Hubert Howe Bancroft
Hubert Howe Bancroft was an entrepreneur and an avid bibliophile who loved to read, admire and write books. As a book seller, this passion could perhaps be considered an occupational hazard. However, in Bancroft’s case, he took book collecting to the extreme. In 1905, when his library was sold to the University of California, it contained somewhere in the region of 60,000 rare books, manuscripts, maps, and transcripts. In addition to having the library named after him, Bancroft was also awarded a prestigious professorship of history.
It was this obsession for collecting historical material which eventually led him to become a celebrated author and publisher later in life. Nonetheless, Bancroft’s literary endeavours were not without their critics. Many considered his works to be indicative of his and his researchers’ personal thoughts as opposed to being a true reflection of the historical subject matter being covered. Furthermore, there was also a degree of cynicism over the true authorship of Hubert Bancroft’s books.
Hubert Howe Bancroft and His Assistants
Originally, Bancroft employed assistants with the sole intention of researching and organizing data. From this, statements of fact were to be produced which Bancroft proposed to use as the foundations of a narrative which he himself would write. As the works progressed though, he came to use the statements as they stood making only minor editorial amendments.
Bancroft argued that his assistants were perfectly competent and, as such, he did not need to re-write their submissions. On the face of it, this testament to the quality and substance of the researchers’ writing would have been perfectly acceptable had Bancroft properly acknowledged and credited the researchers for their respective contributions. In later years several of Bancroft’s former employees, including Henry Oak and Francis Fuller Victor, were to claim authorship for large sections of “The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft” that had been credited solely to Bancroft.
There is no doubting the historical significance of Hubert Howe Bancroft’s publications. However, whilst he considered himself to be the author of his books it is probably more accurate to suppose his input as being that of an editorial nature.
Editors’ Note: The image used in this post is a satirical caricature of Hubert Howe Bancroft which appeared on the cover of The Wasp magazine on 18 April 1885. As Bancroft gazes up into the air, there are many hands furiously scribbling away in his writing book. This image is intended to represent the vast numbers of researchers and assistant writers that Hubert Howe Bancroft employed. It was this, and possibly a tinge of envy, which placed the true authorship of his works into question.
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