Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Landscape in Poetry

Francis T. Palgrave - Landscape in Poetry: From Homer to Tennyson (1897)

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Several years after editing The Golden Treasury Palgrave wrote this study, mainly covering classical and English poetry with a few sidetrips to Hebrew, Italian and Gaelic.  I have a weakness for this type of criticism that is written with a personality (the too-Victorian "Chaucer lacks personal loyalty to womanhood; how unlike Spencer or Shakespeare!") while also showing familiarity with writers that are barely names now (Claudian, Lydgate, Ebenezer Elliott?),  Filled with excerpts the book also (like one of Edmund Wilson's) acts as an anthology - classical writers are given in translation with the original in footnotes.  Oddly Clare gets just three pages despite the book's subject - he practically deserves a chapter though this was shortly before the big revival of interest in his work.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Babees' Book

Frederick James Furnivall - The Babees' Book: Medieval Manners for the Young (1869)

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Collection of medieval etiquette guides for young people, compiled by the busy editor and scholar Furnival.  (This is a 1923 reprint.)  Some points have remained the same, others greatly changed.  "When thou shalt speak, roll not too fast thine eye; / Gaze not to and fro, as one that were void of courtesy"  You can find the duties of a panter (I'd never heard of this either - it's the person in charge of the pantry) and what exactly a meat caver should do ("Touch no manner of meat with thy right hand, but with thy left, as is proper").

Friday, December 26, 2014

[Proofs of engraved title vignettes for Esopus in Europa]

Romeyn de Hooghe - [Proofs of engraved title vignettes for Esopus in Europa] (1702)

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This is one for the illustration fans, work to accompany an collection of political satires in the style of Aesop.  The full book is here but it's in Dutch and the reproductions aren't as clear.  De Hooghe did over 4000 etchings, often satirical or news-based.  Wikipedia, with text undoubtedly taken from the Britannica or a similar source, says "as he grew older, he engraved shameful subjects that were a disgrace to the profession" but I haven't been able to locate these.  Our library has four books about him so subject for further research.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Humorous Poetry of the English Language

James Parton - The Humorous Poetry of the English Language: From Chacuer to Saxe (1856)

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I should note that "humorous" doesn't mean "funny" even allowing for changes in taste.  Actually after reading parts this is really more an anthology of light verse if such distinctions have any meaning for you.  The editor (who was predominantly a biographer) divides the book, like most editors do, into sections devoted to satire, parody, epigrams, narrative and even "Eccentric and Nondescript".  Many of the poets aren't well remembered today so the brief info in the Catalogue of Sources is helpful; in fact based as it is on anecdotes it's well worth flipping through.  That's where you'll learn that William Aytoun was a "Professor of Polite Literature" which sounds like its own parody.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Literary Forgeries

James Anson Farrer - Literary Forgeries (1907)

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This is worth reading for anybody interested in the topic but isn't really a good starting point.  Farrer seems to have had no idea what he wanted to do other than write about forgeries and the result is quite uneven.  Chatterton gets the closest to a full introduction but even today he's still well-known and read so I'd imagine a century ago even fewer people needed the recap.  But the first forgery discussed (even if briefly) are the false letters of Phalaris who will be a new name to most readers.  (Skip the weak Wikipedia entry and go for the fantastic one in the 1870 Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. You can even read a manuscript of the letters that was owned and annotated by Casaubon. [After writing this I learned that Phalaris' letters were a key element in the so-called Battle of the Ancients and Moderns that was the subject of Swift's Battle of the Books.])  Farrer also shifts focus often.  With Ireland there's little background but much discussion about whether the father knew of the forgeries and what happened at the play's premiere.  But for the Eikon Basilike (Charles I's purported memoir) Farrer goes into pages of great detail about minute points - I'll bet almost everybody skims this section.

Still there's plenty of solid material.  Somehow I'd missed Bertram's forgeries of material about Roman Britain that resulted in place names still existing to this day.  (Though Farrer gives him more the benefit of the doubt than modern writers do even though there doesn't seem to have been any new evidence either way.)  I also didn't know there had been such activity in faking old ballads, particularly Scottish ones.  It's no surprise this happened (there's even a category of "fakelore" for this sort of thing) but it seems to have been almost commonplace.  The Psalmanazar story is still somewhat known, thanks probably to him having a chapter in Paul Collin's wonderful Banvard's Folly (highly recommended to any reader of this blog).  And in continental Europe people forged entire Walter Scott and Ann Radcliffe novels.  Radcliffe?  The mind boggles.

One of Farrer's points is that forgeries have a greater effect than we probably will ever know.  The most obvious and familiar one, of course, is the Donation of Constantine which he mentions only in passing but with false Marie Antoinette and other letters he points out how many were accepted even by authorities and made their way into more conventional histories.  This is even more problematic for older work where the manuscript and transmission histories are spotty.  I recently ran across an ebook that includes a dozen (clearly labelled) spurious Plato works though I haven't found much more information about them.  Farrer gives small mention to forged Petronius texts and you'd think a work with that many gaps would have inspired numerous forgeries though probably not for the same reasons that it hasn't been translated that much.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Great Wave

Colta Feller Ives - The Great Wave: The Influence of Japanese Woodcuts on French Prints (1974)

Metropolitan Museum link

Perry's contact with Japan in 1853 started (though slowly) a wave of interest in that country that flowed over Western artists as much as anybody and to some degree is still ongoing.  This heavily illustrated book looks at how Japanese work was used by several French artists including Toulouse-Lautrec, Manet, Degas, Gaugin and Cassatt (though an American she lived most of her life in France).  The Goncourts were a key factor as collectors and organizers, appearing Zelig-like in many places (literary influence of Japan has been far more diffuse due to the necessity of translation).

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Shakespeare An Archer

William Lowes Rushton - Shakespeare An Archer (1897)

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You might think there's not much archery in Shakespeare - we don't go hunting in Arden Forest or spend time with the bowmen at Agincourt.  But Rushton (who also wrote on Shakespeare and the law) found enough to fill a book, admittedly small but still a book.  He starts by trying to identify a printed source he thinks Shakespeare might have used before going to examples.  He's not limiting himself to just Shakespeare but draws in other contemporary dramatists and I'll have to admit that sometimes he's twisting passages to make them sound like they're about archery. (Though I do like the erratum "For 'air withes' read 'our wishes'".)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Banquets of the Nations

Robert H. Christie - Banquets of the Nations (1911)

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A club in Edinburgh decided it would explore the world by hosting dinners based on the cuisine of various countries which was then documented in this book.  As best I can judge it's reasonably accurate and mostly open-minded (the introduction that describes serving procedures does mention "primitive" from time to time but then it also frequently brings up servants and dancing girls).  The meals are not quite banquet-level but certainly more elaborate than everyday eating.  And for a bonus most of the recipes are actually possible to cook even in a modern kitchen - only occasionally is there a call for an entire lamb or day-long cooking times.

There are a few oddities.  The American menu for instance includes stewed terrapins which I wonder were ever very popular (at least for a more formal dinner).  I've never heard of oyster omelette souffle (isn't the "omelette" and the "souffle" redundant?) and curried calves' feet seem wrong - not the calves' feet which I can still buy at a grocery near me but the curry in America at this time.  The Mexico menu isn't quite Tex-Mex but it's close.  It does have mackerel in tomato sauce and stewed beef but also enchiladas and frijoles.  The Jamaican crab salad is something I grew up eating as West Indies salad.  The sashimi dish calls for a live fish (bream - is that common in Japan?).   As you might expect India is covered in great detail but the rest of Asia sparingly (there's no Vietnam unless it's under another name).  And where's Canada?

Still, this is interesting browsing even if today most of us do the equivalent by simply finding a restaurant even if the selection is skewed away from Europe.  (In literally ten minutes driving I can get to Malaysian, Burmese, Thai, Japanese, Turkish and a variety of Indian places but don't know if this city even has Finnish, German or Romanian.)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Misinforming a Nation

Willard Huntington Wright - Misinforming a Nation (1917)

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For book people the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica is legendary, sometimes called the Scholar's Britannica and widely praised as a pinnacle of the encyclopedia-creator's art (whatever that might be called).  I have a book from a few years back that reprints many of the more interesting entries and much of the 11th has been incorporated into Wikipedia.  It's far from perfect of course - the creators could do nothing to account for the advance of scholarship and science but they certainly could have avoided the blatant racism of some entries.

But the 11th raised some controversy from the start.  Willard Huntington Wright was an influential art critic better known today under his mystery writer pseudonym S.S. Van Dine (the Philo Vance stories).  Not content with journal articles he wrote this entire book attacking the 11th edition for being too unimaginative, too puritanical and especially too British.  The Britannica (shouldn't the name have tipped him off?) didn't just rub Wright the wrong way - he literally thought it was an assault against American culture.  "No more vicious and dangerous education influence on America can readily be conceived than the articles in this encyclopedia. They distort the truth and disseminate false standards."

Wright then goes on for 200 pages enumerating what he considers distortions and omissions, often in much detail.  (The Nation's June 21 review said it's "the strict application of the inch-rule in literary criticism".)  This isn't just an off-the-cuff rant.  When discussing the space given to minor British poets he gives the number of lines in each entry.  Swinburne received a two-page biography but Wright attacks the Britannica for its sniffy dismissal of the poet's "animalism" (hardly a claim current readers of Swinburne would lay against him).  Debussy and Berlioz received much less space than Arthur Sullivan. Kant gets less than Locke or Hume.  William James only 28 lines.  American drama almost entirely overlooked.  There's even an appendix of omissions though most are today forgotten - from the writers probably only Bierce, Synge, Dreiser, Schnitzler and Wharton still have currency.

Perhaps more to the point is Wright's focus on the Britannica's "unconscious ethical prejudice coupled with a blind and self-contented patriotism." (p176)  Many figures have their moral character questioned in the Britannica's text (though to be fair that still happens today with Rousseau).  Or with music where "it would seem impossible to find any plausible basis for the glorification of English musical genius" though the Britannica does just that.  For American poetry "it is deficient almost to the extreme of worthlessness."  The entry on Poe, he points out, was written by a naval expert with no apparent expertise in literature.  American science and invention receive similar short treatment.

When I first saw this book I expected some cranky rant and though I'm not familiar enough with the 11th Britannica to evaluate the claims properly the book doesn't seem quite so unreasonable.  It's certainly done at a high pitch of outrage but if Wright's points are even partly true then that's not inappropriate.  Oh yes it's still a rant and still quite cranky but why else would any of us still read it a century later?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Ann Sheridan and the Sign of the Sphinx

Kathryn Heisenfelt - Ann Sheridan and the Sign of the Sphinx (1943)

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When I first stumbled across this title I thought it's not that Ann Sheridan but in fact it is Ann Sheridan the actress which might make this an early instance of fanfic (despite the claim of "authorized").  Instead it's more what might be called personality fiction where a story or film is based on a living person as more or less their self.  (If the personality isn't living then it's historical fiction.)  There aren't many examples really except stray promotional items or one-offs like Being John Malkovich.  The most sustained attempts are in comics - series based on John Wayne (82 issues, 1950-57), Jerry Lewis (84 issues, 1957-71), Tom Mix (61 issues, 1948-53), Bob Hope (109 issues, 1950-68) and so on.

Still "Ann Sheridan" might not matter much - the book looks like the story wouldn't really change if her name was replaced.  The interior illustrations don't even resemble her.  This was one of 16 titles in a series published by Whitman in the 1940s, most written by Heisenfelt and all featuring a media personality.  (There's an overview at this site.)  Shirley Temple and the Screaming Specter and Judy Garland and the Hoodoo Costume sound more like modern spoofs and it's too bad those aren't online.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Chaucer for Children

Mrs. H.R. Haweis - Chaucer for Children (1882)

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I'll admit I came to mock but this turns out to be not only a solid effort for what is attempted but a glimpse at different educational standards.  For one thing it has the Middle English text (slightly simplified and with a trot alongside but ME nonetheless) when today even our undergraduates aren't always given that.  (In fact at least two modern editions euphemistically say they're "original spelling".)  And Chaucer's other work gets shorted unlike here where there are samples.  Plus there's a pretty decent introduction though all in all it's still a children's textbook.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Theatrical and Circus Life

John Joseph Jennings - Theatrical and Circus Life; or, Secrets of the Stage, Green-Room and Sawdust Arena (1882)

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Maybe it's "circus" in the title but this overview ("history" doesn't seem quite appropriate for something so loosely structured) of theatrical performance from the Elizabethans forward is quite broad in its view and filled with gossip.  (And advice on how to avoid being scammed by can-can dancers if that's any help.)  Sections include "Actors Who Memorize Whole Newspapers", "How to Eat Fire", "Minnie Palmer's Artless Display of Underwear" and "The Big Hat Nuisance".  Where else will you find opera singer salaries alongside discussion of interviewing actors, how to train ballet dancers alongside the dangers of "mashers", John Wilkes Booth, acrobats, scenery painters, Asian theatre, David Garrick, advertising, what circuses do during the winter, tattooed twins and on and on.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Cliff Castles and Cave Dwellings of Europe

Sabine Baring-Gould - Cliff Castles and Cave Dwellings of Europe (1911)

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Sometimes I think this blog should just repost all of Baring-Gould and Andrew Lang and be done with it.  Certainly I never expected to find something like this which covers pretty much what it says from castles on the sides of cliffs to subterranean churches to cave oracles to robber's dens.  One early chapter about "wild" people is called "Modern Troglodytes".  As usual with Baring-Gould he can't resist any kind of odd story from anywhere in history whether it's some strange classical legend, a peculiar antiquarian find or an excerpt from Froissart (though his focus on Europe means he skips the incredible Mogao Caves along the Silk Road).

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Zoology of Captain Beechey's Voyage

Frederick William Beechey - The Zoology of Captain Beechey's Voyage (1839)

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Captain Beechey commanded a ship that explored part of the Pacific and the Bering Strait from 1825-28.  He wrote a book about that journey then a few years later appeared this catalog.  There aren't as many illustrations as I might like but what's there is quite nice.  A companion volume on botany was also released but only with uncolored line drawings (at least in the editions online).

Friday, December 5, 2014

Les monstres dans l'art

Edmond Valton - Les monstres dans l'art (1905)

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I can't claim discovering this one - that would be the nice people at the OBI Scrapbook Blog. But yeah it's pretty fantastic.  Even if you don't read French it's heavily illustrated; these images are only the tip of the iceberg des monstres.  As far as I can tell it's never been translated into English and not even reprinted (except for those shoddy public domain print-on-demand companies).

The author was almost certainly the obscure painter Eugene Edmond Valton (1836-1910) who seems to have done mainly portraits and landscapes though I've found so little information about him that could easily be wrong.  One database of French art museums only lists one work of his though I'm unclear how extensive the database is.  His few other writings include a book (pamphlet?) on drawing, which he taught, and a memorial piece on Seurat.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Allan Dwan (A Dossier)

David Phelps & Gina Telaroli (eds) - Allan Dwan (A Dossier) (2013)

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Director Allan Dwan was a touchstone for hardcore auteurists but hardly anybody else. Peter Bogdanovich, who did a book-length interview with Dwan, reportedly took Cybil Shepherd on a date to a Dwan retrospective and some of the Cahiers crowd adored his work.  This book (free to download) collects many essays covering all of Dwan's career and probably won't make you a fan (I've never seen anything in his films more than an assured craftsman) but is certainly interesting.  You can choose the book either with each essay in its original language or all in English.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Queen Moo and the Egyptian Sphinx

Augustus Le Plongeon - Queen Moo and the Egyptian Sphinx (1896)

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Hey, you got your Mayans in my Egyptians! No, you stuck your Egyptians with my Mayans! Yep this book floats an idea of Mayan-Egyptian contact that probably still has currency somewhere in the kook fringe.  Le Plongeon had a life that could fill an entertaining biography including a shipwreck, participating in the California gold rush, becoming involved in the early days of photography and then years of original field work on the Mayans.  He became fixed on the idea of New-Old World contact even to the extent of claiming Freemasonry derived from the Maya (and managing to stick Atlantis in there somewhere).  He and his wife made extensive photographic documentation of Mayan ruins that apparently still has value but also many errors in interpretation (including "Queen Moo" who resulted from mistranslation).  This book was self-published.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Caricature in the Service of Building of Socialism

Krokodil editors - Caricature in the Service of Building of Socialism (1932)

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The editors of the famous satirical magazine Krokodil put together an exhibition and this is the result.  I couldn't resist posting it largely on the title since for those of us who can't read Russian it's a bit lightly illustrated.  There are probably studies of this but all I found quickly was David King and Cathy Porter's Blood and Laughter: Caricatures from the 1905 Revolution (1983; the US title is the less promising Images of Revolution: Graphic Art from 1905 Russia).