In 'The Sussex Vampires', Watson takes down from the shelf the great index volume for V; Holmes balances it on his knee and reads:
And then he gets to 'Vampires'.“
Voyage of the Gloria Scott. Victor Lynch, the forger. Venomous lizard or gila ... Vittoria, the circus belle. Vanderbilt and the Yeggman ... Vipers. Vigor, the Hammersmith wonder...
The entries give some of that mysterious country outside the stories which, as with the nonsense verse of Edward Lear, make the oeuvre so compelling. As an index they are lacking. For a start they aren't in strict alphabetical order, and if it was a 'great volume' it might take some time to get to Vampires via Venomous lizard - and in any case, why isn't that under Lizard, venomous?
Utility is not the only purpose of indexes. As Hazel K. Bell shows, they have entertainment value. And there is a strange beauty in the cumulative piling up of off-beat entries:
Those come from Sir James Frazer's single-volume epitome of The Golden Bough, that wrong-headed work. And these come from an index to the opinionated De Quincey:“
Bag, souls of persons deposited in aBirds, cause headache through clipped hairCat's cradle, forbidden to boys among the EsqimauxCharms, to prevent the sun from going down Conception in a woman caused by treesFairies, averse to ironMagnets thought to keep brothers at unitySardines, worshipped by Indians of Peru
It does make one want to read the book. The index to Enquire Within Upon Everything (78th edition, 1888) might make one wonder about relying on it at all:“
Dogs in Greece, a nuisanceHorses, weepingLeibnitz, died partly from the fear of not being murderedMahomet not a great manMuffins, eating, a cause of suicideSpitting, art ofWomen, can die grandly
Do you think it would be easier to find the right entry if a bone was in your throat or if you were in deep water? Anyway, in the 19th century there were still a scandalous proportion of books of history, biography and so on with no index. Gilbert White had shown the way in 1788 with an index of his own devising, even though he found its compilation an activity 'full as entertaining as that of darning socks'. But that is not its effect, which is quite in harmony with the charmed valley of Selborne:“
Beds for the Poor, How to MakeBone, to Stain In Throat, How to Act Character, Manly, Elements ofCheese, Blue Mould onDaughters, Management ofDirty People to be AvoidedDutch People, Cleanliness ofFalling into Water, How to ActPersons on FireQuadrupeds, to StuffQuotations, Greek and Latin, to be avoidedTaste of Medicine, to PreventWindow-Curtains on Fire, How to Act
A different flavour is provided by Thomas Carlyle's index to some of his pamphlets of the 1850s, in which we find: 'Premier: mad methods of choosing a, 84, 159; a more unbeautiful class never raked out of the ooze, 114.' Samuel Johnson was not known for his reticent speech either, and in a 24-page index to an edition of Boswell from 1900 we find the useful entry: 'Blockhead, Johnson applies the term to a housemaid in Birmingham.'“
Castration, its strange effectsCats, house, strange that they should be so fond of fishDaws breed in unlikely placesHogs, would live, if suffered, to a considerable ageRooks, perfectly white ----- an amusing anecdote aboutSlugs, very injurious to wheat just come out of the ground, by eatingTortoise, a family one ----- more particulars of ----- further circumstances about
Thomas Browne gave the world in Pseudodoxia Epidemica or Vulgar Errours, a work that is practically an expanded index in itself. But it was not alphabeticised, a useful task supplied by Simon Wilkin's 67-page index for his edition of 1835 (still the best, for this and for incorporating the manuscript marginalia made in a copy of the first edition by Dean Christopher Wren, Christopher's father; it is much more helpful than Keynes's self-regarding 20th-century edition). Under 'Hares, Rabbits' Wilkin gives: 'none in Iceland, 22; and cabbage, Cato's chief diet, 510.'
Ruskin, in indexing his own Fors Clavigera, came up with the novel idea of correcting some of the judgments he had made in it. So we find:
Hazel K. Bell, has been an indexer since 1965, and for 18 years edited the Society of Indexers' journal, sensibly called The Indexer. She knows what she is talking about. Obviously I much enjoyed this book and would have liked it for Christmas.“
Artists are included under the term workmen, 10, but I see the passage is inaccurate, - for I of course meant to include musicians among artists, and therefore among working men; but musicians are not 'developments of tailor or carpenter'. Also it may be questioned why I do not count the work given to construct poetry, when I count that given to perform music; this will be explained in another place.
I think I found a misprint on page 145, where the reign of Philip IV of Spain is given as '1621-1625' instead of '1621-1665', but I haven't yet discovered if it is an error in the original, Georges Perec's Life: A User's Manual. When I find a copy it should be easy to check: the novel has a 58-page index.