation to ensure the referential powers of language and literature. By contrast, the antiquary-miscellanists remain firmly located within those saturated communicative circuits, operating precisely through activities of borrowing and piecing. Intent not so much on finding an outside to books as on finding gaps within them, antiquarian genres like the miscellany of literary curiosity turned books into pieces. In so doing they animated and recirculated the "remains" of the past for the present, and opened up the learned space of the archive for amateur readers and genres, demystifying its obscure writings and dissolving its books.
University of Ottawa, Canada
(1.) "On the Life and Writings of Mr. Disraeli," Curiosities of Literature, 14th ed., 3 vols. (London: Edward Moxon, 1849) 1: lii. Marvin Spevack reprints this memoir in his useful recent selection, Isaac D'Israeli on Books: Pre-Victorian Essays on the History of Literature (London: British Library and Oak Knoll Press, 2004) xviii-xxxvii. Spevack is currently at work on the first full-length study of D'Israeli since James Ogden's Isaac D'Israeli (Oxford: Clarendon, 1969).
(2.) "Men and Books," New Monthly Magazine (Jan 1833), rpt. in Lawrence Huston Houtchens and Carolyn Washburn Houtchens, eds. Leigh Hunt's Literary Criticism (New York: Octagon Books, 1976) 410.
(3.) "On the Ignorance of the Learned," The Complete Works of William Hazlitt, ed. P. P. Howe, 21 vols. (London: Dent, 1933) 8: 70.
(4.) "On Literary Genius," Literary Miscellanies: Including Dissertation on Anecdotes (London, 1801) 207.
(5.) On D'Israeli's promotion of romantic authorship, see in particular Dino Felluga, Poetics of Perversity: Romantic Ideology and the Popular Male Poet of Genius (Albany: SUNY P, 2004), chap. 4, and Jonah Siegel, Desire and Excess: The Nineteenth-Century Culture of Art (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2000) 98-100. On his role in the formation of literary culture in the period more generally, see Phillip Connell, "Bibliomania: Book Collecting, Cultural Politics, and the Rise of Literary Heritage in Romantic Britain," Representations 71 (Summer 20oo): 24-47; April London, "Isaac D'Israeli and Literary History: Opinion, Anecdote, and Secret History in the Early Nineteenth Century," Poetics Today 26 (Fall 2005): 351-86; Mark Salber Phillips, Society and Sentiment: Genres of Historical Writing in Britain, 1740-1820 (Princeton: Princeton UP) 165-70. The recent interest in D'Israeli as a thinker about literature and history rather than simply a "source" for literary-historical studies owes a good deal to his appearance in Joel Fineman's much-cited essay on "The History of the Anecdote: Fiction and Fiction," The New Historicism, ed. H. Aram Veeser (New York: Routledge, 1989) 49-76.
(6.) Witness Washington Irving's satiric portrayal of "the diligent getter up of miscellaneous works, which bustled off well with the trade" (based on D'Israeli) in a chapter titled "The Art of Book-Making" in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent, The Complete Works of Washington Irving, ed. Haskell Springer (Boston: Twayne, 1978) 62-63. Barbara M. Benedict stresses the low status of miscellanies in "Literary Miscellanies: The Cultural Mediation of Fragmented Feeling," ELH 57 (Summer 1990): 407-30.
(7.) See Lucy Newlyn, Reading, Writing, and Romanticism) The Anxiety of Reception (Oxford: Clarendon, 2000). Newlyn includes some suggestive remarks on D'Israeli's championing of readers and secondary genres, although she overlooks the early date of his commitment, presenting him as a follower rather than precursor of Charles Lamb (222-23).
(8.) Curiosities of Literature (London, 1791) x-xi.
(9.) Vicesimus Knox, Preface, Elegant Extracts: or useful and entertaining Pieces of Poetry (London, 1784) v.
(10.) Jerome McGann, Byron and Romanticism (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002) 53. On miscellaneity see, for example, Barbara M. Benedict, The Making of the Modern Reader: Cultural Mediation in Early Modern Literary Anthologies (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1996); Frans De Bruyn, "The Classical Silva and the Generic Development of Scientific Writing in Seventeenth-Century England," New Literary History 32 (Spring 2001); Leah Price, The Anthology and the Rise of the Novel: From Richardson to George Eliot (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000); Marjorie Swann, Curiosities and Texts: The Culture of Collecting in Early Modern England (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2001).
(11.) Edward Lytton Bulwer, England and the English, ed. Standish Meacham (Chicago and London: U of Chicago P, 1970) 261. On the centrality of the periodical essay in the period, see Jon Klancher's landmark The Making of English Reading Audiences, 1790-1832 (Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1987); see also Lee Erikson's more recent The Economy of Literary Form: English Literature and the Industrialization of Publishing 1800-1850 (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UP, 1996), chap. 3.
(12.) Amenities of Literature, Consisting of Sketches and Characters of English Literature, 3 vols. (London: Edward Moxon, 1841) vii-viii.
(13.) Paul Keen, The Crisis in Literature in the 1790s: Print Culture and the Public Sphere (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999), chap. 2.
(14.) Allan Cunningham, "Biographical and Critical History of the Literature of the Last Fifty Years," Athenaeum, no. 320, 14 Dec 1835, p. 851.
(15.) On this much-discussed topic, see Clifford Siskin's influential account of the narrowing of the concept of literature by the end of the eighteenth century, The Work of Writing: Literature and Social Change in Britain 1700-1830 (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UP, 1998).
(16.) Miscellanies, or Literary Recreations (1796) vi. D'Israeli thus counters the trend in the late eighteenth century noticed by Barbara M. Benedict to replace the heterogeneous prose miscellany with the poetic or more strictly literary miscellany; see "Literary Miscellanies."
(17.) Curiosities of Literature, 12th ed. (London, 1841) vii. All references to the contents of the Curiosities, as well as to the 1839 preface, are to this edition. References to D'Israeli's prefaces to earlier editions are cited separately. Since the contents and titles of D'Israeli's miscellanies were constantly changing, I have not always followed strict protocols of citation but kept in mind clarity of reference for the reader.
(18.) In the preface to Literary Miscellanies (1801) D'Israeli approvingly cites a Monthly Review article on his earlier Miscellanies (1796), which argued that "it would not be less just to adopt, as the standard of mensuration the extent of space through which the interest of a composition is to prevail,--to weigh off the mass of contemporary against the mass of successive readers,--and to assign the same quantity of value to the tutor of three brothers, as to the preceptor of the grandfather, the father, and the sons," Monthly Review, ns24 (Dec 1797): 374-75; Literary Miscellanies iv-v.
(19.) Curiosities 1791, ix.
(20.) [Hannah Lawrence], rev. of D'Israeli's Amenities of Literature, Tait's Edinburgh Magazine 8 (Oct 1841): 638.
(21.) Rev. of D'Israeli's Amenities of Literature, Eclectic Review, ns10 (Oct 1841): 431. This article was reprinted in The American Eclectic 3 (Jan 1842): 127-45. For a retrospective assessment of D'Israeli's reputation in America, see [C. C. Smith] "Isaac Disraeli," North American Review 90 (April 1869): 526-38.
(22.) Rev. of Curiosities, Volume the Second, British Critic 1 (Jul 1793): 325. This is the review that prompted D'Israeli to write his defense of anecdote, A Dissertation on Anecdote (1793).
(23.) Rev. of D'Israeli's Miscellanies, British Critic 8 (Aug 1796): 160.
(24.) On commonplace books and the "culture of transcription" in the period, see Stephen Colclough, "Recovering the Reader: Commonplace Books and Diaries as Sources of Reading Experience," Publishing History 44 (1998): 5-37. Marjorie Swann outlines the earlier humanist model of "fragmenting reading" in her Curiosities and Texts, chap 4.
(25.) Miscellanies of Literature, new ed. (London, 1840) 10-11.
(26.) The phrase appears in the preface to the 5th edition of the Curiosities (London, 1807) xi; but see also the preface to the 3rd edition (London, 1793).
(27.) Jonathan Brody Kramnick, Making the English Canon: Print-Capitalism and the Cultural Past 1700-1770 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998).
(28.) On the denigration of such publications as part of a crisis of professionalization, see Keen, Crisis of Literature 115-31.
(29.) "D'Israeli's Curiosities of Literature," Critical Review s5v5 (March 1817): 215.
(30.) Monthly Review 63 (Nov 1810): 303.
(31.) Like most of D'Israeli's categories, the man of letters is a composite and hence releases different threads of implication. Phillip Connell, for example, offers an important reading of the man of letters in relation to emerging notions of national literary heritage; see "Bibliomania."
(32.) Preface to The Literary Character revised and republished in Miscellanies of Literature 364.
(33.) An Essay on the Manners and Genius of the Literary Character (London, 1795) 20.
(34.) Kevin Jackson has dubbed these "invisible forms" in a book that devotes a chapter of tribute to D'Israeli, Invisible Forms: A Guide to Literary Curiosities (London: Picador, 1999).
(35.) "On the Catalogue Raisonne of the British Institution," Works 4: 144.
(36.) Virgil Nemoianu, A Theory of the Secondary: Literature, Progress, and Reaction (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UP, 1989) 154.
(37.) Kracauer, History: The Last Things Before the Last (New York: Oxford UP, 1969) 98-99.
(38.) D'Israeli, "Our Anecdotage," New Monthly Magazine 34 (1832): 541, 542.
(39.) Barbara M. Benedict, Curiosity: A Cultural History of Early Modern Inquiry (Chicago and London: U of Chicago P, 2001) 23.
(40.) Preface to Quarrels of Authors reprinted in Miscellanies of Literature 154.
(41.) The Rev. John Peter Bernard et al, eds., A General Dictionary, Historical and Critical: In Which a New and Accurate Translation of that of the Celebrated Mr. Bayle is Included (London, 1734), Preface.
(42.) Lionel Grossman reads the commentary as "a striking repudiation of narrative," Between History and Literature (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1990) 291. See also Lawrence Lipking, "The Marginal Gloss," Critical Inquiry 3 (Summer 1977): 609-55.
(43.) Stuart Peterfreund, "Not for 'Antiquaries,' but for 'Philosophers': Isaac D'Israeli's Talmudic Critique and His Talmudical Way with Literature," British Romanticism and the Jews, ed. Sheila A. Spector (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002) 188.
(44.) Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UP, 1976) 145.
(45.) "Life and Habits of a Literary Antiquary," Curiosities 554; Preface, A Second Series of Curiosities of Literature (London, 1823) iv; "True Sources of Secret History," Curiosities 512.
(46.) Dino Felluga reads the changes to the essay on literary character in an extensive note, Poetry and Perversity, chap. 4, note 15.
(47.) Commentaries on Charles the First, 2 vols. (London, 1828) 1: 241-42.
(48.) For David Simpson such an investment points to a wider phenomenon in nineteenth-century thought, an "ethic of incompleteness" problematically inherited by the current academy and at the root of the postmodern "culture of conversation" he critiques in The Academic Postmodern and the Rule of Literature: A Report on Half-Knowledge (Chicago and London: U of Chicago P, 1995). Not so incidentally, Simpson draws on D'Israeli's Dissertation on Anecdotes in his account of the genealogy of the postmodern academy.
(49.) Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches, 4 vols. (London: Chapman and Hall, 1902) I: v.
(50.) Carolyn Steedman, Dust: The Archive and Cultural History (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers UP, 2002) 45.
(51.) See Kernan, Printing Technology, Letters & Samuel Johnson (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1987), chap. 7.
(52.) Hazlitt, The Spirit of the Age; or Contemporary Portraits (London: Oxford UP, 1954) 32.
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|Title Annotation:||Benjamin D'Israeli|
|Publication:||Studies in Romanticism|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2006|
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