Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2012 Issue

Robert Scott, M.D. - a chance encounter

Chronology-chart 3

From Adam and Eve to James Madison in 14 charts. Who knew?

Today with the AED and other global resources to consult we find little evidence of his books, suggesting muted initial interest and a tepid passage through time.  We are then led to contemplate that God, contrary to his expectation, has been less involved than he expected.  How else to explain that his works have come down to us as silently as whispered prayers?  Almost.  For on the other the single previously known extant copy at the Library of Congress has been scanned and for many years been available at about 80 institutions.  This sounds to me like life after death.  Does this explain his books’ tenuous and continuing connections to our world today?  Gutenberg if able might in fact blush at how common, by comparison, his 48 first printings of the Bible have turned out to be. Dr. Scott’s Antidote by comparison, thought to be a single copy but now known to exist twice with its discovery on eBay, may turn out to be the perfect antidote to any pride Gutenberg might be harboring about the rarity of his work.  In fact both of Dr. Scott’s books trump him, the first in two copies, the second with no known copies.  So there.

This puffery aside, the slim survival of his first book may stem more from the arcane nature of his question and proof than with the length of his print runs.  The Gregorian calendar had after all firmly taken hold.  Few people woke up thinking its 5813.  The newspapers on their mastheads said 1810.  The War of 1812 was a scant few months away and epidemics were routinely trimming the human herd.  Fulton had recently built the North River Steamboat to ply the Hudson between New York and Albany and would have passed within eyeshot of Dr. Scott’s home in Rhinebeck.  Perhaps the unsettled nature of the present and the gathering sweep of a rapidly developing future may simply have swamped all serious consideration of a project that looked back even as the world lurched forward.  Whatever the reason the chance survival of his first book is a reminder to book collectors that book collecting is an exceptional experience that occasionally rewards both the diligent and the lucky.

On the day I found it I was both.


Hasbrouck’s History of Dutchess County

Poucher’s “Old Gravestones of Dutchess County New York.  Pg 325, ref. 471

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