Lacy’s Acting Edition was published in a series of 100 volumes, each containing up to 15 plays, between 1850 and 1874. (All dates approximate and unreliable). In addition to the collected volumes, Lacy sold individual play titles in cheap (6d) paper copies, many of which also found their way into private collections and public libraries. Consequently, copies of various components of the Lacy Acting Editions are now scattered across many research libraries. In some cases, they also exist in digital form, usually as scanned page images.
It is relatively easy to recover details of a library’s holdings from an online catalogue, for example by searching for the string “Lacy’s Acting Edition” or by specifying “Thomas Hailes Lacy” as publisher. It is less easy to restrict the search to generally available digital versions as there is still no reliable joint catalogue of digitized texts in major public collections, combining the digital holdings of say the British Library, the Bodleian, and other UK libraries, in the same way as has been done for many US libraries by the Hathi Trust, or more generally by the Internet Archive. (A project at the National Library of Scotland did set up such a site, under the name opentexts.world, a few years back, but its status is currently unclear and unsupported.
The ease with which the results of such searches can be obtained in a machine-tractable form (rather then simply displayed on a web page) is also quite variable. One is usually forced to fall back on web-scraping techniques and quite a lot of manual post-editing. This note documents my fairly uneven progress towards a definitive collection of links to existing and freely available digital copies of the plays constituting the Acting Edition on various sites. The fairly good news is that, as of today, of the 1498 titles making up the 100 volume Acting Edition, I have identified 586 which are freely available in some digital form somewhere. Track progress by looking at my online catalogue.
A search for the string “Lacy’s Acting Edition” anywhere in the catalogue record at https://catalog.hathitrust.org/ produces 294 hits, of which 246 are available in “full view” (i.e. should be downloadable without formality). A search for the string “Thomas Hailes Lacy” as publisher somewhat counter-intuitively produces only 94 hits. The web page displaying results looks like this:
- Results from a HT search. Setting page length to the maximum allowed (100) makes it feasible in this case to download all pages with minimal scrolling.
As usual, the easiest way to screen scrape is to save the HTML page as a file, use tidy to make it into well-formed XML, and then write XSLT to extract the useful information. In this case, the generated XML uses an undefined prefix “xlink:”, which I had to remove by hand, but apart from that everything needful was done by the XSLT stylesheet htScraper.xsl, resulting in a document (htListFull.xml) containing entries like this:
<title>The first night; a comic drama in one
<author>Lacy, Thomas Hailes, 1809-73.</author>
<title>After the party; a comedy in one act.</title>
Thomas Hailes, 1809-1873.</author>
No <ref> element is generated for entries which are not accessible in “full view” mode. Also note that the handle quoted above is for the Hathitrust index page; to download the whole text as a single PDF file you must visit that page, and wait while the PDF is constructed. Oh, and yes, you must also be logged in at a HathiTrust member institution. So much for “full view” access.
I blogged about this now sadly un-maintained site back in October 2020. The site was dark for a while, but seems to be back for the moment: this morning I visited and was able to download a list of 106 hits in CSV, XML, or JSON in one click, which was nice.
This is what I like to see at the foot of my first page of results
Individual results looking like this:
<str name=”organisation”>Bodleian Libraries</str>
<str name=”title”>King of the Merrows, or, The prince and the piper : a fairy extravaganza / written by F.C. Burnand, from an original plot constructed by J. Palgrave Simpson.</str>
<str>Thomas Hailes Lacy</str>
<str>Burnand, F. C.</str>
<str>First performed at the Royal Olympic Theatre, 26th December, 1861.</str>
are easily converted (e.g. by my stylesheet opentexts-conv.xsl) to produce
<title>King of the Merrows, or, The prince and the piper : a fairy extravaganza / written by F.C.
Burnand, from an original plot constructed by J. Palgrave Simpson.</title>
<author>Burnand, F. C.</author>
<note>First performed at the Royal Olympic Theatre, 26th December, 1861.</note>
which is easily merged into the main Lacy catalogue.
Moreover, in this case (hoorah for the Bodleian), a visit to the publically available URL actually downloads the whole of the PDF file without further ado.
Sadly, PURLs are available for only three of the items in the Open Texts list of 106; the vast majority (90) being handles from HathiTrust, and the rest (13) links to archive.org. Moreover, the data has not apparently been updated since October 2020, which is presumably why it does not have anything like the 316 handles I found in the Hathi Trust catalogue for myself. In fact, every one of the handles it supplies exists also in the htListFull.xml list.
A cauchemar. Google has digitized (almost certainly) all of the Lacy Acting Edition volumes, but it seems to be entirely arbitrary which ones you can access via Google Books. I have tried various approaches to searching (there is something called a `bibliogroup` for Lacy), and then reprocessing the resulting (very obscure) HTML, but cannot say I have succeeded in cracking this code. The file gbSearch.xml contains the screen- scraped-and-converted-to-XML output from a query for this; the stylesheet gbSearch.xsl filters out from this the 37 useful links it provides to files you can actually download from Google Books (but you still have to go through a captcha check, of course).
Searching specifically for “Lacy Acting Edition” on Google Books will provide an exciting list of entries for each of the first 93 volumes in the LAE — but only two of them (volumes 77 and 93) actually have anything you can download. (I belatedly discovered that this annoying behaviour can be modified by selecting “Full View” from the drop down menu at top left of the query screen, which hides the titles you cannot have). On the other hand, there are also a few occasions where the text actually digitized for a specific title is the whole of the volume in which that title appears. Thus, searching Google Books for The Half Caste will provide you with a link for the whole of volume 97, in which that title appears. Likewise a search for In Three Volumes actually gives you a link to the whole of Volume 91. Anyway, once you have a reliable link to Google’s equivalent of the Internet Archive’s “details” page (at the moment, it looks like https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/Oberon_An_opera_in_four_acts_in_prose_an/IoFaWP1TQgkC) you can pass that to Google, and get back a nice “New” Google Books page in the middle of which is a nice “Download PDF” button. Which works — once you have completed the annoying captcha test of course.
All very well if you have the time to spend cutting and pasting links: but why couldn’t Google have provided a simple download in a form I can script? I assume it’s for the same reason they want to control access to these resources — to stop unscrupulous entrepreneurs in the “Print On Demand” industry from making a swift buck. And we all know how effective that policy is, don’t we?
Real librarians do it with Z39.50. But my results (bodleyTexts.xml) show only 9 titles available in digital form.
The Hall Collection
Every now and then, serendipitous searching pays off. The Hall Collection contains approximately 600 English plays mostly from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, originally used as prompt books by a professional actress called Clara St. Casse. The Collection was donated to the University of Warwick Library by a Mrs G. F. Hall of Leamington Spa, together with a collection of other printed plays. Naturally it includes quite a few (102 to be exact) Lacy titles. Although the Warwick site (https://wdc.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/hall) seems to provide only downloads and browsing of individual pages, someone, presumably from the Library, has also had the good sense and generosity to deposit the whole collection at archive.org, from which I was able to obtain an XML file (hallColl.xml) which can be readily processed to produce links to the 102 Lacy published titles: see hallCollTitles.xml
This archive has an excellent search interface and will also deliver results in any tractable form you like, including json or xml. It cannot however perform magic to overcome variant cataloguing practices amongst the collections it has incorporated. So, for example, a search for “Lacy Acting Edition” throws up precisely one hit (“a copy graciously made available by Fordham University”). A more general search for “Thomas Hailes Lacy” gets me 125 hits, 102 of which come from the Hall Collection. A search (thomas hailes lacy) AND -collection:(hallcollection) finds me the 23 titles not included in the Hall Collection. On the other hand, a search for “T.H. Lacy AND -collection:(hallcollection)” finds 66 titles, not included in the Hall Collection, but not included in the foregoing either.
On the bright side, the hits can be downloaded in a format which is more or less identical to that generated by the XML option quoted for the Open Texts server above, so mungeing the results lists together is a Simple Matter Of Programming, resulting in iaList.xml.