University of Virginia Library


Another concentrated period of Newberry work began a few years after the first, in the summer of 1965, when the Northwestern-Newberry Melville Edition got under way; and my memories of that time are released by the object standing in front of the Young drawing: a small Japanese-made clock set into the flat side of a five-inch semicircular column of black Kilkenny marble. This clock had belonged to Rick Johnson, a Newberry staff member who was officially the liaison between the library and the edition and who became a close friend of mine. Rick bought the clock on one of the trips he later took to Ireland with his companion Dick


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Seidel, and Dick gave it to me after Rick's death from lung cancer in October 1998, at the age of fifty-nine. Visits to Ireland had a special meaning for Rick because his mother was descended from the Colleses (Rick's full name was Richard Colles Johnson), a distinguished Irish Protestant family that over four centuries and in three countries (Ireland, England, and America) made significant contributions to publishing, medicine, cartography, copyright law, and musicology. William Colles, for example, was a publisher whose name appeared on the Dublin editions of many major writers in the last third of the eighteenth century; and Christopher Colles was the author of the first American road atlas (1789). Rick assembled portraits, books, and manuscripts that documented the Colles history, and after his death Dick prepared the collection for the Newberry.

I spent extended periods at the Newberry in the summers of 1965 and 1966 and in the spring and summer of 1967 (generally staying at the Pearson Hotel, later razed to make way for Water Tower Place). Rick was an ideal colleague, for he fully understood the bibliographical requirements of an edition like the Melville and was ready to purchase for the library the multiple copies that we needed of Melville's nineteenth-century editions. Indeed, he was one of that small group of people I mentioned earlier whose views on all bibliographical matters I completely agreed with. Another link between us was that we were both Yale graduates (six years apart) who knew the Yale library thoroughly—though I did not at that time know that my collection would go to the Yale Collection of American Literature, where he had held a job as an undergraduate (assisting Donald Gallup) and had developed his interest in working with books. After our day's work at the Newberry, we often spent the evenings together in the bars and restaurants (ranging all the way from Biggs to Papa Milano) of the Near North Side. (We also had many lunches with members of the Newberry and Melville staffs, and I have fond memories— probably shared by few others-of Rickett's, a family-run restaurant on Clark Street a few steps north of the Newberry, where one of the seasonal specialties was stewed rhubarb, prepared exactly as my mother had done with our back-yard rhubarb.)

During this period I was picking up large quantities of Little Blue Books, the widely distributed five-by-three-and-a-half-inch pamphlets (published by Emanuel Haldeman-Julius) that brought good literature, as well as radical and freethinking works, to a vast audience for some forty years (1910s to 1950s). Rick became interested, and he and I catalogued and analyzed my collection together, usually working at the kitchen table in his apartment near the Newberry at 27 East Bellevue Place (a building now demolished for so-called luxury apartments because of its proximity to the Lake Michigan Gold Coast). Both our names were on the long article that resulted, published in the First Quarter 1970 number of the


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Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America. (This article was recently—in 2005—reprinted in the journal of the Haldeman-Julius Collectors Club, the existence of which shows how much more interest in the Little Blue Books there is today than there was when we worked on the article forty years ago.)

Even after these concentrated periods at the Newberry in the 1960s, I drove down to Chicago from Madison frequently, spending weekends (beginning on Thursdays) at the Newberry for work on Melville and other projects. Rick and I continued to spend many evenings together—joined by Dick, after Rick moved to Dick's Briar Place apartment, about three miles north of the library. But Rick's role in my life was not entirely social, as our Haldeman-Julius work indicates. Rick kept my various research interests in mind, and he continually directed me to relevant sources; whenever, to the end of his life, he came across something he thought would be useful to me, he sent me notes about it. And he came across a great deal, for he constantly read dealers' catalogues and many journals, and he followed up on questions raised by them, or other staff members, or scholars' inquiries. Slips of paper with his handwriting still come to the surface as I use my files. In writing a tribute to him for the Spring 1999 number of The Book Collector, I pointed out that he had "the intellectual curiosity and indefatigable persistence characteristic of first-rate scholars." Since he published little, his scholarship manifested itself largely in his enrichment of the Newberry's collections and in "the innumerable details in many scholarly works (notably the Melville edition) that bear silent testimony to his insight" (as I put it in 1999). My own writings are a prime example: they contain hundreds of references and connections that came from him.