Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Unpublished Legends of Virgil

Charles Godfrey Leland - The Unpublished Legends of Virgil (1899)

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One of the most peculiar cultural developments was the idea that arose in the Middle Ages of Virgil as a magician.  Not just somebody with an occasional vision and a trick or two but full-blown magic spells, talking metal heads, living after death - that type of magician.  J.W. Spargo's 1934 dissertation-turned-book Virgil the Necromancer is most often referenced but seems to be a tad wayward in its conclusions so the real sources remain Domenico Comparetti's Vergil in the Middle Ages (1872, English 1895) and J.S. Tunison's Master Virgil: The Author of the Aeneid as He Seemed in the Middle Ages (1888).  Jan M. Ziolkowski and Michael C.J. Putnam's The Virgilian Tradition: The First Fifteen Hundred Years is a more extensive compilation of material.  (There was an American stage performer named Virgil the Magician in the 1940s.  Apparently one of his illusions was a vanishing lion.)

The Unpublished Legends of Virgil seems to have been intended as mostly a supplement to Comparetti since it collects an additional fifty or so tales that "contain much more that is occult, strange and heathen, than can be found in the other tales".  Exactly my kind of book though I wonder about the ones he didn't include because they were "shocking" (his quotes), especially since what is already collected is pretty earthy shall we say.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Bunkum Entertainments

Robert Ganthony - Bunkum Entertainments (1895)

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A collection of performances and skits from a famous-at-the-time promoter and writer.  (His other books are on ventriloquism and there's an autobiography Random Recollections.)  Topics include thought reading, juggling, hypnotism, a "funnygraph" and performing fleas.  It's pretty much all faked - the juggling is done with wires though honestly it almost sounds easier to just learn to juggle.  There's a poem in supposedly comic pseudo-French and a retelling of Hamlet where the prince becomes a grocer.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Encyclopaedia of Practical Cookery

 Theodore Francis Garrett - The Encyclopaedia of Practical Cookery (1892)

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Not my discovery - this is from Atlas Obscura but they didn't provide links where you can download the whole thing.  (The book was apparently issued unbound at least sometimes so there are also two and four volumes versions of the entire work.)  I've posted a few cookbooks before but this stands out for its sheer size and almost obsessive detail.  There's a fairly elaborate recipe for a beverage for an invalid that after all the work it says to give them only a teaspoon at a time.  There are numerous descriptions of devices, both complex and simple, for various cooking tasks.  The fish section distinguishes consomme, chowder, broth, gravy, pudding, "essence", stew and several types of soup.  It even gets into topics of purely historical interest such as garum (the notorious Roman fish sauce).  And of course among everything else the ones that sound like oddities today - Goose's Giblets Stewed with Apples, Rice Gruel, Ship's Biscuits.

This set is referenced many times by food historians but oddly I can find practically no information on Garrett, not even his dates.  There are passing references to other works but not titles - the few others with his name appear to be drawn from this encyclopaedia.  There's a wedding reference that gives somebody with this name born in 1845 and married to Mary Jane Evans in 1875.  The dates fit so let's go with this as probable.

There was a somewhat sarcastic but generally approving review in the July 30, 1898 Punch.  I've included an image at the bottom.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Floral Fantasy in an Old English Garden

Walter Crane - A Floral Fantasy in an Old English Garden (1899)

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Liverpool-born Walter Crane (1845-1915) was one of the key childrens-book illustrators of the period, work that can be seen to advantage in this nice collection of illustrations for his own poetry.  He was influenced by Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelites, apprenticed to the engraver William James Linton and an acquaintance of William Morris (Crane later went to the US in support of the Haymarket defendants).

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Stage-Land: Curious Habits and Customs of Its Inhabitants

Jerome K. Jerome - Stage-Land: Curious Habits and Customs of Its Inhabitants (1889)

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Jerome K. Jerome isn't an obscurity but this doesn't appear to be one of his better known books - at any rate I'd never heard about it.  For this book he took a parodic approach to stage drama conventions, going through hero, heroine, villain, servant girl, comic lovers, the good old man, lawyer and other stock characters.  The hero, for instance:  "His chief aim in life is to be accused of crimes he has never committed, and if he can muddle things up with a corpse, in some complicated way, so as to get himself reasonably mistaken for the murderer, he feels his day has not been wasted."  For the servant girl:  "Her duties are to dust the legs of the chairs in the drawing-room.  That is the only work she ever has to do, but it must be confessed she does that thoroughly."

Probably those excerpts don't really do Stage-Land justice since it's a rather good-natured approach and works from accumulation and detail.  So little has changed that most of this still applies to modern films and TV shows - there may not be many servant girls any more but think of office workers for the same effect.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Guide to the United States for the Jewish Immigrant

John Foster Carr - Guide to the United States for the Jewish Immigrant (1916)

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The title pretty much covers it.  Where to find work, how to learn English, becoming a citizen, which societies can provide help, postage charges, passports - it's all a pretty straightforward guidebook.  A century later it's a fascinating look at both the American culture of the time and what was expected (at least by this author) of immigrants.  There's advice on moving away from New York City for lower living costs and better employment opportunities - an entire section is devoted to farm work.

I do wonder why the section on bigamy, divorce and public hygiene is in all capital letters - was this actually a problem or something the author was overly concerned about?  Ok, bigamy sure but "IT IS A CRIME TO BEAT OR SHAKE A MAT, CARPET, RUG, OR GARMENT OUT OF A WINDOW" which goes on for a full, detailed paragraph seems a bit excessive.

I wish there was more details about the book itself.  No price is listed so was it sold or distributed free?  The title page says it's translated from Yiddish so did Carr actually write it and if so in Yiddish?

John Foster Carr (1869-1939) founded the Immigrant Publication Society which produced this book.  He was active in helping immigrants arriving in NYC (the NY Public Library holds his papers) and wrote numerous books and pamphlets on that topic.  In 1911 he had been commissioned by the Daughters of the American Revolution to write a guide for Italian immigrants and either the DAR or the adjustment of largely rural immigrants to city life may have resulted in the focus on hygiene and social expectations.  (See Alan M. Kraut's 1995 Silent Travelers: Germs, Genes and the Immigrant Menace, p120.)   In 1906 he reported on the construction of the Panama Canal for Outlook.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Book Collectors and Their Hobbies

Book Collectors and Their Hobbies (1913)

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Here "hobbies" means focus or area of interest - no information about which collector built toothpick castles or which maintained an aquarium of exotic goldfish.  One section, for instance, runs Dante, Darley Illustrations, Dartmouth College, Defoe (Daniel), Delaware and Detroit, Michigan.  I have no idea what use any of this is today but still some of us may find it amusing to flip through.  What are "Dances of Death" and how many books could there have been?  Or why there are only two people for Latin classics when Whistler has seven?  And I can't help but wonder about the person in Chicago who specialized in Lithuanian Folk-Lore.  There's one entry for Erotica which at this time seems somewhat bold - there are three under Curiosa, the more common book collector euphemism.  (Though there is also one for Phallic Worship.)  Note Eugene V. Debs listed under Socialism.  In any case, this particular scanned copy seems to have been used fairly often, it's at least marked up fairly well.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

University Life in Ancient Athens

W.W. Capes - University Life in Ancient Athens (1877)

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Just a wild guess that such university life didn't look anything like Raphael imagined it.  This short book based on lectures draws together what was known at that time then fills it out with some comparisons to modern college life (even though the author admits the two don't really have much in common - even if descriptions of faculty in-fighting aren't unfamiliar).

William Wolfe Capes (1834-1914) was a cleric, Oxford fellow and classicist.  His other works are on Livy, second-century Rome, stoicism, the late medieval English church and some edited primary documents.  One of his students was Walter Pater though in 1873 he preached a "sermon against Paterian ethics". (Kate Hext Walter Pater, p23n13)  According to one source he walked all the way from Oxford to Rome (shades of Hillaire Belloc) and his image was used for St. Barnabas in a Bramshott church's stained glass window.  (Martin Daunton The Organisation of Knowledge in Victorian Britain, p374)  Capes' nephew was the Theosophist Charles Leadbeater.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Medieval Almanacs at the British Library

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Ten 15th century almanacs have been digitized and put online by the British Library.  They're an interesting mix of notes and info (Latin of course) with colorful text design and images that now seem odd because who knows which zodiac signs go to which body part?  The link has an explanation and more images.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Blue Poetry Book

Andrew Lang - The Blue Poetry Book (1891)

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Just two years earlier Andrew Lang released The Blue Fairy Book, the first in a series of twelve collections that are still why he's remembered today.  This one was clearly intended to gain attention by association though it's in a pretty well-defined genre of poetry anthologies for children.  Of course this being the late 19th century it's not quite like anything that would be put out today - the introduction quotes Theocritus, worries that the book might be "too Scottish" and says we shouldn't "write down to children" (the latter often said nowadays and invariably not followed).  And how many such anthologies today would include Cowper, Jonson, Dryden, Milton, Nashe and Scott, oh so much Scott.  (Lang edited a collected edition of Scott shortly afterwards.)  It's heavily illustrated of course.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Notae Latinae

W. M. Lindsay  - Notae Latinae: An Account of Abbreviation in Latin MSS. of the Early Minuscule Period, c. 700-850 (1915)

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I have a weakness, really more admiration, for quasi-antiquarian scholarship and a collection of Latin abbreviations from the early Middle Ages is just that type of thing.  It's not that I have any actual use for this - even if I could read Latin I wouldn't be spending time with manuscripts from this period.  But the sheer amount of information the author displays is impressive and even surprising - bet you didn't know that the source country of a manuscript can frequently be identified by which abbreviations are used?

Wallace Martin Lindsay (1858-1937) was a Scottish classicist who taught at Oxford. He edited editions of Plautus, Martial, Terrence and others in addition to a large number of other works.  (Tip: Ancient Lore in Medieval Latin Glossaries isn't as interesting as it sounds.)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

La pyrotechnie de Hanzelet lorrain

Jean Appier-Hanzelet - La pyrotechnie de Hanzelet lorrain (1630)

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Renaissance book on fireworks (which the author gets to after a long look at military artillery and proper ways to attack fortified cities) with lots of illustrations.  Jean Appier (1596-1647) was a printer and engraver in Lorraine whose father had been an engineer (fortifications at Nancy among others).  He added the Hanzelet to his name.  Appier seems to have "borrowed" some material for his text and at least one device is probably more imaginary than plausible, but then you weren't planning to build any of this right?