Saturday, 6 March 2021

Compositor: Fleuron 2.0

In March of 2017, I mentioned Fleuron: A Database of Eighteenth-Century Printers' Ornaments as a “new and enticing method for identifying” items printed by Thomas Gardner. (I also mentioned my three articles on the Gardner printing business, and have since used the post to aggregate newly-identified Gardner items.)

The woman behind Fleuron, Hazel Wilkinson, has continued "developing methods of identifying unknown printers using digital imaging" (i.e., using image-recognition software to identify and match printer’s ornaments). The upshot is Compositor, a site that went live in the middle of 2020—according to its blog and Twitter accounts—unbeknown to me. (Thankfully, David Levy got wind of the new site and recently let me in on the secret.††)

What Compositor enables is a lot closer to what I had hoped might be possible with an image-searching approach, than that provided by Fleuron. Fleuron was very good; Compositor is better. Although there is a lot of unnecessary, mouse-operated, busy work which makes any extensive search a grind, it is now possible to cross-match images of cast-metal Fleurons and carved wooden printers ornaments—Headpieces, Tailpieces, Initials, and Factotums—quickly compare the Compositor-identified image matches (to weed out the more obvious false-positives), and to trace the matches back to the works in which they appear.

So, for instance, I can [1] search Compositor for an item that I know was printed by Gardner, get [2] a full list of his ornaments that appear in that item, and then [3] search Compositor for other instances of each individual ornament, leading me to [4] items that I did not previously know were printed by Gardner—something I am keen to do.**

Likewise, I can [1] search Compositor for an edition of a work written by Eliza Haywood, follow steps [2] and [3], to [4] lead me to other items printed by the same printer as the printer of the Haywood edition. And since I do not know who the printer was of many editions of the works by Haywood, this should help me identify them—something I am keen to do.

Apart from the grind of unnecessary mouse-operated, busy work, which discourages anyone from undertaking the sort of extensive searches I am keen to have the results of, there are some other limitations worth mentioning.

Compositor appears to contain ornament images only from a sub-set of items filmed for The Eighteenth Century microfilm series, and subsequently scanned for ECCO (Eighteenth Century Collections Online). Also, the easiest way of locating an item on Compositor, is via an ESTC number. So, with a list of eighteenth century books in hand, you will be stymied if your candidate for a search

[1] the book isn’t on ESTC
[2] it is on ESTC, but not filmed for ECCO
[3] it is on ESTC, and on ECCO, but not on Compositor (!? I am not sure why this is the case)
[4] it is on ESTC, and on ECCO, and on Compositor, but the images captured by ECCOare so awful, that no match was possible
(*[5] it is on ESTC, and on ECCO, and on Compositor, but it has no ornaments! — obviously this is not the fault of Compositor, but it is easy to forget the basic, limiting, starting point for searches.)

It is a shame that Compositor does not allow you to upload your own images: even if you had to provide black-and-white images, of a certain number pixel density or size, include physical dimensions and so on, it would still be a huge improvement.

Even if Compositor only allowed you to source images from, say, the Internet Archive or Google Books, that would be an improvement, but I want to upload ornaments I have from other sources too, so I can identify the printer of such things as Sodom, or the Gentleman Instructed. A Comedy. By the E. of R. (Hague, Printed in the Year 1000000)—which is not on ESTC or ECCO or the Internet Archive or Google Books. The only known copy sold at Sotheby’s on 16 December 2004 and is now in private ownership.

Still, what Compositor does allow you to do is very impressive, and is a lot closer to what I imagined might be possible with an image-searching approach, when I explored getting such a project off the ground in 2004. If the search interface were to be improved (I might do a separate post on this) and if it were possible to search Compositor for user-sourced images, it would achieve all that I imagined in 2004.

Of course, it both changes were to be made, I would be unlikely to eat, drink or sleep until I had identified the printer of every item that survives from the first half of the eighteenth century. As things stand today, my main risk will be RSI. So, "Careful what you wish for"?

* * * * *

†† David has since done a post about Compositor here, giving an over-view of its use in his search for printers of works by or relating to Edmond Hoyle.

** Soon after writing the above I went ahead and did this search. I am not sure whether this blog is the best place to publish the full list of Gardner publications I have now identified—and my indecision is largely responsible for delaying the publication of the present post (which I wrote in January, about the same time as David was writing his post!).

Friday, 5 March 2021

Betsy Thoughtless, the first really domestic novel?

In The Novels and Novelists of the Eighteenth Century, in illustration of the manners and morals of the age (1871), William Forsyth offered a detailed account of Eliza Haywood's The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless and—as Christine Blough noted in 1991—Forsyth "argues that it may have been the model for Evelina" (Christine Blouch, Questions in the Life and Works (PhD thesis, 1991), Ch6 "Eliza Haywood: An Annotated Critical Bibliography," pp. 243–44).

Forsyth's "meagre sketch" of Betsy Thoughtless occupies about six pages (204–9); it is bookended by a brief assessment, the first part of which makes the claim that Betsy Thoughtless was "the first really domestic novel." Forsyth's claim was often quoted in the following half century prior to George Frisbee Whicher's biography of Haywood, which eclipsed the limited criticism that existed before it was published in 1915.

A fairly accurate OCR transcript of the whole of Forsyth's The Novels and Novelists of the Eighteenth Century is available online (here), but the passage that I am referring to is this:

'Miss Betsy Thoughtless' is rather a clever work and interesting, as the first really domestic novel according to modern ideas, that exists in the language. It has been supposed that Miss Burney took it as the model of her 'Evelina,' and it is the only novel I know which could [204] have served for the purpose. As, although once celebrated, it is now almost entirely forgotten, I will give a short sketch of the plot …

As you can see, Forsyth's claim for Betsy Thoughtless is only qualified by "according to modern ideas," whereas he only claims to be reporting the supposition of influence of Haywood on Burney ("It has been supposed…"). Although Forsyth does offer some footnoted support for other claims he made, the fact that he does not state who has done this supposing is significant. I will look at the early history of this second claim more closely on another occasion.

In 1888, John Colin Dunlop quoted Forsyth's claim ("the first really domestic novel according to modern ideas, that exists in the language") in a footnote to his History of Prose Fiction (London: George Bell and Sons, 1888), Vol.2, 568n1 (online here). Dunlop's History of Prose Fiction was first published in 1814; the passage to which the 1888 footnote is appended appeared in volume 3 (here); a one-volume reprint claiming to be a fourth edition appeared in 1845 (here) is textually identical to the first edition. Dunlop's only claim for Betsy Thoughtless (in 1814, 1845 and 1888) was rather milder than Forsyth's: that it was "deserving of notice … on account of its merit".

Dunlop's revised text, with Forsyth's footnoted claim, was frequently reprinted and probably had a very wide dissemination. It was evidently reprinted in 1896 (here) [range-banned in Oz], but also in 1906 (here) and 1911 (here).

In 1892, Charles James Billson repeated Forsyth's claim—without acknowledgement, and so possibly second-hand—in his essay "The English Novel," in The Westminster Review, Vol. 138, no. 6 (December 1892): 609 (here) [range-banned in Oz]: "The third lady novelist of this century is Mrs. Heywood, who wrote the history of Miss Betsy Thoughtless, which has been called the first really domestic novel in the language. It describes the adventures of an inexperienced girl in London society under the chaperonage of a woman of the world, and probably suggested the plot of Miss Burney's Evelina." Notice how Billson clips off one of Forsyth's qualifications ("according to modern ideas") at the same time as he distances himself from the now much larger claim "the first really domestic novel in the language."

In 1895, Forsyth was quoted (more accurately) in a rather unexpected location: Benjamin Eli Smith, ed. The Century Cyclopedia of Names: A Pronouncing and Etymological Dictionary (New York: Century Co. 1894–95), 691b sv "Miss Betsy Thoughtless." After explaining that Betsy Thoughtless was "A novel by Mrs. Haywood, published in 1751" Forsyth is quoted at some length (i.e., the full text I have quoted above, is reproduced and a citation offered).

In 1918—three years after the publication of Whicher's The Life and Romances of Mrs. Eliza Haywood—Montague Summers repeated Forsyth's claim in his Centenary Lecture. Summers—despite being quite batty—was somewhat of an expert on what we might now call genre prose fiction, having edited many early gothic novels and going on to produce The Gothic Quest: A History of the Gothic Novel in 1938. Summers had also reviewed Whicher's The Life and Romances when it first appeared, so he was better acquanted than many of his contemporaries with the scope and nature of Haywood's writing.

The Centenary Lecture was published under the title "Jane Austen: An Appreciation" in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature, ser.2 vol. 36 (1918): 1-33. In the introductory passage, Summers writes (5–6) "A greater name than these is Eliza Haywood, the “Ouida of her day,” as Mr. Gosse cleverly dubs her, who in the six and thirty years of her activity produced over seventy works of various kinds, beginning with little amatory novella of no value, but culminating in 'The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless' 'the first really domestic novel, according to modern ideas, that exists in the language,' and the undoubted ancestry [sic] of 'Evelina.'"

In 1926, in my final example, and the one that prompted this post, Forsyth's claim is both quoted and expanded in The McHenry Plaindealer (25 February 1926): 8. Under the title "Pioneer in Novels" the following "on-this-day" type of filler appeared: "Miss Betsy Thoughtless by Mrs. Haywood, published in 1751, is generally regarded as the first really domestic novel in the English Language. It is thought to have been the model for Miss Burney's 'Evelina.'" An image of this clipping now appears as on WikiTree (here).

What strikes me when I look at the reasonably-long life of this claim is how predictably the claim expands, and the qualifications first offered by Forsyth are stripped away: Betsy Thoughtless goes from being "the first really domestic novel according to modern ideas" (1871) to being called "the first really domestic novel in the language" (1892) to being "generally regarded as the first really domestic novel in the English Language" (1926).

Now that the most largest and least-qualified claim has been published on WikiTree, I guess we can expect Forsyth's claim to take on a new life, and (re)appear in hundreds of undergraduate essays—and perhaps a few graduate essays too—over the next few decades.

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Haywood and Dryden: The humblest lover, when he lowest lies

In Book 9 of Haywood's Female Spectator appears the following passage:

"Many Women have been deceived by this Shew of Obsequiousness in those who have afterward become their Tyrants, not remembering what the Poets says:

The humblest lover, when he lowest lies,
But kneels to conquer, and but falls to rise.

The "Poet" here is John Dryden, and the couplet is from his Amphitryon (1690), 3.1.609-10, where it reads:

"The prostrate lover, when he lowest lies,
But stoops to conquer, and but kneels to rise.

As you can see below, one eighteenth-century reader of Haywood's Female Spectator, who was familiar with the lines, corrected the couplet in ink.

* * * * *

Haywood's paraphrase of Dryden was not picked up by Patricia Meyer Spacks in her Selections from the Female Spectator (1999)—where the "quotation [is] unidentified" (95)—but it was picked up by Katheryn R. King and Alexander Pettit in their edition of The Female Spectator in The Selected Works of Eliza Haywood II, vol.2 (2001)—where they note: "Adapted from Dryden, Amphitryon (1690), III. i. 609-10" (457n31).

What is not noted by King and Pettit—and is well beyond the scope of their edition in any event—is [1] that Haywood repeated her 1745 paraphrase / adaptation of Dryden in 1755 and [2] that it, and an earlier paraphrase of the same passage, long interacted and thrived.

Starting with [1]: Haywood returned to this Dryden couplet ten years after using it in The Female Spectator. In The Wife she wrote:

"A woman of this way of thinking, would do well to repeat often within herself that just and pathetic maxim which Mr. Dryden puts into the mouth of Jove:

I gave them pride to make mankind their slave;
But in exchange, to man I flattery gave:
The humblest lover, when he lowest lies,
But kneels to conquer, and but falls to rise.

While still a paraphrase of Dryden, this passage isn't identified as such by Pettit and Margo Collins, in their edition of The Wife in The Selected Works of Eliza Haywood I, vol.3 (2000)—though the citation is otherwise identical: "Dryden, Amphitryon (1690), III. i. 607–10."

(The Wife was reprinted—without attribution—in Boston in 1836, under the wonderful title The Young Bride at Home: Or, A Help to Connubial Happiness, but this does not count as an echo. For those interested, see my post about it here.)

* * * * *

Regarding [2], the Dryden passage had been paraphrased in a different way previous to Haywood, with

"The prostrate lover, when he lowest lies,
But stoops to conquer, and but kneels to rise.

changed to

"Th' offending Lover, when he lowest lyes,
Submits to conquer, and but kneels to rise.

This is the reading of lines 609–10 that was offered by both Edward Bysshe, The Art of English Poetry, vol. 3 (London: Sam. Buckley, 1705), 430 here; and in Charles Gildon, The Complete Art of Poetry (London: Charles Rivington, 1718), vol2, 457 (here). These readings were certainly influential.

Elizabeth Montagu—seemingly—combined Haywood's line 609 ("humblest") with the Bysshe-Gildon paraphrase of line 610 ("submits") in one of her letter, reprinted in The Letters of Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu, ed. Matthew Montagu, Part 1, vol. 2 (1809), 28. Here we read:

"There are two excellent lines which have made me ever deaf to the voice of the charmer, charmed he ever so sweetly,

The humblest lover, when he lowest lies,
Submits to conquer, and but kneels to rise.

A review of The Letters of Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu (The British Critic, and Quarterly Theological Review, 34 (October 1809): 566 (here) repeats this Haywood/Bysshe-Gildon reading.

In 1830, "A Lady" combined Haywood's line 609 ("humblest") with Dryden's original line 610 ("stoops") in "A Lecture on Love and Courtship," which appeared in London Court Journal. I have not seen the original, but it was reprinted at least once in England (in The Leicester Chronicle (5 June 1830): 4) and three times in America.

The first US printing of this lecture appears to have been in The New-York Mirror: a repository of polite literature and the arts, no. 18 (6 November 1830): 141a (here). The anonymous author warns of the lover who fall at the feet of a young "Miss, just emerged from the 'Academy' [who] is all for pathos, hearts, darts, and flames". Said lovers will:

"fall at her feet, protest eternal constancy and devotion, and swear he is a willing slave;—but remember, young ladies,

The humblest lover, when he lowest lies,
But stoops to conquer, and but kneels to rise!

One week later, the essay was reprinted in The Western Star [Lebanon, OH], no.16 (13 November 1830): 1e (here), where it is credited to the London Court Journal. Also in 1830, at some point, the essay was reprinted in The Lady's Book, vol.1 (Philadelphia: L. A. Godey and Co., 1830), 174a (here).

The spread of the pure Bysshe-Gildon reading ("offending"/"submits") gained further strength in 1852, when Selections from the Poetry of Dryden (here) used the Bysshe-Gildon version of 3.1.610. Possibly as a result, George Saintsbury's edition of The Dramatic Works of John Dryden, vol.8 (Edinburgh: William Paterson, 1882) (here) follows the same reading, and probably as a result of Saintsbury, the 1976 University of California Press edition of The Works of John Dryden edited by Earl Miner, George G. Guffey, and Franklin B. Zimmerman, follows suit.

As a result of Saintsbury's edition, although Letter 132 (28 February 1751) of Lord Chesterfield's Letters to His Son, correctly quotes Dryden, no less an editor than George Birkbeck Hill treated Chesterfield's text as if it were mistaken. In his Oxford edition of Lord Chesterfield's Worldly Wisdom (1891), 164n2 (here), Hill notes

"Goldsmith's comedy no doubt took its name from this line. As it was acted the year before Chesterfield's Letters were published, it would seem to show that the version 'stoops to conquer' was the one generally known"

—which suggests that the version "generally known" was incorrect, when it was actually correct.

Likewise, when it comes to discussing the origin of the title to Goldsmith "She Stoops to Conquer" the editor of the 2007 Oxford World's Classic edition, Nigel Wood, quotes Miner, Guffey, and Zimmerman for the (incorrect) "correct" reading of Dryden! (here)

* * * * *

Returning to Haywood: I can find no prior use of Haywood's particular version of the lines (with "humblest" in line 609 / and "kneels" in line 610), so it seems likely that she is solely responsible for it.

While Haywood's version of the couplet differs from both Dryden and Bysshe-Gildon, it is most similar to the latter, with the first line reading "The humblest lover" (like Bysshe-Gildon) rather than "The prostrate lover" (Dryden), and with the second line "kneels to conquer" (Haywood alone) rather than either "stoops to conquer" (Dryden) or "Submits to conquer" (Bysshe-Gildon).

Consequently, it is possible that Haywood is indebted to Bysshe-Gildon—that she either read and misremembered Bysshe-Gildon alone, or attempted this paraphrase of Dryden after (a) encountering the Bysshe-Gildon paraphrase, (b) recognizing it as being a rewriting of the passage, and (c) being inspired to have a go at re-writing Dryden herself—but it seems much more likely that her version was simply the result of an independant misremembering the play. (I.e., the same sort of misremembering that resulted in the Bysshe-Gildon version.) Likewise, although it is possible that Montagu's apparent Haywood/Bysshe-Gildon hybrid and the anonymous 1830 Haywood/Dryden hybrid are both indebted to Haywood, it seems more likely that both of these versions are also the result of a misremembering of Dryden alone.

That such misrememberings should be so common, sometimes agreeing on one line, sometimes on another, and so often agree with each other at other times that they succeed in usurping the original text, is something all editors should be mindful of. It is also a powerful reminder that "print culture" coexisted with "oral culture" throughout the eighteenth century.

Monday, 1 February 2021

The Horblit Bibliographical Collation Computer of 1964

According to his Wikipedia entry, Harrison David Horblit (1912–88)—"philanthropist and collector of books, manuscripts, and photographs"—"designed a 'Bibliographical Collation Computer', a 128 x 245mm card in a plastic sleeve which operates much like a slide rule in which the letters of the alphabet are correlated with the pagination values of formats of 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10,12, 16, 20, 24, and 32 leaves. The card was copyrighted in 1964 and copies were sold by the Grolier Club."

I recently had the very great fortune to acquire a Horblit "Bibliographical Collation Computer" from the estate of an eminent Melbourne bibliographer who was active in the 60s to the 90s. Having looked online, I can see that some "*EXCITED SCREECHING*" occurred on Twitter after one—marked "Reading Room Desk"—was "found in the bottom of a reading room drawer" at the Lilly Library (see tweets and photos by Liz Hebbard and Joe McManis).

As Joe McManis points out, a misprint on the recto has been hand-corrected—but a further two errors are corrected with an overprint, and the title of the "computer" is—in fact—a cancel: a paste-over. All I can make out of the original title, which was longer than "Bibliographical Collation Computer" is "The" at the start and "Card" at the end, so "The Bibliographical Collation Computer Card"? Although the paste-over is somewhat loose at the edge, I am not willing to trash my "computer" to find out the original title. If only I had a can of Freon! (Which, apparently, turns paper transparent for the short period of time it takes before the gas evaporates, then departs on a mission to tear a Godzilla-sized hole in the Ozone layer.)

As "Incunabula" pointed out in reply to one of these tweets "the Grolier Club still had these for sale as late as 2001"—which turns out to be Fake News: true, but misleading. According to the Wayback Machine, in February of 2001, after "A small cache of these useful and fascinating 'collation computers'—part of the original 1964 print run—[had] recently come to light at the Grolier Club" they were "offer[ed] to anyone with an interest in bibliographical gadgets" at a price of $15 (here; emphasis added). By April, the "collation computers" had sold out (here). If you would like to buy one now, Rootenberg Rare Books & Manuscripts would like you to pay them USD350. (Regarding which, see 1 Timothy 6:10: radix enim omnium malorum est cupiditas [For the love of money is the root of all evil]).

In 1997, G. Thomas Tanselle gave an account of Horblit ("Harrison D. Horblit, Collector," Gazette of the Grolier Club, n.s., Vol. 48 (1997): 5–17; online here), which includes a description of Horblit's "Collation Computer" (11). In his account, Tanselle mentions an advertisement for the computer that appeared in The Antiquarian Bookman for 8 February 1965. The advertisement was so entertaining to the Grolier Club members that it was "for a time posted in the Grolier Clubhouse, where it was recognized as a characteristic bit of Horblitiana."

And so, for your reading pleasure, I give you the Carny pitch for Horblit's "Collation Computer":

* * * * *



Invented by HARRISON D. HORBLIT author of the recently published "100 Books Famous In Science"

Based upon the 23-letter Roman alphabet as used in the signatures of books up into the 19th-century (i.e. A–Z without J, U, and W), and upon the principles of the slide rule, this instrument is the newest, indeed the first, to raise the efficiency of the bibliographer by labor saving and by aiding in the every-day computations in cataloguing, collating, and accessioning rare books.

The BIBLIOGRAPHICAL COLLATION COMPUTER eliminates complicated arithmetic calculations and insures accuracy, with ease, quickly. It indicates immediately, once the collation is known, the proper number of leaves or pages. It quickly calls attention to mis-paginations (hence, issue points), in many 15th–19th century publications. It can also be used for a quick check for accuracy of existing bibliographical descriptions.

An Essential Tool for all Students, Scholars, and Others Engaged in Bibliography.

CAN PAY FOR ITSELF IN ONE DAY—by time and labor saved, and by its accuracy.


You can solve this on the BIBLIOGRAPHICAL COLLATION COMPUTER in 4 seconds!

*©1964  Size: 9 1/2 by 5 1/2 inches
$7.50 each—Special discount to the trade

SOLE DISTRIBUTOR IN AMERICA: John F. Fleming, Inc. 322 East 57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10022.

* * * * *

PS: although a cache of Horblit computers were on the market in the last two decades, the only other survivor that I can find—beyond those mentioned—is that at Washington University in Series 12, Box 9 of the "Philip Mills Arnold Papers" here.

Tuesday, 26 January 2021

F. H. Johnstone (b.1867), Old Mancunian, scholar, soldier, school master, poet

Below is a brief biography of F. H. Johnstone, which I have compiled, in order to learn something more of the then-Western Australian, occasional poet responsible for both the pleasant “The Lender’s Library” (1907; for my post on this, see here) and the somber war-time meditation on the ANZACs “Young Australia in Ancient Egypt” (1915), which I have transcribed at the end of this post.

Since there is something in Francis’s history that reminds me of two wonderful 1981 films: Gallipoli (1981) and Chariots of Fire (1981), this attempt to rescue him from oblivion is, therefore, a combination Australia Day and Anzac Day offering. (Probably the latter would be more appropriate, but I am impatient, so I favour the former.)

Francis was both an Oxford graduate and an Indian Army veteran who spent more than a decade teaching Western Australian Colonials in Greek and Latin, returning “home” to do the same at a Grammar School that had been founded in 1515, before volunteering to train England’s finest for the horrors of WWI.

For those who don’t know the film, Gallipoli “revolves around several young men from Western Australia who enlist in the Australian Army during the First World War.” Both films involve runners, and so the plots of the two films have become entwined in my memory: both are also terribly sad films, which had a profound impact on me when I saw them in 1981. I don’t know how many of his students at “The High School” in Perth ended up at Gallipoli. For their sakes, I hope it was none.

* * * * *

Francis Herbert Johnstone, O.M. (i.e., Old Mancunian), M.A. (Oxon; University of Western Australia), or “Frank” to his sister, was born 16 January 1867, won an Entrance Scholarship at Manchester Grammar School in 1879, followed by a four-year open scholarship for Classics at Wadham College, Oxford, in 1885, taking a 2nd in Mods and a 3rd in Greats; “Gentleman Cadet Francis Herbert Johnstone, from the Royal Military College” did three years full-time military service in the Northamptonshire Regiment from 14 September 1887 (The Times (14 September 1887); Hart’s Army Lists (1890), 292; London Gazette (13 September 1887): 4945), being posted to the 11th Madras Infantry 1 November 1889; and reaching the rank of 2nd Lieutenant on 16 November 1889 (London Gazette (17 February 1891): 885).

Francis returned from active duty, taking the post as school master at the Pocklington Grammar, 1889–90; Macclesfield Grammar, 1890–1902. On 14 December 1902 the King approved his resignation from the Indian Army (London Gazette (5 February 1904): 786); in 1902, Francis was appointed Second Master at The High School, Perth, where he stayed for twelve years, until at least 20 July 1914 (when the Bishop of Perth wrote to Manchester Grammar School—his alma mater—to help find him a position there). Towards the end of his time in Perth, the University of Western Australia awarded him a degree “Ad Eundem Gradum” (i.e., a degree awarded by one university to an alumnus of another; The West Australian (20 Mar 1913): 1). It was also about this time, the main school building was being constructed for The High School, which changed its name to “Hale School” in 1929 (see here).

In 1914, when drafting his C.V., Francis noted that he had trained up four successful Rhodes Scholars and that his “Total absence from work in 12 years has been 2 days, from influenza.” The last record I can find of Francis in Australia is that “Mr. F. H. Johnston, of Perth High School, [was] spending the summer holidays at Albany” according to a new report of 1 January 1915 (The Daily News “Mainly About People” [byline “Franziska] (1 January 1915): 3a).

In February 1916, Francis joined the staff at Manchester Grammar School (Ulula, no. 333 (February 1916): [1]); on 30 January 1917, Francis “read a brief but suggestive paper on ‘Literary Criticism’” for the Literary Society, “in which some of the most famous critics were discussed and some excellent advice was given as to the forming of personal judgments” (Ulula, no. 331 (February 1917): 20); from 10 November 1918 to January 1919 (when he would have turned 52), he returned to military service as temporary 2nd Lieutenant, training in the Manchester Grammar School Officers Training Corps “for service with Junior Division” in France (Record of war service, 1914-1918, Officers training corps (Junior division) Public school officers, and other members of the staffs (1919), 110).

Francis returned to Manchester Grammar, appearing in a series of photos during the 1920s held in the Manchester Grammar archives: in 1920, with the “Second Form”; in 1923, with the Classical Middle Third grade; from 1923–28, in a series “Classical Transitus” from; and in 1929, with “History Sixth”—by which time he would have been close to retirement (62 yrs).

The Manchester Grammar School archives also hold a “bundle” of letters from J. P. Bowden to F. H. Johnstone from 1923–27. The John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, holds three files of material (1905–15) belonging to Francis, “Miscellaneous material including verses by F. H. Johnstone and his C.V. and press cuttings” (from which much of my account of his academic career is culled); a file of 44 letters from Francis to his sister Mary Tout (née Johnstone), and a further 17 letters to other correspondents. The files were filmed as part of the Australian Joint Copying Project, and can be read online (here).

Poems written by Francis were published in a number of periodicals, and manuscripts of three of them survive at the John Rylands Library (“Then and Now,” “Egypt Speaks,” composed February 1915 [published as “Young Australia in Ancient Egypt” in Ulula, no. 315 (1915): 15–16], and “Exile”). “The Lender’s Library” was likely first published in 1907 by Mrs. Frances Zabel, but was reprinted in 1913 and 1947.

* * * * *

“Egypt Speaks,” aka “Young Australia in Ancient Egypt” can be read here (in manuscript) and here (in print: pdf file, pages 15–16). Below is the version that was printed. (Which may be identical to the MS; I have not compared them.)

Young Australia in Ancient Egypt

Through the long tale of my unnumbered age,
  Old as the oldest breed of men,
I turn in memory page or storied page,
  And live the past again.

I mind me when my people bowed the knee
  To gods forgotten, fain to raise
In Thebes and Memphis to the sacred Three
  Untiring meed of praise.

Then was the cycle of the sombre years
  When Isis for Osiris dead,
Weeping a sister's plenitude of tears,
  Could not be comforted.

I saw the kingly Pharaohs wax and wane;
  Their pomp is written on my sands;
Behold it, tomb and pyramid and fane,
  Rifled by alien hands.

Who were those bondmen low that were akin
  To Joseph? Bitter was the woe
Their Moses wrought me, when he fain would win,
  My Pharaoh's leave to go.

The Persian held me captive, and anon
  Great Alexander came to seek
Dominion with his men of Macedon;
  Thereafter I was Greek.

Through reign of Ptolemy on Ptolemy:
  And one of them—could you have seen
Both Caesar and the noble Antony
  Thrall to that laughing queen!

These were of Rome, and Rome was soon to be
  My mistress for a season, till
The hate of Mahmoud flooded over me,
  And bent me to their will.

Still am I theirs, but for one little while
  I was Napoleon's, to the day
When Nelson's seamen from a seagirt isle
  Shattered his dream of sway.

And now, behold, the youngest nation sends
  From far her youth and chivalry,
Her mother calls, and she responsive leads
  In all true loyalty.

Where Sphinx and pyramid so long have gazed
  Across my desert floor of sand,
The white tents of their sojourning are raised;
  In glittering line they stand.

I see their companies march to and fro,
  Their limbs with youth and pride endued,
Envious I mark them: Would that I could know
  Youth's ecstasy renewed!

Mine eyes have looked on centuries of war,
  And none, methinks, more like than these,
The chosen manhood of that southern shore,
  Their longed-for prize to seize.

What shall I take of them, or gain or loss?
  Will they be valiant to prevail?
And will the Crescent yield before the Cross,
  And Islam's warriors fail?

I wonder, I am old and very old,
  And change has ever been my fate,
What will be, will be, as the years unfold,
  Patient I sit, and wait.


Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Libraries: The First Cut Is The Deepest

In 1887, Augustine Birrell explained that “Libraries are not made; they grow. Your first two thousand volumes present no difficulty, and cost astonishingly little money” but “After your first two thousand difficulty begins.”

When I started collecting, just shy of a hundred years after Birrell wrote this, both observations were still true, although he does not explain the connection between “growth” and “difficulty” quite as clearly as I would have liked.

I definitively had very little difficulty accumulating a room full of books but, when I got to about two thousand, difficulties certainly began. The difficulties Birrell has in mind (you can read his essay here) are a combination of money, haste and taste.

Money is always a problem when you have champagne tastes on a beer income, but the main difficulty I faced—whether I was living below the poverty line, as I did for two decades, or above it—was and still is, space.

Since thousands of volumes “present no difficulty,” and “astonishingly little money” to accumulate, “an ordinary man can in the ordinary course, without undue haste or putting any pressure upon his taste, surround himself with”—more books than he has room for.

And since libraries grow, and grow, and grow—sometimes faster, sometimes slower, but always and forever growing—they do need pruning every now and then, if—like fruit trees—they are going to be productive, and retain any kind of “shape.”

I have pruned my library a number of times over the years, many more times than I would have liked. I have pruned when I was poor and needed to sell books (will I ever stop regretting selling my first edition of Lyrical Ballads?), but more often I pruned when I had simply run out of space.

I have consoled myself on each occasion, that the pruning has forced me to be more selective than I would otherwise have been, and so more focused in what I collect, thus improving my collection as a whole.

While there is obviously some truth in this, and so the fruit-tree metaphor is a good one, I still mourn the books I have been forced to prune. Perhaps, as a result, the word I have always used is based on a much bloodier metaphor: “cull.”

Below is the story of my first library pruning / cull. This first cull was by a very wide margin, the most savage of all, so it looms largest in my memory. I am telling this story now, so I can tell another (about a specific book, in a separate post), but I may tell the story of other culls in future. To tell the story of my first library cull, I have to tell the story of my first library.

My First Library

I started actively collecting books in my early teens. I was given a little pocket-money, but I earned a little more, mowing lawns and doing garden work in the neighborhood; later it was paper rounds, and supermarket shelf-stacking. I spent most of it on books.

I was very methodical about my book-buying. I would get the local paper on a Wednesday, and would study the garage sale listings, and then consult the street directory to work out the maximum number of garage sales—those that mentioned books—which I could reach on my bike, on a single Saturday morning circuit. On Saturday, I would head out shortly after seven, ride for about an hour, then work my way home, going from one garage to another, seeing what I could buy.

When I think about it now, my geographical range was enormous and still impressive. My range of purchases was far less impressive; I would buy science fiction, fantasy, and anything to do with the supernatural, with a very little literature and history thrown in when something piqued my interest. Most of what I bought was cheap pulpy paperbacks, but I picked up a few older hardbacks too.

At about this time I would also, on occasion, tag along with my mother on shopping trips to Hornsby or Chatswood, so I could make a hasty visit to a paperback bookshop or op shop. (I recently found a few surviving books bought on these trips—Bram Stoker and “Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult” paperbacks—but that is a subject for another day.)

In my mid- to late teens (especially after I left school), I earned more money, and ranged further, catching trains to visit secondhand bookshops all over Sydney, spending whole days trawling bookshops. I was buying more paperbacks, but mostly hardbacks, and a few antiquarian books, and focusing more on literature and history.

Once I started working full time, I bought even more. My first real job was working in the city as a storeman and packer; my five-day paycheck was about one hundred dollars. I have a few random records for my purchases at this time: my copy of Dante’s Inferno, illustrated by Gustave Doré, cost me $75—most a full week’s wage. Adam Alexander’s Summary of Geography and History, Both Ancient and Modern (1809) was $55.

Most of the other books I bought at this time were twenty to thirty dollars each, but I bought them four or five at a time, leaving nothing much in the bank by the time I quit. (That the price on all of these books would be the same today, over three decades later, shows what a poor investment this was!).

I did somewhat better at saving at my next job, but I also started buying what might be called “real” antiquarian books: 16C classics, 17C and 18C literature in English, private press and limited editions; I also bought some new books: leather-bound reprints, slip-cased facsimiles and coffee-table books. After my gap-years working (and collecting), I went away to university in Hobart, leaving behind a room full of books.

I returned after a year of studying English Literature, Latin, Classics and Medieval History—with even more books: adding scholarly editions and serious works of reference to my still-growing library. With space at home exhausted, and with transporting any number of books to, or from, Hobart being very difficult, I (stupidly, idiotically, rashly) decided to dispose of most of the books from my childhood and adolescence, especially my garage-sale finds: the pulpy paperbacks, the science fiction, fantasy, and the supernatural.

If I had gone to university in Sydney, I might have carted these books from share-house to share-house, getting rid of a few here and there, gradually winnowing the bookish chaff from the wheat. Instead, chaff and wheat alike went to Ashwoods and a few other bookshops in Sydney, while my most prized books were posted to Hobart—at enormous expense.

I began to regret this cull almost immediately, and so I began to replace some of the books I missed the most only weeks after selling them. But I had no catalogue of the books I had disposed of, and no substitute for one: no purchase receipts, reading records and no systematic photographing of shelves.

(The few photos I do have from before I went to University show only a little of a few of my shelves, and these photos are so blurry that you can only make out about half the titles.)

As the years have passed, my memory of my first library of garage-sale and op-shop finds has faded somewhat, and I stopped looking to replace the books that I sold so long ago. But I still occasionally find myself in a bookshop, with a familiar-looking book in hand, unsure whether this is simply a book I have seen many times, in many other bookshops, or whether it is one of the books I had had in my first collection.

Although it is satisfying when I am sure that the book in hand is a copy of a book I once owned, I usually don’t buy it just to satisfy my nostalgic impulse. Likewise, whenever I am driven by my nostalgic impulse to examine an old photo of my books, and find myself newly able to correctly identify a blur—presumably, after recently seeing a copy of the book in a shop somewhere—I do not race off to buy the book.

Instead, for some years now, I have simply added the titles to a list of my pre-University books that I have been maintaining. The list costs me nothing, and allows me to satisfy my nostalgic impulse without cluttering up my shelves with books I would never now want to buy or read.** (Of course, I do buy the ones I do still want to buy and read.)

Like book collecting itself, it is astonishing how easy it has been to accumulate a lengthy catalogue of my pre-University library, without “putting any pressure upon” myself. The 750-odd books I have identified probably represent less than half of those I had at the time. But what my catalogue tells me is that, of the more than 1500 books that I must have had before my first cull, I kept only about ten percent.

This figure explains why “prune” is not really the best term for my first … “library sale” (?). If you remove ninety percent of a fruit tree, all that remains is a stump. Even “cull” suggests a less drastic act of slaughter, that leaving ninety percent of the herd on the blood-soaked earth.

While—in raw numbers—I probably disposed of more books in later culls, the percentage disposed of has never approached that of this first cull. As I explained at the start, this is probably why it looms so large in my memory. That, and—as Cat Stevens rightly says—“The First Cut Is the Deepest.”

**I got the idea for this catalogue (as a substitute for re-constituting my entire first library) from Don Astlett’s Freedom from Clutter (1986): an excellent book. At one point, I had two copies—but, in time, I found the strength necessary to dispose of one.

Monday, 18 January 2021

The Lender’s Library, 1907

I found "The Lender’s Library" printed in Perth Boy’s School Magazine, Vol. 1, no. 1 (2 May 1913): 5b. Google tells me that over thirty years later the poem was reprinted as “The Lender’s Litany,” in The Educational Magazine, Vol. 4 (1947): 143, but it seems not to have been printed again.

Since the poem nicely enumerates (albeit condemns) many of the evidences of reading that I am presently searching for, and hoping to find, I thought I should do my bit to preserve it. I have since done some research into the author and first publisher, which I will post separately.


The following lines, written by F. H. Johnstone, Esq., M.A., of Perth, are published this month for the benefit of all readers, but more especially for those boys who are thoughtless and careless in their treatment of books, and who have yet to learn that “books are friends,” and should be cared for as such.

We have to thank Mr.[sic] Zabel, of the Booklovers’ Library, Hay-st., Perth, by whom the copyright is held, for kindly allowing us to use the verses, and trust that they will be carefully studied and practised [sic].


From leaves turned down or folded back,
To mark the careless reader’s track;
From comments in the margin writ—
By pen or pencil void of wit;
From Vandal’s mutilating zeal,
Inflicting wounds that none can heal;
From candle grease or liquid spilt
On covers fair or edges gilt;
From dogs’ ears that too plainly say
“A dirty thumb has passed this way”;
From thoughtless failure to extend
Protection when the rains descend;
From artists of a tender age,
Whose sketch-book is the printed page;
From all such conduct as offends
The reader to whom books are friends—
Good Borrower, deliver me.

(Copyright Book Lovers' Library, Perth, W.A., 1st Sept., 1907[)].

[Updated 2121.01.20]