A blind lexicographer

I have long been interested in dictionaries, even before I completed my MA in Lexicography twenty years ago.  One book we shall be exhibiting at the London Rare Book Fair next week is this:

It’s a copy of the first edition of Trésor des origines et dictionnaire grammatical raisonné de la langue française (1819).  Although over 400 pages long, it is ‘only a specimen of a projected work’ (Oxford Companion to French Literature), an immense dictionary compiled by the blind French bookseller Charles de Pougens (1755–1833) which was never published in full.

Pougens, who was allegedly the illegitimate son of the Prince de Conti, suffered an early setback when he was blinded by smallpox during his studies in Rome.  Undeterred, he found work first as translator, then as a bookseller.  During his career he prepared the portable library for Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign, ran a printing company with some fifty staff, and created a literary journal.  Another blind polymath, Alexander Rodenbach (1786–1869), described him as ‘one of the most distinguished blind men of the century’.

Pougens’ fame now rests largely on the extraordinary lexicographical project which consumed much of his life: a vast dictionary for which he gathered over 500,000 quotations from French literature.  He and his English wife eventually retired to northern France to finish the project, but he died of apoplexy before its completion.  The 100 folio volumes of notes for his dictionary, which were much used by Littré for his great Dictionnaire de la langue française (1863–73, ‘still the finest work of its kind for the study of the changing use and meaning of words’, Oxford Companion), are held by the Institut de France.  Most of those volumes are in the hand of Théodore Jorin, Pougens’ amanuesis, to whom the present copy of the only printed part of the dictionary was given by Pougens and whose neat marginal annotations here expand on the text, offer new interpretations, and make reference to contemporary lexicographical scholarship.  Pougens’ inscription (‘mon premier ami’) hints at the close working relationship between the men, and the volume offers a wonderful insight into their hugely ambitious project.

For more details on this book, and others we shall be bring to the fair, click here.

 

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The Death Song of the Cherokee Indian

We are currently preparing for the London book fair, and here’s one item we shall be exhibiting.  It’s a volume of manuscript music compiled in the 1820s containing approximately seventy pieces, one of which is ‘The Death Song of the Cherokee Indian’, a piece notable for its impact on the British mind on the subject of Native American resistance.  ‘It was first published anonymously, ca. 1780, but the text is by the Scottish-born poet Anne Hunter [wife of John Hunter, the famous surgeon], who later included it in her published collection of poems in 1802 …  It is not difficult to see why this song became so popular.  The rhythms are snappy.  The melody has logic, drive, and purpose …  A feature that stands out in Hunter’s version is the elegant bass line.  It is so beautifully tailored … that it’s almost a singable melody in itself …  By 1785 the song had already been published in the United States’, and two years later it appeared in Royall Tyler’s The Contrast, the first play by an American-born writer known to have been produced onstage.  Musicologist John Koegel has found fifty-seven separate printed and manuscript sources of “The Death Song of the Cherokee Indians” in England and the United States dated between 1780 and 1855 (and suggests that there are likely more to be found)’ (Michael V. Pisani, Imagining Native America in Music, Yale UP, 2005, pp. 53, 57–9).

This copy adds another to that corpus.

 

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An unrecorded song, from an unrecorded publisher

As I wrote last week, we have been working on a new catalogue, British Music: 200 years of performance, public and private.  It’s been enjoyable putting it together, doing the necessary research, and making some discoveries.  Here’s one:

This little engraved card (114 x 78 mm) is an apparently unrecorded song, written in support of the beloved Queen Caroline at the height of her ‘trial’, ‘one of the most spectacular and dramatic events of the century’ (Oxford DNB), as an attempt was made in the House of Lords to strip her of her title and end her marriage to George IV.  Public favour was most definitely behind Caroline, and this card would have found a ready audience in the cheering crowds which lined the route to Westminster each day.

We have been unable to identify the publisher here, ‘M. Crabb, 15, John St Blackfriars Rd‘, or locate anything else he/she produced.  Crabb is not listed in Humphries & Smith, Music Publishing in the British Isles, the British Book Trade Index, or any of the usual online databases.

 

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Birthday tunes for a new King

We are currently cataloguing recently-acquired material for a new list, “English Music”.  One book which will feature is this, some birthday minuets for George III.  In fact, it is the first such annual collection published during his reign, apparently known in only one other copy, at the British Library.

The practice appears to have been begun for George II—the earliest Collection dates from 1722 when he was still Prince of Wales—by the royal music publisher John Walsh, whose eponymous son carried on producing an annual collection of minuets as a birthday present for the King, and George III after he had succeeded his father, until 1765, the year before Walsh died.  The Walshes also brought out half a dozen collections of minuets for Queen Caroline’s birthday, and another for Princess Mary, on her marriage to Frederick of Hesse-Kassel in 1740.

In the 1750s other publishers, such as John Johnson, and Charles and Samuel Thompson, began to issue rival birthday collections of minuets, ‘one of the most popular social dances in aristocratic society from the mid-17th century to the late 18th’ (New Grove).  We have been unable to ascertain whether the tunes included in the present numbers copy those published by Walsh, or whether they are new here.  In their Bibliography of the Musical Works published by the Firm of John Walsh during the years 1721–1766 (Bibliographical Society, 1968), Smith & Humphries list a Walsh collection for 1762 , but locate no copies, and we have been unable to locate one in any of the standard printed bibliographies or online databases.

 

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An 18th-century dust-wrapper

A fascinating survival: the plates for the first volume of Georgi’s Beschreibung aller Nationen des Russischen Reichs (4 vols, 1776–80), ‘the first demographic study of the peoples of Russia’ (Howgego I-G36), still loose and yet to be coloured, in the printed sheet they were wrapped in as they left the printshop.  Translations of Georgi’s book, into French and Russian (of the first three volumes only), were issued concurrently, but the same plates, executed by Christoph Melchior Roth (1720–1798), were used in all three versions.

In the first chapter of his recent work Nineteenth-Century Dust-jackets (2016), Mark Godburn, charting the origins of publishers’ jackets, notes that before the nineteenth century there was ‘a more formal practice of loosely wrapping unbound sheets, not in printers’ scrap, but in paper that was specifically printed for the job.  How common this practice was cannot be determined because only two examples are known to survive.  One was printed in Germany for a set of sheets of Daniel Chodowiecki’s Clarissens Schicksale (1796) …  The other example was issued in the United States around the same time [Philadelphia, 1791]’ (pp. 25–7).

What we have here is evidence for a similar practice in an eighteenth-century Petersburg printshop, and was never intended to be seen by the public in this form.  The setting of the front cover is exactly the same as the divisional title-page to the plates section in the final book as published.  We surmise that the folded sheet used here to protect the plates—the trilingual title as mentioned in the Svodnyi katalog of foreign-language books printed in Russia before 1800 (1068n), with a trilingual list of the plates on the conjugate—was intended to be cut in half and bound, together with the plates it protects, into a copy of the book.  The only thing which still puzzles us is that the book itself is a quarto, but the paper used for the wrapper here is small folio; the chain lines in the paper are vertical.  A visit to the British Library advanced us no further in our hypothesis: its copy lacks the entire plates section.

 

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An early publisher’s printed endpaper?

As many of you many know, I have an interest in endpapers (unusual or attractive ones, anyway), as my recent piece for the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, and my creation of the Facebook group We Love Endpapers will show.  I am currently preparing to exhibit at the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair the week after next, and here is one of the books I shall have on my stand:

First published in 1776, Vyse’s New London Spelling Book was an educational bestseller, with countless editions through the eighteenth and well into the nineteenth century.  ‘In this Edition all the useless Matter has been expunged, such as many Tables of Monosyllables; for they are dull, dry, and tiresome, both to the Child and to its Teacher’ (Advertisement).  Among the improving reading at the end of the book are Gray’s Elegy and five extracts from Shakespeare (‘All the world’s a stage …’, Hamlet’s soliloquy, two from Henry IV, and Henry V’s Agincourt speech), intended to be ‘useful and agreeable to Youth, as they will serve to give a Variety to their Talks, and to bring them acquainted with the higher and more poetical Style of their own Language’ (p. 160).

Another feature included here is the illustrated alphabet showing various peoples of the world (dated 1800, and presumably new to the edition of that year), from Arabian, Chinese, and Hottentot, via Kamchadal, Mexican, ‘Otaheitean’ (i.e. Tahitian), Quaker, and Russian, to Zealander (i.e. Maori).  In this copy, the plate has been employed as the rear free endpaper and pastedown:

I have not been able to ascertain whether this is an early example of a publisher’s printed endpaper, or simply the work of an innovative binder.  The binding here seems original, but I have not been able to trace another copy of an edition with the plate that uses it in the same way.

 

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‘An artist full of charm and verve’

Apologies for the recent lack of blog posts.  Things have been so busy: exhibiting at the Boston book fair, processing some recently acquired collections, trying to find someone to come and work for me, and preparing for California.  In cataloguing for the latter, here’s one little item which caught my eye:

A small etched and engraved card (80 × 102 mm), produced in about 1792, possibly an advertisement for the set of four Sketches published by the artist George Morland (1763–1804) that year, or perhaps as some kind of trade card.  The soft ground etching of a man sketching three pigs may well be a self-portrait.

‘George Morland was the son of the pastel portraitist, dealer and restorer Henry Robert Morland and the grandson of the genre painter George Henry Morland.  He was taught by his father and first exhibited at the Royal Academy at the age of fifteen.  Until the age of twenty-one, he devoted his entire existence to his work, his only friend being the painter and engraver Philip Dawe.  In 1784, George Romney offered him a position as his assistant, but Morland refused, because he wanted to enjoy his freedom …

‘At the start of his career, Morland was mainly a painter of childhood … [but] from 1790 broadened his range, painting a greater variety of subjects … [with] horses, sheep, pigs and poultry featur[ing] in a large number of canvases …  He was earning a lot of money, but he was spending even more, and he was obliged to retreat to a country dwelling in Leicestershire.  This stay in the country had a considerable influence on his talent and sharpened his taste for landscape.  When Morland returned to London in around 1792, he suffered the consequences of his past follies, as his creditors had obtained warrants for his arrest, and he lived in hiding for several years in order to avoid imprisonment …

‘Morland is an interesting figure in the English School, an artist full of charm and verve’ (Benezit).

 

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Fun and games in the British Museum Reading Room

I’m just putting together my list for the forthcoming Boston Book Fair, as my books will be leaving early next week.  It’s always nice to be able to show new stock, freshly catalogued, and I shall have quite a bit with me.  As a taster, here’s one little item which caught my eye over the summer:

It’s the first (and seemingly only) edition of some satirical ‘fables’ sending up life in the British Museum, the Reading Room in particular.  Privately printed, in what must have been small numbers, it was presumably only distributed to a small circle of colleagues at the Museum.

Most of the fables represent the vagaries of life in the Museum Reading Room.  For example, from ‘The Reader and the Pigeons’, in which the prospective reader feeds museum pigeons and is castigated by the Principal Librarian, ‘we learn that Kindness of Heart is not always sufficient to obtain admission to the Reading Room’.  Other pieces include ‘The Mudie Calf and the incredulous Book-Worm’; ‘The Comforted Colophon’; and ‘To an Undated Incunabulum. A Sonnet. By a Lazy Cataloguer’:

‘These Fables are part of a series of moral tales, initiated some five or six years ago.  The series died in its prime’, states the Editorial Note.  I have not been able to find any more in the series, if indeed there were any; the only other copy I was able to locate, at the British Library, has an additional paper wrapper, upon which is printed: ‘To save them from unmerited oblivion, these are offered to his colleagues with all seasonable greetings by the editor.  Xmas, 1897’.

 

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British support for the French Revolution

Printed in 1792, this is one of the first publications from the newly inaugurated Convention Nationale, the third government of the French Revolution, and in which English, Scottish and Irish citizens, resident in France, voice their support for the revolutionary government.

The revolutionary governance of France had several early incarnations.  Following the two-year National Constituent Assembly and the one-year Legislative Assembly, the Convention Nationale was inaugurated after the insurrection of 10 August 1792, and was the first French government organised as a true republic, in which the monarchy was abandoned altogether, following the provisional suspension of Louis XVI.  The Convention was also the first French assembly elected without distinctions of class; all Frenchmen twenty-five years old or more, domiciled for a year and living by the product of their labour were eligible to participate.

This egalitarian spirit is vocally supported in this little work, a propagandist pamphlet which publishes other nationalities’ support of the revolution: ‘Les Citoyens Brittaniques & Irlandois, actuellement à Paris, animés du sentiment de la liberté que vos principes ont communiqué à la République française, se sont réunis Dimanche 18 Novembre, pour célébrer les brillians succès de vos armes …’

For more details of this, and other recent acquisitions, please click here.

 

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All Greek

I’m currently cataloguing towards the Boston book fair, and am enjoying working through things acquired over the summer.  Here’s one:

It’s a lithographed facsimile of a letter in Greek, signed by the President and four members of the Philomuse Society of Athens, 14 August 1819.  It was probably printed at the instigation of the Earl of Guildford, the leading philhellene of his day, and first president of the Philomuse Society, founded in Athens in 1813–4 and dedicated to the education of Greek youth, to be sent to existing and/or new subscribers.  It informs English members of the society that a separate branch is to be set up in London, where the capital from money raised will remain, with the interest being sent annually to Greece.  The second page contains the names of the English committee, under the chairmanship of the Earl of Guildford, which includes such names as Hobhouse, Leake, Haygarth, F. N. Douglas, Aberdeen, Gell, Walpole, Holland, etc.

I usually only deal in things I can read, and Greek isn’t one of my languages, but this letter is quite early for English lithography, which is an interest of mine.

 

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