Influences Through the Mosher Press Website

Since posting a website on Thomas Bird Mosher and the Mosher Press, there have been numerous instances where collectors and scholars have contacted me for information. In some cases I went beyond just supplying some facts, and actually did original research for scholars based on the material in my Mosher collection. Here area few of the instances where the website helped to guide scholars, however meagerly.

Ben Mazer has linked T.S. Eliot and Elizabeth Cavazza by saying that her introduction to T. B. Mosher’s edition of James Thomson’s The City of Dreadful Night (Mosher, 1892; and Mosher’s second book) formed the blueprint for Eliot’s The Waste Land in his article “Hearing the Mermaids: An Unremarked Source for T.S.Eliot’s The Wasteland” in Fulcrum: An Annual of Poetry and Aesthetics. No.2 (Cambridge, MA, 2003), pp. 266-76. In addition, the whole of Cavazza’s original introduction is also printed in this issue (pp. 377-383). Mazer’s article was recently published in the second number of this acclaimed annual poetry publication which the editor, translator, and poet, Philip Nikolayev, likens to the mother of all literary magazines (398 pp., with 60 plus contributors). The NPR member program “The Poet and the Poem,” based at the Library of Congress, honored Fulcrum: An Annual of Poetry and Aesthetics with its Award for Excellence in Print in 2003 as an outstanding contributor to American Letters. So one can imagine how much I love it when the Mosher collection gets credit in a Fulcrum article. Mazer writes on p. 374:

In one of Thomas B. Mosher’s scrapbooks, now in the Mosher Collection of Philip R. Bishop, there is a review from the World (New York) of December 20, 1891, of Mosher’s first publication, a pirate American edition of George Meredith’s Modern Love, with a Foreword by E. Cavazza. The reviewer wrote…[lengthy quote ensues].”

and on the next page he writes:

Philip R. Bishop, author of Thomas B. Mosher: Pirate Prince of Publishers and curator of the Mosher Collection, generously supplied me with data and opinion about the distribution of Mosher’s first edition of The City of Dreadful Night… Bishop agrees with me that it is not a far stretch to presume that Eliot would have had ample opportunity to run across the book in Gloucester, Cambridge, Boston or environs in 1905 or so, aside from the possibility of his having encountered the book in St. Louis… [and later on] Bishop has reminded me that Pound and Williams read from Mosher’s editions while they were at the University of Pennsylvania, and that both Pound and Frost tried to interest Mosher in bringing out their first collections.

Well now, that’s kind of nice to be called the “curator” of the Mosher Collection. I never thought of it that way, but I suppose it fits, especially given the immensity of the collection at this point.

Following the publication of the article, I acquired Alan Seeger’s copy of a Mosher publication which includes a signed letter from Alan Seeger about the disposition of his library in Boston after graduation from Harvard. Since Seeger was a classmate of T.S. Eliot’s, there again might be a very good likelihood that Eliot could have been introduced to Mosher’s work through Seeger, much like Ezra Pound shared his interest in Mosher’s publications with William Carlos Williams while they were students at the University of Pennsylvania. On July 24, 2003 I wrote to Ben Mazer:

Pursuant to the e-mail I sent you just previous to this, I think it is important to check out the following auction catalogue:

Boston: C.F. Libbie & Co., Book and Art Auctioneers catalogue.
January 11th & 12th, 1911

See what books were listed there. I’m not sure how they would have been entered, but Alan Seeger wrote [in a letter which came with the book] that it was “…the Conley book-sale at which my collection, among others, is to be sold at auction on Wednesday and Thursday, January 11th and 12th, in their salesroom at No. 597 Washington Street. This includes Aldines, Elzevirs, and other volumes of uncommon occurrence on the auction-lists. It would give me pleasure to think of some of these coming into the hands of friends.. On the accompanying sheet [drats! it isn’t enclosed with the letter!] are the listed numbers of my own books, scattered among the rest.” But even so, I think it would be safe to say that if you found a copy of James Thomson’s The City of Dreadful Night listed, it more than likely was Seeger’s copy. I know his copy of the Swinburne’s Poems & Ballads First Series (Mosher, 1904) was entry No. 1470, but that entry (I have a clipping of the catalogue) only says:

  1. Swinburne. Poems and Ballads. First Series. Portrait. Square 8vo boards, uncut. Mosher: Portland, 1904.
    Edition limited to 250 copies

Like I say, however, it may be possible to discern many of Seeger’s books simply by the subject matter, and more than likely if a copy of the 1892 CDN shows up, it was probably Seeger’s. And why the fuss? Well, seems obvious to me that if Seeger had a copy of the 1892 book, and Seeger and Eliot were classmates, they certainly would have mentioned it to one another. Eliot knew enough about Seeger to say in his 1917 review in The Egoist of Seeger’s posthumously published Poems : “Seeger was serious about his work and spent pains over it. The work is well done, and so much out of date as to be almost a positive quality. It is high-flown, heavily decorated and solemn, but its solemnity is thorough going, not a mere literary formality. Alan Seeger, as one who knew him can attest [emphasis mine], lived his whole life on this plane, with impeccable poetic dignity; everything about him was in keeping.” If Eliot knew Seeger rather well, and Seeger owned the 1892 Mosher ed. of CDN, then next to Eliot’s own annotated copy, there’s your smoking gun! If it’s found, then just give me the credit for pointing you in the necessary direction, being that this research again surfaced through the Mosher collection with a little help from me here at the Bishopric. How that for a bit of sleuthing?

Of course, if we don’t find any such listing for the 1892 Mosher edition of Thomson’s The City of Dreadful Night, then you can depend on your fall-back, more circumstantial argument that at least Eliot would have known about the Mosher Books through Seeger. Not bad, but not as good as if Alan Seeger had owned a copy before he sold it in January 1911.

Although I was excited about this possibility, Ben didn’t seem to take it in the same way, but if he ever expands his article on the connection between Cavazza and Eliot for a British publication, maybe he’ll look up what appeared in Seeger’s library. Anyway, it’s another example of how I try to assist whenever possible.

Interestingly enough, someone else has been working on a somewhat parallel project to Ben Maser’s, arguing that another one of Cavazza’s critical contributions to Mosher’s volumes was crucial to the influence of a British text on early 20th-century American poetry, specifically that of Edwin Arlington Robinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay. I hope it will indeed help make Cavazza more visible. Adele Pinch, professor in the Department of English at the University of Michigan, is completing a paper entitled “Transatlantic Modern Love” which will appear in The Traffic in Poems: Nineteenth Century Poetry and Transatlantic Exchange edited by Meredith L. McGill, forthcoming from Rutgers University Press. In the “Notes” section of her paper, Pinch remarks (quotes used with permission):

Many thanks… to Philip R. Bishop for his generosity in providing information from his collection of materials relating to Thomas Bird Mosher…

and in her first footnote she indicates:

For excellent images of the cover and title page of Mosher’s 1891 Modern Love as well as an extraordinary wealth of information about Thomas Bird Mosher and The Mosher Books, see the website compiled by Philip R. Bishop and hosted by Millersville University at [website address]. The standard bibliography of Mosher’s publications is Philip R. Bishop, Thomas Bird Mosher: Pirate Prince of Publishers (New Castle, DE, and London: Oak Knoll Press and the British Library, 1998); Modern Love is Bishop 244.

and she further discusses an item in the Mosher collection and cites its location in footnote 20:

Meredith seems, moreover, to have put Mosher’s edition of his old poem into service in a happier chapter of his own emotional life. He seems to have given the copy Mosher sent him, bound in an elegantly embossed [gold tooled] calf binding, to a lady named Jean Palmer, inscribed, “To Jean: Who knows as little of it as the Moon | The tides she attracts: From, By Permission of Walter, her George.” The wife of Sir Walter Palmer, a wealthy biscuit manufacturer and patron of the arts, Jean Palmer was the object of the aging Meredith’s chivalric addresses. He called her “Queen Jean.” In this version of the Modern Love story, the inscription suggests, Meredith got to play the role of a sanctioned, adoring lover, rather than that of the jealous husband, while this time [the] lady is innocent and unblemished. It is as if the transatlantic tides had cleansed the poem of its guilty autobiographical context, and, once again–as in Mosher’s self-referential use of the obscure imagery from the poem–the same images from the poem come to figure the poem’s relation to its human partners. It’s unclear what the referent of “it” is in Meredith’s inscription to Jean Palmer, who “knows as little of it as the Moon | The tides she attracts”: does it refer to the book? the poem? The story in the poem? But here the working of the tides serves again to figure some kind of ineluctable obscurity. In contrast to all the useless acts of knowing that occur within the poem, Queen Jean is happily unknowing.

[and corresponding footnote:]

Meredith’s presentation copy of the Mosher Modern Love inscribed to Jean Palmer is currently in the Mosher Collection of Philip R. Bishop, see [former Millersville University website] for examples of the tone of Meredith’s letters to Mrs. Palmer.

Furthermore, I’m pleased to say that my assistance brought together two scholars working on papers which included research through the Mosher Press website and subsequent contact with me, Pinch writes in her footnote 25:

Cavazza collaborated with Mosher at least once more, and Ben Mazer has recently argued that Cavazza’s (equally compelling) introduction to Mosher’s 1892 edition of James Thomson’s City of Dreadful Night was an important influence on T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland: “Hearing the Mermaids: An Unremarked Source for T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland,” Fulcrum: An Annual of Poetry and Aesthetics no.2 (2003): 266-76.

Pinch provides other references to either the Mosher Press website, the Mosher bibliography, or to information I supplied her on early reviews of Mosher’s 1891 edition of Modern Love following her first contact with me through the Mosher Press website starting back in June 2002. After compiling that information for Pinch, I also had the results posted on the website for future reference by scholars. All this gives one some idea of how the website, the bibliography, and their use to make contact with me can become highly productive for the scholarly community, and I’m pleased to play some part, however small, in the work of such scholars.

Of course, not all articles that benefit from my bibliography or the website are complimentary. Warwick Gould, professor of English Literature at the University of London and Director of the Institute of English Studies has consulted both my Mosher bibliography and the Mosher Press website, and remains indignant that Mosher was likely the publisher responsible for Yeats’s rush to American publication fearing that Mosher was going to pirate his works. In writing a review of the bibliography in the Yeats Annual 15: Yeats’s Collaborations (Macmillan, 2002) he notes that the bibliography

…is one of the most prodigious bibliographies I have ever used, and it might be that it is the last time that we will see such luxurious format, layout, colour and illustration in a paper–and–print based descriptive bibliography. At Millersville University, Bishop has a web-site devoted to his hero, a harbinger of on-line enumerative and descriptive bibliographies to come. [p.382]

and then goes on to denounce Mosher as “a scoundrel” and proclaims my work as “lore and learning about Mosher dished up with a hagiographical devotion.” Good heavens! And in his article “Yeats in the States: Piracy, Copyright and the Shaping of the Canon” Publishing History 51, 2002 he notes in footnote eleven: “Bishop is only the latest in a long line of forgiving bibliographers, and even now American piracy is on the whole indulgently treated in the American literature on the subject.” (p.74).

Very recently I received e-mail correspondence from Robert Milevski, preservation librarian, digital projects librarian, and manager of the typography studio at Princeton University Library. He was drawn to the Mosher Press website by virtue of the fact that it contains a picture of a binding on a Mosher book by L. Avrill Cole (Passages from Herbert Spencer, 1910). She trained under T.J. Cobden-Sanderson, and when she moved to Boston she designed bindings for Houghton, Mifflin Company and the Riverside Press. Milevski is working on the Riverside Press and the brass stamps used on the covers and spines of their bindings. L. Averill Cole was a binder-designer there from 1908 to 1911/12. I supplied a requested scan of the binder’s signature, and will probably hear from him in the future with regard to a high resolution scan he can use for presentation. I also supplied him with some relevant reference quotations with which he was not familiar.

On occasion I have had graduate students contact me through the Mosher Press website. One such student is Katharine Pionke who was working on her Master’s Thesis entitled “Michael Field: Got God?” for Truman State University (Missouri). Content from our e-mail discussion is referenced “in text” on page 14, with a footnote on page 19. A citation on my help is printed on page 48, and the Mosher Press webpage citation is on page 50. She told me that “the Mosher references overall aren’t critical to the work. They do however explain some publishing questions that I had with regard to their pseudonym use. Mainly that by being published overseas, they gained critical attention from an overseas audience, however this was not the attention that they desired as they wanted such attention from the folks at home as it were. They were happy to have a wider audience though.” Unfortunately beyond those few remarks Katharine didn’t give me any of the text to those citations before she moved to Japan to work in the JET program (as I understand it, the JET program is assistant English teaching position in Japan under a one year contract). But one of the offshoots to our e-mail discussions was that I put her in contact with the organizers, Dr. Margaret Stetz and Mark Samuels Lasner of the University of Delaware, who are organizing this first ever conference on “Michael Field” (pseudonym of the British poets and playwrights Katherine Harris Bradley and Edith Emma Cooper) entitled “ ‘Michael Field’ and Their World: An Educational Weekend” this upcoming February 27-29, 2004. I’m told that Katharine plans to take a short leave from Japan to participate as a presenter at that conference, and again take a little bit of pride in knowing that our contact through the Internet resulted in the thesis citations and in linking up a budding scholar to a “dream conference” directly related to her subject.

©Philip R. Bishop
2 December 2003

This article is Copyright © by Philip R. Bishop. Permission to reproduce the above article has been granted by Gordon Pfeiffer, president of the Delaware Bibliophiles and editor of that organization’s newsletter, Endpapers, in which the article appeared in the March 2004 issue. No portion of this article may be reproduced or redistributed without expressed written permission from both parties.