Monday, May 30, 2016

True Love

Sarah E. Farro - True Love: A Story of English Domestic Life (1891) direct link
Open Library main page

This is a fascinating story - scholar Gretchen Gerzina was researching another topic and stumbled across a newspaper mention of something else, thus finding the second known novel by a black woman in the 19th century.  Gerzina thinks the book may have slipped through the cracks not just because it wasn't that popular but because it's about white domestics in Britain.  She had it digitized and now it's available for everybody.  The link in her article is to a Google scan but has a different scan of the same copy that I think is higher quality.  (The earlier dates on the Open Library listing appear to be catalog data, not the actual file which elsewhere has a January 2014 stamp.  I'm not sure about the reference to a microfilm.)

Gerzina gathered more information about Farro.  Born in 1859, Farro lived in Chicago where the book was published.  She died in 1937 (possibly - the article either gives that as the date or it is the date of a celebration "toward the end of her life").  She appears to have been involved in a personal injury case - at least it's the same name, in Chicago and the correct time period.  There's not much other information about Farro except that according to some press notices "she has had a high school education" and listed her favorite writers as Dickens, Thackeray and Holmes.  She doesn't appear to have written, or at least not published, anything else despite a newspaper mention that she was working on a follow-up.

Despite the claim in the article there are at least ten copies in US libraries according to Worldcat.  Interestingly, there are a couple in Malaysia - hard not to wonder how they ended up there.  (Though the Occam enthusiast in me suspects it may be a single copy with duplicate listings.)

The publisher Donohue & Henneberry started as a bookbinding business before moving to inexpensive reprints and some original titles.  They apparently continued to produce supplies and other print matter.  They occupied a quite large building in downtown Chicago.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Venice as Seen and Described by Famous Writers

Esther Singleton - Venice as Seen and Described by Famous Writers (1905) direct link
Open Library main page

Esther Singleton (1865-1930) did an entire series of these "Seen and Described by Famous Writers" books: paintings, portraits, buildings, Japan, Germany, London, Paris, Russia.  I chose this one not only because it's the first I encountered but because Venice is fascinating on so many levels.  This is, after all, the city that simply ignored when its entire population was excommunicated by Pope Julius II in a power struggle.

Ruskin is here of course but also Dickens, Taine, Gautier, Symonds and several writers unfamiliar to me.  Topics cover not just the usual historical background and architecture but also night, summer, paintings, carnival, floods, mosaics, holidays, gondolas, melancholy.

Singleton was a remarkably prolific writer.  In addition to this series she wrote books on opera, dolls, cities, the White House, collecting, furniture and at least one novel (Daughter of the Revolution).  Surprisingly I can't find much about her except that she was a violinist at one point.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Celebrated Comedians of Light Opera and Musical Comedy in America

Lewis C. Strang - Celebrated Comedians of Light Opera and Musical Comedy in America (1900) direct link 
Open Library main page

Strang (1869–1935) wrote several books about stage performers including Famous Actors of the Day, Famous Actresses of the Day, Famous Prima Donnas, Players and Plays of the Last Quarter Century.  Clearly not engaged criticism but invaluable source material.  And in fact I find many references to his books but little about the person.  He was from the Boston area and started writing there but I can't tell if that's where he remained, whether he published only books or much else.  This book was reprinted in 1906 as Famous Stars of Light Opera.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Calmet's Dictionary of the Holy Bible

Augustin Calmet - Calmet's Dictionary of the Holy Bible (1722-28, edition of 1832) direct link
Open Library main page

The last post was on Calmet's collection of supernatural stories and legends, this one represents his main work as Biblical scholar.

If there are any regular readers of this blog you've noticed my weakness for older reference works when there was more individuality and even eccentricity.  As one example here take the entry for "Apples of Sodom".  There actually is a fruit with that nickname that the entry notes "was said to have all the appearance of the most inviting apple, while it was filled with nauseous and bitter dust only."  This does appear to be talking roughly about real fruit (which doesn't have dust inside) but with references to Josephus, Milton, Burckhardt, Chateaubriand and travel writer Ulrich Seetzen.  Some of this material dates after Calmet's time and is the work of scholar Edward Robinson who revised the book "with large additions".  He explains his method in the introduction.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Phantom World

Augustin Calmet - The Phantom World: Or, the Philosophy of Spirits, Apparitions, &c (1751) direct link
Open Library main page

Guillermo del Toro listed this as one of his favorite books.  This is an 1850 edition with a solid introduction though the editor can't resist a couple of anti-Catholic swipes.  Who translated isn't entirely clear but appears to be editor Henry Christmas, largely because it doesn't read like an 18th century translation.

The book is basically a collection of stories about the supernatural or as Christmas puts it "a vast repertory of legends, more or less probable; some of which have little foundation".  His evaluation of probability seems quite generous.  Maybe chapter titles will convey the idea:  "Ghosts in Peru", "Ghosts in Lapland", "Are the Vampires or Revenants Really Dead?", "Of Spectres which Haunt Houses", "Of the Pagan Oracles", "Some Other Examples of Elves".  But they aren't entirely credulous even though Calmet is undermining them more from the view of the Church rather than science.

Such an approach is entirely understandable since Augustin Calmet (1672-1757) was a Benedictine monk.  Born in Lorraine, part of the Holy Roman Empire at the time now France, he worked in several monasteries, clearly spending much time in their libraries.  His other works include Biblical commentaries, historical material about Lorraine, dictionaries, and many others.  Modern writer William Baird said Calmet "is usually recognized as the greatest Roman Catholic biblical scholar of the eighteenth century".  (History of New Testament Research, p157)

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Ultimate Latin Dictionary: After 122 Years, Still At Work On The Letter 'N'

Direct NPR link

"Through two World Wars and German reunification, generations of Latin scholars have been chipping away at the same goal: documenting every use of every Latin word from the earliest Latin inscriptions in the 6th century BC up until around 200 AD, when it was in decline as a spoken language."

Baedeker's Egypt

Baedeker's Egypt (1898, Fourth Remodelled Edition) direct link
Open Library main page

The Baedeker travel guides were so famous and influential that the name still exists as a reference though the guides themselves slowly declined during the 20th century and finally stopped around the Second World War.  Hundreds have been digitized but this was the first I encountered and its subject seems more novel than, say, London.

The first thing I noticed is that the guide is so incredibly detailed.  Directions, tips, etiquette and some background are to be expected but has distances (to the half mile and for buildings in feet), addresses, discounts on exchange rates, times, thorough itineraries and a phenomenal amount of background information.  I glanced at the current Lonely Planet guide to Egypt and though they're clearly still more or less the same thing the assumptions are quite different, the often-remarked differences between travelers and tourists (and I don't think it's really a 19th to 21st century difference).

In any case, this is fascinating browsing and a great source for historians and novelists (despite the academic study of travel literature I can't find much on guide books though I'm positive it exists).

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Illustrations of Eating

George Vasey - Illustrations of Eating (1847) direct link 
Open Library main page

Though there are a few drawings these illustrations are mainly verbal.  Illustrations of Eating exists in an area between travel book and proto-anthropology, the goal being to explore food more how it actually exists than as the artistic "cuisine", though it's not particularly scholarly.  The author reports what he has witness or accounts from what he considers reliable sources though since one of the latter describes Chinese eating grubs, earthworms, dogs and cats these probably aren't quite that accurate.  He also embarked on this book believing that "national food forms the national character", giving as an example the "smooth, slippery, and volatile character of the soup-, snail-, and frog-eating Frenchmen".

The book was published under the pseudonym "A Beef-Eater" who is identified by most sources as a George Vasey.  The only source I find for this is Samuel Halkett's Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous English Literature, Volume 3 (p132).  There was a botanist George Vasey (1822-1893) but this isn't listed in any bibliography for him and he moved to the US as a child so thus unlikely to consider himself a Beef-Eater.  So my guess is a different person by that name.  Since Open Library has two other books (1867's The Charms of Elocution and 1875's The Philosophy of Laughter and Smiling) with London locations those would appear to be from the same person.  There are some stray references so with time I could probably track down more information but, well, there are other things to work on.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Thomas Biggs Harned Collection of Walt Whitman Papers

Direct link (Library of Congress)

Digitized collection of Whitman material.  Looks a bit tricky to navigate but I've only glanced at it so far but it has notebooks, manuscripts, letters, proofs, broadsides and much other material.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Rand, McNally & Co.'s A Week at the Fair

Rand, McNally & Co.'s A Week at the Fair (1893) direct link
Open Library main page

An extensive guidebook to the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition (also called the World's Fair) in Chicago.  Lots of detail about the exhibits, structures, creators, performers, countries and so forth that were involved.  The ads at beginning and end are today almost as interesting.  This is the same fair that was background to one of the stories in Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Wine, Women, and Song

John Addington Symonds (ed) - Wine, Women, and Song: Medieval Latin Students' Songs (1884) direct link
Open Library main page

Apparently the first substantial English translation of the rowdy, seize-the-day lyrics from medeival scholars.  They were unfamiliar at the time but today most people know them from Carl Orff's setting of the Carmina Burana and the background from Helen Waddell's wonderful 1927 Wandering Scholars.

Symonds provides context and commentary, at times almost too much.  His translations seem fairly Victorian - "The blithe young year is upward steering, / Wild winter dwindles disappearing; / The short, short days are growing longer, / Rough weather yields and warmth is stronger."  But I don't know how accurate this is since I can't read the originals and don't have the Parlett and Waddell translations (which I have read) handy.  Symonds does admit to omitting a few passages that would offend contemporary sensibilities.

John Addington Symonds (1840-1893) was a Renaissance scholar.  He studied under Jowett and wrote many books about Italy, Boccaccio, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Whitman and Greek poets.  He was a pioneer in studying gay history though much of that work wasn't widely distributed at the time.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Notes From Our Attic: A Curator's Pocket History of the CIA

Notes From Our Attic: A Curator's Pocket History of the CIA (2015)

Link to home page

From the CIA itself, a brief history of the agency starting with the OSS.  Heavily illustrated, mostly with items from the CIA Museum that's not open to the public.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Paul Verlaine

Stefan Zweig - Paul Verlaine (1913) direct link
Open Library main page

After the last post it seemed worth doing another about Verlaine and surprisingly there are several public domain biographies or works about him available.  This is from Stefan Zweig, currently undergoing a revival himself.  Though Zweig was known for fiction apparently his biographies were strong sellers.  This one is brief - barely 90 pages with big type and wide margins.

Oddly, right before I was going to post this a friend sent a link to Michael Hoffman's vivid attack on Zweig.  It's so excessive that it's more comic than he probably intended and perhaps for that reason not quite convincing.  He also miscounted the number of film adaptations since the IMDB lists almost double his number (including some from Rossellini and Ophuls).  But it sure is entertaining.