Saturday, July 30, 2016

Illustrations of New Species of Exotic Butterflies

William C. Hewitson - Illustrations of New Species of Exotic Butterflies (1862-66) direct link (vol 1) direct link (vol 3) direct link (vol 4) direct link (vol 5)
Open Library main page

Another set of nice natural history illustrations, plus detailed taxonomy and description if that's an added inducement.  Hewitson (1806-1878) was a British entomologist who published a handful of other books.  (I couldn't find a link for volume 2.)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Destruction of Ancient Rome

Rodolfo Amedeo Lanciani - The Destruction of Ancient Rome: A Sketch of the History of the Monuments (1899) direct link 
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Like any thriving city Rome has preserved some of its past and lost more - that process is the subject of this book.  It's not always a story of ignorance but as much of considered improvements (given a large push by the emperors), benign neglect and sometimes mere chance.  There were construction projects, removal of material from older buildings, sacks, floods, fires, modernization, weather and the simple passage of time.  Lanciani brings detail, both historical and observed, to the account but doesn't appear to be overwhelmed by it.  (The book seems to have been written in English as several of his works were, many of which were translated later back into his native language.)

Rodolfo Lanciani (1847-1929) was a professor of Roman topography at the University of Rome and responsible for overseeing excavations in the city.  He wrote several books on the subject and produced a series of highly detailed maps Forma Urbis Romae that are still consulted today.  He was a popular speaker and toured the US where he gained some celebrity (and his first wife).

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Description of Banvard's Panorama of the Mississippi River

John Banvard (?) - Description of Banvard's Panorama of the Mississippi River (1847) direct link 
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Banvard's Panorama is an interesting cultural curiosity.  The story is covered in some detail in Paul Collins highly recommended Banvard's Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn't Change the World (2001).  (Though I prefer the original hardcover subtitle "Thirteen Tales of Renowned Obscurity, Famous Anonymity, and Rotten Luck".)  Collins claims "The life of John Banvard is the most perfect crystallization of loss imaginable," noting how during the 1850s Banvard was enormously famous and possibly the first millionaire artist but then a few decades later buried in a pauper's grave, unknown and his art destroyed.

The panorama was an extremely long, unbroken painting of the Mississippi River.  Claimed to cover the entire river, the panorama was advertised as being three miles in length though it seems to have actually been closer to only half a mile.  It would be exhibited as a presentation, being unrolled while Banvard described what was being seen.  This is sometimes considered a rough precursor to cinema but Banvard wasn't the only one doing this - there were panoramas of Rome, California, Canada and others, including a competing Mississippi River one.  (See Anne Baker's 2006 Heartless Immensity: Literature, Culture, and Geography in Antebellum America for more details.)

This pamphlet is a companion to the panorama, containing a brief biographical sketch, testimonials and descriptions of the views.  Unfortunately there are no illustrations.

Melville referenced Banvard once - see p35 of Journal Up the Straits, a record of an 1856-7 trip that was published in 1935.

And Banvard?  With his now immense wealth he decided to build a duplicate of Windsor Castle on Long Island (that's the "folly") and then retired there.  By 1867 he decided to build a museum and theater in Manhattan to compete with P.T. Barnum but made disastrous financial decisions resulting in a move to South Dakota.  (The Castle and theater were later destroyed.)  There he wrote, tried to create a final panorama and eventually died in 1891.  Only a few fragments of his paintings still exist though none are known of the Mississippi Panorama.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Studies of the Greek Poets

John Addington Symonds - Studies of the Greek Poets (1873) direct link
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Symonds may be best remembered today for his Renaissance histories (though I earlier posted his medieval anthology Wine, Women and Song).   This one, however, is "by far the most important book on classical literature of which most professional classicists today have never heard" (Gideon Nisbet Greek Epigram in Reception p11).  I'm not a professional classicist and probably few of the blog's readers either but this appears to be a readable, personal and deeply informed work.  (So far I've only gone through bits and pieces.)

The book also turns out to have been somewhat controversial at the time, partly due to dealing fairly directly with homosexuality but also for suggesting Greek ethics might be superior to Judeo-Christian.  No surprise then that Symonds lost a job because of it or that this was a favorite book of Oscar Wilde when he was at university.  (See Thomas Wright Built of Books: How Reading Defined the Life of Oscar Wilde.)

For an example, the chapter Women of Homer opens with "Helen of Troy is one of those ideal creatures of the fancy over which time, space, and circumstance, and moral probability, exert no sway."  (I particularly like "moral probability" which seems almost like an afterthought but nails the odd function of Helen in The Iliad.)  Symonds then discusses her history, who her parents might have been, and how the dramatists handled her character.  Rather than the rehash of secondary sources common to so many overviews this is dense and insightful, reminding me somewhat of Robert Graves book on Greek myths.

The book is also remarkably thorough, not only covering the familiar high points but the Greek Anthology, early mythology, Empedocles, Gnomic poets, and many fragmentary works.  (In fact, I first heard about this book in an essay on Herodas whose dialogues were discovered in 1891 and Symonds was one of the first to examine in any depth.)

I've linked to the 1893 third (and final) edition because it includes more material though it's not exactly what Wilde read.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Class Mottoes: Patriotic, English, French, Latin and Illustrated

Harter School Supply Company - Class Mottoes: Patriotic, English, French, Latin and Illustrated (1922) direct link 
Open Library main page

Apparently created by a supply company as suggestions to go on their products I think now we might be able to riffle it for clip art and t-shirt slogans.  "Out of the quiet harbor into the billowy sea" or "Backbone, not wishbone" or what has to be an oddly uninspirational Patriotic Motto "We struggle to win".  There's even some in French ("Nul bein sans peine" - "No pains, no gains") and Latin ("Dignus Vindice nodus" - "A knot worthy to be untied").

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Golden Thoughts of Carmen Sylva, Queen of Roumania

Carmen Sylva - Golden Thoughts of Carmen Sylva, Queen of Roumania (1900) direct link
Open Library main page

Writers through time have produced numerous books of sayings, often presented like this one as improving thoughts rather than witty aphorisms and often not improving anything, not even anybody's bank account.  I'd never heard of this author but was surprised that the material has some substance and occasional bite.  It sometimes leans towards bumper-sticker level (the introduction spends a lot of time trying to distinguish her from La Rochefoucauld) but overall is worth skimming.

Some samples:

Bad poets make of language what bad priests make of religion: a narrow prison.

When two women of intelligence can extract nothing from a man, be sure there is nothing in him.

Flatterers always begin by saying they cannot flatter.

There is a repulsive goodness as well as an attractive wickedness.

People call ugliness truth, just as they call coarseness candour.

A wife has to love you, suffer in childbirth, share your cares, direct your household, bring up your family, and be pretty and amiable into the bargain.  What were you saying just now about her weakness?

Carmen Sylva was the pen name of Elisabeth of Wied (1843-1916), Queen of Romania from 1881-1914.  She was a prolific writer, producing novels, plays, short stories, poetry, aphorisms, translations of Pierre Loti and folk songs.  She seems to have written in French, English and German.

Monday, July 18, 2016

All Through the Day the Mother Goose Way

Jean Broadhurst - All Through the Day the Mother Goose Way (1921) direct link
Open Library main page

Collection of Mother Goose rhymes, each one getting a full page of enlightening commentary.  "Little Miss Muffet was a silly little thing, to leave her bowl of nice sour milk because a spider came near her."  Or "I wish I had been on the hill to help Jack and Jill with my First Aid Kit. I would have put a nice clean bandage on Jack instead of brown paper."  The author pushes eating less meat, not drinking tea or coffee, and sleeping outdoors even if it's cool.

Broadhurst wrote this book because she had been hired by the Cleanliness Institute to write materials and was "perturbed" that the Institute revised Mother Goose rhymes.  So she did her own with the rhymes intact.  (See Richard K. Means' 1962 A History of Health Education in the United States, p217)

Jean Broadhurst (1873-1954) was a professor of bacteriology (apparently at Columbia but I can't completely confirm that) and a promoter of health practices.  She had a PhD from Cornell.  Her other books include Home and Community Hygiene (1918), How We Resist Disease (1923), Outline of an Elementary Course in Microbiology (1918) and Bacteriology Applied to Nursing (1930).

Saturday, July 16, 2016's eBook of the Month Club

Direct link

Not the kind of thing I usually post but this is a good deal.  They get your email of course but otherwise it's a DRM-free ebook.  Some other publishers do a free ebook deal but often require specific downloaded readers.  The first title will only be up a day after I post this but is the highly acclaimed The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu.

Friday, July 8, 2016

History of the Commune of 1871

Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray - History of the Commune of 1871 (1876) direct link 
Open Library main page

John Merrick at Verso Books says "Lissagaray's book is the classic history of the Commune, the heroic battles fought in its defence, and the bloody massacre that ended the uprising. Its author was a young journalist who not only saw the events recounted here first-hand, but fought for the Commune on the barricades."

The book is frequently cited and from what I can gather considered accurate.  The English translation is done by Eleanor Marx, Karl's youngest daughter, who had a romantic relationship with Lissagaray that eventually ended.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016


Frederic Harrison -  Theophano, the Crusade of the Tenth Century: A Romantic Monograph (1904) direct link
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I have not read this book.  It came to my attention in Pierre Bayard's 2007 How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read.  He in turn found it in Natsume Soseki's 1905 I Am a Cat where it's the subject of a discussion between two characters who neither one have read the book either.

Bayard's book is fascinating - structurally a parody of self-help books but actually an examination of the nature of reading.  Through his title topic he approaches reading in ways that are rarely even mentioned in critical or theoretical works.  It's not just about creating a facade of culture (in fact the book would be most unhelpful in that regard) but ways in which we forget what we've read, merge texts, create mental images that don't match either the actual book or images other readers have, situating works within transitory and often unreliable networks of knowledge.  He's just released a similar book on travel literature that I definitely need to read.

Oh, Theophano?  It's of "the literary genre that might be called the Byzantine novel" (Bayard), a historical fiction set as the full title mentions in the 10th century.  Glancing at a few pages it appears to be pretty dense, with declamatory dialogue, paragraphs of historical information, detailed descriptions of complicated personal and political relations.  I bet it's a chore to read but might have some appeal in its clumsiness.  But as mentioned, I haven't read it.

Frederic Harrison (1832-1923) was a British philosopher and professor of jurisprudence.  His other publications include biographies of Ruskin and Cromwell (Oliver I suppose should be specified in this post-Wolf Hall world), a verse tragedy, literary criticism, history, architectural studies and much legal and political work.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Conversations of Ben Jonson with William Drummond

Conversations of Ben Jonson with William Drummond of Hawthornden (1900) direct link
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Anthony Madrid has a recent piece in The Paris Review describing how Scottish poet William Drummond kept notes on Ben Jonson's highly opinionated talk during a visit.  If you wanted to read the whole thing well here it is.  This edition has modernized spelling and though the editor says there was no attempt to "Bowdlerize" he then immediately mentions some things he omitted.  Apparently some 19th century Jonson editors debated Drummond's intentions - did he taunt Jonson into these opinions or were they more or less accurate?  (A contemporary journal calls it "the exasperating Drummond-Jonson squabble.")  Modern opinion leans towards accuracy.  (See Ian Donaldson's Ben Jonson: A Life.)

Still, this is certainly amusing reading:  Lucan "merited not the name of poet", Jonson "beat Marston and took his pistol from him", "Ralegh esteemed more of fame than conscience" and so forth.  There's also some scurrilous gossip about Queen Elizabeth, puffery from Jonson to himself, reading recommendations.

For even more background see the 1873 biography Drummond of Hawthornden by David Masson.