I’m back working on Leibniz, in the British Library rare books room. And once again he’s causing me – and the staff here – some problems. The piece I wanted to look at is something I know is in the 19th century Onno Klopp edition of his Werke. But as I’ve posted here before, the British Library edition of this is marked as ‘item is destroyed’. I hunted around a bit, and found there is a version of this in the Akademie edition – this is no easy task to know or find out, as that edition is not complete (see my note here) and there is no easy way to know what is in it as yet or not. It is organised thematically and then chronologically, so you have to work out what theme the editors will have filed it under in order to have a chance of finding a specific text. This edition is much more recent, and in time will replace all the others, and of course the British Library has it. But their online catalogue ordering system only allows you to specify a single volume, and the Akademie edition is in series and volumes. So I put the series and volume number in the notes box on the online form. But the spines of the Akademie edition have this crucial information in words, not numbers, and in German – despite the texts largely being in French or Latin. And so a request for Series IV, Vol 4 didn’t quite work – I was sent Erste Reihe, Erster Band instead of Vierte Reihe, Vierter Band. Why the publishers didn’t help out here – this is the international edition, rather than a German translation, after all – or why the British Library staff didn’t make their lives easier by a shelfmark that helped them actually locate things I don’t know. Presumably I’m not the first person to equest a specific volume of this work, and as they started putting the many many volumes up on the shelves someone must have clocked the issue? There are eight series and many volumes in each (see the picture for an indication, taken from the official site of the edition). All the volumes/series of the edition have the same shelfmark in the catalogue. So in the end I had to write down exactly what would be on the spine so someone could go down and try to match the book to a piece of paper. I got it eventually, found the text and resolved the issue.
But sometimes this process can generate some interesting chance encounters. The Protogaea – Leibniz’s pre-history of the earth – is available in a very good modern English and Latin edition. Because that edition is bilingual, I didn’t need to find the original language version in one of the various editions of his works. But looking for something else I chanced upon it. I was looking for the passage where he discusses a supposed ‘unicorn’ that he recognises is actually a goat with deformed horns, which was in a letter that can be found in the 17th century Louis Dutens edition of his Opera Omnia. That is scanned and available through Google Books, but incomplete and not always great quality, so I decided to order the actual book. It has the text of the Protogaea in the same volume, and unlike the scanned version this one has some really wonderful illustrations. They are reproduced in the recent University of Chicago Press edition, but at much smaller size and if memory serves not all of them are present. In the Dutens edition they are on fold-out sheets and much better. The unicorn in the previous post comes from the Protogaea; the goat from the Dutens edition. But while the goat is a pretty good representation of what is in the text; the unicorn is a pale imitation.