Saturday, October 31, 2015

Dennison's Bogie Book

Dennison's Bogie Book (1920)

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This guide to Halloween and Thanksgiving festivities was mainly intended to drive sales at Dennison's stores but has nice illustrations.  Some other Dennison's material is available including How to Make Paper Costumes and Dennison's Gala Book.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Tales of Terror; or, The Mysteries of Magic

Henry St. Clair - Tales of Terror; or, The Mysteries of Magic (1833)

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Supernatural stories supposedly "translated from the Chinese, Turkish, and German".  Titles include "The Mysterious Bell", "The Gored Huntsman", "The Cavern of Death" and "The Magic Dice, An Awful Narrative".  There's no indication that this reprints an 1833 book - it was reissued in 1856 as Evening Tales for the Winter.

Can't find anything about the author but he's probably the same Henry St. Clair who in 1840 compiled The United States Criminal Calendar, or An Awful Warning to the Youth of America: Being an Account of the Most Horrid Murders, Piraces, Highway Robberies, &c (available at The HathiTrust).  There might be some connection to the American pulp horror writer Henry St. Clair Whitehead (1882-1932) but that speculation is based purely on the name.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


Lafcadio Hearn - Shadowings (1900)

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Not a discovery, not an oddity, but appropriate for Halloween (more or less).  It's something of a grab bag with the first section comprised of translated ghost and supernatural stories, including "The Reconciliation" that was filmed as Kwaidan.  There's a brief middle with essays on cicadas, Japanese women's names and old songs before closing with a section of "Fantasies" that seem to be basically prose poems of Hearn's own composition.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Burlesque Napoleon

Philip Walsingham Sergeant - The Burlesque Napoleon (1905)

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From the title I expected a comic or parody history of Napoleon but this turns out to be a serious biography of his younger brother Jerome.  The introduction notes that while "the study of a libertine's career could never in itself be particularly edifying" Jerome "had a career of wonderful variety and interest".  This included being King of Westphalia, Prince of Montfort, President of the Second Republic, Marshal of France and President of the Senate.  A very active personal life include three wives, five children (one illegitimate) in addition to being a "monumental rake".

Still, Sergeant apologizes for "confining himself nearly to the frivolous side of Westphalian history" since the more serious is part of the elder Napoleon's history.  Sergeant (1872-1952) wrote other biographies of a variety of subjects - Empress Josephine, Anne Boleyn, China's empress dowager, Catherine the Great, Cleopatra.  Given those subjects maybe it's no surprise that a 1929 book was called Dominant Women.  He also wrote several books on chess.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Jack Pots

Eugene Edwards - Jack Pots: Stories of the Great American Game (1900)

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I don't like poker but that's clearly a minority opinion so for everybody else here's a collection of stories about the game.  Des Wilson, author of Ghosts at the Table, says he can't tell if the stories are true or fictional but in either case they aspire to the condition of short story.  Herbert Asbury referenced the book in Sucker's Progress.  Edwards had two later books of poker stories, A Million Dollar Jackpot and Tom Custer's Luck (both 1901), though they were possibly reprints from this volume.  I can't find anything about the author.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Ethics of Diet

Howard Williams - The Ethics of Diet: A Catena of Authorities Deprecatory of the Practice of Flesh-Eating (1883)

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Check the subtitle for the book's real purpose - centuries of people arguing for vegetarianism or at least close enough to be enlisted to that cause.  Starts with Hesiod and runs to Schopenhauer and includes names you wouldn't have expected such as Ovid, Mandeville, Pope, Voltaire.  This scholarship is what's most interesting, for me anyway.  The entry on Seneca, for instance, begins with a discussion of his health and character, lists his works, offers a brief appraisal, and includes lots of quotes from both Seneca and other sources.  The book is certainly not a tossed-together hash of ill understood sources.  Tolstoy had it translated into Russian and contributed an introduction.

While researching I discovered this had been reprinted by the University of Illinois Press in 2003.  Its introduction by Carol J. Adams covers the background far more thoroughly than anything I'd ever do and can be read in its entirety on Google Books.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Kitchener's Army and the Territorial Forces

Edgar Wallace - Kitchener's Army and the Territorial Forces (1915)

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Edgar Wallace is best remembered today for his crime novels and for the German krimi films they inspired, but he was also an active journalist.  He wrote extensively for the London Mail with the dubious distinction of being the first reporter fired from it due to numerous libel actions his writing inspired.  He reported on the atrocities in the Congo before eventually becoming a horse racing writer, somehow finding time to be one of the most prolific writers ever (one count is 175 novels and 60 plays).

This book is about the creation of the New Army, or Kitchener's Army as it's also called, a large mobilization of British troops after the start of the first world war.  The bulk of the book describes training and camp life which is sometimes interesting reading but it's really the numerous photos that really make it worth paging through.  You might think I've been very selective in choosing the more peculiar ones, even that Monty Python-ish "dance", but they're largely like that.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Historical Evidence for the Virgin Birth

Vincent Taylor - The Historical Evidence for the Virgin Birth (1920)

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The title is a tad misleading since this isn't an attempt to prove the virgin birth and not really an examination of the fairly brief sources (basically just two canonical gospels) that could be considered evidence.  Instead it's more an examination of how traditions and theology have treated this issue, presented as how it developed as intellectual history.  So what he ends up with is a fairly detailed look at various approaches to the issue, exploring the Q source and alternative texts.

Taylor (1887–1968) was a Methodist scholar who taught at Wesley College in Leeds and practiced textual and source criticism.  His best known work is 1937's Jesus and His Sacrifice though he wrote around twenty books.  There's a good overview in Donald K. McKim's Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Sea Fables Explained

Henry Lee - Sea Fables Explained (1883)

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An early skeptical work, examining the dubious nature of mermaids, hydras, whale spouts and barnacle geese.  "The belief that wild geese, instead of being hatched from eggs, like other birds, grew on trees and rotten wood has never been surpassed as a specimen of ignorant credulity and persistent error."

The author also wrote Sea Monsters Unmasked the same year.  Stoker apparently drew on the works for background to Dracula.  Henry Lee (1826-1888) was a naturalist at the Brighton Aquarium and temporarily its director.  He wrote notes for visitors to the aquarium.  The DNB says he "instituted important experiments on the migration of smelts".

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Artistic Bridge Design

Henry Grattan Tyrrell - Artistic Bridge Design (1912)

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"A lack of artistic treatment is the greatest fault of American bridges."   After making that claim the author devotes the rest of the book to ways to remedy the situation - design, material, ornaments, "special features" (such as shops,viewing points).

Tyrrell (1867-1948) wrote on similar topics, including A History of Bridge Engineering and one on mills and industrial plants.  His papers are at the Smithsonian and the University of Toronto.  (He's not the Henry Tyrrell who did the Shakespeare book last post.)

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Stoneground Ghost Tales

E. G. Swain - The Stoneground Ghost Tales (1912)

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Last October all my posts were ghost and supernatural stories (start at the first one or check the archive) but this year I had other books calling out.  Here's one, though, that's a favorite with ghost story fans.  Stoneground is a small village on the edge of the fens and its antiquarian local vicar Mr. Batchel has a knack for encountering spirits and apparitions, often but not always from the past.

If this sounds somewhat like M.R. James stories that's because Swain was a friend (this book is dedicated to James) and he was clearly following the Master's footsteps.  I'll have to admit that as amusing as the stories are, they're also a bit too straightforward for their own good and don't remotely approach James' work.  If nothing else a ghost story should have a little mystery but these run on fairly predictable patterns.

Still, as with any strictly delineated form (sonnets, classic mysteries) the appeal of ghost stories is often how well it colors within the lines - the textures, the characters.  Swain does capture some of the feel of small town life and Batchel is agreeable if not quite memorable, reasons that ghost story buffs continue to return to these stories (along with wishing that James had written twice as much as he did so we're content with his followers).  What keeps these stories readable is the little touches such as the bachelor vicar somewhat confused by conversing with a young woman determined to talk about burial practices, or his insistence on helping a surly gardener that he's really not helping, or just his devotion to a daily routine despite whatever peculiar events happen around him.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Tattooing Among Civilized People

Robert Fletcher - Tattooing Among Civilized People (1883)

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(The Open Library / scan is incomplete so I linked to a HathiTrust scan of the original journal.  You won't be able to download unless connected to a member library but anybody can read and it's not that long.)

An anthropologist looks at tattooing back when half the people you know didn't have one.  He briefly covers the history, techniques, indelibility and legal issues then gets to charts about parts of the body tattooed, ages first performed and the designs.  ("Religious designs are more frequent among Italians and Spaniards than among Frenchmen.")  I can't help but wish he hadn't dismissed with no further comment a large number as "obscenities which beggar description".

Thursday, October 8, 2015

John Selden and His Table Talk

Robert Waters - John Selden and His Table Talk (1899)

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As a follow up to the last post on ana here's perhaps the best-known, or at least at one time most discussed, English-language example.  Rather than a straight collection of Selden this book has the advantage of a brief biography, an overview of the genre and some notes.

It's hard to say that Selden is ready for rediscovery.  Though much of his pieces seem fairly reasonable and decently done he doesn't have Dr. Johnson's knack for memorable phrasing (Johnson praised Selden, by the way).

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Table-Talk, or Selections from the Ana

George Moir (ed) - Table-Talk, or Selections from the Ana (1827)

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Always something new to discover - I'd never heard of the literary genre "ana" until stumbling across this book looking for something else.  The term is so short it's hard to research (though there was an 1882 De la bibliographie des ana that doesn't provide much info).  But surprise the 1911 Encyclop√¶dia Britannica has a fairly long entry on it.

Ana are "various collections of the observations and criticisms of eminent men, delivered in conversation and recorded by their friends, or discovered among their papers after their decease."  So it turns out most of us have encountered this without realizing it since today it's usually, as with this book, called table talk or miscellany or something similar.  John Selden is one of the best known in English though he's one of those numerous writers whose name is encountered often enough to be remembered but not so much that any of us bother to read him.

This anthology of ana includes Selden along with Johnson, Martin Luther, Voltaire, Walpole and some more obscure people.  I've only skimmed bits and pieces but it looks like interesting browsing.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Twenty Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare

E. Nesbit - Twenty Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare (1907)

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Shakespeare stories rewritten for younger readers by Edith Nesbit, author of Five Children and It, The Railway Children and numerous others that are still read today.  This is hardly the only Shakespeare book of this kind but it does have a nice design as can be seen from the pages below.  The real oddity, though, is the illustrations where the characters are all portrayed as children, which is mostly just peculiar though they run from the extremes of the humorously improbable forced trip into Arden Forest as a jaunty outing to the starting-to-get-creepy meeting of Romeo and Juliet.  I've only read bits of the stories but Nesbit really extracts a start-to-finish tale from the plays.  The Tempest, for instance, begins back in Milan and not on the island.  There are a few choices that today seem odd - Pericles and Timon of Athens in particular - though the selected plays are all the same that the Lambs did.

This is an expanded edition of the 1897 Children's Shakespeare, which had twelve plays.  Added are quotations, a pronunciation guide and a biography (not by Nesbit) but missing is her more informal introduction.  Both editions have been reprinted many times with varying titles

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Prince and His Ants

Vamba (Luigi Bertelli) - The Prince and His Ants (1910)

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"Ciondolino is the little Italian boy who became an ant and had many thrilling adventures with other ants, and wasps and bees."  A children's book intended to teach a little natural history and good behavior (the boy when he's a boy is lazy) but I suspect that, given the title, it may also be some kind of political piece as well.  If anybody reads it let me know.