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Posts Tagged ‘manuscript

“There is no exquisite beauty… without some strangeness in the proportion”*…

 

The ascent of the Prophet over the Ka’bah guided by Jibrā’īl and escorted by angels. (via the British Library)

The Miscellany of Iskandar Sultan is a book lover’s fantasy: a bespoke manuscript, hand-painted and hand-written by the greatest artists and calligraphers of its day. The patchwork book is pieced together from a wide range of texts, from epic poetry to learned disquisitions on astrology, medicine, and the interpretation of dreams. It is a fifteenth-century library distilled into a single volume and a relic of another world. In a time before copyright, texts could be borrowed, copied, and recycled into something new. In a time before mass-scale printing, a book could be a deeply personal affair, curated exactly to its patron’s unique set of interests. In a time before the internet, a pocket-sized library was the best way to carry a world of knowledge everywhere you went.

The Miscellany’s patron was Jalāl al-Dīn Iskandar Sultan ibn ‘Umar Shaykh, ruler of Shiraz and Isfahan and grandson of the world-famous conqueror Timur…

The remarkable story in full at “The ultimate bespoke manuscript“; browse the manuscript on the British Library’s Digital Viewer.

* Edgar Allan Poe

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As we contemplate comprehensiveness, we might recall that not too long after this exercise in collecting everything relevant to a single reader, there was a seminal move to make a single thing available to many, many readers: on this date in 1484, William Caxton, who introduced the printing press to England and was its first book publisher (see here and here), published his English translation of Aesop’s Fables.

The fable of the farmer and his sons from Caxton’s edition, 1484

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“Curiosity has its own reason for existence”*…

 

The Voynich Manuscript is a special kind of original. We know, thanks to carbon dating, that it was put together in the early fifteenth century. But no living person has ever, as far as we know, understood it. Nobody can decode the language the book is written in…  In “Cryptographic Attempts,” another essay that accompanies the Yale facsimile, William Sherman notes that “some of the greatest code breakers in history” attempted to unlock the manuscript’s mysteries; the impenetrability of Voynichese became a professional problem for those in the code game…

Humans are fond of weaving narratives like doilies around gaping holes, so that the holes won’t scare them. And objects from premodern history—like medieval manuscripts—are the perfect canvas on which to project our worries about the difficult and the frightening and the arcane, because these objects come from a time outside culture as we conceive of it. This single, original manuscript encourages us to sit with the concept of truth and to remember that there are ineluctable mysteries at the bottom of things whose meanings we will never know.

The story in its impenetrable– but fascinating– whole at “The Unsolveable Mysteries of the Voynich Manuscript.”

* Albert Einstein

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As we muse on mysteries, we might send bucolic birthday wishes to Elizabeth Cabot Agassiz (née Cary), the naturalist and educator who was the co-founder and first president of Radcliffe College; she was born on this date in 1822.  After the death of her husband, Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz, with whom she traveled on scientific expeditions, she settled on the idea of college for women in the “Harvard Annex” in Cambridge; in 1894 the Annex became Radcliffe College. She served as its president until 1899, then honorary president until 1903.  Her books include A First Lesson in Natural History (1859), and A Journey in Brazil (1867).

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Written by LW

December 5, 2016 at 1:01 am

“‘Begin at the beginning,’ the King said gravely, ‘and go till you come to the end; then stop'”*…

 

Index cards are mostly obsolete nowadays. We use them to create flash cards, write recipes, and occasionally fold them up into cool paper airplanes. But their original purpose was nothing less than organizing and classifying every known animal, plant, and mineral in the world. Later, they formed the backbone of the library system, allowing us to index vast sums of information and inadvertently creating many of the underlying ideas that allowed the Internet to flourish…

How Carl Linnaeus, the author of Systema Naturae and father of modern taxonomy, created index cards… and how they enabled libraries as we know them, and in the process, laid the groundwork for the Web: “How the Humble Index Card Foresaw the Internet.”

* Lewis Carroll (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)

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As we do ’em up Dewey style, we might recall that it was on this date in 1991 that the handwritten script of the first half of the original draft of Huckleberry Finn, which included Twain’s own handwritten corrections, was recovered.  Missing for over a hundred years, it was found by a 62-year old librarian in Los Angeles, who discovered it as sorted through her grandfather’s papers sent to her from upstate New York.  Her grandfather, james Gluck, a Buffalo lawyer and collector of rare books and manuscripts, to whom Twain sent the manuscript in 1887, had requested the manuscript for the town’s library, now called the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library (where the second half of the manuscript has been all along).

Gluck apparently took the first half from the library, intending to have it bound, but failed to return it.  He died the following year; and the manuscript, which had no library markings, was turned over to his widow by the executors of the estate.  She eventually moved to California to be near her daughter, taking the trunk containing the manuscript went with her.  It was finally opened by her granddaughter, Barbara Testa.

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Written by LW

February 13, 2016 at 1:01 am

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