Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Alfred W. Pollard: The Man, His Books, and His Other Literary Endeavors


Alfred W. Pollard (1859-1944)

If portraits could talk, Alfred W. Pollard's portrait would probably be saying, "This is your 135th post to your blog, and you're finally getting around to writing a post about me?  What took you so long?"  

 I briefly mentioned Alfred W. Pollard in a June 2014 post and again in a February 2020 post.  But I should have written more about him a long time ago, particularly when I think of how many Books About Books he either wrote or edited.  He was also a literary critic and a Chaucer and Shakespeare scholar.  To say that he was a prolific writer would be an understatement.  The list of the editions of the books on the Online Books Page that he either wrote or edited covers five pages.  And that doesn't include over forty years worth of articles that he wrote for The Library, The Guardian, The Universal Review, and other English journals.  

Alfred W. Pollard was educated at King's College, University of London, and  St. John's College, University of Oxford.   A stammerer since the age of three,  Pollard said he suffered one of his two worst stammers on February 22, 1883 when he presented himself to Sir E. A. Bond, the Principal Librarian of the British Museum hoping for a position at the museum.   Pollard could translate Latin, Greek, French, and a smidgen of Italian, and was hired as an assistant at the Department of Printed Books.   He remained at the British Museum for forty-one and one- half years, retiring as Curator of Printed Books in 1924 at the mandatory retirement age of sixty-five. 

Pollard's starting salary at the British Museum in 1883 was £120 per annum, with a £10 increase each year.  Early in his career Pollard found ways to supplement his income.  He provided Greek and Latin translations for Charles Kegan Paul of Kegan Paul, Trench and Co. This led to a life-long friendship, and a professional relationship that lasted for decades.    Charles Kegan Paul introduced Pollard to other book publishers and editors of literary magazines as well.

In addition to his positions at the British Museum, Pollard was Professor of Bibliography at King's College from 1919 to 1934 and Honorary Secretary of the Bibliographical Society from 1893 to 1934, serving as editor of both The Transactions of the Bibliographical Society and The Library.  
Sidenote:  As a member of the Bibliographical Society, I have online access to all the issues of The Library dating back to its first issue in January 1889.   Pollard has numerous articles in The Library from the first issue on, and I have read many of them.  The March 1930 issue contains his article, "The Library: A History of Forty Volumes."  From reading this article, I discovered that The Library was originally the official organ of the Library Association of the United Kingdom.  The Bibliographical Society didn't officially take over the publication of The Library until 1920.

If you enjoy reading the writings of an author, I recommend that you acquire a bibliography of the author's works, if one is available.  I have a copy of  A Select Bibliography of the Writings of Alfred W. Pollard edited by H. Thomas and published by the Oxford University Press in 1938.  There are over 250 bibliographical entries covering Pollard's books and journal articles dating from 1881 to 1935.  The book itself was published in honor of Pollard's seventy-five birthday (Aug 14, 1934).  But due to delays,  it wasn't published until 1938.

I acquired this bibliography from Jim Thorp in March 2003.  I didn't know it at the time, but he would close  the doors of  THOMAS THORP  Fine & Rare Books  for good not too long after I bought this book.

The former owner of this book was invited to attend the presentation of a specially bound copy of this book  to Pollard on July 6, 1938.  I have Jim Thorp to thank for preserving the invitation that accompanied my book.

In addition to a bibliography of his writings, this book was supposed to contain an autobiography by Pollard; however, after writing about his first fifty years, he fell while trimming a tree, struck his head on the concrete pavement, and was rendered unconscious.  His recovery was slow and it left him unable to complete his autobiography.  The book's editor, Dr. H. Thomas, completed the biography,  covering the years fifty to seventy-five of Pollard's life.


Last Words on the History of the Title-Page.  With Notes on Some Colophons and Twenty-Seven Fac-Similes of Title-Pages by Alfred W. Pollard, London:  John C. Nimmo, 1891. 

I have the 1971 Burt Franklin reprint of the book.  Pollard wanted to keep the focus of the book on the beauty of the early title pages and colophons and set the book up at the Chiswick Press at his own cost.  Nimmo, the second publisher Pollard offered the book to, paid Pollard's printing costs and more, providing an exquisite binding for the book.  In his bibliography Pollard writes that the print run of 250 copies was sold within a few days of publication.

Chaucer by Alfred W. Pollard, London: Macmillan and Co. 1893.

 This is one of twelve "Primers" that Macmillan and Co. wanted J. R. Green to edit.  This book was first published in 1893, and reprinted in 1895, 1904, 1907, 1912, 1919, and 1926.  I have the 1912 edition.  My copy was formerly owned by Morris Edmund Speare (1884-1974) who left marginalia and underlined numerous passages.  

Books About Books, Edited by Alfred W. Pollard, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co, 1893, 94.  In 1893, Pollard convinced Kegan Paul to publish a series of Books About Books:

The Great Book-Collectors by Charles and Mary Elton
Book-Plates by W. J. Hardy
Books in Manuscript by Falconer Madan
Early Printed Books by E. Gordon Duff
The Decoration of Books by A. W. Pollard
Book Bindings by Herbert P. Horne

I have the book by Pollard and the book by Horne.  Pollard changed the title of his book to Early Illustrated Books because he was unable to include eighteenth century French vignettes, and because he thought the original title "encroached" on Horne's book on bookbindings. 

 Horne changed the title of his book to The Binding of Books.  Horne's books was published in 1894. 

Bibliographica: Papers on Books, Their History and Art edited by A. W.  Pollard, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner and Co. 1895-97.  The Books About Books series was so successful that Pollard's publisher immediately agreed to his proposal to edit a bibliographical quarterly. Even better, Pollard enjoyed more of a share of the profits than with the Books About Books series.  Surprisingly, at least to me, was that the life of the periodical was to be limited beforehand to three years.   The articles in this periodical cover book collecting and the book arts like they had never been covered before.   And when it came to selecting authors to write the articles, Pollard gathered the cream of the crop, and Pollard himself contributed several articles.   Most of the sets are bound in three bulky volumes; however, some sets are bound in six volumes. But they are usually more expensive.  

I still need to rebind my six-volume set.  The leather on the spines is badly deteriorated.  The boards are detached.  And the endpapers are browning.  Unfortunately I don't have enough leather on hand to bind all six volumes in the same shade of leather.   If I ever do get it done in this lifetime, it will be an expensive but worthy project.

The English Bookman's Library, edited by Alfred Pollard, London:  Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner and Co. 1899-1902.  This was another series of Books About Books that Pollard edited.  This series contained three volumes and Pollard wrote a general introduction for the series in the first volume.  The three volumes were published in 1899, 1900, and 1902 respectively.   I have the 1969 Burt Franklin reprint of the third volume.  

English Embroidered Bindings by Cyril Davenport
A Short History of English Printing by Henry R. Plomer
English Book Collectors by William Younger Fletcher


Books in the House:  An Essay on Private Libraries and Collections  for Young and Old by Alfred W. Pollard, Indianapolis: By Arrangement with Ralph Fletcher Seymour by Bobbs-Merrill, 1904.  I had mentioned Pollard and this very book in my Feb 1, 2020 post, "A Month in the Life of MoiBibliomaniac, and the Books He Bought That Month."  I first eyed the book in 2019 when Lighthouse Books was still located in St. Petersburg.  But for some unknown dastardly reason the book never made it to my "buy pile" that day.  I didn't hesitate one bit when I eyed it again on January 18, 2020 at the Grand Reopening of Lighthouse Books in its new location in Dade City.

In this book, Pollard provides six chapters of advice for book collectors:
1. The Buying of Books
2.  Inherited Books and Their Values
3.  The Keeping of Books
4.  On the Functions of the Collector
5.  How to Collect
6.  The Child's Bookshelf

All of the articles originally appeared in The Guardian.  The 1904 edition of the book is not listed in Pollard's selective bibliography.  But a 1907 edition published in London by Arthur L. Humphreys is listed.  For the London edition, Pollard lightly edited the six original articles, and included a seventh, "Four Centuries of Book Prices," which first appeared in The Cornhill Magazine.

I have some genealogical research to do to identify the former owner of my copy of the 1904 edition of this book.  He is a Merriam, but I don't think he's "one of the famous Merriams."   For one thing, he has too many middle initials!

 I wrote about the next book in June 2014, and briefly mentioned Pollard in the post.  But he had nothing to do with the writing or the editing of the book.  

In January 1908, George Parker Winship read a paper on William Caxton at a meeting of the Club of Odd Volumes. Later that spring he met Pollard and here's what happened.  You can read about it in  Winship's own words in the book:

Fine Books by Alfred W. Pollard, London: Methuen and Co. 1912.  This book was part of The Connoisseur's Library which was edited by Cyril Davenport for Methuen.  In the Preface of this book, Pollard remarks that Fine Books was years in the making, and had been rewritten several times.  He notes that his samples of book illustrations end around the year 1780.  Furthermore, he notes that the poorness of print and paper of books printed after 1780 have caused many collectors to lose interest in them because they  do not consider them to be "fine books."

On pages 282 and 283 of this book, Pollard confesses "a dreadful sin of my youth."  It concerns a book he edited in 1888,  Sir Philip Sidney's Astrophel and Stella.  Pollard provided additional information about the mistake in his autobiography, remarking that no critic ever noticed "the dreadful blunder."  Even more information about the mistake was provided in the listing of the work in the selective bibliography.  

Here's the whole story.  On his way home from work at the British Museum, Pollard frequently visited the premises of the Oxford Street bookseller David Stott and bought some books.  In 1888, Stott asked him to edit the Astrophel and Stella edition.  The book itself was illustrated by Thomas Lant, who provided  a portrait for the frontispiece of the book.  Believing it was Sir Philip Sidney's portrait, Pollard wrote in the introduction of the book that "the portrait of Sidney, which forms the frontispiece is reproduced from the copy in the British Museum of his engraving of his funeral by Thomas Lant."   Unbeknown to Pollard, what Lant provided for the frontispiece was a portrait of himself!   Pollard didn't discover the mistake until over twenty years later during a conversation with Sir Sidney Colvin.  Pollard admitted the error in Fine Books in 1912.  

Below is the frontispiece from the 1888 edition of Astrophel and Stella.  And next to it is the portrait of Thomas Lant from the National Portrait Gallery.

I can assure you that the portrait of Alfred W. Pollard in the beginning of this post is definitely a portrait of Alfred W. Pollard.  It is the frontispiece from Pollard's bibliography:

A Census of Shakespeare's Plays in Quarto 1594-1709 by Henrietta C. Bartlett and Alfred W. Pollard, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1916.  Pollard wrote the majority of the introduction, and provided the information of copies of larger English collections up to 1660.  Bartlett provided the information of later quartos in English hands, American copies, and unidentified copies.  I bought this book at one of the first Florida Antiquarian Book Fairs I attended after retiring from the Air Force in 1989.

A Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland and Ireland, and of English Books Printed Abroad, 1475-1640 Compiled by A. W Pollard & G. R. Redgrave, with the help pf G. F. Barwick, Geo. Watson Cole,, Ethel Fegan, F. S. Ferguson, W. W. Greg, W. Jaggard, Stephen K. Jones, F. R. D. Needham, H. R. Plomer, Cecie Stainer, E. V. Stocks and others, London: Bibliographical Society, 1926.   In 1884, the British Museum published a three-volume catalogue of books in the British Museum that were printed in England, Scotland, Ireland, and abroad.  Pollard had long been an advocate for a catalogue of the books contained in all the libraries of England, Scotland and Ireland.  He managed to convince the Bibliographical Society to support the publication of a short-title catalogue or handlist where copies of books in the libraries of England, Scotland, and Ireland could be traced.  In the book's preface and again in the memoranda, Pollard stressed that the short-title catalogue was merely a finding aid to identify the location of copies of books.

The Bibliographical Society normally only published books for its members.  However, with the increased interest in literary research, the Society decided to make this book available to the world of scholarship, and reprinted the book several times.  I have the 1969 edition.

Introductions by Richard Curle, Augustine Birrell, Edmund Gosse, John Drinkwater, E. V. Lucas, A. Edward Newton, R. W. Chapman, David Nichol Smith, Alfred W. Pollard, J. C. Squire to the Catalogue of the Ashley Library (1922-1930) Collected by Thomas James Wise, New York: William H. Smith Jr. 1934.  Pollard was one of the ten prominent bookmen who wrote introductions for the catalogue of the Ashley Library.  Wise had asked him to criticize the catalogue.  Pollard began by pointing out that there was no catalogue that he himself compiled that he didn't want to do over again to improve it.  He then proceeded to describe what a catalogue should contain and what was needed to improve catalogues in general, particularly to improve the terminology used such as "issues."  Pollard  disagreed with Wise's practice of transcribing an upper case medial v in early 17th century titles with a lower case v, where the original printer would have used u.  But overall, Pollard said that Wise's success in gathering all the facts about the books in his library was no small achievement.

Introductions... was published the same year as the book by John Carter and Graham Powell,  An Enquiry Into the Nature of  Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets.  Their book hinted that some of Wise's books were forgeries.  On his forgery website, bibliopath.com, my friend Douglas Adams cites a reference that identifies Mitchell Kennerley as the publisher of the Introductions, and not W. H. Smith.  I don't know if the Enquiry was published before Introductions, but if it was, I wonder if Kennerley didn't want his name to be associated with any publication about the Ashley Library.

Before I end this post,  I want to mention some of the books by or about Pollard that I don't have in my library.


The Rowfant Library.  A Catalogue of the Printed Books, Manuscripts, Autograph Letters, Drawings and Pictures, Collected by Frederick Locker-Lampson.  London: Bernard Quaritch, 1886.  Pollard was given the task of revising the proofs of the catalogue begun by Mr. R. H. Lister. The 150 copies of this catalogue were sold out within a week.  This was the first of several libraries that Pollard compiled catalogues of.  In 1891, he catalogued a portion of the library of Charles Isaac Elton and Mary Augusta Elton. In 1907 he edited a catalogue of manuscripts and early printed books from the libraries of William Morris and Richard Bennett that formed a portion of the library of J. P. Morgan.  In 1910, he catalogued the books from the first printers that were collected by Rush C. Hawkins.  In 1912 he catalogued the fifty manuscripts that Alfred H. Huth bequeathed to the British Museum.  And in 1921 he wrote the Introduction to the catalogue of books that Robert Ernest Cowan compiled of the Kelmscott and Dove Presses in the library of William Andrewes Clark Jr. (My friend Gary Simons has a copy).

English Miracle Plays, Moralities, and Interludes. Specimens of Pre-Elizabethan Drama.  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1900.  This was Pollard's most profitable book with eight editions, the last four with illustrations.  Pollard said this book sold better in the United States than in England.

Two Brothers. Accounts Rendered by Alfred W. Pollard, London: Chiswick Press, 1916.  This book is not listed in Pollard's Select Bibliography.  It was privately printed to give to friends of the Pollards.  On October, 24, 1914, Pollard's oldest son, Geoffrey Blemell Pollard, a Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery was killed in the fighting near Le Baseé, France.  Geoffrey's younger brother, Roger Thompson Pollard, a Lieutenant in the 5th Royal Berkshire Regiment, was killed a year later on October 13, 1915, not too many miles from where his brother was killed.  In Two Brothers. Accounts Rendered,  Pollard provided accounts of the deaths of both of his sons.  This book is listed on  the Online Book Page.  I'll go grab a soda while you read it....  

Because there were additional requests for Two Brothers. Accounts Rendered, Pollard had the London firm of Sidgwick and Jackson publish an edition of the book in 1917.  That edition is listed on the Online Books Page as well.

Shakespeare's Fight with the Pirates and the Problems of the Transmission of His Text.  by Alfred W. Pollard, Sandars Reader in Bibliography 1915. London: Alexander Moring Ltd, 1917.  Pollard gave four lectures as Sandars Reader in Bibliography which were published in The Library in January, April July, and October of 1916.  250 copies of the lectures were offprinted under  the new title, "Shakespeare's Fight...."  Here are the original titles of the four lectures.  All are well worth reading.

1.  The Regulation of the Book Trade in the Sixteenth Century
2.  Authors, Players, and Pirates in Shakespeare's Day
3.  The Manuscripts of Shakespeare's Plays
4.  The Improvers of Shakespeare

Brick Row Book Shop Special List No. 21 English Literary Works From the Library of Alfred W. Pollard... New York: Brick Row Book Shop, 1946.  This special list contains several hundred books from Pollard's library.  The Brick Row Book Shop acquired them in a sale of Pollard's library in London in November 1944.  I would love to have a book from Pollard's library for My Sentimental Library Collection, but I doubt if a could afford one, even if one were available.   Although he wishes he did have some to sell, John Crichton, proprietor of Brick Row Books, does not have any books in stock from Pollard's library.  Nor does he have copies of Special List No. 21 for sale.  :-(   

But the Grolier Club has a copy!  I shall ask to see it if and when I ever visit the Grolier Club again!  Mark Samuels Lasner gave me a tour of the Grolier Club back in September 2011.  It's way past time for another tour Mark!