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Vol. LXV, No. 28
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
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Extraordinary Publisher and Collegial Mentor, Princeton’s Herbert S. Bailey Is Remembered

Ellen Gilbert

Herbert S. Bailey, Jr. is being remembered as “one of the most influential and well-respected scholarly publishers of his time.” The fifth Director of Princeton University Press (PUP) died in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on June 28, just weeks short of his 90th birthday.

In a letter addressed to “Colleagues and Friends of the Press,” current Director Peter S. Dougherty detailed Mr. Bailey’s remarkable achievements during his tenure at the Press, which began in 1954 and ended with his retirement in 1986. Among his “long-term, monumental projects,”were The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, and The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein. The Press won some 250 prizes, including two National Book Awards, seven Pulitzer Prizes, and two Bancroft Prizes under Mr. Bailey’s watch. PUP authors during his tenure included George F. Kennan, John Tyler Bonner, Herman Kahn, Richard Ullman, Herbert Feis, R. R. Palmer, Albert O. Hirschman, Richard Rorty, Robert Pinsky, Richard Feynman, Earl Miner, and Wilfred Cantwell Smith.

In addition to amassing a glittering roster of writers, Mr. Bailey is being remembered as a stalwart mentor, whose guidance nurtured several generations of editors. “Herb took a chance in me,” remembered historian of technology and culture Ed Tenner, who joined the Press as a science editor in the 1970s. Mr. Bailey’s “wonderful guidance and support” (he himself had started as science editor) helped Mr. Tenner take on “a job I wasn’t suited for. There are no courses in becoming an acquisitions editor.”

Mr. Tenner apparently learned his lessons well. “After I gave a speech once, he complimented me on not giving anything away about science publishing,” which is, he said, different from publishing in other areas.

In what Mr. Tenner described as “one of the biggest coups in post-war publishing, Mr. Bailey acquired the Bollingen Series. With little promise of significant financial gain, Mr. Bailey conscientiously negotiated for the right to publish the Collected Works of C. G. Jung. The Bollingen Series eventually comprised 250 titles from archaeology through religion, including Kenneth Clark’s The Nude; E. H. Gombrich’s Art and Illusion; Aleksandr Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, translated and with commentary by Vladimir Nabokov; and the Wilhelm/Baynes translation of The I Ching, or Book of Changes, which remains the Press’s single best-selling book with more than 900,000 copies in print. Mr. Tenner saluted Mr. Bailey’s belief in “the intrinsic value of books,” noting that, ironically, by not focusing on making a profit, he “actually did better than his peers.” By the end of his tenure, the Press’s annual title output had tripled.

In his nomination of Mr. Bailey for the 2009 Association of American University Presses’ (AAUP) Constituency Award, Sanford Thatcher, who served as the Press’s editor in chief under Mr. Bailey, noted that the “mere fact that he dedicated 40 years of his life in service to one university press shows how unusual and exemplary his career was …. It would take many pages to document fully all of the contributions Herb Bailey made to his own press, to the AAUP, and to the wider world of publishing.

Mr. Bailey, who graduated from Princeton University in 1942, was, at 32, the youngest head of a major university press in the United States. In 1972 he became president of the AAUP. His retirement was marked by the Curtis Benjamin Award of the Association of American Publishers, and the Bowker Award for Creative Publishing.

William G. Bowen, president of Princeton during many of the years when Mr. Bailey was at the Press, reportedly credited him for the exceptionally close relationship that grew between the Press and the University. “The two were seen by Bailey as highly complementary resources, and so they were,” wrote Mr. Dougherty.

Mr. Bailey’s influence went well beyond PUP concerns. Mr. Thatcher remembered him as an active contributor to initiatives like the National Enquiry into Scholarly Communication (19761979), crediting him with making “numerous recommendations that are still relevant today, including more widely distributing the financial burden for supporting the system of scholarly publishing.” Mr. Thatcher also recalled Mr. Bailey as an early champion of both the use of acid-free paper throughout the industry, and of its adoption of computer technologies. “Herb retired Princeton’s linotype presses reluctantly,” said Harvard University Library director and former PUP Editorial Board member Robert Darnton,” adding, however, that he “was one of the first to foresee the possibilities of digital book delivery.”

Mr. Bailey was also an author in his own right. His 1970 book, The Art and Science of Book Publishing, was re-published in 1990, and has been translated into several languages, including Chinese. Mr. Dougherty recalled a rare visit to the Press by Mr. Bailey in June of 2005, when PUP celebrated its centenary. A speaker quoted a line from Mr. Bailey’s book: “‘What makes a great publishing house are great books, written by great authors, edited by great editors, designed with taste, produced with skill and efficiency, and energetically and widely sold.’”

“This spare, yet wise and powerful sentence stands as the goal that the current staff of Princeton University Press pursue, inspired as we are by the enduring example of Herbert S. Bailey, Jr., and by the magnificent legacy he has left us,” said Mr. Dougherty.

“He was a master of the business,” recalled Mr. Tenner, saying that he has not encountered Mr. Bailey’s like anywhere else. A file of Mr. Bailey’s letters, regularly circulated to keep staff abreast of Press operations, were models of their kind. “You’re really dealing with very talented people, who often have special needs and demands,” observed Mr. Tenner. In writing and in person, Mr. Bailey was, he said a “great diplomat, who would take a potentially difficult situation and resolve it to let all parties save face.”

There will be a memorial for Mr. Bailey in North Carolina at the end of the month. The family asks that contributions in his name may be made to the William and Ida Friday Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, or to the Class of ’42 Fund at Princeton University.

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