Saturday, November 06, 2010

Isaac Disraeli's 'Secret'?

Isaac Disraeli
(Image from Project Gutenberg)

Readers will recall that in yesterday's blog entry, I commented on what Mr. Stuart Heath has noted about Mr. Isaac Disraeli's various editions of Curiosities of Literature, namely, that much of the book was reworked, including his article on "Bibliomania," which was almost entirely rewritten. In looking over the original of 1791 and some editions of the 19th century, in fact, I find only one phrase that stands out as identical:
The Bibliomania, or the collecting an enormous heap of books . . .
Compare the 1791 edition with the 1824 edition, and you will see what I mean. As one can also see, the 1824 edition -- taken as an exemplar of 19th-century editions -- contains the fascinating passage in question that began this entire charade of posts inquiring into Mr. Disraeli's meaning:
It has frequently happened, besides, that in second editions, the author omits, as well as adds, or makes alterations from prudential reasons; the displeasing truths which he corrects, as he might call them, are so many losses incurred by Truth itself. (Isaac Disraeli, Curiosities of Literature, 1824, pages 16-17)
One might well ask -- and I did -- why "Mr. Disraeli felt the need to make many 'alterations from prudential reasons' and to correct many 'displeasing truths.'" I had no answer, as I admitted, for "what, precisely, he might have wished to obscure is unclear to me." But I have since given the matter some additional thought and will now offer a suggestion, led in part by Mr. Stuart Heath, who notes:
It is apt, perhaps, that this text only appears in 19th-century versions of the article. Whether D'Israeli dwelt on these points in relation to his own work-in-progress is open to question. Certainly the 18th century editions of the Curiosities have a callowness about them which might have displeased their ageing author enough to offset the 'losses to Truth' he sustained by 'correcting' or suppressing some of its text.
I think that Mr. Heath has provided the clue: "callowness." Mr. Isaac Disraeli, born in 1766, would have been only about 25 years old in 1791, when he published the first edition of his book, and if you again compare his article on "Bibliomania" in the 1791 edition with the identically titled article in the 1824 edition, you'll see a decided improvement. Mr. Disraeli titled his original, 1791 article "Bibliomania," but neglected to offer any actual examples of the pathology. Had the bibliomaniacs in question been truly afflicted with an insane lust for books, then even those accounting books of the Arab merchants, purchased in ignorance of their contents at such great cost by Parisian collectors, would nonetheless have sufficed to feed their mania for collecting books. In the greatly altered, 1824 article of the same title, however, Mr. Disraeli approaches the pathology head on, defining it more adequately, i.e., "The Bibliomania, or the collecting an enormous heap of books without intelligent curiosity" (emphasis mine), and offering appropriate examples of bibliomaniacs and their specific manias.

We can therefore infer that in the later, 19th-century editions, as Mr. Disraeli matured, he "omits, as well as adds, or makes alterations from prudential reasons," all intended to 'correct' the particularly displeasing truth that the callow young man who had penned the 1791 edition with its article on "Bibliomania" simply hadn't known what he was talking about.

Such is my suggestion as to Mr. Isaac Disraeli's secret . . .

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