It comes to pass in the life of any publisher that every so often the flow of books inward exceeds the storage space available, and steps have to be taken.
The low-tech side is heaving the books already on the shelves out, and putting them in boxes, so as to make space for the newcomers; the (only relatively) hi-tech side is making a list of authors, titles and ISBNs so that we know what is in each box when it comes to sending them to the Press bookshop or a conference for sale at ROCK-BOTTOM PRICES!!!! (An even lower-tech moment then follows when we put the lists in a safe place which we can’t subsequently find…)
Sorting through the shelves is a nice exercise in nostalgia. Oh, there are the memoirs of X (slightly dusty) – I wonder how they sold? Heavens above, why are so many people buying Y’s grammar of language Z? In this vein, I have been leafing through the six volumes of the memoirs of John Cam Hobhouse, later Lord Broughton, edited by his niece Charlotte Carleton, later Baroness Dorchester. Hobhouse was a prolific writer in his day, and knew absolutely everyone, but is remembered today largely for his friendship with Byron. The gossip is fascinating: one wonders how much Lady Dorchester had to edit out.
There are of course many other authors who are more famous for who they knew than what they did. (Would we read any of Boswell or Mrs [Thrale] Piozzi if not for the Johnson connection? Ditto Trelawny with the Byron/Shelley circle, or Joseph Severn with Keats.) Here are a few of the other less well known scribblers:
Henry Crabbe Robinson: an indefatigable diarist who knew most of the usual subjects but also Goethe and Schiller. (A.S. Byatt pastiches his diary to get the plot of the wonderful Possession going.)
J.R. Planché: a prolific but almost completely forgotten playwright who knew everybody on the Victorian stage.
William Tinsley: Random Recollections of an Old Publisher (does what it says on the tin!).
Nathaniel Wraxall: gossip from all over Europe.
Tom Moore: yet another friend (and biographer) of Byron, poet, Irish patriot and inveterate gossip.
Charles Cavendish Fulke Greville: just a tiny bit aristocratic, and Clerk to the Privy Council for over forty years. His diaries caused outrage in some of those who featured in them, such as Disraeli and Queen Victoria.
Thomas Creevey: politician and friend of the mighty, very indiscreet.
Thomas Raikes: wealthy dandy who neglected his family while living high on the hog in Britain and Europe. (Not to be confused with his uncle Robert Raikes, who founded Sunday Schools for the children of the poor.)
If you’re still with me, it’s COMPETITION TIME!!! To win John Cam Hobhouse’s six-volume Recollections of a Long Life, simply name the other book by him published in the Cambridge Library Collection. Email your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org, by Friday 30 August, and the first correct answer wins hours of entertaining reading!