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Professor and Collector: Items Chosen from the Library of Paul Betz

Howard W. Gunlocke Rare Book and Special Collections Room
March 1, 2004
July 31, 2004

Preface to the Printed Catalogue

Paul Betz is a respected professor of English at Georgetown, internationally known for his work on Wordsworth and his Circle, and, as you will see from both this catalogue and the exhibit it represents, a careful and caring collector of a fascinating array of art, literature, manuscripts, and cultural objects. As such, Paul needed only the gentlest persuasion to agree to show a small portion of his treasures in Lauinger Library's Gunlocke Room, home to its Special Collection Division.

Professors who are also collectors recognize the value they impart to scholarship when their ideas as well as their collections are open to display, inspection, and commentary. While many of us may also be collectors, few of us have the passion and breadth of knowledge to identify for a grateful audience not only the origins of an acquired item, but also its significance to the worlds from which it came or to which it belongs. With this exhibition Paul Betz--Professor and Collector--invites us to admire and contemplate a range of the worlds he has chosen as his own.

One of the most interesting aspects of the exhibit is that it is not taken from Paul's most famous collection (and that for which he is best known internationally), his holdings of books and manuscripts by William Wordsworth and his Circle. But do not mistake Paul's modest introduction to the catalog: Paul and all collectors clearly love their objects, even if they may not have direct relevance to their work. Paul, however, combines his personal delight at acquiring the item with a scholar's need to understand its purpose, perspective, and provenance.

Were Paul Betz not a professor and collector I would expect him to be a librarian. I say this because of the perspicacity of his sentence: "What else is collecting by the the rescue of artifacts from the vanishing past?"

Libraries such as Georgetown's collect precisely to preserve the past for the future. We are fortunate to have collections worthy of our posterity; endowments capable of supporting a few new acquisitions yearly (though more would be welcomed at any time!); a library staff knowledgeable and dedicated to the acquisition of unique items and special collections complementary to Georgetown's academic mission; and a community of scholars, national and international, eager to use our collections for their research and willing to share their expertise subsequently with the world of learning.

Paul Betz honors Georgetown by developing an exhibit from his private collection that will rival in depth and quality those shown by most libraries. Finally, to his portfolio as professor and collector must be added also generous sharer. Ever the teacher, Paul Betz will allow his students seen and unseen to learn from the beauty and history of the collected object, and ever remind them to appreciate the "fragility of beautiful things," knowing that he and Georgetown's library will do their utmost not to let these things disappear.

Artemis G. Kirk
University Librarian
Georgetown University

 

 

Introduction to the Printed Catalogue

The suggestion that I should draw on my library for a Georgetown exhibition came from University Librarian Artemis Kirk. I was not at first eager to do so. I had done two exhibitions for Georgetown in the distant past, and have often provided items for exhibitions in this country and in Britain. In the last fifteen years, I have curated three exhibitions drawn from my library, and have written exhibition catalogues for them. These were: British Romantic Art, with Jonathan Wordsworth and Robert Metzger (Lewisberg, Pa.: Bucknell Univeristy in association with The Wordsworth Trust, 1990); Romantic Archaeologies: Comprising Some Images of the Age and Selected Women Writers (Baltimore: The University of Maryland Baltimore County, 1995); and William Wordsworth and the Romantic Imagination (Ithaca, N.Y.: Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library, 2000). All of these exhibitions had centered on the Wordsworth Circle, the main focus of both my collecting and scholarship.

Still, it would have been difficult to turn down Georgetown, and even more difficult to turn down Artemis. I owe her; had she not accepted the Librarianship, as proposed to our President by a search committee of which I was a member, the committee would have fallen into discord and perhaps many more meetings.

On reflection, I decided to organize the exhibition in a way that would severely limit duplication of my efforts in the past. I thought at first of calling it "Anything But Wordsworth," but my librarian colleagues would not agree; and it would not be entirely true, as Wordsworth is the magnetic north on my scholarly compass. You will see this soon enough. I also determined to write the ctalogue in a less formal, more personal way. My rationale is that I know less about most of the categories in this exhibition than I do about the Wordsworth Circle, and there would be little justification in assuming a magisterial tone.

Once having determined to put Wordsworth to one side, I was faced with the difficulty of what to include. As a professor in the humanities, my resources are limited. I saw years ago that I would need to concentrate my purchase of antiquarian books and manuscripts on the Wordsworth Circle if I were to assemble a library genuinely useful to scholarship. Yet I have been an inveterate collector since my childhood; I recall sitting at my grandfather's side as he showed me and my brother trays of egg shells and seashells collected by his own father, and netting and attempting to preserve butterflies from my grandmother's garden. I am not unusual in having various literary, cultural and historical interests; and I have been a serious collector of books and manuscripts since, as a Cornell graduate student in 1963, I found an Alan Thomas catalogue in the Olin Library stacks.

These remarks probably add up to a somewhat lame rationalization of my tendency over the years to collect many things which have little to do with my claimed focus on the Wordsworth Circle. If these objects, and therefore this exhibition drawn from them, possess any coherence it may be limited to this: I enjoy and admire them.

What makes a collector? In the end, it may be partly a psychological quirk of some sort. For my Wordsworth Circle material I can fairly claim, as others have claimed for me, scholarly value as a research archive; but my interst in creating such an archive would not in itself have driven me to some of the extremities in which I have found myself. Passing over financial complications and pressures, I will allude only to knocking on the walls and searching the closets of an empty house to which I had gained entrance by rather dubious means, in search of a lost early work by Wordsworth; to crawling amidst rodent droppings, amazingly thick dust and unstable towers of books in a Cumbrian attic; and to drinking tea into which a large, dirty dog had just dipped his tail in order to keep from insulting an eccentric antiquarian dealer who possessed a number of Wordsworth association copies. If I seem to be grumbling, you will not be fooled. These were all great fun.

This still fails to explain why I do such things, perhaps because I do not fully understand. Yet, a few past incidents may cast some light. I am the eldest of seven children, and there was naturally much wear and tear in our home. I recall seeing a baby sister totter into the room I shared with a brother, dragging a baseball bat. Before I knew it, a pane of my aquarium was shattered and the tropical fish were pouring onto the floor. I was fourteen when my grandfather died and I inherited those marvelous trays already mentioned, yet none of my great grandfather's eggshiells and only some of the seashells survived the curiousity of my younger siblings. Then, there was the Pennsylvania Turnpike. My pal Jim Henderson and I tore up the surveyor's stakes and threw rocks at the bulldozers, but the Turnpike advanced relentlessly just the same, destroying the wetlandswhere we had spent many happy hours as well as the little pond I had dug. These experiences all engendered in me a sense of the fragility of beautiful things, of all things in fact, and only somewhat consciously a concurrent desire to rescue a few of these things from the relentless advance of Time's bulldozer. Yet in the end, no doubt, flourishing his lethal scythe, the Great Collector waits for all of us and all of our objects.

Paul F. Betz
Professor of English
Georgetown University

 

 

Acknowledgments: 

The proposal that I should do an exhibition for Georgetown came from University Librarian Artemis Kirk, who has been encouraging and supportive in many ways. On Marty Barringter, Associate University Librarian in charge of Special Collections, has fallen the burden of helping with logistics; and he has also given useful advice. I am especially grateful to Carol Anne Rosen of the IBM Corporation, whose assistance with this and my other exhibitions since 1990 has been both invaluable and indispensable; IBM deserves thanks as well.

Nicholas Scheetz, Manuscript Librarian, has been helpful as always. Caroline Griswold has worked on the catalogue's design, while David Hagen has provided the photographs. Marissa Betz-Zall has made suggestions about the Indian miniatures (#31-34); while Jane D. McAuliffe, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, identified my Arabic manuscript (#5). John J. DeGioia, President of Georgetown University, spoke at the opening of the exhibition on March 15. For advice about various matters, I thank Gay Cima, Lynn Conway, Lalitha Gopalan, John Hirsh, Brian McCarthy, Maeve O'Connor, Scott Pilarz S.J., Henry Schwarz, Kelley Wickham-Crowley, and Duncan Wu.

--Paul F. Betz