Search terms: "complete" and "compleat". Exact phrase in title. Any language.
Years: # items
Search term: "Dictionary." Exact phrase in title. Any language.
Search Term: "System." Exact word in title. Any language.
(bold indicates largest year-over-year/decade-over-decade number--not %--increase, italics largest decrease)
These numbers will not be exact; though the word may occur in the title, unless one looks through each of them (and we all know what eighteenth-century titles are like--each is in itself near the length of a bible) one won't know precisely how the word is being used. For example, "complete" (or "compleat," which started off the century as the favored spelling but gradually lost ground--it's not until 1761-1770 that there are more "completes" than "compleats") generally refers to one or more of the following:
- A "complete" collection of an author's works or a bound volume of periodicals
- Complete as in everything-you-need-to-know; the "complete gardener," "farrier," "gamester," etc. Also in "complete system."
- Complete histories, whether of individuals, nations, events, or subjects, and often including letters, memoirs, declarations, public decrees, acts of government, etc. As in "A Compleat History of Magick," "A Compleat History of the late War in the Netherlands," etc.
- A work including some other complete tool, as in charts, indexes, etc.
- Complete as in perfect, or utmost, as in "complete happiness."
What qualifies an index as complete, by the way, is totally beyond me.
So it would seem that "complete" in the 18th century is somewhat akin to our "All Natural!" Everyone wants it, but it might not mean anything. The numbers of titles including the term in what amounts to a marketing ploy, however, always go up, decade after decade, indicating that (as you'd expect) "completeness," however it was understood, remained a desirable characteristic throughout the century. It is also interesting that the largest jumps in such titles occur from 1760-1790; why then? What was going on in other genres? The epistolary novel, for example, saw a dramatic decline in new titles from 1771-1780, the same decade that saw one of the largest increases in dictionaries, systems, and those miscellaneous genres in which "completeness" could reasonably be advertised ("complete" frequently modified "dictionary" and "system" as well, though one perhaps incorrectly feels that "system" implies completeness--isn't an incomplete system a system that isn't a system?). Perhaps these are related; perhaps not.
What can we conclude, if anything, about the year-over-year changes from 1729-1733? All was holding steady until '29 (a year after Chambers' Cyclopaedia), then in 1730 we have something of a glut. Did booksellers respond by turning down titles over the next year? Did they then think they'd gone too far and respond by jacking up the number again?
I don't wish to fall into the Franco Moretti track of dubious quantification built largely on even more dubious generic classifications (a la Graphs, Maps, and Trees). Taxonomy in the arts, and particularly in the realm of eighteenth-century literature, always seems to end in tears; a picaresque isn't necessarily only a picaresque, and a novel in the later sense of the term could easily incorporate, interpolate, or sublimate what was once understood to be romance or indeed anything else (those of you familiar with my hobbyhorse will know that in my estimation the designation "novel" for much the period is dependent on this ability).
So if one is to use this sort of data, it has to be done carefully. The strange thing seems to me to be how compelling I find it--how willing I am to be convinced by a mere display of numbers. Mary Poovey tells me--or rather, A History of the Modern Fact tells me--that I owe this allegiance to numerical facticity largely to the same period that saw the emergence of the novel (I have ideas about that but they're for another time). There's something very sneaky about literary statistics. 445 items with "system" in the title, with probably just under 400 of them reflecting what I understand a system in the period to be. I run up here against the same old problem--with 445 to look through, in a single decade, and the inability to manage effectively the perhaps over 1000 distinct titles published throughout the century, how can I ever really be sure of what I'm seeing?
Soon--a bit more of the same on the romance and the novel...