Thursday, July 30, 2015

Treasure Spots of the World

Walter B. Woodbury - Treasure Spot of the World (1875)

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Before vacation season is completely gone here's a book with some trip suggestions.  The Mosque at Cordova, Tintern Abbey, an ice cavern, the Bridge of Sighs, Bangkok, the Sphinx, Cairo, Niagara Falls - take your pick.  Each spot gets a photo then about three to four pages of text that tend a bit more towards encyclopedia facts than travel brochure enthusiasm which is a tad disappointing from one of the high eras of travel literature.  Still it manages to promote their treasure spots so if you go send a postcard.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Story of the First Gas Regiment

James Thayer Addison - The Story of the First Gas Regiment (1919)

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Continuing last post's World War I soldier-life theme here's one that's a bit less humorous.  The First Gas Regiment was the only offensive gas unit in the U.S. Army and lasted for just 18 months.  Today of course a book about gas warfare is like a book promoting the value of DDT but really this is more a straightforward account.  If anything it's a bit dull even for a regimental history.

Addison (a 1909 Harvard graduate) was the regiment's chaplain and was an active writer afterwards.  He wrote a history of the Episcopal Church, on Ahmadiyya and religion in India, a study of medieval missionaries, and Ancestor Worship in Africa among many others.  None of these appear to have been digitized.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

500 of the Best Cockney War Stories

500 of the Best Cockney War Stories (1920)

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I've only skimmed this but while the overall tone leans towards the comic (these were reprinted from the London Evening News) it does have the feel of military life presented by countless memoirs - boring, confusing, sometimes funny, sometimes frightening.  Of course a memoir is pretty much what this is, only collectively authored and cleaned up for a home audience.  They aren't vague Reader's Digest anecdotes but are usually quite specific, at times even using unexplained references.  It doesn't have an introduction but an "opening yarn".

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Comical History of Lord Flutter, Lord Spindle & Sir Harry Hopscotch

The Comical History of Lord Flutter, Lord Spindle & Sir Harry Hopscotch (1850)

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A pamphlet of children's stories involving anthropomorphic insects complete with a moral at the end.  Nice illustrations but I can find almost nothing about the book except that a copy is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum who says it's hand-colored.  Their copy was published in London so there were two editions.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Boy's Book of Industrial Information

Elisha Noyce - The Boy's Book of Industrial Information (1858)

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Flax manufacture, glass painting, mining, boiler operation, distilling, bridge building - everything a young lad in the mid-19th century needed to start his industrial career.  What boy doesn't want to read about drainage and artesian wells?  Or proper bracing for ship construction?  Well, be deprived no longer!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

On the Writing of the Insane

G. Mackenzie Bacon - On the Writing of the Insane (1870)

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Don't get too excited that this is an early discovery of outsider art (Adolf Wölfli would have been six when this appeared) or rather it is but the author didn't quite make the appropriate connections.  It's also a brief pamphlet with nearly all the illustrations excerpted below and the text not being much of an anthology.  Still, it's free, short and fairly interesting.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Documents japonais

Charles Gillot - Documents japonais (n.d. but possibly 1889)

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A grabbag of assorted Japanese images with almost no explanatory text or even any obvious organization.  It ranges from landscapes to fabrics to abstract designs to portraits to sketches of daily life.  This appears to have been something of an art book but I can't find any specific info - the date comes from the Hathi Trust listing but I have no idea how they determined that.  A price of 65 francs wasn't cheap at any period (as best I can tell anyway) and this is about magazine sized.  Too bad many of the images are faded.

Gillot was a collector and editor.  He directed the journal Le Japon artistique which lasted from 1888 to 1891.  His collection of Japanese art was admired by Edmond de Goncourt - part of it went to the Louvre.  He's buried in Montparnasse.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Literary Manual of Foreign Quotations Ancient and Modern

John Devoe Belton - A Literary Manual of Foreign Quotations Ancient and Modern (1891)

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The intent of this book wasn't to just gather up foreign-language phrases as so many others have done but to focus on the ones quoted by "modern writers" and therefore likely to be of use to readers.  Of course Belton's "modern" is no longer modern and today's writers, even literary ones, appear oblivious to phrases not in English but strenuously avoid anything that might cause a moment's hesitation.

So each entry here has the phrase (such as Fronti nulla fides), its source where known (Juvenal in this case) and a writer's use (Tom Jones).  The book is much more interesting to browse than that may sound since it's not just doubled quotations but accompanied by historical trivia (sculptors testing a work by running a nail over its surface, Romans distinguishing problematic cattle by tying hay to them, etc).  Belton had an eye for excerpts of some intrinsic interest, however minor that might be (and he also seems to have been fascinated by Thackeray - I'm not sure anybody today reads The Virginians).

And I can't help but point out Horace's Genus irritabile vatum or "The irritable race of poets" which some poets I know might well consider appropriate for a tattoo.  It's referenced in more recent times by Arnold and De Quincey.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Lost Dauphin

Augusta de Grasse Stevens - The Lost Dauphin (1887)

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Bonus Book:
Emilia Pardo Bazán - The Mystery of the Lost Dauphin (Louis XVII) (1906 translation of 1902 novel Misterio)

Over the years, I'd heard a couple of brief references to the idea that the lost Dauphin ended up in an Indian tribe in America, a ludicrous claim that seemed either a miscommunication or a wild speculation more than an actual belief.  But then I stumbled across this book and really I should have done a bit of research since it turns out that there's a lot more to the story as shown by numerous articles about it in both national and local press and at least three other books, one of which appeared from University of Pennsylvania Press this past January (Michael Leroy Oberg's Professional Indian) and another had William Hazlitt as editor of its English translation (De Beauchesne's 1852 Louis XVII).  There was even a film about the idea - Jacques Tourneur's 1937 short The King Without a Crown.  I stayed with The Lost Dauphin not only because I can post it but the book is short and has true believer fervor.  (Among the other people put forward as the lost Dauphin was John James Audubon based almost exclusively on the fact that he lived in France during the appropriate period.)

Admittedly the settled history can't help but give rise to conspiracy beliefs - the Dauphin kept in solitude by a single jailer (ok actually not a jail), the only doctor who visited suddenly and mysteriously dead, the Dauphin himself dead and then buried secretly in the night, and the disinterest in following up on what happened.  It's the kind of odd behavior that the conspiracy-minded take as evidence that something happened though of course this is no evidence of anything other than odd behavior.

Among the numerous people who later claimed to be the Dauphin, certainly the strangest is an American Indian who became a missionary and later in life advanced the idea that was in fact the Dauphin.  This story goes, at least as covered in The Lost Dauphin, that an Indian man who frequently visited European communities (and seems to have been descended from a captive settler) returned once with a boy the age the Dauphin would have been and in the same deteriorated mental condition.  The boy hit his head while swimming and slowly gained back his facilities (as if this was some cartoon).  Later he met a French duke in the US who revealed the truth and then the boy (now a man named Eleazar Williams) started claiming he was in fact the Dauphin though he never made serious efforts to pursue that.

The book lists other evidence.  Accounts of the arrivals and departures of various French people in America fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle, some keepsake jewelry, a Marie Antoinette dress, scars on the face of Williams that fit Dauphin injuries, and so forth.  The most unsettling for current readers are what might be called racialist evidence - two mentions are made of Williams' "Austrian lips", he supposedly had the "Bourbon ear" and even gestured like a Bourbon.  Several accounts are given of his superior nature and natural diplomatic abilities as proof of his hereditary nobility.  (Though it's hard not to think that Louis XVI could have used more natural diplomacy.)

The Lost Dauphin is pretty convincing as far as it goes but then that's the point.  Alas for advocates of French royalty roaming America unrecognized Williams' claim is certainly not true.  For one thing DNA tests in 2000 showed that what was thought to be the actual Dauphin's heart was in fact from a relative of Marie Antoinette - in other words actually the Dauphin's so he was never missing.  (There's still some doubt as to whose heart it actually was but the Dauphin is still the most likely source.)  Even apart from that the claims don't all fit.  Williams actually promoted the idea that he was Dauphin much more than the book indicates.  As usual in these cases the story has far too many moving pieces and peculiar motivations.  The swimming head wound gave Williams a very convenient reason to not have memories of France which might trip him up.  The ages of Williams and the Dauphin don't quite match.  He was also quite a storyteller with possibly embroidered accounts of the War of 1812 and numerous others.  The idea that he was adopted is based mainly on his own claims and the lack of a birth record though his mother claimed him as a birth child.  On and on, it all falls apart.  (There are lots of sources for this information but particularly useful is Lyman C. Draper in the 1879 Report and Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, p 353).

A brief note on the author:  Despite her name Stevens was American - born in Albany to a highly regarded lawyer and Washington Irving for a godfather.  Her family was of French descent and she spent much of her youth in Paris. She wrote London dispatches for the New York Times and her first novel was Old Boston.  Other writings followed but none of these appear to have been digitized.  She died in 1894.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Extinct Monsters

H.N. Hutchinson - Extinct Monsters: A Popular Account of Some of the Larger Forms of Ancient Animal Life (1896)

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Odd as it seems now for a clergyman to write a popular science book book that wasn't uncommon in Victorian England.  (See Bernard Lightman's Victorian Popularizers of Science for more.)  Hutchinson (1856-1927) wrote several of them and this was his most popular.  It's full of accounts of fossil discoveries and reconstructions of dinosaurs and other large extinct animals (no insects here!).  Hutchinson fully supported evolution but according to Lightman slowly moved away from Darwin towards a more Lamarckian conception.  His other titles include The Autobiography of the Earth, The Living Races of Mankind and Marriage Customs in Many Lands.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Military Religious Orders of the Middle Ages

F.C. Woodhouse - The Military Religious Orders of the Middle Ages (1879)

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This has always been a fascinating subject, to me anyway, in part because Christianity developed in a different direction that made blatantly religious soldiers seem a bit odd (as opposed to countless rhetorical or disguised ones).  The Templars are still well-known though almost exclusively because they figure in so many kook and fringe theories (which Eco noted in Foucault's Pendulum).  The Hospitallers and Teutonic Knights are the other two major groups covered in this book with a few other smaller ones mentioned towards the end.  An appendix lists dozens of others including The Order of the Elephant, The Order of the Celestial Collar of the Holy Rosary, The Order of the Death's Head and The Order of the Bee to choose just the most Python-ish ones.  (Desmond Seward's The Monks of War (1972, revised in 1995) covers much of the same territory.)

Woodhouse (1827-1905) was a British priest with a historical turn of mind.  (His first publication right after university was a pamphlet on the college chapel.)  He researched The Military Religious Orders in the British Library and was paid 70 pounds for it.  During his life he was better known for his following book The Life of the Soul in the World, a collection of excerpts from older devotionals.  He followed that with other religious titles and a history of monasticism.  (None of these appear to be digitized.)

Monday, July 6, 2015

Lives and Anecdotes of Misers

F. Somner Merryweather - Lives and Anecdotes of Misers (1850)

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No mere mocking display of human weakness this, instead the author says the book is "a pleasant way to instil a moral".  Whether you will allow such to be instilled is up to you - the rest of us will pick up the book and go back to the past with Euripides and Aristotle for this tour of avarice through the ages.  It comes far enough to the present to include Tulip Mania and the South Sea Bubble so the 20th century would greatly have appalled (or maybe amused?) the author.

Dickens owned a copy of this book and Wegg reads it in Our Mutual Friend.  Arnold Bennett apparently also read it.

The author died in 1900 and had been a newspaper editor for ten years.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Rubáiyát of a Persian Kitten

Oliver Herford - The Rubáiyát of a Persian Kitten (1906)

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This kitten-based tribute to Khayyam (or maybe more accurately FitzGerald) is too light to be satirical and a bit too respectful to feel quite like a parody.  In any case its aim is fairly true:

They say the Early Bird the
         Worm shall taste.
Then rise, O Kitten! Wherefore,
                           sleeping, waste
The fruits of virtue? Quick!
                           the Early Bird
Will soon be on the Flutter - O
                           make haste!

Herford (1863–1935) was an writer and illustrator (British-born but American since age 12) who specialized in similar humorous books, mostly aimed at children.  Other titles include A Little Book of Bores, The Fairy Godmother-in-Law, A Bold Bad Butterfly and Overheard in a Garden.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Book of the Damned

Charles Fort - The Book of the Damned (1919)

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The first book by Charles Fort (not counting a neglected novel) has been an inspiration and target for countless readers and scholars.  Fort, if you're not familiar with him, collected thousands of documented accounts of strange phenomena - frogs falling from the sky, disappearing people, floating lights, out-of-place artifacts, unexplained noises, metal bars with strange inscriptions. objects floating on the Moon and so on.  This sounds like standard fringe material but Fort was perhaps the first person to collect and organize it in such bulk.  More importantly he took nearly all his accounts from mainstream sources, often hundreds of newspapers that he pored through at the New York Public Library (oddly similar to Marx working in the British Library).  At its best the Fortean movement that he started is open-minded, skeptical and has a sense of humor as usually seen in the magazine The Fortean Times (which I read every month though I'm a pretty thorough skeptic/nonbeliever).

But don't consider Fort a completely impartial researcher - in fact his books read far more like kook work than the actual kooks churning out books today or clogging up the blatantly mis-named History Channel.  The current ones have learned to mimic scientific inquiry to create the illusion of substance while Fort felt comfortable indulging over-the-top prose and half-considered philosophy (I was tempted to quote some but just check any of this book's first few pages).  As a result, Fort's books are quite entertaining, at times reading almost like prose poems, though certainly best in small doses.