Page 100 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 15

Basic HTML Version

90
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
the American venture, were abortive. In connection with such an
attempt Steinschneider had prepared a rapid but comprehensive
survey of Jewish literary endeavors up to the middle of the nine­
teenth century. While the work for which it was intended did not
materialize, his article “Jewish Literature” appeared in Ersch
and Gruber’s
Encyclopedia
. I t was translated into English (
Jewish
Literature from the Eighth to the Eighteenth Century
, London, 1857)
and into magnificent Hebrew by Henry Malter
JTHSd),
of which only the first part was published (Warsaw, 1897).
Whenever Steinschneider’s name is mentioned it is usually
associated with bibliography. He was, to be sure, a great bib­
liographer, one of the greatest. As such he will be known for
generations to come. But he was more than that. He has been
spoken of as “ the great polyhistor.” Indeed, he fully merited that
title, for his works deal with an amazing variety of subjects.
However, his fame as a bibliographer is permanently established.
It rests on a firm foundation: the many catalogues of Hebrew
books and manuscripts he compiled in which he incorporated a
tremendous amount of knowledge, not only bibliographical but
biographical as well. Having mastered the entire output of
mediaeval Jewish literature, he was able to appraise its relation­
ship to the general literature of the times. This vast knowledge
he brought to bear upon his bibliographical work. Much of it
found its way into the catalogues ascribed to him, not all of which
bear his name as author. But most was incorporated in his Latin
Catalogue of the Printed Hebrew Books at the Bodleian Library
(Berlin, 1852-1860). This is without doubt one of the greatest
achievements in the literature of Jewish bibliography. Solomon
Schechter described it as “ the Urim and Thummim of every
Jewish student.” Steinschneider himself states “ that he had put
into this catalogue one fourth of his life and the greater part of
his strength.”
The catalogue is a tremendously large and heavy volume. I t
comprises seven hundred and fifty pages, each of which consists
of two wide columns of small print in quarto. I t presents a record
of all Hebrew printed books up to 1732. Even the
desiderata
of the
Oxford Library, up to the time indicated, are carefully recorded.
Each book, based on personal examination, is accurately described.
Every entry is followed by an extremely condensed note, furnishing
bibliographical, critical and historical information on the book
described. There are also a few appendices on Hebrew man­
uscripts, on Hebrew printers and printing, on Hebrew names of
places, and the like. In brief, it is a catalogue not merely in the
sense in which the term is generally understood. I t is a treasure-