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Lewis Mumford: A Bibliography / Introduction

Return to: Lewis Mumford: A Bibliography

Viewed abstractly, a bibliography is as devoid of human interest as a time table or a telephone directory except for those who have a practical need to verify a date or find an article. Superficially, what the reader will find here is but the barest outline of my writings over something more than half a century; just sufficient to guide him to a bookseller or a library. With reason he will say with Charles Lamb that this is one of those books that is no book at all: merely a series of printed pages between covers. I myself shared that feeling when Mr. Newman first approached me with the proposal to compile such a bibliography. In the nature of things this could be only a labor of love, and I marveled that my writings could evoke so much love, when the task itself seemed so glaringly sterile, so utterly unrewarding.

But how wrong I was! In reacting this way I was curiously overlooking my own experience. For though my purpose has not been that of a librarian or a bibliographer, the fact is that since 1933 I myself have compiled a formidable series of bibliographies, none of them less than 372 items, one almost a thousand, to serve as background to my extensive surveys: the most recent bibliography, that in The Pentagon of Power, contains 475 items. Though such bibliographies are but the first stage in reading and evaluating books, there are moments when the compilation of a preliminary bibliography induces an anticipatory interest, which every new book that proves rewarding intensifies; and at the end of one's work, when one is finally putting together the entire list, and checking it for accuracy in titles and dates, the list of books itself results in a simmer of excitement, like that produced by any minor work of art. In some cases, this pleasure is intensified by the environment: the hours I have spent in the catalog room of The New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue searching out new titles, or checking up on those used, I would put among the rewarding moments of my life: all the more because, before great libraries began to suffer from the mass production of books and periodicals and the consequent congestion of catalog space, that hall, in its lofty amplitude, elevated one's mind and eased one's work. In those days the catalog room induced a benign feeling akin to Henry James's "Great Good Place," "all beautified by omissions."

As for that catalog itself, I count it not merely as the best organized I have used anywhere, a royal bibliography of bibliographies, but as one of the wonders of the human mind--no less wonderful than the computer, though all the materials of which it is composed, the wood, the paper, the print, the human brains, antedate--and will possibly outlast--the electronic and microchemical media that threaten to supplant it. That the Central Library's alphabetic three-letter system of identifying the books, invented by Dr. John Shaw Billings, has not been imitated everywhere--indeed has been "obliterated" by the deceptively simple Dewey system, or by even more cumbrous variations--is a silent reproach against the guild of librarians. But I must not ride this particular hobby horse further: my purpose is only to do justice to the greatness of New York's Central Library, neglected though it has been by the municipality.

Though I readily accept the drudgery involved in verifying a long bibliography--and only once relinquished it to another hand--my personal bibliographies have one quality that would be inappropriate for such an austere and extensive catalog as Mr Newman has compiled: they are spiced with my personal comments, occasionally scarifying or--even worse!--mischievous, on some of the works I have been condemned to read. There have been moments, in looking over Mr. Newman s compilation, when I have wondered if it would not be amusing, and even profitable, to interlard it with comments of my own. There are sundry good reasons for resisting this temptation. But perhaps the best reason is that I possess an alter ego who is severer than any other critic of my works, and who on occasion has a malicious pleasure in taking me down--and incidentally, alas! taking the reader in--by making disparaging remarks about my actual achievements, and diminishing their claims to attention.

This is a private joke between the author and his alter ego: but unfortunately too many academic minds have taken over the alter ego's modest estimates, and to be safe have reduced them even further. In order to avoid the very serious risk of being unjust to my own work, I have prudently decided to forgo any critical commentary.

But there are other matters that warrant the making of this bibliography. Though Mr. Newman, as a trained university librarian, has all the resources of the whole American library system at his command, and has made full use of them, it still was not possible for him to make an exhaustive compilation without utilizing data that only I possessed, since some of those data escaped the standard catalogs and existed only in my files of published work, or on my own library shelves. So, after considerable preliminary correspondence, he visited me in my home in the country and spent the greater part of a week, but for nights at our local inn, under my roof. Happily he was not always immured in the filing room. We had many occasions for consultation throughout the day, and from time to we would stretch our legs by a walk around the home acres, so we got to know each other, to our mutual advantage, as human beings; and this daily intimacy increased our confidence in each other. While I marveled over how much Mr. Newman had been able to get hold of unaided, he unburied items that even I had forgotten. And incidentally, he discovered from my files a puzzling fact he has told me of about the early variant editions of the same issues of The New Yorker, local and out of town. This discovery will put other librarians on guard against taking for granted that their early files of The New Yorker necessarily cover all its articles.

This human relation between us would not have been surprising in an older day, when frequent exchanges by both letter and face-to-face meetings took place. But in an age overexcited by the convenience of the telephone and the magic of computers, this demonstration of the value of personal communication is worth mentioning: no computer, however programmed, could have discovered what this human bibliographer discovered. When the current United States Catalog of Books was set up by a computer, a large swathe of essential items--the contents of two whole letters of the alphabet--had dropped out before anyone discovered this gross omission in the printed work itself; and similar lapses might easily have occurred with this bibliography but for the fact that Mr. Newman and I are both, happily, members of the human race, and are capable of discovering and correcting our own errors of omission and commission--while nevertheless acknowledging that, despite all our efforts, we may still have passed over significant items that somehow remained out of sight or out of mind. The fact that Mr. Newman and I have confidence in each other is something that should give a degree of confidence to those who make use of this compilation.

So far, I have been dealing only with the preparatory work on the bibliography. But it has had other human results, too. At the time the search came to a head, I had just finished The Pentagon of Power, and was beginning to play with the notion, once I had taken a rest, of resuming work on an autobiography, which I had begun as far back as 1956. At this juncture, it suddenly became plain to me that Mr Newman had unwittingly made a grand gift to my autobiography: he had shown me, in however severe outline, the totality of my life's work, in so far as that work had an independent existence in print. This was, so to say, a shadow biography; and when I beheld it in all its richness--a thousand items or so, Mr. Newman tells me--I experienced such a shock as one gets when one hears one's voice played back by a recorder for the first time.

Though most of the concrete evidence of my written work exists on my bookshelves and in my filing cases, it is only in the condensed form of a bibliography that one can take in this immense collection at a glance. If anyone should ask me what I have been doing with my life, I could point to the bibliography and say: This. At least "this" is a shorthand summary of a major part of that life; and when one begins to interpret this evidence, it moves one to self-examination.

At first glance, the very size of this catalog is appalling. Does this mean that I, who have been a foe of mere quantification all my life, have betrayed my sociological insights and my ethical standards? Fortunately for my peace of mind, the evidence is more favorable than a casual reader might think. Since my major vocation is that of a writer, a certain level of productivity would seem a major economic condition for remaining alive. But, forgetting books and duplicate items, a thousand items over fifty years brings an average of twenty articles a year; or, roughly, one every two and a half weeks. Not a few of these items are under a thousand words each. Compared to people who sought bigger incomes, or were trapped in their choice of media and forced to produce many times this amount of copy, I may boast that I have not seriously contributed to either environmental pollution or mental depletion.

But what about books? The total count of all my books is only twenty-four. Compared with popular writers, with a genius for catching the public eye and suiting the public palate, this number is trivial: many novelists, including intellectually reputable ones like Anthony Trollope or H. G. Wells, turn out sixty or eighty books in the course of a lifetime. But long ago I decided that, no matter what the financial exigencies might be, I must limit my output of books, if I hoped to be read by a later generation. What I mean here by a book is strictly a work planned in advance to be a whole, nor a mere collection of essays, whether mixed or on a single topic; and though I have indeed put out such books, I have sought wherever possible to do so in an ephemeral physical form, that is, as paperbacks. Yet the paperback edition of Men Must Act, in 1939, which came out well before paperbacks had begun to make a mass market of their own, ironically sold fewer copies than the hard-cover edition.

Putting aside such collections, I have, in forty-eight years, produced only seventeen books. There are of course many scholars, like Gibbon, who have made a notable reputation on a bare half-dozen books or less: but they had other sources of income. For one who is a writer by vocation--who is mainly dependent upon his writing for support--seventeen would seem to be close to the minimum. And I have been rewarded for this abstemiousness: my first seven books are still in print, and my first book, The Story of Utopias, has virtually never been out of print through half a century--though it surely doesn't deserve such pre-eminence. None of my major books, furthermore, for the last twenty-five years has been dropped by the publisher, except Green Memories. So there would seem to be a case for continence, if not for total abstinence, in order to hold down the excessive birth rate of books.

Looked at from this angle, this bibliography brings me a certain reassurance. But what must I say about the vast miscellaneous assortment of articles, essays, reviews, introductions that contributed a necessary portion of my income--though never enough to enable me to forgo occasional lectures, visiting professorships, and even for two limited periods, a regular lectureship and a regular professorial appointment. When I look at the contents of these reviews, I can see how from the very beginning they were often early jottings and notes for the books that I was eventually to write. Always, my personal and intellectual interests took precedence over economic necessities, even in lean periods. Though certain dominant themes begin, before the thirties, to emerge from the vast welter of reflections and reactions, the most useful part played by these seemingly indiscriminate sallies is that they invaded, if only for a short look-around, many widely separated territories: expeditions from which I brought home fruits, like the scouts who went ahead in Canaan, which I would preserve and draw on only at a much later period. Thus certain ideas expressed in an appreciative but critical review of J. S. Haldane's Mechanism, Life, and Personality (1921), pervade, in fully assimilated state, my presentation of the organic world picture in The Pentagon of Power. If I had cast my life in the role of a certified specialist, this miscellaneous searching and writing would have been suicidal: no university would receive, much less advance, a man who, even if he wrote much, was so indiscriminate in his appetites, so wanton in his invasion of distant fields that he had no academic license to cultivate. When, therefore, the offer to teach came first in 1930 from Dartmouth College, I embarked on my work there as a full professor, without any chagrin over my academic nudity. Happily, in so far as I have any reputation as a scholar, it is not as a specialist but as a generalist; and only by ranging as widely as I did as a writer could I have prepared myself for that special task. As a writer I had a freedom no young Ph.D. could hope for till he was too old to profit by it. At what university, I ask myself now, could I have had a similar freedom, a similar stimulus, or a similar opportunity to break loose from prevailing academic patterns?

My one concern about this lengthy catalog of my writings is over its possible misuse: might it not tempt some academic candidate, seeking a fresh field to explore, to give too much attention to my more ephemeral writings, and give them an undue prominence, if only because he or she alone would have for the nonce the distinction of being the first to analyze them? The real advantage of such an exhaustive list, rather, is that it should make it easier to get hold of and quickly dismiss my more hasty or otherwise negligible articles and papers. As background material, they will do little harm, and even, in the hands of a serious student, perhaps do a 1ittle good. But there is a risk that they may be pushed into the foreground, and even treated as if they were superior to my mature works, much as Van Wyck Brooks's more callow early essays have recently been rated as his central contribution, to the utter disparagement of his Makers and Finders series. I have been put on guard against this happening by the pair of urban sociologists who chose my earliest essay on "The City" (1922) for publication in a book of readings, and have in their critical comment misrepresented the whole tendency of my work on cities, which they are, seemingly, ignorant of.

But there is still another side to a comprehensive bibliography which the author should perhaps dwell on a moment. It has called my attention, as never before, to the fact that such a list, even while it shows the extent of my literary and scholarly commitments, in so far as they found publication, still exhibits only a part of my life as writer: the commissions need to be qualified by the omissions; for those omissions are, so to say, the dark, unexposed side of the moon. What a writer has written and not published is in some ways even more revealing than what he has finally thought fit to expose. Many of the manuscripts that I have preserved through some squirrel-like hoarding impulse never merited publication, or to be more honest, they should have been destroyed almost at once. Yet somehow they give a certain substance and definition to what has gone into print. I say nothing about my "juvenilia": we were all young once, and even some of my published writings--I won't single them out! --deserve to be classed as juvenilia.

Among my unpublished writings, however, are four whole books and one half-finished work I never submitted to a publisher Add to this the unfinished manuscript of an early novel, a May basket of poems, a series of one-act plays, and two finished full-length plays, the latest dated 1928, and so vast in its scope that it could only be handled as a motion picture. (The theme of the latter, incidentally, centered around the Brooklyn Bridge and two quite imaginary Roeblings, the younger bearing a suspicious resemblance to myself, whose lives were intertwined with the New York of their day and the building of the bridge. As it happened, I conceived this theme while living on Brooklyn Heights, where Hart Crane, who was then occupying an apartment in Roebling's very house, was writing his poem, "The Bridge.") Whatever else these rejections and repressions may mean, they at least show that I have practiced what I preached: selectivity, not unbridled production.

As for the books, one of them was a series of six lectures on American architecture, given at Harvard University in the autumn of 1939. They never satisfied me, since I had not been able to spare the time for fresh exploration and research. The second was an unpublished novel in free verse, two published excerpts of which are included in the bibliography. This was a highly promising work; but the war interrupted it and I could never recapture the inner turmoil that was essential for a final rewriting of it. The fourth was a series of observations, in the manner of La Rochefoucauld, on Love and Marriage.

But the most formidable unpublished manuscript is the most teasing of all, for its immediate failure was offset by an unforeseen success. After the one-volume condensation of A. J. Toynbee's A Study of History had come out, I conceived that it might be equally helpful if some patient sympathetic scholar would produce a one-volume version of The Renewal of Life series. But junior generalists, unlike junior historians, are hard to find: certainly none came forward. So I decided that I myself would produce the equivalent, not by piecing together the parts of the four books, but by recasting their material around a dominant theme: that of the human personality, in all its ideal projections and actual realizations. In arriving at this mode of synthesis, I was influenced by the work of W. H. Sheldon and by the Chicago philosophers George Mead and Charles Morris. In the course of the winter of 1954-1955 I swiftly wrote some three or four hundred pages. When, after a brief pause, I read what I had written, I realized that what I had attempted was, despite a number of fresh insights, impossible: so I thrust the manuscript aside, and never read it through again--though I suppose I may have glanced at it impatiently before I turned it over to the Van Pelt Library of the University of Pennsylvania.

But meanwhile my unconscious had been at work. That spring, responding to an invitation to write a book on religion for the World Perspectives series, I sat down and found myself writing a much more extensive treatise, which turned out to be a panorama of human history, embracing the development of both community and personality, and pointing to the future. That work, called The Transformations of Man, was a far better summation of my essential thought than any one-volume digest of The Renewal of Life series could have been; and what is more, it started me off on the new line that led to The City in History and The Myth of the Machine. I count myself lucky in having had the critical nerve to virtually make manure of a whole winter's work in order to let The Transformations of Man arise from that rich compost.

I pass over many lesser manuscripts, to say nothing of sundry letters to the editors of the New York Times that were never published. But there remains one considerable opus, possibly as great in volume as all my books, namely, the letters written to my friends. One part of this collection has in fact been printed: The Van Wyck Brooks-Lewis Mumford Letters, and another quite different set, my correspondence with Sir Frederic Osborn, is scheduled for publication in England in 1971. In addition, Mr. Newman has called attention to a few other collections that have found a home in libraries. I cannot possibly estimate how many correspondents have kept even samples of my letters, though a considerable number saved by friends now dead have come back to me. But happily for me, two of the most interesting collections have been deposited in the National Library of Scotland at Edinburgh: my letters to Patrick Geddes and Victor Branford between 1920 and 1932.

In a sense, these letters are part of the large invisible undermass of my life: what rises above ground discloses only a portion of my activity as a writer. When the social challenges I have responded to, when the intellectual issues I have raised, when the diagnoses I have made of our civilization have been superseded by other situations and other, more adequate responses, my collected letters may still have value as a human testimonial of our times, and as an uncensored sidelight upon personal relationships, at a certain moment, in a certain setting. Yet even here some of the most revealing letters will for long remain unpublishable because they concern living people and inviolable intimacies.

There is still one more sunken island not accounted for in this bibliographic chart: that is my lectures. Apart from those published, and apart from those that disappeared with the breath of the speaker--among them some of my very best performances--there is a considerable body of lectures in manuscript, either because no editor cared to print them, or because I myself had no wish to see them in print. Herewith I pronounce anathema on anyone who might be tempted, under the meretricious scholarly banner of total publication, to bring out these lectures when I and my executors are no longer at hand to prevent them. Though I don't promise not to destroy many of these myself, those that escape this funeral pyre will probably be entrusted, along with my other papers, to the University of Pennsylvania.

And then, finally, there is a more intimate batch of papers that obtruded themselves on me in the very act of going through my published work. These come under the heads of "Random Notes" and "Personalia," the earliest of which go back to my high-school years, when I used to set down pitiful little epigrams--I dared to call them that--or juvenile witticisms in a little address book; and from 1915 on, more or less inspired by Samuel Butler, I would make longer notes which might, under one of Butler's headings, have been appropriately called "Higgledy-piggledy." But I never kept a diary, and unlike Emerson or my friend Brooks, I never made a list of the books I read: so occasionally, in going through these notes, I am astonished to find myself quoting books I have no memory whatever of studying, or, even more astonishingly, making fresh observations on matters I imagined to have only recently discovered.

A good part of these notes, before 1940, were written on the cheapest grade of Manila paper: indeed, my earlier manuscripts were not merely typed on such paper but went to the printer in that form. If anyone doubts this, let him look at the manuscript of The Golden Day, deposited by my first Harcourt Brace editor, Charles A. Pearce ("Cap") in the Dartmouth Library, after he had bought it at an auction sale in behalf of some putatively good cause for, as I remember it, thirty dollars. Since I may never have another chance to acknowledge the debt I owe Cap for the kind of intellectual sympathy and stimulating appreciation that, even when I was a young man, he gave me, let me put it on record now. Being older than he, I assumed an avuncular role, more or less like Settembrini with Hans Castorp in The Magic Mountain: and it was part of our humor that I used to address him as "Engineer." His tastes were so catholic that in the period when he was poetry editor of The New Yorker they even charitably extended to my verse; and it was through him that one of my most original poems, "Fantasia on Time," saw print. I can hardly forgive the editors of the current New Yorker Book of Poems for leaving this poem out, though I am not sorry that they chose my six-line epigram, "Consolation in War," which Thomas Mann, I blush to mention, characterized as having the quality of an old Greek epitaph.

Mr. Newman's ferreting among my clippings brought to light first drafts of work on the same Manila paper, already darkly oxidized and crumbled at the edges, to an extent that should make them unredeemable ten years hence. Such self-effacing manuscripts could be perhaps one's most acceptable gift to posterity: for what will the world be like--indeed, what is it already?--if all our trashy thoughts are piously preserved as precious documents? This presented a genuine ethical problem: for it was not without forethought that I have rarely kept copies of my own letters, except controversial ones, which might lead to replies that in turn might call for an answer, or purely business letters, like contracts or quarrels with one's publisher, whose points needed to be kept clearly in mind until the matter was settled.

The only possible reason for keeping any of one's trivial notes is that they might be useful to a student of history or biography; and with this in mind my wife has copied them over--only to discover to her delight, in a series of notes I made before marrying her, that she was now falling in love with that vanished young man whose courtship at the time she had found, with good reason, so lacking in ardor, so unpersuasive. Those notes reveal, I must add parenthetically, that he already had a number-one wife in his literary work, and didn't quite see how he could manage to take care of a lesser mistress, too. But she was equally pleased to find that the plan of life, the discipline, the devotion to ideas that governed his later life were all there from the start.

This entire mass of notes, once committed to paper, remained practically unvisited in my later years, though at an earlier period of my life they helped me to get through more than one emotional crisis without calling upon a psychoanalyst for help. Here again, I owe another debt to Mr. Newman's patient searching. For on assaying these notes I have discovered, if not a gold mine, at least occasional veins and pockets of high-grade ore, and occasionally a real nugget. The very disparate and inconsecutive character of the notes makes them all the more interesting through their surprises; and this soon suggested a book I had never before contemplated: a Miscellany, which would hold work that had never been published--or had come out in such a limited form that it could no longer be found even in the most capacious university library.

In cataloging my books and articles, accordingly, Mr. Newman has, in effect, caused me to beget another book. Though it has not yet been assembled, I think it right to mention it here for the prospective reader, in order to make this bibliography carry my work a little forward into the future: in strict accordance with a basic principle of my philosophy, that past, present, and future must be taken in together: "for the past is still present in the future that is already here." Let us call it provisionally A Mumford Miscellany. In that book my future reader may even find snatches about my friendships or my loves that he will look for in vain in my autobiography--alongside, perhaps, a scene from a forgotten play, or a dialogue written in the twenties, when dialogues were anathema in almost every editorial office, except that of The American Mercury--though I could never find out if it was H. L. Mencken or George Jean Nathan who was bold enough to break with this traditional veto on the Dialogue. No one back in the twenties could anticipate that in another generation the tape recorder would bring into existence a new kind of dialogue, whose interminable drool, unless vigilantly edited and curtailed, will bring into existence the largest mass of mediocre non-literature that has ever been put into print. Except for a single BBC interview with Graeme Shankland--and what a brilliant performance that was!--I have never read the manuscript of any dialogue in which I myself took part that was worth the trouble of editing or rewriting it.

When I look at these remains of mine, or remember some of those I have already destroyed, I realize that these notes, however random, cannot be published in full; for they would give a distorted and ultimately false account of my life. My Personalia deal mostly with conflicts and crises, often at their darkest moments: unlike the sundial, they show too exclusively the clouded hours, or at the other extreme, they reveal the tenderest kind of intimacy, in personal intercourse or in sexual play, that can only be celebrated in elusive metaphor, and would shrivel under the least public exposure.

But there! In the act of contemplating this bibliography of my writings I have passed far beyond the confines of any library, and am beginning to wade knee-deep into my autobiography. Nothing could please me more about this work than the fact that Mr. Newman, by doing his job so thoroughly, has given back to me many obscure and forgotten portions of my life, and so has opened up fresh chapters that I had not heretofore contemplated even from a distance. But of course it was not for my personal use and enjoyment that he devoted himself to this work: so I trust it may prove serviceable to scholars, librarians, and even to general readers, for whom most of my writings have been invisible, or at least inaccessible beyond the passing moment. This may, in the end, take the sting out of the private family joke, between my wife Sophia and myself: that because of my indifference to the usual channels of publicity and ego-inflation, I have become, even for many scholars in my own special fields, "The Invisible Man."

Cambridge, Massachusetts
December 26, 1970

Return to: Lewis Mumford: A Bibliography