Is this a James Barry edition?

Henry More Smith. The Mysterious Stranger. Originally published in New Haven in 1817. Partly set in New Brunswick, the story was very popular in the Maritime colonies and there were at least 8 editions published.

James Barry was a miller, a fiddler, a diarist, an infidel, and a printer. When I began working on him, I was drawn to the miller. I’m now fascinated by the diarist and printer. While presenting at Congress in Vancouver this past June, I noted that Barry “sold Johnny McLeod a whole Back-load of Books” – three dozen of one title, four dozen of another. It presented the possibility that Barry was printing more than broadsheets and pamphlets; that he may have been printing entire books.

Eli McLaren, a historian of copyright at McGill, asked if I was suggesting that James Barry was illegally printing books. My answer then, as I suggested in an earlier post, was that I think so because of some contextual evidence, but don’t know for sure because I’ve never actually seen either a book that directly pointed to him, nor does he ever indicate anything specific in his diary or accounts. At that moment, co-panelist Gwen Davies, Emeritus Dean of Arts at UNB and one who knows more about Maritime books than anyone, piped up “I’ve seen one” and told me the story of an edition that she thinks Barry printed. And it’s in the Bell Library at Mt. Allison University. Last week, I went ot the Bell Library, and here’s what I found.

The book is Henry Bates, The Mysterious Stranger, or the Memoirs of the Noted Henry More Smith. First published in New Haven, Conneticut in 1817, the book tells the story of Henry More Smith, part grifter and part Harry Houdini, whose New England and New Brunswick exploits were widely read in the 19th century. At least nine 19th-century editions were published in the Maritime colonies: one in Halifax (Cunnabell, 1835), six in Saint John, New Brunswick (William Avery, 1840 and George Day, 1857, 1866, 1872, 1878 and 1895), one in Southampton , New Brunswick (George W. Miller, 1855) , and one in Charlottetown, PEI (Haszard, 1855). Later two 20th-century editions were published in Saint John (Bowes, 1910) and Windsor, Nova Scotia, in 1912 (no publisher indicated). It’s a fascinating tale and numerous other versions have been published into the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

What, then, of this mysterious edition? At first glance, it’s by George Day, though with the curious addition of “Originally printed by George W. Day”. None of the Day editions include that, and why would they? So who printed this edition? There’s no direct proof that it was Barry, but lots more to suggest it’s possible. First, and most obviously, there’s an annotation on the inside cover signed “G.H.C.” that says so – indeed, not only that this was printed by Barry, but also that this was his second edition.

Annotation by “G.H.C.” claiming the book was published by James Barry, Six Mile Brook, Pictou, County

So who’s “G.H.C.”. Gwen Davies doesn’t know. I’ve begun writing to collectors and Special Collections librarians around the region, but this might take some time. The annotation is striking for its confidence. No “maybes” or speculations: “was printed by James Barry”. He appears to have been local (an American or central Canadian would surely have included “Nova Scotia” in the description). 

There’s lots more that’s curious about this edition and most of these oddities open other possibilities. The title page notes that it was “originally published by George Day” of Saint John, New Brunswick, but the texts are not identical. This edition has a Preface. None of the Cunnabell or Day editions have one, and this Preface is not the same as the Haszard or Miller editions. The title pages, and the full titles are different. There are also some minor modifications in the final paragraphs. This edition also has three types of paper and two fonts (one on very thin paper with a dense font, the other more substantial but a less dense text).

“Henry More Smith” on the spine

What really marks this edition is the addition of material from Pictou County. The final seven pages are three letters from Pictou County residents recalling the time More spent there in 1816. None of the letters add significantly to the story, though in spirit they certainly confirm the pattern of the Houdini-like grifter. Of course, that consistency could mean that these 40-year-old memories are somewhere between imagined and apocryphal, but in any event they added local colour to this edition – a feature no doubt intended spark local sales.

Assuming for the moment, at a minimum, that it was printed in Pictou County, could someone else have printed the work? Possibly, though not this bound version. To my knowledge, there were only two other presses in the County, both for local newspapers, the Colonial Standard and the Eastern Chronicle. Neither appear to have published any books, though both did some pamphlets. An exception is William Harris (who purchased the press of the Colonial Standard around 1875) who published Teare’s Directory of Pictou and New Glasgow (210 pages) in 1879. While the Eastern Chronicle could have printed the work, they don’t appear to have had any binding capacity as McConnell purchased bound volumes of his own newspaper from Barry.

Barry’s diary entry noting the Mysterious Stranger also noted H.B. Skinner’s The Family Doctor, or Guide to Health (both Worldcat and have the 1844, 9th edition from Boston). Barry also gave away several copies of Eugene Becklard’s Physiological Mysteries and Revelations in Love Courtship and Marriage (the edition is New York, Holland and Glover, 1844; Worldcat lists several mid-century editions from Boston and Philadelphia). Were these Becklards also a Barry edition? Further research here and a more rigorous assessment of Barry’s remaining libray in the Public Archives of Nova Scotia may well turn up other possible Barry editions. If so, Barry represents a significant addendum to MacLaren’s work on 19th-century copyright in Canada. His Dominion and Agency details the concerted efforts of the Canadian government to regulate the irregular book trade, and copyright law, often at the insistence of British and later American publishers. Barry may well have been escaping the state’s observance. And if he was, it’s hard to imagine there weren’t other small rural printing presses doing the same.

It’s too soon to say this is an accurate picture. But if Barry was pirating copyrighted materials, then he presents a challenge to a national and trans-Atlantic literature on colonial book publishing. More interesting to me, though, is what this means for our understanding of the production and consumption of local knowledge. If he was publishing and selling these works, then the local networks of books, reading and ideas were much more complex than we’ve imagined – indeed, still more so than I’d argued in Vancouver. Textual modernity arrived in the countryside not as an outside force, but something more carefully and locally mediated than we’ve seen before. And James Barry, no friend of the state, may have been even more subversive than I’ve imagined.

Update: While in Halifax in September, the good (and knowledgeable!) folks at Schooner Books in Halifax identified G.H.C.


Eli MacLaren, Dominion and Agency: Copyright and the Structuring of the Canadian Book Trade, 1867–1918 (Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2011).

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