The Man Who Loved Books But Couldn't Afford Them

October 30, 2002 (Wednesday) / 5:00 pm

Penn Humanities Forum, 3619 Locust Walk

The Man Who Loved Books But Couldn't Afford Them

Annabel Patterson

Sterling Professor of English
Yale University

A noted scholar of book history takes us on a fascinating journey to an earlier time when public libraries scarcely existed to reveal how someone without the financial means to collect books became a walking, talking library—and runaway literary success.

Says Annabel Patterson...

"Twentieth-century scholarship, old style, was much engaged with the scholarly habits of our predecessors, especially those in early modern England, and much energy was spent in tracking down esoteric allusions and sources in, say, Spenser, Milton or Marvell. The new history of the book has turned aside from these preoccupations (which all too often were designed to show off the learning of the modern scholar) to focus on book production and distribution, the material, paper and ink, costs, and technology aspects of print culture. This often leaves content behind.

"One question that never got asked in the former era was: where and how did readers manage to read the esoteric books they supposedly drew from? How did people manage in an age where public libraries as we know them scarcely existed? How did someone without the financial resources to collect books for himself become a walking, talking library? This issue mediates between the old and the new scholarship of scholarship in potentially exciting ways.

"This lecture will focus on a single case in which these questions not only become unavoidable, but produce extremely interesting (and amusing) answers: about the man and his personality, his political connections, and his runaway literary success in a genre that had been hitherto excruciatingly dull: religious controversy. And since the topic was the pros and cons of religious toleration, the larger conceptual framework should now be of interest to an American audience itself facing that issue."

A scholar of Renaissance and early modern literature and history, Annabel Patterson is Sterling Professor of English, Yale University. Taking a cross-disciplinary approach to literary studies, she is widely published on a wide range of authors: Aesop, Virgil, Shakespeare, Marot, Keats, Donne, Milton, Spenser, Marvell, and Wordsworth, among others. In addition to 16th- and 17th-century literature and history (mainly British), she has written on the visual arts, especially portraiture; the history of censorship; historiography; early modern law; the history of liberalism; and the reception of classical texts. Among her recent publications: Early Modern Liberalism (1997), Marvell: The Writer in Public Life (2000), Nobody's Perfect: A New Whig Intepretation of History (2002).