Thursday, July 22, 2010

Reader, I nominated him [actually, myself]

That's right. I've taken the liberty of nominating Tarquin Tar's Bookcase for the 2010 Blogger's Choice Awards. Whether you're a regular reader or just stopping by for the first time, please take a moment to follow that link and vote for this blog. It's nominated in four categories (Best Hobby Blog, Best Education Blog, Best Entertainment Blog, and Best Blog About Stuff).

O, the vanity!

Also, has now made sharing your favorite Tarquin Tar postings so much easier! Just use any of the share buttons now located at the bottom of every post.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Grave Literature

My fiancée and I have recently started attending local estate auctions in order to get some nice furniture for our new home. At our first estate auction, I successfully bid on two boxes of antiquarian books (yeah, I know: not furniture...). The experience was quite different from what I’ve written on previously in regards to attending a book auction. At the estate auction, the choices in terms of books were far more limited; however, because fewer people there were interested in books at all (they were mostly bidding on the furniture, art, furnishings, and jewelry) the price was ridiculously reasonable. This week’s book is one of the items acquired for Tarquin Tar's Bookcase from my prevailing bid.

The book is a first edition of Churchyard Literature: A Choice Collections of American Epitaphs, with Remarks on Monumental Inscriptions and the Obsequies of Various Nations, written by John R. Kippax and published by the eminent firm S. C. Griggs and Company of Chicago in 1877. The book was printed by the Chicago firm of Blakely & Brown (founded in 1871 by Connecticut native Charles Franklin Blakely). A second edition was published by Singing Tree Press of Detroit in 1969, a third by Corner House of Williamstown, MA in 1978, and a fourth by Heritage Books of Bowie, MD in 1994.

Dealers online list the first edition as “collectible” and price it from between $18 and $63 (an association copy signed by the author is being sold for $125). In other words, even at its cheapest valuation, this one book (out of two boxes of approximately 40 books) is worth (at retail) about one-third of what I got the lot for at auction. At its highest valuation (sans autograph) it’s worth more than what I paid for the entire lot.

Kippax (1849-1922) was a member of a nineteenth-century archaeological society, which was his justification for authoring the book -- his first publication; he is perhaps better known, however, for his later interest in various fields of science.

The record of his publications suggests an eclectic range of interests over his lifetime. In 1880 Duncan Brothers of Chicago published Kippax’s A Hand-book of Diseases of the Skin and their Homeopathic Treatment (further editions from other publishers followed in 1884 and 1890) and in 1884 Gross & Delbridge of Chicago published his Lectures on Fevers: Delivered at the Chicago Homeopathic Medical College.

Homeopathy remained Kippax’s interest throughout the 1880s and 1890s. In 1910, however, he released a book titled Comets and meteors, and in 1914 G. P. Putnam’s Sons of New York published his richly illustrated book on astronomy, The Call of the Stars: A Popular Introduction to a Knowledge of the Starry Skies. I’ve had difficulty finding good biographical information about John Kippax, but it seems from the history of his publications that he was a man of many different studies.

The book is bound in red cloth with some ornate black decorations on the cover and gilded decoration (now faded) on the spine. The pages measure 12.5cm x 18cm and are of a slightly heavy stock that has faded a bit with age. Preliminaries include four blank flyleaves (the first conjugate with the front pastedown), a frontispiece (graveyard scene before a church and the last three lines from Longfellow’s 1842 poem “The Goblet of Life”), the title page with copyright on the verso, the dedication (incorporating a quote from Robert Blair’s 1743 poem “The Grave”), the table of contents, and a two-page preface signed “J. R. K.” and dated “Oak Park, Nov. 5, 1876.” The pagination of the book silently incorporates everything from the title page onward, running [1]-[10].

The contents of the book include an Introduction on the history and aesthetics of graveyard epitaphs and obsequies (pp. 11-35); epitaphs on eminent personages (pp. 37-63); admonitory epitaphs (pp. 65-86); devotional epitaphs (pp. 87-102); adulatory, laudatory, and bombastic epitaphs (pp. 105-128); professional epitaphs (pp. 129-145); ludicrous, eccentric, and ridiculous epitaphs (pp. 147-165); punning and satirical epitaphs (pp. 167-176); miscellaneous epitaphs (pp. 177-198); and an index to names, places, and subjects in the book (pp. 199-213). Four blanks end the book.

The unusually large number of blanks at the start and finish of the book -- seemingly such a waste of paper -- perhaps were to encourage readers to jot down their own discoveries of interesting or moving graveyard literature. Having grown up in Salem, MA and wandered many an old and peculiar cemetery, I can recall coming across a number of haunting (and some humorous) inscriptions dating back to the 1600s. The examples that Kippax provides of what he terms “grave literature” are quite diverse, but the reader (well, at least, this reader) is drawn especially to the numerous examples of witty and humorous epitaphs (see the images throughout this post). The form of the genre -- pithy couplets that often have to stretch to rhyme with an odd last name -- makes it ripe for the set-up and delivery of punchlines, one-liners, and word-play. I suspect there’s also a certain element of catharsis in laughing in the presence of death; to mitigate, or at least manage, the haunting mystery of the inevitable demise that awaits us all, we take comfort in the macabre juxtaposition of the grave and the jest.

There are no reader’s marks in the copy, but it was evidently well-read: the outside of the spine has split toward the bottom, revealing the discarded paper used in the binding of the book (not enough text is visible to make out what precisely was used). There are a couple of penciled dealers’ marks on the recto and verso of the front flyleaf and in the lower inside corner of the penultimate flyleaf. The recto of the front fly also bears two stickers that offer a clue as to the book’s past. In the middle of the page is a simple bookplate bearing the name “H. H. Player”. I’ve found a gentleman named Henry H. Player who lived on Queen Street in Middlesex in England around 1847, but that may be too early a date for this book. Besides, I suspect this copy hasn’t left the United States.

In the lower inside corner of the same page there’s a store sticker for W. A. Butterfield of 59 Bromfield Street in Boston, MA. In addition to retailing books, Butterfield was a publisher from 1904 until at least 1919, specializing in literature (particularly Shakespeare and works related to the Bacon-Shakespeare lunacy) and the arts, nature, and local history. As a large majority of the epitaphs recorded in Kippax’s book are from the northeastern United States -- and New England in particular -- it would presumably have fit rather well into the store’s stock in the early years of the twentieth century.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

An Orphaned Volume

Perhaps it’s because I’m an identical twin, but I’ve always been drawn to books in sets.

Yesterday, my fiancée and I visited Grey Matter Books in Hadley, one of the region’s newest used bookstores. They had a number of sets for sale -- modern and antiquarian. I noticed also, however, a number of “broken” sets. In some cases the broken set was complete but for one missing volume; in other instances, only one volume of the set was present.

Typically I wouldn’t buy a broken set. Something about the incompleteness seems depressing to me. Nonetheless, I ended up buying a single volume from an eight-volume set; only the one volume was available. It was a good price, though, and the owner even knocked it down a bit for me. The set is a standard and essential reference tool for my field and I figure I can just add to it over time: if I serendipitously find the other volumes in the future as I browse bookstores, I’ll gradually complete the set. It will be useful, but filling in the gaps in a broken set in this way is never completely satisfying; a set of specific copies that were printed and then sold together as one unit seems to belong together perpetually. Even though they’re in stand-alone volumes, only together do they make up one whole book. The volumes in a set have a history together, like a family.

This week’s book is an orphan from a set of five volumes (actually “ten volumes in five”, according to the title page): volume one from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, With selections from his correspondence, and an introduction to each volume. The work is a modern-spelling edition prepared by Professor Henry Morley (1822-1894) and published by The Cassell Publishing Company of 31 East 17th Street (Union Square) in New York. There’s no date on the volume, but Morley only became a professor after 1865 and Cassell was only known as “The Cassell Publishing Company” after 1888. Dealers online vary from 1880 through 1900. The first edition (issued in ten separate volumes), however, was published by Cassell in 1887; the volumes of the first edition are in yellow boards and bear black printed decorations. This volume is from the second edition and is bound in dark blue cloth boards with faded gilt titling on the spine.

After the half-title and title page there appears Morley’s general introduction (pp. [5]-9) and the “Preface to the Original Edition” (pp. [11]-14), signed “Braybrooke” (that is, Richard Neville, Lord Braybrooke) and dated “Audley End, May 14, 1825”. The first two years of the diary (1660-1661) run from pp. 15-192. There then follows an internal title page for the next “volume” (covering 1662-1663) and the pagination re-starts. Morley’s introduction for the second half runs from pp. 5-8 [should be 3-6] and the diary runs from pp. 9-192 [should be 7-189]. The error in paginating the second half suggests that, in making the “two volumes in one”, the printer simply followed the set-up of the original ten volume version (in which the 1662-1663 volume begins with a half-title and title page, thus justifying the start of Morley’s introduction on p. 5 instead of p. 3).

There is no evidence of ownership or use, with the exception of four pencil underlines in Morley’s introduction to the second half. The printing was generally well executed, though a few errors slipped in, including a missing possessive apostrophe in the running title on p. 47 of the first half and the slippage of type at the end of a line on p. 169 of the second half. The book was machine-printed and may be expressed collationally as 12o: [#1] [“A-33”16] - “F-33”16 [“A-41”15] - “F-41”162]: $1. The paper is a sturdy stock that took the bite of the type fairly well but is beginning to discolor a bit with age; there are no watermarks, but there are 3cm horizontal chain-lines. The pages measure 11cm x 16.5cm. Overall, with the exception of a slightly splitting spine (internally) and some of the usual bumps to the boards, it is in good condition: no tears, no folds or bends, and no pronounced staining or foxing.

Samuel Pepys (1633-1703; above) is sometimes referred to as the first “blogger”, but there is a crucial difference: Pepys’s diary was intensely personal and private. In order to keep prying eyes from reading it, he went so far as to write the entire document in a shorthand of his own invention. The details it contains are often scandalous, embarrassing, and even potentially politically dangerous. Today’s bloggers often include such content in their own writing, of course, but with the point of stirring up trouble. Pepys was writing for himself; bloggers (trust me) write for everyone else. Pepys was a minor official of Restoration England; in 1672, after years of service in the Admiralty, he was appointed secretary of that department, and in 1684 he was made president of the Royal Society. But he is today best known for his remarkable diary; spanning the years 1660 (the year Charles II was restored to the throne of England) up to 1669, Pepys’s diary gives an almost daily glimpse into the world of Restoration London.

From domestic politics to social affairs, from local gossip to global commerce, from personal habits to international diplomacy, from literary trends to theatre news, Pepys offers modern readers access into a world that is remarkably familiar but at the same time intensely foreign. Following the publication of the first “translation” of the manuscript (Braybrooke’s in 1825), the diary has remained a staple item of literary studies and history through over 250 modern editions and at least one movie version.

As I mentioned, having an orphaned volume always generates a sense of incompleteness. Flipping through the pages of my one volume from the Pepys diary, however, and following the numerous day-to-day threads he weaves through his record, I feel a particularly strong disconnect when I reach the final page -- as if reading only the first four years of the diary and then suddenly coming to an unresolved halt at the end of 1663 not only cuts my reading experience off, but actually preternaturally shortens Pepys's life itself.