Have you ever had that experience of approaching open-stack shelving, and seeing a gap at about the point where the book you want should be, and—first fearing, then hoping against hope, then knowing—as you reach the spot and trace your finger right and left along the call-numbers on the spines that, yes: the gap corresponds to that very book?
I had a similar experience the other day in the Beinecke Library with Robert-Louis Abrahamson, when we called up their copy of London (remember: the only copy outside the British Library and that one now “in quarantine”). The months from July to September, we had discovered, possibly contained four ‘articles’ by RLS. Here are the holdings—a full set, you might think, covering 1877-79. But when the ponderous volumes arrived and I asked for the one covering July to September 1878, I discovered that there is a curious gap in the series: that very period.
(By the way, if the image comes out ‘squashed’, just click on it and then use the back button: this works for me.)
Presumably Edwin Beinecke had these copies made (they are negative photographic prints but perfectly legible) and would have had the whole series. Has one been lost? But how does you lose such a bulky and weighty item?
After this, I sent an email to the British Library Newspaper Division, on the off-chance—but they replied saying there’s no chance of having a look at London before March 2014.
RLA and myself are working in the Beinecke on adjacent tables and the day after this disappointment he handed me this letter from Bob to Henley of December 1878:
Much obliged for London and Article on the Pictures by you of course. There was one on evidence in Court which I concluded Louis to have written or suggested for many reasons.
So here we have something to look at in one of the volumes at Yale—not seriously expecting anything but curious to see why (apart form the subject-matter) Bob might have thought it was by RLS. …Except that I had already checked in the volumes, and the full catalogue entry now reads:
“v. 4 1878: Oct.-Dec. Checked Out – Due on 04-16-2014”! No, I don’t believe it: already checked out again and due back on 16 April? No, that must refer to the period we were given to consult the volumes, with the record not yet updated. Mustn’t it?