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Sisam, Kenneth (1887–1971), publisher and editor
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Letter from Kenneth Sisam to R. C. Trevelyan

The Clarendon Press, Oxford. - Thanks Trevelyan for his letter of 15 January with the book and manuscript; asks him to excuse Sisam's 'apparent neglect': has been away a while and now has the 'very heavy business of the beginning of term' to deal with. Has not yet had time to read Trevelyan's translations [of Montaigne: see 22/16-17, 21/83] or take advice; is unsure whether the translation might come under [Oxford University Press's] London Department's remit rather than the Delegates' but will go into it as soon as possible and write again.

Letter from Kenneth Sisam to R. C. Trevelyan

The Clarendon Press, Oxford. - Thanks Trevelyan for his letter of 27 May: sorry to have kept him waiting so long regarding [his translation of] Montaigne. The 'stoppage of coal and fuel... reversed the tendency to increase book production', and there was 'no prospect' of improvement. Was therefore unfair to a project like Trevelyan's to 'try and decide about it in these bleak months'. Montaigne falls more within the remit of Oxford University Press's than that of the Delegates [of the Clarendon Press] which is these days largely restricted to academic work, and the London and American houses have 'rather tied themselves' to [the translation by Emil Trechmann]. But if Trevelyan sends the rest of the manuscript so they can get the 'effect of the selection', promises to give it consideration and a 'reasonably quick answer'; wishes they could judge manuscripts 'on their merits and not under the rule of necessity'.

Letter from Kenneth Sisam to R. C. Trevelyan

The Clarendon Press, Oxford. - Trevelyan will think he has treated the question about Montaigne with 'scandalous negligence'; hopes he can forgive him, as he has had 'very heavy pressure of administrative work for some time'. The Press liked Trevelyan's translation and 'personal selection', but such a book would be more in the line of the London and New York houses who 'know about the market for books'. They have already published Trechmann's complete translation; Sisam thinks Trevelyan has 'the advantage of him at many points', but still his version is in print, set up when printing was at 'half its present price'. The London and New York houses did not think they could sell Trevelyan's selection at a price rather more than the complete Trechmann. Sisam waited for a while, hoping that 'conditions might improve', but unfortunately in the publishing world everything is 'getting always scarcer and dearer'. Hopes that Trevelyan will not think the delay in giving this 'disappointing answer' is due to a lack of interest or appreciation for his translation.

Part of a letter from Kenneth Sisam to W. W. Greg

[The Clarendon Press, Oxford?]—Maas is particularly interested in the considerations which lead an editor of Shakespeare to follow the copy-text.

(For the date and the identification of the correspondents cf. 1/87, which was probably typed with the same typewriter (note especially the capital ‘K’).)

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Transcript

Maas is, of course, not a Shakespearian scholar and knows nothing of “bibliography”. But he has an acute mind for any inconsistency, and tireless industry. He has made some excellent criticisms on McKerrow’s proofs and Introduction to Richard III. The point which really interests him is one in which I refuse to become enmeshed i.e. the basic considerations which lead a Shakespearian editor to stick to the copy-text. Exactly when does he alter the copy-text? Under what conditions does McKerrow discuss in notes {1} the variant readings of the Quarto? On all these points he thinks there is a lack of clear statement and consistent practice in the proofs. The first issue—the different approach to the text of the modern school of Shakespearians—is the one he would like to discuss with you some day; because he is interested in the general principles of textual criticism, and the extent to which they can be applied outside the classics.

[Typed in the margin:] x except the critical introduction {2}

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Typed.

{1} The three lines from ‘enmeshed’ to ‘notes’ have been marked with a pencil line in the margin.

{2} The initial 'x' is raised above the line. These words apparently refer to something in the next paragraph, of which only the top of a superior ‘x’ can be seen.

Letter from Kenneth Sisam to R. C. Trevelyan

The Clarendon Press, Oxford. - Apologises for not thanking Trevelyan sooner for his "From the Shiffolds"; was 'overwhelmed by meetings, memoranda, etc., which beset us in these changing times'. Had not realised that with the passage of time Trevelyan could 'now address an Epistle to a Grandson". Thanks him again for 'the good practice of keeping Christmas alive with poetry'.

Letter from Kenneth Sisam to R. B. McKerrow

The Clarendon Press, Oxford.—Asks to be notified of any errors in the accompanying advance copy (of An Introduction to Bibliography).

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Transcript

The Clarendon Press, Oxford
23rd September, 1927.

Dear Mr. McKerrow,

Here is your advance copy, and I hope we have got through with no more than the usual quota of final errors. Please let me know whether you approve of the cloth. It is durable, but it looked a little dull today, when it came up alongside another book in a glossy black buckram. We still have time to make any change you wish.

I hope your bibliographical tendencies have not encouraged a taste for cancels, but if you will let me know within the next few days, I shall do anything we can to put errors right. It is a very attractive book, and I am inclined to think it will have a long and steady sale. In the end we printed 1750 copies.

Yours sincerely,
Kenneth Sisam

R. B. McKerrow Esq.,
Enderley, Little Kingshill, Great Missenden, Bucks.

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Typed, except the signature. The reference ‘3249/Pub./K.S.’ is typed at the head after the printed words ‘Please quote’.

Letter from Kenneth Sisam to R. B. McKerrow

The Clarendon Press, Oxford.—His reply has been delayed by an attack of influenza. The Review has his best wishes, but he cannot be relied on as a contributor at present.

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Transcript

The Clarendon Press, Oxford
23 ii 1924 {1}

My dear Sir,

I hope you will excuse my long delay in replying to your very kind invitation to contribute to the new Review of English Studies. We have all had influenza, & I am afraid my correspondence has suffered.

The Review has my best wishes & I think there is room for it; but I fear you could not rely on me as a contributor. I get very little time for writing & have no taste for reviewing—I suppose one can have too much of books. Besides Moore Smith has been so good to me on the few occasions that I have had anything to print that I feel some obligations.

Still, if you would be so patient as to leave it in this way: that I shall send you as & when I can anything I think might interest you, I shall do my best when I get a little more leisure. At least you may be sure that your inability to offer payment is not a consideration at all: we ought to be glad to be printed. Will your reviews be signed? There are difficulties both ways, but on the whole I prefer the openness of a signature.

Yours very truly
Kenneth Sisam

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{1} The first two figures of the year are printed.

Letter from R. W. Chapman to R. B. McKerrow

The Clarendon Press, Oxford.—Commends McKerrow’s suggested title-page, and discusses the size of the first printing.

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Transcript

The Clarendon Press, Oxford
8th August 1927.

Dear Mr. McKerrow,

Thank you for your letter of August 6th. We shall try your titlepage, and personally I think it is an improvement. One modernist tendency in titlepages is to give them the size formerly given to half titles. I understand this is based on the theory that the jacket provides the real external title,—a very false theory when applied to learned books which will in their later days require a binding. I imagine some teachers in the schools of printing have always novels in mind when they lay down their rules on construction.

As for the number—let 1,500 be the minimum. I am inclined to think that writers of theses will buy this book, and when Chapman returns I shall raise with him the question of making it 2,000 or splitting the difference. I am inclined to think the sale will be long and steady, and in that case it is all a matter of overtaking the interest charges; but we shall be well satisfied not to examine too closely into commercial profit in producing such an admirable work.

Yours sincerely,
Kenneth Sisam

R. B. McKerrow Esq.,
Enderley,
Little Kingshill,
Great Missenden,
Bucks.

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Typed, except signature. At the head are the reference ‘3249/K.S.’ and, elsewhere, the letters ‘MG.’

Draft of a letter from R. B. McKerrow to Kenneth Sisam

(Place of writing not indicated.)—Asks for more favourable terms than those offered.

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Transcript

Dear Mr Sisam,

I ought of course also to have replied to your letter of 17 Aug. concerning the Introduction to Bibliography, but I really wanted to do a bit of calculating & have never had time.

The terms you offer are not at all bad though I think we (Sidgwick & Jackson) should generally either have offered 15 from the start (for U.K.) or suggested a (probably unattainable) 20% after 2000 or 2500. (You could of course quite safely offer this provided no considerable changes are required in later impressions.)

But on the whole I do feel that you ought to be able to give a little more than 10% (on U.K. price) on the ‘Export’ & U.S.A. sales. As the book costs $6 in U.S.A. this is only 7½% on published price, which is really a very low figure for an expensive book. One can screw the American Publisher up to this on quite cheap editions when the margin must be very small. {1} I really feel that 10% on the U.S.A. price (which would be 13⅓ on the English one) should not be at all excessive. It makes of course some difference to me, as although many of the initial sales—single copies to Libraries etc. {2}—would come through English agents, it seems probable that if, as I hope, the book is used more or less as a text book for advanced students in the American Universities, the later orders will mostly come through your American house.

Besides ‘Export’ other than to U.S.A. is (strictly between ourselves as publishers) a bit of a fraud. We at any rate—and I suppose you also—give no better terms to exporters than we do to wholesalers in England, so there is really no reason for a smaller royalty. I admit that the bulk of Export will no doubt be U.S.A., but there will certainly be some to the {3} & India & the Colonies—and perhaps a few to European countries.

I should be glad if you would consider these points.

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{1} Full stop substituted for a comma, which is followed in the original by, ‘though I admit that they don’t want to pay more than 5%.’ struck through.

{2} Probable reading. The succeeding dash has been supplied.

{3} Followed by ‘Colonies’ struck through. This word should also have been deleted.

Letter from Kenneth Sisam to R. B. McKerrow

The Clarendon Press, Oxford.—Thanks him for his letter announcing the completion of his work, and discusses the date of publication.

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Transcript

The Clarendon Press, Oxford
7th September, 1927.

Dear Mr. McKerrow,

Thank you for your letter of September 5th, announcing completion of your labours. I cannot yet say whether there will be queries in the Index, but if there are any that we cannot settle automatically, I must send them along to you. Printing is going on, but I think we can make your latest corrections.

Six copies seems rather a short allowance, and I suggest that we allow 1 advance copy and 11 final copies on publication date. We don’t much like hurrying publication, because it prevents us having a good look at the advance copy, and seeing that all is well. But at present our programme is to have an advance copy in this office on 22nd September, and to publish three weeks or a month later. I think as long as we keep within the month of October, we shall not do badly. But if you have any special reason for wanting the book earlier, please let me know, and I shall do what I can to curtail the period between advance copy and publication.

Yours sincerely,
Kenneth Sisam

R. B. McKerrow Esq.,
Enderley,
Little Kingshill,
Great Missenden,
Bucks.

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Typed, except the signature. At the head are the reference ‘3249/K.S.’ and, elsewhere, the letter ‘C.’

Letter from Kenneth Sisam to R. B. McKerrow

The Clarendon Press, Oxford.—Comments on the binding and the typeface.

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Transcript

The Clarendon Press, Oxford
26th September, 1927.

Dear Mr. McKerrow,

Many thanks for your letter of September 25th. I don’t think we shall alter the cloth, because it is the best wearing of our dark blues, and if you can pardon a certain amount of drabness, we certainly can.

There is one point very disappointing to me in the printing of the book—owing to the fault of the monotype makers, the f’s and f ligatures stand up rather boldly in this Caslon. It is an old fault, but I hoped it had been remedied.

I read with interest your remarks on some early types, but I have a liking for Fell against the others. In two sizes particularly—the small pica and the English—it makes most other types in use, to my eye, look rather commonplace or mannered, and I find it grows on one, as not all the new types do. The monotype Baskerville seems to me rather an unsatisfactory type in practical use—hard to read in the modern close setting, and not very attractive except in the small pica, which is very dainty.

Yours sincerely,
Kenneth Sisam

R. B. McKerrow Esq.,
Enderley,
Little Kingshill,
Great Missenden,
Bucks.

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Typed, except signature. At the head are the reference ‘3249/K.S.’ and, elsewhere, the letter ‘C.’

Letter from Kenneth Sisam to R. B. McKerrow

The Clarendon Press, Oxford.—Proposes terms for publishing McKerrow’s ‘Elements of Bibliography’, which he and Chapman think would make an excellent small book.

(With an envelope.)

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Transcript

The Clarendon Press, Oxford
24th July, 1939.

My dear McKerrow,

Chapman and I have both had time to glance at your Lecture notes, and we think that when you have revised them as you suggest, eliminating the lecture forms, they will make an excellent small book, particularly suitable for those Library Schools in America which cannot afford the bigger book, and also for beginners at research in the Universities here.

I think the price should be 5s. The booksellers do not like very cheap books which are inevitably sold in single copies, because their working costs on them are too high, and anybody who wants them will pay 5s.

We should propose a royalty of 12½% of the United Kingdom published price on all copies sold in the United Kingdom, and 10% of the U.K. published price on all copies sold for Export or in the United States: you will know that a good deal of the U.S.A. demand does not come under this latter category, because so many copies are bought through agents or booksellers in this country.

We should supply you with 12 free copies.

Chapman thought it would be best if he raised any points of detail after you had revised the MS., as it is quite likely they will be taken up in the course of your revision.

I hope this will encourage you to get on with it. I am myself leaving on Thursday for a longish holiday in the Scilly Islands: August is a dead month with us, and I expect to be back about mid-September. I hope you will have good weather for your own holiday.

Yours sincerely,
Kenneth Sisam

Dr. R. B. McKerrow,
Picket Piece, Wendover, Bucks.

[Direction on envelope:] Dr. R. B. McKerrow | Picket Piece | Wendover | Bucks [Redirected to:] 11 Warwick Rd | Cliftonville | Margate

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Typed, except the signature. At the head is the reference ‘P.12977/K.S.’ The letter was sent by registered post, the envelope being postmarked at the Secretary’s Office, Clarendon Press, Oxford, and at Walton Street, Oxford, on 24 July 1939; at Aylesbury, Bucks, and at Wendover, Aylesbury, Bucks, on the 25th; and at Margate, Kent, on the 26th. ‘Registered’ marks were also added at Oxford and Margate.

Letter from Kenneth Sisam to Amy McKerrow

The Clarendon Press, Oxford.—Discusses various arrangements connected with the Review of English Studies (following the death of her husband).

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The Clarendon Press, Oxford
28th March, 1940.

Dear Mrs. McKerrow,

Thank you for your letter of 26th March. I am afraid I cannot answer about the offprints because the arrangements for that number were made by Miss Dowling, but I am asking her if it is possible to get any more. Both your correspondents deserve them, and I am returning the letters.

We shall continue to send you the Review of English Studies, but should not think of asking you to pay the subscription in view of your husband’s connection with the journal.

You may like to know that, after a good deal of consultation, we have decided to recommend to the Delegates that Professor Sutherland, who has still many years ahead of him but is not immediately required for war work, should be the new Editor, retaining Miss Dowling to look after the practical work which she has been accustomed to do.

A letter from your solicitors required us to make some financial proposals which perhaps they have referred to you. There is no hurry for a reply, because Dr. Chapman is still poorly, and my own household has been so disorganised by illness that I am taking my son away for about ten days’ holiday on the 2nd so as to be able to close the house. It has indeed been a harsh winter.

Yours sincerely,
Kenneth Sisam

Mrs. A. McKerrow.

ENCL. {1}

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Typed, except the signature. At the head is the reference ‘4690/K.S.’

{1} It is not clear what was enclosed.

Letter from Kenneth Sisam to R. B. McKerrow

The Clarendon Press, Oxford.—Discusses arrangements for reprinting, and comments on a few points in the text.

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Transcript

The Clarendon Press, Oxford
20th December, 1927.

Dear Mr. McKerrow,

When your letter to Chapman came in this morning, I was just about to write to say that we had kept the type of your book standing, and I think we are justified by its send-off. It appears to be going very well as specialist books go, and I am not sure that the second edition will be so distant as you appear to think. Anyhow the type is standing, and in about three months’ time we shall probably have to decide whether to take more copies off, or to make any corrections that occur to you, and then take moulds. I hope and expect we shall take the former alternative, and in any event we should need your corrections if you have found any misprints.

I read the book again with very great interest and no criticisms. The only suggestion I would have made at an earlier stage is that the section on abbreviations might usefully have contained a few more historical indications. For the purposes of book printing, which is your strict subject, they are unnecessary; but I should like to have seen the ancient and typical contractions e.g. dñs. for dominus, distinguished by some mark (an asterisk, for instance) from the relatively modern ones alongside which they fall in books. However, this is really outside your scope, and belongs to an historical study of contractions.

I was interested in your note on the proposal to make the ream 500 sheets. My own difficulty was less that of calculation than the obvious intention of the printers to charge the same price for machining a ream, i.e. to increase the machining price by a little over 3%. As soon as I mentioned the proportionate reduction of machining charges, the demand flagged.

When I can form any proper estimate in the New Year, I shall give you some idea of the sales to date, and consult you about the policy of taking off more copies from the type. The book will obviously be used in all the schools of research in English literature.

Yours sincerely,
Kenneth Sisam

R. B. McKerrow Esq.

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Typed, except the signature and the tittle in ‘dñs’. At the head are the reference ‘5889/K.S.’ and, elsewhere, the letter ‘C.’

Letter from Kenneth Sisam to R. B. McKerrow

The Clarendon Press, Oxford.—Discusses arrangements for reprinting. Evaluates various accounts of the history of abbreviations, and comments on several points in the text.

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Transcript

The Clarendon Press, Oxford
11th January, 1928.

Dear Mr. McKerrow,

I have been waiting to reply to your letter of December 23rd, until I should have the sales of your Introduction to Bibliography up to December 31st. Our figures are only approximate, because we do not take stock at branches and depots, but I reckon the sales, exclusive of presents and review copies, at about 600 to January 1st; the demand continues, and in fact holidays in the Bindery have left us for a few days short of bound copies, though that is now made good. I should reckon a sale of 800 by March 31st—the end of our financial year; and allowing for presents and review copies, we get the remarkable result that half the edition is gone! I don’t expect the pace to keep up, but from the nature of the book, it will not be a flash in the pan, and my own view is that we should keep the type standing till the autumn of this year, and then reprint more copies and take moulds, even though we may still have a good lot of the first impression in hand. I have been looking into the book from time to time, and am most surprised by the amount of new information you give, without even exciting differences of opinion. That means the book will last for a very long time, and we need not fear to take moulds.

I can see nothing wrong with figure 9, and can only suppose that Winship’s pupils have made the mistake you suggest. {1}

I rather agree with Wise that you might have said something of the history of the half-title, {2} if you feel it is sure enough. I imagine we could somehow find room for additional notes and work the references into the index, if we were reprinting from standing type.

When you ask me about the history of abbreviations, I find that I cannot put my hand on any broad and accurate summary of a subject that has produced innumerable special studies since Traube led the way in his Nomina Sacra—a wonderful book. There however, he does not go much farther than distinguishing the kinds of abbreviations, and clearing up the early history of that particular kind to which he limits the name ‘contraction’ i.e. dñs, etc., where the first and last letter of the form are included. Probably you know the work, but anyhow he shows that the con-traction proper arose from unwillingness to write out in full sacred names; and that the bar over the top was not a mark of contraction, but a mark of emphasis on foreign words, etc., like our underlining. From the original simple types all the later types developed—at first slowly; then more rapidly wherever parchment was short and writing quick; until in the 12th and 13th Centuries when writing was applied to all sorts of practical purposes—lecture notes, etc.—the contractions which once had local homes spread to such an extent that it is hard to classify them, or to find any regularity in scribal practice. He does not go so far, if I recollect, in Nomina Sacra, but in other works he gives useful summaries.

Lindsay, in Notae Latinae, which I think Cambridge published, gives extraordinarily full lists of contractions with references up to about the 9th Century, and I suppose his collection is the fullest for the early developments. But I find the book a dull one, for Lindsay has always a slightly mechanical outlook, which is very different from Traube’s. Unfortunately the shorter accounts, e.g. in our own Companion to Classical Texts by F. W. Hall, are seldom good—in fact Hall is utterly confused in his statements. For the early period, because of the interest the subject has for the localization of texts, not a great deal remains to be done. I am inclined to think that there has been no really scientific study of abbreviations from the 12th to the 15th Century in Western Europe. But I think there is a certain usefulness in distinguishing basic types—the contractions, originally nomina sacra; the suspensions like S.P.D.; the Tironian notes or shorthand forms.

But all this is very much behind your proper province.

I noticed one or two small points in reading the book, though I don’t suggest modification:—

p. 85 top. I wonder was it usual to number the leaves of MSS. before the last quarter of the 15th Century? I am not very well up in MSS. of that period, but most of the foliations I have noticed in older MSS. are 16th Century or thereabouts. Perhaps that is because the MSS. I am most accustomed to were rediscovered in the 16th Century; but as foliation can be added so easily, I think the point requires more investigation from the palaeographers. I notice that you express yourself warily.

p. 122. I am not sure that your deduction at the foot of the page is not put a trifle too high. In these times they had a great experience of price control, more, I suppose, than at any time until the War. But it is a practical rule that you must guard against evasions, because for some reason buyers are always to be found who will collusively defeat the regulation if they can. At the Ministry of Food we made the rule to specify and control on a parity all the ways of selling we could think of; and if there still seemed to be more possible ways, we limited the ways of selling to those we could specify.

The maximum price for bindings might then be not so much evidence that the practice of selling bound books was ordinary, as evidence that it might be developed in order to defeat a price control limited to sheets. Naturally if the legislators had such practices in mind, there is a likelihood that they existed. My only point is that such a piece of legislation does not necessarily prove that the alternative forms were ordinarily on sale by producers.

p. 316. I am inclined to think that the colon with the dash prefixed is an attempt to represent in type a MS. question mark. I have not had an opportunity of looking at 15th Century MSS. to see if I could find a form of the question mark which is very close; but I think I have seen some; and a printer with no special type might be tempted to botch a sign.

But I dare not follow up all the interesting points which your book raises.

By the way I think headlines almost deserve a note along with indexes and half-titles.

The book ought to have a companion dealing with English MSS. in the same way. E. A. Lowe has the method and the power of palaeographical analysis, but he has not been able to give a great deal of his time to English MSS., and even one century requires years of work, because such unexpected things happen here and there.

Yours sincerely,
Kenneth Sisam

P.S. Dealing always with one printer, we arrange that the printer supplies illustration paper, and so avoid all difficulties about stocks. I think this is a convenient arrangement; and there is much to be said for having all illustrations in half tone on separate plates done by a single printer who specialises in that kind of work, and gets accustomed to a particular blockmaker’s technique.

KS

R. B. McKerrow Esq.,
Enderley,
Little Kingshill,
Great Missenden,
Bucks.

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Typed, except the signature, the initials, the tittle in ‘dñs’, and a comma. At the head are the reference ‘L.B. 5889/Corrn./K.S.’ and, elsewhere, the letter ‘C.’

{1} See Add. Ms. a. 355/4/13.

{2} See Add. Ms. a. 355/4/8.

Letter from Kenneth Sisam to R. B. McKerrow

The Clarendon Press, Oxford.—Discusses the American sales of his book.

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Transcript

The Clarendon Press, Oxford
16th January, 1928.

Dear Mr. McKerrow,

This is just a line to answer your question about American sales, which comes very pat, for to-day I have a cable order from our New York Branch for another 300 copies, in addition to previous smaller orders. This does not mean that the 300 copies are all sold; but it does mean that they are selling very fast; and our New York house probably have some University orders to fulfil. It means too that you ought to be ready with your amendments for the type fairly soon, as our reserves no longer look formidable, and I shall want to start the printer when we get down to 250 copies.

Although we keep them strictly separate, we find it very hard to gauge American sales, because so many libraries and private buyers order in London through agents or export booksellers. Our own branch in New York thus does a lot of publicity work without reaping the full benefit. But we always expected a big share of the sale in U.S.A., where bibliography is a great subject; and we were careful to send copies of your book to distinguished ‘fans’.

Yours sincerely,
Kenneth Sisam

R. B. McKerrow Esq.,
Enderley,
Little Kingshill,
Great Missenden,
Bucks.

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Typed, except the signature. At the head are the reference ‘L.B. 5889/K.S.’ and, elsewhere, the letter ‘C.’

Letter from Kenneth Sisam to R. B. McKerrow

The Clarendon Press, Oxford.—It is time to prepare a new impression.

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Transcript

The Clarendon Press, Oxford
12th March, 1928.

Dear Mr. McKerrow,

We seem to have only about 400 copies of your Introduction to Bibliography left, and though the demand will now probably slacken until October, I think we ought to be getting the type ready for the reprint.

I shall so arrange that all copies of the first impression are cleared before the slightly modified impression is launched.

The book has made a magnificent start, and I think it is of the kind that will go on steadily. Anyhow I should feel happier if we were in the position to strike off a new impression on demand, because we sometimes get an order from our New York Branch which would eat up most of our remaining copies.

Yours sincerely,
Kenneth Sisam

R. B. McKerrow Esq.,
Enderley,
Little Kingshill,
Great Missenden,
Bucks.

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Typed, except the signature. At the head are the reference ‘L.B. 5889/K.S.’ and, elsewhere, the letter ‘C.’

Letter from Kenneth Sisam to R. B. McKerrow

The Clarendon Press, Oxford.—Discusses the preparations for a new impression.

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Transcript

The Clarendon Press, Oxford
3rd May, 1928.

Dear Mr. McKerrow,

Thank you for your letter of 2nd May. I was about to write to you, though I did not want to worry you, because, although we are not sold out yet, I expect to be sold out in the autumn, and I should like to clear my type. As a matter of fact the sales have gone on pretty well, I think, and I see no reason to suppose that they will fall off.

I shall let you know if there is any technical difficulty about the corrections, but I don’t expect any.

You will remember that the diagram on p. 35 was called in question. Its correctness is undoubted, but I have gone into it with our old compositors, and they say it is not shown in the way in which they would naturally show it. Would you consider substituting a new diagram in the compositors’ way, if we produced a draft?

Our usual method of dealing with such a reissue is to take the date off the title page, and to put opposite the title page “First published 1927. Second impression revised 1928. Third impression —, etc.”. I take it you agree that the amount of change does not justify the term “Second edition”?

You shall certainly see corrected pulls, and I am glad that you are making as few changes as possible, where so little needed change.

Yours sincerely,
Kenneth Sisam

R. B. McKerrow Esq.,
Enderley,
Little Kingshill,
Great Missenden,
Bucks.

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Typed, except the signature. At the head are the reference ‘L.B. 5889/K.S.’ and, elsewhere, the letter ‘C.’

Letter from Kenneth Sisam to R. B. McKerrow

The Clarendon Press, Oxford.—Discusses the preparations for a new impression.

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Transcript

The Clarendon Press, Oxford
7th May, 1928.

Dear Mr. McKerrow,

We shall easily make the addition sent with your letter of 5th May; and I am arranging, by cutting the block, to show p. 35 in the revised form, which is what the compositors approve.

We shall start at once, but you will have the opportunity of final re-touching when we send you pulls of the pages that are changed.

I propose to print a good big number this time, and so you may have time enough to attain the dissociated view-point needed for a ‘second edition’. But I think I had better take moulds, in case it runs out again with unexpected speed.

Yours sincerely,
Kenneth Sisam

R. B. McKerrow Esq.,
Enderley,
Little Kingshill,
Great Missenden,
Bucks.

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Typed, except the signature. At the head are the reference ‘L.B. 5889/K.S.’ and, elsewhere, the letter ‘C.’

Letter from Kenneth Sisam to R. B. McKerrow

The Clarendon Press, Oxford.—Has referred McKerrow’s inquiries about modern and historical methods of proof-correction to Johnson.

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Transcript

The Clarendon Press, Oxford
18th June, 1928.

Dear Mr. McKerrow,

I feel I am not expert enough in past or present practice to give you an answer about proof correcting which you could rely on. So I am asking Johnson to find out what he can both of the present practice and the traditional practice. I suspect there are a variety of practices. Until recently we did a great many books by hand, but the hand compositors have in the last year or two been largely transferred to the monotype side. The new monotype arrangements upset all the ancient practices, not always with the best results, as I am inclined to think that proof correction and proof reading is much more costly and less satisfactory on the monotype system that it was when the setting was done by hand—at least that is my experience.

Anyhow we shall find out for you as well as we can how things were done. I am inclined to think that printers always varied the amount of reading with their knowledge of the author—doing very little for an author known to be reliable, and taking great care when the author was known to be unsafe.

Yours sincerely,
Kenneth Sisam

R. B. McKerrow Esq.,
Enderley,
Little Kingshill,
Great Missenden,
Bucks.

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Typed, except the signature. At the head are the reference ‘L.B. 5889/K.S.’ and, elsewhere, the letter ‘C.’

Letter from Kenneth Sisam to R. B. McKerrow

The Clarendon Press, Oxford.—Suggests arrangements for managing American demand in advance of a new impression.

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Transcript

The Clarendon Press, Oxford
21st June, 1928.

Dear Mr. McKerrow,

Many thanks for your letter of 18th June. We shall easily manage the additional corrections, and adjust the prefatory note.

This is the position:—

We have about 300 copies of the first impression left; but we have just had an order from our New York Branch for 250, being their estimated autumn demand. I have suggested cutting down to 150, so that we shall not have American buyers complaining that a later form is on sale in England. In that case we could tide over till October, and I should have the new impression ready for issue on 1 September, but should hold it until booksellers were safely cleared. We should print in July.

Does this meet your views?

Yours sincerely,
Kenneth Sisam

R. B. McKerrow Esq.,
Enderley,
Little Kingshill,
Great Missenden,
Bucks.

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Typed, except the signature. At the head are the reference ‘L.B. 5889/K.S.’ and, elsewhere, the letter ‘C.’

Letter from Kenneth Sisam to R. B. McKerrow

The Clarendon Press, Oxford.—Comments on McKerrow’s inquiry about dictation in proof-correction. Asks how the new impression should be described.

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Transcript

The Clarendon Press, Oxford
25th June, 1928.

Dear Mr. McKerrow,

Thank you for your letter of 21st June. I expect {1} Johnson will be able to collect for you some historical information about the use of reading aloud in proof correction. But in any event, I should expect spoken forms to appear occasionally, because many copyists and readers are unable to do their work without speaking the words silently, and some, though not all, confusions might be accounted for in this way, even where no reading aloud by a second person could be postulated. But my recollection is that reading aloud was the rule until quite recently anyhow.

To come to the question of “Second impression revised”. I don’t think it implies a complete revision—that would be rather a new edition; and “second impression” simply would suggest an unaltered impression, apart from e.g. the correction of misprints. Do you think “Corrected impression” would be better than “Second impression revised”? It is not a matter of great importance, but in a book on bibliography we ought to consider carefully such small matters of form. I don’t think the sales will be affected at all, but it is of some importance to a buyer to know that the copy he has in its matter is the latest form available.

Yours sincerely,
Kenneth Sisam

R. B. McKerrow Esq.,
Enderley,
Little Kingshill,
Great Missenden,
Bucks.

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Typed, except the signature. At the head are the reference ‘L.B. 5889/K.S.’ and, elsewhere, the letter ‘C.’

{1} Mistyped ‘Iexpect’.

Letter from Percy Simpson to John Dover Wilson

Oriel College, Oxford.—Expresses support for McKerrow’s enterprise, and makes some suggestions. Refers to the progress of his edition of Jonson.

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Transcript

Oriel College, Oxford
27 Nov. 1923

My dear Wilson,

I was in town in the vacation, but too early to catch you. I turned over 3000 uncalendared pa-pers at the Record Office to get a Jonson paper, & failed to find it; but a later searcher for me got it after looking at another 10,000. So that is well.

I am glad to hear of McKerrow’s enterprise. I’ll do what I can to help. I will send him a line later.

Middle English is a difficulty. One of the best men is Onions; but the More book showed you his defect. {1} He had all the material for that article at the tips of his neurotic fingers, & yet he could not put it into shape. Get Sisam, of the Clarendon Press.

The only suggestion I have concerns reviewing. Every paper seems to me weighted with stacks of reviews, half of which are not worth writing. Some eclectic system should be devised, of reviewing, say, six-months old books, & of these only a selection. This would differentiate the good. But it would be difficult to work & I expect rather invidious.

I have only read Pollard’s introduction to the More book. I have had no time for it. Just now I am deep in Inigo Jones, who fascinates me. Ben—vol. i—is virtually ready, & proofs should start soon.

I may be coming to town soon, & if so, I will write. Kind regards to Mrs. Wilson.

Yours ever
Percy Simpson

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{1} Presumably Onions had been invited to contribute an article to the volume Shakespeare’s Hand in the Play of Sir Thomas More, but failed to do so. Cf. MCKW A3/1.

{2} The first volume of Herford and Simpson’s edition of Ben Jonson’s works appeared this year.

Notebook with translations of Montaigne and Sophocles's "Oedipus at Colonus" by R. C. Trevelyan

Translation of Montaigne II.10 and "Oedipus at Colonus" 184ff. Notebook also used from other end: translation of Montaigne II.8 and III.7. Also list of names on three pages - 'E[lizabeth] T[revelyan], Miss [Rosalind] Simpkins, K[enneth?] Clark...' - crossed through in red with blue crosses and line [probably a distribution list, perhaps for "From the Shiffolds", since the third page has a note ''38 copies left. 39 envelopes']. Draft verse - 'It is true that lovers care little...' - and prose piece about 'ecstasies'. Draft letter from Trevelyan to [Kenneth] Sisam asking whether he is interested in publishing Trevelyan's translations of Montaigne's "Essays"; letter to be sent with a draft introduction explaining the principles by which Trevelyan has chosen the essays translated, a list of translated essays, and some examples [22/15 may be Sisam's reply to this letter, dated 24 Jan 1947]. Translation of Montaigne II.1, II.6, "Essay on Education" [from Book I], II.11 "on Cruelty", II.1, II.6, I.40

Letter from Kenneth Sisam to Amy McKerrow

The Clarendon Press, Oxford.—The Press would still like to publish R. B. McKerrow’s ‘Elements of Bibliography’ if the MS is in a suitable state, but could not, after the war, go on with the proposal to produce a new edition of Printers’ and Publishers’ Devices.

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Transcript

The Clarendon Press, Oxford
12th June, 1940.

Dear Mrs. McKerrow,

I am writing a separate letter about the short Bibliography. I find that we had the MS. for a short time, but returned it on 24th July 1939. {1}

When we last saw your husband he said it was in lecture form, and it would need a certain amount of revision to give it book form, not only in details of wording—in some points it would want rounding or pulling together. We agreed that Miss Walker should read through the MS. to see if your husband had in fact carried out this revision, and should report on it. We should like to go on with the work if it is ready for publication in book form, or can easily be made ready.

I explained that this would have to be a cheap book, to distinguish it from the larger book; and that we thought the royalty proposed would probably give a better result than a higher royalty on a dearer book.

Yours sincerely,
Kenneth Sisam

P.S. Perhaps I should add that I am sure the Delegates, after this war, could not go on with the proposal, which had never been more than tentative, to produce a new edition of Printers’ and Publishers’ Devices. Possibly Mr. Ferguson could persuade the Bibliographical Society to take it up when their commitments are clear, for they, with their body of subscribers, are in the best position to circulate it.

KS

Mrs. A. McKerrow,
Picket Piece, Wendover, Bucks.

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Typed, except signature and initials. At the head is the reference ‘4673/K.S.’, and by the postscript is ‘3985’.

{1} See Add. Ms. a. 355/6/2a–b.

Letter from Kenneth Sisam to R. B. McKerrow

The Clarendon Press, Oxford.—Settles the description of the new impression. Discusses present-day standards of philology and textual criticism, with reference to his work on Aelfric’s Homilies.

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Transcript

The Clarendon Press, Oxford
4th July, 1928.

Dear Mr. McKerrow,

I vote for “Second impression with corrections” as perhaps the most accurate description of a book that has not been revised in all details and yet has been retouched on some points; so I shall proceed with that.

I think you are right in supposing that a good deal of present day philological detail is worked out by students of no great range or fund of critical ideas, and that they rely too much on the easy assumption that a spelling represents a sound. The facts are very confusing, and my own experience as a copyist makes me suspicious, for at times I habitually tend to mis-spell in a direction which, as far as I know, represents nothing in my pronunciation. But what I most complain of is on the one side the vagueness of much of the work that is done, and at the other extreme, the amount of petty detail which is not a starting point for any new work. After all a subject cannot progress without ideas, and the mere collection or recording of a few small facts is not very helpful. I have always thought the best test of the vitality of a subject was the quality of its textual criticism—its interpretation of sound texts and its emendations of unsound. Yet it seems to me that in Early English studies we are at the lowest point for roundly 100 years in this particular department. However, that is not what I am going to write about in the article, but rather on the habit of working in blinkers. I shall do my best about length, upon which at present I have no precise views. But if it so happens that I can get the whole thing into 20 pp., I may plead for it when the article is in your hands, because I don’t want to go beyond certain limits of detail. The text of Aelfric’s Homilies is a remarkable problem, and as far as I know in all these years nobody has ever even suggested that there is anything to investigate.

Yours sincerely,
Kenneth Sisam

P.S. The older generation of scholars were much more widely read in the texts, and deliberately passed over many details of spelling, etc. as unreliable which are now made the basis of new work.

KS

R. B. McKerrow Esq.,
Enderley,
Little Kingshill,
Great Missenden,
Bucks.

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Typed, except the signature. At the head are the reference ‘L.B. 5889/K.S.’ and, elsewhere, the letter ‘C.’

Letter from Sir Frederic Kenyon to W. W. Greg

The British Academy.—Refers to the provision of photographic copies to meet the needs of destroyed libraries in Europe, and asks Greg to write a memoir of A. W. Pollard.

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Transcript

The British Academy, Burlington Gardens, W.1
May 4th, 1944.

My dear Greg,

Thanks for Sisam’s letter and the copy of Simon’s. If there is time to raise the matter on the 17th, I will do so; if not, I think we can take it up without referring to the Council. It is all the more necessary in view of the movement to meet the needs of destroyed libraries in Europe by the multiplication of photographic copies and micro-films.

At the Council on the 17th we shall have to provide for the memoir of Pollard. I hope you will be willing to undertake it. Any details that might be required with regard to the Museum service could be easily supplied.

Yours sincerely,
F. G. Kenyon.

Letter from Percy Simpson to R. B. McKerrow

Oriel College, Oxford.—Supports his idea of issuing a scholarly English journal. Refers to his own unsuccessful attempt in that direction, and makes some suggestions.

(With envelope.)

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Transcript

Oriel College, Oxford
1 Dec. 1923

Dear Dr. McKerrow

Dover Wilson writes to me of your project of issuing a scholarly English Journal. I sympathize fully with you. Some years ago I mooted here the question of an ‘Oxford Journal of English Studies’, to be conducted by the English School, the staff of the Dictionary, & the Clarendon Press. I also tried to get the English Association to move, but I failed.

I shall be glad to give any help I can, but—frankly—I dread just now taking on more work.

Wilson asks about a scholar for Middle English: R. W. Chambers, if you can get him—a scholar & a literary critic in one, as his Beowulf book & his writings on Piers Plowman show.

I have one suggestion. Undertakings of this kind always seem to me to get water-logged by the review part. Need every damned thing anybody prints—if you don’t mind my violent way of putting it—get reviewed? Could you without invidiousness select the works {1} you would review, or from time to time print short surveys of study in a particular author or a particular subject. R. W. Chambers some time wrote an excellent report of the stage which the Piers Plowman controversy had reached. {2}

Your paper would, I suppose, be quarterly; or even three times a year, leaving the summer holiday free. I should suggest for its working motto not only Ne quid nimis, but Ne quid saepius. {3}

Yours sincerely
Percy Simpson {4}

Twelve years ago Henry Bradley said of Kenneth Sisam (now at the Clarendon Press) that he was far the first of the young men working at Old & Middle English. Enlist him. I can help if you don’t know him.

Nichol Smith for the eighteenth century if you can get him: he is difficult to get hold of. And, for an occasional article, R. W. Chapman.

On Elizabethan English F. P. Wilson.

From time to time I come across some very able young men. I should like to introduce them to you occasionally.

This is a disjointed letter, but I am in bed with a cold.

PS

[Direction on envelope:] Dr. R. B. McKerrow. | Enderley | Great Missenden | Bucks.

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The envelope was postmarked at Headington, Oxford, at 2.30 p.m. on 3 December 1923.

{1} Reading uncertain.

{2} ‘The Authorship of “Piers Plowman”’, MLR, v (1910). 1–32.

{3} i.e. not only ‘nothing in excess’, but ‘nothing too often’.

{4} Followed by ‘PTO’. A page ends here.

Letter from D. M. Davin to R. C. Trevelyan

The Clarendon Press, Oxford. - [Kenneth] Sisam was 'making great efforts' to assemble the material enabling a decision on Trevelyan's translation of Montaigne before he left on holiday; he did not succeed and asked Davin to write begging Trevelyan's 'further patience'. Assures him that there is no 'question of quality'; the trouble is that the Press already publishes Trechmann's translation in the 'O.S.A.' [Oxford Standard Authors series], and Florio's in the [Oxford] World's Classics.; it is therefore necessary to weigh up the effect of a new translation on existing editions. Has 'dipped into' Bob's translation and much enjoyed it. Sisam will return at the end of August and will doubtless take up the matter then, while Davin gets 'on with the essential enquiries' and hopes to have 'the matter clarified' by the time he returns.

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