The library, you should know, is not in Europe. It doesn’t even exist anymore. But when it happened, it was the personal library of Johns Hopkins professor Dr. Richard Maccksey in Baltimore. (I was his student in 2015 and interviewed him for Literary Hub in 2018.) Dr. Macksey, who died in 2019, was a book collector, polyglot and scholar of comparative literature. At Hopkins, he founded one of the nation’s first interdisciplinary academic departments and organized the 1966 conference “The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man.” which included seminal lectures by theorists Jacques Derrida, Roland Barthes, Jacques Lacan and Paul de Man.
Dr. Macksey’s book collection has reached 51,000 titles, according to his son, Alan, excluding magazines and other ephemera. Ten years ago, the most valuable pieces – including first editions of ‘Moby Dick’, TS Eliot’s ‘Prufrock and Other Observations’ and works by Wordsworth, Keats and Shelley – were moved to a ‘collections’ room events” on the Hopkins campus. After Dr. Macksey’s death, a SWAT team-like group of librarians and conservationists spent three weeks scouring his book-filled 7,400-square-foot house to select 35,000 volumes to add to the libraries of the ‘university.
Surprise finds included an 18th-century text by Rousseau with charred covers (found in the kitchen), a ‘blank’ copy of a rare 1950s exhibition catalog showing paintings by Wassily Kandinsky, posters of protests by May 1968 when students in Paris occupied the Sorbonne, a hand-drawn Christmas card by filmmaker John Waters and the original recordings by the theorists of that 1966 structuralism conference.
“For years everyone said ‘there must be recordings of these lectures.’ Well, we eventually found the recordings of those lectures. They were hidden in a cabinet behind a shelf behind a couch,” said Liz Mengel, associate director of collections and academic services for Sheridan Libraries at Johns Hopkins. Editions of twentieth-century poets and novelists sat on a shelf in the laundry room.
After the librarians at Hopkins and nearby Loyola Notre Dame finished selecting their donations, the remaining books were taken away by a dealer, so that Dr. Macksey’s son could prepare the house for sale.