Wisdom of the crowd

A riddle from the inventory.

A riddle from the inventory.

Since returning from Avignon, I have been attempting to tie up the last few loose ends from my work on the inventory of Macintosh’s library. Although I had managed to decipher most of the items listed, one or two remained stubborn puzzles.

The example above was one such puzzle; appearing twice in the inventory, the book was described in two distinct ways: “histoire du tour jaunes” and “histoire de tour joue“. Neither instance appeared to make grammatical sense and I was at a loss to identify which English-language title this might be referring to. Appeals on Facebook and Twitter came up with some suggestions, but no solution.

Ultimately the puzzle was solved following an appeal to SHARP-L, the mailing list of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing. Almost immediately, one colleague—Helwi Blom from Utrecht University—recognised this for what it was: a bad transliteration of Henry Fielding’s The history of Tom Jones, a foundling (1749). “tour jaunes” was, in fact, “tom jaunes“.

This odd description is most likely a consequence of the means by which the inventory was assembled—by one individual plucking books from the shelf and reading their titles out loud to a second individual acting as a scribe. I am grateful for the wisdom of the SHARP-L crowd, and to Helwi particularly; I don’t think I would ever have deciphered this on my own.

One thought on “Wisdom of the crowd

  1. Pingback: Footnotes on footnotes | On the archival trail of William Macintosh

Leave a Reply