Friday, October 23, 2020

A glass clearly

In The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, volume II, pages 332-333 (The Adventure of the Empty House), sidenote 15 lends credence to Sherburne Tupper Bigelow's March 1961 observation (Baker Street Journal: Those Five Volumes) on "Maybe you collect yourself, sir."

The old bookseller now mentions three titles. Then he says: "With five volumes you could just fill that gap on the second shelf." Obviously, two of the three titles must have been two-volume editions or one of the three titles must have been a three-volume edition ...

There is nothing obvious about it. Slightly earlier, the book collector was noted as having wedged under his right arm at least a dozen "precious volumes". He says: "Maybe you collect yourself, sir; here's British Birds, and Catullus, and The Holy War — a bargain every one of them. With five volumes you could just fill that gap on the second shelf."

A "volume" is a book that is part of a larger collection. In a very narrow sense, that larger collection may have the same title with individual books numbered, as with The Annotated Sherlock Holmes. However, the word was never (nor is now) always all that focused. The bookseller has at least a dozen volumes under his right arm: it's just another word for books. Connecting the five volumes to the three titles is the intervening "a bargain every one of them." The bookseller points to the three titles, then sweeps that hand over the rest of the books as he delivers the hawkers' mantra. Five volumes of this stack will fill the gap.

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