— Compiled by Steve Arney

THOMAS HARDY — Milner Library this spring, in cooperation with The Thomas Hardy Association, started building what will become the world’s greatest repository of literary criticism about Hardy, the great British writer and poet.




NORMAL, Ill. Bill Morgan can't walk past a used book store. He must stop. Inside, he must ask: Do you have any works by or about Thomas Hardy? A collector and a Hardy scholar, Morgan taught English, with a specialty in Hardy, from 1969 to 2000 at Illinois State University. He edited two books about Hardy and wrote more than 20 scholarly articles. He owns 150 books about Hardy, plus Hardy's novels, poems and short stories. But in retirement, Morgan's Hardy-collecting has found a new purpose. He wants to help ISU's Milner Library compile the world's greatest collection of literary criticism on Hardy and to preserve it in the restricted, special collections section - on the library's sixth floor.

So far, Milner has 34 books about Hardy in a special collection it began in April. It seeks 300 books - roughly 175 titles in various editions and translations - written about Hardy from 1890 to 1975. These first 34 books were donations from The Thomas Hardy Association. While a modest start, it is 33 more books than TTHA had to offer when this process began in September.

Last autumn, David Cosgrove of New Haven, Conn., offered to donate his copy of Life and Art By Thomas Hardy to The Thomas Hardy Association. Life and Art is a 1925 compilation of Hardy works organized by Ernest Brennecke Jr., with Brennecke commentary. It was produced without Hardy's consent, and it was rare even when it was published - as a limited edition. The Cosgrove gift posed a problem. TTHA operates mainly on the Internet as a group of Hardy scholars. It had no place to put Life and Art. Morgan, TTHA's executive vice president, suggested that the group find a library that would protect a collection of books about Hardy. He went to Milner, just up the street from his house on School Street, while other group members approached other universities. Milner's enthusiasm and professionalism, along with an existing special collection of Hardy's writing, made it the best choice, said Morgan.

Special collections librarian Steve Meckstroth embraced the idea, and it represents the first collection he's started from scratch in 11 years in special collections. Within 10 years, Meckstroth wants to make the claim that Milner already makes about its special circus-book collection: "Best in the world." To augment the Hardy criticisms, Meckstroth also seeks early editions of the Hardy writings themselves. The library owns all work donated to The Thomas Hardy Association Collection of Early Hardy Criticism, and Milner has exclusive decision-making rights on every book offered to it. If Meckstroth received a second copy of the same book, same edition, he is inclined to keep the one in the best shape in special collections and to place the other elsewhere within Milner or at another library.
At the Web page
/Welcome/COLLECTION.htm, TTHA is tracking all 300 books sought, with notation of the ones already at Milner. The preferred method of donation is to send books directly to Meckstroth at Milner. However, Association members also have been channeling donations through Morgan and TTHA president Rosemarie Morgan, no relation. Bill Morgan said the Association builds the THHA collection through members' existing collections and through new purchases. He checks eBay every night, and he will look during his travels into the nooks of used book stores. He also intends to give 150 books out of his current collection, but he's not sure how soon he'll let go - "when I'm too old to care, or when I fall over."

"The world’s greatest repository of literary criticism about Hardy"