The library, it should be known, is not in Europe. It doesn’t even exist anymore. But when it happened, it was the home library of Johns Hopkins professor Dr. Richard Macksey in Baltimore. (I was his student in 2015 and interviewed him for Literary Hub in 2018.) Dr. Macksey, who passed away in 2019, was a book collector, polyglot, and comparative literature scholar. At Hopkins, he founded one of the nation’s first interdisciplinary academic departments and hosted the conference “The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man” in 1966. including the first lectures by the French theorists Jacques Derrida, Roland Barthes, Jacques Lacan and Paul de Man.
The book collection of Dr. Macksey, according to his son Alan, amounted to 51,000 titles, excluding magazines and other ephemera. Ten years ago, the most valuable pieces – including the first editions of ‘Moby Dick’, TS Eliot’s ‘Prufrock and Other Observations’ and works by Wordsworth, Keats and Shelley – were moved to a ‘special collections’ room at the Hopkins campus. After the death of Dr. Macksey spent three weeks with a SWAT team-like group of librarians and conservationists in his book-filled, 7,400-square-foot home selecting 35,000 volumes to add to the university’s libraries.
Surprising discoveries included an 18th-century Rousseau text with charred covers (found in the kitchen), a “pristine” copy of a rare 1950s exhibition catalog featuring Wassily Kandinsky’s paintings, posters of the May 1968 protests when students in Paris Occupy the Sorbonne, a hand-drawn Christmas card by filmmaker John Waters, and the theorists’ original recordings at that 1966 conference on Structuralism.
‘For years everyone had said ‘those lectures should be recorded.’ Well, we finally found the recordings of those lectures. They were hidden in a cupboard behind a bookshelf behind a sofa,” said Liz Mengel, associate director of collections and academic services for the Sheridan Libraries at Johns Hopkins. Several first editions of 20th-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 disposed of by a dealer so Dr. Macksey was able to prepare the house for sale.