Hugh Amory

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The Independent Online

Hugh Amory, bibliographer: born Lynn, Massachusetts 1 July 1930; married 1963 Judith Malev (three sons); died Brookline, Massachusetts 21 November 2001.

Bibliography is a dangerous trade, generally practised in libraries, the frontier zone of academic respectability. The name itself covers a multitude of sins (such as a brief list of books cited if not read), and a handful of virtues. Hugh Amory was on the side of the angels, the very stuff of which scholarship is made.

He was one of the very few who can be trusted with evidence. Any text, any problem, that came his way would be rigorously examined, not just to accumulate facts, but so that a convincing and complete record of all that they meant could be created. He was humane as well as exact, and wrote with an elegance and wit that made his published work a pleasure to read in itself, as well as for the certainty that he had got it, whatever it was, right.

Nothing in his background suggested a source for these talents. His father was a cotton merchant who died in a hunting accident when he was eight; his mother's family founded the Brown and Sharpe machine-tool company in Rhode Island. Further back there was the picturesque Owen O'Sullivan, who lived to be 103 and fathered governors of both Massachusetts and New Hampshire. He was also a direct descendant of the painter John Singleton Copley. But Amory's upbringing, in or near Boston, was conventional enough. He was born at Lynn, grew up at Dover, went to Groton and thence to Harvard. He did his military service in Korea. Returning home, he worked for a bit at the Poets' Theatre in Boston, where he had a number of verse plays produced.

He then went back to Harvard to take his degree from the Law School in 1958, but the turning-point came when he embarked on a PhD at Columbia University. He had already begun teaching 18th-century English Literature in the English Faculty there, and remained until 1969, when he moved to Case Western Reserve University at Cleveland. He had already been engaged as textual editor for the Wesleyan edition of Fielding's Miscellanies, providing the critical text to which Henry Knight Miller and Bertrand Goldgar successively provided introductions and commentary. The first volume was published in 1972, the third and last in 1997.

Fielding was thus a ground bass to a career spent back at Harvard. In 1973 he was appointed to the staff of the Houghton Library as a rare-books cataloguer. The Houghton was then (as it remains) the most distinguished academic collection of rare books and manuscripts. Amory became a trusted member of a close-knit team.

His publications now began to introduce him to a wider public. He was asked by A.N.L. Munby to write the introduction for the volume of Sale Catalogues of the Libraries of Eminent Persons that dealt with poets and men of letters, among them Fielding. His classic article in The Book Collector "Things Unattempted Yet" definitively sorted out the complex bibliography of the first edition of Paradise Lost.

He wrote an invaluable guide to the Houghton Library collection (Houghton Library Printed Books and Ephemera, 1983), and produced exhibitions on Fielding and Steven Day, the first printer at Cambridge (Massachusetts). With William H. Bond he edited the 18th-century catalogues of the Harvard College Library (The Printed Catalogues of the Harvard College Library, 1723-1790, 1996).

His horizons were not limited to Harvard, from which he retired in 1995. What will be seen as his masterpiece appeared in 2000, The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World, the first volume of the projected "History of the Book in America", jointly edited and with a substantial personal contribution by Amory.

Until recently he taught a course in historical bibliography at the Editorial Institute of Boston University. But perhaps the greatest of his achievements was the help he gave so generously to those who came to ask for it, help acknowledged in many footnotes. This is the kind of immortality that he would have appreciated.

Nicolas Barker