Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Burgess Nonsense Book

Gelett Burgess - The Burgess Nonsense Book (1901) direct link
Open Library main page

Another from author/editor/humorist/poet Gelett Burgess, this time collecting much of his nonsense work (including "Purple Cow").  I don't think it's meant for children, at least not entirely, but in any case has aged well enough.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Fourth Dimension and the Bible

William Anthony Granville - The Fourth Dimension and the Bible (1922) direct link
Open Library main page

Not my discovery - the Odd Books site posted about it recently.  But when I started this blog I'd hoped to have many more kook books than in fact I've found, though this might only partially fit that description.  Granville (1863-1943) was a well-known mathematician with some substantial publications to his credit.  (And as the title page notes, also responsible for a "transparent combined ruler and protractor" - something all academic CVs should mention!)  Just skimming this book--because honestly it doesn't look quite that interesting--Granville seems to be trying to put Christianity on a firm basis using pure mathematics.  Probably not very successfully since this book isn't referenced much afterwards.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Raymond Scott: Artifacts from the Archives

Raymond Scott: Artifacts from the Archives (2017)


Another book under copyright but can be legally downloaded.  It's a compilation of material related to Scott's electronic music.  (You know Scott's work even if the name is unfamiliar though mainly from his jazz-pop pieces rather than electronics.)

Friday, June 16, 2017


James Joyce - Ulysses (1922) direct link
Open Library main page

Today is Bloomsday so what else could I post?  This is the Egoist Press edition which appeared in October 1922 after Shakespeare & Co's edition that February.  It was printed from the same plates and includes several pages of errata that constitute almost a found poem.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Cultus Arborum

Hargrave Jennings (?) - Cultus Arborum: A Descriptive Account of Phallic Tree Worship (1890) direct link
Open Library main page

Phallic tree worship?  Sure, why not - except this book is mainly a compendium of tree worship and little else.  Even a contemporary notice in the Theosophical Review griped as much ("we fear however that literary incubi will find too much about Tree Worship and too little about Phallicism to delay them long over the present exposition") before it then veers off on its own tangent.

The book was privately published with no author indication but some modern sources claim it was the work of occultist Hargrave Jennings (1817-1890).  This doesn't seem to be a particularly firm attribution but I'll leave it.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Philosophy of Beards

T. S. Gowing - The Philosophy of Beards (1854) direct link
Open Library main page

If you ever needed a defense of beards complete with a brief history of them - well here you go.  This traces the wearing of beards from Greece and Assyria up to the then-modern day, apparently missing few opportunities to promote beards.

Despite other sources the date of 1854 seems correct - at least there was a review in the 1854 Living Age.

Gowing is something of a mystery.  He's mentioned several times in connection with the Society of the Arts so was probably a member and he once presented a paper on Suffolk place names so possibly from there.

Friday, June 2, 2017

History of Christian Names

Charlotte Mary Yonge - History of Christian Names (1863) direct link (1884 revised edition)
Open Library main page

Skimming titles I thought this was religious but here "Christian name" just means first name or given name.  In fact many of these come from decidedly other religious traditions - Jewish, Greek, Norse, Germanic.  It doesn't take the form of a dictionary but groups them into what are considered roots and then described in a more or less narrative fashion.  So "Frey" gets a short history of its origins in Sanskrit and passage into various other languages.  Then into deities, various kings and rulers, some saints and before long we have an assortment of Frederick, Federico, Fritz, Frederica and so on.

It's safe to flag much of this as today not entirely reliable, not only being the product of 19th century philology but from an dedicated, though very well-read, enthusiast.  Parts of it are also clearly speculative.  Still on the whole it's pretty entertaining to read even if quite dense at times.

And if nothing else the glossary at the start will provide lots of names for your fantasy novel - Monegonde, Helmtac, Seoin, Valborg.

It won't come as a surprise that Charlotte Mary Yonge (1823-1901) was a novelist, quite popular and prolific but now mostly forgotten.  Little seems to have been reprinted and to get an idea of her story one 1943 biography (the most recent apparently) was subtitled "The History of an Uneventful Life".   Her first biography in 1903 was written by her friend Christabel Rose Coleridge, grand-daughter of Samuel.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A History of Pantomime

R.J. Broadbent - A History of Pantomime (1901) direct link 
Open Library main page

I've only read lightly about theatrical and acting history (aside from Elizabethan) but find it interesting because of how spotty and inadequate the records are, to say nothing of the changing terms that make comparisons tricky.  What would we think of David Garrick if we could see him today?  How exactly were classical Greek performances staged?  In any case this book traces pantomime from ancient origins (or at least Greek and Indian origins) up through Romans, mystery plays, the Italians, fairy tale versions and even its appearances in America.

I can find almost nothing about the author except he wrote a couple of other books including Annals of the Liverpool Stage.  This book is referenced in an odd mix of other works such as ones on Lewis Theobald, Busby Berkeley and religious performances.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Dreams from Beyond

Julie Novakova - Dreams from Beyond: Anthology of Czech Speculative Fiction (2016)

Direct link

Here's another book that's not public domain but is free to download.  SF from outside the Anglo-American tradition is slowly becoming more available in English translation and even reaching wider audiences.  (President Obama read Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem.)   I haven't read this one yet but it's loaded on my e-reader and looks promising.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

My Maiden Effort

Gelett Burgess (ed) - My Maiden Effort: Being the Personal Confessions of Well-known American Authors as to Their Literary Beginnings (1921) direct link
Open Library main page

The writer Gelett Burgess (for more info see earlier post) collected stories from 124 other writers about how they got their start.  Today something roughly like this appears every year or two but for all I know this was the first - it probably wasn't but just appears to be.

Like seeing older attempts at best-of or canonical lists part of the interest now is which writers are still known.  There are some but not many:  George Ade, Rex Beach, Robert Chambers, Edna Ferber, Hamlin Garland, Zane Grey, Sinclair Lewis, Ida Tarbell, Booth Tarkington, Owen Wister.  A few others such as Richard LeGallienne for specialized reasons.

And are the stories worth reading?  Well, I haven't gone cover to cover but checking several they're too often about juvenilia rather than any start to a more serious career (though not all - Tarbell wanted to be a biologist until discovering writing).  Still, I'd guess anybody who's bothered to read this far won't be too put off by that.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Celebrated Crimes

Alexandre Dumas - Celebrated Crimes (1840) direct link (volume 1) direct link (volume 2) direct link (volume 3) direct link (volume 4) direct link (volume 5) direct link (volume 6) direct link (volume 7) direct link (volume 8)

Open Library main page

Crime seems to be one of the few types of stories with a close to universal appeal.  To hit that market, struggling journalist Alexandre Dumas, just a few years away from The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, produced this compilation of crime stories.  It's not exactly what we would consider true crime today since it covers the Borgias, Mary Stuart and the Man in the Iron Mask.  Other topics are not familiar to English-speakers (or at least not to this English-speaker) - Marquise de Ganges, La Constantin, the Camisard revolt.  (Though the latter will be the subject of a future post.)

I've linked to an uncredited 1910 translation that claimed to be unexpurgated.  A previous translation in 1843 made the comment:

"In preparing for publication, in an English dress, the following work of one of the most popular French writers of the present day, the Translator has carefully removed from it several of the blemishes of the modern school of literature to which it belongs; levity of expression on serious subjects, indelicacy of language, and a desire to gratify the vulgar appetite for horrible and revolting detail."  (The semi-colon that should be a colon is in the original.)

In any case there doesn't appear to be any translation more recent than the 1910 one so enjoy all the indelicate language and revolting detail.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Guggenheim Museum collection

Guggenheim Museum collection direct link

The Guggenheim Museum has made a couple hundreds of its publications available for free download.  These aren't public domain as I usually post and admittedly aren't as effective as actual books (some are a bit cramped on a computer screen) but remember - "free".

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Glossary of Tudor and Stuart Words

Walter W. Skeat - A Glossary of Tudor and Stuart Words (1914) direct link
Open Library main page

Shakespeare, it seems, is perpetually in need of glossing.  There's been a small but steady stream of books explaining his words and phrases, some detailed and scholarly, others brief and for student or general use.  This example was chosen not entirely at random but due to Skeat and the Clarendon Press who might perhaps add additional interest.

Walter Skeat (1834-1912) created one of the first major editions of Chaucer (largely the basis for the Kelmscott Chaucer) which along with the work of FJ Furnivall established both a scholarly groundwork and the more-or-less accepted canon.  (Is there a collection of Chaucer apocrypha?)  Born in London, Skeat became an Anglican deacon then math professor before falling to the siren lure of philology.  He edited several dictionaries and reference works along with editions of several early English texts.  (For a sampling see Specimens of English Literature.)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Shropshire Word-Book

Georgina F. Jackson - Shropshire Word-Book (1879) direct link
Open Library main page

Following the posts of dictionaries with a few related items.  This one is an example of the many regional dictionaries and glossaries that seemed to fascinate the British.  Or maybe the idea that this was primarily a British activity is just a sampling error but in any case there are a surprising number of these works.

Some examples from this book:

cratcher - a hearty eater

fallal - nonsense; jocoseness; exaggerated civility

gee-ho-plough - a plough drawn by two horses abreast

goster - swagger; vapouring talk; empty compliment

opple-gob - a dumpling made by enclosing an apple in a lump of dough, and boiling it

swilker - to splash about; to dash over, as of any liquid carried in an open vessel

Plus lots of terms related to cattle, mining, cooking, assorted plants and so on.

Georgina F. Jackson is better remembered today for Shropshire Folk-Lore (1883), with Charlotte Sophia Burne.  There are almost no biographic information available except that she seems to have died shortly before the folk lore book was published.  (See E. David Gregory's Victorian Songhunters, p379 forward.)

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Burgess Unabridged

Gelett Burgess - Burgess Unabridged: A New Dictionary of Words You Have Always Needed (1914) direct link
Open Library main page

The next (and last for this blog) in The Guardian's Top 10 dictionaries is this collection of invented words which seems a bit like cheating to me.  Sure it's in dictionary form but it's primarily a humor book and only one of the words passed into common usage - this is apparently the source for "blurb".  (I haven't checked the OED to verify.)

Gelett Burgess (1866-1951) was a Boston native and graduate of MIT who moved to San Francisco to teach at Berkeley.  He became a writer, mainly of humorous works but also including kids books, novels, short stories and the occasional political piece.  His poem "Purple Cow" is still in currency (or at least I learned it as a child so I'll just extrapolate from that to the entire country).

Friday, May 12, 2017

Passing English of the Victorian Era

James Redding Ware - Passing English of the Victorian Era (1909) direct link
Open Library main page

The next in The Guardian's Top 10 Dictionaries is this collection of Victorian slang and fleetingly popular expressions, many I would guess of narrow usage.  There can't be many dictionaries that open with the stated hope that it's not too dull.

As always, examples from browsing:

"Absolutely True - Absolutely false, from the title of a book, the statements in which, of a ghostly character, were difficult of acceptation."

"Blue o'clock in the morning - Pre-dawn, when the black sky gives way to purple."

"Chuck a yannep - To throw a penny."  (Spell the last word backwards.)

"Farthing-faced chit - Small, mean-faced, as insignificant as a farthing."

"Long-tailed bear - One of the evasions of saying 'you lie'.  From the fact that bears have no tails."

"Runner - Technical name for dog-stealer."

"True inwardness - Reality. One of the principal shapes of literary jargon produced in the '90s.  Probably the only serious survival of the aesthetic craze of the '80s."

"Who took it out of you? - Meaning wholly unknown to people not absolutely of lower class."

James Redding Ware (1832-1909) was born in London and seems to have lived there his entire life.  Ware (the name is a pseudonym) published many detective novels, including what's believed to have been the first with a female detective, and the usual miscellany that indicates a working writer (journalism, plays, how-to books, and so on).

Friday, February 24, 2017


Henry Yule & Arthur Coke Burnell - Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases (1886) direct link 
Open Library main page

The fifth in The Guardian's list of Top 10 Dictionaries and another reference work that's more entertaining reading than most novels.  Hobson-Jobson is a "vocabulary of Anglo-Indian words" (per preface) with the specifically stated goals of being accurate and then interesting.  Much effort was clearly made for the accuracy - the introduction lists 22 previous glossaries and several pages of consulted works.  Sources are quoted chronologically like the OED.

Interesting of course depends on whether you find this kind of thing interesting but I suspect anybody bothering to read this post would.  "Buffalo", for instance, has a long description of probable development, almost its own short story, from Portuguese through India (with a nod to Pliny) before quoting a couple of classical sources and then from the 16th century up to the book's present day.  Those of us who love Indian food will find entries like that on curry of particular interest. (And this is as good a time as any to mention Lizzie Collingham's 2006 Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors which has been on my to-read list for a few years.)

The book is more than merely a collection of Indian words that appear in English.  Sources range from Hindi and Portuguese to Arabic, Malay, Persian and others.  (The author notes almost sadly "The Dutch language has not contributed much to our store.")  This reflects the mix of different cultures in the sub-continent but also Yule and Burnell's more accepting approach - without any evidence I suspect it's probably a bit too accepting but that's undoubtedly better than an insistence on purity.

Hobson-Jobson has enjoyed a thriving existence since publication.  It's currently in print in the Oxford World's Classics series where the editor remarks "Many people feel a particular affection towards Hobson-Jobson, the kind of attachment that only truly idiosyncratic books can generate."  (I'm reminded of how many of us feel about Brewer's dictionaries of myth and religion.)  Kipling reviewed it favorably ("a fascinating volume, neither glossary, vocabulary, dictionary or anything else that may be described in one word").  Salman Rushdie wrote about it in his essay collection Imaginary Homelands.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (Oxford English Dictionary)

James Murray et al - A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (1888)

Official website
Prefaces to the First Edition

Early edition volumes:
Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3
Volume 4
Volume 5 Part 1
Volume 5 Part 2
Volume 6
Volume 7
Volume 8 Part 1
Volume 8 Part 2
Volume 9 Part 1
Volume 9 Part 2

The fourth in The Guardian's list of Top 10 Dictionaries is perhaps the best known: The Oxford English Dictionary.  Partly that's the name recognition (who other than literary people know the controversy about the Webster Third?) but also because it was the subject of a bestseller (Simon Winchester's The Professor and the Madman).  By any standard it's a remarkable work of scholarship even if not for casual use.

The links above I marked as "early edition" though I think they actually are all to scans of the first edition which came out over several years.  However one major problem of online libraries is that they don't handle multi-volume works well so those links go to a combination of sources.  I also didn't expect them closely but they all appear to be the correct volume number.  Most libraries of any size have a print copy and many now have the current OED available online.

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Dictionary of the English Language

Samuel Johnson - A Dictionary of the English Language (1755) direct link (8th edition, volume 1) direct link (8th edition, volume 2)
Open Library main page (with links to various editions)

Digital edition (see below)

This is the third of The Guardian's Top 10 Dictionaries.  Johnson's dictionary wasn't just a landmark reference work but was also so readable that selections have been reprinted many times.  (A Penguin may be the easiest to find - it's still in print.  I have one from the 70s that was half of a two-volume selected works.)  Johnson spent years on it (while also finding the time to edit a major edition of Shakespeare) and pulled together various approaches to create a dictionary that was thorough and accurate though not always disinterested.  (He attacked the Scots in one entry.)

I gave links to the 8th edition purely because that scan seemed most readable though I didn't look at all.  The Open Library link lists many others.

The digital edition link above goes to a very nice site with much background information and links.  Part of that project is to transcribe the entire first edition (at 9% as of this writing).  It also has a very clean scan of the first edition but that's somewhat hard to find - go to Page View and then you can choose from there.

There are several books about the dictionary though the one that most interests me is Jack Lynch & Anne McDermott's Anniversary Essays on Johnson's Dictionary (2005), mainly because it's not narrative but focuses on specific topics such as the "mythology" of the dictionary, use of references, its typography, legal issues, political implications and most intriguingly "hidden quarto editions".

Saturday, February 18, 2017

A New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew

B.E. - A New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew (1699) direct link
Open Library main page

The second book on The Guardian's Top 10 list of dictionaries is this early one devoted to what we would now call underworld slang. "Canting" was first recorded in the early 17th century with this meaning and was used so by Jonson but has dropped out of currency.  There's a thorough review of the 1899 reprint of this book in The Academy and Literature which traces the term "cant", brings up the question of the book's date (I just used The Guardian's date though a year either way are referenced just as frequently), discusses antecedents and delves into other issues before, like all of us, going through samples.

Dunaker - a Cow-stealer
Execution-day - Washing-day; also that on which Malefactors Die
Lilly-white - a Chimney-sweeper
Loon-flatt - a Thirteen Pence half Penny
Nocky - a silly, dull Fellow
Pharoah - very Strong Mault-Drink
Plad - Scotch striped Stuff
Word-pecker - one that play's with Words [sic on "play's"]

And who was the compiler B.E.?  Everybody says nobody knows.  There's apparently very thorough material on this book in Julie Coleman's A History of Cant and Slang Dictionaries but I haven't been able to check that.  Maybe there's more information on the identity there but it sounds like we still don't know.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Table Alphabeticall

Richard Cawdrey - A Table Alphabeticall (1604)

University of Toronto link

The Guardian's always interesting Top 10 books lists recently focused on Top 10 Dictionaries.  Most are public domain so they seemed worth posting, especially because the article's links are not consistent and there's little author information.  The next few posts will cover most of these.

A Table Alphabeticall is considered the first English dictionary though today we would think of it more a guide to difficult or tricky words rather than a true dictionary. Nevertheless most of the words are still current today and in basically the same meaning.  The book was apparently popular and quickly went through four editions (1604, 1609, 1613, 1617).  Its alphabetical order also seems to have been an innovation.  In 1623 Henry Cockeram published The English Dictionarie (the first to use the actual word) which clearly stated that he selected words from Cawdrey's book.

As far as I can tell there are no digital copies but the University of Toronto has a webpage with the entire work.  The book was reprinted in 1970 by Da Capo and in 2015 by the Bodleian, the latter with an introduction by John Simpson.

Richard Cawdrey (1537/38 to 1604 or later) was a British rector who had conflicts with the church and returned to teaching later in life.  There seems to be little information about his life, much of it drawn from remarks in his work.  I'd guess the Simpson introduction mentioned above has the most detail but that reprint isn't in my library so I haven't read it.

There's a study of A Table Alphabeticall by Kusujiro Miyoshi in Adventuring in Dictionaries.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Metropolitan Museum of Art open access images

Policy release
Main page

The Met has put images of art works online for a while now but they've just announced that public domain works are now freely available for any use.  I've downloaded many over the past couple of years as desktop backgrounds but now they're not restricted to private use.  (And I like that this policy page is illustrated with one of my favorite paintings, Bruegel the Elder's The Harvesters.)

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago

The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (1921-2011)

home page with links (the download button is for free pdfs of each volume)

This may be the book with the most limited interest I've posted but couldn't resist.  The 21 volumes of this monumental dictionary took 90 years to compile - the story was covered by the BBC.  Every volume is available as a free download in case you want to try your hand at translating Gilgamesh or the seemingly endless Babylonian charm and spell texts.  (The "Assyrian" of the title is really what's now called Akkadian as explained in the volume 1 introduction.)  The authors followed the OED and included detailed examples of usage though in brief excerpts that can seem almost like a modernist poem, a rough shadow of Pound's Cantos perhaps.

     I could not be in Babylon to take the loyalty oath
         my soldiers drove the king of Mitanni from Nuhassi
     PN took away three "hand" oxen
         I dispatched the ten talents of copper on my own

Saturday, February 4, 2017


Constantijn Huygens  - Koren-bloemen (1672) direct link
Open Library main page

A recent piece in the New York Times about an experimental book designer had her choose this as one of her favorite books.  "Every typographic experiment — what you think now is new — has already been done."  Which sounds fantastic - a kind of Tristram Shandy of book design.  The actual book, though, doesn't live up to that.  Yes, there are parallel columns and marginal text and footnotes and so on but not in profusion or any particularly imaginative way.  And 1672 seems pretty late to claim originality for any of this (though maybe I'm wrong about that).

Constantijn Huygens (1596-1687) was a Dutch diplomat, poet and composer, probably better known now as the father of scientist Christiaan Huygens (the Huygens Principle, the centripetal force formula and many many others).  Very little of the elder Huygens' work has been translated into English (his early poetry was apparently French and Latin but when working in England he wrote in Dutch).  He wrote an early description of a Rembrandt painting and was close friends with Descartes.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Explanatory Notes of a Pack of Cavalier Playing Cards

Edmund Goldsmid - Explanatory Notes of a Pack of Cavalier Playing Cards (1886) direct link 
Open Library main page

Playing cards would not have occurred to me as a vehicle for political satire but this pamphlet describes one instance.  The reproduced cards are an attack--or at least slightly oh so slightly barbed remarks--on Cromwell and the Commonwealth, each with an illustration and caption.  The pamphlet explains the references, many being quite obscure so far after the events.  The main failing is that it has no background on the cards - when were they created and by whom?  Were there others like this?  Were they widely used?  Though the author identifies the cards as satire but I'd consider them more almost-straightforward political commentary.  There's little if any exaggeration to them and not much attempt at humor.  Or maybe I'm more accustomed to written satire and don't quite get this.

Edmund Goldsmid (1849-1890?) was a writer and bibliographer, probably Scottish.  His numerous works include Quaint Gleanings from Ancient Poetry, Some Political Satires of the Seventeenth Century, The Political Songs of England and others.  He edited an astonishing number of reprints of old texts, so many in fact that different bibliographies list different works.  Some of the more interesting sounding editorial work includes History of the Devils of Loudun, Maistre's Journey Around My Room, The Massacre of GlencoeThe Secret Correspondence of Sir Robert Cecil with James VI. King of Scotland, and a major edition of Hakluyt's Principal Navigations.

And how could I omit the reprinted Lucina sine concubitu: a treatise humbly addressed to the Royal Society, in which it is proved, by most incontestable evidence, drawn from reason and practice, that a woman may conceive and be brought to bed, without any commerce with man?  This was actually a hoax written by a John Hill in the 18th century when rejected by the Royal Society for membership (at least according to a library record).

For such a prolific writer I can find little information about him - this isn't the first time I wish author notes weren't such a recent development.  I'm not even entirely sure about his dates.  1849 comes up in several sources.  1890 appears in only one but it seems to make him quite young for such a long list of works though as far as I can find none are dated after that.  He was a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and an FSA which isn't a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries according to a helpful library assistant there who suggested maybe it means Society of Arts.  (I never heard back from the RHS but that was a long shot.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Book-Lover's Enchiridion

Alexander Ireland - The Book-Lover's Enchiridion (1882) direct link
Open Library main page

"My object has been to present, in chronological order, the summed-up testimonies of the most notable Book-Lovers on the subject of Books, the the Habit and Love of Reading."  Starting with Solomon and Cicero and running up to then-current Stevenson, Andrew Lang and Austin Dobson, this book is certainly worth browsing if it sounds at all as if you'd like to browse it.  There are plenty of unfamiliar names and the majority are British, Scottish or Irish among the ones I recognize.  Still, it really is for just browsing since so many selections are about how wise reading can make you which gets a bit repetitious and is also provably not true (at least in and of itself).

The direct link is to an expanded fourth edition.  There was a fifth edition but at a quick glance it seemed much the same and this linked copy is the most readable.

Alexander Ireland (1810-1894) was a Scottish-born writer and journalist.  He wrote an early biography of Emerson and works about Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt and Scott.  He helped organize the Manchester Free Library.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The British Letter Writers

Robert Cochrane - The British Letter Writers (1882) direct link
Open Library main page

From the editor who gave us the book in the last post is his follow up devoted to letters, which interested readers more than today even before the advent of email and texting.  (Simon Garfield's 2013 To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing is a nice overview and as a bonus has some wonderful WW2 letters from a British soldier to his wife that had been previously unpublished.)  This book has two sections, one of "familiar and domestic" and the other "historical, literary and descriptive".  The familiar names are because of some reason other than the letters, excepting Lord Chesterfield and possibly Lady Montagu.  The only real complaint I suppose is that the writers are generally represented by only a letter or two so they're pretty brief encounters.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The English Essayists

Robert Cochrane - The English Essayists (1880) direct link
Open Library main page

An anthology starting with Francis Bacon and Ben Jonson going up to Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin.  Solid choices though the double-column format may make reading a bit tricky.  Essay titles can be amusing in their own right:  "Meditation Upon a Broomstick" (Swift), "The Talent of Secrecy" (Cowley), "The Praise of Chimney-Sweepers" (Lamb), "The Nobleness and Loveliness of Colour" (Ruskin).

Cochrane (dates unknown) was a literature specialist for the Chambers publishing company in Edinburgh and was an expert on the Border.  His other works include The British Letter Writers, Treasury of Modern Biography, Heroes of Invention and Discovery and The English Explorers.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Five Hundred Books for the Young

George E. Hardy - Five Hundred Books for the Young (1892) direct link
Open Library main page

If there are any regular readers of this blog you will have noticed my weakness for reading lists.  Partly it's just finding new books but also a peculiar fascination with canon formation and changes in tastes.  Walter Scott, for instance, was once regarded as a major artist but now has mostly slipped into what might be called a liminal canon where works are read for historical interest or for pleasure (mostly in Scott's case for fans of historical fiction).

This particular book is an annotated list of titles appropriate for school libraries and according to the introduction at least partly compiled on what the young readers actually read rather than entirely a top-down selection.

It's divided by subject and then by level but I can't quite get these to fit current American school divisions.  "Sixth-Reader Grades" doesn't quite seem to be our current sixth grade since the books seem a bit more complex - though maybe it's basically the same and children were more accomplished readers then.  In history, for instance, there are Parkman's The Jesuits in North America, Creasy's Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World, Irving's Knickerbocker's History of New York, a Life of John James Audubon and Roche's The Story of the Filibusters (which it's pretty safe to say is an imperialist adventure).

Rather than being simply a list there are annotations that provide some description for books now often forgotten and not always clear by their title.  Little Folks in Feather and Furs, for instance, is about animals while Frank Stockton's Personally Conducted is a travel book about Europe.  Surprising, to me at least, is that most of the fiction titles are still familiar (Verne, Dickens, Stowe, Cooper) even if Bulwer-Lytton and G.A. Henty are more specialized today.

George E. Hardy (1859-1897) was a native of New York City and later principal of Grammar School No. 82 (at age 26 the youngest person chosen for that position - no idea if that record was ever broken).  In 1894 he became chair of the English department at the College of the City of New York.  He served as president of the New York State Teachers' Association.