Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Florentine Sonnets, 1906

I am heading off to Ohio later this morning, to (among other things) give a presentation at the Eastern Region Meeting and Seminar of the Early American Pattern Glass Society, in Lancaster, Ohio, on Friday.

Florentine Sonnets (1906); vellum-covered
boards with hand-painted illumination
My talk will be only partly on the American glass industry of the nineteenth century; the rest of what I have to say (and there will be a connection, believe it or not), will be about a minor nineteenth-century American poet. I find this poet particularly interesting because he had a special fascination, it seems, with the middle ages, writing book-length poems about the Norman Conquest and the conversion of King Edwin of Deira, among other things. 

At the end of his  life, he lived in Florence, and wrote and photographically illustrated a couple of books for the English-speaking tourist trade. The one pictured here was--as I hope the illustration shows--available bound in vellum, and (for an extra fee, one supposes), available with a hand-painted illumination on the cover.

This copy has, in addition, a small gift dedication painted on at the bottom, matching the illumination. "From Aunt Laura," it reads.

All in all, such a book reminds us that one of the things tourism did (and does) is to make the past (and in European tourism, it is often the medieval past) consumable. And that book and manuscripts could be, and were, sometimes used for the same purpose. Many a manuscript or leaf, I think, was purchased as a souvenir on the Grand Tour.

The same poet's Roman Sonnets (1908), in
printed paper-covered boards.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Grotesque faces

"Vir perfecte pietatis "
It's been a busy time here in the Chancery Hill neighborhood, as I've been cataloguing a few hundred books for someone else, rather than for me. This work has caused me, among other things, to think more seriously about cataloguing my own collections, as well as about the very nature of cataloguing as an activity, as a way of describing and interpreting. 

It is also an act of learning, and of the transmission of learning, in many ways. Certainly, I've learned much about many books in doing this work, with all the enjoyment and frustration that goes with that.

But today, as a kind of "Shelfie Wednesday" treat, I thought I'd share something else that give me a bit of joy today: a manuscript fragment I recently purchased. This one had been recycled as the wrapper for a legal document in 1731, though it seems to have long been separated from that document, now. 

But I couldn't help but laugh when I saw the two grotesque faces adorning this capital "U" from the word "Uir,'' ("man").  With their tongues out (colored in red, no less!), and their silly hats, and their unpleasant expressions, they rather made my day. "A man of perfect piety," hardly seems to describe either one.

Here's a bit more of the context:

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Lingulf the Saxon

I recently bought a small archive of manuscript poems from little known turn-of-the-century American poet William Brunton. Brunton, so far as I have been able to piece together, was a minister in Massachusetts and an active occasional poet, who published a surprising number of poems in newspapers and other (generally) non-literary venues from the 1880s to about 1910.

In this, Brunton reminds us that poetry occupied a slightly larger slice of the public eye than it does today; perhaps the places modern Americans most often encounter poetry is in children’s books (and perhaps, remarkably, in some Young Adult books, where the “novel in verse” remains a real thing) and sentimental greeting cards.  But at the end of the nineteenth century, one might still see a poem printed in the newspaper, even one's local paper.

Brunton's manuscript of "The Saintly Chimes"
Given my recent blog post on Longfellow and his interest in Anglo-Saxon literature and history, I was astonished to find one poem of Brunton’s on an Anglo-Saxon topic, “The Saintly Chimes.”

I will transcribe the poem below (I realize that this image may not be immediately legible), but it was striking to me to find this because it stands as one more example of how widely the interest in the Anglo-Saxon period spread, a century or so ago. 

The Anglo-Saxon period here, is little more than a setting for this little Christian tale, and yet the tale is not set in Chaucer's day. The Anglo-Saxon period was apparently understood to be familiar enough to function with only the barest reference: here, a name ("Lingulf") and really nothing else specific.

Once I'd read this poem, of course, I wondered if I could trace the story. Remarkably, a Google search on the phrase "Saintly Chimes" does not turn up any published version of the poem (though it may have been printed in a newspaper or other source that hasn't yet been effectively digitized), and a search for the words "Lingulf" "Saxon" and "goats" turns up exactly one relevant item, a short paragraph from a periodical titled The New Unity, that reads as follows:

 "Lingulf, an old Saxon herdsman, sold his flock that he might put bells into the tower of the minster at St. Albans, and whenever he heard these bells ringing he said, "How sweetly do my sheep and goats bleat to-day." So we may joyously sacrifice the lower in the interests of the higher, that we may become builders of that permanent church building which is ever rising" ("The Tower of Babel: A Sermon Preached in All Souls Church, Chicago, December 5, 1897, by Jenkin Lloyd Jones," New Unity new series vol. 6 [1898], 1102-08, at p. 1106).

Brunton's poem, one guesses, may well have been inspired by this very passage; so far I've been unable to trace any older source for the tale: I'd love to hear if there's an earlier source for the story. Of course, it may also be the case that the influence goes the other direction, from Brunton's poem to Jones's sermon.

Here is Brunton's poem:

The Saintly Chimes

O'er his devotion deep I brood,
  A tale of other days,
Lingulf, a Saxon herdsman good,
  Desired to do God praise;

At old St. Albans did he live,
  In that Cathedral town,
And of his flocks did freely give,
  To win it fair renown:

He sold his goats and sheep so fine,
  And chime of bells he bought;
Their voices praised the great divine,
  And gladdened him in thought:

How sweetly bleat my sheep to-day,
  The herdsman said in glee,
As out they rang from far away
  In holy melody!

And we though centuries apart,
  And silence falls between,
Can take the music to our heart
  And keep his memory green:

For those that help the church in love
  By giving of their good,
Prolong the chime of bliss above,
  And join his brotherhood!

                       William Brunton.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Mini-Catalogue 181: Mostly African-American (15 items)

William Channing, Slavery,
fourth ed, 1836
I've always been fascinated, of course, by things that are unique: every manuscript is unique, after all. 

In the realm of more recent books than medieval manuscripts, one way a book can be unique might be by having a striking or unusual provenance: a former owner that reveals the history of a book that resonates, somehow, with the content of the book. 

This issue echoes interestingly with some of the academic writing I've been doing lately (on a book for which my deadline is June 1, so I had better be serious about finishing it), in which I argue that books always make their meanings in conjunction with their histories: it is a mere simplification of reality to suppose (or pretend) that two readers of two editions of a work are reading the same book. 

But the implication would seem to be that every book makes its own meaning in the world, and every provenance is potentially capable of exerting a meaning on a book--though some remain more interesting or compelling than others. 

I haven't made any special effort in my collecting or buying of books to seek out interesting provenances, but once in a while I've still found something of interest.

One of those books is in the little catalogue or list I am posting here today (a list of 14 African-American items, plus one piece of Francophone American lit).

It's a copy of William Channing's book Slavery, not even a first edition, but a copy which was owned by or sold through the Anti-Slavery Office in Philadelphia, as the ink-stamp on the free end-page suggests:

Stamp on the end-page of Channing's Slavery

It's just a handful of letters and numbers, stamped on a blank page, but somehow this stamp is, to me at least, the most interesting part of the whole book. The stamp makes the book a different piece of history.

Feel free to peruse the list! You might find something you like.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Mini-Catalogue 177: Children's Books, 19th-century Ephemera, Ohioana (12 items)

Just a little post to link to my newest mini-catalogue or mini-list, a double handful of recent acquisitions, many of them with Ohio connections.

Perhaps the two most interesting, in one sense, include what today would be called "info-graphics", though these were printed in the 1880s. 

The earlier is an 1881 Almanac, which uses three-color printing to provide visual representations of various state statistics: population, size, religion, crops. It also includes a two color map of the US, with little tabular displays of info inside each state.

The 1889 example, Arbuckle's Illustrated Atlas of the United States of America, includes maps of each state or territory, but each is juxtaposed to a colorful little vignette supposedly representative of some aspect of that state's culture, geography, commerce, or the like.

I think of info-graphics as a new phenomenon, but clearly it's a new name for an old thing.

Here's the link to the catalogue.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Whuh? And More Longfellow

Under a spreading chestnut-tree, 
The village smithy stands

I've long feared or suspected that I have an unusual number of scraps of verse in my head: rarely complete memorized poems, but many little pieces here and there. These opening lines of Longfellow's "The Village Blacksmith" certainly stand as one example. I don't know where or when I learned these lines for sure, although I suspect it was at home, rather than at school.

In a book I recently purchased in a box lot (A J Demarest and William M Van Sickle, New Education Readers: A Synthetic and Phonic Word Method [NY: American Book Company, 1901]), I was pleased to run across a former student's slightly mis-remembered version of these lines, written, perhaps as a pen-trial, in the upper margin of page 25:

Longfellow probably chose "under," rather than "beneath," for metrical reasons: to begin the line with an inverted foot. But Katherine Corrigan, of Fredericktown, Ohio, who seems to have penned this version (according to other writing in the book), has produced a normal iamb here, regularizing the meter of the line a bit. The other changes are also not at all unusual for memorized verse, I think, although she must not have memorized much more of the poem than I have: "stood" would fail to rhyme only a couple of lines further on.

But I was, I can admit, wonderfully amused by the numerous examples of "huh" also written onto this page, perhaps as a kind of commentary upon the lines of Helen Hunt Jackson's "October's Bright Blue Weather," which is the printed text.

Even more remarkable and amusing was what I took for "whuh," accompanying the "huh"s. In fact, I wondered if this could be an early attestation of "whuh," which seems to me a quite modern expression, one that might also be spelled "whaa?" or the like. An expression of befuddled puzzlement, over and above what might be communicated by "what?"

I wondered how long "whuh" had been around, and in a burst of enthusiasm, I typed "whuh" in Google's "Ngram viewer" with the following result:

This was quite astonishing to me, but some digital looking around helped to clarify things, at least in part. First, in the 17th and 18th centuries, "whuh" was apparently an alternative spelling for "whew"; also, Google's OCR software seems to have sometimes misread "which" as "whuh."  In the early twentieth century, "whuh" shows up a fair number of times in representations of African-American English.

But Katherine Corrigan's "whuh" didn't seem to be any of those, especially since it was so closely linked to all these examples of "huh."

Then, I took a closer look, and realized that maybe I should read it as "uhuh," rather than "whuh."

But, even so, this first example in my book looks almost like it has a question mark, as does the "huh" above it. Almost, I say, because it's not exactly clear.

I am sorry to say that all my practice in (medieval) paleography hasn't been much help in deciding whether this is "whuh" or "uhuh." And thus all my crazy eagerness to find the earliest attestation of "whuh" has not been rewarded, either. It probably is "uhuh" here, after all.

I did, by the way, check the OED. Both "uh-uh" and "uh-huh", as it happens, are first attested in 1924, in what looks like a journal, Dial[ect] Notes; Katherine Corrigan's handwriting in this book appears to date from either 1929 or 1932. The OED's second attestation for "uh-uh", for what it's worth, is from Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, in 1930. 

But part me of is content to imagine that she has written "whuh" after all, even if I cannot prove it.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Longfellow and King Alfred

Marcus Ward's Royal Illuminated Legends:
Longfellow's King Alfred and Othere (ca. 1872-80?)
I've been thinking (and also doing some writing) recently about the place of Anglo-Saxon literature in the nineteenth century, for a host of reasons, including what I recently discovered about the Wheeling, West Virginia, glassmaker, William Leighton, Jr (whom I've long known about from the glass world, as a major figure at Wheeling's Hobbs, Brockunier & Co). Leighton, I learned, was also an American poet of at least minor note. 

Even more surprisingly, he wrote two books (which I've not yet read) that appear to concern themselves with events from Anglo-Saxon England: The Sons of Godwin (1877) and At the Court of King Edwin (1878). Since medieval literature, and Anglo-Saxon literature in particular, has always been a focus of my academic writing, Leighton is especially fascinating to me: like me, he dealt in Victorian glassware, was interested in Anglo-Saxon literature, and lived in West Virginia. It's an unusual combination, I think.

"Othere, the old sea captain."
My post today, however, is about a more famous American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. His short work, "The Discoverer of the Northern Cape)" was another American poem on an Anglo-Saxon topic that I knew nothing about until recently (note that here, Longfellow's title has been superseded by the title "King Alfred and Othere"). Of course I knew the story of King Alfred and Ohthere--it's one of the first things learners of Old English read, an interesting little bit of late ninth-century geographical learning that King Alfred inserted (or had inserted) into the Old English translation of Orosius's Historiae Adversus Paganos.

Longfellow's poem, as my images show, was of sufficient interest to readers in England that the firm of Marcus Ward & Co produced this children's version of the poem, set to music and lavishly illustrated with six full-page pictures. It is, apparently, a rare book: WorldCat shows copies published (as here) by Marcus Ward & Co, in London; and also copies published (with only four plates) by Nimmo, in Edinburgh; as well as an American version published by J. R. Osgood. But WorldCat only seems to show about half a dozen holdings in total for all of these three editions together.

So I was obviously delighted to get this copy recently. It certainly served a role, in the nineteenth century, of associating Alfred and the Anglo-Saxons with the discovery of and knowledge of foreign lands. In that sense, this book did its work in promoting the ideals of the British Empire; that Longfellow was the poet reminds us that Americans, too, could be both the influencers and the influenced in relation to such associations. 

At the same time, the book is part of a series, "Marcus Ward's Illuminated Legends" which the publisher's ad on the rear cover describes in the following terms: "Each Story, or Legend, is Illustrated with a set of brilliant Pictures, in the quaint spirit of MediƦval times, and printed in Colors and Gold. The stories are related in Antient Ballad form." One of the other titles advertised in the series is "Pocahontas, or La Belle Sauvage." One wonders, indeed, what "brilliant Pictures, in the quaint spirit of Medieval times," would accompany the tale of Pocahontas. But here, too, America and some notion of the Middle Ages were fit together somehow in the Victorian imagination, and they were further placed together for the consumption of Victorian children. 

There's still much to think about here, I think, though the transatlantic aspects of these linkages seems clear.

"And there we hunted the walrus"