Once upon a time, intellectual curiosity was not enough to assure someone access to the books they might need to educate themselves. Money and ingenuity alone were the guarantee.
Last night, Annabel Patterson, the Sterling Professor of English at Yale University, illustrated the case of one famous individual who fell victim to the circumstances of his day.
Patterson's talk, entitled "The Man Who Loved Books But Couldn't Afford Them," was part of the Penn Humanities Forum series on "The Year of the Book."
Patterson spoke about the plight of Andrew Marvell, known primarily as a great 17th century poet, who was being ignored for some of his greatest works of intellectual thought.
Patterson, who is currently the "editor-in-chief of Marvell's prose works," said she felt "dismay in the neglect of what he wrote in the service of [his principles of religious tolerance]."
The early part of the talk centered on what Patterson described as "how modern scholarship has evolved," from a time when intellectual history was primarily involved with the history of ideas to a time when "academic prestige and literary accuracy" was given to the study of what led authors to write.
Today, Patterson said, this "excitement... has been transferred to the material history of books and of reading."
After delineating the scandal that arose after the publication Marvell's scathing works of political criticism, and the criticism of Samuel Parker, a religious conformist who, Patterson said, "had produced by 1762 a spate of very nasty books" against religious toleration, she posed a question: where had Marvell found the many books he so deftly referred to in his two political pamphlets?
In matching up the books cited in Marvell's works to the libraries of friends of his at the time, Patterson found that the library Marvell used was most likely that of his friend Arthur Annesley, Earl of Anglesea. Though Patterson explained that "there are no books surviving that we know Marvell owned or read," it helps to know where people found books when public libraries were scarce, private ones were rarely open and books were too expensive for the average consumer.
Patterson commented after the lecture, "I like giving talks to mixed audiences because it forces you to be intelligible... and I think that's an important task that not many academics fulfill."
College freshman Min-Yi Jou felt Patterson accomplished what she set out to do.
"The fact that I found it so interesting to hear about something I knew so little about said a lot," Jou said.Comments powered by Disqus
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