Sua fata

History from a Book-Centered Perspective

In: Quaerendo
Joep Leerssen Professor Emeritus of European Studies, University of Amsterdam Amsterdam the Netherlands

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The early decades of the 19th century witnessed, all over Europe, a surge of Romantic historicism which affected, not only the production of fresh texts, but also the (re-)discovery and edition of ancient ones. While this phenomenon spawned the paradigm of the “national literatures” across Europe, neither its transnational spread nor its receptive/productive dualism can be properly charted by the “national” literary historiography which emerged in its wake. A book-historical approach is here offered instead.


The early decades of the 19th century witnessed, all over Europe, a surge of Romantic historicism which affected, not only the production of fresh texts, but also the (re-)discovery and edition of ancient ones. While this phenomenon spawned the paradigm of the “national literatures” across Europe, neither its transnational spread nor its receptive/productive dualism can be properly charted by the “national” literary historiography which emerged in its wake. A book-historical approach is here offered instead.

[Los libros] dirían quietos y silenciosos pero hablan entre sí, aunque parezcan ignorarse unos a otros […]. Utilizan a los autores para comunicarse entre ellos, igual que el huevo recurre a la gallina para producir otro huevo.1

Without doubt, book history has been one of the most refreshing challenges to literary history in the past decades. Most of the twentieth century was dominated by the ‘lang-and-lit’-paradigm, where literatures were classified by the language of their expression, and philological disciplines combined linguistic and literary studies.2 A number of a priori assumptions were at work in that paradigm which amounted almost to a metaphysics of the nationality principle: that literature relates to language as a flower relates to the roots, that the poetic text as ‘sprachliches Kunstwerk’ (as per the title of Wolfgang Kayser’s 1948 handbook) had to be savoured in the original, that language could only be properly understood and intuited by native speakers, and that literary history was best studied as a record of successive generational innovations and aesthetic developments within a language community. In that metaphysical approach, the ‘physical’ was thematized only as the socioeconomic context of the text’s genesis; the fact that literature, as a cultural form of communication, was carried by a physical medium (yes, books) and that the medium played its part in shaping the textual message, with its own underlying infrastructure, its shifting techniques of production and its developing patterns of distribution: all that went largely unnoticed.

Books as actors in literary history came on the agenda after the 1970s, when scholars, initially from the field of Comparative Literature, later also from Commonwealth Literature and Postcolonial Studies, deconstructed the notion of national cultures as the metaphysical, genetic ambience of literary praxis (and literary analysis). The default notion that literature, as an exercise of the creative spirit, centrally revolved around lyricism or fictional narrative (in prose or drama) – that too was queried. Genres like life writing, travel writing and history writing came into focus, and attention shifted from the creative author to the role of the reader, from production to reception. It is here that book history opened up, and continues to open up, unexpected vistas to literary historians. My own work, on which I draw in the following pages, has been concerned with the relationship between knowledge production and cultural production, and with the philology-driven reception history of ‘national classics’ in the nineteenth century.3

Old Texts, New Libraries: The Second Printing Revolution and the Shock of the Past

The ‘primal texts’ which dominate the opening chapters of national literary histories – the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf, the French Chanson de Roland, the Russian/Ukrainian Lay of Prince Igor’s campaign, the German Nibelungenlied, the Dutch Caerle ende Elegast, and for many languages the various versions of the Reynard the Fox tales – all saw the light of day between 1800 and 1840. For it was then, and not in the Middle Ages to which they are considered to belong, that they received their formative printed editions, were retrieved from obscurity and gained the literary canonicity they continue to enjoy as ‘national classics’ or ‘national epics’.

To be precise: Beowulf was first printed by the Danish antiquary/philologist Thorkelin, from the Bodleian MS which he had discovered the 1780s, as part of his De Danorum rebus gestis seculao III et IV (1815); the Chanson de Roland was discovered by Francisque Michel in the Bodleian Libnrary in 1836 and edited that same years as La Chanson de Roland, ou de Roncevaux, du XIIe siècle; publiée pour la première fois d’après le manuscrit de la bibliothèque Bodléienne à Oxford; The Lay of Prince Igor’s Campaign, found in 1795 (or so it was asserted) was edited by Aleksej Musin-Puškin as Slovo o Polku Igoreve in 1800. The Nibelungenlied was edited by F.H. von der Hagen in 1807 as Der Nibelungen Lied, Caerl ende Elegast by A.H. Hoffmann von Fallersleben in 1836 as part of his Horae Belgicae series; and there are various competing editions of the Reynard material in Latin, French, German and Flemish. Arranged in a checklist, these publications give an idea of the intensity of developments around 1800.

1800: Lay of Prince Igor (Musin-Puškin)
1807: Nibelungenlied (v.d. Hagen)
1814: Karadžic, Serbian folk epic
1815: Beowulf (Thorkelin)
1817: Rukopis Královédvorský (Hanka)
1818: King Arthur (Southey)
1824: Chants populaires de la Grèce moderne (Fauriel)
1828: Romancero General (Durán)
1834: Reinaert de Vos (Willems)
1835: Kalevala (Lönnrot)
1836: Chanson de Roland (Michel)

Admittedly, in some cases, these were not the very first actual printings, ever. Parts and variants of the Nibelungen and Reynard had been printed sporadically before 1800; but either as chapbooks or as antiquarian rarities. In the new climate of the 1800s, they were edited as early, indeed primal manifestations of the nation’s literary spirit and imagination, met with far greater public response, and drew on old MSS using the methodology of critical or diplomatic editing. Characteristically, the response can be measured by the fact that many competing counter-editions were provoked (e.g., of the Nibelungen), which kept the issue alive throughout the 19th century.4

This editorial ‘boom’ is noteworthy for a number of reasons. One is the new value with which these texts were now invested: ancient epics – the vernacular equivalent to the Iliad or the Old Testament – were a privileged genre in the climate of romantic historicism because they were felt to be authentic reflections of the nation’s original literary imaginaire, requiring the reader to mentally travel back in time so as to apprehend their craggy, heroic grandeur. This made them – the term came into fashion in these decades – ‘national epics’.

The other is the editorial treatment they received. These texts had previously been presented as diverting antiques for curious readers (Hendrik van Wijn’s notice on the Reynard fable was couched in dialogue form as part of a collection of ‘historical and literary soirées’, Historische en letterkundige avondstonden, 1800). Now however, they were edited professionally by academic scholars, who had learned the trade of palaeography, diplomatics, textual criticism and stemma-building from the Classics and from legal historians, and who now applied this philological method to vernacular texts. In the process, these scholars in the ‘Modern Languages’ (as opposed to the Classics) professionalized rapidly, typically gaining employment, first as university librarians and then as professors on newly-created university chairs.5 At the same time, the texts were published to great public interest, sparking off reviews and literary reworkings. That, too, was a measure of the ‘national’ importance they were felt to possess.

In the wake of these editions of ‘national’ epics or ‘national classics’, an entire pre-Gutenberg literary tradition came into the purview of literary scholars, who accordingly began to describe this medieval-to-modern, epic to contemporary tradition in terms of a ‘national literature’. A paradigmatic example of this new historiography was G.G. Gervinus’s Geschichte der poetischen Nationallitteratur der Deutschen (1835–1842); parallel examples from other European countries are plentiful.6 Here, indeed, we see the beginning of that ‘lang-and-lit’ historiographical paradigm which dominated literary studies well into the 1970s. In this new optics, literature was rooted at all times in the language and creativity of the nation as such, and evolved towards modernity in stages: from primeval orality to medieval manuscript to printed text. The evolving audiences, too, were at each period a reflection of how the nation partook of its literature: the listeners to oral bards and balladeers, the clerical and noble readers of medieval manuscripts, the erudite and then bourgeois audiences for printed books.

While men like Gervinus were developing this historiographical model of the ‘national literature’, that term itself was used by publishing ventures such as a Bibliothek der gesammten deutschen National-Literatur. This series, eventually comprising some 45 volumes, was published by the printer Basse in Quedlinburg between 1835 and 1872. It was scorned by the top philologists of the romantic generation (the Grimms, Benecke, Lachmann) for aiming at the lower end of the market. the editors commissioned by Basse were indeed drawn from the B- and even C-list celebrities of the new field of Germanistik. The series was cheaply produced: it used the duodecimo format rather than the more dignified quarto or octavo, and was published in large, cheap print runs. Basse was among the first publishers to make use of the new technique of stereotype printing, and used it to broaden his appeal towards a wider readership – the ‘National’ in his National-Bibliothek refers to the market as well as the corpus. That same combination of large-volume stereotype printing and a new-style framing of the market as ‘national’ can be observed elsewhere in Europe, with Basse’s contemporary Duffy in Dublin, publisher of the best-selling anthology The Spirit of the Nation.7 Possibly, the mid-nineteenth-century creation of national literatures was partly caused by the technology of stereotype printing.

Figure 1
Figure 1

Duffy’s tellingly-titled anthology The Spirit of the Nation, 1843

Citation: Quaerendo 53, 1 (2023) ; 10.1163/15700690-20231511

private collection

Be that as it may, it all happened between roughly 1800 and 1860, with a marked acceleration in the 1830s and 1840s, and a remarkable role was played by the (re)discovery of older texts.

This ‘shock of the past’ is itself difficult to accommodate in a historiographical frame that privileges the emergence of the new. Literary historiography in these decades – including Gervinus and the historians surveyed in Spiering’s volume, and in sharp distinction to the antiquarians of the preceding century – is firmly situated on a mental timeline steadily progressing from archaic orality to mediaeval manuscript culture to modern print culture, and marks the stages along that progress in always focusing on how this developed, what new modes of text-creation emerged, and how the literary imagination and literary techniques evolved. Datability, too was key. Almost unavoidably, the study of literature after Gutenberg gravitates to identifiable texts; meaning: texts with known authors whose identity link their various works mutually and whose biography places these in the light of what is known about their life.8 The text’s individual qualities will be outlined against the background of the author’s working conditions. In historiographical practice, that usually takes the form of a master narrative highlighting the author’s innovative creativity against the repoussoir of the conventions of the time. The individual identifiability of texts is part of a historicist logic of artistic progress, and the text itself is formly anchored by the two primal metadata of authorship and date.

Thus, in the type of literary history we have become habituated to, the dates of the nineteenth century are all about the newly emerging authors, from Goethe and Wordsworth to Mallarmé ad Ibsen. And it is counter-intuitive to realize that the national epics (which are dealt with in the early chapters dealing with the earlier phases of the national literature) in fact were relaunched into literary circulation in precisely these decades. Beowulf appears between Coleridge and Dickens; the Chanson de Roland between Mme de Staël and Alexander Dumas; Reynaert the Fox is the contemporary of Balzac, Multatuli and Fontane.

Literary historians still need to readjust their mental timelines to factor in some of the important elements in book history as traced in classical works such as William St. Clair’s The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period.9 Besides the Gutenberg/Caxton revolution, we need to realize that a second print revolution intervened between the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, involving the introduction of cheap woodpulp paper, and the growing speed and increasing bulk of print production thanks to stereotype and rotary printing, lithography etc. Literary historians have some idea as to the history of reading, with new phenomena like gas light, reading rooms and circulating libraries, but only as circumstantial factors; and we need to realize that they were, in fact, formative. It is this Second Print Revolution that makes the idea of a ‘national’ readership possible. Benedict Anderson intuited that his Imagined Communities were made possible by what he called ‘print capitalism’, but the book historian could tell him a thing or two about that.

Figure 2
Figure 2

A 19th-century reading room: the Rotterdamsch Leeskabinet (destroyed in 1940)

Citation: Quaerendo 53, 1 (2023) ; 10.1163/15700690-20231511

Engraving by Piet Schifferus, 1884. (Bibliopolis)

The reason why the Second Print Revolution played into the Shock of the Past had everything to do with a third co-occurring factor: the Europe-wide dissolution of monastic libraries. Much as the second print revolution had been prefigured by a first one, around 1500, so too the modern dissolution of the monasteries around 1800 had had its earl-modern forerunner: when Henry VIII dissolved the English monasteries. It is a matter of record how that policy had brought ancient texts, long kept under the dead hand of church establishments, back into secular circulation. Officials like Laurence Nowell, Matthew Parker and John Bale had made use of the occasion to collect medieval manuscripts (donating them to what eventually coalesced into the collections like the Cotton collection in the British Museum and the Corpus Christi collection in Cambridge). The study of Anglo-Saxon and of medieval English history had profited massively from this sponge-like squeezing of long-accumulated monastic holdings. A similar ‘squeeze’ occurred between 1770 and 1805, when a wave of ecclesiastical libraries were closed down and their holdings were distributed across court libraries (which in turn were soon to became ‘national’ libraries). The Cancioneiro da Ajuda (containing medieval vernacular love lyrics, the earliest specimens of Portuguese literature) came to light when the Jesuit college of Ajuda was closed down in 1770; the French revolution established the Bibliothèque de l’Arsénal from nationalized noble and monastic archives; in the Southern Netherlands the dispersal of monastic holdings led, in subsequent decades, to the discovery of the Hymn to Ste Eulalie, the Ludwigslied, the Borgloon MS and Veldeke’s Servatius Legend.10 The Württemberg library in Stuttgart ingested the holdings of the Comburg monastery, the libraries of Munich and Vienna acquired Benedictine and other monastic libraries dissolved or secularized under Habsburg rule in the early 1800s. Even in the Vatican Library itself, the Napoleonic regime established in 1807 meant a reinventory of the old Biblioteca Palatina, which brought to light a treasure trove enthusiastically announced to the literati of Europe by the romantic writer J.J. Görres in 1812. The tone of excitement is characteristic of the ‘gold-rush’ frenzy of the time, when all of Europe was rediscovering its medieval literary heritage.

Together with my compatriot Gloeckle, who has for the past five years been tirelessly employed on this project, I herewith announce a Bibliotheca Vaticana of old German poetry, to be edited by myself. The project will cover four large octavo volumes. One will contain the poetry linked to the Gothic and Longobard cycles, the Nibelungen and the “Book of Heroes” […] The second will proffer the Norman matière, especially its crown jewel, Renaud of Montalban and the Four Sons of Aymon, 15,000 lines, worthy to be placed beside the Nibelungen, as the Oldyssee can stand beside the Iliad. Also, Ogier the Dane [etc.]. The other two volumes will gather materials linked to King Arthur and the Round Table, as well as adaptations from Latin and Greek, religious poetry [etc.] Thus this collection will, alongside Tristan, Reynard the Fox, the Minnelieder and Lohengrin (which have found editors elsewhere) bring together the most remarkable and excellent selection of more than a thousand manuscripts which are lodged in the Vaticana.11

Figure 3
Figure 3

MS Valenciennes 150, fol. 141v, with (in the same hand) the French Hymn to St Eulalie and the German Ludwigslied (both 9th century), rediscovered and edited in 1837 by A.H. Hoffmann von Fallersleben and Jan Frans Willems

Citation: Quaerendo 53, 1 (2023) ; 10.1163/15700690-20231511

Wikimedia Commons

In Görres’s phraseology, we also note how around this time the notion of Bibiotheca extends its meaning: no longer concretely referring to a physical collection or an institution where such collections are housed, but metaphorically as a series titles to a multi-volume publication presenting various key texts as a linked corpus.12 Basses National-Bibliothek of the 1830s was just around the corner. These texts were now reinventorized and reappraised as expressions of the cultural collectivity, as heirlooms and intellectual property of the cultural community at large.

This is how Görres, even as Napoleon was still reigning supreme in Europe, recommended his find to the public:

Even the highest personalities in the state should be interested parties, for on what is the throne of kings founded if not on the love that emanates from the hearts of the people? Love is always a form of poetry13 […] the glories of thrones does not arise from flashing swords but from the warm intimate affection in the heart of the people and from the afterglow of a happy past as enshrined in legends and lays. Much as the nobility of an individual is linked to the vivid memory of many ancestors across the centuries, so too the nobility of a nation is contained in its legends and poetry of long ago: the true pedigree of a nation, which remains forever green like sacred oak groves, is its language, and the leaves of that family tree are the songs which are sung by the people. The German nation has a noble lineage. In the Great migrations their tree branched out richly, into each branch its own sap rising and flourishing, as downwards the tree’s roots reach and ramify even into Asian soil. This sense of the past has reawakened among our people and has supported ventures like ours before, which otherwise would have failed in the barren climate of our time. (ibid.)

Figure 4
Figure 4

Title page Heinrich’s von Krolewiz uz missen Vater Unser, Basses Bibliothek der gesammten deutschen National-Literatur, vol. 19 printed in 1839

Citation: Quaerendo 53, 1 (2023) ; 10.1163/15700690-20231511

University of Amsterdam

This romantic historicism affected, not just German life and letters, but all European countries. Everywhere ancient texts were rediscovered as libraries were newly investigated, book series newly launched, and a New Philology emerged, carried by a new cohort of professionalizing philologists. What is remarkable in this Europe-wide, international trend is how intensely national the recontextualization of these old texts was: the ancient literary works gained their contemporary value as part of a national canon, as the earliest manifestation and enduring testimonial of the nation’s cultural and literary presence and identity. What is more, this wave of editions co-occurred with the production of plays, novels, poems and verse collections that were immediately seen as thematizations of the nation’s identity. The representative editions/adaptations listed above, becomes all the more suggestive if we place alongside it some key texts of national romanticism from these same decades. The retrieval of ancient texts and the production of fresh ones obvious marched in tandem; it may even be thought that the production of poetry, drama and novels followed, chronologically, in the wake of text editions – philologists providing inspiration of playwrights, poets and historians.

1803: Karamzin, Marfa
1808: Tegnér, Svea
1812: Helmers, De Hollandsche Natie
1816: Walter Scott, Waverley
1823: Mickiewicz, Grazyna
1824: Kollár, Slava’s Daughter
1825: Manzoni, I promessi sposi
1825: Almeida Garrett, Camões
1831: Hugo, Notre Dame de Paris
1831: Puškin, Boris Godunov
1834: Mickiewicz, Pan Tadeusz
1835: Gogol, Taras Bulba
1836: Puškin, The captain’s daughter
1836: France Prešeren, A Baptism on the Savica
1838: Conscience, De Leeuw van Vlaenderen

The conclusion is incontrovertible: a book historical approach to the romantic decades will force us to re-write literary history, and indeed the intellectual history of nation-formation in romantic Europe. The great new paradigm of European nation-building post-Napoleon was impelled by the Shock of the Past as spread through the Second Printing Revolution: old texts in modern Libraries (literal or metaphorical ones).

Our way of writing literary history privileges the author as fons, origo and ultimate validator of a text. To map the networks of exchanges and innovations in literary history we tend to see as the nodal points the human actors; their letters, institutional affiliations, travels and other communications would then form the connecting lines. From this, we would then trace the ‘ideas’, insights, models and theories emerging more or less spontaneously from the meeting of two or more minds.

The book historical challenge to such a prosopographical model chimes with the claim raised in Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network Theory14 to the effect that objects, too, can function as actors, as operative nodal points in a network rather than as connecting lines. The question now becomes: Can we map the rise of national historicism by taking books and texts as our organizing focus? Habent sua fata libelli, indeed. Books and texts are not only the encapsulation media of knowledge production and literature, at best linking authors and readership; they also communicate with each other, human authors and readers acting as intermediaries between one book and another. Thus, the Brothers Grimm’s Kinder- und Hausmärchen spawns their Deutsche Sagen, which inspires Thiele’s Prøver af Danske folkesagn (1817) and Thomas Crofton Croker’s Irish Fairy Legends and Traditions (1825–28). This last book in turn spawns the translation (by the Grimms) as Irische Elfenmärchen, which influences the format of Norske Huldreeventyr og Folkesagn (1845–1848) by Peter Chr. Asbjørnsen (1812–1885), each of these in turn spawning their own translations, adaptations and more.

That is patently how it went: the writers themselves hardly ever met, it was the books that did. As the motto to this article quotes Arturo Pérez-Reverte: ‘They look still and silent but they talk amongst themselves, even though they seem to ignore each other. They communicate through their authors, just as the egg uses the hen to produce another egg.’15

Books can function as connectors in a network, rather than just as unidirectional products moving from authors to a (passive-receptive, collective, anonymous, diffuse) readership. Books can also serve as bidirectional connections between author and author. They are the focus of entire associations or book clubs (Percy Society, Camden Society, Roxburghe Club, Vlaemsche Bibliophilen, Stuttgart Litterarischer Verein, etcetera etcetera etcetera), they line up authors with dedicatees, translators, and reviewers as well as publishers and readers. Between all of these implicated parties the role divisions are changeable, individuals being capable of playing the roles of both author and recipient at different moments.

Figure 5
Figure 5

Norske Folke-Eventyr, Norwegian folk-tale collection by Asbjørnsen and Moe, 1876

Citation: Quaerendo 53, 1 (2023) ; 10.1163/15700690-20231511

University of Amsterdam
Table 1
Table 1

Book timeline

Citation: Quaerendo 53, 1 (2023) ; 10.1163/15700690-20231511

In order to pursue this line of approach, my research team SPIN, led by Stefan Poland, inventoried the titles, authors and other metadata of all the books mentioned in the Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe.16 The working assumption was that, if the 350 authors (who together wrote the 1600 articles in the Encyclopedia) thought a book was worthy of mention, the total aggregate of books mentioned would have some degree of representativity for European book production in the decades and mind-set of Romantic Nationalism.

The result was a dataset of some 4000 books published between 1750 and 1900.17 The distribution of these books over a timeline confirms the wave-pattern already noticed above in a smaller sample, with a sudden ‘tipping point’ onset around 1800 and a steep drop in productivity after 1900. A rendering of the dataset as books linked by authorship, translation or dedication yields the social network graph of which a selection is reproduced below (Table 2). The white dots are books, the blue dots authors, dedicatees or translators. Sir Walter Scott is by and large isolated amidst his many works, with only his translators, who themselves are isolated, surrounding him. Wilhelm and (more importantly) Jacob Grimm have, not only a strong mutual connection between them through their many co-authored works, but also a nimbus of works around them which link them to a whole constellation of other individuals whose other book-entanglements lead yet further afield – notably among them Goethe and Vuk Karadžić. By virtue of the fact that Thomas Crofton Croker’s Fairy Legends was dedicated to Scott and translated by the Grimms, it forms a bridge between the Scott and Grimm nexuses.

Table 2
Table 2

Clustering of Grimm and Scott

Citation: Quaerendo 53, 1 (2023) ; 10.1163/15700690-20231511

A fuller, more complex sense of distribution patterns is provided by the social mapping of the entire dataset by cultural community (Table 3). The aim of this visualization is to show the national gravitation and transnational entanglements of National-Romantic historicism.

The network algorithm ensures that cultural communities are positioned more closely together in the graph as they share more book-links. Highly (and diversely) connected cultural communities accordingly are placed more centrally in the graph, less highly/diversely connected communities more towards the margin.

The spatial distribution thus mirrors an aspect of the data themselves. I shall address some of these distribution patterns in what follows.

The centre of the graph is indicated by a node “Europe”, with just below it a large node “German” (indicating the importance and centrality of that cultural tradition to the overall European patterns). The left-hand margin of the graph sees a British cluster with Celtic subsidiaries above it and Dutch-Flemish ones below it (not very closely connected, interestingly, to the central German node). A Nordic-Scandinavian cluster sits below the Dutch/Belgian/Flemish one in the lower left-hand corner.

The French community is to the right of the European centre, forming a loose triangle with English and German, and reaching out to the other Romance language-communities (as well as Armenian, by way of the Italian connections, and to Greece, by way of Philhellenism). Basque, in the lower right-hand corner, links up the France by way of Spain, but forms part of an interesting circle, in that corner, with Turkish and Hungarian (which link of to Austrian-German) and Estonian (which links up to Baltic German). Breton, above the French node, has its connections, not only to France, but also English and Welsh.

Above the European centre-point, a Romanian-Lithuanian-Russian wedge branches out; Lithuania feeding into Polish, which in turn shares a Ukrainian offshoot with Russian. Further to the right, the top-margin sees other Slavic- language communities – Czech, Croatian, Slovenian.

The graph thus shows an interesting balance between imperial-geographic and cultural-linguistic connections; cultural-linguistic connections define the subsidiary clusters, imperial-geographic connections determine the large-scale positioning of those clusters in the European context.

Table 3
Table 3

Social mapping of the entire dataset by cultural community

Citation: Quaerendo 53, 1 (2023) ; 10.1163/15700690-20231511

As a third perspective we can recall the fact that books are not only written by authors but also printed by publishers, and that the locations of these publishers (usually a municipal one) is therefore far from meaningless. Table 4 shows a geographical rendering of the data; what is striking is the prominence of locations in coastal or river-adjacent trading towns, and the densely-marked belt running from Venice to Vienna and Budapest.

A further analysis (or interpretations) would lead too far for our present purpose. But the data as derived from book-to-book connections provide a ‘proof of concept’ that the connections within national literatures are determined by the trading towns as much as the shared language; that the connections between national literatures are no less important than the cohesion within them, and that the intensity of cross-national contacts is determined more by sociopolitical than by ethnocultural parameters.

While ethnocultural awareness is an important mobilizing force from the onset of romanticism onwards, the rise of the nation-state is unthinkable outside the context of modernity, in manifold ways – Benedict Anderson’s ‘print capitalism’ indicating only the tip of the iceberg. The rise of a the ideal of popular sovereignty and national self-determination also involves the rise of modern, public institutions of learning and the professionalization of culture. It is here that we note the agency of the modern overhaul of archives and libraries, the industrialization and technological innovation of book production, and the modernization of the book as a platform of long-distance mass communication.

Table 4
Table 4

Geographical rendering of the data

Citation: Quaerendo 53, 1 (2023) ; 10.1163/15700690-20231511


A. Pérez-Reverte, El Club Dumas (Madrid 1998), p. 433.


See my Comparative Literature in Britain. National Identities, Transnational Dynamics, 1800–2000 (Cambridge 2019).


Some of the following argument summarizes points made in my ‘Literary Historicism. Romanticism, Philologists, and the Presence of the Past’, in: Modern Language Quarterly, 65.2 (2004), pp. 221–43 and ‘The Nation’s Canon and the Book Trade’, Editing the Nation’s Memory. Textual Scholarship and Nation-Building in Nineteenth-Century Europe, ed. D. Van Hulle & J. Leerssen (Leiden 2008), pp. 305–17.


Leerssen, art. cit. (n. 3).


For this rise of the ‘New Philology’, see L. Bluhm, Die Brüder Grimm und der Beginn der Deutschen Philologie: Eine Studie zu Kommunikation und Wissenschaftsbildung im frühen 19. Jahrhundert (Hildesheim 1997); T. Shippey, ‘Introduction’, The Shadow Walkers. Jacob Grimm’s Mythology of the Monstrous, ed. T. Shippey (Tempe, AZ 2005); U. Wyss, Die wilde Philologie. Jacob Grimm und der Historismus (München 1979).


M. Spiering, Nation Building and Writing Literary History (Amsterdam 1999).


M. Russell, ‘James Duffy the Publisher’, in: Irish Monthly, 23i (1895), pp. 596–602; Anonymous, ‘How James Duffy Rose to Fame’, in: Irish Book Lover, 18 (1930), pp. 168–9.


I here follow the intriguing suggestion made by Bernard Cerquiglini in his essay Éloge de la variante (Paris 1989). See also my ‘Literary History Outside the Gutenberg Comfort Zone’, XXI. Congress of the ICLA: Proceedings, vol. 1., ed. A. Hölter (Berlin 2022), forthcoming.


W. St. Clair’s The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period (Cambridge 2004).


See my ‘Viral Nationalism. Romantic Intellectuals on the Move in Nineteenth-Century Europe’, in: Nations and nationalism, 17.2 (2011), pp. 257–71, and De bronnen van het vaderland. Taal, literatuur en de afbakening van Nederland, 1806–1892 (Nijmegen 22011).


My (slightly condensed) translation. The original German is online at, last accessed 15 December 2022.


The actual palatina holdings in the Vatican Library became a matter of national German interest; following a diplomatic approach to the restored Pope in 1816, it was returned to its area of origin. Originally looted as war bounty in the Palatinate Campaign of the Thirty Years’ Wars, and then presented to the Pope, it was now lodged in the university library of Heidelberg – at least the German-language MSS, that is.


The sentiment was to be echoed only a year later by the Prussian general/statesman Gneisenau, who assured King Friedrich Wilhelm III that ‘the security of the throne is founded on poetry’ (quoted in my National Thought in Europe (Amsterdam 32018), p. 118).


B. Latour, Reassembling the Social. An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory (Oxford 2005).


As per the English translation by S. Soto, The Club Dumas (New York 1997).


Book edition 2 vols Amsterdam 22022. Online at, last accessed 15 December 2022.


A checklist is online at, last ac-cessed 15 December 2022.

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