This first part of this posting is a story that Bart Simpson would say is exactly what I should have expected and one for which both he and Homer would both award me D'OHs for expecting something else. The rest? What any good bibliophile (Oxonphile?) would do.
H.L.A. Hart was one of the preeminent Western philosophers of the 20th century: http://tinyurl.com/zcc93sl.
Hart spent the majority of his academic life at Oxford. Back in his era, academics and other people in the West, including then the UK (as it still is), who wrote tended to write on paper, sometimes loose (the paper that is, the generic writer's morals are outside the scope of this note) and sometimes in notebooks. That meant paper and notebooks piled up over the years, rather than electronic files stored on some media.
It's well known, at least by those who need to know or are otherwise interested, that most of Hart's personal and professional papers were given to an Oxford college at some point after his death. I knew this. What I didn't know was which one and where the material might be. Oxford has an (American) football score number of colleges and other places the records might be.
It had recently dawned on me, probably close to some dawn, that there might be some useful information in Hart's papers on a claim made in "Causation in the Law", one of Hart's famous texts. This information would be relevant, maybe important, to a paper I plan to write. If I'm right, it'll cause a bit of a tizzy in the world of legal causation jurisprudence. I'm fairly sure, too, that at least two judges might read; albeit one is retired by now.
As I am, now, in Oxford, I did what any reasonable, sensible, researcher, displaying a modicum of what some might call commonsense (I wouldn't. I'd call it logic, even a form of inductive reasoning; even Occam's Razor) would do, given that Oxford isn't very big at all. I walked to various places nearby the law school that might have people with knowledge of where the papers are, in Oxford, so that I could find out where the papers are, and then could make arrangements to review the the papers that I think might have the information I want.
To my astonishment, none of the people in the places I went to, all of which have people (librarians, archivists) who would (or should) have knowledge of the location of the papers (even if the information wasn't in publicly accessible Bod records, and especially if it was (that's assuming the information exists) - this is Oxford's Hart, after all and it's their jobs to know that sort of information - knew where the papers were, beyond knowing that their locations did not have them because, otherwise, they'd know because that it was their job to know. Etc.
We were, after all, talking about Oxford's Hart, the author of "The Concept of Law", co-author of "Causation in the Law" and ....
More to the point, though - the startling part, - is that none of the records in these places - think libraries, starting with the Bodleian (which is supposed to have this information, since it's the National Archive, so it should have been told when the records were acquired and where they were kept), then the Bodleian Law library, then the libraries of the colleges I visited, etc. had any record of the whereabouts of the papers; indeed had no record the papers ever existed.
I was, however, successful in establishing that Oxford has a small collection of the papers of one "Horace Hart", whoever he is. I had to mention, a few times, that I wasn't interested in "Horace". Rather, I was interested in "Herbert"; Oxford's "Herbert", the one who co-wrote the book that I was holding in one hand or the other: a copy of the 1st edition of "Causation in the Law" from the the 1978 printing, the last printing of that version. More on the book, later.
I spent most of a very enjoyable, sunny, afternoon walking from one place to another only to find out that, yes, they should have a record - because, after all, the Bodleian is the National Archives - but no, they did not, and watching the librarian / archivist version of puzzlement, almost reserved English librarian "tizzy" in one case; but that person was young and this was, after all, a question about Oxford's H.L.A. Hart, the preeminent ... etc.
I could, of course, have avoided this journey by sending an email to a person who, I suspected, would know exactly where the papers were but that would have spoiled my fun. Besides, I had to go to these places, in any event, for reasons unrelated to my search for the location of the Hart papers' archive.
In any event, at about 4 p.m., I had to stop my investigation because I had a meeting to go to at 5 p.m., so decided to email the person I've referred to: the person who would have to know because she, recently as these things go, wrote a biography of Hart.
She did, of course.
She quickly emailed me the information. I received the email just as I was getting ready to leave the Weston Library, after I had cleared security to leave, but not before I had left the building. I turned around, reversed the process of clearing security and went back upstairs to one of the senior librarians who had been helping me, by checking every method he could think of against the possibility the papers were listed in the National Archives but misdescribed in some unusual manner. When I got to his desk, he was writing a memo about the fact that the papers, which he was certain existed somewhere in Oxford, weren't listed, apparently, on any of Bodleian Library's records. I asked for his email address and forwarded, to him, the email to me with the name of the Oxford college that has them. I will not name the College but I will tell you it is not any of the colleges I had visited; rather a new college that was new to this story only because I had yet to visit that day.
Sorry (but not much) about that.
Now about the book I had been holding, sometimes.
One reason that I didn't mind the afternoon jaunt from Oxford place to place was the book I mentioned above. I'd acquired it, used, as much as 30 years ago but I don't know recall how. It had, clearly, once belonged to an unknown library. There was nothing on it to indicate whether it had been assisted in a surreptitious departure from that library or had walked out, so to speak, voluntarily. As indicated, I don't now recall where and when I acquired that version other than that it was probably in a used book store somewhere in one of Canada or the the continental United States; England, Wales or Scotland; France; Switzerland; Finland; South Africa; Australia; one of the Greek Aegean Islands; the Canary Islands or Madrid; Macau; Hong Kong; the Solomon Islands; because I don't recall getting it online. I know it was after 1980 because the book has part of a name, the word "Oxford" and the date "1980" written in pencil on one of the inside pages. The book at one time belonged to an unknown library because it has library reference numbers written on an inside page and on a label taped, with clear tape, on the spine of the book cover where libraries tape such things. Unfortunately, the name of the library isn't anywhere in the book. There are no other identifying markings in the book, such as something indicating the library had consigned the book to a second hand book reseller or somebody else.
My plan had always been to, one day, return the book either to the library from which it came if I could identify the library and it wanted the book or, failing that, to an appropriate home in an Oxford library. That's where the book now is: in the Brasenose Library with, as it happens, a new dedication on its front-piece from Tony Honoré, the book's co-author, to the members and alumnae of Brasenose. How did it happen that I was able to get Honoré to write the dedication? He still speaks speaks at Oxford jurisprudence seminars, on occasion. This term has some of those occasions and I'm attending those seminars. He was happy to write a dedication when I told him why I'd asked and where the book was going.
The denouement of my paper chase? I don't know yet but I've taken a small step towards finding out if there's an answer. Earlier yesterday, I was told that I had to send an email to the archivist of the college where the Hart papers are kept to request an appointment with the archivist to discuss the prospect of me being allowed to review the Hart documents to see if they contain the information I hope they contain. And, that in that email I should specify with some detail what it is I want to see, because (it was my impression) what I want to see will play a part in whether I'll get the appointment with the archivist, let alone the opportunity to check in the documents. I decided that the efficient course would be to go to an official somebody, who the archivist would have to listen to, or at least should listen to, and ask that somebody to "get me the introduction". When in Rome, wot?