Sunday, 18 July 2021

Chapbook Illustration and the History of Dr. Faustus

Thanks to Giles Bergel et al., bibliographers of the (very) long eighteenth-century have a valuable new widget for image-matching woodblocks. The widget was developed by Bergel et al. to search of woodblock illustrations in Scottish chapbooks held in the National Library of Scotland.

Importantly, said widget—"NLS Chapbooks"—has an external search function, allowing you to "Search using your own image" (see here) in much the same way you can conduct image searches using Google Images (here) etc.

As I have said recently (here), that the lack of a "Search using your own image" function, is the largest (remaining) limit on the utility of Hazel Wilkinson's otherwise outstanding "Compositor" (aka Fleuron 2.0).

Knowing this—and my interest in this subject generally—David Levy kindly sent me the details of the "NLS Chapbooks" search engine and a link to a very informative video of Bergel's NLS talk "Exploring Chapbooks Printed in Scotland with Machine Vision" (here).

* * * * *


Conveniently, I had the perfect candidate to test the "NLS Chapbooks" search function: the image above that appears on a chapbook History of Dr. Faustus, which I blogged about in 2010 (here). The result of my search was extremely gratifying. As you can see, it matched the image to seven items (listed below)—one of them from my copy of the History of Dr. Faustus—before the algorithm failed.


Something that should be immediately obvious, even in the small images above, is that the block has been intentionally altered—or "diminished" as Bergel explains in his talk (starting at 35.00). A halberd, a late eighteenth century version of the pole-axe-spear-weapon, is present in five of the seven images, but is missing from the two issues of the History of Dr. Faustus.

A closer examination of the seven images reveals two much more subtle changes: a very small chip in the hat (which seems to be some sort of French military bicorn hat), that becomes progressively less small, and a very small crack adjacent to that chip, which becomes progressively larger.



Above, we see the four distinct states or forms of this block represented by the NLS images, with the changes mentioned: [1] undamaged; and [2] tiny chip to hat (1st image below); [3] small chip and second tiny crack; and [4] large chip and small crack (2nd image below). The last of these corresponds with the block's de-halberdising.

Looking just at the just the top of the hat, this progression is a bit clearer—despite the pixilation at the magnification necessary.


* * * * *

The pixilation is a clear indication of the path to further progress. The excellent work by Bergel and his team may not be reproducible by Wilkinson (using images from ECCO), because the images she is working with are at a lower resolution that the NLS images. (NLS Chapbooks download at approximately 350dpi, ECCO images at 72dpi.)

Like decent OCR, matching user-supplied images requires more detailed images to reduce the number of false positives. This suggests the utility of ECCO upgrading at least a proportion of their scans with fresh photography, to improve OCR (which they now supply) as well as this sort of image-searching functionality.

But even when working with better images, such as those in the NLS Chapbooks series, resolution sets limits in identifying the sort of progressive damage to blocks seen above. This, in turn, suggests that the optimal image resolution is probably 600dpi—which has long been the digital archive standard.

* * * * *

One final point to make about the items listed below, with NLS cataloguing links, is that the suggested date of publication for these items at NLS will have to be re-considered. Judging from the ornament damage, the earliest item (Three Scotch songs) cannot be "1850–1860?" if the History of Dr. Faustus is "1840–1850?" etc.

Also, if the History of Dr. Faustus is the final form of this block, then it should also be clear that the person depicted in this block is neither Faustus not Mephistopheles—nor anyone else from the History of Dr. Faustus for that matter. As Edward J. Cowan and Mike Paterson explain:

"It was often felt necessary to ornament the front cover with a picture , and a woodcut usually served this purpose—even if it had been used several times before, was fairly crudely executed and made only an indirect allusion (if any at all) to the content." (Folk in Print: Scotland's Chapbook Heritage, 1750-1850 (2007), 13).

* * * * *

State 1: spear; no chip
Three Scotch songs: Donald Caird. Bundle and go. The Haughs of Crumdel (Glasgow: Printed for the booksellers, [1850–1860?]) [L.C.2845(30)] NLA catalogue entry.

State 2: spear; tiny chip
John Falkirk's cariches: to which is added Tam Merrilees; a capital story (Glasgow: Printed for the booksellers, [1840-1850?]), E [L.C.2852.C(10)] ¶ issue with number NLA catalogue entry; E [L.C.2848(1)]. ¶ issue without number NLA catalogue entry.

State 3: spear; small chip, 2nd tiny chip
Four popular songs: viz. Glasgow fair; Oh what a parish. A beauty I did grow; and The adventures of a shilling (Glasgow: Printed for the booksellers, [1850–1860?]), E [L.C.2845(32)] NLA catalogue entry.

The Haughs of Crumdel: to which is added, It fell upon the Martinmas time. Wilt thou go my bonny lassie? (Glasgow: Printed for the booksellers, [1850–1860?]), E [L.C.2845(5)] NLA catalogue entry.

State 4: no spear; large chip, 2nd small chip
History of Dr. Faustus: shewing his wicked life and horrid death, and how he sold himself to the devil, to have power for 24 years, to do what he pleased, also many strange things done by him with the assistance of Mephostophiles. With an account how the devil came for him at the end of 24 years, and tore him to pieces (Glasgow: Printed for the booksellers, [1840–1850?]), [L.C.2852.E(24)] NLA catalogue entry; L.C.2847(6)] ¶ issue without number NLA catalogue entry.

[UPDATED 2021.07.19]

Saturday, 29 May 2021

Gossip in a Library, redux

The last time I mentioned Edmund Gosse and his puningly-titled essay collection, Gossip in a Library (1891; see here), I was rather hard on both the writer and his essay ("What Ann Lang Read").


Since I wrote that post in 2012, I have given four lectures on Gosse and his essay collection, in a variety of teaching units at Monash, and have continued to be equally hard on both.


In light of this, it may seem a little odd that I would spend a reasonable sum of money to buy the volume illustrated in this post, which is a signed, limited edition of Gossip in a Library containing a photogravure of Gosse.


Given that this limited edition was published a year later than the first edition, a copy of which I already have, I was clearly not motivated by any high-minded bibliographical or collecting principle: this is in no way better than a first edition. Quite the opposite, in fact.


However, the 1892, limited-to-one-hundred-copies, signed-by-the-author, deckled-edged, large-paper edition, has—as I mentioned—a photogravure of Gosse, and this sort of artwork is just the thing I need want for my book on Haywood's readers.


Looking online, I can only find one site which uses this 1892 photogravure. Not only is their reproduction (here) watermarked with text, it is also rather small: I will do better!


My only other justification for buying this kind-of duplicate is that it contains a two-page supplement of reviews ("Opinions of the Press"), which is not present in the 1891 edition of Gossip in a Library on Google Books (see here), and which will also be rather useful for my chapter of Gosse.

Sunday, 23 May 2021

Marginal Notes, Now Published


Marginal Notes: Social Reading and the Literal Margins, edited by Patrick Spedding, Paul Tankard and Mia Goodwin (London: Palgrave, 2021)—the latest volume in the New Directions in Book History series—was issued on 29 March 2021. However, as far as I am concerned it was only really published yesterday, when I got to sit down on a quiet and relaxed Saturday morning, with a fresh coffee, and with the book in hand, like this:


The book, which is extremely satisfying to handle, is the final product of a conference collaboration that I first discussed with Paul Tankard in late 2015. The cover is also illustrated with the same image that graced the poster for our original conference (of the same name, and from which the book sprung) in September 2016 (announced on this blog, here).


I am inordinately proud of the cover image, since it contains a rebus—made slightly more obvious, I hope, by the positioning of image and title on the cover. As you can see in the original photo above, the annotator of my copy of Samuel Croxall's Fables of Aesop, not only glossed difficult words and phrases in the text, but also illustrated the silver tankard that is a central feature of this tale (which the thief is seeking at the bottom of the well). Not only is Paul's surname thus illustrated by way of annotation and rebus on the cover, mine is kind-of implied too: the "arch dissembler" being in the process of running or speeding (!) away. (Yes, this is lame, but it is a little less lame to me since, if I do not spell out my name, letter by letter, it is unfailingly recorded as "Speeding"!)

Moving on … of course, once I had a calm, reflective browse of the contents of our collection—I found one alarming error after another. And so I stopped, picked up my pencil, and annotated my copy with the corrections illustrated below. If you happen to read the book, or any of the essays in this collection, and find any more errors, please don't tell me. Rather, do as I have done, and as readers have long done, correct your copy too.



Saturday, 1 May 2021

Oracles and the renaissance

Recently, my scholar-cousin found a roll of film in a canister marked: "Spedding. Berlin." Since he and I thought this might be 24 long-lost happy-snaps from a trip to Berlin, I asked him to send the film to me unopened, and asap.


As it happens, I should have asked him to look at it more closely first because, not only was it not a long-lost film of happy-snaps, the film was not from Berlin. Instead, it was a microfilm I had ordered for him from the British Library back in 1995, when I was in London.


It seems that, at that time, he needed to chase up a reference to an obscure Latin work, which contained a list of -mancy words. Johann Albert Fabricius, Bibliographia antiqvaria, sive introdvctio in notitiam scriptorvm qvi antiqvitates hebraicas, graecas, romanas et christianas scriptis illvstrarvnt (1713), CAPUT XII, §2. "De divinationibus, Vatibus, miraculis, Magia, juramentis et votis, scriptores." [oracles, soothsayers, magic, oaths and vows, writing].


Although there was a copy of this book in Australia, that copy was at the University of Melbourne, one thousand kilometers away from Sydney (where he lived at the time). Also, the University of Melbourne was not set up for copying as easily or cheaply as the British Library—where I was busy at work on my Haywood bibliography.

So, rather than him taking a long road-trip to check the reference, or pay a small fortune for photographs to be taken of each page, I paid £3.53 for a duplicate microfilm at the British Library. When the microfilm arrived, I obviously rationalised the many microfilms I had accumulated for my research, and sent him his film in a spare canister.


So, mystery solved. But it struck me that this vignette of antipodean scholarly industry was worth relating, if only to compare it to the ease with which we can chase up a reference to an obscure** Latin work today. Totally unsurprisingly, this obscure Latin work has been freely available online since 2017 via Google Books.


And, because [1] it is freely available online, and [2] there is little demand for obscure Latin scholarship, you can buy an even earlier edition than held anywhere in Australia for USD75.00. I am not sure what this 1708 edition (below) might have been priced at in 1995, but my guess is between five and ten times as much as it is now.


Of course, [1] is directly related to [2]: there are now almost no libraries seeking to establish a collection of such scholarly depth that they are filling Rare Books collections with obscure Latin scholarship, in the way that the University of Melbourne once did.

When the classical heritage of the West was returned to us via the East, it prompted a renaissance—two of them actually: one in the Twelfth century and one two or three centuries later, which we call either the Renaissance or the Italian Renaissance.

It seems to me that the boggling scholarly riches readily available to us in the twenty-first century should be prompting a third renaissance in the Humanities. The time that scholars previously wasted in overcoming the tyranny of distance (via travel and cumbersome copying) can now be spent in pushing forward research: much further and faster than was possible in the twentieth century.

Perhaps this third renaissance is underway. If so, evidence for a twenty-first century renaissance is no easier to find than Fabricius's Bibliographia antiqvaria was in 1995.

**Although Wikipedia tells us that Fabricius was a celebrated bibliographer and collector of manuscripts, who is credited with compiling 128 books, there are very few references to Fabricius' "De divinationibus" online, before or after 1995.

Thursday, 22 April 2021

Put a pin in it, bookmarks in the 18C

There are a number of places online where various people have discussed the origin and meaning of the phrase to "put a pin in it." English Language and Usage Stack Exchange has a useful thread on this (here); a lot less useful is the one on Quora (here); the one on Urban Dictionary is as silly as you'd expect (here), and there are lots of similar fun, click-baity sites.

According to Urban Dictionary and The BS Dictionary: Uncovering the Origins and True Meanings of Business Speak (here): "The leading theory for where put a pin in it comes from is World War II, when soldiers were encouraged to put a pin back into an active hand grenade so it wouldn't go off. However, we have no credible sources to back that up."

What I love about this gloss is that the "BS" in the title (The BS Dictionary) is intended to suggest both "B[usiness] S[peak] Dictionary" and "B[ull] S[hit] Dictionary"—implying that "Business Speak" is Bull Shit (hilarious)—and that Bob and Tim's dictionary uncovers "the Origins and True Meanings" of said Business Speak / Bull Shit. In reality, the gloss itself is BS: "The leading theory for where put a pin in it comes from" is not from hand grenades and World War II, this is simply the first answer Bob and Tim discovered in precisely 1.4 seconds of Googling time (which led them to Urban Dictionary). So, rather than being a glossary to Business BS, The BS Dictionary is a Business glossary comprised of BS (also hilarious).

As for "put[ting] a pin in" something, most of the explanations offered for the origin of this term are based on thumb-tacks / drawing pins, which "conjures an image of somebody attaching a flyer or a notice to a cork board," "pin[ning] fabric in position before sewing it" in place or setting up pins in a pattern to create "bobbin lace" and stopping stitches you have finished from coming undone. Other suggestions relate to "pinning together pages of a book" or using "pins to mark edits in [a] manuscript"—something Jane Austen is credited with doing, apparently.

My own suggestion is rather more directly related to the meaning of the phrase, which is to "note carefully" or "bear in mind" (as glossed by Jonathon Green's excellent Dictionary of Slang, here): using a sewing pin as a bookmark.

* * * * *


As you can see in the photos above and below, sewing pins were used as bookmarks in the eighteenth century. In this copy of Ab.16.8a2 La Belle Assemblée, 4th ed. (Dublin, 1740), vol.1, a pin has been inserted between two pages in such a way as not to fall out when the book is opened. That is, the tip of the pin has been pushed into the fold between pages 142 and 143, then downwards parralel with the spine, so that it becomes lodged in the paper, glue and binding, with only a short section of the shaft visible when the book is opened.


By inserting the pin in this way, the reader has marked the opening much more securely than is possible with the sort of loose bookmarks I typically use: a piece of paper or cardboard, that tends to fall out when the book is not kept firmly closed.


I noticed quite a few of these sewing-pin bookmarks, inserted in the same way, when I was physically examining hundreds of eighteenth-century copies of works by Haywood, for my 2004 Bibliography. Unfortunately, I did not make a note of which specific copies contained these pin-bookmarks, but I did examine the pins closely enough to be sure that they were definitely contemporary, hand-made silvered brass or steel sewing pins.


How did I know this? Well, at first I didn't, but seventeenth and eighteenth century pins have a very distinct look since, as is explained here: the pin itself [is] made of brass wire, [and] the heads were made separately of brass wound around the top of the pin." Pin-making machines were invented in the early nineteenth century (as Wikipedia notes [in a rather pathetic entry on pins]). These eighteenth-century pins look quite different from any pin I'd handled before, so I started looking into it.

Since my interest in any eighteenth-century reader records has only increased over the years—any evidence of reading really—it was with great satisfaction that I discovered that a contemporary reader of my copy of La Belle Assemblée had "put a pin in it"—"note carefully" so as to "bear in mind" the text.

Of course, despite it's very sharp point, a pin does not have much precision when marking text in the way we see here; less than a modern printed cardboard bookmark, since printed bookmarks typically have a front and a back, a top and a bottom, allowing you to indicate the top or bottom or a specific page. A pin is also more cumbersome than a pencil or ink pen for marking a passage. Moreover, if you were to attempt to mark a line, paragraph or single page, by threading it into and out of a leaf parallel to the outer margin of the relevant text, the pin would inadvertently mark text on both sides of the leaf, since the pin would be visible on both sides of the leaf—though the side of the leaf with the pin head might be the equivalent of the front of a bookmark.

On the positive side, although a pin-threaded-page may be difficult to find again, requiring the reader to fan through the whole book until the page with the pin it was found, it would be easier to find a pinned page than a page with a line of ink or a pencil mark on it. But if you were to attempt to mark—as some readers do—dozens of passages, you would have difficulty closing a book stuffed with so many pins, and it would be an expensive way of marking the text. Since pins were handmade, they were more expensive that the machine-made pins that followed.

So, why use a pin rather than a pencil or ink pen, if it is more cumbersome, costly and less exact? My guess is that a pin was simply close at hand—very close. I suspect that our pin-wielding memorialist used a pin because she was (singularly or, more likely, in company) engaged in multi-tasking: either alternatively or (to the extent possible) simultaneously engaged in both reading and sewing. Also, one of the first recipes that Eliza Haywood included in her Present for a Servant-Maid (1743) was "How to get Spots of Ink out of Linen" (here)—a reminder that ink and linen were a bad combination, and that handling ink and any material while sewing was a bad idea. It was far easier and safer to use a pin than to risk having to soak the linen "all Night in Vinegar and Salt, the next Day rub the Spots well with it, as if you were washing in Water, then put fresh Vinegar and Salt, and let it lie another Night, and the next Day rub it again."

As well as being easier and safer to use a pin, rather than ink, it is also cheaper and less damaging to the book, since the pin can be re-used / moved and—when used as here—leaves only a tiny and discreet hole. The fact that the pin remains in place in my copy of La Belle Assemblée could be interpreted to mean that it was deployed as a long-term marker, like ink or pencil, but it seems much more likely that it was only ever intended to be a temporary place-holder and that this pin remains in place simply because it was forgotten.

* * * * *

In terms of moral alignment, using a pin as a bookmark might identify the reader a being somewhere between "true neutral" and "chaotic neutral" (alignments which cover bookmarking behaviour ranging from using a visiting card or bus ticket, through to using weird 3D objects to mark your place: pen, glasses, seed pods and [unused] condoms**) rather than lawful, neutral or chaotic evil (a continuum of place-holding and memorialising from dog-earing pages, highlighting passages, to tearing out pages you like and glueing them to the wall††). Generally-speaking, this sort of chaotic evil bookmarking is frowned upon, but from the perspective of someone writing a book on eighteenth century readers, it is actually quite welcome.

* * * * *

To return to our phrase, it may be that "putting a pin in it" was once quite common, though evidence may be lacking for a variety of plausible reasons: the preference for pristine (unread) copies in the book trade and among librarians dooming genuinely "used" books; an historical librarianish disapproval and neat-freakery, which erased the evidence of reading from the few examples that made their way into institutional collections, i.e., due to librarians removing any pins present so that they can't rust or otherwise mark the pages; or the pins may have been removed by collectors interested in the curly-headed pins themselves. I have certainly collected a few historical pins for this reason, if not in this way.

Whatever the reason for pinned pasages being uncommon today, it would certainly be consistent with the period in which the phrase arose (early 18C; earlier than recorded in Green's Dictionary, to judge from the quotes provided on Stack Exchange) and with the meaning of the phrase (to "note carefully" or "bear in mind"), for "to put a pin in it" to pin a passage as we see here. Also in favour of my interpretation is that my book may be considered primary evidence: where is the equvalent evidence for the alternative interpretations?!

* * * * *

**One of the few eighteenth-century condoms known to survive—one held by the British Museum—was found in a book in the Brish Library's Private Case, marking a passage where condoms were being discussed. An image of this condom appears in the exhibition catalogue London 1753 (2003), 144, No.3.20.

††Mary and Charles Lamb decorated the walls of their (rented) garret in Temple Lane, by cutting engraved illustrations out of their books and gluing them to the walls. Mary described the process in a letter of 2 November 1814:

"My brother and I almost covered the walls in prints, for which purpose he cut out every print from every book in his old library, coming in every now and then to ask my leave to strip a fresh poor author … There was such pasting, such consultation upon these portraits, and where the series of pictures from Ovid, Milton and Shakespeare would show to most advantage, and in what obscure corners authors of humble rank should be allowed to tell their stories … To conclude this long story about nothing, the poor despised garret is now called the print room, and is become our most familiar sitting-room" (here).