Edited by Rosalind Crone and Katie Halsey
I have been sifting through the Life and Letters of the prolific Victorian historian and critic Thomas Babbington Macaulay recently, which has been a thoroughly rewarding but also humbling experience. It has been rewarding because Macaulay was meticulous about recording his reading, commenting on, annotating and dating his reading experiences. This is wonderful material for the database. It has been humbling, though, because of the sheer range and diversity of the works that Macaulay managed to work through within a very short time period, and because of the tenacity and dedication he showed in his reading. Many of his Greek and Latin texts, for example, show evidence of having been read two, three or four times over a four-year period, and on each reading new annotations and incisive comments appear. I banish the sense of my own inadequacy as a reader with the thought that most readers do not have Macaulay’s dedication, turning to one of Katherine Mansfield’s letters for light relief and a salutary reminder that reading can be a chore as well as a pleasure: “Never did cowcumber lie more heavy on a female’s buzzum than your curdling effugion which I have read twice and won’t again if horses drag me…”
When we have not been engaged in entering reading experiences like these into the database, our efforts since July have been largely directed towards putting in place some technical improvements, designed to make the online form and the database itself more accessible and user-friendly. The process of technical change is slow, but we hope it will be worth it in the end. In the meantime, can we encourage anyone trying to enter material into the database to use our hard copy form, available from Katie or Rosalind, or to download as Word and rtf documents on the website at http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/RED/contribute.htm. The new form will be online and available for use as soon as possible; please be patient in the meantime and please keep making a note of any references to reading that you find in the course of your own work. We very much hope that the new shorter, clearer form will encourage you all to contribute material! The technical support team is also hard at work transferring the current version of RED to new and better software, and we are taking the opportunity at this time to verify and edit all entries.
New on the website are a selection of links to other sites that readers of RED Letter may find interesting or useful (http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/RED/links.htm); a list of the current contents of the database (http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/RED/contents.htm), and a list of famous readers whom we would like to have in the database (http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/RED/available-readers.htm). If anyone would like to volunteer to work through the materials of these readers (or indeed any others), we would, of course, be delighted to hear from you.
We have also been working hard to publicise RED as widely as possible, and our thanks go to Guy Pringle and Sheila Ferguson of newbooks magazine, Louisa Symington and Alice Berry at Penguin, Juliet Wragge-Morley of the British Council, Anouk Lang and Danielle Fuller at the Beyond the Book project, Jonathan Heawood at EnglishPEN, Sydney Shep at SHARP News and Gillian Dow at the Chawton House Library for their help in this area. Thanks too to Jenny Hartley for all her help and advice.
We also, of course, owe an enormous debt of thanks to our volunteers, who are currently working through letters, diaries, commonplace books, memoirs, autobiographies and other materials to record evidence of the reading of a wide variety of nineteenth- and twentieth-century readers. Among these readers are well-known philosophers, poets, novelists, musicians and politicians: Rudyard Kipling, Siegfried Sassoon, Virginia Woolf, John Stuart Mill, Thomas and Jane Carlyle, Jane Austen, Leslie Stephen, Bryher, John Ireland, Cardinal Newman and E.M. Forster. Other volunteers are working through the reading experiences of lesser-known readers, using family archives, public record offices, and privately-owned manuscript material. Thanks also to all those who have contacted us with references, sources and suggestions. Because of constraints of space, we will not acknowledge you all by name here, but we salute and thank you in our RED Hall of Fame (http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/RED/contribute.htm).
We welcome brief reviews of works on any aspect of the history of reading for publication in forthcoming issues of RED Letter. These should be sent to Katie.Halsey@sas.ac.uk, or R.H.Crone@open.ac.uk as Word documents of no more than 500 words. Do please remember also that we are very happy to publicise announcements for new publications and conferences, seminars or workshops in this general field, both on the website and in RED Letter. And if you would like to get involved in the project in any way please do contact one of us.