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.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Illustrated British Ballads, Old and New

George Barnett Smith - Illustrated British Ballads, Old and New (1881) direct link 
Open Library main page

The title pretty much tells you what this book is about - it includes both modern (more or less) ballads from identifiable authors (Macaulay and Drayton for example) as well as collected folk material.  The book is contemporary with Child and there are a few overlaps though overall Smith isn't quite so grim or fantastic.  There are decent headnotes and the illustrations range from merely ornamental to scenes from the ballad.

George Barnett Smith (1841-1909) was a British writer who worked for the Globe and the Dictionary of National Biography among numerous others.  He published several books including popular biographies of Shelley, Hugo, Emperor William I and Gladstone.  He later took up engraving.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Wars of the Roses, 1377-1471

Robert Balmain Mowat - The Wars of the Roses, 1377-1471 (1914) direct link
Open Library main page

Discussion about Game of Thrones has brought up the Wars of the Roses as one of its obvious inspirations (well, actually inspiration for A Song of Ice and Fire) though it doesn't seem that many people bother even to look at the Wars entry on Wikipedia.  Here at Discoveries & Oddities we don't need no stinkin' Wikipedia - we have the largest library in history at our disposal.  Which is why I was a bit surprised at how few books about this subject have been scanned.  Not sure if that's because there actually aren't many public domain titles on this particular topic or if it's because the scanning so far has been mainly American libraries.

Oh, and some guy named Shakspere wrote about the Wars as well.

In any case this seemed the best choice from few options.  The positive side is that it seems quite readable and thorough.  The negative side, at least for people who just want an overview, is that it seems quite thorough.  (I particularly like that the relevant year is specified at the top of each page, something I often wish histories and biographies did.)  Still, it's shorter than the Alison Weir book that's probably what most people read today.

Robert Balmain Mowat (1883-1941) was a British historian who published on a variety of subjects including diplomacy, Napoleon, treaties, the idea of kingship, Rousseau and most periods of British history.  (His A History of the English-Speaking Peoples pre-dated Churchill's.)  His book that seemed to attract most attention from contemporaries was a biography of Lord Pauncefote, first British ambassador to the US.  Mowat attended Corpus Christi, taught at the University of Bristol and died in a wartime plane crash.  His son Charles Loch Mowat (1913-1970) was also a historian

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Greek Anthology

The Greek Anthology (edition of 1916) direct link (volume 1) direct link (volume 2) direct link (volume 3) direct link (volume 4) direct link (volume 5)
Open Library main page

Selections from the Greek Anthology (1895)

Anthologia Polyglotta (1849)

The Greek Anthology is not by any stretch a discovery or an oddity but I did recently learn that the century-old Loeb edition is still the closest to a full English translation so it seemed worth a post.  Apparently the original text is intact but a few of the erotic poems were translated only into Latin so it's not complete in English.  The Penguin collection from the Anthology has about a fifth of the total and seems to be the next largest.  (Most of my information comes from Gideon Nisbet's "Flowers in the Wilderness: Greek Epigram in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries" in the collection Expurgating the Classics.)

Of course there may be a reason that the many other translations are only selections.  As both Nisbet and Paton (the Loeb translator) point out, the anthology is an enormous assemblage of both sublime and routine in a sometimes opaque if not arbitrary organization.  In other words, not a page turner, at least in the full version.  But much of the material is certainly worthwhile, one reason there are so many selected editions.

For a shorter overview, I've included a link to Selections from the Greek Anthology, edited by Graham R. Towson (pen name of poet Rosamund Watson) with translations by Andrew Lang, Richard Garnett and others.  There's also a link to the curiosity Anthologia Polyglotta, which for each of the selected poems includes translations into various languages (usually Latin, Italian, German and English).

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Illustrations of New Species of Exotic Butterflies

William C. Hewitson - Illustrations of New Species of Exotic Butterflies (1862-66) direct link (vol 1) direct link (vol 3) direct link (vol 4) direct link (vol 5)
Open Library main page

Another set of nice natural history illustrations, plus detailed taxonomy and description if that's an added inducement.  Hewitson (1806-1878) was a British entomologist who published a handful of other books.  (I couldn't find a link for volume 2.)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Destruction of Ancient Rome

Rodolfo Amedeo Lanciani - The Destruction of Ancient Rome: A Sketch of the History of the Monuments (1899) direct link 
Open Library main page

Like any thriving city Rome has preserved some of its past and lost more - that process is the subject of this book.  It's not always a story of ignorance but as much of considered improvements (given a large push by the emperors), benign neglect and sometimes mere chance.  There were construction projects, removal of material from older buildings, sacks, floods, fires, modernization, weather and the simple passage of time.  Lanciani brings detail, both historical and observed, to the account but doesn't appear to be overwhelmed by it.  (The book seems to have been written in English as several of his works were, many of which were translated later back into his native language.)

Rodolfo Lanciani (1847-1929) was a professor of Roman topography at the University of Rome and responsible for overseeing excavations in the city.  He wrote several books on the subject and produced a series of highly detailed maps Forma Urbis Romae that are still consulted today.  He was a popular speaker and toured the US where he gained some celebrity (and his first wife).

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Description of Banvard's Panorama of the Mississippi River

John Banvard (?) - Description of Banvard's Panorama of the Mississippi River (1847) direct link 
Open Library main page

Banvard's Panorama is an interesting cultural curiosity.  The story is covered in some detail in Paul Collins highly recommended Banvard's Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn't Change the World (2001).  (Though I prefer the original hardcover subtitle "Thirteen Tales of Renowned Obscurity, Famous Anonymity, and Rotten Luck".)  Collins claims "The life of John Banvard is the most perfect crystallization of loss imaginable," noting how during the 1850s Banvard was enormously famous and possibly the first millionaire artist but then a few decades later buried in a pauper's grave, unknown and his art destroyed.

The panorama was an extremely long, unbroken painting of the Mississippi River.  Claimed to cover the entire river, the panorama was advertised as being three miles in length though it seems to have actually been closer to only half a mile.  It would be exhibited as a presentation, being unrolled while Banvard described what was being seen.  This is sometimes considered a rough precursor to cinema but Banvard wasn't the only one doing this - there were panoramas of Rome, California, Canada and others, including a competing Mississippi River one.  (See Anne Baker's 2006 Heartless Immensity: Literature, Culture, and Geography in Antebellum America for more details.)

This pamphlet is a companion to the panorama, containing a brief biographical sketch, testimonials and descriptions of the views.  Unfortunately there are no illustrations.

Melville referenced Banvard once - see p35 of Journal Up the Straits, a record of an 1856-7 trip that was published in 1935.

And Banvard?  With his now immense wealth he decided to build a duplicate of Windsor Castle on Long Island (that's the "folly") and then retired there.  By 1867 he decided to build a museum and theater in Manhattan to compete with P.T. Barnum but made disastrous financial decisions resulting in a move to South Dakota.  (The Castle and theater were later destroyed.)  There he wrote, tried to create a final panorama and eventually died in 1891.  Only a few fragments of his paintings still exist though none are known of the Mississippi Panorama.