The Every-Day Book (1825-26)
An Introduction to Hone's Antiquarian Volumes
and to this Electronic Edition
On the 3rd of August, 1824, William Hone wrote an unusually imperative letter to W. Dene, the manager of his printing and bookselling establishment in Ludgate Hill. Hone directs Dene to arrange and conclude all current accounts at the shop and to organize for a fresh start. Why? Hone says: "I have a large affair on my mind to which everything must give place & I must have immediate order that I may gain ample room & verge enough for my operations" (1). Given the timing of the letter within Hone's publishing endeavors, it seems plausible that this is the first surviving reference to a project that would wholly occupy Hone's attention over the next few years, and, indirectly, for the rest of his life. The Every-Day Book began to appear in weekly installments in January of 1825; it continued (though increasingly behind schedule) until December of 1826. These weekly numbers were bound, indexed, and published at the end of each year's production, resulting in a two-volume collection in double-column octavo, with each volume extending to well over 800 small-print pages.
The content of the Every-Day Book is rather difficult to categorize. Partly an almanac, the book offers commentary and readings appropriate for each day of the year—there are listings of Saints' Days, for example, complete with selected descriptions of the "lives of the saints" and Hone's typically critical commentary on the lore of the "Romish church"; there is a "floral calendar" describing the flowers dedicated to particular days and also including some discussion of gardening practices appropriate to each season; there are frequent "Chronology" sections describing noteworthy occurrences that happened on such-and-such a date in history; etc. In addition, the form—perhaps formlessness—of the book allows Hone to insert all sorts of other diverse materials, including descriptions of popular customs, London street life, domestic practices, and biographical sketches, as well as various accounts and anecdotes drawn from the diverse stores of antiquarian lore and literature that Hone had discovered in his decades of research in the British Library and in his work in the antiquarian book trade. The result, of course, is a radically miscellaneous collection of "useful knowledge" for, as the title page announces, "daily use and diversion."
The volumes were popular across a wide spectrum of the British reading public, including many persons (Robert Southey, for example) who had detested Hone's earlier political publications and parodies. Hone's friend Charles Lamb wrote an enthusiastic poem celebrating the book and "ingenuous Hone" (Hone prints the poem, followed by his appreciative reply, in a July number of the first volume), and several later writers identified Hone's work as a valuable source of materials on antiquarian lore and popular culture. In fact, Charles Dickens—who included an amusing and tender vignette of Hone in the opening chapters of Oliver Twist (2)and who visited him in his final years—owned and annotated a copy which is even now (summer of 2003) on sale from a bookshop in Texas. In short, the book had a wide and lasting appeal, a point which is evident in its publication history: After the initial serial publication in 1825 and 26, the bound volumes appeared in 1826 and 27 respectively. Hone went through bankruptcy beginning in 1826 (much of Hone's work on the second volume was carried out within the Rules of King's Bench), and the Every-Day Book copyrights were sold to Thomas Tegg whose firm republished the volume several times over the next forty years. The book was widely known, widely read, and widely influential.
But, paradoxically enough, the inoffensive "useful knowledge" contained in the Every-Day Book does create something of a problem for those striving to understand Hone's career and, more broadly, the development of early nineteenth-century literary and political culture. In 1825, Hone was well known for his polemical publishing efforts—he had vaulted into celebrity when in 1817 he successfully defended himself against the Attorney General's ex officio charges of blasphemy and sedition; then, in 1819 and 1820, he helped define the radical response to the Peterloo massacre and the Queen Caroline affair with his courageous and enormously successful political squibs illustrated by the young George Cruikshank. These periods of notoriety were followed in the early 1820s by a very public and acrimonious battle with the editors of the Quarterly Review, which journal had slandered Hone's earlier antiquarian efforts—especially his publication in 1820 of the Apocryphal New Testament. The Every-Day Book would seem to be an abrupt shift in Hone's career, a sudden and surprising retreat from the contentious arena of public debate. Hone himself acknowledges this motive in the closing lines of the first volume: "My chief anxiety has been to provide a wholesome sufficiency for all, and not to offer any thing that should be hurtful or objectionable" (col. 1656). The editors of a recent volume of Hone's writing concur, introducing their short excerpts from the Every-Day Book by claiming that Hone had "grown eager to withdraw from controversy" (3) and that his antiquarianism was symptomatic of this retreat.
I have argued elsewhere that I find this view of Hone's antiquarian volumes somewhat misleading, that, in fact, one can see in the modes of collective authorship pioneered in the Every-Day Book an ultimately radical decentralization of and democratization of print culture. For the present, however, I shall leave that argument aside and suggest by way of introduction that Hone's volumes offer a "wholesome sufficiency" of fascinating reading that—as Marilyn Butler has pointed out (4)—provided the early nineteenth-century "common reader" with a sense of cultural history and even national identity.
The Electronic Every-Day Book (2004- )
The aim of the current electronic edition is chiefly to make Hone's work both available and searchable for students and scholars of nineteenth-century British literature and culture. This, however, is a somewhat unconventional electronic edition, and before plunging into the archive itself, it will likely be useful for readers to consider the process by which the electronic Every-Day Book is being produced.
The Every-Day Book is seemingly tailor-made for internet publication. The volumes contain all sorts of miscellaneous information that make them extremely useful as cultural and historical reference works; the amorphousness of the form, however, makes it difficult to locate specific information within the printed books. The searching and linking capabilities of hypertext will hopefully overcome this problem and make the books considerably more accessible and thus genuinely useful to students and scholars. Likewise, since each of the two volumes runs to well over half a million words and 150+ engravings, the sheer storage capabilities of electronic publication—when compared to conventional print editions—make digital reproduction a most attractive option.
Partly because of this sheer quantity of material, preparing the edition for electronic publication has been rather a challenge, and the present serial publication can perhaps best be thought of as a kind of "Beta" version of the final etext. It has been (and is being) produced according to the following procedure and plan:
- First, each page of the original volume has been photographed to produce digital page images of the complete text. These page images will eventually be published along with the HTML and TEI files that make up the body of the edition. Likewise, the images make it possible to study the text in some detail without damaging the rather fragile printed volume.
- Second, working from the digital page images, the text is transcribed into a very minimally marked-up HTML format. (The Oxygen XML editor has proved quite useful for this basic transcription work.) This process will eventually produce 24 long HTML files, one for each months' days in the original publications. Each month-file is then proofread first on screen and then on paper and the files corrected as necessary.
- Third, working from the large month-files, each individual day's entry is copied into its own HTML file, complete with a functional but minimal page template and navigation bar. Beginning in January of 2004, the day-files will be published in weekly installments on the web, with an invitation to readers to submit via email whatever annotations or comments seem appropriate to the material. An email listserv will be established to facilitate such discussion.
- Fourth, at the completion of the first year's weekly publications, the entire volume will be put online, complete with such scholarly and textual apparatus as seems appropriate. At minimum, the volume will be accompanied by hypertextual versions of Hone's elaborate indices, digital images of each page of the volume, and an electronic keyword-search engine.
- Fifth, having published this fully-functional HTML electronic text of the Every-Day Book, the editor will return to the month-files (from step two, above) and produce a TEI-conformant version of the complete text. The TEI version of the Every-Day Book will also be published online, housed on the servers of the Mervyn H. Sterne Library at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Such is the plan for producing the electronic edition—the plan no doubt will elicit a number of questions from readers, and I will be delighted to address those questions as they occur. I might immediately anticipate one such question which has likely already occurred to readers familiar with the production of scholarly electronic editions:
Why bother with the HTML version at all? Why not just produce a TEI version of the books and then, using some XSL transformation or CSS style sheet, publish the TEI version directly on the web?
The answer to this question lies in the third step of the "master plan" set forth above. What I find most exciting—even compelling—about the Every-Day Book project is the potential for a kind of collective, "open-source" scholarship. With the aid of an email listserv I hope to elicit the insights and suggestions of a body of readers—both professional scholars and interested "amateurs"—whose contributions I hope to incorporate as explanatory notes in the forthcoming (and more definitive) TEI version of Hone's books. It remains to be seen whether such collective discussion will emerge on the listserv, but if it does, we will need to make the primary text as accessible as possible. Thus, it is essential to produce the text in relatively small "day-file" blocks, to add the kind of navigation framework that readers have come to expect on the web, and to sidestep potential technical glitches by producing the text in a very basic HTML—which is still, despite its obvious limitations as a medium for scholarly work, the lingua franca of the internet.
And with that brief introduction both to Hone's work and to the electronic Every-Day Book project, let me invite all interested readers to take part. The publication of weekly numbers will begin on January 1, 2004 and will be accessible by way of a link in the etext collection of the William Hone BioText. I have also established a listserv with which I will announce and introduce the publication of each weekly installment and will also invite whatever discussion seems appropriate. If you wish to be included in this discussion and announcement list, just send your email address to me at email@example.com.
Welcome to the Every-Day Book!
Department of English
University of Alabama at Birmingham
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Introduction last revised: 12/28/03
1. British Library, Add. MS 50746, ff. 9-10. [return]
2. Marsh, Joss. Word Crimes: Blasphemy, Culture, and Literature in Nineteenth-Century England. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1998. p. 56.[return]
3. Kent, David A., and D. R. Ewen, eds. Regency Radical: Selected Writings of William Hone. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 2002. p. 281. [return]
4. Butler, Marilyn. "Antiquarianism (Popular)." An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age: British British Culture, 1776-1832. Ed. Iain McCalman, et. al. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. 328-38. p. 335.[return]