Sunday, 21 January 2018

Henry Bradshaw (1831-1886)


The above statement, by Henry Bradshaw, could be the official Creed of the provenance researcher.

When discussing cataloguing, I sometimes tell people that I think that the single most important thing a cataloguer can tell their reader about a manuscript is its collation. (This is partly, but not exclusively, because the physical structure of leaves and bifolia is one of the few features of a manuscript that usually cannot be conveyed by photography). People who study manuscripts -- and early printed books -- seem to fall into two camps: on one hand there are those who see collation as a mechanical task, like measuring the leaves and counting the number of lines, and on the other hand are those who really understand how much a book's physical structure can tell them about its manufacture, and know how to use this powerful tool to inform their work. I won't go into details here; I mention it only as background to explain why Henry Bradshaw is one of my bibliographical heroes -- on a par with M.R. James and Neil Ker.

I became fully aware of Bradshaw's genius -- not too strong a word, I think, if one accepts that Darwin's insight into the process of evolution by natural selection was a stroke of genius -- through reading Paul Needham's fascinating pamphlet: The Bradshaw Method: Henry Bradshaw’s Contribution to Bibliography, The Seventh Hanes Lecture Presented to the Hanes Foundation for the Study of the Origin and Development of the Book (Hanes Foundation, Chapel Hill, 1988), especially the appendix.

Earlier this year I bought a print-on-demand copy, and read for the first time, G.W. Prothero, A Memoir of Henry Bradshaw, Fellow of King's College, Cambridge, and University Librarian (London, 1888). It is available online here, but I wanted a paper copy and have duly annotated the margins.

For a very long time I was not a Twitter user, but eventually I realised that -- as long as you choose carefully who you follow -- it can be a great source of entertainment and/or useful information. I rarely tweet, but on reading the Prothero Memoir I was inspired to tweet a series of quotations by or about Bradshaw that seem to me to encapsulate his scholarly attitudes and methods, which I repeat here, in case they are of interest/amusement to anyone who has not seen them already:

On being unwilling to publish anything about which he was not entirely confident:

On conferences:

On ivory-tower academics:

On the importance of fragments:

On the difference between opinions and facts:

On the need for hypotheses to be based on facts:

A student's reminiscence of being shown the horizons that open up when the structure of a codex is properly understood:

[The above is a post written in November, that I found languishing in my "drafts" folder. In December I attended a fascinating day of talks about Bradshaw, at Cambridge University Library, and I am told that the papers will be published in due course.]

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