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“The best-laid plans”*…

… can be turned to unexpected use:

In an eighteenth century book, Johann Steingruber designed a type set made of architectural drawings. Via our buddies at Boing Boing: “An alphabet made of architectural plans, from 1773.”

* paraphrased from Robert Burns’ poem “To a Mouse”: “the best laid plans of mice and men / Often go awry” (or on the Scots, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley”)

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As we spell it out, we might recall that it was on this date in 1661 that Oliver Cromwell, who had been Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland after leading rebel troops against the Crown in the English Civil War, was exhumed from his crypt in Westminster Abbey, and ritually “executed”; it was the 12th anniversary of the execution of Charles I, whose death warrant Cromwell had signed. Cromwell had died (most likely of blood poisoning following a urinary infection) in 1658. Charles II had returned from exile to become King in a restored monarchy in 1860.

Cromwell’s death mask at Warwick Castle

source

“You’re mad, bonkers, completely off your head. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”*…

Edward Brooke-Hitching grew up in a rare book shop, with a rare book dealer for a father. As the author of histories of maps The Phantom Atlas, The Golden Atlas and The Sky Atlas, he has always been “really fascinated by books that are down the back alleys of history.” Ten years ago, he embarked on a project to come up with the “ultimate library.” No first editions of Jane Austen here, though: Brooke-Hitching’s The Madman’s Library collects the most eccentric and extraordinary books from around the world.

“I was asking, if you could put together the ultimate library, ignoring the value or the academic significance of the books, what would be on that shelf if you had a time machine and unlimited budget?” he says.

Following up anecdotes, talking to booksellers and librarians and trawling through auction catalogues, he came across stories like that of the 605-page Qur’an written in the blood of Saddam Hussein. “If that was on a shelf, what could possibly sit next to it?” he asks. “I mentioned it to a bookseller and they told me about a diary that they’d had, from the 19th century, written by a shipwrecked captain who only had old newspaper and penguins to hand. So Fate of the Blenden Hall was written entirely in penguin blood.”

There’s the American civil war soldier who inscribed his journal of the conflict on to the violin he carried. There’s the memoir of a Massachussetts highwayman, James Allen, which he “requested be bound in his own skin after his death, and presented to his one victim who had fought back as a token of his admiration.” Or the diary of the Norwegian resistance fighter Petter Moen, pricked with a pin into squares of toilet paper and left in a ventilation shaft; although Moen was killed in 1944, one of his fellow prisoners returned to Oslo after it was liberated from the Nazis and found the diary. Or the entirely fabricated book An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa: its author George Psalmanazar, a blond-haired, blue-eyed, pale-skinned man with a thick French accent, arrived in London in about 1702 and declared himself to be the first Formosan, or Taiwanese, person to set foot on the European continent. (“Obviously no one had been there and nobody knew what Taiwanese people looked like, and he became the toast of high society,” says Brooke-Hitching.)

The joy for the author in his discoveries – and make no mistake, The Madman’s Library is an utterly joyous journey into the deepest eccentricities of the human mind – was that they “make you realise that, above everything, people have always been funny, been weird, been unquenchably curious in every possible arena”…

The Madman’s Library, the ultimate collection of bizarre books down the ages: “From cut-out confessions to cheese pages: browse the world’s strangest books.”

[TotH to buddy MK]

* Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

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As we get weird, we might recall that it was on this date in 1935 that physicist Erwin Schrödinger published his famous thought experiment– now known as “Schrödinger’s cat“– a paradox that illustrates the problem of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.

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“It takes only one drink to get me drunk…..the trouble is, I can’t remember if it’s the thirteenth or the fourteenth”*…

All of the wine vessels described in Obsopoeus’s poem

High school health classes, it turns out, have been around since the 16th century. That’s when a school rector in Bavaria, writing under the name Vincent Obsopoeus, published a poetic guide to responsible drinking, geared toward young men who—then as now—didn’t appear to know their limits. “Can it really be true?” asks “Drunkenness” herself in the book’s lyrical preface, written by a friend. “Should I really believe this book can teach people how to rationally lose control?”

Obsopoeus (pronounced “OB-so-PAY-us”) published this treatise, in Latin, in 1536. In April 2020, Princeton University Press published a new English translation by Michael Fontaine, a professor of classics at Cornell University. Entitled How to Drink: A Classical Guide to the Art of Imbibing, Fontaine’s translation speaks not only to the text’s historical moment, but to our very own, as alcohol sales have soared on account of the COVID-19 quarantine.

Nonetheless, says Fontaine, it’s important to read Obsopoeus with his time and place in mind. Though the popular imagination often pictures ancient Greece and Rome as decadent playgrounds of drunken excess, binge-drinking wasn’t actually culturally normative in those societies. For one thing, drinkers in those days tended to mix water with their wine. Moreover, their wine was less alcoholic than ours to begin with, as a lack of fungicides meant a shorter time for grapes on the vine.

Instead, Fontaine writes in his introduction, “binge and bro culture—so familiar to Americans—started not in classical Greece or Rome but in Germany five hundred years ago.” The reasons, in his analysis, have to do with the end of the Crusades. Young men were still being educated and trained to become knights, but that path was becoming increasingly obsolete, and men began seeking other outlets for their aggression. It was in that context, he writes, that “hardcore drinking” emerged as “a mark of he-man prowess …” It didn’t help that vineyards accounted for four times as much German land as they do now. Even doctors and hospital patients were allowed to drink nearly two gallons of wine per day…

From a school master concerned about the rise of binge-drinking bros; read on for: “Tips for Responsible Drinking, From 16th-Century Germany.”

* George Burns

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As we listen for history’s rhymes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1851 that Harper & Brothers published Herman Melville‘s novel, Moby Dick; it had appeared in the U.K. about a month earlier as The Whale. Based on Melville’s experience aboard a whaler and dedicated to Melville’s friend Nathaniel Hawthorne, the book received mixed reviews and sold poorly. It is now, of course, considered a classic– the peak of the American Renaissance.

Alcohol loomed large in life on the Pequod (and in the prior lives of some of his fellow sailors that Ishmael recounts)– perhaps nowhere more dramatically that in Chapter 36, in which Ahab fills a pewter chalice with booze “hot as Satan’s hoof” and orders his harpooneers Queequeg, Tashtego, and Dagoo to detach the barbs of their harpoons and hold them upside down so the sockets can be filled with more “fiery waters.” The three men raise their harpoon goblets and drink as Ahab chants, “Death to Moby-Dick! God hunt us all, if we do not hunt Moby-Dick to his death!”

The title page of first American edition

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“It takes no compromise to give people their rights…it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom.”*…

 

one_magazine_alt_1050x700

 

ONE, Inc., was one of the first gay rights organizations in the United States. It was founded in Los Angeles in 1952 with money and leadership from U.S. groups like the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis, as well as Swiss magazine Der Kreis. That same year, a 7.2 earthquake shook Southern California along the White Wolf Fault, and the Emmys were awarded to shows made across the U.S. for the first time (before that, the awards just went to L.A. studios). Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz hosted the show from the Cocoanut Grove Lounge. The following year Dwight Eisenhower issued Executive Order 10450, which said gays and lesbians were perverts, criminals, mentally ill, and must be blocked from any kind of federal employment. So much was hopeful, but at times everything felt broken and hopeless too. The digital archive of ONE, the monthly magazine published by ONE, Inc., reflects the contradictions of the time. It’s a record of endurance, legal and emotional labor, new and inherited trauma, tenderness, and joy.

The magazine was mailed internationally in unmarked brown envelopes. For safety and longevity, ONE’s all-gender board of editors often used pen names, and always depended on other jobs for food and rent. Even so, within a few months of the first ONE, the FBI identified everyone and wrote their employers, calling all staff “deviants” and “security risks” in a middle-school-style attempt to destroy health and security. Luckily, the employers largely ignored the notices, which surprised the FBI so much they shifted public attention elsewhere, for a while…

More at “ONE: The First Gay Magazine in the United States.”

Shortly after the organization’s founding, in January of 1953, the first issue of ONE Magazine was produced. ONE Magazine remained a staple of ONE, Inc., published every month and read across the nation. ONE, Inc., was the “first national, legally sanctioned organization dedicated to the promulgation of information on homosexuality,” and ONE Magazine was core to that mission. The subscriber count of the magazine peaked at around 5000, although as with many homosexual publications in that era, copies moving from person to person made up a great deal of their readership that went uncounted…

From the introduction to ONE Archives at USC Libraries, where one can browse the publication.

Remembering that Playboy debuted in the same year (1953) as ONE, your correspondent will give Somerset Maugham the last word:

My own belief is that there is hardly anyone whose sexual life, if it were broadcast, would not fill the world at large with surprise and horror…

* Harvey Milk

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As we love and let love, we might recall that it was on this this date in 1598 that The Merchant of Venice was entered on the Stationer’s Register.  The copyright regimen was strict in Elizabeth’s time, as is now.  But back then, copyright was literally that, the right to make a (first) copy:  the Queen, concerned with sedition and determined to keep a tight rein on any and all published material in her realm, had decreed that no work could be printed in England without a license from the Stationer.

Shakespeare had written the play sometime between 1596 and 1598 (when a performance is mentioned by Francis Meres).  It wasn’t actually printed until 1600– in the First Quarto– by which time (the title page suggests) it had been performed “divers times.”

If you prick us, do we not bleed?  – The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 1

Title page from the First Quarto (source)

 

“There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away”*…

 

BQR-Vol.-1-No.-12-1916-Bookworm

 

Nor indeed, to transport pests, it seems…

In Micrographia, a “study of the Minute Bodies made by the Magnifying Glass”, London, MDCLXVII, one of the earliest publications issued under the authority of the newly-formed Royal Society, Robert Hooke described in Observation LII the “small silver-colour’d Book-worm”, “which upon the removal of Books and Papers in the Summer, is often observed very nimbly to scud, and pack away to some lurking cranny”. The third figure of the 33rd scheme pictures a monster so formidable-looking that Blades (Enemies of Books, 1896) may be forgiven the suggestion that Hooke “evolved both engraving and description from his inner consciousness”… [source]

Hooke

Bookworm (Fig. 3, top) in Hooke’s Micrographia

But as later observation confirmed, Hooke was on the money…  Sir William Osler, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford and one of the board of trustees of the Bodleian Library — called the Curators — of the Library reported in the first Volume of the Bodleian’s Quarterly Record

‘In October 1915 I received from a Paris bookseller, M. Lucien Gougy, three volumes of the Histoire abregie de la derniere persecution de Port-Royal. Edition Royale, MDCCL.’ In one of the volumes Osler found a living book-worm, of species Anobium hirtum, ‘not a native of England, but met with occasionally in the centre and south of France.’

In true scientific fashion, Osler arranged for a portrait of the larva [the image at the top of this post] to be made by Horace Knight, natural history illustrator of the British Museum. Knight sent the picture in September 1916, apologising that he had ‘been waiting in hopes the larva would pupate, but it has not even commenced to make a case…’.

Bookworms and the Bodleian: “The Bodleian Quarterly Record, Vol. I (1914-16); and Osler’s ‘Illustrations of the book-worm’.”

* Emily Dickinson

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As we devour books, we might recall that it was on this date in 1890 that Alfred Harmsworth published the first edition of Comic Cuts, the first British weekly comic paper.  A savvy publicist, Harmsworth relentlessly advertised the then-amazing fact that his paper was only a halfpenny an issue.  Indeed in his manifesto in the first issue he wrote:

How is it possible for any one to provide an illustrated paper… for a halfpenny? Well, it is possible to do it, but that is all. I feel sure that the public will appreciate the fact that they are getting full value for their money, and will therefore buy the paper in immense numbers weekly.

And indeed his comic book was published from 1890 to 1953, lasting for 3006 issues– during which time it inspired the birth of an industry, as other publishers began to emulate him,  producing rival comic magazines.

 

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