Friday, September 28, 2012

Jack Kerouac, Painter

by Stephen J. Gertz

An original, untitled drawing of Jesus' crucifixion executed in colored crayons by Beat novelist Jack Kerouac recently came to market, went on the road and onto a collector's wall, lickety-split, for $7,500.

The scene depicts the shadow of Christ on the cross with three figures in the foreground attending to his body as an angel descends from heaven. In the background, a man, presumably, Judas, hangs from a gallows as the sun shines over distant hills. Kerouac boldly signed his name in the lower left corner.

Kerouac made the drawing for a favorite niece, using her crayons and sketch paper. Catholicism, which played such a strong, if subtly understated and misunderstood role in his novels and cosmology, is overt here.

Though a spontaneous work, this untitled painting is a rich, fully realized piece on a par with some of Kerouac's best art as found in his Departed Angels: The Lost Paintings (2004).

The appearance of this painting for public sale was something of an event: Kerouac's visual art is held mostly by institutions and examples are exceedingly scarce in the marketplace.

Image courtesy of Royal Books, with our thanks.

Of related interest:

When Kerouac Met Dostoyevsky.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Marlon Brando Plays Mister Roberts, With Annotations And Bookplate

by Stephen J. Gertz

In 1955, while Henry Fonda prepared to reprise his role as Mister Roberts, the title character in director John Ford's film adaptation of Thomas Heggen and Joshua Logan's 1948 hit Broadway show that starred Fonda, Marlon Brando was also studying to play the part.

"Unknown to Fonda, Warners had thought William Holden or Marlon Brando would be better box-office and had consented to Fonda only when Ford threatened not to make the movie unless they did so" (Gallagher, Tag. John Ford: The Man and His Films).

Brando's working copy of the published play, complete with his hand-written annotations and bookplate, zipped in and out of the marketplace last week  and a collector, wallet now $2750 lighter, is very pleased to possess this gem.

On the front free-endpaper Brando wrote: 

"the focus should perhaps be that he wants to get off the can and away from the captain rather than persue [sic] the fulfillment of a neurotic compulsion to do his share. He seems to be driven, by some kind of guilt feeling, into his frantic effort to get into the bullets."

On the front paste-down, Brando notes that on page 45 Mister Roberts "confirms his irrationality on the subject and makes him [?] ambitious, compulsive and and [sic] not derived from a source of time, nobility of character or refinement of moral principle."

Brando's Method acting process is evident as he dissects Mister Roberts to get inside the character's head and determine his motivation. Brando also circled the character's (his) lines in the play, and his inked marginalia is found throughout.

Let us now pause to get them colored lights goin' and contemplate the preposterous notion of Marlon Brando portraying Lt. Doug Roberts, a college-educated naval officer who has earned the love and respect of his crew while engaging in a personal war with the U.S.S. Reluctant's commanding officer, Lt. Comd. Morton, the crew's nemesis and Roberts' bête noire. Casting, thy name is catastrophe.

Brando would have required a broom up his butt to portray the firmly centered, of inner strength, quietly commanding Roberts that Fonda so wholly yet lightly embodied and had won a Tony award for his Broadway performance. It helped that Fonda had been a Navy officer aboard ship during WWII. Brando could have captured the character's heft but not his casual, understated and contained force. That was Henry Fonda's hat-trick as an actor. It was not Marlon Brando's, whose vulnerabilities were visible as klieg lights on stage and screen. You sensed Fonda's inner frailties, you saw Brando's on a billboard. For instance:

James Cagney (as Capt. Morton): No. You're a smart boy, Roberts. But I know how to take care of smart boys. I hate your guts, you smart college guys! I've been seeing your kind around since I was ten years old... working as a busboy. "Oh busboy, it seems my friend has thrown up on the table. Clean up that mess, boy, will'ya?" And then when I went to sea as a steward... people poking at you with umbrellas. "Oh, boy!", "You, boy!", "Careful with that luggage, boy!" And I took it. I took it for years! But I don't have to take it any more. There's a war on, and I'm captain of this vessel, and now YOU can take it for a change! The worst thing I can do to you... is to keep you right here, Mister, and here is where you're going to stay. Now, GET OUT!

Marlon Brando as Mr. Roberts: Stella!!

James Cagney as Capt. Morton: [on the loudspeaker in reference to his "missing" palm tree... ] All right! Who did it? Who did it? You are going to stand sweating at those battle stations until someone confesses! It's an insult to the honor of this ship! The symbol of our cargo record has been destroyed and I'm going to find out who did it if it takes all night!

Brando as Mister Roberts: How 'bout cuttin' the re-bop? Be comfortable. That's my motto up where I come from. Well, I guess I'm gonna strike you as being the unrefined type, huh? A Yale man, not Harvard. I coulda been a contender instead of a bum  on a cargo ship, which is what I am. It was you, Capt. Morton, it was you...

Thank God John Ford made Warner Brothers an offer they couldn't refuse.

Marlon Brando as Mister Roberts:
How did you get in the Navy?
How did you get on our side? Oh you ignorant, arrogant,
ambitious... keeping sixty-two men in prison 'cause you
got a palm tree for the work they did. I don't know which
I hate worse, you or that other malignant growth that
stands outside the door"

A wonderful provenance for this book: from the collection of Brando's '60s lover and later employee, L.A. actress and screenwriter, Pat Quinn, who starred as Alice in Alice's Restaurant (1969).

Brando material with annotations related to acting rarely finds its way into the marketplace; it is scarce, kept, coveted, and only deaccessioned with great reluctance.

[BRANDO, Marlon]. HEGGEN, Thomas and Joshua Logan. Mister Roberts. New York: Random House, 1948. First edition.  Octavo. 162 pp. Illustrations. Blue cloth. The copy of Marlon Brando, with his notes.

Images courtesy of Royal Books, with our thanks.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

"Read, And Be Wise - Come, Read and Learn"

by Stephen J. Gertz

A scarce, early American abecedaire (ABC book) in battledore format has come into the marketplace. The Uncle's Present, A New Battledore, featuring "Cries" - street vendors who verbally announced their wares for sale - was issued out of Philadelphia in 1810. With cover woodcuts attributed to W. Mason and A. Anderson, it heralds "Read, and Be Wise" along the top cover's upper margin, and "Come, read and learn" along its flap. 

Within, twenty-four letters of the alphabet are illustrated with charming woodcuts depicting English Criers, including: a bookseller of almanacks, a broomseller, milkmaid, chicken-seller, a print (image) seller, lobster-seller, etc. "The Cries illustrating the alphabet are a very pretty set, and are probably an early set of Newcastle or York Cries by [Thomas] Bewick...The letteres J and U are omitted to have 24 letters in 24 compartments" (Rosenbach).

Unusual for battledores, an extra leaf is present featuring each woodcut for all the letters.

Battledores were popular reading aids for children in mid- to late eighteenth century grammar schools. With their emphasis on learning the alphabet in an entertaining and illustrated format, their popularity with children was enhanced by the form's secondary purpose: outside of the classroom the stiffcard booklet was used as a paddle to play an early version of badminton, battledore and shuttlecock

The Uncle's Present is scarce, with OCLC noting only five copies in institutional collections worldwide. A facsimile was reprinted in 1964.

[BATTLEDORE]. The Uncle's Present. A New Battledore. Philadelphia: Published by Jacob Johnson, Sold by Benjamin Warner, n.d. [c. 1810]. First edition. Octavo (6 1/2 x 3 3/4 inches). Four leaves. Twenty-four woodcuts in twenty-four compartments. Brown pictorial stiffcard wrappers.

Welch 1363. Rosenbach 428.

Images courtesy of Aleph-Bet Books, with our thanks.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Exciting Event with Black Man and Blue Paint

by Alastair Johnston

Bill Traylor, Drawings from the Collections of the High Museum of Art and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts (Delmonico Books / Prestel, 2012, 112 pp., cloth in d.j.)

A new book about Bill Traylor is cause for celebration, just as seeing any new work from this artist is a marvel. Back in the middle of the last century the big dogs of French art, Picasso, Dubuffet and co, were trying hard to forget their art school training and paint like children. The new appreciation for self-taught artists didn't catch on in the USA, however.

In the 1940s, Charles Shannon, the man who rescued Traylor's work from oblivion, took it to New York but was rebuffed by the museums and galleries there. In the intervening decades the art has not changed, while the American art world's attitude to outsider artists, like Ramirez, Darger and Traylor, definitely has.

"Would the Modern have been a different place if it had had 16 Traylors in its collection for the last 60 years? It's impossible to know, but one likes to think that they would have worked their magic on some of its curators." — Roberta Smith, "Altered Views in the House of Modernism," The New York Times, 29 April 2005 (quoted on p. 11)

But then curators and critics have always followed rather than led the art market, so folks who make millions selling real estate or faded denim pants can amass boring collections of "blue-chip art" (usually a euphemism for gilded equine ordure), then have a museum wing dedicated to their efforts and foist it off on the undiscerning public. 

Bill Traylor, "Untitled" ca. 1939-42, pencil & colored pencil on cardboard, 22 x 14 ins. (High Museum of Art)

Wait, how did I get here? Let's go back to the artist at hand. Bill Traylor was born a slave. Yes, such people still existed in relatively modern times. After "emancipation" he continued to work as a stable hand for his former owner until old age crept up on him. He moved to the city, and ended up on the streets of Montgomery, Alabama, in 1929, during the Depression, when he was in his mid-70s. Like Oliver Twist, he slept in a funeral parlor. He spent his days on the street, drawing and painting on scraps of scavenged cardboard. By chance, Charles Shannon (not the Charles Shannon who was Charles Ricketts' boyfriend and whose bulldog crapped behind Gertrude Stein's couch), a young white artist (himself an outsider in the black community), saw Traylor at work and started buying his paintings, giving him poster paints and supplies.

By 1939 Traylor had rheumatic pains in his hands, but still managed to create at least 1200 art works in the next 4 years. When Shannon gave him new poster board, Traylor set it aside for a spell to "cure," so that it would acquire rips and stains like the old discarded poster backs he liked to use, responding to the "smudges, cracks, stains and the irregular shapes" they contained in his drawing (p. 32). Despite their broad appeal his images are not cute and delightful in a decorative way, but rather uneasy and show a lot of fearfulness. A bird (chicken?) eyes a giant bug; men party and drink but they are standing on a very precipitous roof. He portrayed his own world, but parallels can be seen to the work of Chagall early or Matisse late.

Bill Traylor, "Figures, Construction" ca. 1940-2, watercolor & graphite on cardboard, 13 x 7 ins. (Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts)

Then in 1942 Shannon was drafted into the army. Traylor visited his family in Detroit but lost a leg to gangrene. Any further work he did in the remaining 7 years of his life has been lost. He died in a nursing home.

Some of his surviving work, which Shannon took to New York, was even offered to the major dealers in Outsider art. Frank Maresca & Roger Ricco hesitated and missed the boat, as they ruefully noted in Bill Traylor: his art, his life (Knopf, 1991), which includes a long interview with Shannon. Fortunately, two collections of Traylor's surviving art ended up being donated to two museums: the High Museum of Art in Atlanta (35 drawings) and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts (31 drawings) who sponsored this joint exhibition and catalogue of their holdings.

Since the outlines of Traylor's life have been given in earlier monographs, this catalogue focuses on the condition and conservation of the surviving work, mostly done in fugitive media such as wax crayon or poster paint on acidic recycled cardboard, all of which are archivally problematic.

The soundtrack to Traylor's life would have been Louis Armstrong's Hot Fives, Duke Ellington, Erskine Hawkins, and the rural blues of Alabama and the Mississippi delta, as Phil Patton pointed out in his catalogue essay "High Singing Blue" (New York, Hirschl & Adler Modern, 1997, which was reprinted in the essential Deep Blues catalogue, Yale University Press, 1999). The blues are deep and moody, but Traylor opted for a bright cobalt blue that truly electrifies some of his paintings. 

Bill Traylor, "Untitled" ca. 1939-42, poster paint & pencil on cardboard, 13.25 x 7.25 ins. (High Museum of Art)

Many commentators and curators have tried to explain the symbolism of Traylor's work through references to Voudou ("Dancing man in top hat" as Baron Samedi?), African cosmology, the plantation, jazz & blues improvisation, and so forth. This new book suggests in a more down-to-earth way, that many of the abstract shapes can be explained by the environment of downtown Montgomery. Fred Baron and Jeffrey Wolf (in the key essay here) explain the allusions to a monumental fountain, a large 4-faced clock, and the capitol building that recur as abstract motifs in Traylor's work. In one image (shown in Deep Blues, cat no 37) a man is seen toting the "fountain" on his back, to remind us that so much was constructed "off the backs of blacks," as Linton Kwesi Johnson put it.

Bill Traylor, "Untitled" ca. 1939-42, poster paint & pencil on cardboard, 13 x 11.25 ins. (High Museum of Art)

Traylor's paintings are narratives, but they also enact rituals, like the cave painters in the Dordogne Valley who visualized the aurochs getting speared before they went out to hunt it. Snakes, owls, dogs, men with sticks, thieves, cripples, attack dogs, smokers & drinkers, populate his imagery. His work is untitled (mainly because he could barely write) but Shannon added titles, calling quite a few of them "Exciting event." (Exciting event with keg," "Exciting event with animals," "Brown house with exciting event," "Exciting event: blue man, snake.") This new book is another "Exciting event" — with visionary black man and blue paint.

The production of the hardback catalogue is exemplary, from the design by Zach Hooker to the typesetting, to the printing by Shenzhen in China.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Louisa May Alcott On "The Girl Question," Etc.

by Stephen J. Gertz

A two-page, four-sided autograph letter signed by Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) recently came into the marketplace and immediately left after $4,500 changed hands.

Dated December 30th but without noted year, reference to a recorded  engagement/marriage dates it to 1881, later in Alcott's life, when, as a semi-invalid, she cared for her niece, Louisa, after her sister, May, died in childbirth in 1879. Here referred to as "the precious baby," Alcott is on guard: measles is sweeping through her neighborhood.

Good help, as always, is hard to find, and Alcott devotes attention to "the girl question," seeking  trustworthy and reliable domestic help.

Sickness and poor weather occupy her thoughts but do not prevent Alcott from expressing with delightfully sharp sarcasm her dubious opinion of a friend's belief in the healing properties of homeopathic medicine. Nor on Concord's less than thrilling cultural milieu: a pastry made from coffee grounds is declared to be "the next maddeningly exciting event in Concord." A woman of enormous mental energy her boredom is evident, her wry, ironic wit is palpable.
                                                                                                December 30th

Dear Mrs. Talbot

Much obliged for your reply on the girl question.

I had already been to Hollis St. to look up a woman who advertised. She was gone, but another was found who had a good character & and sent me to her last misses to confirm it. So she is to try for a week & if she suits 'all is quiet on the Potomac,' for a time at least.

If she doesn't suit and your girl is still to be had I shall be glad to try her. This domestic upheaval has prevented my running over to see how you were. Better I hope. The weather is not just what one wants for invalids but it's better than the warm damp days we have had.

Poor Mrs. Willis is enjoying measles & very sore throats, & neighbors all bout are in like case, so I mount guard over the precious baby as I don't want her to add any other worry to the teething trial.

Can't Dr. Solhal [?] invent something to make the ---- [pain?] easier?

Wish I had a million for the Hospital Mrs. Willis said yesterday, 'Well if my sore throat does prove to be diptheria I shall go at once to the Homeopathic Hospital & there I shall be taken good care of.' "Hear, hear," says I, and Mrs. Willis said no more about her homeopathic messes in which she firmly believes.

Mrs. Hosmer dined with me today looking very tired after a long spell of nursing, for Florence has been very ill with the poor eyes and does not leave her room yet. A ground coffee pastry is the next maddeningly exciting event in Concord.

Did you know that [Samuel] Ripley Bartlett was engaged to [Eva] Myrtle Whitcomb? Also Sallie Bartlett has a son. These thrilling facts are all the news I have to offer.

Hope you like rambling notes for here is a pleasing mixture. Love to the lads & lasses & much to yourself.

                                                             Yours truly,

The Mrs. Talbot that Alcott here wrote to was Emily Fairbanks Talbot (1834-1900), a philanthropist, and, with her husband, Dr. Israel Tisdale Talbot, a homeopathic physician (the practice of which Alcott here scorned) and dean of Boston University's School of Medicine, was a contemporary proponent of women's suffrage, a goal which Alcott shared and championed. 

Signed letters written in Alcott's  hand are not rare; twenty-nine examples have come to auction since 1976. But they remain highly desirable and prices continue to rise. This letter, for instance, was last seen at auction thirty years ago, on April 15, 1982, when it fetched a mere $95 at Hamilton's.

ALCOTT, Louis May. Two-page, four-sided Autograph Letter Signed (ALs). Paper measures 9 x 7 inches. Date December 30, [1881].

Images courtesy of Aleph-Bet Books, with our thanks.

Of related interest:

Sisters in Opium: Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Louisa May Alcott.

When "Little Women" And "Little Men" Get Together, Hubba-Hubba.

Friday, September 21, 2012

From Buckingham Palace to History's Dustbin

by Alastair Johnston

I am often surprised how some people, well-known in their lifetime, disappear so thoroughly from history. Even in the bibliophilic world I inhabit, where astonishing work has been done to extract marginal figures, like type-cutters, engravers and printers, from the dustbin of time, I constantly come across people who are as elusive today as they were ubiquitous in their day. Step out of the stacks towards politicians and other actors and you fall over insignificant people who strutted or fretted on the world's stage leaving a trail of newsprint.

William Marshall Craig (1750?–1828), Moroccan Slipper vendor, from Itinerant Traders of London in their Ordinary Costume, London: Richard Phillips, 1804

Despite being a celebrated artist and prolific book illustrator, William Marshall Craig is a sketchy figure in the history of British art. He may even have been two people: a father and son sharing the same name. His father (assuming he is a whole man and not Senior and Junior) was an Edinburgh merchant and his mother was Mary, sister of James Thomson, the poet and author of The Seasons, who also wrote the lyrics to “Rule Britannia.” William’s brother James was the architect who transformed Edinburgh into “the Athens of the North” at the turn of the nineteenth century, along with Robert Adam. Their maternal grandfather, Thomas Thomson, was a Presbyterian minister who died performing an exorcism. Craig’s date of birth is usually given as 1765 but I believe it had to be around 1750. He died in 1828 (not 1827 or 1835 as commonly stated). I searched for him in the Guildhall archives in London and, with the help of newspaper morgues and genealogy websites, managed to put together something of a family tree, but there were many loose ends that did not tie up.

Craig's rise to high society was pretty rapid. He moved from Manchester to London and his artistic talents were immediately recognized. As a polemicist he took on John Gilpin, writing a rebuttal to Gilpin’s Essay on the Art of Sketching Landscape, which he characterized as "truth sacrificed on all occasions." In 1793 William Bulmer printed Craig's Essay on the Study of Nature in Drawing Landscape.

Craig exhibited at the Royal Academy and produced portraits of many nobles and notables. In 1800 his Complete Instructor in Drawing was published, and he was appointed painter in watercolours to the Queen and drawing master to Princess Charlotte of Wales. In 1804, one of Craig’s major works, Itinerant Traders of London in their Ordinary Costume, was published by Richard Phillips. The plates were reused in another book titled Modern London.

William Marshall Craig (1750?–1828), Temple of the Fairies, London: Vernor & Hood, 1804

The same year saw The Temple of the Fairies, translated from Le Cabinet des Fées of Marie Catherine d'Aulnoy, appear from Vernor and Hood in 2 volumes, with Craig’s wonderful illustrations engraved by Lee (Volume 2 can be browsed here), and also The Wreath — children’s stories written and illustrated by Craig, dedicated to the 8-year-old Princess.

William Marshall Craig (1750?–1828), The Wreath, London: Bensley, for the Author, 1804

The 36 wood engravings in The Wreath, including initial letters, were executed by Lee (John Lee died in 1804 so it’s either his final work, or else it was the work of his 25-year-old son James Lee). Craig drew directly on the engraver's blocks with ink and wash. (He and John Thurston were considered the top artists on wood for engravers: Thomas Bewick and Richard T. Austin also cut following his work.) The book was printed for the author and Lee, and for Harris, a bookseller, by Thomas Bensley, who has not achieved the status of his rival William Bulmer, but was certainly one of the finest printers in London, along with Charles Whittingham. It must have been a success because a second edition was printed soon after, retitled A Wreath for the Brow of Youth.

William Marshall Craig (1750?–1828), A Wreath for the Brow of Youth, London: Thomas Bensley for the Author, 1804
From 1806 to 08, Vernor, Hood & Sharpe published Craig's series of engraved portraits of nobility. He also illustrated the part-work Beauties of England and Wales (1801–16), issued by the same firm.

Craig retranslated Cervantes' Galatea; a Pastoral Romance (1813), from a French edition; it was illustrated with woodcuts executed by his son Frederick. Craig published three more books on art technique: Instructions for Drawing and Understanding the Human Figure (1816), Treatise on the Art of Painting (1817), and Course of Lectures on Drawing, Painting & Engraving (1821).

It's all the more remarkable that he is a forgotten man when you consider his place in the royal household. He was close to the Queen and the young Princess Charlotte, next in line to the throne. (He called his own daughter Charlotte and even lived on Charlotte street: you can see he was afflicted with Charlotte Fever.) But Princess Charlotte was a pawn in the struggle between the ailing George III and his profligate son who had been forced into a marriage with her mother, Caroline, to annul his debts. As the only legitimate daughter of George IV, Princess Charlotte was in line for the throne but after a forced marriage and two miscarriages, she died in childbirth, aged 21, on 6 November 1817. The shock to the nation was unequalled until the death of another Princess of Wales, Diana, 180 years later. When her mother, the Queen, died a year later, Craig sat down and wrote his memoirs of the royal family, which was published a month later as Memoir of Her Majesty Sophia Charlotte, of Mecklenburg Strelitz, Queen of Great Britain (Liverpool: Caxton Press, 1818).

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Great Literary Faces 1938-1939

by Stephen J. Gertz
 "For a writer, his portrait is the only link he can establish with his readers. When we read a book whose content moves us, we are interested to look at the author's face, which is generally printed on the jacket since the publisher is aware of our wish to see if these features correspond to the idea we have formed of the author. This image is thus very important to the man of letters. He prefers a photographer in whom he can have confidence" (from Gisèle Freund: Photographer, 1985).
Simone de Beauvoir.

In 1977, German-born French photographer Gisele Freund (c.1908/12-2000) revisited portraits of ten men and women of letters, who originally sat for her in 1938-1939, for an edition limited to thirty-six copies of her work, Au pays de visages.

The writers were Colette, Virginia Woolf, André Gide, James Joyce,  Jean Cocteau, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sarte, André Malraux, Vita Sackville-West, and Silvia Beach's companion,  the poet, publisher, and proprietor of the famed bookshop La Maison des Amis des Livres (1915-1951), Adrienne Monnier.


Freund printed the portraits using the dye-transfer process developed by Technicolor in 1928 and refined by them in 1932. Labor and time intensive, the process results in extraordinarily beautiful hues that can be hotly vivid or possess muted richness as no other; it is intense. Color photographs using the dye-transfer process are instantly recognizable as such, as are movies photographed in Technicolor.

James Joyce.

Gisele Freund was born into a Jewish family in Schöneberg, near Berlin. In 1928, her father bought her a Leica. She liked it and pursued photography as a hobby while studying sociology and literature. Some hobby: when the Nazis came to power the Freunds left Germany with Gisele smuggling out the portraits she had made of Hitler's political victims.

She studied at the Sorbonne and played chess with Walter Benjamin, who, while she was writing her dissertation, La Photographie en France au dix-neuvième siècle, at the Bibliothéque National,  was  also there, writing a study of Baudelaire. Her dissertation was published by Adrienne Monnier, who, along with Sylvia Beach, introduced Gisele to Paris' literary circle.

Virginia Woolf, in her London house, 1939.
She never saw the portrait, and later called Gisele a "devil woman."

After the war, Gisele worked as a free-lancer for Magnum Photos. Legendary photo-journalist Robert  "if your photographs aren't good enough you're not close enough" Capa, who had co-founded Magnum, told her "If you want to make money, give up your job as a reporter. It will earn you a good living, but you'll never get rich." 

During the 1970s, Gisele Freund toured Japan, the Near East, and the U.S., where, in 1977 K&S Laboratories in Chicago printed these great portraits, amongst the many dye-transfer photographs she took of writers and artists in pre-war Paris.

FREUND, Gisele. Au pays des visages. Washington D.C.: [Harry H. Lunn Jr], 1977. One of thirty numbered copies of a total edition of thirty-six. Folio. Ten original dye transfer photographs, each signed by the artist in ink, and each loosely mounted (with hinged corners) on large rag mats. 

Images courtesy of Ars Libri Ltd, currently offering this title, with our thanks.

Monday, September 17, 2012

My Kingdom for a Hoax

by Alastair Johnston

Shakespeare's Richard the Third left us a few memorable phrases that have been delivered by everyone from Larry Olivier in a wig and mascara to Al Pacino in a backward baseball cap (but resisting the Brooklyn accent that would have made the king Richard da Turd), from Ian McKellen in jazz era Fascist drag to prize ham Richard Dreyfus in The Goodbye Girl, to Peter Cook in Black Adder. Richard the Third was even filmed thrice in the silent film era. Everyone knows, "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse"; the opening lines are also familiar:

Now is the winter of our discontent
made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds, that lowr'd upon our house,
In the deep bosom of the ocean bury'd.

The opening of Richard the Third in the First Folio of Shakespeare, 1623

In December 1960 my father was pleased to note a sign of literacy in Britain when a camping & sporting goods store ran an ad reading, "Now is the winter of our discount tents." But Shakespeare played fast and loose with the saga of this king, making him more of a Quentin Tarantino anti-hero than a real historical figure. He telescoped the action, making Richard's rise to the throne seem an overnight trajectory, though the time between Henry VI's murder (by his successor Edward IV) and funeral (1471), Clarence's imprisonment in the Tower (1477), to the Battle of Bosworth (1485), was fourteen years. 

The play was (probably) written and first performed in 1597. Shakespeare seems to have ignored published historical sources, but subsequently his version of the story has been taken as factual. The murder of Clarence (stabbed and drowned in a butt of malmsey) was pinned on Richard by the Lancastrians without much evidence. The princes in the Tower may have been killed by orders of Henry VII. Who knows? Did Prince Philip order the murder of Princess Diana for sleeping with Arab playboys?

Dr Johnson thought the play was overrated and Shakespeare "praised most, when praise is not most deserved; some parts are trifling, some shocking and some improbable."

Boydell's Shakspeare, 1803. Steevens' third edition, but a monumental work in English publishing. Printed by William Bulmer at the Shakspeare Printing-Office on Whatman paper and illustrated with numerous engravings. Reproduced from Peter Isaac's William Bulmer: the fine printer in context (London: Bain & Williams, 1993)

But George Steevens, Shakespeare's great editor, understood the secret of the play's success: it was an ideal role for actors like Burbage or Garrick because it showed a gamut of emotions from hero to lover, statesman to buffoon, from hypocrite to repenting sinner.

It was only a generation after Richard that Henry VIII sacked the monasteries in 1538. There was a free-for-all as the high-living priests were stripped of their accumulated wealth and luxuries, books, jewels and the like, while religious icons were smashed and destroyed, even graves were robbed. And the last Plantagenet King was forgotten — apart from a minor play. We know from Shakespeare that Richard's personal avatar was a boar.

The wretched, bloody, and usurping boar,
That spoil'd your summer fields and fruitful vines,
Swills your warm blood like wash, and makes his trough
In your embowell'd bosoms...

Things took an odd turn in May 2010 when someone with a metal detector found a silver boar pin and decided they had found the true site of the battle of Bosworth Field. Some coincidence. Like walking in Giza and stubbing your toe on an ankh ornament inscribed KLPTR in hieroglyphics. Even more coincidental is the discovery of the site of Greyfriars under a parking lot in Leicester (after others had searched for centuries), ten days ago, and, in less than a week, archaeologists had dug a trench, found the garden of alderman Robert Herrick (not that Robert Herrick) which had been located on the site, and soon hit upon the exact spot where the King was wrapped in a shroud and buried humbly over 500 years ago. Perhaps the posthumous saga of Richard 3 is a bit too Hollywood to be believed.

Many people have wondered what happened to the king after his death at the battle of Bosworth Field. Henry VII, not a pretty figure himself, didn't want him becoming sanctified, which might have happened if he had been returned to York and buried in the majestic minster there, so, after his naked corpse was paraded through Leicester (not as a warning to his followers, but to establish definitively his demise), he was turned over to some friars for a quiet interment. Bin Ladin disposal — burial at sea — wasn't thought of as an option.

York Minster (construction started in 627 C.E., still ongoing)

So the legendary King rises from the grave. It's better than Dracula! Today's news is that Richard wasn't a hunchback but had scoliosis — curvature of the spine — that made his right shoulder higher. He had an arrow in his back and an ax or sword blow to the skull that had finished him off. Maybe his last thought was "A hearse, a hearse! My kingdom for a hearse..." It's an incredible story, but could it be a hoax? We won't know until DNA tests are completed in a month or so, but it does seem as though they've found the ambitious duke who laid waste all rivals for the throne. If only the House of Windsor (né Battenberg) were so lively, instead of the sullen German upstarts they continue to be.

Shakespeare himself was almost lost to history, partly due to debased editions of his works but also perpetual copyright laws prevented their circulation. In 1680 one Crowne took Shakespeare's Henry VI, retitled the work The Miseries of Civil War, and claimed it as his own. Shakespeare's revival was due to Elizabethan scholar George Steevens, who restored the plays, and, since Steevens's re-edition, they have been continually performed and admired throughout the English-speaking world.

Steveens' edition, reprinted by Bensley in 1805, with a vignette after John Thurston, engraved by Charlton Nesbit: "Wisdom recovers from the grip of Time the laurels of which he had despoiled the tomb of Shakspeare."

Oddly, Steevens himself was involved in a hoax about another dead English monarch, the obscure Hardicanute. Steevens' dad was a director of the East India Company and young George had everything: "Every luxury was lavished on you — atheism, breast-feeding, circumcision." Well perhaps not as luxurious as Joe Orton's character — but he went to Eton and King's College, Cambridge. Then, with all the ease of a young gentleman born to a life of reading, dropped out of college. His life of privilege continued in a house on Hampstead Heath where he built a library of Elizabethan literature and collected Hogarths. He made daily rounds of the London bookshops and then came back to Hampstead to discuss his finds with his pal, Isaac Reed.

1803 stereotype edition of Steevens' Shakespeare, issued by Isaac Reed

In 1773 he produced his ten-volume Shakspeare. It was so good Dr Johnson deigned to add his name to the edition, though he didn't contribute much. But soon Edmond Malone and others muscled in on Steevens' turf so he turned his energies to subversion. While he was one of the first to expose the Chatterton-Rowley forgeries, and knew right off that William Henry Ireland's Shakespeare manuscripts were fakes, he also wrote a fictitious account of the Javanese upas tree, derived from the writing of an (imaginary) Dutch traveller (shades of Psalmanazaar). The Irelands' Shakespeare manuscripts had fooled a lot of people for a long time and certainly made an impact.

Reed published a new edition of Steevens' Shakespeare in 1785. At that point Steevens felt his authority had been usurped, so to reassert himself he created variorum editions, adding many valuable passages from Shakespeare's contemporaries to his notes.

Steevens last spectacular hoax was that of Hardicanute's tombstone. (A similar trick was pulled off in 1936 when members of the E Clampus Vitus fraternity conspired to plant the "Plate of Brasse" along the Northern California shoreline to give credibility to the notion that Francis Drake had anchored in Bolinas lagoon, or nearby, in his world tour of 1579. The perpetrators knew that Herbert Bolton, Director of the Bancroft Library at U C Berkeley, was desperately seeking the plate, so obliged him by planting a fake that was considered authentic for 40 years.)

Steevens's stunt was to get back at another Hogarth collector who had some early works that Steevens coveted, but who snubbed his advances for a trade. The Society of Antiquaries fell for the ruse, that a stone monument to King Hardaknut had been unearthed in the London suburb of Kennington, and the Gentleman's Magazine published this etching [above] of the inscription in Anglo-Saxon (concocted by Steevens). Son of King Canute, Hardy was another murderous monarch who eliminated rivals, taxed the bejesus out of his serfs, and when they objected, razed their cities. But right away someone noticed the etching technique of the inscription was modern, so the hoax didn't fly. 

Was Steevens malicious, or just a wry guy having fun at others' expense? I think the latter. And he had spent long hours poring over manuscripts and early printed books, reading "for my sake" and seeing "for my fake" over and over.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Poetry In Larvae: The Love Songs of Walter Garstang

by Stephen J. Gertz

After dinner and drinks you've charmed your prospective lover to come up to your place for "a cup of coffee."

You dim the lights, ignite the fireplace, cue Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. The two of you settle down in front of the fire.  You make your move and open a volume of verse you keep nearby for such occasions and begin to read aloud.

The Veliger's a lively tar, the liveliest afloat,
A whirling wheel on either side propels his little boat;
But when the danger signal warns his bustling submarine,
He stops the engine, shuts the port, and drops below unseen.

Thus begins The Ballad of the Veliger or How the Gastropod Got Its Twist by Walter Garstang, and if you've invested your recitation with the seductive baritone verve of Barry White you'll be able to drop below unseen, work your bustling submarine,  get your gastropod's groove back, and win your heart's desire.

Perhaps her swoon was underwhelming. Double-down with this kinky paean to Eros:

Oikopleura, masquerading as larval Ascidian,

Spins a jelly-bubble-house about its meridian:

His tail, doubled under, creates a good draught,

that drives water forward and sucks it in aft.

If that ode to  Oikopleura doesn't warm her she's an invaginate gastrula, will flee like a gazelle chased by cheetah, and you'll sleep alone.

One of the more unusual volumes in the annals of poetry, Larval Forms by Walter Garstang (1868-1949), is a collection posthumously published in 1951 that includes these salutes to marine invertebrates:

• The Amphiblastula and the Origin of Sponges
• The Invaginate Gastrula and the Planula
• The Origin of Cnidoblasts and Cnidozoa
• Conaria and Co.
• Mülleria and the Ctenophore
• The Onchosphere
• The Trochophores
• Mitraria's Fan Dance
• The Ballad of the Veliger, or How the Gastropod got its Twist
• Echinospira's Double Shell
• The Nauplius and the Protaspis
• Kentrogon
• Isopod Phylogeny
• The Millipede's Egg-tooth
• Actinotrocha
• Cyphonautes
• Echinoderm Larvae and the Origin of Quinqueradial Symmetry
• The Pentacrinule
• Tornaria's Water-Works
• Oikopleura, Jelly-builder
• The Ancestry of Vertebrates
• Leptocephalus brevirostris, the Larva of the Eel
• The Axolotl and the Ammocoete
• An Oceanographer's Dream
• To a Herring Gull

The poems cleverly limn the form, function and development of various larval invertebrates as well as illustrate some of the contemporary controversies in evolutionary biology.  The Ballad of the Veliger is Garstang's most well-known poem, originally privately published in a small edition in 1928 and distributed to fellow members of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom.

Walter Garstang.

 During his career "Garstang made fundamental contributions to biological theory...and for more than half a century was one of the outstanding personalities of British zoology" (Obituary, Journal of the Marine Biological Assoc. of the U.K., Vol 29, No. 3, 1951).

To a Herring Gull originally appeared in the Oxford Magazine, February 6, 1920. It is clearly not about a marine invertebrate; marine birds were another interest of Garstang's. It is not to be confused with To a Schmaltz Herring, Chaim Yonkel's ode to Clupeidae filleted and preserved in brine and brown sugar and rendered in chicken or goose fat; the Jewish food with magical aphrodisiac powers typically employed when The Ballad of the Veliger fails to inspire oomph when the Sabbath ends on Saturday night and foreplay begins.

Tornaria's Water-Works is, as you've likely guessed, Garstang's retelling of the myth of Niobe from the perspective of a marine invertebrate that eventually metamorphoses into a worm. Read it and weep.

GARSTANG, Walter. Larval Forms, with Other Zoological Verses. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1951. First edition. Octavo. 85 pp. Illustrated. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

William Heath On Womens Hats and Fashion Madness, Part II

by Stephen J. Gertz

Ganging to the Kirk.

In William Heath on Womens Hats and Fashion Madness Part I we discussed Heath's career. Now we continue our survey of Heath's prints for the album compilation, A Selection of Humorous Engravings, Caricatures &c. by Various Artists, Selected and Arranged by Thomas McLean, a collection of unsold prints, 1827-1829, issued by McLean and likely unique.

The Bustle!!! No date.

At this point, I'll get out of the way and allow Heath  to do the talking through these delightful caricatures.

Unpleasant Occurrences.
You Dropped This Here Thingumbob, Marm…
- Oh dear, it's my bustle. No date.

A Correct View of the New Machine for Winding Up the Ladies. N.D.

Quadrille – Evening Fashions –
Dedicated to the Heads of the Nation. No date.

The Dress Circle –
This is all very well for the folks in the front seats. No date.

Sketches of Character No. 3.
Do You Please To Have Your Bed Warmed, Sir? No date.

Finally, Heath slyly bids us adieu with a delightfully ambiguous print about a maid and the man of the house.

[HEATH, William, R. Seymour, R. Cruikshank, M. Egerton]. A Selection of Humorous Engravings, Caricatures &c. by Various Artists, Selected and Arranged by Thomas McLean. London: Thomas McLean, n.d. [1827-29].

Folio (19 1/4 x 14 in; 488 x353 mm). Engraved title page, and fifty-nine hand-colored engraved plates each window-pane mounted on heavy stock. Fifty-one are by William Heath; three are by Robert Seymour (two of which are signed "Shortshanks"); one by Michael Egerton (M.E.); one by Robert Cruikshank; and three are unsigned.

Of related interest:

William Heath On Womens Hats and Fashion Madness, Part I.

Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

William Heath On Womens Hats and Fashion Madness, Part I

by Stephen J. Gertz

Modern Oddities by P. Pry (W. Heath). Plate 1st.
The Sleeves Curiously Cut. June 30, 1829

A singular collection of vividly colored, vividly satiric prints on Regency England fashions for women recently fell under my eyes and I nearly fell over.

The Beau Monde. July 6, 1829.

It was a spectacular compilation of hand-colored prints issued by the foremost English publisher of political and social satire, Thomas McLean, with outstanding compositions by William Heath  (fifty-two of fifty-nine) that lampoon London fashion, society, and characters in a manner that not only rivals his contemporary, Geo. Cruikshank, but, in the broad, burlesque exaggeration of the fashion plates, exceeds him, and, significantly, avoids the grotesquery that Cruikshank often wallows in; Heath  was clearly amused by his subjects, Cruikshank often harshly cynical.

The Fashion Behind But Not Behind the Fashion. May 1829.

William Heath (aka by pseudonym Paul Pry, 1794/5–1840), caricaturist and illustrator, was born in Northumbria. "Assuming that the particulars in his obituary notice in the Gentleman's Magazine are correct, Heath was only fourteen when his first satirical prints were published in 1809. Although he continued to etch occasional caricatures over the next fifteen years, he was principally occupied in illustrating books, mainly on military themes...

A Dessert Imitation of Modern Fashion. No date.

"When the demand for military prints declined in the 1820s Heath reverted to caricatures, published either as individual prints or as sets, and soon established himself in a leading position. In 1825–6 Heath was in Scotland, writing and illustrating the first magazine in the world to be given over, predominantly, to caricatures. The Glasgow Looking Glass...

Abroad Pt 1st. A La Mode 1829.

"Heath returned to London in 1827 and for the next two years was the leading caricaturist, prolific alike in social and political satire. In 1827 he started to sign his prints with a little drawing of the actor Liston in the role of Paul Pry, a character who interfered in other peoples' business in John Poole's eponymous comedy (1825). However the Paul Pry device attracted plagiarists on such a scale that in 1829, having complained on a caricature of a ‘dirty rogue’ who was ‘robbing us of our ideas and just profit', he abandoned it...

 Making a Lancer. No date.

"When on 1 January 1830 Thomas McLean, the leading purveyor of comic art, launched a monthly magazine of caricatures, available in plain and hand-coloured versions, called the Looking Glass, he advertised it as having been ‘drawn and etched’ by ‘William Heath’ for whom he acted as ‘sole Publisher’. Clearly Heath's name was the selling point, yet after seven issues he was replaced by Robert Seymour. Perhaps McLean felt that Seymour's lithographs better expressed the new spirit of delicacy to which he was attuning himself. Or perhaps he had become exasperated by Heath's ‘careless habits - drink, debts and unpunctuality’...In any event, after 1830 Heath's output of caricatures declined rapidly...The Gentleman's Magazine recorded that on 7 April 1840 ‘William Heath, artist’ died at ‘Hampstead, London, aged 45’" (Oxford DNB).

Opera Reminiscences Pl 2. Hat Boxes. July 14, 1829.

Here, McLean has gathered together unsold prints with a specially produced undated and generic title-page. While I cannot warrant it, this album appears to be a unique, McLean, presumably, using the title-page for ad hoc compilations as the need arose to move merchandise otherwise moribund.

The overwhelming majority of these prints appear under Heath's pseudonym, Paul Pry, identified by the tiny vignette device in the lower left (sometimes right) corner of each print, the figure often  commenting upon the content.

[HEATH, William, R. Seymour, R. Cruikshank, M. Egerton,  A Selection of Humorous Engravings, Caricatures &c. by Various Artists, Selected and Arranged by Thomas McLean. London: Thomas McLean, n.d. [1827-29].

Folio (19 1/4 x 14 in; 488 x353 mm). Engraved title page, and fifty-nine hand-colored engraved plates each window-pane mounted on heavy stock. Fifty-one are by William Heath; three are by Robert Seymour (two of which are signed "Shortshanks"); one by Michael Egerton (M.E.); one by Robert Cruikshank; and three are unsigned.

More in Part II.

Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.
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