Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Book from the Days When Titles Were Essentially Abstracts

This week’s book is a slightly worn copy of a mid-nineteenth century treatise on educating and raising a child. The wonderfully specific title, in full, is: On the Importance of an Early Correct Education of Children: Embracing the Mutual Obligation and Duties of Parent and Child; Also the Qualifications and Discipline of Teachers, With their Emolument, and a Plan Suggested Whereby All Our Common Schools Can Advantageously Be Made Free; The Whole Interspersed with Several Amusing, Chaste Anecdotes Growing Out of the Domestic and Scholastic Circle. To Which is Subjoined by way of an Appendix, the Declaration of Independence by the Thirteen North American Colonies, 4th July, 1776. The Constitution of the United States, with that of the States of New Jersey and New York, as Lately Adopted.

Written by Dr. William Euen, the book was also published for him privately by an unnamed New York firm in only one edition, two issues, in 1848. My copy is of the second issue (the first paginated to only 136, presumably because it lacked the New Jersey constitution, which runs pp. 137-152). It retailed, according to the title page, for sixty-nine cents (about $18.83 in today’s money). Its valuation to collectors today seems highly erratic: the second issue seems to be worth around $30 (the first apparently around $45), but at least one dealer is selling the second issue for a ridiculously inflated price around $340.

Dr. Euen was a resident of the town of Shawangunk in Ulster County, New York. His book is exactly what the title explains, using a fair amount of appeals to patriotism, civic planning, the Bible, and nineteenth-century pedagogical theory (including on the purchase of books, the use of writing paper, and the importance of using a goose quill and not resorting to those sinful "steel pens") to make its case.

Tracking down information about the man has been a bit difficult, but it seems that he was the same William Euen who had previously published A Short Exposé on Quackery (Philadelphia, 1840). Prior to that he was apparently residing in Newton, New Jersey (hence the inclusion of both the NY and NJ constitutions in his book) where, in February 1829, he renovated his home at 29 Liberty Street and converted it into the Euen School for Girls. It is possible that our author is the same man who ended up as the editor/co-publisher of the Weekly Prison City Item of Waupun, Wisconsin from 1860-June 1861 (the writing style of the two Euen’s is similar, though the topics they write on are rather different).

The book is bound in the publisher’s brown cloth with decorative blind tooling and gilt title on the cover. The pages measure 11.5cm x 18.5cm; pagination runs [i]-iv from the title page through the preface, [1]-152 for the contents of the book. The collation is rather peculiar; signatures are numeric and include an added asterisk to indicate a signature internal to a gathering (internal signatures are not used in the appendix gatherings). The format is another octavo in twelves (with the exception of the appendices, which were apparently printed separately in standard octavo format) and the formula may be expressed as 8o: [#2] [112]-412 58-88 [π]: $1, 5. In some places the printing was clearly a rushed job: type slips (for example, the “6” in the page number “86” is almost a full line lower than the “8”) and some of the ink has smeared or not been fulling applied to the type.

The condition is average: the last page is torn in half but still attached to the binding, the cover has some bumps and chipping, and there is some foxing and other paper stain damage (on which more below) throughout. The only owner’s marks are an apparently purposeful pencil mark next to a passage about the necessity of having a globe in the classroom and an owner’s pencil inscription inside the front cover on the pastedown: “H D Ryell, / Book”.

I chose this book for this week because the combination of child-rearing advice and New Jersey seemed an important coincidence for my family this month. But while I was leafing through it I came across another interesting feature. At first I thought I was looking at some severe staining caused by a liquid spill or moisture of some kind: mirror-image marks in the gutter of many openings, not unlike a Rorschach Test.

Eventually, however, I came across the dried, brown remains of a very old flower, pressed between two pages and, in another place, an explosion of dried, brilliantly red pollen; apparently some early owner (H. D. Ryell, perhaps?) decided that the most functional use for Euen’s treatise was as a tool for the highly popular nineteenth-century art of flower pressing. It would be interesting -- though beyond my capacity -- to try to identify the specific flowers that had been pressed in the book by researching their silhouettes. I began to reflect on the many different non-reading uses of books and came across this fantastic page with a range of highly artistic (and sometimes functional) alternative uses for books.

Try doing any of those -- or pressing flowers -- with a “Kindle”.

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