Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Special Catalogue of Tombstones, Monuments, Tablets and Markers

Special Catalogue of Tombstones, Monuments, Tablets and Markers (1902) direct link

There was a time when Sears Roebuck sold tombstones and other funerary markers - this is the 1902 catalog.  The opening sales pitch covers the source of the marble, artisans employed, pricing (you could order COD), reliability and freight.  Even knowing how prices have changed these seem quite low ($6.73?).  I can't help but wonder how many Sears sold.

(By the way, texts are easier to navigate "full screen" - which isn't full screen to your monitor but to the browser window.)

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Medieval Bestiary

The Medieval Bestiary

Direct link

This website compiles images and information about medieval ideas of animals.  The navigation is a bit confusing but go to the Beasts section then try alphabetical.  Once you select an animal the banner at the top has further options such as a gallery with more images or information on the manuscript sources.  From the home page there's a link to digital texts (mostly pdfs).

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Booke of Christmas Carols

Joseph Cundall - A Booke of Christmas Carols, Illuminated from Ancient Manuscripts in the British Museum (1846) direct link
Open Library main page

The title pretty much explains it.  Cundall (1818-1895) was a writer and publisher, primarily but not exclusively of children's books.  His other works include stories of British kings and Robin Hood, a history of wood engraving, a study of Holbein, poetry collections and others.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Star of the Wise Men

Richard Chenevix Trench - The Star of the Wise Men (1850) direct link 
Open Library main page

A study of the story of the three wise men with an aim toward untangling who they might actually have been as well as what religious symbolism the author thinks he can find.  It's nothing if not scholarly - I see references to Bede, Tertullian, Justin Martyr, Eusebius, Irenaeus, Ambrose and so on.  It's a lot to put on a story that appears in one chapter of only one gospel (with a couple of other stray references) but he's drawing on centuries of stories that did everything from set the number to come up with names.

Richard Chenevix Trench (1807-1886) was an Irish-born poet and Anglican clergyman.  He was dean of Westminster Abbey for several years (he's buried there) and after Archbishop of Dublin.  Trench was a prolific writer - other than religious works he wrote about Calderon, Plutarch, church history and philology.  In fact this last is one of his main claims to fame - his 1857 paper "On Some Deficiencies in Our English Dictionaries" was the direct inspiration for the Oxford English Dictionary.  (For a recent account see Simon Winchester's The Meaning of Everything.)  The poet Geoffrey Hill was greatly interested in Trench.  (See Matthew Sperling's 2014 Visionary Philology: Geoffrey Hill and the Study of Words.)

The link is to a US edition which has the note "a few passages, appropriate only to readers in the Church of England, have been omitted".

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Chalk Talk and Crayon Presentation

Charles L Bartholomew - Chalk Talk and Crayon Presentation (1922) direct link
Open Library main page

Chalk talks are a lecture or presentation where the performer draws as they speak, typically using the images as more than just illustration of the words.  It was popular early in the 20th century, especially in the omnivorous world of vaudeville, and survives today in churches and motivational speaking.  More details and some other downloadable books are available at Golden Chalk Classics.

Chalk Talk and Crayon Presentation is both an overview and how-to guide, complete with info on materials and some sample scripts.  It's well illustrated with practitioners other than the author, the best-remembered today being Winsor McCay, Sidney Smith (The Gumps) and Hap Hadley (poster artist).

Charles L. Bartholomew (1869-1949), known as "Bart", was an Iowa-born cartoonist who spent most of his life in Minneapolis working for a local paper.  He was also involved in education of cartoonists at professional schools.

(Thanks to JGB for the tip on this topic.)

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Antiquity of Proverbs

Dwight Edwards Marvin - The Antiquity of Proverbs (1922) direct link
Open Library main page

A gathering of information about popular proverbs.  Despite the title there's not much antiquity or even formal scholarship but it is interesting browsing.  So "A rolling stone gathers no moss", "Still waters run deep", "Look before you leap", "Kill not the goose that lays the golden egg" and numerous others get a chapter with references and stories about the proverb, ending with a lists of variant, allied and contradictory proverbs.  (Oddly this book was referenced in a 2014 Washington Post piece - most likely the result of Internet searching rather than something the report pulled off a shelf.)

Dwight Edwards Marvin (1851-1940) was born in Greenwich, New York, ordained as a Congregational minister and held positions around the state.  He wrote Curiosities in Proverbs as well as several religious books.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Aztec Treasure-House

Thomas Allibone Janvier - The Aztec Treasure-House (1890) direct link
Open Library main page direct link (for boys)
Open Library main page (for boys)

This novel seems to be a reasonably acceptable adventure story according to the reviews I found (I've only skimmed bits of it) but is posted because it exists in both a standard edition and one "for boys".  (Presumably girls weren't expected to care about Aztecs or treasure.)

The story is narrated by a professor who wants to find remnants of the Aztecs and who speaks with the name-dropping and historical references that Janvier thought appropriate for such a person.  This professor is accompanied by a priest, a local boy and two American boys, all searching for religion or gold.

The boys' edition seems to not be rewritten so much as just trimmed.  The prologue is gone and from what I compared between the two books the differences are sentences or parts of paragraphs removed entirely with the text that's left apparently the same.  Basically just made shorter and faster rather than simplified.  The illustrations in the boys' edition are more cartoon-like than the few more realistic drawings in the standard edition.  The copyright for the boys edition is five years after the author's death and in the name of his wife - she was a writer herself and most likely made the changes.  On the basis of no evidence whatsoever I'd hazard a guess that she needed money.

There must be studies of children's editions though I'm not aware of much commentary about this (as distinct from teaching editions).  There of course have always been texts of classics modified for younger readers (at least within reason - probably no kids versions of Suetonius or Rabelais).  Children's versions of current books, at least today. are more likely to be ones intended for school or public interest use such as the younger reader editions of I Am Malala and Enrique's Journey.  The world was recently given a young adult version of The Da Vinci Code, thirteen years after the original and to no obvious demand.  But that's a rarity for fiction.

Thomas Allibone Janvier (1849-1913) was a Philadelphia journalist who traveled through the Southwest and Mexico.  When he started writing fiction those experiences provided background.  Other books include Stories of Old New Spain, Legends of the City of Mexico and An Embassy to Provence.  His niece was Emma Janvier, a Broadway actor who seems to have been fairly well known at the time.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Pessoa's library

Site link

Casa Fernando Pessoa has put the author's surviving library of 1142 titles on their site with downloadable pdfs where possible.  In addition to the books there are annotations, dedications, stamps and a bibliography concerning the library.

The books cover some familiar authors such as Aristotle, Wilde, Boccaccio, Poe, Wells along with a few surprises such as Baring-Gould.  Most, though, are unfamiliar to me and I can't tell how much of them are simply not well known outside Portugal (or Europe) or whether they're actually more obscure.  The listings are bare bibliography with no further detail.

The site seems to automatically display Portuguese or English depending on your location.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Sun Lore of All Ages

William Tyler Olcott - Sun Lore of All Ages: A Collection of Myths and Legends Concerning the Sun and Its Worship (1914) direct link
Open Library main page

A companion to the book in the last post, Sun Lore of All Ages is pretty much what the title describes.  Instead of constellations Olcott this time divides his subject into chapters on festivals, ancient ideas, folklore, myths, worship, symbolism and science with stories ranging from Apollo wandering the Earth in disguise to Siamese sleeping and burial customs.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Star Lore of All Ages

William Tyler Olcott - Star Lore of All Ages: A Collection of Myths, Legends, and Facts Concerning the Constellations of the Northern Hemisphere (1911) direct link
Open Library main page

This collection of wide-ranging stories and myths about stars is organized by constellation.  For instance, Gemini has a brief discussion of its history, Roman legends, what cultures such as Eskimo and Indian thought of it, and actual astronomical information.  References are to Horace, Aristotle, Schiller, Homer, Macaulay, Martial, Virgil and Tennyson.  (Material referring to outside Europe generally came from European sources, recent at the time, and probably should be handled with care today.)  It's fascinating browsing.  There's even a section of "minor constellations" that includes Berenice's Hair, Noah's Dove, The Ship Argo and The Fox with the Goose - every single one unknown to me.

William Tyler Olcott (1873-1936) wrote several popular books on astronomy though he was a lawyer by training (and never practiced it).  Despite this description his astronomical work was substantial and respected.  A crater on the moon is named for him.  He lived in the same house in Norwich, Connecticut his entire life.  In 1911 he founded the American Association of Variable Star Observers and served various functions within the organization.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Drunken Barnaby's Four Journeys to the North of England

Richard Braithwaite - Drunken Barnaby's Four Journeys to the North of England (1635?) direct link
Open Library main page

Braithwaite (1588-1673) was a poet who studied law and wrote a variety of works.  This one (also called Barnabae itinerarium) is Latin and English verse about his (imaginary?) rambles where he seems to have done nothing but drink and attempt to bed various women (usually stopped by husbands it appears, though to be honest the slang sometimes makes what he's describing a bit unclear).  The poetry is mostly sing-song doggerel though shows Braithwaite wasn't completely untalented.  "A fluent if inelegant satirist" (Thomas Campbell 1819) about sums it up.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


Roger Ascham - Toxophilus (1545) direct link (original text) direct link (edition without long-S but worse formatting)
Open Library main page
Archery Library (online text with modernized spelling)

Ascham's Toxophilus was the first book in English about archery.  That's a distinction of limited interest but the real appeal is a rich style that's a bit overblown even by 16th century standards.  In fact Ascham was one of Francis Bacon's examples of a vanity in studies ("whereby learning hath been most traduced") where the study of antiquity and languages "grew speedily to an excess" and writers to "hunt more after words than matter".  (Advancement of Learning)

The text is in dialogue form and the odd title is the name of one of the speakers.  (Dialogue might seem unusual for an instructional manual but just think of all the corporate and institutional instructional material today done in somewhat similar formats.)  Ascham doesn't hesitate to draw in examples from nature (the belief that porcupines shoot quills) or history or what we would today consider myth.  He wrote in English supposedly with the intent of helping train British archers (though Charles d'Albret's troops might have thought that unnecessary).  One of his main purposes though was to impress Henry VIII - after presenting it he received an annual pension.  (Before writing it Aschram was Latin and Greek tutor to young Elizabeth.)

There's a full treatment of the work by Peter E. Medine "The Art and Wit of Roger Ascham's Bid for Royal Patronage: Toxophilus (1545)".

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Texts from the Holy Bible Explained by the Help of the Ancient Monuments

Samuel Sharpe - Texts from the Holy Bible Explained by the Help of the Ancient Monuments (1866) direct link
Open Library main page

Another fascinating book from the heyday of comparative mythology, with an archaeological approach.  Sharpe takes Biblical passages then explains and illustrates them using physical artifacts and other texts.  For instance, a passage about signets from the Book of Daniel (p138) has an illustration of one, a description of how they were employed, which cultures used them, and how they were relatively uncommon in Egypt.

Samuel Sharpe (1799-1881) probably can't be better described than Wikipedia: "an English Unitarian banker who, in his leisure hours, made substantial contributions to Egyptology and Biblical translation."  He published a large number of works including Egyptian Mythology and Egyptian Christianity, The History of Egypt Under the RomansThe Rosetta Stone in Hieroglyphics and GreekThe History of the Hebrew Language and the decidedly pulp-sounding The Triple Mummy Case of Aroeri-Ao.  He worked on translating the Bible and was chosen as one of the scholars who contributed to the Revised Version.  A biography by Peter William Clayden was published shortly after Sharpe's death.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Rohonc Codex

Rohonc Codex

Hungarian Academy of Sciences (only monochrome available to public)

Anybody familiar with the Voynich Manuscript will find the Rohonc Codex a similar story - book of unknown origin, unidentified script, uncertain language, cryptic illustrations and suspicions of forgery.  But the Rohonc Codex remains fairly obscure, not even attracting much kook attention (so far anyway).

One reason may be that it seems to have been little known outside Hungary until recently.  Nearly everything in English that I can find draws almost exclusively from Wikipedia which in turn draws from extensive sources, all in Hungarian except two (in English and German).  Almost the only other writing in English with original research appears to be the Passing Strangeness blog and a brief mention in a piece on the possible forger in Janos Bak's Manufacturing a Past for the Present.  (This view may be skewed by my use of English-language databases.  For all I know there's extensive literature in Europe but I doubt that.)

The Rohonc Codex also just isn't as interesting as the Voynich.  Look at the images below and you'll see that it appears more clumsy and the illustrations more crude.  Though the images mix religious traditions there's nothing like the unidentified (or invented) ones in the Voynich.

A quick recap in case you don't want to follow the links.  The Rohonc Codex was part of a count's library donated to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1838 - there are no records about where he acquired it.  The codex was studied periodically during the 19th century until one scholar suggested it was actually the work of Sámuel Literáti Nemes, an antiquarian of the time who did in fact create several known forgeries.  Since nobody has come up with a plausible explanation for the text opinion has remained divided whether it is in fact a forgery.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Naughty Puppies

Naughty Puppies (1870) direct link 
Open Library main page

The blog will return in December.  Until then here are some puppies.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Halloween reading

Ghost story posts

The blog is taking a brief break but for Halloween that link goes to a month's worth of posts from a couple of years ago.  Mostly ghost stories but a few other weird tales of various kinds.  (I've just noticed the covers don't always appear so will have to look into that.)

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates

Howard Pyle - Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates (1921) direct link 
Open Library main page

A collection of Pyle's various pirate stories with his famous illustrations (he's often credited with creating our current image of how pirates looked).  There are fights, captured ships, buried treasure, adventure on the high seas and even a little romance and a Christmas tale (though probably far less drink than in reality given the general younger age of the intended readership).

Sunday, September 18, 2016


McKenzie Wark - Dispositions (2002)

Direct link

Though not public domain the book has been shared by the author. Wark is a media theorist and writer possibly best known for The Hacker Manifesto (with two books on the Situationists for Verso). In Dispositions Wark travels to places using his GPS then records observations and thoughts. It's an unusual mix of psychogeography, prose poem and criticism.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Women and Film

Women and Film

Direct link

Running from 1972 to 1975, Women and Film was a groundbreaking scholarly journal with a publication method that grew out of the underground press and looked forward to the zine movement.  It's an interesting look at the time with its focus on European filmmakers (lots of Godard), acknowledged auteurs, re-evaluation of Hollywood and collecting information about women filmmakers. Still, it's not dated and much of the material is still worth reading.  All the issues are hosted at the Jump Cut site and can be downloaded as pdfs.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Epistolae obscurorum virorum / Letters of Obscure Men

Francis Griffin Stokes (ed) - Epistolae obscurorum virorum (1519, edition of 1909) direct link
Open Library main page

"A text that contains intentional blunders, and in which grammar is a law unto itself, seems to call for exceptional treatment."  That's the conclusion of editor and translator Stokes when introducing this now-little-known curiosity.  Epistolae obscurorum virorum is a series of satirical letters that appeared in Germany from 1515-1519.  The letters were a humanist attack on scholasticism and employed overstatement, clumsily pretentious writing, illogical leaps, wayward references - basically the same things that would be used to parody academic writing today.  (I will now start my emails with "Cordial greeting and homage beyond belief".)

This satire, though, is credited with helping push the Reformation, particularly in its support of Johannes Reuchlin who was fending off charges of heresy as he attempted to prevent destruction of Hebrew religious materials (which were considered anti-Christian).  (See David H. Price's 2011 Johannes Reuchlin and the Campaign to Destroy Jewish Books.)  One recent reprint of Epistolae obscurorum virorum was done under the title On the Eve of the Reformation.

Let's just go with one sample (that's actually one of the more simple): "As I have ofttimes told you, I chafe bitterly because that vile raff, to wit the Faculty of Poets, groweth and extendeth throughout every province and region. In my time there was only one poet--and his name was Samuel--but now in a single burg a good score may be found, to harass us who cling to the ancients. Just now I sharply snibbed one who said that 'scholaris' did not mean a person who went to school to learn, for, quote I, 'Thou ass! Wouldst though correct the Holy Doctor who useth that word?'  But forthwith he wrote a lampoon against me, with many scurrilities therein, and vowed that I was no sound grammarian, in that I had not rightly expounded certain words when I treated of Alexander, his First Part, and of the book De modis significandi."

This appears to have been the first English translation.

Friday, September 2, 2016

An Introduction to the Knowledge of Rare and Valuable Editions of the Greek and Latin Classics

Thomas Frognall Dibdin - An Introduction to the Knowledge of Rare and Valuable Editions of the Greek and Latin Classics (1802, 4th edition of 1827) direct link (volume 1) direct link (volume 2)
Open Library main page

An extensive bibliography of editions of classical works, mainly of interest because the fairly detailed entries make for interesting browsing.  Dibdin was a key figure in the development of bibliography.  This fourth edition of his work was rewritten from previous and skips grammarians and collections.

Dibdin ranges from praise ("An uncommon and magnificent edition: it has a number of curious wood-cuts, and the typography is exceedingly splendid.") to remarks on collecting interest ("By no means a scarce work; many copies having been sold at the principal sales, and the London booksellers being frequently in possession of it.") to the occasional swipe ("In an investigation of this sort it is necessary to take so much notice of errors, that you will perhaps have concluded Arnoldus de Bruxella's edition to be one of the most faulty of the fifteenth century.").

I'm always surprised at just how much was published during this period.  Not to mention changes in taste.  There are six and a half pages about Silicus Italicus who is so forgotten now I had to look him up (he wrote the longest surviving Latin poem).

Thomas Frognall Dibdin (1776-1847) was born in Calcutta and educated at Oxford.  He became a clergyman but seems to have spent more time on his bibliographies (including a period at Antwerp).  His Bibliomania seems to have been popular at the time.  A very short biography by Edward John O'Dwyer was published in 1967.  There's also a bibliography of Dibdin's works.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Rejected Addresses

Horace and James Smith - Rejected Addresses (1812) direct link 
Open Library main page direct link to American edition 

Probably the first book of parodies to become a popular success.  The inspiration was the re-opening after a fire of Drury Lane Theatre when a monetary award was offered for a ceremonial address.  Numerous submissions were turned down so the Smith brothers came up with the idea of writing other rejected addresses done in the style of famous poets such as Byron, Scott, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Southey and Moore.  It was a huge success, going through numerous editions very quickly.

(The genuine address was written by Byron as a last resort and not without some infighting that apparently diluted his work.  Details start at p166 of Life, Letters, and Journals of Lord Byron - "You will think there is no end to my villanous [sic] emendations."  and "You will find a sort of clap-trap laudatory couplet inserted for the quiet of the Committee.")

The linked edition includes a preface from two decades later and identifies the poets being parodied.  Even if you don't recognize the targeted poets the Smiths' poems still have good-natured humor:

Bloom, Theatre, bloom, in the roseate blushes
Of beauty illumed by a love-breathing smile!
And flourish, ye pillars, as green as the rushes
That pillow the nymphs of the Emerald Isle!

The "American" edition includes solo work by each brother including "Address to a Mummy", "Lachrymose Writers", "To a Log of Wood upon the Fire" and "Diamond Cut Diamond".  There's also a biographical memoir (their phrase) that covers their lives with the same wit.

For the curious, or more appropriately connoisseurs of bad verse, a collection of some of the Genuine Rejected Addresses was also published in 1812.  "Before a British Audience I appear -- / Then whence this feeling of unfounded fear?" runs one example.  (And if nothing else you may want to check out E.N. Bellchambers' submission starting on p68 - too long to quote but it invokes Bacchus and Melpomene (the Tragic Muse), the invasion of the Goths, Liberty and Melpomene's offspring being Shakespeare, includes long footnotes in French, tosses in Aeschylus and Britannia, and perhaps inevitably brings up the Phoenix at the end.)

A full biography of the brothers was published in 1899 by Arthur H. Beavan.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Illustrated British Ballads, Old and New

George Barnett Smith - Illustrated British Ballads, Old and New (1881) direct link 
Open Library main page

The title pretty much tells you what this book is about - it includes both modern (more or less) ballads from identifiable authors (Macaulay and Drayton for example) as well as collected folk material.  The book is contemporary with Child and there are a few overlaps though overall Smith isn't quite so grim or fantastic.  There are decent headnotes and the illustrations range from merely ornamental to scenes from the ballad.

George Barnett Smith (1841-1909) was a British writer who worked for the Globe and the Dictionary of National Biography among numerous others.  He published several books including popular biographies of Shelley, Hugo, Emperor William I and Gladstone.  He later took up engraving.