Monday, February 27, 2017

Measuring paper and parchment in 1810

Arithmetical Tables, 1810.
Title page.
Just a brief post today, as I am recovering from a cold and still not feeling fully recovered. But I was amused, in looking over this little children's chapbook, Arithmetical Tables for the Use of Schools, to see that in 1810, students needed to know their addition and multiplication tables, they needed to know how to count British money and American, and they needed to know a whole range of weights, sizes, and lengths.

But apparently, kids in those days also needed to know the terms for quantities of paper and parchment. And even though I've spent a good part of my adult life thinking about parchment and vellum, I'd never heard of a "roll" of parchment before. 
Page 23. 

You learn something every day, I guess.

Now, if I can just find an occasion to slip this one into casual conversation.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A small set of Moorman's Yorkshire dialect books

Moorman's Dialect Poems, 1917
Part of what I love about working with books is the stories they tell. Some of the most remarkable books that I've had tell stories not intended by their authors. Instead, sometimes, it's their owners' stories that are most fascinating, or the details of their place in history as objects. This is one of those stories.

It is, as so often here on my blog, the story of a recent acquisition, a little set of three books by F. W. Moorman, all examples of his work promoting and writing in the Yorkshire dialect. 

Moorman was a Professor of English Language at the University of Leeds, and in Songs of the Ridings, he identifies himself, with some pride, as a minor poet, and Songs of the Ridings reprints poems he had published anonymously "in the Yorkshire press" (5). Plays of the Ridings includes three shortish dialect dramas, in hopes of inspiring the "peasant or artisan actor" and helping to establish "folk-festivals of song and dance and drama" in the Yorkshire Ridings (7). One of the plays, "The Ewe Lamb," is based closely on the Mak portion of the late-medieval Wakefield Second Shepherds' Play. The third book of this little collection is a second edition of his scholarly collection, Yorkshire Dialect Poems (1673-1915) and Traditional Poems, published in 1917.

This last book is distinguished by being signed by the author on the
Moorman's signature.
front free end-paper; the apparent owner of all three books has inscribed it also on the title: "Kurt Busse/ Wakefield/ 1917."

Songs of the Ridings has a somewhat longer inscription (dated Nov. 13, 1918) by the author on the end-paper: "With the author's compliments to a lover of dialect literature and in memory of many hours together at Lofthouse." The date here, two days after Armistice Day, may not seem especially important until one reads the letter in Moorman's hand that is laid into Songs:

Dear Dr Busse
  I have had some difficulty in procuring the books you asked for, and one is still out of print. But my bookseller asked to send you the others today and I hope they will arrive with this letter of mine. I sent on your message to Herr Paul Strasser, and hope that I reached him. 
  I was very glad to get news of you and to know that you were moderately comfortable on the Isle of Man. The voyage must have been terrible. I think much of you in these days of upheaval and my earnest hope is that Germany will pass safely through the storm and become an even greater nation than before. No doubt dark days are ahead, but I have faith in the clear vision of your countrymen, and I believe that when a firm democratic government is established, a glorious future awaits your people. May you play your part in bringing this about. It is to the young men of your generation that the nation looks most of all. 
  Please let me know of your movements. I hope that it will not be long before you are able to return home, and if you can break your journey in Leeds, my wife and I will be delighted to offer you hospitality. 
  I shall always bear a grateful memory of the hours which I was privileged to spend in your company at Lofthouse. 
  With kind regards,
  Yours very truly,
    F. W. Moorman

The censor's stamp.
The references to Lofthouse and the Isle of Man here are all contextualized by the stamp on the top of the letter: "Censored. Aliens' Detention Camp. Knockaloe, I. O. M."

Dr. Kurt Busse, the owner of these books, must have been a German detainee during the war, held first at Lofthouse in Yorkshire, and then at Knockaloe, Isle of Man. The dates and places mentioned in these inscriptions help us trace--in part--some of his movements while detained.

Perhaps it is the recent political actions of my own country, actions that seem to wish to take another class of people and make them detainees or deportees, that makes this story seem so touching to me now, but I hope always to be touched by such stories, and their reminders of both how war and politics can imprison us, and that, even so, friendships might be formed across lines that--to some--seem uncrossable lines of enmity. 

But having these books and writing this blog post was also my opportunity to learn about Knockaloe and Lofthouse: these stories remain important, and I encourage my own readers to learn something of such places, too. 

Moorman's letter and inscription in Songs of the Ridings.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Mini-Catalogue Monday. Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts and Fragments

16th/17th century codex, bound in a
(non- Beneventan) fragment
I posted a picture of a book with a handful of Beneventan binding fragments on my Chancery Hill Books Facebook page a couple of weeks ago, and I believe it was, by far, the image I've gotten the most reaction to.

I never really expected to find anything in the Beneventan script, a scarce and collectible Italian style of writing that pretty much avoided the innovations of Carolingian and Gothic scripts, maintaining its own sphere influence pretty much right through the middle ages.

Two more sets of related Beneventan fragments

That book (and the two that belong with it, shown above) is in my little catalogue of twenty items for sale that I've just posted. Here's the link: Chancery Hill Books Catalogue 172.

You can also find there a variety of interesting--and even odball--items from roughly the thirteenth century to the seventeenth, from binding fragments and charters all the way to complete codices. Plenty of fun things to look at for medievalists, even if you don't see anything you'd like to buy.

A nice bifolium recycled as a wrapper

Of course, if you do find something you can't live without, the catalogue has instructions for getting hold of me!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Two more oddball items.

Shakespeare on Poker, 1906.
Writing up these little blog posts about new acquisitions is, I have to admit, a fun part of my week. Each time, there is some little thing that I've learned or learned about, and I always love to share. Or is it that I love to show off? I think, if truth be told, there's a bit of both.

This week, I'll show off two things I picked up during the last few months of 2016. The first is a copy of Shakespeare on Poker, copyrighted (and presumably illustrated and published) by Martha C Ballard, a scarce little book of brief Shakespearean quotations, accompanied by illustrated poker hands that offer a kind of commentary upon them. More than one is presented as a Shakespearean curse suitable for a bad hand of cards. 
One of the pages from Shakespeare on Poker.

This particular copy, as shown is in embossed and printed card covers; a suede binding was apparently also available. 

I am no poker player myself, but this book's use of juxtaposition to generate meanings from texts and images brought together might encourage us to see it as a kind of comics production. In that sense, it's something I could barely resist. 

My second oddball item today is a manuscript, a single sheet that is apparently unrelated to a batch of other things I purchased from a seller in Sicily. One side is taken up by some notes upon the use of the gerund, with some examples in Latin and others labeled "Volgare." The sheet has been folded to put the gerund material on the inside; on the front of what remains are what we call "pen trials," where a writer either having just cut a new tip on a quill pen or merely testing out a new pen, engages in a test of the pen. If there were any doubt that at least some of what is written here were pen trials, the words "prova" and "Prova di penna" seem to make the case clearly enough. 

But written on the rear side is a draft of a short poem in Latin, perhaps a schoolboy's exercise? It is titled "Elegia" and I've had a bit of fun trying to work it out: there are words written sloppily, phrases and lines crossed out, and probably at least two stints of composition, marked by two shades of ink. I'd guess the date is late eighteenth or nineteenth century. The first three words of the poem proper give a sense of the contents "Horribilem Ortigia Urbanam": it seems to be a kind of ironic praise poem to the Sicilian island of Ortigia, here figured as a terrible place.

I could be wrong, though: Latin hexameters are not really my cup of tea, when it comes to verse. And in fact, my knowledge of Latin versification is such that I'm even a little hesitant to describe this as hexameters. But if any of my few readers out there can solve the problems of this little poem, I'd love to hear about it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Crazy Things I End Up With, Part N

Folio 7 of the collection of probate documents.
As I've written before here, I've come to realize that I am most interested in oddball items, of one sort or another. I am especially interested in manuscript material, of course, from almost all periods, but the older the better.

A couple of months ago, I was able to get a handful of gatherings from what once must have been a larger book: the leaves here are numbered from 7 to 63 (with some errors in foliation), but the whole looks like an Italian manuscript from the seventeenth century, recording a handful of family wills and related probate documents, in Latin or Italian.

The documents all seem to come from the de Maiore family, and they range in date from 1623 to 1683, and they were written in a number of hands. Most seem to have had a life as separate items until being bound together (most have been folded lengthwise, like many smaller legal booklets); now they are disband, but the regular foliation indicates these must have been bound up in a book.

As always, when I run across an inventory, of course I look to see if any members of this family mention books in their wills or estate documents. In this case, to my surprise and delight, it seemed that the last of the inventories here (dated 1683) did include two books:

Two breviaries and a clock.

Item due breviarij uno grandi dorato 
e l'altre della sorte comune
Item un orologio a campana

["Item: two breviaries, one large, with gold, and the other of the common sort.
Item: one clock with bells." After each entry is a brief notation, perhaps of value. I am not sure, but it may read "usato," meaning used.]

The description, of course, leaves it very unlikely that these books could ever be identified, unless they had an ownership inscription to match the inventory. But it's an interesting little moment, to see a gold-adorned breviary here, along with one of the common sort, being listed alongside a clock as a possession worth enumerating. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Greenblatt’s “The Swerve”: A Review

A number of my medievalist friends have written more or less extensive reviews of their problems with Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. For the most part, their comments decry how Greenblatt, perhaps the most widely known historicist critic, deploys almost the full barrage of over-simplistic caricatures of the Middle Ages that have been in circulation since Poggio Bracciolini’s day in the fifteenth century.

And it is certainly true the Greenblatt offers only a one-trick middle ages for our view: he, like the humanists the book is primarily about, unsubtly presents the middle ages as the dark ages, no matter how clear the evidence is that the ninth-century Carolingian copies of Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura were as crucial to the ultimate re-discovery of the poem as was Poggio’s 1417 copy.

But Greenblatt is, after all, telling a story: and nuance in discussing what happens off-stage in Greenblatt’s story isn’t really useful to him. For the most part, Greenblatt wants his story to say that from the end of the Roman empire to 1417, Lucretius’s poem was unread, unknown, and essentially lost: the effect is to make Poggio’s discovery all the more important. To get there, he pretty much has to say that the Carolingian scribes who copied the poem were careful not to read it: nor does he really ask why they would have invested their precious time and vellum in the work, if it weren’t important to them. The Carolingian Renaissance, after all, is not the one Greenblatt is writing about.

But then again, neither does Greenblatt ever say clearly what he means by the term “modern.” Instead, he hopes that his readers will recognize something of themselves in the things he believes are “modern” (which boils down, more or less, to a scientific worldview, untroubled by Christian orthodoxy; what many “modern” Christians might think isn’t really in Greenblatt’s sights at all: one suspects that he sees them as medieval, too, and thus worthy of caricature).

In the end, the book was not at all what I had expected. I had expected a tale of the recovery of a lost Latin poem, and an account of how that poem had changed the world: made it “swerve” into a new path. But the book is mostly a kind of focused biography of Poggio Bracciolini, which gives Greenblatt a lot of room to tell various compelling stories: of Jan Huss, the Great Schism, and of political and literary wranglings in and around the papal court . The book’s thesis is about the “swerve” into modernity, but only one or two of the chapters really address it.
And maybe it is too much for me to quibble about what I’d have done differently, but Greenblatt repeatedly describes Poggio as a “book hunter,” and one whose efforts preserved more than Lucretius. So Greenblatt gives us a fine recreation of the scene when Poggio finally finds the book of Lucretius's poem in an unnamed German monastery (imagined as Fulda), and pays to have a copy made. From that copy, another copy is made by Niccolo Niccoli.

Greenblatt acknowledges, at one point, that both the Carolingian copy Poggio found and the first scribal copy he had made from it have now both disappeared from view. Poggio, I would say, is a text hunter, not a book hunter, and it might be just as useful to conclude that his concern with preserving the poem seems to have involved no equivalent concern to preserve the older manuscripts. The destruction of the merely “medieval” copy, after all, is of a piece with a fifteenth-century worldview that would soon result in the phenomenon of printed books: the poem lives not in its physical copies, but in an ideal realm, and our job (especially as Renaissance editors) is to restore it to its most correct and proper form. With its beautiful letters, Niccoli’s copy was certainly superior, in Poggio’s eyes, to any medieval copy: Greenblatt seems to accept such a view without demur. The destruction of the “medieval” copy is of a piece, too, with Greenblatt’s unnuanced (though modern!) treatment of the middle ages as a time of unrelieved darkness.

The disappearance from our view of men like Poggio Bracciolini is, of course, as potentially distressing as the disappearance, for a time, of Lucretius’s poem. In that sense, Greenblatt, too, is reviving for us an unremembered tale from the past. But the chance survival of Lucretius’s poem tells us that we build our stories of the past out of chance survivals, with no hope of completeness or even accuracy—and I am not sure it does us any favors to suggest that this one chance survival has, in fact, made us what we are today. To tell a story as if it were so may well be a feature of modernity: but I’m not at all sure it’s Lucretian.

Monday, January 16, 2017

New Mini-Catalogue 171: early printing, manuscripts, poetry

Trying to get 2017 off to a good start, here at Chancery Hill Books!

A printed leaf from 1496. 
For the middle of January, I am happy to have put together a little catalogue of some interesting books and other items I've picked up over the last few months, everything from some incunabula fragments to books (and a couple small manuscripts) of modern poetry, including books signed by E E Cummings and Sara Teasdale.

When I was at the Texts and Contexts conference last fall, I heard an interesting paper about "tree-structure" marginal notes in medieval manuscripts, and though it is small, I was glad to come across an example of such marginalia, as can be seen in the lower margin of the leaf in my image here. 

I was especially interested, of course, because of my recent interest in two-dimensional textual structures: these diagrams make meanings through structures than cannot be readily reduced to linearity. 

Crazy, I know, but that's the kind of thing I find interesting.

As always, if you see something of interest, the catalogue should give you all of my contact information.