S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
I have quoted M. Baillet, who shows the value of it [the index to Antonios Bibliotheca Hispana] particularly. He had good reason for recommending even the Indexes, for they are well formed and useful. The Author has added a short preface to them, which shows his excellent taste and judgment; he has quoted there the thought of a Spanish writer, Indicem Libri ab Autore, Librum ipsum a quovis alio conficiendum esse. An Author ought to make the Index to his book, whereas the book itself may be written by any person else. The contrary method is generally taken: Authors refer to others the pains of making alphabetical Indexes: and it must be owned, that those gentlemen who are not patient of labour, and whose talent consists only in the fire and vivacity of imagination, had much better let others make the Index to their works; but a man of judgment and application will succeed incomparably better in composing the Tables to his own writings than a stranger can. There might be a variety of good directions given for the composition of these Tables, which may be justly called the soul of books.
Though troubled with a great pain in his legs, which sometimes grew very violent, and notwithstanding the many visits he [Baillet] received, which continually interrupted his labours, he applied himself with so much diligence to the drawing up of an Index of all the subjects treated of in the books in M. De Lamoignons library, that he finished it in August, 1682 [about two years labour]. The Index grew to such a length by the additions he continued to make to it that it contains thirty-five volumes in folio, all written by M. Baillet himself. When he had finished that laborious but useful work, he wrote a Latin preface to it, which he published. We find there an account of the manner in which he drew up that Index. He promised in the same place to write an index, or Catalogue, of all the authors whose books were in M. De Lamoignons library.
The writer who drew up the Index to Delechamps Athenæus, who says that Euripides lost in one day his wife, two sons, and a daughter, and refers us to p. 61, that Euripides going to Icaria wrote an epigram on a disaster that happened at a peasants house, where a woman with her two sons and a daughter died by eating of mushrooms. Judge from this instance what hazards those run who rely on Index-makers.
I must say, in reference to Indexes generally, that I have come to regard a good book as curtailed of half its value if it has not a pretty full Index. It is almost impossible, without such a guide, to reproduce on demand the most striking thoughts or facts the book may contain, whether for citation or further consideration. If I had my own way in the modification of the Copyright Law, I think I would make the duration of the privilege depend materially on its having such a directory. One may recollect generally that certain thoughts or facts are to be found in a certain book; but without a good Index such a recollection may hardly be more available than that of the cabin-boy, who knew where the ships tea-kettle was, because he saw it fall overboard. In truth, a very large part of every mans reading falls overboard; and unless he has good Indexes he will never find it again. I have three books in my library which I value more than any other three, except the very books of which they are a verbal Index: Crudens Concordance of the Bible, Mrs. Cowden Clarkes Concordance of Shakespeare, and Prendergasts Concordance of Milton. We may not want such frequent soundings on the charts of most books; but the fuller they are, the more time they save, and the more accurately they enable the reader to explore and retain in memory the depths of the best authors for his present occasions.
Horace Binney: To S. Austin Allibone, 20th February, 1866.
I have only further to express my satisfaction in thinking that a heavy weight is now to be removed from my conscience. So essential did I consider an Index to be to every book, that I proposed to bring a bill into Parliament to deprive an author who publishes a book without an Index of the privilege of copyright; and moreover to subject him for his offence to a pecuniary penalty. Yet, from difficulties started by my printers, my own books have hitherto been without an Index. But I am happy to announce that a learned friend at the bar, on whose accuracy I can place entire reliance, has kindly prepared a copious Index, which will be appended to this work, and another for the new stereotype edition of the Lives of the Chancellors.
Lord Campbell: Lives of the Chief Justices, vol. iii., Preface.
An Index is a necessary implement and no impediment of a book, except in the same sense wherein the Carriages of an Army are termed Impediments. Without this, a large Author is but a labyrinth, without a clue to direct the reader therein. I confess there is a lazy kind of Learning which is only indical: when Scholars (like Adders which onely bite the Horse-heels) nibble but at the Tables, which are calces librorum, neglecting the body of the Book. But though the idle deserve no crutches (let not a staff be used by them, but on them) pity it is the weary should be denied the benefit thereof, and industrious Scholars prohibited the accommodation of an Index, most used by those who most pretend to contemn it.
I wish you would add an index rerum, that when the reader recollects any incident he may easily find it, which at present he cannot do, unless he knows in which volume it is told: for Clarissa is not a performance to be read with eagerness, and laid aside forever; but will be occasionally consulted by the busy, the aged, and the studious; and therefore I beg that this edition, by which I suppose posterity is to abide, may want nothing that can facilitate its use.
Dr. Samuel Johnson: To S. Richardson, March 9, 17501; Boswells Life of Johnson, vol. i.
If it appears surprising that so great a man [as Scaliger secundus] should undertake so laborious a task [as the index to Gruters Inscriptiones Antiquæ, Heidelberg, 1602], and which seemed so much below him, we ought to consider that such Indexes cannot be made but by a very able man. To succeed in that task it is necessary to understand perfectly the inscriptions, and know how to distinguish what is peculiar from what is common; and sometimes to illustrate them by some remarks, and explain the sense, not only of words of which there remain but one or two syllables, but even of single letters.
Non est acutissimi, fateor, ingenii, non altissimæ eruditionis, Indices contexere. Majorem tamen nil molestiam editori, nil lectori utilitatem affert; cumque rei cujuslibit necessitas ex ipsius utilitate oriatur, et in eadem consistat; quidni affirmem nibil fere esse magis necessariu? Non itaque sum sollicitus, quantillo esse ingenio, quam parum eruditione videar valere, dum literatorum commodis quomodocunque inserviam.
A youth of 18 has transcribed the whole of Xenophons Cyri Expeditio, in order to an Index; and has entered upon Thucydides for the same purpose . Another young man here has attacked Harduins folio edition of Themistius; and the senior youths of Magdalen School in Oxford are jointly composing an Index to the first volume of Dr. Beatties Isocrates . Give me leave to observe to you that experience has shewn us a way of saving much time (perhaps more than half of the whole time required) in transcribing an Author for an Index, by first transcribing all the words of a page, and then getting down the number of the page and line after each word of the page, instead of adding the numbers immediately as each word is written.
Rev. James Merrick: To Rev. Dr. Joseph Warton; Wools Biog. Memoirs of Warton, 310.
The compilation of an index is one of those useful labours for which the public, commonly better pleased with entertainment than with real services, are rarely so forward to express their gratitude as we think they ought to be. It has been considered as a task fit only for the plodding and the dull; but with more truth it may be said that this is the judgment of the idle and the shallow. The value of any thing, it has been observed, is best known by the want of it. Agreeably to this idea, we, who have often experienced great inconveniences from the want of indices, entertain the highest sense of their worth and importance. We know that in the construction of a good index there is far more scope for the exercise of judgment and abilities than is commonly supposed. We feel the merits of the compiler of such an index, and we are ever ready to testify our thankfulness for his exertions.
Those authors whose subjects require them to be voluminous will do well, if they would be remembered as long as possible, not to omit a duty which authors in general, but especially modern authors, are too apt to neglect,that of appending to their works a good Index. For their deplorable deficiencies in this respect, Professor De Morgan, speaking of historians, assigns the curious reason, that they think to oblige their readers to go through them from beginning to end, by making this the only way of coming at the contents of their volumes. They are much mistaken, and they might learn from their own mode of dealing with the writings of others how their own will be used in turn. We think that the unwise indolence of authors has probably had much more to do with the matter than the reason thus humorously assigned; but the fact which he proceeds to mention is incontestably true. No writer (of this class) is so much read as the one who makes a good index, or so much cited.