Research on social dance history does not always involve direct work on specific dances, and occasionally I get diverted to detective work on related historical mysteries in different fields - music, language, biography, etiquette, publishing history, and more. Over the last few weeks, I have pursued a successful quest for some pages missing from an 1840s work by Charles Durang. The process of locating these pages illustrates some of the frustrations of working with 19th century sources and the care needed in studying them.
In her delightful overview of 19th-century dance and etiquette, From the Ballroom to Hell, Elizabeth Aldrich states that Durang (1796-1870) was a dancer at the Bowery Theatre who later taught dance in Philadelphia with his daughter Caroline and published at least four dance manuals. I started looking for a copy of Durang’s The Ball-Room Bijou and Art of Dancing as part of the research for a particular set of quadrilles and rapidly found myself in the midst of a publication puzzle.
It was not particularly difficult to track down a copy of Bijou – the University of California has a copy in its collection, which has conveniently been digitized by Google. But, to my dismay, that copy appeared to be missing its middle: the page numbering jumped abruptly from page 50 to page 113 and then skipped from page 155 over to the final page, 158. While the complete description of the set of quadrilles I was researching was included in the available pages, I was both hopeful of more details on some of the steps in the missing pages and just plain annoyed at not having the complete work. I assumed the California copy was damaged and over time the pages had simply been lost, so I took advantage of a planned trip to the New York Public Library to look over their collection of Durang, including three separate copies of Bijou, in quest of the missing pages.
Much to my dismay, the first copy I looked at was missing exactly the same pages as the California copy. So was the second. It seemed unlikely that two separate libraries had managed to lose exactly the same pages from three separate books. I began to consider the possibility that an entire defective print run existed. Catalog records do not always mention these little pagination problems; I could see myself dashing frantically from library to library, only to find every copy incomplete and my curiosity about pages 51-112 left forever unsatisfied.
The third copy I looked at made matters both better and worse. Despite the “1848” on its inside title page, there was a registration date of 1854 on another page – obviously a later edition. The preface was slightly different, and rules for polite behavior had been added; par for the course for a new edition. The page numbers were a little odd here; after the rules, they reset by a few numbers for the next section, on the rise and progress of dancing. But from that section onward, the content and pagination exactly matched the previous two copies – it looked like this was just the same familiar Bijou with the new material at the beginning. Perhaps in this new edition I would finally get to read pages 51-112? I was quite optimistic until I reached page 50 and discovered the same jump to page 113. I swore quietly in disbelief. One bad print run, sure. But to reprint several years later with new material added and still make the same mistake? A careful look showed more differences: after page 113, it went on only to page 150, then skipped to page 185 for five more pages of information not in the earlier edition. New content, yes, but not the missing content.
At this point I was baffled, frustrated, and out of editions of Bijou. I moved on to other books by Durang, hoping one of them would reprint the quadrilles or at least provide the step and figure information I was looking for. Next up was The Dancer's Own Book, at first glance a totally different work. Aldrich dates it to 1855, though I was unable to find any date in this copy. There was no introductory verbiage; Durang dove right in with pictures and descriptions of quadrille figures, though not the ones I was most interested in. I was paging happily through until I got to page 111 and the book abruptly skipped to 156, after which came 157, logically enough, but followed, confusingly, by 160-183, 112, 159, and 184. This wasn’t just a matter of missing pages. But it didn’t actually affect the way the book read – each jump came at the beginning of a new section of text, so if you just ignored the page numbers you could overlook the problem entirely. Ignoring this sort of detail does not come naturally to me, but I gnashed my teeth a little and went on to the next Durang, completely overlooking an important clue.
The fifth and final Durang book on my NYPL list was Durang's Terpsichore or Ball Room Guide, bound with a copy of Durang’s later work, The Fashionable Dancer's Casket. (The latter manual is a completely separate work published in 1856. It is easily available online at the Library of Congress collection and in a modern facsimile edition.) Terpsichore is dated 1847, putting it in the same timeframe as Bijou and Dancer’s Own, and is a larger book – about the size of the other two put together. I had high hopes for new material. And then I started reading, and the first words of the preface looked very familiar. Exactly the same as Bijou, in fact. So did the next section. In fact, the first 50 pages were – yep – word for word the same as the original editions of Bijou.
And I still didn’t get it. My only (exasperated) thought was that this was yet another version of Bijou under a different title. I didn’t catch on until I arrived at page 51 (finally, a page 51 for Bijou!) and realized that it also looked familiar. I raced back to the research desk and politely asked if I could have Dancer’s Own back for just a moment. I opened that one up and looked at what I’d swept right past in my interest in the content: Dancer’s Own started on page 51. “About the size of the other two put together” indeed; I’d missed the obvious. I started flipping back and forth between the three different books and the whole thing fell into place:
Terpsichore was the original manual, published in 1847, consisting of 192 pages of which 190-192 are an index.
Bijou is a set of excerpts, published in 1848, containing pages 1-50, 113-155, and 158.
The 1854 edition of Bijou has new introductory material for the first dozen pages, but otherwise is the same through page 50, then contains 113-150 and 185-189.
Dancer’s Own is a different set of excerpts, published in 1855 (per Aldrich; or could be any time from 1848 onward), containing 51-111, 156-157, 160-183, 112, 159, and 184.
How very entrepreneurial of Mr. Durang: write one book, publish it, then publish different bits of it as two other books, luring the innocent buyer into thinking they were getting new content. Durang or his printer had been too lazy, or too cocky, to even bother resetting the type to give the excerpts different page numbering. And 160 years later, I’d almost fallen for it too, between the ubiquity of copies of Bijou (giving it the illusion of significance) and my modern mindset that does not allow for such publishing trickery. My notes on Terpsichore are full of exclamation points as I work through the puzzle:
“This is from DOB!”
“Back to Bijou again!”
“THIS IS THE MASTER!”
One mystery solved.
I’m still frustrated by the ambiguities in the quadrilles, though.