The library at Castle Corvey contains what is probably the most extensive single collection of novels belonging to the British Romantic period. An immediate pointer is provided by John Graham's Novels in English (1938), which lists 2107 items at Corvey of which approximately 95% were published between 1796 and 1834.1 This vastly outweighs the 305 novels first published between 1780 and 1820 to be found in the Bristol University Library's Early Novel Collection, one of the largest specialist collections in Britain and dwarfs 406 items listed within the same time band by Sidney Gecker2 at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1950s (see Table 1). The Corvey holdings also compare favourably with the little known cache of 867 works of fiction mostly between 1814 and 187, held by Aberdeen University Library. Table 2 offers a breakdown of holdings at Aberdeen from 1810-29, in comparison with annual sum totals taken from the sprawling quarterly listing of novels found in two contemporary periodical journals. Nor is Corvey entirely overshadowed by the 4195 items between 1780 and 1830 extractable from Andrew Block's The English Novel 1740-1850, London 1939 (revised edition 1961), especially when Block's inclusion of "ghost" titles, reprints, miscellanies, chapbooks, shilling shockers and other ephemera is taken into consideration. In comparison, the Corvey collection consists almost entirely of first (or very early) editions of standard works of fiction from the period. It is almost as if one of the leading circulating libraries of the 1820s, say Hookhams' in Old Bond Street or A. K. Newman's Minerva Library, had been preserved in a vacuum--the only tell-tale signs being the unfamiliarity of the German bindings and an occasional mis-transcription on the spines. Nevertheless the full significance of the re-discovery of the library for British studies is a long way from being appreciated in Anglo-American circles, notwithstanding the highly professional activities of the Corvey Project team. Perhaps there is still a general disinclination to believe that a German castle can contain such a rich and immediately pertinent store.
The novels themselves though are tangible enough, and Graham's catalogues, gives at best an imperfect view of the richness of the collection. A number of omissions have become clear through a study of the Corvey project's microfiche catalogue as at 29/12/89, which was kindly donated to me during an earlier visit to Paderborn. More specifically, in the last months I have been engaged in collating the Corvey microfiche against my own unpublished file of novels in English from 1780-1830. The latter has been compiled in an eclectic way, making use of modern sources such as the ESTC computer base as well as a variety of contemporary documents (circulating library catalogues, Bent's London Catalogue, etc.3), and at its last overhaul contained 2897 items--representing, I am confident, at least 95% of novels first published in the period. (As a rule the file excludes non-standard works such as magazines, miscellanies, short tales, children's literature and religious tracts). After a good deal of scrutiny, it has been possible to locate 1851 of the above 2897 items in the Corvey microfiche. In the process a good deal of hard information concerning publishers, pagination, etc., has been added to my file, especially where authentication was previously dependent on secondary sources. In some 80 cases, the Corvey microfiche brought back into view titles which had been rejected through lack of sufficient evidence; in a further 20 or so instances titles were entirely unknown to me. In the medium term this will necessitate a fresh overhaul of the file, while the experience of Corvey has revived a long-standing ambition one day to publish a comprehensive catalogue of British fiction in the Romantic period.
Before dismantlement, however, the original file can perhaps serve one last purpose by offering a rough yardstick against which to judge Corvey's holdings of novels in English. Table 3 gives a year-by-year breakdown of titles in the file; alongside it indicates the number of these items which were found in the Corvey microfiche--almost invariably in their original first edition. Some salient trends will be immediately apparent. The serious purchasing of English titles appears to have begun in the mid-1790s. By the ealry 1800s the library was evidently taking almost 80% of production, with a regular annual intake of more than 50 novels. In the 1820s accessions had reached a new level, with the library in two single years (1822 and 1829) actually taking all but one of the novels in the file. The process of collation has also thrown light on the kinds of novel that are absent from the library. Many of the omissions, for example, are translations into English of works previously published in French or German. It is not strange, perhaps, that the purchaser(s) of books for the library might prefer the novels of Lafontaine in the original German or those of Madame de Genlis in French. Translations of novels from Spanish and Italian are, however, found in English at Corvey.
The following account attempts to describe some of the main characteristics of Corvey's holdings in English fiction, as revealed by the Corvey microfiche, and also draws attention to a number of omissions which may or may not be significant. For convenience the period from 1780 to 1830 is divided into four temporal sub-sections.
The library contains only a handful of novels from the 1780s, so it would seem that the collection of novels in English had not properly begun then. Only about twenty items were originally published in this period, all but four of them stemming from the last five years of the decade (itself characterised by a surge in the production of fiction). Titles include: Fanny Burney's Cecilia (1782), Sophia Lee's The Recess (1783), Clara Reeve's Two Mentors (1783), Agnes Maria Bennett's Anna; or, Memoirs of an Welch Heiress (1785), Elizabeth Helme's Louise; or, the Cottage on the Moor (1787), Charlotte Smith's Emmeline (1788) and Ethelinde (1789), Richard Cumberland's Arundel (1789), and Dr. John Moore's Zeluco (1789). Contemporary circulating library catalogues indicate that these were amongst the most popular and better-known novels of the late eighteenth century. A large proportion (15 out of 21) are in later English editions, such as might have been picked up from publishers' catalogues at a later date. Nevertheless, this seems to represent more than just a random selection of works as they came back on the market. It is almost as if there had been a deliberate policy to 'complete' the novel stock retrospectively, especially in the case of authors who had become regular favourites. In this light, it is interesting to note the inclusion of Ann Ratcliffe's Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne (1789; here in its 3rd edition, 1799), a first novel which was not outstandingly popular on its first appearance. Another interesting feature is the presence of at least two titles in English published in Germany: Burney's Cecilia (Dresden 1790_; and Helme's Louisa (Leipzig 1789).4 This is not a noticeable feature after the 1780s, either as a result of German publishers ceasing to print novels in English (which I doubt) or, more probably, because the purchase of English titles (whether through German booksellers, a London agent, or by direct means) was now being actively sought.
Less than 20% of the titles produced in the first five years of the 1790s are to be found at Corvey, the majority in later editions. Even in 1795 only four out of eleven titles are in the original edition. The first year to show a significant change is 1796, itself coincidentally a bumper year in the production of English fiction. Corvey includes 32 of the 76 titles in my file at this point, a significantly large proportion (25) in the original edition. The library contains most of the popular mainstream English titles of 1796 in that form: Fanny Burney's Camilla, John Moore's Edward, Elizabeth Helme's Farmer of Inglewood Forest, Mary Robinson's Hubert de Sevrac, Charlotte Smith's Marchmont, Eliza Parson's Women As They Are. Early subsequent editions plugged the obvious gaps: Elizabeth Inchbald's Nature and Art (ed. 2, 1797); Robert Bage's Hermsprong (ed. 2, 1799); Jane West's A Gossip's Story (ed. 4, 1799); Regina Maria Roche's Children of the Abbey, one of the most successful novels of all in the circulating libraries (ed. 4, 1800). Leading publishers of fiction in London are dominant. Eleven titles came from William Lane's Minerva Press; while Hookham (4), Low (3), Cadell (2), Robinson (2) also feature noticeably in the imprints.
Amongst omissions in 1796, the most striking by far is M. G. Lewis's The Monk, whose sado-masochistic eroticism was perhaps as welcome on the open shelves of a respectable aristocratic house in the 1790s as Rushdie's Satanic Verses would be in the Saudi royal palace today. The rest are duller, or less popular novels of the period, with the possible exceptions of Susannah Gunning's Delves, Elizabeth Hervey's History of Ned Evans, and Eliza Parson's Mysterious Warning (one of the "Northanger Novels"5). Also absent is Mary Hay's Memoirs of Emma Courtney, arguably more noticed by feminists today than by its original audience, though the work later gained notoriety as the butt of anti-Jacobin satire6. Most of the remaining titles fall into one or more of the following categories.
a) Works by less established or socially/politically dubious publishers. Perhaps significantly the firm of Crosby, which had previously published Godwin's Caleb Williams (1794) has three titles absent.
b) Subscription novels and works "published for the author." Out of six novels published by subscription in 1796, only two (Camilla and Woodland Cottage (ed. 2, 1799)) evidently found their way into the Corvey collection. Missing, with between 100 and 300 subscriptions each, are: the Rev. William Cole's The Contradition, Samuel Arnold's The Creole, Sarah Draper's Memoirs of the Princess of Zell and John Palmer's The Mystery of the Black Tower. The last two were printed at the Minerva Press, but publishers were well known not to push works where they lacked full commercial control. The same was true of works printed "for the author" (i.e. at his/her expense). The one example in 1796 is The Hermitage, by Joshua Fisher, now untraceable in both the British Library and the National Union Catalog. A more famous example is Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility (1811), whose absence at Corvey will be discussed later.
c) Works translated into English. Omissions include two novels "translated from the German" (Albert de Nordenshild and The Black Valley), one "from the French" (Durval and Adelaide) as well as de Genlis' Knights of the Swan. (Another work, Maurice, a German Tale…Translated from the French, manages to combine both ingredients.) German origins were heavily signalled at this time, to satisfy the public craze for the Gothic. One pseudo-German novel is Parson's Mysterious Warning, whose title-page claims to be "A German tale" might have precipitated its exclusion from Corvey. Conversely, the Minerva Press's revamping of Grosse's Der Genius as Horrid Mysteris (1796) might help explain the unusual acceptance into the library of a book with a genuine German provenance.
d) Obvious masculinist titles. 1796 provides no obvious examples, but titles beginning with "Adventures of…" (often signalling a bawdy content) appear to have been avoided. Equally there are signs of a preference for named or known female authors. Of the 32 titles in the library first published in 1796, 22 are the product of female authors, only six the work of identifiable males. Of the 44 not present at Corvey, 16 were written by males, 19 by females, and the authorship of the rest is unknown.
In the following year (1797) the library includes about half the annual production, and it never slipped below that level in all the remaining years under review. By the early 1800s coverage is almost total. In 1801, for example, 61 of the 67 titles in my file are found in the microfiche. The six exclusions comprise one novel apiece from the French and the German, a fairly nondescript Minerva production, a novel "published for the authoress," another originating from Scotland, and (more surprisingly) Maria Edgeworth's Moral Tales, perhaps omitted as a book for "young people."7 The 27 titles missing in 1803-4 (from a total of 139) are largely explainable in terms of the high proportion of "foreign" titles then being offered by English publishers, perhaps as a result of the Peace of Amiens. They include no less than thirteen works "from the French" including five by Pigault-Lebrun, two (one probably spurious) by Madame de Genlis and Madame de Stael's Delphine (considered by some an immoral work and evidently not in Corvey in any form). German absences are dominated by six works by Auguste Lafontaine (though one Lafontaine title in English, Love and Gratitude (1804), did find its way into the library). None of the remaining seven English works are leading novels. It is no exaggeration to say that by 1804 the library was taking in virtually every original novel published in England by London publishers.
In the period 1805-19 the Corvey collection holds 741 of the 954 titles in my file, representing at an estimate about 75% of novel production. Translations of foreign titles again head the list of omissions, with the absence of 27 works from the French and another 13 purportedly by German authors. Amongst indigenous titles it is possible to discern a number of interesting patterns. The library excludes several of the more outrageous spin-offs from Lewis's Monk: Edward Montague's Demon of Sicily and the same (pseudonymous) author's Legends of a Nunnery (1807), Atrocities of a Convent (1808), The Monk and His Daughter (1808?), as well as the relatively innocuous but sensationally-titled Monk of Udolpho (1807) by T. J. Horsley Curties. Also omitted are a number of "scandal" titles of the day, in which J. F. Hughes and other publishers operating at the lower end of the London trade specialised. Examples (all missing) are: The Mask of Fashion (1807), Charles Sedley's Faro Table (1808), Sarah Wilkinson's Child of Mystery (1808), The Noble Cornutos (1808), and both A Winter in Bath (Crosby, 1807) and A Winter at Bath (Hughes, 1807). Corvey also lacks the quasi-fictional "Royal" titles which usually fed on the sensation of the Prince of Wales' separation from Princess Caroline--for instance J. P. Hurstone's Royal Intrigues (1808) and John Aggs's Royal Sufferer (1810). (Thomas Ashe's The Spirit of 'The Book' (1811), by far the most successful work in this idiom, is however at Corvey: albeit in a French version!8) It needs to be added that the more scurrilous of these titles were virtually underground publications and would have been difficult to purchase from afar. Nevertheless a principle of selectivity certainly seems to have been operating in the case of Hughes's output, where the more salacious and horrific titles have been actively weeded out. Of course, the process of censorship could have continued after books arrived in Germany, though some titles were capable of telling their own story in advance. One way or the other, the Corvey collection was denied such fruits as Female Confessions (1810, the Profligate Prince (1812), and Dangers of Infidelity (1812).
Many of the remaining omissions are explainable in terms of the obscurity of their publisher, private publication, or a non-London origin. Two are now well-known--Austen's Sense and Sensibility9 and Thomas Love Peacock's Headlong Hall (1816)--but these were the first (anonymous) works of their authors, and at the time lacked a track record. Another interesting absentee is Elizabeth Hamilton's Cottagers of Glenburnie (1808), now best known for its pioneering use of Scots in dialogue. An initial failure to purchase might be explained by publication in Edinburgh, but the rapid success that followed nationally makes it hard to believe that it was simply overlooked. Perhaps a low-life setting and a professed missionary purpose militated against acceptance in an elegant aristocratic library. Noticeably missing are a number of other titles promising scenes in cottages, though some undoubtedly would have been of the ornée variety favoured in polite sentimental fiction: the Cottager's Daguther (1806) Cottage of the Var (1809) Cottage of Merlin Vale (1809), Cottage Dialogues (1811, 1813), and Cottage Sketches (1812). The library also seems to have been slow in responding to the two strongest new influences on fiction at this time: Evangelicalism and Regionalism. The collection evidently lacks a copy of the Rev. Henry Kett's Emily, a Moral Tale one of the first of a new line of moral-evangelical fictions; while Hannah More's Coelebs in Search of a Wife (1808), arguably the most influential single novel of its era, is found in the microfiche in its 14th edition of 1813.10 The apparently late accession of More's work is matched by the absence of a number of Coelebs spin-offs, ranging from the libertarian to the ultra-pietistic: Medora Gordon Byron's Celia in Search of a Husband (1809), William Mudford's Nubilia in Search of a Husband (1809), F. Barlow's A Sequel to Coelebs (1812). Another hole is found in the case of a number of "Irish" tales which followed in the trail of Maria Edgeworth and Lady Morgan: The Exile of Erin (1808), Irish Guardian (1809), Irish Recluse (1809), Irishmen (1810), and Faithful Irishwoman (1813). While noting these exclusions, it is worth bearing in mind that Corvey took in without fail each and every novel published by popular novelists such as Mary Meeke, Anna Maria Porter, Henrietta Rouviere Mosse, Jane Harvey, and Louisa Stanhope.
Amongst main publishers of fiction the distinction of having the most titles excluded belongs to J. F. Hughes, reflecting his heavy involvement in horror/scandal fiction and dubious "translations." Even so, Corvey contains 57 of 80 novels published by Hughes between 1805-11; compared with 46 held by the British Library, a figure itself barely exceeded by the recently-published first phase of NSTC.11 The only other noticeable gap is created by the absence of 20 out of 55 titles published by the emergent Henry Colburn from 1808-19. Soon to become the doyen of fashioanble "silver fork" fiction, Colburn spent his early years as a publisher specialising in pirated foreign titles of the sort Corvey rejected. The output of more established firms was being taken almost in its entirety. Of ninety or so novels published by the highly respected firm of Longman & Co. between 1805-19 only five or six cannot be found in the microfiche. In the case of the Minerva Press, which passed during this period to A. K. Newman, Corvey appears to have taken all but 20 of the approximately 290 novels produced then by the firm. Following a by now familiar pattern, half of the omissions are French and German translations. It will be interesting to see if these figures accord with the more detailed study being conducted by Corvey project of the Minerva holdings in the library.(12)
In the 1820s the library's purchasing of English novels reached new heights, as evidenced by the presence in the microfiche of no less than 610 of the 661 novels in my file. If the Napoleonic War had at any stage caused difficulties, the impediment was now removed. London enjoyed a reputation as the focus of European fashion, and Edinburgh had become a publishing centre in its own right. In one sense the centre-piece of the collection in this phase is Scott's Waverley Novels, accelerating through the 20s in the wake of Ivanhoe (1819); Corvey has every title from Waverley (1814) onwards in a first or very early edition. It is salutary, however, to see Scott's works (so often treated as a separate phenomenon) in the full context of the production of three-decker fiction at this time. Corvey holds, for instance, virtually all the works of fiction produced by Scott's fellow-Scottish novelists, John Galt, James Hogg, J. G. Lockhart and John Wilson--much of it, of course, published by William Blackwood. (Of thirty or so titles managed by Blackwood in this decade, all but two are found in the microfiche.) The library also includes all the "silver fork" novels produced by Colburn, as well as a large array of the historical / "fashionable" / moral-domestic fictions that filled the lists of publishers such as Longmans, Newman, and G. & W. B. Whittaker. The only leading novel not found in the microfiche is James Morier's Adventures of Hajii Baba, of Ispahan, in England (1828), though the same author's Adventures of Hajii Baba, of Ispahan (1824) is present (in such cases it is tempting to think of an oversight or loss rather than a deliberate omission). The library in this phase contains slightly more works by identifiable male as opposed to female authors, reflecting a general influx of male writers (partly encouraged by Scott's example) into the genre.13 It is also worth noting that the microfiche in this decade threw up a larger than usual number of titles not included in my file (55, as opposed to about 100 overall); if included, however, these would not significantly alter the gender balance of authorship.
The 51 novels not found in the microfiche are again dominated by translations from the French and German (18 in all). It is also interesting to observe the omission of several titles initially published in numbers (usually now found bound in large single volumes with illustrations), an innovative way of marketing fiction prompted by publishers such as George Virtue. Notwithstanding their female authorship and a sentimental domestic ambience, the library apparently does not include the following titles by Catherine G. Ward: The Rose of Claremont (1820), The Orphan Boy, or Test of Innocence (1821), The Widow's Choice (1823), The Mysteries of St Clair (1824), Family Portraits (1824), The Forest Girl (1826), and The Knight of the White Banner (1827).14 These works are rarely found in circulating library catalogues of the period, however, indicating that they were projected at a different market from the genteel-professional (perhaps slightly ageing) clientele of the larger libraries. Two polemical religious titles of the period, Grace Kennedy's Father Clement; a Roman Catholic Story (1823) and George Wilkins' The Convert (1826), are also absent. The evangelical and anti-Roman Father Clement in particular appears to have enjoyed wide sales in the period--a 5th edition had been reached by 1826, and copies are easily found in second-hand bookshops today--but again works of this order were evidently directed at a different readership than the patrons of commercial libraries. Other signs also point to a diffusion and fragmentation of the readership of fiction during this decade, but Corvey for the most part remained true to the mainstream tradition of circulating library fiction as typified by the output of Newman and Colburn. This is what makes the library's holdings of English fiction such a unique record, since Corvey has preserved many of those titles which in Britain were discarded after the brief heyday of their circulation.
In recent years literary historians have shown a new willingness to approach fiction in the British Romantic period on its own terms. The enthusiasm for the Gothic novel shows no sign of abating and present researchers can feed on a substantial body of bibliographies, checklists and reprint series. These advances are being followed by feminist historians of the novel, who quite correctly have identified a major flowering of fiction written by and for women at this time. Two critical studies, by Ann H. Jones and Gary Kelly15, have made large strides in identifying popular authors and classifying sub-genres; and the idea that the popular fiction of the period offers little more than a backdrop to Austen and Scott is no longer tenable. Yet even in the mouths of critics as knowledgeable as Kelly one sometimes senses a certain hollowness when generalisations relating to the whole corpus of fiction are attempted. The claim (now much heard) that the majority of novels were written by women, for example, is at best supported by long lists of female authors and their works--and, as suggested, is belied by the experience of the 1820s. In subscribing the view of an uninterrupted expansion of fiction during this period, too, some commentators sound more like sanguine reincarnations of the appalled clergymen and eye-weary reviewers of the past than serious modern analysts. Here again the evidence suggests a more complex pattern: a considerable surge in the late 1780s, significant peaks circa 1796-1800 and 1807-10, but a reduction if anything during the 1810s (a period of high prices). For reasons such as these a bibliography of standard fiction in the Romantic period, as a substitute for Block and the fading (bibliographically amateurish) Summers16, appears to be both a desideratum and a distinct possibility. If the lines of demarcation were drawn (say) at 1790-1830, and with reasonably tight rules for exclusion in operation, I would estimate a collection with an upper limit of 3000 titles. Corvey, which holds approximately 70% of the output during these years, has the potential to turn a possibility into a probability.
Table 1: Two Novel Collections Compared, 1780-1819
Source: Sidney Gecker: English Fiction to 1820 in the University of Pennsylvania Library (1954); Manuscript Catalogue, Novel Collection, Bristol University Library. All items by date of first publication.
Table 2: Review Listings of Fiction and Aberdeen Novels, 1810-1829.
Source: All entries under "Novel" in the Edinburgh Review and Quarterly Review; Aberdeen University Library printout of English novels 1810-1837, 18 May 1990.
Table 3: Standard Novels, 1780-1829
Source: Personal File; Corvey Microfiche at 29/12/89. Corvey numbers relate only to titles in Personal File.