Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Black Cap: New Stories of Murder & Mystery

Cynthia Asquith (ed) - The Black Cap: New Stories of Murder & Mystery (1927)

Open Library direct link 
Open Library main page

This collection of mystery stories, right in the early Golden Age, looks promising.  I haven't read any of it yet but just look at that author list - D.H. Lawrence, Arthur Machen, Elizabeth Bowen, Somerset Maugham and on the slightly less highbrow literary scale Edgar Wallace, Hugh Walpole, Oliver Onions.  It even opens with a draft of a play by J.M. Barrie.

Many of these authors were personal friends of Cynthia Asquith, daughter of a Scottish politician who married Herbert Asquith (himself a poet, novelist and son of the former Prime Minister).  Asquith wrote some fiction herself but is mainly remembered for anthologies of supernatural fiction, most notably the 1927 Ghost Book but also ones like 1931's When Churchyards Yawn (which included many of the same authors as this book) and 1935's My Grimmest Nightmare.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Bibliography of Bibliography

Joseph Sabin - A Bibliography of Bibliography, or a Handy Book about Books Which Relate to Books (1877)

Open Library direct link 
Open Library main page

Yes, I'll admit this is for very specialized interests.  It's exactly what the title promises - about 150 pages listing bibliographies.  Sotheby's The Typography of the Fifteenth Century, Joseph Smith's Bibliotheca Anti-Quakeriana, Disraeli's Quarrels of Authors, Dibdin's Bibliographical Decameron, Botfield's Notes on the Cathedral Libraries of England - so much effort on works that have mostly vanished except to historians and whatever we would call antiquarians today.  And though few will dispute the utility and power of our online world we've lost information with the decline of such bibliographies just as we have with the disappearance of card catalogs.  (This isn't the only work like this - there are similar meta-bibliographies by Paul Ford (1889) and Askel G. S. Josephson (1901).)

Joseph Sabin (1821-1881) was an industrious bibliographer and publisher.  He was born in England but immigrated to the U.S. in his late 20s, living briefly in Philadelphia before settling in New York City.  He worked in auction houses before running his own bookstore, catering to collectors.  He even had some Shakespeare First Folios, unthinkable today.  (The Folger No. 2 was purchased from his son.) He published a magazine The Bibliopolist for a few years and reprinted some rare books.  His son and grandson followed in his path as rare book dealers.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Lost City!

Frank Luzerne - The Lost City! (1872)

Open Library direct link
Open Library main page

The Chicago fire in October 1871 inspired a lot of journalism and personal accounts such as the ones in this early collection.  It's often been used as source material but can still catch a reader for the vivid accounts (possibly embellished a bit), poetry, prints, maps, lists and even some conspiracy theories (three mysterious men selling natural gas, secret revolutionaries with headquarters in Paris).  There's a lot of detail about the city and interestingly descriptions of recovery from the fire, including breakdowns of charitable contributions.

Who was Luzerne?  I can't find anything other than in connection to this book. The title page only says he was a Chicago resident and that the book was edited by author John G. Wells so that explains little.  Wells is described in the introduction to Fleming & Hamilton's The Crimean War As Seen by Those Who Reported It (2009) as "an obviously entrepreneurial New England publisher" who created a similar book for that war while a miscellany of other titles bear his name.  Most likely Wells wanted a book about the Chicago fire and somehow found Luzerne to compile and write it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Gospel in Many Tongues

John Sharp (ed) - The Gospel in Many Tongues (1921)

Open Library direct link 
Open Library main page

Samples of 543 languages and probably most won't be recognized by anybody not a linguist.  This is mainly a promotional book for the British and Foreign Bible Society (the opening has a plea for donations) and though there's a claim that this will interest philologists the samples are far too short for that.  Still I think it's fascinating to skim for the sheer variety in both the languages themselves and the writing systems.  (And yes Esperanto is included but not Volapuk.)

There's no historical background or information about how the translations were made though it's safe to say that most were from English so they wouldn't be entirely reliable.  Still considering the rocky, shall we say, history of English translation the number presented here is nevertheless remarkable.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Complete Vermin-killer

The Complete Vermin-killer (1777)

Open Library direct link
Open Library main page

How can you resist any pest-removal instructions that start "Spread Gun-powder, beaten small, about the crevices of your bedstead; fire it with a match, and let the smoak in; do this for an hour or more"?

No, I'm definitely not suggesting anybody actually try such a method whether you have gunpowder lying around or not.  But as far as another reminder that the past was indeed a different country this is an interesting trip.  (And I can't help but think that The Complete Vermin-Killer is a great name for a graphic novel.)  Which vermin are covered?  Well in one of those adorably thorough 18th century titles we get a partial list - "bugs, lice, fleas, rats, mice, moles, weasels, caterpillars, frogs, pismires, snails, flies, moths, earwigs, wasps, pole-cats, badgers, foxes, otters" and oh so much more.

Flipping through at random I find that bugs "have been killed by the guts of Rabbits boiled in water, and placed under the bed".  That lice can be destroyed with a salve of butter and pepper while fleas take mustard-seed boiled in water.  Mice can be run away by hog's lard mixed with the brains of a weasel (!) and "distributed about a room".  Field-mice are "very fond of Artichokes".  Moles are apparently the most complicated but there are also instructions for "bat-fowling", teaching birds to talk, a "way to intoxicate water-fowl" and other methods.

The last half is medical advice along the lines of curing headache by "bleed on the temples with Leeches"; instructions for buying and maintaining horses; weather prediction; and garden planning (including preventing mists by hanging eagle feathers at the four corners).

There was a later 1821 edition that lists an author that is a pseudonym for James Sharon who claimed copyright without indicating that this was a reprint.  It's possible but unlikely that he was the original author but I can find no information about him.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Golden Thoughts from Sir Thomas Browne

Thomas Browne - Golden Thoughts from Sir Thomas Browne (1907)

Open Library direct link
Open Library main page

From last post's massive complete works of Browne we go to this comparatively tiny collection of select extracts.  For centuries there have been numerous compilations like this for numerous authors that aren't introductions or even highlights to an author but often sentences or brief saying pulled so severely from the work that you often don't get a feel for what the author's work is really like.  But that's not the purpose, instead you're to delight in these little nuggets of wisdom.  In essence they're almost bumper stickers.  Still, I have a weakness for these type of things, almost as if they were collections of aphorisms.

Before leaving Browne it's well worth checking out The Public Domain Review's A Bestiary of Sir Thomas Browne.  It also focuses on Pseudodoxia Epidemica as did my last post (which was written before I saw this) and honestly is more interesting than what I did.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Works of Sir Thomas Browne

The Works of Sir Thomas Browne

Open Library direct link (volume one)
Open Library direct link (volume two)
Open Library direct link (volume three)
Open Library direct link (volume four)
Open Library main page

Online edition of Pseudodoxia Epidemica

Nope, Thomas Browne isn't an oddity (well not exactly) or any kind of discovery but this post is a companion to this week's release of Hugh Aldersey-Williams' In Search of Sir Thomas Browne: The Life and Afterlife of the Seventeenth Century's Most Inquiring Mind.  (Though I prefer the UK title and catalog description - The Adventures of Sir Thomas Browne in the 21st Century.  Also interesting to see the names dropped in description for each edition.  In the US it's Emerson, Borges, Woolf and Stephen Jay Gould - in the UK it's Sebald, Woolf, Borges, Poe, Marias.  You had me at "Borges".)

In any case what I really wanted to post was Pseudodoxia Epidemica since I've been fascinated by it for some time (admittedly having read only bits and pieces).  Since I couldn't find any separate, downloadable edition why not just go for the whole Browne thing?  (As it is I couldn't find a scan of an entire set and had to link to the fourth from a different edition.)

So what is Pseudodoxia Epidemica?  Basically it's a kind of encyclopedia where Browne discusses and refutes "vulgar errors" ranging from wonders you might expect (fairy stones, mandrakes, the phoenix) to if bears give birth to unformed young, why we bless people who sneeze, what Egyptian hieroglyphics are, the sun's motion, Pope Joan, the Wandering Jew, the death of Aeschylus, why oracles no longer speak, how flies make noise, whether badgers have shorter legs on one side, the power of electricity, how to make diamonds soft, and on and on.  It's just a wonderful curiosity cabinet and so typically Renaissance - all of course in Browne's unique prose.

As an example look at the entry on Cleopatra's death (Book V, Chapter XII), inspired by the discovery of an ancient painting.  Here's the opening:

"The picture concerning the death of Cleopatra, with two asps or venomous serpents unto her arms or breasts, or both, requires consideration: for therein (beside that this variety is not excusable) the thing itself is questionable; nor is it indisputably certain what manner of death she died.  Plutarch, in the life of Anthony, plainly delivereth, that no man knew the manner of her death; for some affirmed she perished by poison, which she always carried in a little hollow comb, and wore it in her hair."

Browne then touches on another historical source, wonders if asps ever reach a length for such a purpose, whether there would have been two snakes, and where on her body Cleopatra might have aimed them.  It's not that he's just dismissing this but thinking it through - looking at sources, checking possibilities, considering what's most reasonable or likely.

Though the work is to some degree an early skeptical dismantling of superstition and wayward beliefs it's probably best to not push too far in that direction.  Browne also believed in witches, angels, hidden messages and other things that today don't seem to fit.  This tension between rationalism and a somewhat more mystical approach gives Browne's work a certain flair.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Illuminated Ornaments

Henry Shaw - Illuminated Ornaments (1833)

Open Library direct link
Open Library main page

From the author of the last post comes this fantastic collection of manuscript illuminations.  There's a solid introduction to the practice and each illustration has an explanation that honestly isn't quite as interesting.  Lately my Twitter feed has been full of people posing illuminations but unfortunately they don't often give sources - this book doesn't lack for such detail.  I heard somewhere that "illumination" strictly speaking only refers to ones with gold or silver since they catch the light when the page is turned, or maybe that's just the original meaning.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Dresses and Decorations of the Middle Ages

Henry Shaw - Dresses and Decorations of the Middle Ages (1843)

Open Library direct link (volume one)
Open Library direct link (volume two)
Open Library main page

The DNB lists Henry Shaw (1800-1873) as a "architectural draughtsman, engraver, illuminator, and antiquary" but he was also a prolific author of books on medieval and early Renaissance design and decoration.  I don't know if this one is typical but it's a beautiful work as you can see from the illustrations below.  Most images are followed by two or three pages of background and description making this a great book for browsing.  It's not exclusively clothing since there is also material on rooms (what would be called interior design today), religious artifacts (some astonishing reliquaries) and even architecture.  I like that the text is done as if it was an illuminated manuscript.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Compendium Rarissimum Totius Artis Magicae

Compendium Rarissimum Totius Artis Magicae (1775?)

Wellcome Library page
(there's a download link to the left)

Though I've poked around the Wellcome Library's remarkable digital archive I missed this, learning about it from the Paris Review of all places.  There's practically no information about the book - the Wellcome dates it possibly to 1775 and that's about it.  All the other references I find are to this copy and give no background.

In any case it's the jaw-dropping illustrations that draw attention (some possibly NSFW if that matters).  Several are familiar magickal designs but others are practically outsider or surrealist, almost begging for psychoanalytic attention.  Or maybe the cover of a metal album - you never know.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Bibliography of Unfinished Books in the English Language

Albert R. Corns - A Bibliography of Unfinished Books in the English Language (1915)

Open Library direct link
Open Library main page

That title promises never completed books like The Canterbury Tales or The Mystery of Edwin Drood but most of what's here is more along the lines of partially done county histories or abandoned scientific documentation (Natural History of the Quadrupeds of Paragua and the River La Plata anybody?) .  Nevertheless there are still plenty of intriguing titles for those willing to go through it (and if you haven't guessed by now I'm that type of person).

Let's look at just the first few pages.  Awilyai's Narrative of Travels in Europe, Asia and Africa in the 7th Century had only two volumes translated from Turkish - this turns out to be traveler Evliya Çelebi (he makes an appearance in Pamuk's The White Castle) and that's a typo which should read 17th century.  The entire original work is still untranslated.  Or William Assheton's 1694 A Conference with an Anabaptist: Being a Defence of Infant Baptism which was started as an argument against local meetings of that group but when they dispersed he never wrote the next volume.  George Washington Abbott's 1878 Events in the Life of an Octogenarian seems quite optimistic to have been started and its incomplete status is given only the note "No more published".  (I can find little about the book but from reading the first couple of pages it does seem to be a memoir and not a novel.)

Then there are mysteries such as Jean Adam's 1734 Miscellany Poems which its preface says is two parts, one in meter and one in blank verse, but since there's no blank verse present was there a second volume?  And curiosities such as an 1852-57 Sanskrit "explanatory version" of Bacon's Novum Organum or an edition of the New Testament with "numismatic illustrations" that only got as far as Matthew.

And I can't help but wonder about Authentic Memoirs, Memorandums, and Confessions - Taken from the Journal of His Predatorial Majesty, the King of Swindlers (1820?) which sounds like it could be some Defoe-esque rogue's tale.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Religion of the Samurai

Kaiten Nukariya - The Religion of the Samurai: A Study of Zen Philosophy and Discipline in China and Japan (1913)

Open Library direct link
Open Library main page

The author claims this is the first book on Zen in English and as far as I can find that does appear to be true.  Even so it's not much of a beginner's guide since it goes into quite a bit of detail on both history and practice.  (There's a two-page footnote right at the start.)  The view that Zen was a samurai religion seems a bit odd today and was questioned not only by some recent work (Oleg Benesch's Inventing the Way of the Samurai, Thomas David DuBois' Religion and the Making of Modern East Asia) but even in the contemporary review in The Nation (April 2, 1914).  (The Nation's unnamed reviewer also chides Nukariya for overlooking an "apposite" Tennyson poem though overall the review is both positive and informed on the subject.)  The recent writers point out Nukariya's nationalism and his attempt to downplay Zen's ritualistic, religious side.

Nukariya (1867-1934) was a professor at Komazawa University in Tokyo and a friend of D.T. Suzuki (who according to one source wrote the second English-language book on Zen in 1927).  Nukariya apparently wrote this book while living at Harvard.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Shelters, Shacks, and Shanties

Daniel Carter Beard - Shelters, Shacks, and Shanties (1914)

Open Library direct link
Open Library main page

Don't say you never got anything practical from this blog.  Here's a guide to building small shelters that will come in handy when we get to the post-apocalyptic world promised by so many recent novels.  Adobe huts, tents, lean-tos, bog kens (built on stilts above a marsh), beaver-mat huts, tree-top houses, all the way up to full log cabins - it's all here.  The author draws some of the opening from American Indian practices (distinguished by different tribes) but covers a wide range of structures for a variety of uses.  And variety is just what we need for implausible construction projects.

At the start he says this book "is written for boys of all ages" and separates it into a first half that needs just a hatchet and a second half that requires an axe (among other tools).  I can't help but wonder how true this was at the time because much of the late material in the book is beyond the abilities of most adults today.  The log cabin he describes is an actual small house, not just some tossed-together spare lumber.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

French-English Dictionary of Machine Gun Terms

Harry James Malony et al - French-English Dictionary of Machine Gun Terms (1918)

Open Library direct link 
Open Library main page

I'll admit the only reason for this post is that title, which inexplicably made me laugh.  (Which I later realized could sound like a dig at the French but they've been some of history's toughest soldiers for centuries so no.)  Clearly an important topic at the time (for certain people anyway) but not so much today.  Some illustrations would have been nice.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Fifty Caricatures

Max Beerbohm - Fifty Caricatures (1913)

Open Library direct link
Open Library main page

Today the wonderful NYRB Classics publishes The Prince of Minor Writers: The Selected Essays of Max Beerbohm so it seemed only appropriate to post some of Beerbohm's caricatures.  Admittedly the caricatures aren't as memorable as his writings (and you've read Zuleika Dobson yes?) but they have charms even if the subjects are often unfamiliar to modern Americans.

If this is of any interest then it's worth checking out N. John Hall's 1997 Max Beerbohm Caricatures which has not only a wider range of material but explanatory notes.

See also Bohun Lynch's Max Beerbohm in Perspective (1922) which I haven't read but from skimming it looks worthwhile.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Aggravating Ladies

Ralph Thomas - Aggravating Ladies: Being a List of Works Published under the Pseudonym of "A Lady" (1880)

Open Library direct link
Open Library main page

First off, that's "aggravating" in the sense of collecting or compiling.  What the author did is make a list of books with the pseudonym "A Lady" (and did so under his own pseudonym "Olphar Hamst" from an obvious source) though it's not a pure list - much of the book is taken up with discussion of bibliographic matters.  The compilation covers a lot of religious material, some housekeeping guides and includes assorted poetry, memoirs, translations and study aids - most in clear gender roles of the period.  If nothing else it shows why Mary Ann Evans used a masculine pseudonym.

Some sample "A Lady" titles:

An Appeal to the Women of England to Discourage the Stage (1855)

Dates of the Kings of England, in Easy Triplets (1874)

Florence Nightingale and the Russian War, a Poem (1856)

The Orb of Light, or The Apocalyptic Vision (1860)

Twice Married, My Own Story (1855)