As my loyal readers may have observed now and again over the past few months, Mrs. Humphry Ward's habit of hurling quotations/name- and title-drops at Robert Elsmere's readers in every other sentence caused me no little aggravation. In fact, if you whisper "Squire Wendover's library" in my ear, I cannot be held responsible for the consequences. ("May you be forever annotating Squire Wendover's library" is my go-to curse for the ages.) Now, because I'm pretty obsessive about such things, I decided to track down every title and quotation I could. And because I have only limited access to the major online and hardcopy reference sources, beyond the usual suspects (e.g., the DNB), I spent a lot of time resorting to Google and GoogleBooks. Which made everything easy, right?
Well, no. For starters, Mrs. Ward was positively allergic to quoting anything correctly--presumably, she was quoting from memory. (In at least one instance, she got her novels mixed up.) This was all very well when the quotations in question came from the Bible or major players (Uncle Matthew! Wordsworth! Shelley!), not so good when she was quoting random obscure poet. Nor was this always just a matter of her altering verb tense: she sometimes swapped in synonyms. This led to some creative and hair-tearing Google sessions, as I tried to imagine what Ward might possibly have read (and only partially remembered). Google, after all, is not especially "intelligent," even when you aren't enclosing everything in quotation marks; a lot of time went to identifying clauses that she just might have remembered correctly. Moreover, Ward, being multilingual, did a lot of her own translations...freely. And, well, unfairly, as it were. In my least favorite example, Ward offers a loooong Englished excerpt from Senancour's Reveries. Being obsessive, as I said, I decided to locate the actual French passage in question. This posed an immediate problems: the aforementioned free translation, which meant that I spent a lot of time playing around with French options in order to find a match. (I read French fluently, but that doesn't necessarily help when the translator is being creative.) Having found a match (hooray!), I also found that I had only part of the loooong excerpt. Wait, what? More snooping around turned up the rest of the quotation, some forty-odd pages later. I celebrated with a square of chocolate walnut fudge.
That being said, Google made it possible to identify some quotations that would otherwise have languished forever in the dark, dank thickets where obscure books go to die. (Or, er, something.) After fiddling around endlessly with one humorous (mis)quotation, understandably left alone by RE's previous editors, I suddenly found myself faced with its likely source: a novella by the American children's writer Adeline Dutton Train Whitney. The likelihood of anyone identifying this novella in the pre-Google era is, shall we say, probably pretty low--most Victorianists not also being specialists in American children's fiction. It was certainly the last place it would have occurred to me to look!