"A Life-Drama, or The Moon & Stars": Modifications and Annotation In a Copy of Alexander Smith's Poems

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0002-3813-4114
Jones, Jared, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Stauffer, Andrew, AS-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia

As with any other major research-based university, the library system and its holdings remain among the University of Virginia’s greatest assets. Across the numerous libraries and special collections holdings on university grounds (and off-grounds holding facilities)—including a main research library with approximately 1,675,346 materials with a Library of Congress call number and around 643,000 government documents—the university owns a delightful array of resources that its userbase may consult (“Statement”). Many wonderful artifacts can be found here: from Dunlap broadsides of the Declaration of Independence to William Faulkner’s manuscripts. However, with a collection as large as the university’s, it is quite difficult to keep track of every noteworthy material owned by the library as a whole. While the university’s cataloguing system, Virgo, is an excellent resource for students, faculty, and staff to find resources, some of the important aspects of individual copies of works—such as marginalia—had not been previously recorded. While the current trend across library systems to digitize collections makes works more accessible to masses (and is, therefore, a benefit), one loses some of the paratextual/extratextual idiosyncrasies of individual copies when doing so. This paper does not, however, argue the tired defense of the benefits of holding a physical book in one’s hands and the je ne sais quoi that makes that special, nor does it set up a divide between the wishes of the library and the humanists who use it. Librarians innately understand the value of the physical medium as well as any user of the library. Instead, this paper seeks to detail the importance of cataloguing and preserving the unique aspects of singular copies that are located within libraries. It attempts to do so through examining a copy of an 1853 collection of poetry by Alexander Smith, aptly titled Poems, and viewing it as a case study for how individuals interacted with poetry written by the “Spasmodic school” of poets. One is able to learn a great deal through such a thorough first-hand account that would have been lost if it were not found and catalogued. For example, the marginalia found within this copy allows for greater engagement with the critical reception of Smith’s work during the nineteenth-century.

MA (Master of Arts)
Alexander Smith, Marginalia, Book Traces, Book History, Critical Reception, "A Life Drama", Poetry, Nineteenth Century, Spasmodic, Spasmodism
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