by Meghan Kelly, Class of 2017
The Colby Library Quarterly, first printed in 1943 in Portland and edited by Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts Carl J. Weber, served the interests of the Colby library in multiple ways (2). A subscription to the quarterly cost two dollars per year, which today translates to about twenty-six dollars; these funds supported the expansion of the library (1). A variety of content appeared in the Quarterly, ranging from documentation of the library’s growth and efforts at attracting new donations to scholarly articles related to library materials.
One of the Quarterly’s primary functions was to report the growth of the library through both donations and purchases. Over the years, the library acquired a variety of materials, many of which were published manuscripts as diverse as a 1792 first edition of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women (2), a Japanese translation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, donated to Colby by a Japanese officer before his government suppressed the translation (3), and a book of biblical commentary by Nicholas de Lyra, Moralia super totam Bibliam, given by Arthur G. Robison of the class of 1906 (4). The library struggled to identify the provenance of de Lyra’s book because several pages listing the publisher’s? information had been destroyed; initially, librarians believed that the book had been printed in Germany in about 1487 (4). An article in a subsequent issue identified the book as printed in Italy in 1481 by Paul von Butzbach, making it the second oldest book in the library at that time (5). Since its publication, this edition of Moralia became rare and valuable; in March 1947, a copy sold for one hundred dollars, which is a little over one thousand dollars today (5).
The Quarterly also documented the acquisition of diverse unpublished materials, often personal writings like letters and diaries, which help to illuminate the lives of both prominent historical figures and persons connected to Colby’s past. For instance, Elijah Parish Lovejoy, a Colby alumnus, was a printer who became a vehement opponent of slavery, and ultimately lost his life defending his printing press from a pro-slavery mob (6). In 1947, one of his descendents donated a diary of his and the letter he wrote to his parents after experiencing a religious conversion, which led him to become a minister and ultimately stimulated his abolitionist work (6). The text of this letter, which appeared in the November 1947 issue, clearly shows Lovejoy’s change of religious perspective and his eagerness to undertake God’s work, which he came to see as involving opposition to slavery. Letters exchanged between a member of the Colby community and Willa Cather, in which Cather debunks previously published rumors that the poet A. E. Housman was rude to her during a visit to him, joined the library’s collection that same year (7). The letters, excerpts of which appear in the November 1947 issue, show Cather’s irritation at those rumors; she writes, “Some day I intend to write a careful and accurate account of that visit for persons who are particularly interested” (7).
The Quarterly did not simply report the growth of the library, but actively facilitated that growth. Issues periodically contained requests for existing members of the Colby Library Associates (an organization which worked to purchase books for and attract donations to the library) to persuade their friends to join as well. For instance, one article mentioning that Publisher’s Weekly had praised the Quarterly also commented that that “…in our own Colby circles you may safely report, without fear of contradiction, that we would flourish much more luxuriantly if each member of the Colby Library Associates would gain another Associate for our membership between now and the time the snow will fly” (11).
The Quarterly also printed specific lists of books wanted by the library. Frequently articles coupled news of a new donation with mention of remaining holes in the collection to which it belonged and pleas to readers to fill them. This strategy proved particularly effective in the building of the collection of books by Jacob Abbot, a nineteenth century Maine author of over 200 books (12). In the January 1946 issue, an article related the donation of copies of nine books in a series about a boy called Little Rollo and a request for the rest, as well as for books missing from his series of biographies of famous historical personages (12). The article reads, “Since many of the books of this prolific Farmington author are of the sort that have sometimes been relegated to the attic, it is quite possible that readers of these lines may be able to find under the eaves copies which will fill some of the gaps in our collection” (12). This strategy apparently worked, as the October 1946 issue relayed donations of many additional volumes for the collection, though not all of those missing, since the reader is still asked if he or she “will look your attic over?” (13).
Yet the Quarterly was not simply a catalogue of library growth but also a scholarly publication, with a particular focus on promoting the reputation of scholarship at Colby College. As such, the magazine occasionally contained reviews of books written by Colby faculty, such as Donald Smalley’s largely complementary evaluation of Hardy in America, written by Carl Jefferson Weber (10). The Quarterly frequently printed scholarly pieces related to collections in the library, such as a history of the provenance of a John Brown letter written shortly before his hanging which Colby initially (and incorrectly) claimed was the original copy; the article describes the process of historical and lithographic detection undergone to determine which of several copies was truly the original letter (9). This emphasis on scholarship significantly contributed to the Quarterly’s prominence beyond the Colby circle—the libraries of many universities and research institutions carried it, a rare achievement for a library journal of an undergraduate school (14).
- “Series One of the Colby Library Quarterly.” Colby Library Quarterly August 1947.
- “Untitled Article.” Colby Library Quarterly August 1947: 50-52.
- “Deep in the Heart of China.” Colby Library Quarterly January 1946: 208-209.
- “Notes by the Way.” Colby Library Quarterly October 1946: 258-264.
- “Our Second-Oldest Incunabulum.” Colby Library Quarterly August 1947: 44-46.
- Palmer, Norman D. “The Conversion of Elijah Parish Lovejoy and its Results.” Colby Library Quarterly November 1947: 53-58.
- Weber, Carl J. “Willa Cather’s Call on Housman.” Colby Library Quarterly November 1947: 61-64.
- Stutler, Boyd B. “John Brown’s Letter.” Colby Library Quarterly May 1947: 17-36.
- Smalley, Donald. “Hardy in America, By Carl J. Weber.” Rev. of Hardy in America by Carl Weber. Colby Library Quarterly October 1946.
- “The ‘New Colophon’.” Colby Library Quarterly August 1948: 117-120.
- “Desiderata.” Colby Library Quarterly January 1946: 215-216.
- “Notes by the Way.” Colby Library Quarterly October 1946: 258-262.
- “Editor, Teacher, Scholar.” Colby Alumnus April 1953: 6-8. Carl J. Weber Collection,Colbiana Collection, Colby College Special Collections.