Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Interpreters of Foreign Languages Among the Ancients

Henry Snyder Gehman - The Interpreters of Foreign Languages Among the Ancients (1914)

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Before heading off to a month of Halloween posts here's something a bit more scholarly.  The topic is one that I'd never thought about but once heard seems so obvious.  It's a doctoral dissertation (the author later taught at Princeton) so a bit short but the advantage is that it doesn't meander instead getting right to the point - how Alexander spoke to his troops, Herodotus' use of an interpreter, translation in courts, sign communication and the ever-popular barbarian languages.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Outlook for Television

Orrin E. Dunlap, Jr. - The Outlook for Television (1932)

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I almost didn't post this because the book itself doesn't seem really worth reading but in the end the concept put it over - a book on television from 1932!  Well, maybe not that big a concept and with the book's mentions of color TV and kinescopes I almost thought it was a prank of some kind.  But Dunlap was a New York Times reporter with other works on radio and Marconi and apparently my local academic library has a physical copy.  Just wish it had more illustrations.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Cabinet of Oriental Entomology

John Obadiah Westwood - The Cabinet of Oriental Entomology (1848)

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Probably not entirely useful as a guide (though it is a serious work) I'm posting it because of the wonderful illustrations, several linked below.  Though mainly an entomologist the author also wrote on illuminated manuscripts.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Key to the Hebrew-Egyptian Mystery

J. Ralston Skinner - Key to the Hebrew-Egyptian Mystery in the Source of Measures Originating the British Inch and the Ancient Cubit (1876)

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This is the kind of kook literature it's fun to flip through but probably nothing to actually read, unless you have a real hankering for meaningless mathematics.  Skinner's idea seems to involve Kabbalah, the Great Pyramid, modern measurement systems, Easter Island, the Temple of Solomon, Noah's Ark and astronomy.  Probably other things as well - it wouldn't be surprising to find the Templars tucked away somewhere.  The appendices take up half the book.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Thrilling Narratives of Mutiny, Murder and Piracy

Thrilling Narratives of Mutiny, Murder and Piracy: A weird series of tales of shipwreck and disaster, from the earliest part of the century to the present time with accounts of providential escapes and heart-rending fatalities (1800)

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Well that title pretty much sums it up.  Not really "weird" by today's standards but instead mostly accounts of ship disasters (including the infamous Medusa) that appear pretty factual though there are no sources despite apparently being drawn from primary sources (though I wouldn't trust that to be the actual case at all).

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Love Sonnets of a Hoodlum

Wallace Irwin - The Love Sonnets of a Hoodlum (1906)

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It's a bit disappointing, but not at all surprising, to learn that these aren't actually poems from a street ruffian but the work of a novelist and humorist.  Even so they're still pretty amusing especially since much of the slang is so dated that it's unfamiliar ("But spite of bug-wheels in my cocoa tree").  Irwin followed this with The Love Sonnets of a Car Conductor, a short book of poems retelling fairy tales as lurid news pieces, and far too much racist work like Chinatown Ballads.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Danger of Premature Interment

Joseph Taylor - The Danger of Premature Interment (1816)

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Not sure why the 19th century was so concerned about being buried alive.  Was it something people were always afraid of but didn't talk about until then?  Or is there some kind of pop sociology reason related to advancing medical science?  In any case these stories "selected from historical records" recount people "entombed alive" from England, France, Sweden and so forth along with a small rant about graveyards.  If that wasn't enough the latter part of the book talks about ever-burning lamps (not sure why) and funerary practices of the "ancients" (though obviously this isn't up to Thomas Browne level).  If the links are right (and the dates do match) this author also wrote The General Character of the Dog, The Complete Weather Guide, Anecdotes of Remarkable Insects and The Wonders of Trees, Plants, and Shrubs, Recorded on Anecdotes.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Chap-books of the Eighteenth Century

John Ashton - Chap-books of the Eighteenth Century (1882)

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As a follow-up to the last post here's another book about ephemeral literature.  Some of the chapbooks are reprinted more or less complete but most are summarized, occasionally in just a paragraph but often with excerpts.  All are accompanied by numerous illustrations (especially the chapbook about witches).  The topics range from religious stories (Joseph of Arimathea and the Wandering Jew), histories (especially if there's a murder involved), jest-books, folk tales (Reynard the Fox, Tom Thumb), crimes, some ghosts and stray tales.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Curiosities of Street Literature

Curiosities of Street Literature: Comprising "cocks", or "catchpennies", a large and curious assortment of street-drolleries, squibs, histories, comic tales in prose and verse, broadsides on the royal family, political litanies, dialogues, catechisms, acts of Parliament, street political papers, a variety of "ballads on a subject", dying speeches and confessions (1871)

That subtitle pretty much sums it up except maybe to add an errata note inside the cover - "The 'Execution Paper' of John Gregson, for the Murder of his Wife, at Liverpool is CANCELLED and Eight Pages, 'The Heroes of the Guillotine,' supplied instead."  A taste for the lurid seems eternal though Victorian England was one of its high (low?) points.  

What really makes this worth attention is variety of graphic styles with screaming headlines, varied fonts, eye-grabbing illustrations, anything to get you to read.  I doubt that any are attempting to replicate the originals (though for all I know this is covered in the introduction which admittedly is in such small type that it's hard to read) but these certainly stand out.

Among all the crimes, royal tales, battles, ghost stories, casual misogyny ("How to Cook a Wife" runs one) and what not it's worth noting the poem "The Funny He-She Ladies" (p157) about transvestites.  There's also a description (p161) of the execution of Sir John Oldcastle who was the inspiration for Falstaff.  What about "Secrets for Ladies during Courtship" (p43) or more poems about political reform than you would ever want?  It's all here.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Was Abraham Lincoln a Spiritualist?

Nettie Colburn Maynard - Was Abraham Lincoln a Spiritualist? (1891)

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No, next question?  There's been over a century of debate about Lincoln's religious views but spiritualism isn't part of that.  Sure people have tried to rope him into that arena (this book is one example) but even the best attempts ("best" being quite relative here) rely on a lot of hearsay and assumptions.  Maynard did conduct seances for Mrs. Lincoln but that's about as far as it goes, except for one possible attendance by Lincoln.  Her account is probably as tedious as it sounds but hey there are "spirit poems" in the back!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Curious Epitaphs

William Andrews - Curious epitaphs: Collected from the graveyards of Great Britain and Ireland, with biographical, genealogical and historical notes (1883)

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You can find collections of epitaphs even today though most current ones more closely resemble joke books and are of doubtful truthfulness.  This is one of several from the late 19th century and stands out because the author (who collected all sort of historical and local oddities) provides background for many even if at times that's sparse.  It's divided into chapters on servants, musicians, soldiers, parish clerks and "Bacchanalian Epitaphs".

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Problem of Mayda

William H. Babcock - The Problem of Mayda, an Island Appearing on Medieval Maps (1920)

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Perhaps you've heard about phantom islands - nonexistant islands that made their way onto medieval or renaissance maps then proved remarkably resilient.  Many appeared for centuries after their appearance, in some cases even when travellers should have know they weren't there.  In one case even an entire mountain range (the Mountains of Kong) stayed on maps until somebody decided to go there and found no there there.  This piece looks at one of the most persistent islands - Mayda (or sometimes Man).  Originally located somewhere near Ireland, the location drifted west to North America before it finally disappeared.

(I later discovered Babcock wrote a full book about phantom islands called Legendary Islands of the Atlantic.)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Translation in Practice

Gill Paul (ed) - Translation in Practice (2008)

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This collects proceedings from a 2008 symposium on translating literary work into English.  It covers a lot of ground from the selection of translator to the business side (royalties, credit) to translation practice to editing.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Whys of Cooking

Janet McKenzie Hill - The Whys of Cooking (1919)

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After some usable cookbooks here's something different.  Actually you can cook from it but wouldn't want to.  The first hint is the publisher - Procter & Gamble.  Then note the first section (after an introduction that quotes Ude, the author of The French Cook) is "The Story of Crisco".  Yep, it's a promotional publication for Crisco disguised as a cookbook.  In addition to assorted Crisco-filled recipes are layouts for "the modern kitchen," descriptions of Russian and English services (basically Russian is what we get at restaurants and English is mostly how we serve at home) and "Suggestions on Serving Meals without a Maid".  Here's how to improve your social status!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Leaves from Our Tuscan Kitchen

Janet Ross - Leaves from Our Tuscan Kitchen (1900)

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Another completely usable Italian cookbook, this time focused completely on vegetables (though not necessarily vegetarian).  For some reason I thought onion rings were a recent invention but here they are as "Onions Fried".  There are several pages of salads including tomato slices with mayonnaise which is what I grew up eating but seems uncommon now.  Little of this seems particularly Tuscan or Italian but I don't know if that's because we've absorbed it or because it wasn't particular to that area from the start.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Italian Cooking

Dorothy Daly - Italian Cooking (1900)

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Hard to believe now but Italian cooking once had a negative reputation, somewhat like British cooking does now at least among Americans.  This seems to have lasted until around the time this cookbook appeared though this book is strictly utilitarian.  It's quite possible to still prepare dishes using these recipes but as always it's interesting for what's changed.  Basil is "a herb little known and used in this country" (England) while while oregano doesn't even get its own listing but is under marjoram.  There's a single recipe for pizza which the author clearly doesn't care for ("rich and alarmingly salty").

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The French Cook

Louis Eustache Ude - The French Cook (1813)

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How's this for an opener - "Today you do and don't see cookbooks like this".  You're not at all intrigued, right?  Well, the point is that as a cookbook this is basically the same as ones two centuries later.  Clear and detailed instructions on how to make specific dishes, organized by main ingredient.  What isn't seen as often today is the sense that there's an actual person behind it.  Most cookbooks today are marketed on their author whether that's a celebrity chef, some well-known food writer or just the "person who wrote that chili book".  But The French Cook is, if not literature exactly, then at least aimed roughly in that direction.  Ude was the son of a chef who himself worked for Napoleon's mother before heading to England where he worked for the Duke of York then at a ritz private club.  The French Cook went through at least 14 editions.

As you'd expect there are things that seem odd now.  Mock Turtle Soup, for instance, starts with a calf's head (in warm but not hot water) then bacon, suet, onion, eggs, lemons - the whole thing sounds like a mess.  And to not waste all of the head there's a page of ways to prepare calf's brains.  The ears and feet are next.  Even some dishes that don't sound odd at first turn out to be not quite what you might expect.  "Peas, French fashion" (p325) places an enormous emphasis on their freshness (as in picked just that morning) but then sticks them in butter, flour, onions and sugar and a couple of turns boiling water.  And though a "sandwich of salad" may seem like a lost idea it's really not that different from tossing vegetables into a pita.

In short you could actually prepare food from The French Cook though whether you would want to trouble with all the sauces (and liberal use of butter) is something else.