Who says incunabulists are dull? I went to the CILIP in London monthly meeting in the Sekforde Arms in Clerkenwell, lured there by beer and sausages, but more by the prospect of hearing John Bowman talk about his work on Robert Proctor (1868-1903). John is preparing an edition of Proctor's diaries with extensive commentary to be published by the Edwin Mellen Press.
Proctor is chiefly remembered for Proctor order, the method of organising pre-1500 printed books first by country, in order of the spread of the movable type printing press, so Germany files first, then by town, and then by printer, as well as for his work on the British Museum's incunabula, and for a mysterious death on a walking holiday in the Austrian Alps.
His diaries, started in 1899, are in the British Library. There were four volumes but volume 3 is lost. They discuss his bibliographic work, his home life with his mother, and his views on current affairs. The one photograph that survives, used for a posthumous tribute edited by A W Pollard, is excised from an undergraduate group portrait from his time at Corpus Christi Oxford, his boater being removed by some primitive touching-up process. There is a also a pen portrait, a physical description by Pollard in the Wimbledon and Merton Annual, describing Proctor as he might appear at a railway station waiting for a train.
The diaries show an impetuous, impatient and highly driven man, somewhat accident-prone and extremely energetic. He would think nothing of walking the Surrey and Sussex countryside al night before going to work, and arriving at the British Museum at the gentlemanly hour of 11.30.
He was influenced both politically and culturally by William Morris, whom he met. Under Morris's influence, he turned his hand to translating Icelandic and threw himself in to the activity of the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings. He was a passionate opponent of the Boer war and fervently anti-monarchist. John asked if anyone could help with the derivation of a phrase Proctor used on the death of Queen Victoria, 'the old washerwoman of Windsor'. I do not know this phrase; the 'famine queen', yes, but this is a new one.
John described the sources he had used, and how electronically networked information had made his task of tracking down and expounding Proctor's references considerably easier. Among those he cited are:
Philip Harris's History of the British Museum Library, for references to colleagues
The DNB for understanding the small world of late Victorian intellectuals
Who Was Who, which, John lamented, is not longer available through KnowUK,. at least for members of Ealing public libraries.
Photo London, for details of nineteenth century photographers. Proctor fought many battles with photographers, who used to invade his space to take pictures of items from the BM collections
He found Kelly's Directories at the Guildhall invaluable for tracing neighbours and tradesmen mentioned. Some are digitised at http://www.historicaldirectories.org. The 1901 Census was also useful for Oxshott, though he drew attention to the many transcription errors made in digitising the census records.
The Times Digital Archive (subscription required) was useful for tracing military events, and for records of book sales, and in Google Scholar and Google Books John had been able to find sources for conundrums such as a malapropism attributed by Esdaile to one of Proctor's fellow BM workers, who spoke of having 'crossed the Barbican'.
He had use print sources to identify such out-of-the-way information as the identity of a 'one-armed man from the School of Economics', which he found in Ralf Dahrendorf's History of the LSE; he had traced meticulously the trains that Proctor took in Baedeker's and Bradshaw's. One of the audience turned out to be the new Librarian at the London Transport Museum, who mentioned that they have embarked on a major digitisation exercise, exciting news for my many male librarian colleagues who are transport obsessives, a compulsion I do not share.
Edward Dudley announced that on 9 December CILIP in London would hold a meeting at Ridgmount Street at which John would once more speak, this time on the wiki Who Was Who in British Librarianship, known as the New Munford, and to which anyone can contribute.
John told me that his interest in Proctor came from an interest in Greek typography, and that his PhD thesis was on that very subject. I shall look it out. Proctor was involved in the development of a new type face for printing Greek, based on the Alcalà font of 1512. The new font was known as Otter and an example is given in the article from the Burlington mentioned below.
A new fount of Greek type. The Burlington Magazine for connoisseurs 1903 2(6); 358-360
Scholderer, V The private diary of Robert Proctor The Library 1950-51 5th ser 5:261-9
Rhodes, Dennis E Proctor, Robert George Collier (1868-1903) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Bowman, J H Greek printing type in Britain from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century
Ph D thesis, Reading 1988 (subsequently published by Typophilia, Thessaloniki: 1998)