Dr. Brecht de Groote showed how the figure of the translator can serve to reflect critically on two central characteristics of Romanticism, in particular late Romanticism: the importance of diverse forms of transfer and transmission, and the tension between aesthetic aspirations and the realities of commercial publication. He began by outlining two conflicting understandings of Romanticism: as determined by socio-political and economic structures, or, in the words of Joep Leerssen, as ‘generated by the cultural communication and dissemination of ideas’. Reception studies have analysed various Romantic-era practices and figurations of reading and writing in order to elucidate how people understood contemporary participation in aesthetic and socio-economic processes, but de Groote suggested that a specific subset, namely figurations of translation, deserves to be examined in more detail.
Professor Nicholas Pickwoad started his presentation with his discovery of a two volume Histoire by Jean LeClerc, printed in Amsterdam in 1723, which contained neither boards nor covers. His first guess was that certain book blocks were withdrawn unfinished from a binder’s workshop; however, regarding this collection’s history, he became convinced that these two volumes were part of long-established practice which books were prepared for sale by being sold in a condition ready for ‘conventional binding’, sometimes with or without boards attached but always without covers.
The second instalment in this term’s series of seminars was given by Dr Bill Bell, Professor of Bibliography at the University of Cardiff and founder of the CHB. His talk centred on the John Murray Archive, which houses a rich repository of materials relating to the celebrated publisher. Founded in 1768, the Murray publishing house was run by seven generations of publishers, all named John Murray, until 2002 when John Murray VII announced a voluntary takeover by Hodder Headline. Professor Bell has a comprehensive study forthcoming on John Murray, Travels into Print: Exploration, Writing, and Publishing with John Murray, 1773-1859; in this seminar, he focused specifically on paratexts in books published under the proprietorship of John Murray I, John Murray II and John Murray III.