Saturday, 20 March 2021

2001AD, give or take two decades

My previous post (here) on both my first library, and the great cull that followed my first year at University, is a sort-of necessary introduction to the following, 2020 year-in-collecting story.

As I explained in my previous post, I occasionally encounter a book that gives me pause, leaving me in a uncanny-like uncertainty as to whether or not said book was one that I had in my first library collection, but rashly disposed of decades ago.

(The Wikipedia entry for uncanny is rubbish—at least as it relates to literature—but accurately describes what I mean: "the psychological experience of something as strangely familiar, rather than simply mysterious." The uncanny in literature persists only so long as a reader is uncertain whether an event described has a natural or supernatural explanation. In fact, the major distinction between two schools of the gothic is based on how the uncanny is resolved: the English school taking the natural approach, the German school taking the supernatural approach.)

Anyway, in November of 2020 one of the books recommended to me by the eBay algorithm caught my eye. The cover looked kind-of familiar, and the longer I looked at it, the more familiar it appeared.

So, I did what I usually do in such cases: I pulled up a scan of a very old photo of my shelves, taken in the late 80s, enlarged it, squinted at it one way and another, fiddled with the contrast etc., until I convinced myself that the 43rd book on the top shelf of the bookcase in my photo—which had previously defied identification—was, in fact, G. Foster's 2001AD (1976).

Having got this far, I then did some searching online to try to find out more about the book, so that I could decide whether or not it was one that I might like to read again. Definitely working in its favour was that it was now as far beyond 2001 (20yrs, give or take) as it previously was prior to 2001 (20yrs, give or take), when I last read it.

What I discovered was that G. Foster's 2001AD was published in Sydney by Bill Ewington Books, that it was one of a very small number of books published by Bill Ewington Books, and that no library in Australia—or anywhere else, for that matter—seemed to have a copy of the book. As such, I was unable to discover anything about the author of what I could only assume was a locally-written and -published science fiction.

Given the rarity, the genre, the date, the near-perfect 70s font on the cover, the fact that it was local, and the neat two decades before-and-after focus date, I decided to buy a copy.

Although the book recommended by eBay was cheap, it appeared to be a little worn—but the photo was poor and so it was unclear just how worn the condition might be. Looking online, I could find no better copy—indeed, I could find no other copy at all—and so I wrote to the vendor and asked for more information or a better photo. (The eBay seller was manyhills), a rural Victorian bookseller (Manyhills Book Store.)

The vendor sent a larger photo (above) and on the basis of it, I went ahead and bought the book, which arrived very promptly. I have to say that the book looked even more familiar in hand. When I opened the cover I discovered why: it was not just a copy of a book I once owned, it was the copy I previously owned!

I know this for certain because, for a very short period of time, I inscribed my books: at first with just my initials, in ink, later my name in pencil, occasionally with a date. In total, I probably have fewer than a dozen such books still, but enough to be 100% certain: this was/is my copy of G. Foster's 2001AD.

I was gob-smacked. It was like seeing a toy snake turn into a real snake: talk about the uncanny! Here was something that was both "strangely familiar" and "mysterious": how on earth had my copy of 2001AD ended up in Traralgon, Victoria? Where had it been over the last three decades?

Having written to the vendor once again, he was able to tell me that the had owned the book since 2009 when he "bought a bulk lot of about 1600 sci-fi books from a guy who was moving overseas"; the books were picked up from Melbourne, but he could not remember the exact suburb (unsurprising, after more than a decade) .

The book itself contained further clues: stamps from Bill's Book Bar, 29 Block Arcade Ballarat and Sue's Book Bazaar, 34 Curtis St. Ballarat. Ballarat is a large inland city (relatively unusual in Australia) about 110 kms north-west of Melbourne.

The "much loved Bill's Book Bar" (see here)—a "a terrific shop … inside the Block Arcade, crammed with books" (here)—gets a few mentions online. In 2013, long after my book was in Melbourne, it was described in the past tense: as a "pok[e]y little shop … selling, as the name suggests, used books as well and magazines and comics" in "rows of shelves towering above" the customers (here). There is still (it seems) a "Book Bazaar" at 34 Curtis St. Ballarat, though by 2007 the "Sue's" had been dropped and the owner was John Nunn (here). Google street view shows the shop, with its present name, completely unchanged from December 2007 through to February 2018.

If I could establish a more accurate date-range for both Bill's Book Bar and Sue's Book Bazaar, I might be able to work out just how much of the last three decades my copy of 2001AD spent in Ballarat, but I would still be in the dark concerning how it got there from Sydney.

Turning from the long journey my book has taken: once my book arrived I refreshed my research and discovered more concerning the author and publishing history of the book. Although there was no entry for the book on ISFDB online (The Internet Speculative Fiction Database), I did find an entry on, which tells me that G. Foster was George C. Foster (1893–1975), a UK author, and that 2001AD is a rare Oz reprint of The Change (1960), a story in which "nuclear experiments inadvertently rejuvenate humanity" (entry here).

Many copies of the Digit Books paperback, with terrific cover-art (below), are available for less than ten dollars. There is also a single copy of a paperback edition published in the 70s by Eclipse Paperbacks, in Dee Why West (Sydney), with the subtitle "A terrifying novel of the future." A copy of this edition is held by the National Library of Australia (here), and a fine copy is available to buy from this West Australian bookseller for fifteen dollars.

Although I suspect that Eclipse and Bill Ewington Books are related in some way, and that the two books have identical text-blocks, I am resisting the urge to test this theory by buying the Eclipse Paperbacks edition. It is enough that I have been able to buy back this little bit of my past for only $14. (Of course, once I re-read the book, if I find that I like it, I will probably end up with copies of all three editions!)

I'll end with one further observations: part of my reasoning for buying (back) this book was that it was so rare that I may not get another opportunity to buy one: after all, I could find no copy in any library, for sale online (other than the one I bought), or having been for sale online. The fact that the one I bought turns out to be the same one I owned as a teenager reduces the total number of copies known to exist—or known to me anyway—to just one exemplar.

For all I know, no other copy exists, or has existed since I bought my copy (the first time) in the mid-80s. Of course, if it is true that no other copy exists or has existed for thirty-five years, I guess it is also true that it is not so remarkable that, in managing to buy a copy at all, I managed to buy back the one I stupidly sold as a part of the great cull.

Tuesday, 9 March 2021

Frances Zabel, pioneering bookseller, book reviewer, journalist

Mrs Frances Zabel (1868–1933) was the copyright holder (and, I assume, publisher) of the poem in my January post: “The Lender’s Library” (here). Curious about the poem, I found myself quickly becoming intrigued by both the author and publisher too.

I have now completed my post concerning the author (here). Typically, what was intended to be a short post about the publisher has grown well beyond what I had in mind, such that it now threatens to become a collaborative research project!

Rather than leave Mrs Zabel completely neglected until the results of that research can be published I thought that—as a placeholder, a teaser, and an International Women's Day celebration—I'd transcribe and reprint an interview with Zabel that was written by the late, great Zora Cross (1890–1964): Australian poet, best-selling novelist and journalist.

The Cross-Zabel interview was published in the Sydney Mail (22 January 1930): 29 (on Trove, here), and is reproduced below in its entirety.

* * * * *

Australian Women Pioneers: In the Literary World

When the story of Australian literature is finally told it will not be complete without mention of that brave band of pioneers who blazed trails for others to follow.

IN this field the name of Mrs. Zabel, the first woman to establish a literary journal—the ‘F.Z. Review,’ in Perth, in 1904—must, be remembered. Her little paper, which she managed, wrote, and distributed herself, is a credit not only to Perth, but to Australia.
  Born in Victoria. Mrs. Zabel, who now conducts a library in Sydney, was one of the first women on the goldfields in Western Australia. But her heart had been given to books from childhood, and when she later settled in Perth she wrote book reviews for a local paper.
  At, that time, there was only one woman bookseller in Australia—Mrs. H. Champion, wife of the late H. H. Champion, the man who was the first, daring enough to publish one of George Bernard Shaw’s novels. Mrs. Champion was selling books in Melbourne.
  “All honour to Mrs. Champion,” Mrs. Zabel says, “for she was the woman pioneer of book-selling, which I believe is a woman’s business, not a man’s. A woman has the intuition to fit the book to the reader more readily than a man has.”
  Mrs. Zabel was the second woman bookseller in the Commonwealth, and she also began on a small scale. She began in Perth at the Book Lovers’ Library, and it was from there she published her unique and admirable newspaper. Nothing commercial seems to have entered into her scheme, for here in her journal are reviewed rare and foreign books, belles lettres, historical studies, essays, poetry, as well as the latest in fiction, showing that as a buyer of books she discriminated.
  One is struck by the ability Mrs. Zabel had for judging a book for posterity as well as the day. Thus, in her review of Marie Corelli’s work she never gave extravagant praise, as so many papers of the time did, even though, as recorded in the “F.Z. Review,” 43 tons of paper were used in the first edition of one of Miss Corelli’s popular books of the time. Mrs. Zabel did not trade in best-sellers.

ABOUT five years ago this interesting woman took over the Roycroft Library, which Miss Peacock established in Sydney over thirty years ago. A charming historical library, this!
  I asked Mrs, Zabel recently if she did not become tired of books, having had them for daily companions so long.
  “Not a bit,” she replied, just as enthusiastic over the new writers now as she was twenty years ago. “I was born to sell books, and I put in twenty years’ spade work before I came here. But isn't this beautiful? It has only just come in.”
  I admired the new Lily Yeats masterpiece of framed embroidery—a veritable Irish garden of flowers woven of bright threads, reminiscent of something out of faerie or the Land of Heart's Desire itself.
  “This is from a most beautiful and interesting women’s industry,” Mrs. Zabel explained, “conducted by Lily and Elizabeth Yeats, sisters of the famous W. B. Yeats—the Cuala Press and Industries in Dublin. Jack Yeats, a brother, does coloured woodcuts characteristic of Irish life; Elizabeth conducts the Press, and has produced lovely editions (highly prized by collectors) of W. B. Yeats. Lily attends to the needlecraft industry; she has taught, and employs, Irish peasant girls, and from Cuala comes exquisite scarves, traditional Irish cloaks, as well as pictures; and their white linen with colour design is seemingly out of fairyland. Mrs. Lane-Poole, their cousin, now in Canberra, was one of the designers. I must show you some of their illuminated manuscripts, rare and beautiful—done on a hand press, of course. There! Isn’t that something like one of the old Celtic vellums?”

TRAVEL has broadened Mrs. Zabel’s out look on all things, and it is her delight to go to the source, for the beautiful glass and pottery wares which she self up as a coloured background for her books.
  About four years ago she began to import curious and quaint and beautiful objects of art and pottery as well as books. She did not do this purposely to create an ideal atmosphere for her beloved books, but naturally it became that.
  Though she hides her writing identity under pen-names her pen is never idle, and it is a very graceful and charmingly witty one.
  Specialising as she does in limited editions, foreign plays and poetry, children’s books and the books that are not ephemeral, it is a delightful experience to wander amongst them with her for a while and listen to her as she discusses literature.
  Old boys of the Melbourne Church of England Grammar School will recall memories of Mrs. Zabel's son, whose untimely end abroad deprived Australia of one of her greatest geologists.

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!).
[UPDATED 9 March 2021]

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.