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 
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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
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"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
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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
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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.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Feynman Lectures on Physics

Richard Feynman - The Feynman Lectures on Physics (1964)

Direct link

This blog is devoted to public domain titles that can be downloaded but this is a worthy exception.  Caltech has made all three volumes of Feynman's classic available to read for free.  The catch is that you have to read on the website.  The experience is predictably a bit clunky though it appears to be done as well as it could have been - the images are clear and appropriately placed, the text seems to scale correctly, the navigation bar stays in a fixed location.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Apophthegmes of Erasmus

Desiderius Erasmus - The Apophthegmes of Erasmus (1531, English 1542) direct link (1562 edition)
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Apophthegmes are something like short anecdotes with witty sayings, related to adages or proverbs.  This compiled by Erasmus while in his 60s, apparently to some degree for money, is one of the best known.  The bulk of his material actually comes from Plutarch (something of a similar collection in Moralia and from the Lives) though Erasmus doesn't translate so much as rework.  He also drew from several other sources including Suetonius, Diogenes Laertius and authors not much read today.

An example would be this one about Alexander:

When he had seen in the city of Miletus many great images and portraits of such persons as had before times won the victories or large prices in the games of Olympia and Pythia, he said, "And where were these so great giant-like bodies when the barbarous did besiege your city?"


When [Julius] Caesar saw in Rome certain aliens that were rich and wealthy persons carrying about in their arms and bosoms little young dogs and apes, and to make sport and play with them, he demanded whether the women in the country did bring forth no children.

Most of the apophthegmes are longer than these and I've also modernized spelling and some diction because the other thing about this edition is that it's a mid-16th century translation, Early Modern English spelling and all.  As far as I've been able to tell this was the only English translation until one in 2014 by Betty I. Knott and Elaine Fantham.  It is a bit tricky to read at times though I think any familiarity with Middle English probably helps.  Unfortunately it's also not the full work - as best I can tell it's about a quarter of the original text.

The translator was Nicolas Udall (1504-1556) who also translated Erasmus' Paraphrases and was an early playwright.  He was educated at Oxford (where he knew Thomas Cromwell), later teaching logic there.  He helped create the pageant for Anne Boleyn and several other works from this period are attributed to him with varying degrees of certainty, including Ralph Roister Doister one of the first comedies in English.  There's a longish entry in the DNB.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Atheism in Pagan Antiquity

A. B. Drachmann - Atheism in Pagan Antiquity (1919, English 1922) direct link
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This appears to be one of the first treatments of the subject.  Tim Whitmarsh's recent Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World (2015) calls it "useful but methodologically outdated" though around this blog outdated methodologies are the order of the day.  The Whitmarsh book is fascinating reading and I'm pretty sure this one is as well though so far I've only skimmed it.  Drachmann begins with a similar attempt to establish terms then runs more or less chronologically from Xenophanes through the end of the Roman Empire.  It concludes with a short chapter going Medieval up to the 18th century but he starts to discuss more treatment of ancient religion in those periods rather than atheism in specific..

Anders Bjørn Drachmann (1860-1935) was a Danish classicist and philologist who taught at the University of Copenhagen.  As far as I can tell the only other text of his to appear in English was a lecture on Prometheus but his other works are on Catullus, Pindar, Paul, Kierkegaard and the origins of Christianity.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Merry's Book of Puzzles

John Newton Stearns - Merry's Book of Puzzles (1857) direct link
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A collection of riddles, brain teasers and logic games for kids (along with Merry's Book of Rhymes taking up about the last third of the book).  Stearns (1829-1895) did a series of books as Merry's Book with various subjects - travel, poetry, birds,  He was also publisher and editor for the National Temperance Society and Publishing House for the last 30 years of his life.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Golfiana Miscellanea

James Lindsay Stewart - Golfiana Miscellanea; being a collection of interesting monographs on the royal and ancient game of golf (1887) direct link
Open Library main page

I'm not a golfer but certainly somebody out there is.  Contents include a "The Golf: A Heroi-comical Poem in Three Cantos", "Niceties Connected with the Game of Golf", "Some of the Older Golf Clubs" and "The Game of Dutch Kolf".  If anything could get me to read about golf, well it would be Wodehouse but otherwise something like this.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Antiente Epitaphes

Thomas F. Ravenshaw - Antiente Epitaphes, from A.D 1250 to A.D. 1800 (1878) direct link
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This collection of epitaphs is mainly being posted as an example of antiquarianism with its parish priest (well, actually a rector) collecting material of real but slight value and then presenting it in an outdated style.  The spelling in the title gives that away (a contemporary review called that "a mere conceit, meaningless if not absurd') and throughout he uses the long S long after it had otherwise disappeared.  The various entries are even done in different typefaces which makes some of the earlier ones hard to read.  The only flaw as far as antiquarianism goes is that the author didn't collect all these himself (the review floats the idea that some might not be genuine).

Thomas FitzArthur Ravenshaw (1829-1882) was a rector in Pewsey, Wiltshire, west of London.  He wrote a few other religious works such as The Ferial Psalter as well as on local botany (though one source says his "knowledge of British plants was general rather than critical").

Monday, January 2, 2017

A Handbook of Travel-talk

A Handbook of Travel-talk (1874) direct link
Open Library main page

For any travelling English speakers here's a phrase book for German, French and Italian.  Such books this old are fascinating glimpses into other worlds, not just different types of transportation but class and cultural ones.  Where else will you see how to arrange long-distance carriage rides or order gloves?  There aren't any pleasingly strange phrases as sometimes appear in these books though I do like ones such as "Do not drive so near the river - (the precipice - the ditch)" which I think could be conveyed non-verbally.  Or for lodgings "I want crockery, china and other necessaries for the table for twelve persons".  I think at some point it would be easier to hire a fixer (or whatever the 19th century equivalent term would have been).  The back has a section of contracts (were carriage drivers surprised to be given a written contract from a Briton?) and French cooking terms (including the original meaning of "entrée" as first dish, not main).  Apparently German and Italian cooking weren't worth the trouble.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Year-books for Emerson, Browning, Ruskin and Carlyle

Ann Bachelor (ed)

Carlyle Year-book (1900) direct link
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Ruskin Year-book (1901) direct link 
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Thoughts from Emerson (1902) direct link
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Thoughts from Browning (1903) direct link
Open Library main page

I've tried to post some kind of calendar on the first of each year but this time will go a different route. These books have selections from the writings of each specified author for every day of the year, roughly like a quote of the day but with more substantial material.  Though I've seen several similar things from roughly the same period this type of work exists today mainly in devotional books and page-a-day calendars (though I greatly wish I lived in a world where Ruskin Page-A-Day Calendars were a real thing).

About a week after writing this post a piece appeared in The New Yorker about a reprint of The Henry James Year Book.  It dates the start of the small trend for these year books to 1878 with a Tennyson one though I don't know how reliable any of the info might be.  The best part about The New Yorker piece is the author seems mostly befuddled by the whole thing - noting that the James yearbook isn't mentioned in any of the standard references (but why would it be?) and then apparently either at a loss on how to use such a book or just completely overthinking it to no real purpose.  In any case you can download your own digital copy of the original of The Henry James Year Book.

The compiler Ann Bachelor is a complete mystery.  Some librarians and bibliographers have determined that's a pseudonym for somebody named Anna Medora (Fisher) Smith (that's how it's listed) which really provides no more information.  I can't find any reason for this claim and the only other possible bit of info is a listing that suggests she may have been born in 1860.  There seems to have been a Thoughts from Mrs. Browning from the same author in 1912 but WorldCat only lists it in two libraries (Baylor and Yale) so I'd almost think this was a cataloging error except that there are contemporary listings in Publisher's Weekly and the Cumulative Book Index.  In any case it's not digitized.  (Since these are all from the same publisher and there's a nine-year gap between the two Browning books I wonder if perhaps Bachelor was a house pseudonym.)