Sunday, May 31, 2009

E. H. Sothern's 1901 Acting Version of "Hamlet"



To celebrate the second installment of The Henriad broadcasts this weekend, I’ve decided to dip into my Shakespeareana volumes for this week’s book.


The full title is Hamlet, A Tragedy: The E. H. Sothern Acting Version, published by McClure, Phillips & Co. of New York in 1901. Meant to commemorate the short-lived 1900 staging of Hamlet by noted American actor Edward Sothern (1859-1933), this edition of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy presents the text, stage directions, and cast of the play as it was produced by Daniel Frohman at New York’s Garden Theatre between September and October 1900. Historically particular “acting versions” (sometimes called “production versions”) such as this are excellent evidence for theatre historians seeking to recover evidence for how Shakespeare’s plays were received at specific moments in the past. A subsequent edition of Sothern’s Hamlet was printed by McLure in 1903 and, since at least 2004, Kessinger Publishing and Gardners Books have both offered unremarkable print-on-demand editions of the book as well. 


Bound in papered boards with a colored illustration on the cover (the illustration shows Horatio restraining Hamlet during Ophelia’s burial; one dealer online claims that this art is “after painting by McLellan” but I’m not certain to what painting this refers), the spine is cracking slightly where it meets up with the front and back boards and the paper is hanging loose from the back hinge. Though a beautiful and rather uncommon piece of turn-of-the-century biblioart, the book is not exceptionally valuable on the market ($25-$45). Throughout the book are inserted 14 photographic plates showing Sothern’s staging of various scenes and characters; these plates are of unparalleled help in reconstructing how early twentieth century America perceived of Hamlet, but they are also interesting in their own right as part of the first generation of photographs to be bound into books (a practice that was just beginning between 1870-1900). There is no marginalia in my copy, though the evidence of some mild damage (the cracking and loose spine, some leaves working slightly loose, and a significant tear in the lower outer corner of p. 47/48) suggests it has been read in its day.


The pages measure 14cm x 22.5cm and are made of a heavy, though darkening, paper with vertical 2cm chain-lines. No watermarks are evident. The edges of the pages are rough-cut in places, and some have darkened particularly severely over time. The book was printed in octavo with no signatures on the gatherings but with pagination running from [i]-v for the preliminaries and from [1]-136 for the play proper (given its length, I estimate that an uncut performance of this script would run over four hours...!).


The contents of the book are as follows: blank flyleaf with evidence of some repairs done to the inner hinge connecting it to the front board); half-title; photographic plate (on verso of leaf) showing Sothern as Hamlet, captioned “To be or not to be.”; tissue leaf (coming loose of the binding at the top); two toned title-page (“Hamlet” in red letter) with publisher’s ornate device imprinted in the middle of the page (the imprint illustration shows an idealized early modern printing shop including pressman, compositor, proofer, and a fancily dressed man who may be either the stationer himself or perhaps the author), copyright notice on the verso; “Dramatis Personae” of the Garden Theatre production’s cast (see below); inner half-title; the play itself; final blank flyleaf.


It is obvious that Sothern himself was the main attraction for the book (or, at least, as with most members of his profession, he saw himself as such and had some hand in overseeing the publication) as nearly all of the photographs -- with the exception of the Ophelia series between pp. 98 and 107 -- feature him or scenes that include him. That he allowed Virginia Harned so many photographs in the book may be attributable to the fact that she was, at the time, his second wife. The plates and their captions, in order of their appearance in the book, are:


Frontispiece: Sothern as Hamlet, “To be or not to be.”

Between pp. 10 & 11: The Danish court gathering around Arthur R. Lawrence as Claudius, the new king; “And now my cousin Hamlet and my son.”


Between pp. 12 & 13: Hamlet in a melodramatic pose with a chair; “I shall in all my best obey you, madam.”


Between pp. 28 & 29: On the (patently fake) battlements, Hamlet crouches in awe before William Harris as the Ghost; “I am thy father’s spirit.”


Between pp. 64 & 65: Hamlet, this time sitting on the chair, resting his hand on a metal post of some sort sticking out of a (patently fake) rock, staring wistfully into the air, gesturing gracefully with his other hand; “The undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns.”

Between pp. 76 & 77: The court (many of whom are wearing Arabian-style turbans?) and Charlotte Deane as the queen (looking terrified) and the king (looking bored, out at the audience) gathered around and above a small proscenium arch within the proscenium arch, framing the climactic poisoning moment of the Mousetrap; “What do you call the play? The Mouse-trap.”

Between pp. 78 & 79: The same setting but the court is in an uproar, all are standing, Claudius is at center stage about to swoon, Hamlet holds a torch up above his head but the king fends the prince off with a sweep of his robe, on the opposite side of the robe from Hamlet two guards gesture menacingly with their spears at the prince; “You shall see anon, how the murderer gets the love of Gonzago’s wife.”

Between pp. 98 & 99: Virginia Harned as Ophelia, wistfully strumming a lyre; “He is dead and gone, lady.”

Between pp. 100 & 101: Ophelia inviting the viewer to see the collection of flowers spread out before her on the ground; “At his head a grass green turf, at his foot a stone.”

Between pp. 102 & 103: Ophelia, back of her hand to her forehead in grief, lyre neglected at her side; “And in his grave rain’d many a tear.”

Between pp. 104 & 105: Ophelia, her hair down in tangles suggesting lunacy, clutches flowers in one hand and admires a single flower held above her head with her other; “There’s a daisy!”


Between pp. 106 & 107: Vincent Sternroyd as Laertes, joined by the king, queen, and other mourners, gather around Ophelia’s funeral bier; “There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke; when down her weedy trophies and herself fell in the weeping brook.”

Between pp. 118 & 119: Hamlet, dressed now all in black traveler’s robes and hat, gestures towards Yorick’s skull in his hand, and gazes sadly at the camera; “Alas, poor Yorick!”


Between pp. 120 & 121: Hamlet and Laertes come to blows in the graveyard, surrounded by the courtiers, mourners, king and queen, guards, and what looks like a group of nuns (?), in the background are many two-dimensional trees and a (patently fake) church facade; “The devil take thy soul.”

Between pp. 132 & 133: The court (including a foppish Osric, the king and queen, and an unnamed court jester) watch as Hamlet triumphantly grabs Laertes’s sword from his hands; “The exchange of the foils.”

Between pp. 134 & 135: Several dead bodies litter the stage as Hamlet’s body is carried off under a hedge of soldiers’ spears, Henry Carvill as Horatio, on his knees, reaches longingly after the procession, George E. Bryant as Fortinbras (dressed like something out of Wagner’s
Ring Cyle) points the way authoritatively off stage, and in the down left corner a group of courtiers look mildly concerned about the dead Laertes at their feet (one of the courtiers stares blatantly out of the scene and into the camera); “Bear Hamlet, like a soldier, to the stage.”


The individual actor portrait photographs may have been taken at a different time and place, and by a different photographer, from the full stage photographs; they have the quality of having been staged artificially for the camera in a studio and they bear a signature (“Schloss N.Y.) not present on any of the stage photographs. In many of their details, some of the stage photographs look like they may have been altered after the picture was taken, particularly in the way of having extra scenery painted on in the background.


The cast of Frohman’s production included many notable (and some not so notable) New York performers. This is the cast list in the order in which it is presented in the book (the links will direct you to the Internet Broadway Database entry for that performer):


Arthur R. Lawrence as Claudius

E. H. Sothern as Hamlet

Edwin Varrey as Polonius

Vincent Sternroyd as Laertes

Henry Carvill as Horatio

Richard Lambart as Osric

Taylor Holmes as Rosencrantz

E. F. Bostwick as Guildenstern

Basil West as “A Priest”

George E. Bryant as Marcellus

Sydney C. Mather as Bernardo

Daniel Jarrett as Francisco

E. Raymond as Reynaldo

Leonard Outram as the First Player

Arthur Scott as the Second Player

Rowland Buckstone as the First Gravedigger

John J. Collins as the Second Gravedigger

George E. Bryant (again) as Fortinbras

Charlotte Deane as Gertrude

Virginia Harned as Ophelia

Adelaide Keim as the Player Queen


The cast also included a great deal of unnamed supernumeraries as “Lords, Ladies, Officers, Soldiers, messengers, Followers of Fortinbras, and other Attendants”. The Garden Theatre production was directed by Fred Williams, produced by Daniel Frohman, with sumptuous set design by Edward G. Unitt, one of the most prolific Broadway designers of the 1880s-1920s.


The 1900 production, a particularly elaborate and spectacular staging of Hamlet that Sothern had been dreaming up for decades (it was his first professional performance in a Shakespeare role!), opened on Monday, September 17, hard on the heels of a particularly successful staging of the play at the Knickerbocker Theatre with popular sensation Johnston Forbes-Robertson in the title role and Gertrude Elliott as Ophelia. Despite this shadow of competition, Sothern’s production opened to strong reviews, but it ran for only sixteen performances before a bit of particularly bad luck forced it to close early. One night, less than two weeks into the run, during the sword fight of the final scene Sternroyd accidentally stabbed Sothern in the foot with his foil. The injury was minor and would have been inconsequential but that it became infected and Sothern was stricken with severe blood poisoning as a result. 


Several months later, on Christmas Eve, the production finally reopened on tour in St. Louis, where it was evidently well received. This means that the show was probably in its revival when the book was published (the photograph of the duel scene does not directly show how Sothern may have been stabbed in the foot, but his recklessly haughty expression, combined with his bare-handed grasp on Laertes's blade, suggests how the accident may have come about...). But there must have been something about this production that drew the ire of the theatre gods, for within a few months disaster struck again; while on tour in Cincinnati, a fire in the playhouse destroyed all of Unitt’s sumptuous costumes and sets. Sothern decided to call it quits. He returned to New York, and didn’t resume playing in Shakespeare’s plays until 1904 when he began to collaborate with his third wife, Julia Marlowe, in a number of very well-received productions both in the city and on tour (including a revival of his Hamlet, photographed -- once again -- by Schloss of New York). Sothern was a very active and successful actor for the remainder of his life and even appeared in some early films in the mid-1910s.


Returning to the book, a close examination of the text -- in conjunction with the photographs -- provides a fairly comprehensive view of how the show was staged. The text is largely a conflation of the 1604 quarto and 1623 folio editions and I suspect that a closer collation would reveal that it follows fairly precisely the text as presented in one of the standard editions of the day, such as the 1866 Globe edition. The scene-breaks, however, don’t seem to follow a logical pattern, such as that traditionally followed from the 1676 quarto; III.i, for example, bizarrely includes both the “To be or not to be” sequence and the Mousetrap. Given more time and space, it might be intriguing to look closer at certain passages to check for modernizations, emendations, or borrowings from the so-called “bad quarto” of 1603 (which had been discovered in 1823), but for now this brief foray will have to suffice.


In addition to the language of the play, the stage directions -- nearly all of which have been added by the director -- spell out in precise detail how various scenes both looked and moved. In one place, the telling inclusion of an exact stage action suggests that the book was printed precisely from a copy of the acting text used for the production (either Sothern’s own or perhaps the stage manager’s): on p. 47, in II.i, after Hamlet’s cryptic response to Polonius, “You cannot, sir, take from me any thing that I will more willingly part withal: except my life, except my life, except my life”, there is a parenthetical stage direction reading “(Down L.)”. This kind of stage jargon does not appear in the other added stage directions of the play, most of which are elaborate scene-setting statements. In other places, the added stage directions provide more clues as to how the play was performed, such as the moving image given by the direction for Hamlet’s exit following his accidental murder of Polonius in III.ii -- “(Hamlet weeps over body of Polonius.)” -- or the more delicate staging called for when Hamlet asks Ophelia “Lady, shall I lie in your lap?” -- “(Lying down at Ophelia’s feet.)” --  and, my favorite, the inadvertently graphic image of the First Gravedigger who several times is assigned the rather wonderfully disgusting direction: “(Throws up a skull.)”.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

"Bookaneer" summer memories...



Typically the books I write about in this blog are featured here because of their value to me as physical artifacts; they serve as reminders to me of how the content of a book is inextricably bound up (pun intended) with the material form of the book. This week’s volume, however, came to my collection specifically because of its content. Writing about it takes me on a brief trip back in time to the wild summers of my youth, working as a tour guide at the storied New England Pirate Museum. As summer finally takes hold across New England, I feel this is as good a time as any to wax nostalgic about that time in my life.


The book is a diplomatic reprint of Ashton’s Memorial: An History of The Strange Adventures and Signal Deliverances of Philip Ashton, Jr. of Marblehead, edited by Marblehead’s own legendary industrialist, preservationist, philanthropist, and historian Russell W. Knight. It was published in Salem, MA by the Peabody Museum in 1976 in a limited edition of 500 copies. My copy is in excellent -- one might even say “mint” -- condition. Given the scarcity of the book, and the tiny market of buyers for it, most sellers online seem to vary widely in what they assess it at, ranging from a low of $50 to a (ridiculously inflated) high of $209.


The colophon, found on the recto of the final leaf, is worth quoting in full:


This book is composed in Linotype Caslon Old Face. The original of this type was cut in 1722 by William Caslon of London. The book was designed by Harry N. Milliken of The Anthoensen Press, Portland, Maine, which also did the composition and presswork. Maps for the volume were prepared by Philip Chadwick Foster Smith. Twelve presentation copies, numbered 1 through 12, have been bound in leather; the remainder of the edition was bound by Craftsmen Bookbinders of Portland, Maine. The edition consists of 500 copies.


It is bound in hard boards with tanned cloth, with impressed tooling all around and gilded decorations on the cover and spine. A red leather label, with gilded lettering reading “Ashton’s Memorial” is pasted on the spine. The pages are made of modern acid-free paper and measure 13cm x 20cm.


The original Ashton’s Memorial was a sixty-six page pamphlet published by Samuel Gerrish, of Cornhill in Boston, in August 1725. It was written by the newly installed minister of the North Church in Marblehead, Reverend John Barnard, though the narrative is delivered in the first person from Ashton’s point of view. The reason Ashton’s tale, in comparison to all the other tales from other Marblehead fishermen of the time, merited the permanence of print can best be summed up by the book’s subtitle: “...Mr. Philip Ashton, who, after he had made his Escape from the Pirates, liv’d alone on a Desolate Island for about Sixteen Months”. The pirate responsible for capturing Ashton was the legendary Ned Low, famed for being a bloodthirsty maniac and easily the most brutal pirate to sail off the New England coast. The original and subsequent editions included (as this edition does also) both “A short Account of Mr. Nicholas Merritt, who was taken at the same time” and, to help readers draw the connection between Ashton and Merritt’s literal tale of redemption and the more abstract tale of Christian redemption, Reverend Barnard included also a sermon inspired by the tale, given at Old North Church following Ashton’s return. Probably under the influence of Reverend Barnard, Ashton’s tale took on many of the rhetorical tropes and devices found in many other contemporary stories belonging to the subgenre of “sea deliverance” narratives that were highly popular throughout the eighteenth century. Tellingly, the title page included a quotation from 2 Corinthians 9.10: “We should not trust in ourselves, but in God, who delivered us from so great a Death, and doth deliver; in whom we trust, that he will yet deliver us.” 


A London edition of 148 pages followed in 1726, published by Richard Ford and Samuel Chandler. The narrative continued to enjoy popularity, either in stand-alone editions or anthologized with other sea adventures, appearing in publications in Portland, Maine (1810), Edinburgh (1812), Boston again (1850), London again (1851), Marblehead (1910), and Salem (1923). Knight’s edition is, as far as I can tell, the most recent printing of the narrative. The fate of this popular book was, ironically, to be nearly read out of existence; as Knight notes, “Of the original 1725 Boston edition, only a half a dozen copies are known to exist. Even fewer examples of the London edition of 1726 seem to have survived the centuries, while the later versions have become rarities in themselves.”


The book is bound in duodecimo with the contents as follows: blank flyleaf; blank recto with a verso illustration of “Capt. Edward Low” (printed by “G Nicholls” from a painting by “J Basire”; title page; editor’s introduction; photofacsimiles of the title pages of the Boston and London editions; and the body of the book, including Barnard’s “To the Reader”, “Ashton’s Memorial”, Nicholas Merritt’s “Short Account”, and Barnard’s sermon “God’s Ability to Save His People out of all their Dangers” which takes Daniel 3.17 as its text (“If it be so, our God, whom we serve, is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O King.”). 


The pagination is peculiar and suggests that Milliken’s presswork was not entirely copy-checked by Knight: the illustration of Low through the end of Knight’s introduction is paginated with lowercase Roman numerals, [i]-[iv], as is customary for editions and the two title-page facsimiles are unpaginated (also customary). However, Barnard’s “To the Reader” -- which is, indeed, part of the edited book, continues this introductory pagination (v-[vii]). The remainder of the book is paginated 1-47 for “Ashton’s Memorial”, 49-55 for Merritt’s “Short Account”, and 57-82 for Barnard’s “Sermon”. Pages 83-86 present Knight’s annotation notes to the text; the colophon is on [87] and is followed by a blank flyleaf at the rear. In total, the book is made up of 52 leaves.


Included also are two maps, drawn for Knight by Philip Chadwick Foster Smith, who was Curator of Maritime History at the Peabody Museum and an early member of the North American Society for Oceanic History. The first map appears on p. 9 and traces “The Travels of Philip Ashton, 1722-1725, following his capture by the notorious pirate Ned Low”. The second map, on p. 23, shows the topography and placement of the island of Roatan, off the coast of Honduras, where Ashton was marooned for over a year.


Daniel Williams, in the Encyclopedia of American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes (ed. Jill B. Gidmark, Greenwood Press, 2001; p. 22), notes the following about this book:


One of the most remarkable sea narratives of early American print culture, Ashton’s Memorial narrates the extraordinary adventures of Philip Ashton (1703-17??) from 5 June 1722, when he was captured by pirates, until 1 May 1725, when he unexpectedly returned to his parents’ home in Marblehead, Massachusetts.... While fishing off the coast of Nova Scotia, the nineteen-year-old Ashton was captured by the infamous Ned Low and his pirate crew. During the nine months he spent with Low, he was pressured to sign pirate articles and beaten for his refusal. When the pirates stopped for water at an uninhabited island off the coast of Honduras [Roatan], Ashton escaped into the jungle, and for the next nine months he lived alone, without any comforts of civilization. Nearly dead from starvation and injury his life was saved when an old wood-cutter stopped off at the island, leaving him food, powder, flint, and a knife. After another seven months he was rescued by a group of Englishmen from the mainland.


Within a week of his return, John Barnard, the minister of Marblehead, preached a special sermon on divine providence, using Ashton’s deliverance as an example. In response to the great demand for a narrative, Barnard and Ashton collaborated over the next two months, and by the beginning of August Ashton’s Memorial was completed. Barnard was no mere amanuensis; the text combined the words of both minister and mariner. [And how much coloring was added by either many is anybody’s guess...]

Barnard fashioned Ashton’s experiences into a narrative of remarkable providence, a textual form familiar to most New England readers. The apparently random kidnapping of a young fisherman by pirates seems to fulfill God’s intentions and display his sovereignty. Thus, all of Ashton’s adventures are related as a Job-like struggle to overcome evil. At the same time, the narrative is a highly detailed, realistic account of remarkable adventure. Although barely known today, the text was popular and went through several editions, including a 1726 London edition that influenced Daniel Defoe’s The Four Years Voyages of Capt. George Roberts (1726).


The visceral true-life adventure of Philip Ashton has resulted in a ripping good yarn, regardless of whether you share Reverend Barnard’s theologically moralizing view of the exploit or not. As Knight sums it up, “Although the eighteenth century is renowned for its rousing tales of adventure, misfortune, and hardship, few either equal or surpass the trials and tribulations of Philip Ashton, Jr. of Marblehead, Massachusetts.... To this day, Ashton’s Memorial remains one of the liveliest tales ever published in colonial America. It is truly one of the great real-life adventures of all time, a book one never forgets.” 


While Ashton, Low, Barnard, and Merritt have all vanished from this earth, many of the physical remains of the world they inhabited still exist: the island of Roatan (now a tropical vacation paradise), the fishing grounds off Nova Scotia where Ashton was captured, Barnard’s Old North Church in Marblehead, even the modest, clap-boarded old house where Philip and his family lived for several generations. And, of course, Knight’s slender, tan-cloth bound modern reprint edition of Ashton’s thrilling tale of adventure and perseverance.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Learning to Speak Proper English...Goldsmith-Style


As mentioned in a previous posting, one of my favorite bookstores in the Amherst area is Valley Books. According to the local paper, Valley Books will, after 34 years, be closing its store in July and switching entirely to online sales only. I understand the economic necessity of this, but will miss having the chance to wander aimlessly through their stacks, coming away with a small haul of treasures for myself and family members. Wandering stores that sell new books is sterile compared to wandering used book stores (and I say this as someone who has worked as a manager in a new book store); the nearly infinite range of opportunities, of stumbling across a neglected treasure, of purely random browsing rely upon having a store like Valley Books -- not in a searchable online format, but in the real, material sense.


One of the most important changes in our society as we shift to digital, web-based retail services is that we’ve become increasingly close-minded in understanding our own wants. I say “close-minded” not in the sense of “ignorance” but in the sense of being blind to associative connections between objects and the possibility of unregulated discovery. Some website features, such as Amazon’s “Customers who bought this also bought....” box, attempt to emulate the feeling of browsing in a store, but these are, ironically, restrictive in their universality, suggesting that my individual tastes as a reader are identical to everyone else’s or that I would like them to be identical (though I suppose that by commodifying our tastes like this, corporations can more easily manipulate our consumer demands); perhaps the closest things to random discovery online is the StumbleUpon application, but even this is -- like ads on Google, Facebook, or Hulu -- tailored to the user’s “preferences” and relies upon user feedback for its site aggregation and hierarchization. Paradoxically, while the Internet opens up access to a world’s-worth of information and materials, it demands that we move linearly, orderly, and teleologically in order to realize that access 


This is on top of the fact that random browsing -- truly random browsing and not the carefully cued consumer manipulation of the “Customers who bought this...” box -- works upon the premise of the unknown (as opposed to web-searches, which, again ironically, work strictly upon the premise of the exactly known). And from that sense of the unknown, that sense of the possibility of completely unique discovery, comes the joy of browsing a used books store.


But now to contradict my curmudgeonly digression... For this week’s book I’m going to take a look at a volume that I purchased through that den of bibliographical risk: eBay.


This book is Irish essayist, physician, poet, dramatist, and novelist Oliver Goldsmith’s classic sentamentalist tale The Vicar of Wakefield, “The First Edition. With Accents.” That period after “Edition” is misleading because, of course, this is not the true first edition (which appeared in 1766, four years after Goldsmith finished writing it). This edition was published in Halle, Germany in 1787 and includes accent markings (not unlike the pronunciation markings I’ve written on previously) intended to help a reader share the work aloud. Several other sites online, including libraries and dealers, confuse the word “Halle” on the book’s title page with the name of the publisher and wrongly ascribe the publication location to London, probably because the book is in English and the true first edition was published in that city by Francis Newbery; this error is significant if my theory on the reason for the inclusion of accent marks (below) is true. The book was printed and sold by Friedrich Daniel Francke. Its assessed value is between $100 and $150.


As the title page claims, this is the “first edition” of the novel to use accents, but this is somewhat misleading as it was also the only edition to do so. I can find no information as to why Francke published the book “with accents” or who supplied the markings, but given that it was published in Germany it seems likely that the intention was for readers to use the book as a language development tool. Native German speakers who were acquiring a proficiency in English could use the book as a guide to inflections, with the added benefit of reading and becoming familiar with one of the most popular novels in England at the time. My suspicions may be confirmed by the intriguing marginalia in my copy (on which more below).


The book is bound in half-brown leather with brown paper pasted over the boards; on the spine there are five raised bands, the title, and some elegant floral tooling, all of which has faded considerably. As usual, the top edge of the spine is flaring a bit from being pulled from the shelf over the last 220 years. In addition, the paper on the boards is heavily worn away, particularly in the spots along the front edge where a reader’s hand would hold the volume open. This is just one piece of evidence, amongst many, that reveals that this particular book was much used in its day. There are a total of 164 leaves in the book; its collational formula may be expressed as 8o: [#][a1]-[a6]A1-[U4][ϗ]; $5. Some dealers online list the book as 12o, which is incorrect. The catchwords across the sheets and the pagination are consistent, which suggests Francke’s shop was competent in its craftsmanship; the use of “a” for the initial gathering’s signature, followed by “A” for the second gathering, shows that -- as was usual practice -- the first gathering of preliminaries for the book was printed last. The lack of the final two leaves of gathering “a”, combined with the presence of a cancellans stub between [a6] and A1 suggests that leaf [#] was actually part of sheet “a” (leaf a7 or a8). Each leaf measures 4in x 7in, with four vertical chain-lines separated by 1in each; the paper is rag linen typical of the period, with no evident watermarks. The final leaf is evidently an insertion as the paper is substantively different from the rest of the book and the six chain-lines run horizontally, separated by 1in; the edge of an unidentifiable watermark is just visible along the outer edge of the page.


 The book begins with an initial flyleaf blank on the recto and with a print, on the verso, of the vicar, Dr. Primrose, coming across a rural couple making out on a pile of hay. Gathering “a” is paginated as [I]-XII. The unsigned a1 presents the title page on the recto (with a rather dramatic print of Burchell rescuing Sophia from drowning); a2r-v is the author’s “Advertisement”, which lacks the accents used in the rest of the book; a3-[a6] provide the “Contents” of the chapters (again, without accents). The novel itself runs from A1-[U4] and is paginated 1-312; the bottom portion of U4v contains a daunting paragraph of “Errata”, nearly all of which correct errors in the placement or style of accents rather than actual readings in the book, indicating that the volume was carefully proofed at the print-shop by whoever it was that added the accents (a dashed pen mark through the errata list shows that a reader knew to read it first and take its instructions into account before or while reading the book; the mark was made as a reminder to the reader that he or she had checked the passages listed and, indeed, an inspection of the words cited in the errata list shows that, throughout the book, the same ink that made the dashed line has quietly made all the corrections called for by the list). The final leaf ([ϗ]) is blank on both sides and, as noted above, was an addition to the volume prior to binding.


Goldsmith's novel is in the manner of a fictitious memoir (hence the subtitle, “A Tale, Supposed to be written by Himself”) and was one of the most popular novels of the early nineteenth century. It was particularly influential amongst other writers, many of whom either directly or indirectly referenced it in their own novels (Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Mary Shelley, Charlotte Brontë, Louisa May Alcott, and Johann Wolfgang van Goethe all mention it in their works). While the plot is likely to strike many modern readers as romantic melodrama typical of the period, there is a heavy undercurrent of satiric humor that casual readers often overlook; in addition, Goldsmith innovated in his use of non-narrative literary forms within the book in order to expand beyond the limitations occasioned by the book’s first-person point-of-view (these include devices such as poems and sermons).


According to Washington Irving’s Oliver Goldsmith: a Biography, Goldsmith (1730-1774; shown here) had no intention of publishing the work but, having been arrested by his landlady for failure to pay his rent, he eventually gave the manuscript to his friend Dr. Samuel Johnson, who on his behalf sold it to a stationer for sixty pounds. (Interesting side note: the stationer was Francis Newbery, whose uncle, John, is credited with first making children’s literature a sustainable part of the English book trade and after whom the famed Newbery Medal is named.)


As noted above, this copy has been well-read: the peeling and wearing of the paper on the boards corresponds to where a hand would hold it open, there are an abundance of fingerprints and grubby smudges on many of the pages, page-corners in places show creases from having been turned-down, and there is marginalia from several different hands throughout.


On the inside of the front cover a thick brown ink has written:


G.C.M. 1790

29t. Nov


Below that the same ink and hand has scribbled “36” and a series of carefully scribed letters in gothic black letter that seem to read “H Smith”. Running perpendicular beneath this, in carefully formed pencil, are another set of gothic letters that seem to spell the same thing. An owner previous to this also used the inside of the front cover for a set of mathematic figures. A fainter ink, and different hand, has written “Grey” (“Greof”? “Gres”?) here as well.


There are at least three, or possibly four, hands that occur throughout the book. One of these is incredibly faint, in pale pencil, and can barely be seen making illegible marginal and interlinear annotations only occasionally; it was also used to signal readerly boredom in some places, tracing and shading letters faintly on some pages (including the word “Wakefield” on the title page). It first appears in the form of an illegible caption written beneath the illustration facing the title page. In other places it has underlined a word and offered a (now illegible) note in the margin, usually of about one word in length and thus suggesting a translation or synonymic gloss.


Another hand is in a darker ink and first appears with the inscription “Henry and Mariae von” beneath the title page illustration. This ink (or one similar to it) appears frequently in the book (mostly within the first 120 pages), marking crosses next to passages (perhaps place-holders; some of them include the word “Hier”, which is German for “here”), underlining words, and making notes in the margins. Most of these notes appear to be vocabulary-related, providing synonymic glosses for some words and, in many cases, German equivalents for Goldsmith’s words (it took me some time to figure out why I couldn’t understand any of the transcriptions I was making from the annotations; only after I returned to write up the book’s publication origin -- noted above -- did it occur to me that the language was not English). The same hand appears doing the same thing, but in a lighter ink, in many passages (some of the same ones where the darker ink was used).


Another hand appears only once in the book (as far as I can tell) and suggests that, if the volume was indeed in Germany in the last decade of the eighteenth century, it was possibly in this country approximately a century later. In the upper margin of page 25, a cursive English hand has written in pencil: “John Smith April 6th 1893”. Perhaps John was related to the “H Smith” whose name appears on the inside of the front cover. Given the Anglicized name and the use of the American date format, I suspect that by the last decade of the nineteenth the book had made its way to the United States (or, at least, into the hands of an American owner).


Needless to say, the name “John Smith” is a ridiculously difficult one to trace historically, and so the knowable provenance of this particular book will have to end where I began this post: in the muddled world of online book sales, from whence -- via “Father Landson” of Texas -- it has come to reside in Tarquin Tar’s Bookcase.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Monty Python Takes Over Oxford University's Health & Safety Office


I'm not even sure where to begin with this one...

According to an article in the May 9th issue of the London Daily Mail, safety officers at Oxford University have banned the use of step-ladders in the Bodleian Library out of safety concerns. This means that nobody can access volumes on the high shelves in the Library's Duke Humfrey Reading Room. Patrons who call up a book from one of the higher locations in the room receive a polite notice saying the book is inaccessible. And, of course, Library officials refuse to disrupt the 400 year-old placement of volumes on the shelves by moving them to lower locations.

For some reason this all strikes me as so incredibly typically British...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Lynd Ward: Two Epic Novels, Without a Word of Text...

Having missed last week’s entry, I have decided to cover two books in one posting this week.


One of the dirty secrets of most libraries is that they frequently discard duplicate or out-of-date, out-of-demand books. Sometimes these deaccessioned volumes are sold or given away free in book sales, sometimes they are donated to other collections, and sometimes they are simply thrown out. This week’s books were rescued from this sad fate by a quick-thinking librarian who knew their worth; fortunately, she’s also closely related to me and knows of my bibliophilia. Thus they’ve found a safe and permanent home in my collection -- your local library may deaccession books in their collection, but as anyone who knows me will attest, I never do.


These two volumes are from the famed, award-winning American graphic artist Lynd Ward (1905-1985) and represent two early works from the career of this visual and narrative master. The first is the sixth edition of his first “novel in woodcuts”, God’s Man, published by Peter Smith of New York in September, 1933, and printed by the Colonial Press of Clinton, Massachusetts. The other book is the first edition of his second book, Mad Man’s Drum, published by Jonathan Cape & Harrison Smith Inc. of 139 East 46th Street, New York (it was published simultaneously by the firm’s offices at 91 Wellington Street, West Toronto, Canada and Cape’s own office at 30 Bedford Square, London). The book was printed by the Plimpton Press of Norwood, Massachusetts. Both books are in black hardcover -- God’s Man in cloth with a paste-on print on the cover and title label on the spine, Mad Man’s Drum in boards with a pictorial patterned cover and title label on the spine.


The pages in both books measure 14.5cm x 25.5cm and are a heavy stock, rough cut to the edges and slightly fading with age (the final leaves of Mad Man's Drum, both blank, are still uncut). Both books are bound in octavo. The sixth edition of God’s Man -- which had first appeared in 1929, arriving in bookstore’s the same week as the great stock market crash -- is relatively rare on the market and is valued at approximately $75 to $100, though an oddity in my copy makes me suspect that it is more peculiar (and thus perhaps more valuable). Though it came from a library, it has none of the typical ex-library markings. The first edition of Mad Man’s Drum is ironically more common on the market because, by the time of its appearance in 1930 Ward was a well-known and well-loved artist, which encouraged the publishers to release multiple issues of the first edition. The true first (or “first first” as the jargon goes) was bound by Plimpton Press with pictorial boards (as mine is); subsequent issues of the first edition reverted to cloth boards. The first first of this book is valued at approximately $150 to $250. Individual original engravings, usually inscribed by the artist, are still available for sale from some art dealers as well (they typically go for between $300 and $500 apiece). My copy has the typical ex-library markings on the spine and inside the front cover.


My copy of God’s Man has 144 leaves, including the standard preliminaries (blank flyleaf, half-title, title page with publication information on the verso, and dedication); with one image per leaf that comes to 140 illustrations (the engravings on the chapter heading pages are all the same). The story tells the heartwarming tale of a young artist whose idealistic soul is crushed by the brutal, capitalist machine of urban life, a gray world in which beauty and love are mere soul-less cash commodities.


At the start of the tale, the young artist comes to the city expecting to make a living; his hopes are bolstered when he meets a shadowy gentleman who pays him dear for his paintings and who then sells him a paintbrush guaranteed to make him as great the masters of the Renaissance -- in exchange, the shadowy gentleman (obviously meant to be the Devil) demands the artist’s soul upon his death.


The young man’s fortunes do indeed seem to rise and rise, until love for a prostitute brings him crushing despair; when he goes to the woods to try to kill himself he is rescued by a farm girl. The two fall in love, marry, and have a child. Rather unsurprisingly, one day a shadowy figure arrives and asks to have his portrait painted on top of a nearby mountain; when he poses for the painting he removes his cloak and reveals himself to be, of course, the Devil, and the young man falls to his death from the mountain-top. The chapters are, in order: “The Brush”, “The Mistress”, “The Brand”, “The Wife”, and “The Portrait”. The artistry in the book draws from numerous springs of inspiration, ranging from Gustav Klimt’s 1908 "The Kiss" to tarot card symbolism and from medieval iconography to Soviet-style architecture.


As noted above, the 144 leaves are bound octavo-style into 18 gatherings of 8 leaves apiece (both this book and Mad Man’s Drum are without either signatures or pagination). Bizarrely, the book’s penultimate gathering in my copy -- consisting of the final 8 illustrations of the sequence involving the artist going to the mountain-top and discovering, fatally, that he is painting the Devil’s portrait -- are repeated as the final gathering of my copy (with the exception of the last leaf which has been cruelly ripped out of the book). I have no idea whether or not another gathering was intended to follow these 8 illustrations (though it would not seem logical since, with the artist’s death, we have lost the protagonist from whose point-of-view we’ve followed the entire story thus far), nor do I have any idea why the printers (Colonial Press did both the printing and the binding) bound this duplicate gathering in or how common this mistake is in extant copies of the book.


Mad Man’s Drum is broken up into several untitled chapters. The graphic style of its woodcuts is similar to that of God’s Man and, like its predecessor draws liberally and creatively on a range of well-researched inspirational sources (such as Edvard Munch’s 1893 “The Scream”, indigenous African ritual patterns, and even early nineteenth-century Anglo-American fashion trends), but the scale of the story has changed considerably. Whereas God’s Man centered on a single main character, Mad Man’s Drum is almost epic in its narrative. The story begins with a shady looking white sailor coming across a native drummer in the African wilderness; fascinated by the drum, the sailor steals it and, with his crew, enslaves the drummer’s town. The legacy of this barbarism haunts the sailor and his family over the next two generations, emblematized at key points in the tale by the eerie drum. As with most cursed-item sagas, the sins of the father are visited (to a modern reader’s view, somewhat unjustly) upon the children, when his wife dies young, his son grows up to be a scholar but finds his views scorned and harshly rejected by the academic community, and his three granddaughters end up entangled in rather horrible, depressing sexual relationships with men as moral-less as their grandfather. It’s a testament to Ward’s sense of visual pacing and imagery that he is so successful in placing at the core of his silent novel a musical instrument of considerable sound.


It is difficult, if not impossible, to do full justice to the remarkable story of Lynd Ward in the space of a single blog entry. Raised by an itinerant radical preacher father (who helped found the ACLU), Ward inherited his hybrid brand of ascetic Protestantism and Marxist communism. However, ever since he realized, in first grade, that his last name spelled “draw” backwards, Lynd determined to be an artist. He studied fine arts at Columbia Teachers’ College in New York and, in 1927, graphic design (including book design -- hence the similarities between these two books, despite coming from different printers) at the National Academy of Graphic Arts in Leipzig. During his studies he was inspired by the work of Belgian woodcut artist Franz Masereel, who had published an entire novel told exclusively through woodcuts.


Upon returning to the United States the next year, Ward published the first edition of his own woodcuts novel, God’s Man. As Christopher Capozzola notes:


The book’s subject matter—an allegorical fable about an artist who sells his soul for worldly success—was timeless. But its artistic innovations were unprecedented; its visual structure and pacing owed as much to silent film and mass-circulation comic pages as they did to artistic predecessors like Kollwitz or Honoré Daumier. Wordless novels were political interventions, too, meant to take advantage of what Ward called the “great asset of the book’s thousandfold duplication of contact with people.” Ward wanted to get art out of stuffy museums and snooty galleries and into the hands of an international community of readers who shared the language of images.


Ward's political opinions, including his brutal honesty about America’s shameful heritage of racial injustice, sharpened as the dismal years of the 1930s accumulated misfortunes upon the people of the working classes. However, with the rise of anti-communistic furor in the 1940s and 1950s he found himself increasingly in trouble with the FBI and the Congressional House Un-American Activities Committee.


In his later work he turned increasingly to illustrating existing novels (including a now highly collectible edition of Shelley’s Frankenstein), many volumes of the long-running Heritage Press series (including a gorgeous rendition of William Ellery Leonard's translation of Beowulf) and children’s books (including his own 1953 Caldecott Medal winning book The Biggest Bear). His cover-art graces the boards and dust-jackets of dozens upon dozens of highly sought-after books. His legacy, appearing in over 200 published works, persisted beyond his own material, however, as his keen eye, artistic vision, and talent in multiple media (including woodcuts, watercolor, oil, ink, lithography, and mezzotint) inspired the generation of modernist Art-Deco artists -- in love with angles, linear forms, and evocative grades of shading -- that took the national art scene by storm in the 1950s and 1960s.

Ward's work continues to inspire artists today, such as John Coulhart and Eric Drooker. And for us literary types, the debt we owe to Ward is equally considerable: in 1955, a young poet in San Francisco pulled a copy of God’s Man from the shelf and drew inspiration from its narrative and images, later sharing the work at an event called “Six Poets at the Six Gallery” held on October 7th of that year. The poem’s title was “Howl”...


(l-r) Allen Ginsburg, book artist Michael McCurdy, and Lynd Ward in front of Ward's house in Cresskill, New Jersey in 1978