Thursday, May 6, 2010

Roger Livingston Scaife needs a biography and I need a sabbatical

Greetings, charmed readers! My librarian aura has recently been polished up by a visit to a most enticing archive, an archive of publishing history! In reading letters back and forth between the subject of my research, Clara E. Laughlin, and her major publisher, Houghton Mifflin, I was greatly interested in the words of one of her frequent correspondents, Roger Livingston Scaife.

In the letters Laughlin's personality, her drive and skills as a business woman, are evident. She is enthusiastic about publishing with HM, but having worked in the publishing industry for many years, she is not at all naive. She is insistent on the marketing of her Travel Service in her books, definite on her desire to have updated editions printed, and clear in her disappointment when her desires are not met.

While most of the letters are between Clara and RN Linscott and Ferris Greenslet, Roger Scaife is involved when her feathers need serious soothing. Scaife is a fantastic letter writer, I venture to say superior to Clara when a situation needs to be sorted out.

The letters are delightful and I am still in awe of having been allowed the pleasure of reading her letters and the carbon replies sent to her. History in my hands.

But, why, why I ask, is there no biography of Roger Livingston Scaife? His 1951 obituary in the New York Times is certainly juicy enough: an executive with HM as well as Little, Brown, as well as a director of Harvard University Press? The obit also notes he is of colonial ancestry, and perhaps there are Mayflower codes about publishing family history of which this midwestern raised librarian has no knowledge.

How do I know there is not a published biography on Scaife? I churned through my usual tools, which today included Biography and Genealogy Master Index, an old favorite in my reference repertoire. The purpose of this database is to indicate where one may find biographical entries in reference books. I expected scads of entries, but instead, I got this:

1 Scaife, Roger Livingston (1875-)
3 Scaife, Roger Livingston (1875-1951)
1 Scaife, Roger Livingston (d1951)

One of the particular features of BGMI it provides the name entry exactly as listed as the source being cited. So, even though there are three entries, all three are referring to the same Roger Livingston Scaife. Someday I would like to sit down with the editors of BGMI and have a big conversation about name authority files over a big bottle of bourbon.

Of course, a rummage through WorldCAT is also required when biography hunting, and again, no dice.

My hope for more tales of RL Scaife now rest on histories of the Houghton Mifflin company, such as

Title The building of the house; Houghton Mifflin's formative years [by] Ellen B. Ballou. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1970.

or perhaps

Two Park Street : a publishing memoir / Paul Brooks.
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1986.

Should the Bookcharmer have concern, or simply take notice, both of these histories are published by HM?

So, just one example of the tangents I need to get under control to focus on the content of those wonderful letters! If the Bookcharmer seems more distracted than usual, it is because I am more distracted than usual.

Spring salutations!

Might the Bookcharmer request of her audience that if your institution has letters by Clara E. Laughlin, you would be good enough to go and read them for me and let me know if a visit to your institution is in order? I have a feeling that the materials at the Houghton Library repository could keep me busy another few years, as would a trip to Smith where her personal papers are kept, but her correspondence with other publishers would naturally interest me. Those with the riches of Scribner, Macmillan, Putnam, Doran, Doubleday, Appleton, Lippincott, or Revell in their institutions' archives are at the top of the list.


Anonymous said...

Roger Lilvingston Scaife (1875 - 1951)was graduated from harvard Colelge in 1897 and later became one of the third original trustees of the Harvard Lampoon, of which he was Secretary as an undergraduate.

Josh Henson, Lampoon historian

Laura K said...

Rebecca- Is there any chance you went off on a tangent and did more research on Scaife? I think he is the same Roger L. Scaife who composed a song for my theater, and I'm trying to track down the sheet music and find out what it sounds like!

Rebecca Feind said...

Hello Laura K,

See Josh Henson's comment above!