Understanding and Using John Towill Rutt's Work
Scholars have mixed feelings about John Towill Rutt. He was an English Unitarian that had connections to Joseph Priestley. He made a compilation of Priestley's non-scientific work and he also edited some reprints of Priestley books. In The Theological and Miscellaneous Works of Joseph Priestley, Rutt compiled the non-scientific works of Priestley (books, letters, sermons, and pamphlets) into a twenty-five volume (twenty-six book) work. He edited Priestley’s work. He however did not say how and when he edited the work. Scholars note that he would cut out paragraphs, combined letters, capitalized letters, and changed the punctuation.
Most scholars complain about what Rutt did. However, most scholars also use Rutt. I have found in my experience that for the books that Rutt included in his twenty-five volumes, Rutt mostly changed the punctuation at the end of sentences or capitalized words that he thought were proper nouns. While I cannot say whether this was right or wrong, I have used the 1999 reprint of Rutt. When possible I would photocopy the1999 reprint of Rutt and compare it to the original Priestley work at a rare book room or institution.
The Theological and Miscellaneous Works of Joseph Priestley can be accessed in several ways. The first way is to go to a rare book room or special collections area at an institution and use the originals. The second way is to go to a library and look at Rutt in microfiche (I am not aware of Rutt being in another format). The third way is to buy or find a copy of the 1999 reprint (The Theological and Miscellaneous Works of Joseph Priestley was reprinted in 1999 by Thoemmes Press) of The Theological and Miscellaneous Works of Joseph Priestley. Below are the advantages and disadvantages of using each form to access Rutt. The reader should keep in mind that Rutt did edit Priestley's work and by using Rutt you are not looking at the most textually faithful reprint.
Originals or Rutt?
Advantages of each possibility:
1. Using Original of The Theological and Miscellaneous Works of Joseph Priestley : The first advantage is that the reader gets to read the book or pamphlet the way Rutt published it. The second advantage is that the letters in the first two volumes are printed (easier to read then Priestley's hand writing). The third advantage is that original volumes of Rutt are more available then many of Priestley's minor works or letters.
2. Using Reprints of The Theological and Miscellaneous Works of Joseph Priestley: The reader gets to read something very similar to the original twenty-five volumes. The reprint will be more accessible then the original. The reader would be able to more readily check a volume out or photocopy part of the twenty-five volumes The letters in the first two books of Rutt are typed. This will help with potential problems in trying to read Priestley's hand writing. Reprints will be easier to find then the originals (when a reprint has been made), to access (as said before), and to acquire through systems like Interlibrary loan. A reprint will have many of the minor works or letters that Priestley wrote that may be hard to find without using Rutt.
3. Using Original of The Theological and Miscellaneous Works of Joseph Priestley on microfiche: Microform gives the reader all the advantages of reading the original. The reader also will often be able to make photo reproductions from the microfilm. This might not be possible with original materials or cost prohibitive.
Disadvantages of each possibility (except for the universal ones listed above)
1. Using Original of The Theological and Miscellaneous Works of Joseph Priestley: The first disadvantage of using the original Rutt is that it may be hard to access. One usually has to enter a special collection area or rare book room at an institution to access it. The second problem is taking notes. Usually a rare book room or special collections area will only allow you to bring a pencil, paper, and lab top. If you are reading a whole book and need many quotations this can be a time consuming process. Plus your notes may not be as accurate as a photocopy would be. The third problem is that photocopying is usually limited or cost prohibitive.
2. Using Reprints of The Theological and Miscellaneous Works of Joseph Priestley: The first disadvantage to using this method is that you must have faith in the integrity of the editor. The second disadvantage is that not many colleges or universities have the 1999 reprint. Thus one probably will have to use an original.
3. Using Original of The Theological and Miscellaneous Works of Joseph Priestley on microfiche: The large disadvantage to microform is that it can be very hard to read Rutt on microfiche. The Rutt pages are often very small on the microform and normal lenses and light are not sufficient. Even special lenses and light may not be ideal. Photocopying may also be cost prohibitive.