Comments on a bibliography of swimming, which makes reference to George Frederick Pardon (Captain Crawley) and also to Professor Hoffmann

Note:  I posted this on September 24, 2010, on a different blog.  (It is no longer viewable on the other blog.)  Then I briefly posted a modified version on this blog, on July 15, 2011.  This is a further-modified version of the post. By the way, the swimming bibliography discussed includes an entertaining discussion of George Frederick Pardon, who wrote a number of card-game booklets published by Goodall.

This post deals with a bibliography by Ralph Thomas, entitled Swimming.  (I was going to quote the lengthy subtitle but decided against it; at this time suffice it to say that the title as a whole is unwieldy at best.)  The book was published in 1904 by Samson Low, Marston & Company, London.  (It is easily findable via Google Books.)

For those who are interested in bibliographers and bibliographies, it is interesting to compare Ralph Thomas’s bibliography of swimming with another significant bibliography, which appeared the following year, namely A Bibliography of Works in English on Playing Cards and Gaming (Longmans, Green, and Co., London, 1905), by that great book-collector and bibliographer Frederic Jessel, who has been mentioned a number of times in this blog.

These two people had far different approaches to bibliography.

For instance, in Thomas’s work, the word “plagiarism” or its variants is used more than 90 times, typically in his attempts to determine who has plagiarized whom. Jessel uses the word twice, both times in an effort to defend people from unwarranted charges of plagiarism.

Here is part of Thomas’s listing for a book edited by Professor Hoffmann, who as we know wrote many card-game rule-booklets published by Goodall.  The book being discussed by Thomas is Every Boy’s Book of Sport and Pastime:

5. Every boy’s book . . . edited by professor [Louis] Hoffmann [pseud of Angelo John Lewis] . . . London Routledge, Manchester and New York 1897. 8° pp xix 900 price 7s 6d.

Swimming (pp 168-184 with 7 figs in the text) is an entirely new article, by William Charles Arlington Blew (born 1848 see Foster’s Men at the Bar) with many good points, but with the disadvantage of being written by a man who, I surmise from his writing, is only a moderate swimmer, and consequently fails in details which are now so essential. The writer does not understand the sidestroke, and his description is therefore weak and inaccurate, and the figure 5 is if anything worse, for if not plagiarised from Cassell’s (reproduced at page 292) it is in quite as bad a position.   [. . .]   The Life Saving Society’s drill is not mentioned, nor any swimming land drill, and in fact the article is not at all up to date. The article entitled diving is all about headers and springing. Water polo pp 457-460 is by Frank Sachs.

Hmmm.  This Ralph Thomas must have been a real barrel of laughs.

This is all apart from the fact that approximately the first 160 pages of the book are basically an introduction, about four pages of which are spent explaining why the bibliography is not the “model” it should have been, and essentially blaming this on his printer’s supposed inability to give him what he wanted in terms of type-size, punctuation, capitalization, and (I think) spelling.

Thomas spends quite a while discussing many of his ideas relating to typography, which are to some degree, at least, reflected in his book.  One reviewer, in The Academy and Literature, in 1904, said, “Personally, I am most delighted with the typographical eccentricities in which Mr. Thomas indulges.  They are simply delightful; but what trouble they must have given to his printers!”

Uh, I agree with that, except the part about being “most delighted” — and also the part about the “eccentricities” being “simply delightful.”

All of this is to be contrasted with Jessel’s book, which has an elegant title, a brief introduction, and no text anomalies (that I know of) regarding capitalization, punctuation, and so on.

I actually think that some people are born bibliographers (not really, but when they sit down to write their bibliographies, they just seem to be in perfect tune with their project and its audience).  Others, well . . . introducing Ralph Thomas.

I am talking about “bibliographers qua bibliographers.”  From my limited research, the swimming world seems to think Thomas is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

I would love to be able to ask Trevor H. Hall, Edgar Heyl, and Raymond Toole Stott about Thomas’s work.  These are obviously three of the big names in conjuring bibliographies.  I’m glad to be able to say that I corresponded (to some degree) with all three of these people. In Hall’s case, the correspondence was limited to my ordering a copy of his The Winder Sale of Old Conjuring Books, and him writing me back, saying that I had not enclosed my payment!  (And he was right!)

—Tom Sawyer

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