Thursday, July 16, 2020

Another one from the vaults that I am particularly proud of.

As a quick scan of the archives proves, I published nothing at this blog in 2019.

But that doesn't mean I didn't get something published in long form back then.

Since (1) I am proud of it, (2) I think it has broad applicability to hunting down used books in general, (3) it provides an historical perspective and (4) it allows me to quote myself, here's a sample:

As the 19th century gave way to the 20th, English-speaking Catholics finally had their footing in both Britain and North America. Decades of emancipation in the former and successes in beating back fiercely anti-Catholic movements in the latter had led to legal and financial stability.

As a result, the English-speaking Catholic world enjoyed a publication explosion during the sixty years prior to the most recent council. Numerous publishers sprang up and offered not only works from Anglophone writers, but also translations of significant European Catholic material.

We can measure the publishing burst thanks to the remarkable efforts of the late Walter Romig (1903-1977) of Detroit. Romig was an energetic editor, author, compiler, and publisher of things Catholic. Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit keeps his memory alive with an annual award for distinguished lay alumni of the school.

But he deserves to be far better known for his tireless efforts on behalf of Catholic literature. For twenty years, he painstakingly chronicled the growth of Catholic works in the first six volumes of The Guide to Catholic Literature and in his six-volume The Book of Catholic Authors series. As a publisher, he also printed reference works to black Catholic and American Catholic convert authors. While I haven’t been able to find any verifiable biographical details about him online [1], I can say with confidence that Romig made it his mission to tell fellow Catholics and the world about the Catholic impact on the written word. All of this was done in the age of snail mail, card catalogues, and databases consisting of file cabinets, pens, and paper.

The Guide bears witness to this. The first volume covers 1888-1940 and totals 1,240 pages. The next volume covers 1940-44 and clocks in at 633 pages. So even in the midst of the planet’s worst conflict, Catholic publishing saw an astonishing expansion. The subsequent volumes show the growth continuing. The last volume edited by Romig covered 1956-59 and came in at 729 pages. Catholic books poured forth like an oil strike geyser.

By the end of the 1960s, the geyser guttered out, and the great old Catholic publishing houses – Sheed & Ward, Bruce Publishing, Burns & Oates, Benziger Brothers, Hanover House, B. Herder, P.J. Kenedy & Sons, Longmans Green, Newman, Joseph F. Wagner – went out of business, were bought out, or became shadows of their former selves.

Anglophone Catholics not only left “the ghetto” after Vatican II, but blew up their publishing industry when they departed. And while some new companies have come into existence since, most have little connection to the fallen giants of the past.

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