A nineteenth-century drawing of Frederick the Great. But look closer: every line of the picture is actually made up of words.
Here’s one with a ruler, to give you an idea of the scale:
This is an example of what’s called micrography, ‘the art of writing in microscopic characters’.
My next challenge was to try and work out what the text was. After poring over the picture for a while I began to be able to make out some words and finally deciphered it as being the entry for Frederick the Great from Brockhaus’s famous Conversations-Lexikon. Checking against the various published editions reveals it to be the entry used by Brockhaus between 1824 and 1834 (i.e. for the sixth, seventh, and eighth editions of the Allgemeine deutsche Real-Encyclopädie für gebildete Stände. (Conversations-Lexikon.)), after which the entry was rewritten.
The original playbill for the performances.
This week, in 1882, saw the first London cycle of Wagner’s Ring, the complete work’s first performance outside the German-speaking world.
The illustrated promotional flyer for the cycle, written in English but printed in Germany.
The Austrian impresario Angelo Neumann secured the performing rights for the Ring (and the Bayreuth stage equipment) from Wagner himself, intending to give 36 cycles in nine months. He planned to open his campaign in London, and visited in October 1881 to inspect the stage at Her Majesty’s Theatre, and again in April 1882 with his entire technical staff, just a month before the first performance was to take place. Although the Theatre was in theory ready, it reneged on its contract and it fell to Neumann to arrange everything, from the orchestra and chorus to the advertising (presumably why the flyer here was printed in Leipzig), even the carpets in the foyer. Wagner’s health prevented his attending either rehearsals or performance, but Neumann was nevertheless ‘very successful with his first production of the Ring in London. Thanks to an introduction from the German Crown Prince he managed to get the Prince of Wales (afterwards King Edward VII) to attend no fewer than eleven of the performances. [He was particularly taken with the swimming Rhine Maidens.] Neumann’s company was an excellent one, including as it did Hedwig Reicher-Kindermann, Scaria, Schelper, the two Vogls, and Reichmann, with Seidl as conductor’ (Newman, The Life of Richard Wagner, IV, 673), ‘according to Richard Wagner’s own opinion, the best interpreter of his works’ (p.  of the flyer here).
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a very rare German novel on the rights of women. This is another rare German novel, published only the year before, in 1800, a translation of Mary Wollstonecraft’s important proto-feminist novel, The Wrongs of Woman. This German version is translated via a French edition, Maria, ou Le malheur d’être femme (Paris, 1798), and dedicated to the Leipzig bookseller Ernst Bornschein.
‘Her most radical work’ (Sapiro, p. 266), The Wrongs of Woman, or Maria; a fragment, Wollstonecraft’s gothic novelistic sequel to A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, was published by William Godwin as part of his wife’s Posthumous Works in 1798. The translator here is unknown, even though the title points to the recently-published Das schwarzbraune Mädchen vom Schreckhorn (Leipzig, 1799). Better marketing, perhaps, is seen in offering Wollstonecraft’s novel as a counterpart to Wilhelmine Karoline von Wobeser’s Elisa, oder das Weib wie es seyn sollte (1795), one of the most widely-read novels of the late eighteenth century in Germany (and which had incidentally been published in English translation, Elisa or the Pattern of Women, in 1799).
The engraved frontispiece, by Schröter, is reminiscent of John Opie’s portrait of Wollstonecraft, now at the Tate.
See Virginia Sapiro, A Vindication of Political Virtue: the political theory of Mary Wollstonecraft (1992), passim.
As today is Shakespeare’s birthday(/deathday), I thought I’d post a rare piece of Shakespeareana:
This little book, printed in Darmstadt in 1912 in an edition of only 200 copies, is the sixth book to be produced by ‘probably the strangest private press of all time’ (Horodisch).
It was run by Gottlieb von Koch (1849–1914), a zoologist and artist who had an interest in education. The dozen or so books produced by the press, which ran from 1911 to 1914, were all printed by children, under the guidance of the printer–typographer Christian Heinrich Kleukens, who gave them weekly instruction. For Pyramus und Thisbe, a reworking of Shakespeare’s play within a play by Koch himself, a sans serif (grotesk) typeface is used, which was highly unusual for the time in German education.
On the background, see A. Horodisch, ‘Eine unbekannte deutsche Presse’, Zeitschrift für Bücherfreunde XXXVI (1932), pp. 103–5.
This is the first edition of a utopian novel by the American friend of Wieland, Schiller and Goethe, James Lawrence (1773–1840). Born on Jamaica (his family had lived on the island since 1676), Lawrence was educated at Eton and Göttingen. ‘In 1793 his essay on the heterodox customs of the Nairs of Malabar with respect to marriage and inheritance was inserted by Wieland in his Der Teutsche Merkur and in 1800 Lawrence, who seems in the interim to have lived entirely on the continent, at Schiller’s behest completed a romance on the subject, also in German, which was published in the Journal der Romane for the following year, under the title of “Das Paradies der Liebe”, and reprinted as Das Reich der Nairen. The book was subsequently translated into French and English by the author himself, and published in both languages [though in the event it banned in France]; the English version, entitled The Empire of the Nairs [or the Rights of Women. An utopian romance] was published in four volumes in 1811 by Thomas Hookham … The novel’s attack on the institution of marriage and its advocacy of matrilineal inheritance was influenced by William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, and the French philosophes … On 17 August 1812 Percy Shelley wrote to Lawrence “Your ‘Empire of the Nairs’, which I read this Spring, succeeded in making me a perfect convert to its doctrines”, and he met with Lawrence in London the following year. The novel exerted an important influence on Shelley’s poem Queen Mab (1813) and other works’ (Oxford DNB).
Earlier in the year, I wrote about a couple of books relating to the First World War. Here’s another with a WWI connection: a miniature Qur’an produced by the Glasgow publishers David Bryce & Sons between about 1900 and 1910. (The coin, in case you’re wondering, is a nickel.)
In general, I’m not that taken with miniature books. Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors sums them up as ‘books whose principal (usually only) interest lies in their very small size’. But this Qur’an is different. Louis Bondy calls it an ‘almost legendary title published by Bryce … The bindings vary from richly gilt-stamped red or black morocco with gilt edges to plain stiff wrappers and yellow edges … Lately it has become increasingly difficult to find copies of this book’ (Miniature Books, pp. 111–2).
The Gutenberg Museum in Mainz takes up the story. ‘The production of miniature Korans in manuscript has a long tradition, but the printing of them in this form had to await the arrival of photolithographic techniques in the late 19th century. Such Korans were published in Delhi in 1892 and Istanbul c. 1899, but the one which seems to have achieved the widest circulation is this Scottish edition. It was one of a long series of miniature books produced by David Bryce and Sons. All the copies were issued with metal lockets and magnifying glasses. Many were supplied to Indian and other Muslim soldiers fighting for the British in the First World War, and served also as talismans’ (Middle Eastern Languages and the Print Revolution, exhibition catalogue, 2002, no. 79).
It was in this last context that the book was mentioned by T. E. Lawrence: ‘[Auda] told me later, in strict confidence, that thirteen years before he had bought an amulet Koran for one hundred and twenty pounds and had not since been wounded … The book was a Glasgow reproduction, costing eighteen pence; but Auda’s deadliness did not let people laugh at his superstition’ (Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Book 4, Ch. 53).
Given the condition of this copy, I don’t think it was ever actually taken into battle, but it is still a wonderful little book.
‘During the 1930s Royal Air Force music became well established with the two bands gaining a reputation for innovation and musical excellence. In the lead up to World War II there was a huge expansion of RAF Music Services with many civilian professional musicians being drafted directly into the new ensembles. Additional military bands were provided initially on a Command basis, with the RAF Symphony Orchestra and the famous “Squadronaires” Dance Band also being established. The new groups included some of the country’s finest musicians such as Dennis Brain, Norman Del Mar and Gareth Morris. In fact no theatrical agent of the time could possibly have afforded such a stunning array of talent, making The RAF Squadronaires and the RAF Symphony Orchestra in particular the “super groups” of their day’ (RAF Music Services website).
This is a programme for a concert (Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Handel, Sibelius, Noël Coward, etc.) given by Royal Air Force Music in Paris’s new Palais de Chaillot just three months before the Battle of France in 1940. A month after that and the city had been occupied by the Nazis. It was at the Palais de Chaillot that Hitler chose to be photographed during his visit, with the Eiffel Tower behind.
In the past, I’ve written about spies and translations and just recently I bought a book in which both interests converge: Die verrätherischen Plane Englands und der Jakobiner wider das Leben des Kaysers, und die Freyheit des franz. Volks (1804), an account of an anti-Napoleon British spy ring based in Europe.
The author, Jean-Claude-Hippolyte Méhée de la Touche (1762–1826), was a French spy, first in Russia, then Poland, and finally England, where he kept tabs on those French émigrés who opposed Napoleon. Posing as a sympathiser, Méhée inveigled himself into their circle, and was recommended to the British Foreign Office, which sent him to Francis Drake (1764–1821), ambassador to Bavaria and head of the British East European spy network, who provided him with codes and names of agents. In 1804, Drake was embarrassed when some letters, revealing plans of a French uprising against Napoleon, were intercepted and passed on to ministers in Paris, and duly published (Geheime Instruction und Briefe des englischen Gesandten in München an die englischen Agenten in Paris).
The German version of Méhée’s account is very rare and, unlike the French original, is furnished with a wonderful, large caricature of Drake, fleeing from Munich after the affair broke clutching books, papers, and phials of invisible ink.
George Herbert Buonaparte Rodwell (1800–1852), professor of harmony and composition at the Royal Academy and musical instructor to Queen Victoria when she was still a Princess, had for years been advocating a ‘Grand National Opera’ for the performance of English music and in 1833 laid out his plans, which included a library. His scheme never came to anything (ENO didn’t emerge for another hundred years), but Rodwell was appointed director of music at Covent Garden in 1836.
This is a copy of the first edition, together with an unacknowledged second edition (1834). William Clowes had been responsible for printing the first edition for James Fraser. In the second, he manages to compress the original 32 pages of text onto a single octavo sheet and publishes them under his own name.
Here’s an odd one for you: snapshot commentary on dystopian Seventies Britain, in words and images, from an anonymous poet in Bristol. The inspiration is not just contemporary, either; he includes an eighteenth-century tomb inscription he came across in Bath Abbey.
I bought the book because of the materials used in its production. Sandpaper was famously used in the dust-jacket of the 1959 artist’s book Mémoires by Asger Jorn and Guy Debord, a book which was intentionally destructive to other books around it. But here the sandpaper is turned in on itself: