Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."





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Thursday, January 2, 2020

SIMPLE PLEASURES


I am old enough to have a home library filled with real books, not e-books that I can read on my watch or my glasses.  One of my favorite books – favorite as a physical object, not merely for its content – is the thick, stubby, hard-covered Clarendon Press edition of Hume’s Treatise with the extraordinary 68 page Selby-Bigge analytical index.  The pages are soft, nubbly, and off white, and it has for almost my entire life been a pleasure simply to hold it in my hands.

My copy is roughly sixty years old, filled with underlinings and marginal notes in several inks.  A long time ago the cover started to come loose, and I taped it up with brown paper tape that has itself grown hard and brittle with the decades.  Today, as I finished re-reading Part II of Book I, I decided something had to be done, so with Susie’s help I removed as much of the old tape as I could pick off and secured the cover with three straps of grey sealing tape.  I rather suspect that will do it for the remainder of my life.

Fifty-six years ago, I briefly held in my hands David Hume’s own copy of Books I and II of the Treatise.  My first wife and I were in London for the summer so that she could do research in Dr. Williams’ Library for her doctoral dissertation on the Puritan sources of Samuel Richardson’s novels.  One day, having nothing to do, I went to the British Museum and, sitting in the large circular Reading Room [as I recall it], filled out a call slip for the Treatise.  Some while later, a silent librarian handed me Hume’s own copy, WITH HIS HAND-WRITTEN MARGINAL CORRECTIONS!!  I was too freaked out actually to page through the volume.  Instead, I handed it back and fled, terrified that I would be apprehended as an impostor.

5 comments:

Dean said...

Not all that long ago, when I started law school, I discovered that one of my classmates is the daughter of one of my favorite literary theorists. A couple years ago he began clearing out his library, and she invited me to take my pick. I now possess a few dozen books once owned by one of my favorite literary theorists, including volumes lightly marked up with his annotations. But even those not marked up, e.g., two volumes of Coleridge's Biographia Literaria are special treasures for me. (I recall, too, a column in NYT in which Stanley Fish, another of my favorite literary theorists, announced that he was weeding most of his library. How I wish I could have mined that.) Many years earlier, a high school English teacher who used to meet weekly with me and two of my friends to assign extra-curricular readings and composition exercises, despite the fact that two of us weren't ever his official students, offered us his library after we graduated. I have cherished those books, too, yet only recently, forty years after the fact, did I begin to read through them in earnest. He, too, added occasional marginalia in, for instance, M.H. Abrams' The Mirror and the Lamp, which I *finally* read and admired. Finally, when I was in library school, midway between high school and law school, I took a course on "Evidences of Provenance" with Nicolas Barker, then Head of Conservation at the British Museum. For that course, we were taught not to relegate marginalia to the margins. Rather, annotations by former owners could prove crucial to a bibliographer's quest to identify the trajectory of a book, both the particular volume and its respective printing or edition, across time and space.

Dean said...

A nice coincidence. This just appeared on my RSS feed reader: https://voxpopulisphere.com/2019/10/06/video-toute-la-memoire-du-monde-all-the-memory-in-the-world/

Anonymous said...

Maybe soon you'll replace the tape? Further down the road, maybe you'll have to replace the covers? And yet further down the road you'll have to replace the pages? Same book?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Not unless I replicate my marginal comments, which are numerous. :)

Aaron Garrett said...

Your story reminds me of my much younger copy.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B7Er5xdBgsv/

Henry Allison's copy is really something to behold!