Sunday, February 28, 2010

Hanging Chickens, Exploding Pipes, and Prussian-era Pedagogy

Recently in my class we had a discussion about the idea that “everything is a text”. We came around to the concept that pictures are a kind of text because they encode meaning, have their own kind of "rhetoric", and are meant to have a specific kind of effect upon the “reader/viewer”. This week’s book is a fine example of how narrative art in a book (often seen in books for younger readers or children) can tell a complete story, even if the reader can’t understand the words.

The book is a slim hardcover edition of Wilhelm Busch’s classic German verse tale for children Mar und Moritz eine Bubengeschichte in sieben Streichen [“Max and Moritz: A Boyish History in Seven Tricks”]. This edition was published in Munich by Verlag von Braun & Schneider. There’s no date, but the title page does indicate that this is a copy of the sixty-third impression. It was first published by Braun & Schneider in 1865 and remained one of the firm’s best-selling titles into the 1950s. Judging from the book’s appearance and construction, I suspect that my copy dates to approximately 1900-1910.

Max and Moritz quickly became the best-known comic characters from Germany and their misadventures were translated into over thirty languages. Perhaps most famously in America, they served as the model for Rudolph Dirks’s long-running comic strip “The Katzenjammer Kids”. Busch (1832-1908; seen here in an 1894 self-portrait), credited as one of the pioneers of modern comics, wrote and illustrated many other verse satires and comics (and, as a painter and sculptor, produced over 1,000 pieces of art), but Max and Moritz remains today his best-known and most widely read work. It is so familiar in the collective knowledge of German-speaking countries that the image of Max and Moritz’s smug faces (below) is still often used as a kind of shorthand for “mischief” in marketing and other forms of popular culture. More bizarrely, Wernher von Braun named the first two test rockets in the A2 project (1934) Max and Moritz -- a tribute to a much more violent and disturbing form of "mischievousness".

The pages measure 14cm x 21.5cm and are of a firm stock. Only the recto of each leaf is used for the book’s content; the versos are all blank. Collationally, the book may be described as 8o: [#] 18-77: $2. Each gathering is bound individually with three metal staples. The initial blank flyleaf is conjugate with the front pastedown; it looks as if the final leaf of gathering 7 was used as the rear pastedown. The initial blank, title page, and one-page Vorwot [“Foreword”] are unpaginated; pagination begins with the “First Trick” on the next page and runs [1]-53 -- only the rectos are numbered, however, since the versos are blank. The book is bound in paper-covered boards (some chipping, but nothing severe) with black-ink title and decorations on the front and publisher’s advertisements on the back; the spine is quite worn and some of the cloth beneath the paper covering is showing through.

As the title implies, Busch’s wildly popular narrative relates, in rhyming couplets, the tale of Max and Moritz, two young boys who unleash a sequence of seven tricks, or pranks, upon the unfortunate and unsuspecting adult members of their village. In the end, however, the little brats do get their (shockingly violent) punishment.

The contents are:

Foreword, [no number]: introducing the boys and cautioning children not to emulate them.

First Trick, [1]-8: the boys snare old Widow Tibbets’s three prize hens and rooster and hang them; as they hang, the hens drop some fresh eggs.

Second Trick, 9-15: using fishing rods, the boys reel the cooking chickens up the chimney and eat them; the old woman blames her dog, whom she soundly beats with a wooden spoon.

Third Trick, 16-22: the boys lure the sartorially obsessed Mr. Buck to chase them across a bridge over a river; they’ve weakened the bridge, however, and he falls into the freezing water, only escaping by holding onto the tails of some geese as they fly away; at home, his wife presses a hot iron against his body to dry him out.

Fourth Trick, 23-29: pompous school-teacher Master Lämpel loves his pipe, so the boys fill it with gunpowder and blow his face off.

Fifth Trick, 30-38: Max and Moritz gather as many beetles as they can carry and dump them into Uncle Fritz’s bed; he awakes in horror and crushes the pests underfoot.

Sixth Trick, 38-46: an attempt to climb down the baker’s chimney to steal cakes goes awry and the boys end up in a vat of flour; in revenge, the baker rolls them in dough and bakes them in the oven.

The resilient imps survive and escape by eating their way out of the crust from the inside.

Seventh Trick, 47-52: having learned nothing from their close brush with fate, the boys cut a slit into a farmer’s corn sack and it all pours out as he walks away; irate, he grabs the two and takes them to the mill where they are ground into pieces.

The bits of Max and Moritz are tossed aside (“Here you see the bits post mortem, / Just as Fate was pleased to sort ’em") and the miller’s ducks gobble them up. “The gruesome ending,” notes one scholar of German children’s literature, “is in keeping with the strict Prussian-era pedagogy that emphasized ethics, duty, discipline, and obedience.”

Conclusion, 53: the town’s residents jubilantly celebrate the just punishment of the two little terrorists.

For a full version, the Department of Foreign Languages at Virginia Commonwealth University has a website with the German text, English translation, and links to more resources, including the Wilhelm Busch Museum.

When I first browsed through the book, I was completely stumped by the German and could not understand a word of the poetry. However, Busch’s color art is so vivid and alive, and appears so precisely at key moments in the Tricks, that a very clear understanding of the narrative can be obtained simply by scanning over the illustrations.

In closing, I’ll end this post with the English translation of the start of the Fifth Trick, which I think offers an excellent bit of advice:

If, in village or in town,

You've an uncle settled down,

Always treat him courteously;

Uncle will be pleased thereby.

In the morning: "Morning to you!

Any errand I can do you?"

Fetch whatever he may need,-

Pipe to smoke, and news to read;

Or should some confounded thing

Prick his back, or bite, or sting,

Nephew then will be near by,

Ready to his help to fly;

Or a pinch of snuff, maybe,

Sets him sneezing violently:

"Prosit! uncle! good health to you!

God be praised! much good may't do you!"

Or he comes home late, perchance:

Pull his boots off then at once,

Fetch his slippers and his cap,

And warm gown his limbs to wrap.

Be your constant care, good boy,

What shall give your uncle joy.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Three Hundred Years of Ownership

As I mentioned in a previous post, last month I attended a book auction for the first time. This week’s book is one of the two that made up the only lot on which I was the winning bidder; nearly all of the other antiquarian books -- with the exception of these two -- went to a very aggressive bidder (I think possibly a dealer in fine binding books) sitting directly behind me. I only managed to win these by sniping a bid at the very last second before the auctioneer hammered it away. I think I may have caught the other bidder a bit by surprise because I heard him sigh and mutter when they didn’t call his number.

The book is a very stout little volume (about 7.5cm thick, though splaying wider than that at the fore-edge) containing an early seventeenth-century edition of Natalis Comitis

Mythologiae, sive Explicationis Fabularum, a Latin and Greek collection of tales from classical mythology that was perhaps the most popular contemporary source for Greek and Roman religious narratives in Renaissance Europe. As a testament to its success, it went through twenty-seven different editions through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (all in French or Latin, though the author himself was Italian).

Originally published as ten volumes in Venice (1567), this copy of the Mythologiae is of the Geneva 1612 edition. I’m not able to say precisely who published the edition, because the name has been cancelled on the imprint and is indecipherable; it was printed, however, by “Samuel Crispinus”, who was also responsible for publishing a later edition -- my suspicion, therefore, is that whoever the publisher originally was, he sold or transferred his rights to the book to the printer for some unknown reason.

The author of the book was Italian poet, scholar, translator, and historian Natale Conti (1520-1582) and his take on classical mythology is extremely gnostic; in his view, the myths were a deliberate sequence of highly complex allegories in which was encoded a secret all-encompassing, universal life philosophy that had been known to the ancients but had become lost over the centuries. Thus, after recounting each myth (and he manages to cover nearly every one that was known in his day), the book provides a three-part analysis for the tale, described by Kevin Curran as historical, “scientific”, and ethical. As John Mulryan puts it in his close study of translation and mythography in the Renaissance, Conti used classical mythology to examine “the moral well-being of mankind”.

This systematic approach was highly influential with many of his time (including Francis Bacon, who relied upon Mythologiae for much of his own 1609 De Sapentia Veterum, many late-sixteenth century fine and performing artists who adapted Conti’s versions of the tales and his commentary into paintings, ballets, and masques, and teachers -- including in Elizabethan England -- who used it as a textbook), though it was not without controversy (Scaliger famously scorned Conti’s approach and shrugged him off as “an utterly useless man”). Conti’s pedantic esotericism ultimately fell from favor with the passing of the Renaissance and in the Romantic era his view on the myths was ridiculed for being simply ridiculous and inaccurate.

Beside his Mythologiae, this particular volume begins with the dedication to his 1600 edition and also includes his verse De Venatione, Geofrey Linocier’s essay on Conti’s version of the muses (included with most editions of Mythologiae after Conti’s death), and an anonymous collection of commentary observations on some of the myths in the preceding volume (this commentary has been traditionally scribed to the classicist Frederick Sylburg). Also included are indices of plants, animals, and places.

The book is in its original vellum binding, which is chipped and a bit worn, but still in fairly good condition; the top of the spine is flaring slightly from pull-damage and the cords from the spine are pressing tightly into the spine vellum. The back board is splitting apart slightly and a slight gap inside the book at gathering k reveals some of the leather bands inside the spine. An early hand has written the title in ink on the spine.

Also inked onto the binding are some decorative lines and, on the back and faintly on the lower part of the spine, several different permutations of the Latin phrase “Taciti Opera” are inked in precise block letters (likely an early owner was testing his/her handwriting by copying out from the title page of an edition of the complete works [Opera Omnia] of Cornelius Tacitus [Cornelii Taciti]) (see below).

The pages measure 10.5cm x 17cm and are of a hand-laid linen paper bearing chain-lines that vary in spacing and alignment between different gatherings; no watermarks seem to be visible, but flecks of poorly processed rag show through on nearly every page, suggesting perhaps that the printer resorted to a fairly cheap stock (in several different batches) for the job. The material interconnections between the physical world from which the book emerged and the book itself are neatly captured in the form of actual pieces of hair (animal? human?) that were trapped in the paper-mould when the paper was being manufactured, reappearing as part of the text on one page of the book (see below).

Expressed collationally, the book may be described as follows 8o: [#3] (:)8 a8-h8 i2 k8-z8 A8-Z8 Aa8-Zz8 Aaa8-Mmm43]: $4. Signatures are given with Roman letters followed by Roman miniscule numerals for sheet numbers (for example, Aa3 is signed “Aaiii”).

The precise number of pages is thus 1,594, though the pagination itself ends with the text of the Mythologiae (at what is marked as p. 1123) and does not include any of the following texts (which, if marked, would run 126 pages, from 1124-1250). The true pagination of such a large handpress book is bound to present problems; here is a list of some of the errors I noted in checking the book over (many of the errors are good examples of the kinds of mistakes a compositor can easily make when setting type by hand):

12 as “22”, 130 as “30”, skips from [1]30 to 143, 181 as “118”, 261 as “262”, 7 in “337” inverted (see above), 9 in “349” inverted, 433 as “431” (across D-E sheets) and follows (into other sheets, suggesting sheets were set in sequence and not simultaneously), 545 as “549”, 635 as “35”, 670 as “700”, 761 as “716”, 783 as “781” (across Cc-Dd sheets, but does not follow), 793 as “739”, 806 as “736”, 814 as “772”, 874 as “847”, 916 as “616”, 924 as “914”, 962 as “928”, 1034 as “1024”, 1043 as “1034”, 1053 as “1035”, 1061 as “1601”, 1071 as “1069” (across Xx-Yy and follows), 1071 as “1073”, 1104 as “104”

As this selection of errors shows, using page numbers as reference points in early books is asking for disaster. Thus, most scholars and bibliographers prefer to use the (generally, though not always, more accurate) system of signatures and gatherings.

A number of other printing errors in the book bear noting for the bibliographic record: signatures kii and kiiii are set as “lzii” and “lziiii” respectively, pi is unsigned, and Miiii is set as “miiii”. Looking at the running-titles of a handpress book can also be informative; on some pages, the word “Mythologiae” is spelled with a Greek miniscule “y” or even a capital Roman “I” for the “y”. Likewise, errors in the running-titles on many pages (see above and below) indicates that Crispinus did not use a “skeleton forme” for printing the book (a skeleton forme consists of a separate setting of type for text on the outside of a sheet that does not change much or at all between sheets; it is meant to speed up the composing process), an oddly cumbersome choice for such a tremendously long book.

As noted in the collational formula, gathering i is only two pages; it is, in fact, tipped-in onto the final leaf of h. This corresponds to the skipped pages 131-142 noted above, suggesting that these pages are “cancellans” -- cancelled leaves, likely resulting from an egregious printing error, were removed from the book (either before or after printing) and replaced by hand.

One of the wonderful features of handpress-period books is how markedly unique each copy is, not just because of owner’s marks (on which, more below) but even from the manufacturing process itself. My copy of the Mythologiae shows unique evidence of how it was made. For example, “furniture” were small blocks of metal of various sizes that could be inserted into the frame that held the pieces of type (the “chase”) in order to keep everything tight and aligned; the furniture was not as thick as the type-face itself, so when the ink was applied it would not show on the page. In at least two places in my copy, however, the furniture must have not been inserted fully into the chase or it was not locked down tightly, because the inked impression of the pieces appears on the pages (see above and below).

Likewise, a small spacer -- a thin piece of metal lower than the type-face used to set the distance between letters and words -- was accidentally inked and appears on a catchword on one page (below). On one sheet, the chase itself was not firmly locked and the type along the inside of one page on the sheet has drifted out of alignment in the first few lines.

Post-production damage and evidence of use provides evidence of another part of the “circuit” through which the book has travelled. Inky fingerprints on Fff3v and some of the pages after it suggest where a reader held the book, perhaps with pen in hand (a student?) (see left). Some dried mud stains splattered on only one opening (between Nn5v and Nn6r) suggest it was once accidentally dropped by a careless owner. Several gatherings have detached completely from the binding (m, C, E [unstitched completely], Eee, and Ggg) possibly indicating that content on those pages caused them to be turned to more frequently than other places in the book.

There is no marginalia in the book itself, though there is a sequence of owners’ inscription that bear comment. On the verso facing the title page there is an almost entirely erased pencil inscription at the top of the page. Beneath it is a sequence of inscriptions, in different inks and hands. Perhaps most intriguing about this sequence is that the more recent the inscription, the worse the handwriting, Latin, and clarity of message. Perhaps this is merely a reflection of the declining importance put upon manuscript notations in books over the years; indeed, today we seem to be moving more and more enthusiastically toward digital books that make lasting reader interaction less and less possible (paradoxically, while making ephemeral reader interaction and the ensuing illusion of thought more and more accessible).

Joannes Junius haecer praemium tulit ab Academia Salmuriensi ob egregia nauatam literis operam in tertio studiosorus ordines Anno MDCXXXV Rectore Mose Amyraldo.

Joannes Junius bears this prize from the School of Saumur on account of distinguished enthusiasm devoted to work in the third [year of] studies. So ordered, 1635. Rector Moses Amyraut.

Amyraut (1596-1664; shown to the left), a major promoter of the spread of Protestantism in early modern France, was a famed scholar and teacher of a particular brand of Calvinist theology (the “School of Saumur”) at the University of Saumur in western France. This careful inscription clearly suggests that the book was given as a gift by the theologian to one of his prized pupils. Another celebrated pupil of his was William Penn, who adapted Amyraut’s principles of religious pluralism in the founding of the Pennsylvania Colony.

Joannes Junius hoc praemium tulit et mihi nepoli sui Dedit 1674. [Beneath this is an undecipherable monogram.]

Joannes Junius bears this prize and my grandson himself gave it 1674.

This is a real puzzle to me. Dated 39 years after Amyraut awarded the gift to Junius, it uses much of the same language as the original note. This same hand has written an illegible inscription that begins “Ex libris” on the inside of the front cover, on the pastedown; it, too, is dated 1674.

While I can’t quite make out the name, it is very clearly not Joannes Junius.

ex Libris Joannis Baptista pallimi [illegible word] Doctoris medici [three illegible words]. 1747.

From the library of John Baptista cloaked doctor of medicine . 1747.

It’s rather infuriating that such a late hand should be so unclear (though if Baptista was a doctor, it’s little surprise his handwriting was so atrocious); it’s also possible that the writer has made errors in the Latin (or confusedly mixed Italian into his Latin).

Samuelo Thorne togam virilem sumer[t?]i de amico suo. Noel Morse. 1925. [ornamental underline]

Samuel Thorne lawyer[?] manfully obtained on account of joining a friend. Noel Morse. 1925.

I’m sure that whatever it was that Morse was trying to say with this cryptic and bizarre message was completely clear to Thorne. Today, the identity of both these men, their relationship, and the meaning of this inscription is, however, a complete mystery.

These owners’ inscriptions, bearing witness to nearly three-hundred years of changes from within the preliminaries of a book, conjure up an image (however romantic) of the book actually being handed off from one owner to another over four centuries, ending (for now) with me.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

More Shakespearean Pseudoscholarship

This past summer I wrote about a book by Mark Twain that attempted to use some highly dubious and subjective evidence to argue that the plays of Shakespeare were in fact written by Francis Bacon. This week’s book offers another take on the same argument -- just as spurious as Twain’s, but from a (loosely) textual studies perspective.

The book is a slim but tall folio by Frank A. Kendall, a man about whom I can find little information except that he was briefly President of the National Amateur Press Association in 1913 (he died that year and his wife, Jennie M. Kendall, was appointed to complete his term). This is apparently his only book. The title is William Shakespeare and His Three Friends: Ben, Anthonie, and Francis, published by W. A. Butterfield of Boston in 1911 and printed by George L. Clapp of South Framingham, MA. No subsequent editions appeared, though it is available as a print-on-demand title from some modern POD firms.

Taking the first page of the 1598 quarto of Love’s Labour’s Lost as his main starting point, Kendall engages in an extensive, slightly obsessive, highly erratic examination of what he claims to be the hidden “acrostics” encoded into the play. Using a truly speculative methodology first outlined by William Stone Booth in his Some Acrostic Signatures of Francis Bacon (Houghton, Miffling, Co., 1909), Kendall claims that it is possible to identify various permutations of the Latin phrase “Antonious Baconus et Ben Ionsus et Franciscus Baconus scripserunt” hidden in the text of the page.

He traces out sixty-one randomly drawn patterns linking initial letters of words on the page to spell out messages related to this claim (that Anthony Bacon, Francis Bacon, and Ben Jonson collaborated to write the play). Kendall never attempts to explain the logic of his choice of geometric patterns (except for the general “rule” that acrostics can only use the first letter of a word) nor does he justify how he settles upon what words to include in each pattern (except for the repeated phrase “We are struck by the word ______” -- whatever that might mean.

The contents of the book run as follows: two blank leaves, the half-title, the full title-page with copyright on verso, epigraph, and the contents of the book (pp. [7]-56). There are a few illustrative plates of the first page from the quarto and facsimiles of contemporary passages by Herbert. Perhaps most clever in the construction of the book is the inclusion of a fold-out illustrative plate on the penultimate leaf (the final leaf is blank); this illustration is a facsimile of the page from Love’s Labour’s Lost, allowing the reader to keep the facsimile before him or her while still being able to turn the pages of the book, making use of it to follow along with Kendall’s torturous argument.

The pages measure 19.5cm x 28cm and are of a nice stock with 2.5cm horizontal chain-lines and a watermark reading “Berkshire Text” above an eagle straddling the letter “A”. Interestingly, this was the watermark of the western Massachusetts firm American Writing Paper Company (Holyoke, MA), not far from where the book resides today. It’s bound in light brown papered boards with a brown buckram spine. My copy is damaged in a few ways, including water damage on the back board and what seems to be a very large bit taken out of the top outside corner.

This copy is signed by the author (“Compliments of Frank A Kendall”) and bears an owner’s inscription as well (“Gift of Joseph D. Leland”). Leland may have been the same man who was architect of Hilton Village, an English-village-style planned neighborhood in Newport News, Virginia from 1917-1921. On March 25, 1921, Leland apparently donated this copy to the library of the western Massachusetts town of Hancock: pasted inside the front cover are the “By-Laws of Hancock Town Library”, along with a penned addition of the book’s call number (822.33.7; also appearing in white ink on the lower part of the spine), the date it was donated, and the accession number (7462).

Pasted inside the back cover is a circulation card envelope. The card is still inserted and it reveals that Kendall’s work of pseudoscholarship was, perhaps not surprisingly, never checked out by any patron.