Particle 4

Miscellaneity

{Chapter 4}

An early reader wanted me to emphasize how important miscellaneity was to romantic writing and for long after in the nineteenth century. I began work on these paragraphs and for awhile thought they would be central to the book. But they always seemed to distract from the chapter’s focus on the material object of the gift book or literary almanac that was my subject and the literary contributions that appeared in these books. What I really wanted to focus on was a poetics of the textual hollow that drew attention to the typographical hollows that so characterized these books and that poetically supported a culture of sharing. Situating my examples within that tradition seemed more important than the larger category of miscellaneity to which they belonged, although I still wish I had been able to figure out how to incorporate this material and expand on it. I think there is a great book waiting to be written about romantic miscellaneity.
Miscellaneity played a crucial literary role well into the nineteenth century. Whether it was Goethe’s turn towards a series of miscellaneous series during the 1810s and 1820s such as Ueber Kunst und Alterthum or Zur Naturwissenschaft überhaupt, Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria that was produced during the same period as Washington Irving’s Crayon miscellanies (“In travelling, these heterogeneous matters have become shaken up in my mind, as the articles are apt to be in an ill packed travelling trunk”), Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus from the 1830s (“Herr Teufelsdröckh has one scarcely pardonable fault, doubtless his worst: an almost total want of arrangement”), or Matthew Arnold’s later compilatory production, Friendship’s Garland (1871), authorial miscellanies lived a vibrant life long after Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy or Samuel Johnson’s The Rambler. Indeed, much like the German alter-egos of Carlyle or Arnold (Teufelsdröckh or Arminius von Thunder-ten-Tronckh), nineteenth-century English and American miscellaneity was the alter-ego of German nineteenth-century encyclopedism with its increasingly elaborate, and increasingly futile, claims to representing the totality of knowledge in books, as in Ersch and Gruber’s Allgemeine Encyclopädie der Wissenschaften und Künste in alphabetischer Folge (1818-1888), which finally exhausted itself after seventy years at volume 167 and the letter “Phy.” With its profusion of voices, genres and styles, miscellany writing challenged the unity and the closure that was increasingly being associated with the printed book.