At a time when traditional books are increasingly threatened by e-texts, it is nice to see that digital archiving has led to a mini renaissance of antiquated print volumes. A number of academic libraries, like the University of Michigan’s Hathi Trust, offer massive online collections. Some of their titles are available in print-on-demand (POD) library quality facsimile copies. These volumes, complete with original typesetting, and even some of the minor flaws of the originals, are superior to newly formatted public domain texts put out by garage press outfits. All of these can be accessed via HP BookPrep.
I am delighted to find that once obscure titles are back in print. Hilaire Belloc is one of my favorite writers and he has undergone a revival in recent decades. But till now one was hard-pressed to find new copies of his military studies, most of which have not been reissued for a century. Thanks to new POD technology, you can obtain The Battle of Blenheim (1911) and Waterloo (1912). It used to be that these works were only to be found in pricey mouldering copies. Other favorites on my wish list include Belloc’s wonderful North African travelogue Esto Perpetua (1911) and his novel The Four Men (1912). The last major edition was the 1984 Oxford paperback. Even that copy is now an expensive collectible.
Other items include such delightful rarities as Msgr. Ronald Knox’s conversion memoir A Spiritual Aeneid (1918). Then there are works were that were once de rigueur for any educated person, like the biographical essays of Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve, the nineteenth century literary critic. In recent decades they have fallen out of favor. Fortunately, you can now buy Sainte-Beauve’s Portraits of the Seventeenth Century. And what about Samuel Johnson’s superb Lives of the English Poets? They were last issued in affordable editions by Everyman’s Library in the 1960s. Admittedly you will need to comb through a number of different POD editions of this multi-volume work to find the copy you want. So to all you traditional bibliophiles, good luck and enjoy!