A selection of obscure, intriguing and ill-considered titles from the LMI Collection.
In a large lending library some spine titles catch the browser's eye and invite further attention while others doom the book to be forever passed over and ignored. Here is a selection of personal favourites from our collection.
11. Preston-Thomas, Herbert, The Work and play of a Government Inspector. (Edinburgh; William Blackwood and Sons, 1909.)
The question is begged. How much work and what sort of play would be reasonable in the life of a Victorian bureaucrat? And the answer appears to be fifty years in the Civil Service made bearable by occasional interludes of mountain-climbing.
10. Misrepresentations in Campbell's Lives of Lyndhurst and Brougham, corrected by St Leonards. (London; John Murray, 1869.)
A title page bristling with outrage even down to the authorial statement, this little volume came out in the same year and under the same imprint as Campbell's Lives, although in a far superior binding. The two books now sit side-by-side in the collection, memorialising an internecine feud among the Lords Chancellor. Sir Charles Wetherell once addressed Lord Campbell as "my noble and biographical friend who has added a new terror to death", but Edward Sugden, 1st Baron St Leonards, was still alive to defend himself in a hundred pages of forensic detail.
9. Mackay, Charles, Memoirs of extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds. (London: Office of the National Illustrated Library, 1852.)
A title that demands to be picked up, and doesn't disappoint, if only for the chapter on 'Influence of politics and religion on the hair and beard'. The short title (for the Institute catalogue) was Popular Delusions.
8. Wolff, Sir Henry Drummond, Rambling Recollections. 2 Vols. (London: Macmillan & Co., 1908.)
It is one thing to differentiate your memoirs from the rows of "The Life of X" and "The Diaries and letters of Y" but quite another to proclaim the absence of structure via your title. To emphasise the point , Sir Henry asserts that the contents of the book "are given just as they come unbidden into my memory" and "I fully recognise the defects arising from want of premeditation". He warns the reader that his "declining years have not been over-crowded with enjoyment" and that it would be his "misfortune" to write a sequel. Two volumes, each of 400pp, but was his heart really in the project?
7. L'Estrange, Roger, Intereft Miftaken: or, The Holy Cheat: proving from the undeniable practifes and pofitions of the Presbyterians, that the Defign of that Party is to enflave both King and people under the Mafque of Religion. By way of Obfervation upon a treatife, intituled, The Intereft of England in the matter of religion, &c. 3rd imp. (London; Printed for Henry Brome, at the Gun in Ivy Lane, 1662.)
This may be the longest title in our collection, falling just short of a full synopsis. And the '&c' suggests the author had something even longer in mind. The title must have defeated the binder as the tooled leather covers are entirely blank.
6. Naish, Percy Ll. The Rollings of a mossless stone. (London; John Ouseley Limited, [19--])
Such a clumsy title that it demands attention. If so, the author's apology at the start of Chapter One would not have inspired the potential reader; "One may well doubt if there is room for yet another book of recollections? Well, perhaps there may be a public for a totally novel author, the perfect nonentity, who not only is not at or near the head of any of the professions ... but cannot even have claimed to have belonged to any of them." For the record this is a book about hunting, travel and golf.
5. Marvin, Charles, Merv, the Queen of the world; and the scourge of the man-stealing Turcomans. With an exposition of the Khorassan question. (London: W H Allen and Co., 1881.)
A "comprehensive compilation dealing with current political questions" all of which will mean little to the twenty-first century reader. Compilation is the irreconcilable enemy of good title-making. Merv was once the largest city on the planet, and the names may have changed but the world's trouble spots have not.
4. Mather, E J, "Nor'ard of the Dogger". (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1887.)
An intriguing title, full of possibilities, exciting the imagination and asking to be read aloud. But a look inside at the sub-title; "Deep sea trials and gospel triumphs. Being the story of the initiation, struggles and successes of the mission to deep-sea fishermen" would surely have deflated the expectations of most browsers.
3. Forbes, Archibald, Glimpses through the Cannon-Smoke. (London: George Routledge and Sons, 1883.)
This little book has been badly served by the Institute's binder but perhaps it was picked up more often because of that. What could 'ANNON_SMOKE' possibly signify? The author confesses to "certain compunctions of conscience as to the title... [which] may be thought to have rather a lurid aspect of sensationalism". Well yes, but not so much as the two titles below in our list.
2. Adams, W H Davenport
Wrecked lives; or, men who have failed. First series.
Wrecked lives; or, men who have failed. Second series.
(London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1880.)
A quintessentially Victorian title, where the failure is moral (as might be expected from this publisher). To illustrate his thesis, Adams highlights Jonathon Swift who "may hand down his name and fame to after ages; but was not that a wrecked life which passed away under the heavy shadow of imbecility?" Chatterton, Burns, Wolsey and Poe also feature. A book to frighten men.
1. Colomb, Captain, Slave-catching in the Indian Ocean. (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1873.)
Since this is a very well-informed and measured account of the suppression of the East African slave trade, the lurid and highly misleading title invites speculation. What on earth was the publisher thinking? Several books on the topic appeared at the time but this title was bound to catch the eye –Victorian click-bait?
Posted by Peter Richardson