Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Book-Lover's Enchiridion

Alexander Ireland - The Book-Lover's Enchiridion (1882)

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"My object has been to present, in chronological order, the summed-up testimonies of the most notable Book-Lovers on the subject of Books, the the Habit and Love of Reading."  Starting with Solomon and Cicero and running up to then-current Stevenson, Andrew Lang and Austin Dobson, this book is certainly worth browsing if it sounds at all as if you'd like to browse it.  There are plenty of unfamiliar names and the majority are British, Scottish or Irish among the ones I recognize.  Still, it really is for just browsing since so many selections are about how wise reading can make you which gets a bit repetitious and is also provably not true (at least in and of itself).

The direct link is to an expanded fourth edition.  There was a fifth edition but at a quick glance it seemed much the same and this linked copy is the most readable.

Alexander Ireland (1810-1894) was a Scottish-born writer and journalist.  He wrote an early biography of Emerson and works about Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt and Scott.  He helped organize the Manchester Free Library.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The British Letter Writers

Robert Cochrane - The British Letter Writers (1882)

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From the editor who gave us the book in the last post is his follow up devoted to letters, which interested readers more than today even before the advent of email and texting.  (Simon Garfield's 2013 To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing is a nice overview and as a bonus has some wonderful WW2 letters from a British soldier to his wife that had been previously unpublished.)  This book has two sections, one of "familiar and domestic" and the other "historical, literary and descriptive".  The familiar names are because of some reason other than the letters, excepting Lord Chesterfield and possibly Lady Montagu.  The only real complaint I suppose is that the writers are generally represented by only a letter or two so they're pretty brief encounters.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The English Essayists

Robert Cochrane - The English Essayists (1880)

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An anthology starting with Francis Bacon and Ben Jonson going up to Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin.  Solid choices though the double-column format may make reading a bit tricky.  Essay titles can be amusing in their own right:  "Meditation Upon a Broomstick" (Swift), "The Talent of Secrecy" (Cowley), "The Praise of Chimney-Sweepers" (Lamb), "The Nobleness and Loveliness of Colour" (Ruskin).

Cochrane (dates unknown) was a literature specialist for the Chambers publishing company in Edinburgh and was an expert on the Border.  His other works include The British Letter Writers, Treasury of Modern Biography, Heroes of Invention and Discovery and The English Explorers.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Five Hundred Books for the Young

George E. Hardy - Five Hundred Books for the Young (1892)

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If there are any regular readers of this blog you will have noticed my weakness for reading lists.  Partly it's just finding new books but also a peculiar fascination with canon formation and changes in tastes.  Walter Scott, for instance, was once regarded as a major artist but now has mostly slipped into what might be called a liminal canon where works are read for historical interest or for pleasure (mostly in Scott's case for fans of historical fiction).

This particular book is an annotated list of titles appropriate for school libraries and according to the introduction at least partly compiled on what the young readers actually read rather than entirely a top-down selection.

It's divided by subject and then by level but I can't quite get these to fit current American school divisions.  "Sixth-Reader Grades" doesn't quite seem to be our current sixth grade since the books seem a bit more complex - though maybe it's basically the same and children were more accomplished readers then.  In history, for instance, there are Parkman's The Jesuits in North America, Creasy's Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World, Irving's Knickerbocker's History of New York, a Life of John James Audubon and Roche's The Story of the Filibusters (which it's pretty safe to say is an imperialist adventure).

Rather than being simply a list there are annotations that provide some description for books now often forgotten and not always clear by their title.  Little Folks in Feather and Furs, for instance, is about animals while Frank Stockton's Personally Conducted is a travel book about Europe.  Surprising, to me at least, is that most of the fiction titles are still familiar (Verne, Dickens, Stowe, Cooper) even if Bulwer-Lytton and G.A. Henty are more specialized today.

George E. Hardy (1859-1897) was a native of New York City and later principal of Grammar School No. 82 (at age 26 the youngest person chosen for that position - no idea if that record was ever broken).  In 1894 he became chair of the English department at the College of the City of New York.  He served as president of the New York State Teachers' Association.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Feynman Lectures on Physics

Richard Feynman - The Feynman Lectures on Physics (1964)

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This blog is devoted to public domain titles that can be downloaded but this is a worthy exception.  Caltech has made all three volumes of Feynman's classic available to read for free.  The catch is that you have to read on the website.  The experience is predictably a bit clunky though it appears to be done as well as it could have been - the images are clear and appropriately placed, the text seems to scale correctly, the navigation bar stays in a fixed location.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Apophthegmes of Erasmus

Desiderius Erasmus - The Apophthegmes of Erasmus (1531, English 1542)

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Apophthegmes are something like short anecdotes with witty sayings, related to adages or proverbs.  This compiled by Erasmus while in his 60s, apparently to some degree for money, is one of the best known.  The bulk of his material actually comes from Plutarch (something of a similar collection in Moralia and from the Lives) though Erasmus doesn't translate so much as rework.  He also drew from several other sources including Suetonius, Diogenes Laertius and authors not much read today.

An example would be this one about Alexander:

When he had seen in the city of Miletus many great images and portraits of such persons as had before times won the victories or large prices in the games of Olympia and Pythia, he said, "And where were these so great giant-like bodies when the barbarous did besiege your city?"


When [Julius] Caesar saw in Rome certain aliens that were rich and wealthy persons carrying about in their arms and bosoms little young dogs and apes, and to make sport and play with them, he demanded whether the women in the country did bring forth no children.

Most of the apophthegmes are longer than these and I've also modernized spelling and some diction because the other thing about this edition is that it's a mid-16th century translation, Early Modern English spelling and all.  As far as I've been able to tell this was the only English translation until one in 2014 by Betty I. Knott and Elaine Fantham.  It is a bit tricky to read at times though I think any familiarity with Middle English probably helps.  Unfortunately it's also not the full work - as best I can tell it's about a quarter of the original text.

The translator was Nicolas Udall (1504-1556) who also translated Erasmus' Paraphrases and was an early playwright.  He was educated at Oxford (where he knew Thomas Cromwell), later teaching logic there.  He helped create the pageant for Anne Boleyn and several other works from this period are attributed to him with varying degrees of certainty, including Ralph Roister Doister one of the first comedies in English.  There's a longish entry in the DNB.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Atheism in Pagan Antiquity

A. B. Drachmann - Atheism in Pagan Antiquity (1919, English 1922)

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This appears to be one of the first treatments of the subject.  Tim Whitmarsh's recent Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World (2015) calls it "useful but methodologically outdated" though around this blog outdated methodologies are the order of the day.  The Whitmarsh book is fascinating reading and I'm pretty sure this one is as well though so far I've only skimmed it.  Drachmann begins with a similar attempt to establish terms then runs more or less chronologically from Xenophanes through the end of the Roman Empire.  It concludes with a short chapter going Medieval up to the 18th century but he starts to discuss more treatment of ancient religion in those periods rather than atheism in specific..

Anders Bjørn Drachmann (1860-1935) was a Danish classicist and philologist who taught at the University of Copenhagen.  As far as I can tell the only other text of his to appear in English was a lecture on Prometheus but his other works are on Catullus, Pindar, Paul, Kierkegaard and the origins of Christianity.