Is it a crime?

P.N. Furbank

  • Peterley Harvest: The Private Diary of David Peterley edited by Michael Holroyd
    Secker, 286 pp, £8.95, April 1985, ISBN 0 436 36715 7

As is well known, there is a curious association between bibliography and crime. It has something to do with a relationship to books as physical objects, and something to do with the fact that bibliographic crime is not felt to be crime quite in the pound-note-forging, or even Vermeer-forging, sense. Some gentlemanly code of ethics enfolds the activities of Thomas Wise and his fellows. As for purely literary, as opposed to bibliographical forgery, it receives no censure at all. Indeed, it receives rather high esteem. James Crossley, the distinguished 19th-century antiquarian and bibliographer, plumed himself on having foisted a ‘Fragment on Mummies’ of his own composing onto Wilkin’s edition of Sir Thomas Browne, and this was considered an excellent jape. Had it been a painting, someone would have called the police.

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