Sunday, October 23, 2016

Halloween reading

Ghost story posts

The blog is taking a brief break but for Halloween that link goes to a month's worth of posts from a couple of years ago.  Mostly ghost stories but a few other weird tales of various kinds.  (I've just noticed the covers don't always appear so will have to look into that.)

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates

Howard Pyle - Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates (1921) direct link 
Open Library main page

A collection of Pyle's various pirate stories with his famous illustrations (he's often credited with creating our current image of how pirates looked).  There are fights, captured ships, buried treasure, adventure on the high seas and even a little romance and a Christmas tale (though probably far less drink than in reality given the general younger age of the intended readership).

Sunday, September 18, 2016


McKenzie Wark - Dispositions (2002)

Direct link

Though not public domain the book has been shared by the author. Wark is a media theorist and writer possibly best known for The Hacker Manifesto (with two books on the Situationists for Verso). In Dispositions Wark travels to places using his GPS then records observations and thoughts. It's an unusual mix of psychogeography, prose poem and criticism.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Women and Film

Women and Film

Direct link

Running from 1972 to 1975, Women and Film was a groundbreaking scholarly journal with a publication method that grew out of the underground press and looked forward to the zine movement.  It's an interesting look at the time with its focus on European filmmakers (lots of Godard), acknowledged auteurs, re-evaluation of Hollywood and collecting information about women filmmakers. Still, it's not dated and much of the material is still worth reading.  All the issues are hosted at the Jump Cut site and can be downloaded as pdfs.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Epistolae obscurorum virorum / Letters of Obscure Men

Francis Griffin Stokes (ed) - Epistolae obscurorum virorum (1519, edition of 1909) direct link
Open Library main page

"A text that contains intentional blunders, and in which grammar is a law unto itself, seems to call for exceptional treatment."  That's the conclusion of editor and translator Stokes when introducing this now-little-known curiosity.  Epistolae obscurorum virorum is a series of satirical letters that appeared in Germany from 1515-1519.  The letters were a humanist attack on scholasticism and employed overstatement, clumsily pretentious writing, illogical leaps, wayward references - basically the same things that would be used to parody academic writing today.  (I will now start my emails with "Cordial greeting and homage beyond belief".)

This satire, though, is credited with helping push the Reformation, particularly in its support of Johannes Reuchlin who was fending off charges of heresy as he attempted to prevent destruction of Hebrew religious materials (which were considered anti-Christian).  (See David H. Price's 2011 Johannes Reuchlin and the Campaign to Destroy Jewish Books.)  One recent reprint of Epistolae obscurorum virorum was done under the title On the Eve of the Reformation.

Let's just go with one sample (that's actually one of the more simple): "As I have ofttimes told you, I chafe bitterly because that vile raff, to wit the Faculty of Poets, groweth and extendeth throughout every province and region. In my time there was only one poet--and his name was Samuel--but now in a single burg a good score may be found, to harass us who cling to the ancients. Just now I sharply snibbed one who said that 'scholaris' did not mean a person who went to school to learn, for, quote I, 'Thou ass! Wouldst though correct the Holy Doctor who useth that word?'  But forthwith he wrote a lampoon against me, with many scurrilities therein, and vowed that I was no sound grammarian, in that I had not rightly expounded certain words when I treated of Alexander, his First Part, and of the book De modis significandi."

This appears to have been the first English translation.

Friday, September 2, 2016

An Introduction to the Knowledge of Rare and Valuable Editions of the Greek and Latin Classics

Thomas Frognall Dibdin - An Introduction to the Knowledge of Rare and Valuable Editions of the Greek and Latin Classics (1802, 4th edition of 1827) direct link (volume 1) direct link (volume 2)
Open Library main page

An extensive bibliography of editions of classical works, mainly of interest because the fairly detailed entries make for interesting browsing.  Dibdin was a key figure in the development of bibliography.  This fourth edition of his work was rewritten from previous and skips grammarians and collections.

Dibdin ranges from praise ("An uncommon and magnificent edition: it has a number of curious wood-cuts, and the typography is exceedingly splendid.") to remarks on collecting interest ("By no means a scarce work; many copies having been sold at the principal sales, and the London booksellers being frequently in possession of it.") to the occasional swipe ("In an investigation of this sort it is necessary to take so much notice of errors, that you will perhaps have concluded Arnoldus de Bruxella's edition to be one of the most faulty of the fifteenth century.").

I'm always surprised at just how much was published during this period.  Not to mention changes in taste.  There are six and a half pages about Silicus Italicus who is so forgotten now I had to look him up (he wrote the longest surviving Latin poem).

Thomas Frognall Dibdin (1776-1847) was born in Calcutta and educated at Oxford.  He became a clergyman but seems to have spent more time on his bibliographies (including a period at Antwerp).  His Bibliomania seems to have been popular at the time.  A very short biography by Edward John O'Dwyer was published in 1967.  There's also a bibliography of Dibdin's works.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Rejected Addresses

Horace and James Smith - Rejected Addresses (1812) direct link 
Open Library main page direct link to American edition 

Probably the first book of parodies to become a popular success.  The inspiration was the re-opening after a fire of Drury Lane Theatre when a monetary award was offered for a ceremonial address.  Numerous submissions were turned down so the Smith brothers came up with the idea of writing other rejected addresses done in the style of famous poets such as Byron, Scott, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Southey and Moore.  It was a huge success, going through numerous editions very quickly.

(The genuine address was written by Byron as a last resort and not without some infighting that apparently diluted his work.  Details start at p166 of Life, Letters, and Journals of Lord Byron - "You will think there is no end to my villanous [sic] emendations."  and "You will find a sort of clap-trap laudatory couplet inserted for the quiet of the Committee.")

The linked edition includes a preface from two decades later and identifies the poets being parodied.  Even if you don't recognize the targeted poets the Smiths' poems still have good-natured humor:

Bloom, Theatre, bloom, in the roseate blushes
Of beauty illumed by a love-breathing smile!
And flourish, ye pillars, as green as the rushes
That pillow the nymphs of the Emerald Isle!

The "American" edition includes solo work by each brother including "Address to a Mummy", "Lachrymose Writers", "To a Log of Wood upon the Fire" and "Diamond Cut Diamond".  There's also a biographical memoir (their phrase) that covers their lives with the same wit.

For the curious, or more appropriately connoisseurs of bad verse, a collection of some of the Genuine Rejected Addresses was also published in 1812.  "Before a British Audience I appear -- / Then whence this feeling of unfounded fear?" runs one example.  (And if nothing else you may want to check out E.N. Bellchambers' submission starting on p68 - too long to quote but it invokes Bacchus and Melpomene (the Tragic Muse), the invasion of the Goths, Liberty and Melpomene's offspring being Shakespeare, includes long footnotes in French, tosses in Aeschylus and Britannia, and perhaps inevitably brings up the Phoenix at the end.)

A full biography of the brothers was published in 1899 by Arthur H. Beavan.