Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Garvarni's Women In Lace

by Stephen J. Gertz


In 1844, Joseph Méry published Les Parures (The Ornaments) and Les Joyaux (The Jewels), each a "Fantasie par Gavarni," the two volumes graced with a total of thirty-two engravings by Paul Gavarni (1804-1866), the great French caricaturist and artist. A special and now quite rare issue of the volumes was simultaneously published, the steel engravings printed and delicately colored on paper with borders cut to various lace patterns, or decoupes en dentelles (cut lace), commonly known as doilies.

Schall (shawl)

Gordon Ray, author of The Art of the French Illustrated Book 1700 To 1914, only had a copy of the ordinary issue, but noted that the special edition was far more appealing, and believed that by presenting the plates in this stylish manner "Gavarni's designs become fashion plates of the first order."

Yes, the engravings depict costumes and fashions but are as much about the women as their clothing. An image of a Oriental woman in repose while smoking a hashish pipe is not about her manner of dress, exotic as it is. As captioned, the moon doesn't have to hit your eye like a big pizza pie to know that's L'Amore. And when an exotically clad Eastern woman is posed with her décolletage on vivid display, the rockets red glare, breasts bursting in air to give proof through the night, it ain't about her turban, despite the caption. This is oh la la, Paris, 1844. If it has yet become clear, The Ornaments and The Jewels do not refer to adornments for women but to the women themselves


Paul Gavarni was the nom d'art of Sulpice Guillaume Chevalier. His rise to fame coincided with that of Charles Philipon (1800-1861), the Parisian publisher whose satirical newspapers featured sharp lithographed caricatures with pointed captions (written by Philipon) that often became the subject of the French authorities attention; politics in France at this time was often chaotic.

The plates were engraved by Charles Michel Geoffroy (1819-1882) based upon Gavarni's designs.

La Mantille

Gavarni's work for Philipon humorously essayed the most striking characteristics, foibles and vices of the various classes of French society, in the same vein as Henry Monnier, who also worked for Philipon. Indeed, Philipon discovered and fostered the careers of many of Paris's finest young artists.

Though issued separately, the two books are considered a set but as such are scarce, particularly in this, the special issue. "La reunion des deux ouvrages avec les gravures marges de dentelles est assez rare rencontrer" (Carteret).

A beautiful set of the special issue of Les Parures and Les Joyaux has recently come into the marketplace.

[GAVARNI]. MÉRY, Joseph. Les parures. Fantaisie par Gavarni. Texte par Méry. Histoire de la mode par le Cte. Foelix. (Perles et Parures). Paris: G. De Gonet, n.d. [1844]. Quarto. [2], 300pp. Frontispiece and fifteen steel engraved hors texte plates by Geoffroy after Gavarni, the whole finished by hand in colors, and the plates themselves printed on doilies tipped onto pink guards, the pink visible throughout the elaborately full percaline, elaborately gilt and colored with designs on both covers and spine.  Publisher’s original full percaline. All edges gilt.

Together with:

[GAVARNI]. MÉRY, Joseph. Les joyaux. Fantaisie par Gavarni. Texte par Méry. Minéralogie des dames par Cte. Foelix. (Perles et Parues.) Paris: G. De Gonet, n.d. [1844]. [2], 316pp. Frontispiece and 16 steel-engraved hors texte plates by Geoffroy after Gavarni, each finished by hand in colors, and the plates printed on doilies in the same format as the above volume. Publisher’s original full percaline. All edges gilt.

Carteret III.461; Ray 209a-210; Sander 468

Images courtesy of Ars Libri Ltd, currently offering these volumes, with our thanks.

Of Related Interest:

Gavarni's Paris Mornings and Mailbox.

Deceit They Name Is Woman, Thy Name Is Delilah!

How Did Hand-Colorists in the Past Know What Colors To Use?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Parrots Found In Rare Book On German Birds: The Writing Parrot Squawks

by Stephen J. Gertz
On command (his to me) once more, today's guest blogger is Albert the Writing Parrot, a thirty-five year old Yellow-Naped Amazon, Booktryst's mascot, my ward since his five-months old birthday, and, pathetically, my most successful long-term relationship. He knows more about parrot books than I do. If his writing voice sounds similar to mine do not be surprised. He is, after all, a parrot  - SJG.
Psittacus Albini
(Cacatua galerita fitzroy)
Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo.

Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather: parrots in the Fatherland.

Greetings, bibliophiles and parrot-freaks, I'm Albert, the Yellow-Naped Amazon, who was once given a pen to render into plastic confetti but discovered, to my amazement and Gertz's, that when held in zygodactyl foot made comprehensible prose when applied to a sheet of paper  provided for my amusement. No bird-brain, I picked-up a thing or two while reading the newspaper on the bottom of my cage despite its crude punctuation with the end product of digestion.

Psittacus Rufus vertice nigro
(Lorius Domicellus)
Purple-Capped Lory

The other day Gertz presented me with another rare antiquarian book on birds for review, Vorstellung der Vögel in Deutschland und beiläufig auch einiger Fremden nach ihrer Eigenschaften beschrieben by Johann Leonhard Frisch (1666-1743).  It's a book on the birds of Germany originally published in Berlin, 1733, and issued in parts at irregular intervals over the next thirty years, the final section published in 1763. It’s considered to be the first great German color-plate bird book. Gertz brought home a copy of the third and most complete edition, a folio of fourteen parts in one volume issued 1817-1820 with 255 gorgeous hand-colored plates.

Psittacus viridis alis capite liteo
(Amazona barbadensis barbadensis)
Yellow-Shouldered Amazon

A book on the birds of Germany. What, you may ask, are parrots doing in this otherwise delightful strudel in print? Exotic, tropical birds like parrots are typically found in Central and South America, the Caribbean, India, the South Pacific (where they engage in Happy Talk on Bali Hai-Ai-Ai), parts of Africa, or as escapees on the lam in Southern California and San Francisco. Sightings in the Black Forest, Bavaria, Brandenburg, Bad Arolsen, Bad Bentheim, Bad Bergzabern, Bad Berka, Bad Berleburg, Bad Berneck im Fichtelgebirge, Bad Bevensen, Bad Blankenburg, Bad Bramstedt, Bad Breisig, Bad Brückenau, Bad Camberg, Bad Colberg-Heldburg, and Bad Düben through Bad Wünnerberg are non-existent. Yes, there's a whole lotta Bad in Germany but it's not as bad as it seems, though hamburgers in Heidelberg are nothing to write home about. As a natural habitat for parrots, however, it's definitely the opposite of good. I was once there in January and froze my pecker off. A bird that can't peck soon goes hungry but what bird eats blechküchen, anyway? Gott in Himmel! Gimme a bagel with a shmear of cream cheese.

Psittacus veridis fronte albo collo rubro

But enough about brunch at Nate n' Al's in Beverly Hills with a flock of ancient Hollywood dodos gumming schmaltz herring.

So, anyway, German linguist, entomologist and ornithologist Johann Leonhard Frisch began to publish Vorstellung der Vögel in Deutschland und beiläufig auch einiger Fremden nach ihrer Eigenschaften beschrieben in 1733. Following his death, the book was continued by his sons Leopold, who handled the text, and Ferdinand Helfreich and Philip Jakob who took care of the engraving and coloring of the plates, while a member of the third generation, Johann’s grandson Johann Christoph, created the final thirty plates. In 1763, the year the last part was issued, a second edition of the entire work appeared in Berlin from publisher Bey Friedrich Wilhelm Birnstiel.

Psittacus Rufus alis viridis
(Lorius garrulus garrulus).
Chattering Lory.

Here's the skinny on it: “One of the most enjoyable of all bird books but rare...Frisch's 'Vorstellung der Vogel' is not only an attractive book but it is very, very seldom seen. And there is no doubt whatever that this makes it much more exciting, when we do see it, or possess it" (Sitwell, et al, Fine Bird Books 1700-1900, p. 67).

How rare is it? Rarer than a rocky island off the coast of Peru without guano. (NB: bird guano has a fertilizer analysis of 11%-16% nitrogen - the majority of which is uric acid, FYI - 8%-12% equivalent phosphoric acid, and 2%-3% equivalent potash. Thank me the next time this comes up in casual conversation).

¿Quánto cuesta? When Gertz told me how much this copy of the third edition was going for I instantly moulted all my feathers. Looking like a plucked anorexic dwarf chicken with prosthetic hooked pecker, I exclaimed in a screech heard all the way to Swaziland, "$119, 045!?!"

After repeating the exalted sum seventeen times (because repetition is reflexive and what we parrots do) I asked him what a complete copy of the first edition is worth. No copies have come to auction within the last thirty-eight years and who knows how much farther back than that: Gertz accidentally left his fifteen-volume set of the ABPC Index 1923-1975 in a nightclub while partying with Rihanna, perusing it while she danced a wild tarantella on a tabletop, spliff insouciantly hanging from her lips while Chris Brown desperately clung to her hips. Still, he estimates a 1st ed. to go for $150K-$175K, maybe more. But what does Chris Brown know about rare books?

Polly wants a crack at it! No chance.

Psittacus Carolinensis
(Conuropsis carolinensis)
The Carolina Parakeet,
the only North American parrot, now extinct.

Alright, alright, alright, already, what are parrots doing in a book on the birds of Germany? it turns out that the third edition was augmented with a Supplement featuring some non-Aryan foreign species, I suppose to demonstrate the superiority of ornithology's master race by comparison. I tend to think, however, that a color-plate book of German birds needs a tonic to offset dull, drab, and dour Teutonic avifauna like Herr Schwartz's Brown Eagle below, hence the vivid splash of psittaciformes.

Der Schwartz braune Adler. Aquila melanaetus.

This copy also contains Verzeichniß der in Ferdinand Helfreich Frisch Vorstellung der Vögel in Deutschland...abgebildete Säugethiere und Vögel, nach der 13ten Ausgabe des von J.G. Gemelin bearbeiteten Linne’schen Natursystems geordnet (Berlin: 1819), an extra twelve-page Linnean index for those who appreciate fine linneans with 400 thread-count. 

Upcoming: my review of Kim Jong-un's new book, The Juche-Inspired Socialist Birds of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea Are the Masters of the Country's Development: A Field Guide For The Education Of The Masses Yearning To Eat. It's a Book-of-the-Month-Club selection.

In answer to Angel Louy, Ph.D of Stamps, Arkansas: I know why the caged bird writes: the Met turned me down, the fools. Luciano Pavarotti? You haven't lived until you've heard me as Canio croon the intro verse of Vesti la Giubba - obviously written with a parrot in mind* - with typically psychotic psittacine chuckles passing for sorrowfully ironic laughter: 

Recitar! Mentre preso dal delirio,
non so più quel che dico,
e quel che faccio!
Eppur è d'uopo, sforzati!
Bah! Sei tu forse un pappagallo?

Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

 Lo sono un pagliaccio!
 Lo sono un pagliaccio!
 Lo sono un pagliaccio!
 Lo sono un pagliaccio!

*Act! While in delirium,
I no longer know what I say,
or what I do!
And yet it's necessary... make an effort!
Bah! Are you not a parrot?

I am a clown!

With apologies to Leoncavallo.

FRISCH, Johann Leonhard. Vorstellung der Vögel in Deutschland und beiläufig auch einiger Fremden nach ihrer Eigenschaften beschrieben.Berlin, Nicolaische Buchhandlung, 1817[-1820]. Third and most complete edition. 14 parts in 1 volume. Folio. With engraved frontispiece with a portrait of Johann Leonhard and Ferdinand Helfreich Frisch, 255 contemporaneously hand-colored engraved plates (31 x 20 cm.

Anker 155. Nissen  ZBI 339. Wood, p. 349. Zimmer I, pp. 233-234. Sitwell, p. 67, 76.

Images courtesy of Asher Rare Books / Antiquariat Forum, currently offering this title, with our thanks.

Of Related Interest:

The Writing Parrot On Rare Parrot Books.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Happy Birthday, Pride and Prejudice

by Stephen J. Gertz

 Prejudice is the child of ignorance.
- William Hazlitt

We all decry prejudice, yet are all prejudiced.
- Herbert Spencer

It was pride that changed angels into devils...
- Saint Augustine

Pride, the never-failing vice of fools.
- Alexander Pope

I think Charley Pride has been one of the best things to happen to country music...
- Loretta Lynn.

Pride and prejudice are eternal but while pride made the list of deadly sins, prejudice, curiously, did not. It wasn't, evidently, considered a lethal enough transgression in the ancient world; you will look in vain for references to "prejudice" in ancient writings. It was not considered a fault worthy of comment. But Jane Austen thought differently, prejudice as harmful a social trespass as pride.

2013 is the bicentennial of Pride and Prejudice, Austen's second novel. It has, along with each of her other five novels, become a classic, and has sold some twenty-million copies since its initial publication on this day, January 28, in 1813. It is the rarest of all Austen novels to find complete in its first edition within a contemporary binding. Regency-era binders routinely removed the half titles; copies with all half titles present are scarce: Sadleir, Keynes, and Chapman's copies lacked them, and the half-titles are missing in the copies at the Bodleian and Cambridge University libraries. 


"The first draft of PP, under the title of First Impressions… (printed as False Impressions by Lord Braybourne)…was written between October 1796 and August 1797" (Gilson p. 23). Austen made significant revisions to the manuscript for First Impressions between 1811 and 1812. She later renamed the story Pride and Prejudice. In renaming the the novel, Austen probably had in mind the "sufferings and oppositions" summarized in the final chapter of Fanny Burney's Cecilia, called "Pride and Prejudice," where the phrase appears three times in block capitals. It is possible that the novel's original title was altered to avoid confusion with other works. In the years between the completion of First Impressions and its revision into Pride and Prejudice, two other works had been published under that name: a novel by Margaret Holford and a comedy by Horace Smith.

"It was not fully revised until 1812, and the author records on January 29, 1813, that she has successfully 'lop't and crop't' the book" (Keynes). Both Gilson and Keynes suggest that only 1500 copies of the first edition were printed. The book was published at 18 shillings in three volumes on  January 28th in 1813. Austen sold the copyright to Thomas Egerton, publisher of her first three novels, for £110, not anticipating that it would become an instant hit (if not a fully critical success), the first edition selling out very rapidly with a second edition issued in the same year.

I recently had an attractive and complete first edition copy of Pride and Prejudice pass through my hands. Though I cannot be certain, I strongly suspect that the "Charlton" gilt ownership stamp to its contemporary binding is that of Charleton House, Montrose, the home of feminist writer and philanthropist Susan Scott Carnegie (1744-1821) from her marriage in 1769 until her death in 1821.

Jane Austen is  one of the few authors whose entire oeuvre has attained classic status as masterpieces of ironic social satire streaked with proto-Feminism that have only increased in popularity since their publication.

Of Austen, Virginia Woolf wrote, "a mistress of much deeper emotion than appears upon the surface...[possessing an] impeccable sense of human values" (in The Common Reader, Hogarth Press, pp. 102, 104).

Jane, wherever you are, make a wish and blow out the candles on the cake without prejudice. This is your day; enjoy it with pride.

[AUSTEN, Jane]. Pride and Prejudice: A Novel. In Three Volumes. By the Author of Sense and Sensibility. London: Printed for T. Egerton, Military Library, Whitehall,  1813.

First edition, following all points in Gilson and Keynes, and complete with all half titles present. Three twelvemo volumes (6 5/8 x 3 7/8 in; 168 x 97 mm). [iv], 307, [1, blank]; [iv],  239, [1, blank]; [iv, [323, [1, blank] pp.

Contemporary speckled calf, blind-tooled board edges, edges sprinkled red, original light brown endpapers. Expertly rebacked with the original spines laid down. Later green morocco gilt lettering labels on spines. Gilt stamped "Charleton" to upper boards of each volume.  Edges to a few leaves professionally and near invisibly repaired. Occasional light foxing. An excellent and complete copy in its original and contemporary binding.

Gilson A3. Keynes 3. Sadleir 62b.

All images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, currently offering this copy, with our thanks.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Seven Original Arthur Rackham Watercolors

by Stephen J. Gertz

[RACKHAM, Arthur, illustrator]. BROWNING, Robert.
The Pied Piper of Hamelin. Illustrated by Arthur Rackham.
London: George G. Harrap & Co., Ltd. [1934].
One of ten specially bound copies containing an original watercolor,
this copy being No. 4.

Between 1931 and 1936, famed book illustrator Arthur Rackham, as gifts to his close friends, specially ordered  nine to eleven copies of the following nine books he illustrated.

[RACKHAM, Arthur, illustrator]. ROSSETTI, Christina.
Goblin Market. Illustrated by Arthur Rackham.
London: George G. Harrap & Co., Ltd. [1933].
One of ten specially bound copies containing an original watercolor,
this copy being No. 7.

1931: The Night Before Christmas
1931: The Compleat Angler
1932: Fairy Tales by Hans Andersen
1932: The King of the Golden River
1933: The Arthur Rackham Fairy Book
1933: Goblin Market
1934: The Pied Piper of Hamelin
1935: Poe’s Tales of Mystery & Imagination
1936: Peer Gynt

[RACKHAM, Arthur, illustrator].
The Arthur Rackham Fairy Book.
A book of old favourites with new illustrations.
London: George G. Harrap & Co., Ltd. [1933].
One of ten special copies containing an original watercolor,
this copy being No. 8.

Rackham had them specially bound by renowned binders Sangorski & Sutcliffe and included an unique original watercolor in each.

[RACKHAM, Arthur, illustrator]. RUSKIN, John.
The King of the Golden River. Illustrated by Arthur Rackham.
London: George G. Harrap & Co., Ltd. [1932].
One of nine specially bound copies with an original watercolor,
this being copy No. 6.  

The limitation leaves were printed on the verso of the half-titles and contain a statement written in ink by the publisher, George H. Harrap: "This edition, which contains an original painting by Arthur Rackham, is limited to nine [or ten] copies of which eight are for sale. George G. Harrap & Co Ltd."

[RACKHAM, Arthur, illustrator]. POE, Edgar Allan.
Tales of Mystery & Imagination. Illustrated by Arthur Rackham.
London: George G. Harrap & Co., [1935].
One of ten special copies containing an original watercolor,
this copy being No. 5.

Including original art  in some copies of books he illustrated was not unusual for Rackham.

RACKHAM, Arthur, illustrator]. IBSEN, Henrik.
Peer Gynt. A Dramatic Poem by Henrik Ibsen.
Illustrated by Arthur Rackham.
London: George G. Harrap & Co., [1936].
One of ten special copies containing an original watercolor,
this copy being No. 7.

Original art, albeit simple pen & ink drawings, can be found, for instance, in trade edition copies of the Heinemann productions of Wagner, The Reingold & The Valkyrie (1910) and Siegfreid & The Twilight of the Gods (1911); and Hodder & Stoughton's signed and limited  edition of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (1906).

[RACKHAM, Arthur]. RHODES,Thomas.
To The Other Side. With Illustrations by Arthur Rackham & Alfred Bryan.
London: George Philip & Son, 1893.
Rackham's copy, and with an original watercolor by
Rackham with a lengthy inscription by Rackham,
signed and dated 1935.

Rackham's personal copy of Rhodes' To The Other Side (1893) - the first book he illustrated - is graced by a delicate watercolor. Rackham, per usual with his anthropomorphic trees, used his face as model. 

Special copies uniformly bound by Sangorski & Sutcliffe.

Because of their rarity and popularity with collectors, copies of Rackham-illustrated books with original art by him are not inexpensive, generally running into low five figures. For the Rackham aficionado they're worth every penny.

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

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Raymond Chandler Gripes To His Agent About Agents

by Stephen J. Gertz

In a letter dated July 11, 1952, Raymond Chandler wrote his agent, H.N. Swanson ("Swanie") mentioning, among other things, that he is "still fussing around with the end of a book, a draft of which I unwisely sent East to Carl Brandt and Bernice Baumgarten [of Brandt & Brandt of New York, Baumgarten an associate and wife of novelist James Gould Cozzens] and received in return a lot of picayunish criticism which annoyed me without being in the least helpful."

Chandler goes on to muse about not being the sort of writer who publishes in the Saturday Evening Post, and reflects on the relationship between writers and agents. "During my fairly long association with poor old Sydney Sanders, I did learn exactly how to benefit by the advice of New York literary agents. Thank them politely, and then do something else." Brandt and Baumgarten were Chandler's former agent and editor, respectively; the manuscript they had criticized was The Long Goodbye. (See Selected Letters, p 315n.)

In another typically colorful and direct letter by Chandler to Swanson, dated December 5, 1952 and three pages in length, Chandler explains why he wants to handle matters concerning his book rights himself. Chandler begins by "remarking in passing that you (including Eddie) are the only agent that I have been able to like," then goes on to once again air his grievances with former agents Baumgarten and Brandt, alluding to their criticism of his draft of The Long Goodbye.

He then launches into a page and a half critique of the ineffectualness and superfluousness of literary agents in general. "The English agent and the American agent can't even write a contract; they don't know when royalty statements are due; they don't know if they are paid when they should be paid; they don't even know when the books are published unless they get author's copies, and they don't always get author's copies. The whole thing is just a bluff." Elsewhere he declares, "I will never again submit a book manuscript to an agent unless a publisher has first approved it. If I have to get kicked in the teeth, okay, but I won't take it from anybody but the head man." 

Chandler provides several other reasons for wanting to handle his book rights himself, and offers to let Swanson continue to handle matters related to motion picture, television, radio, and serial rights.

I was acquainted with Swanie (1899-1991), who was still active when I was a story editor in Hollywood during the early 1980s; I spoke to him a few times. The dominant literary agent in his heyday he was still respected as one of the greats by those in the know; his client list was awe-inspiring. He began as a writer and editor; he knew the writers soul and how to deal with those who would rob it and then pick their pockets. He was of the old-school and by the 1980s was sort of a fossil in the new Hollywood to those who didn't know any better.

"Harold Norling Swanson, known as Swanie, was a native of Centerville, Iowa, and a graduate of Grinnell College. He began his career as a writer and was a founder and the editor for eight years of College Humor, a Chicago-based monthly that became a showcase for new talent. In 1931, he moved to California and became a producer, making about a dozen films for RKO.

"Three years later, Mr. Swanson rented a building on Sunset Boulevard and became a pioneering literary agent. By 1939, when 110 screen writers were under contract to 20th Century Fox, he represented 80 of them.

"Among his early clients for screenplays were William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pearl Buck and Raymond Chandler. More recently, he represented the Hollywood efforts of writers like Joyce Carol Oates, Paul Theroux and Joseph Wambaugh. Among the scripts he sold were the 1946 version of "The Postman Always Rings Twice," "The Big Sleep" (1946), "Old Yeller" (1957), "Butterfield 8" (1960) and "The Mosquito Coast" (1986)" (NY Times obit).

These letters are being offered by Bonham's in their Fine Books & Manuscripts sale, February 17, 2013.

Images courtesy of Bonham's, with our thanks.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Allen Ginsberg On Neal Cassady's Ashes

by Stephen J. Gertz

On January 17, 1971, a college student in Pennsylvania wrote a letter seeking assistance from Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. 

Dear Mr. Ginsberg,

I am a junior at Bucknell University at Lewisberg. This winter I have been gathering material for an exhibit to be displayed in the University library the latter part of this spring and through the summer months. I have chosen 'Allen Ginsberg -- Profile of a Poet' to be the theme.

I have devoted a great deal of time and effort to this project -- research and collection of displayable items of your notable career.

The exhibit, I think, will be a good one, but it has nothing personal relating to the subject.

In short, I have written you with the greatest of hope that you would send me your autograph (letter or simply signature) to make the exhibit more interesting. Your effort, believe me, will be greatly appreciated.


Larry Diefenbach

Ginsberg immediately replied upon receipt of the letter on January 21st, returning it with his holographic response.

Larry -

Here's a poem + some odd items you may'nt have seen?

Good luck - Allen G. Jan 21, 1971

Delicate eyes that blinded blue Rockies, all ash
Nipples, ribs touched w/my thumb are ash
Mouth my tongue touched once or twice all ash
bony cheeks soft on my belly are Cinder, ash
earlobes & eyelids, youthful cock-tip, curly pubis
breast warmth, man palm, high school thigh,
baseball biceps arm, asshole anneal'd to
               silken skin all ashes, all ashes again.

Ginsberg dates the poem's creation June 1968, signs it, and includes his hand-drawn Buddha's footprint logo.

Neal Cassady, Beat Generation muse and the vivid model for wild man Dean Moriarty in Kerouac's On the Road and Ginsberg's on-and-off lover for twenty years, died in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico on February  4, 1968. His body was found by the railroad tracks just outside of town; he had passed-out after walking the tracks on a cold and rainy night after attending a wedding party and was discovered in a coma. He died a few hours later, just shy of his 42d birthday after a lifetime of terminal velocity in the pursuit of heightened existence. Cassady was cremated and the disposition of his remains became contentious, with his wife, Carolyn, fending off two women who laid claim to his heart while he was alive, and post-mortem. 

Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady, used car lot, San Francisco, 1955.
©Allen Ginsberg Estate

His "ashes were the subject of squabbles, first between Carolyn and 'a wild-looking hippie girl' and then with Diana Hansen, to whom Neal had got hitched in 1950, while still married to Carolyn. She called repeatedly, requesting a portion. Carolyn resisted at first, but then 'sent Diana some ashes, with love'” (NY Times, Nov 19, 2006).

Ginsberg later wrote:

"in 1968, I went down from San Francisco to visit Carolyn Cassady in Los Gatos. There's a poem of mine called 'On Neal's Ashes' which is a record of that visit, of opening the wooden container from Mexico City which had a silken bag full of his ashes. I opened the box and touched my finger inside of it and then looked in it and there was all this black and white cinder with a little rough stuff in it, pieces of bone that were burnt and blackened. So I said, 'Oh, so that's what happened to Neal Cassady.' It seemed magical that he'd disappeared and transformed into this tiny pound of gritty ashes. But it was definitive as his death. I realized it had all come to that. I hadn't seen him for a number of years and his disappearance was no big deal until I actually saw the remains of his body" (A Valentine for William Blake, Introduction to an unpublished manuscript of Ginsberg's Blake lectures).

This letter is being offered at Bonham's-San Francisco in their Fine Books & Manuscripts sale on February 17, 2013. It is estimated to sell for $800-$1200.

Ginsberg can be heard reciting On Neal's Ashes on Holy Soul Jelly Roll Vol. 4: Ashes & Blues.

Letter images courtesy of Bonham's, with our thanks.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Thomas De Quincey Writes While High As A Kite

by Stephen J. Gertz

"I was necessarily ignorant of the whole art and mystery of opium-taking: and, what I took, I took under every disadvantage. But I took it: -- and in an hour, oh! Heavens! what a revulsion! what an upheaving, from its lowest depths, of the inner spirit! what an apocalypse of the world within me! That my pains had vanished, was now a trifle in my eyes: -- this negative effect was swallowed up in the immensity of those positive effects which had opened before me -- in the abyss of divine enjoyment thus suddenly revealed. Here was a panacea - a [pharmakon nepenthez] for all human woes: here was the secret of happiness, about which philosophers had disputed for so many ages, at once discovered: happiness might now be bought for a penny, and carried in the waistcoat pocket: portable ecstasies might be had corked up in a pint bottle: and peace of mind could be sent down in gallons by the mail coach" (Confessions of an English Opium-Eater).

At an unknown date post-1804, the year that he first tried opium at age nineteen, Thomas De Quincey, famed author of Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (anonymously published in London magazine in 1821 and in book form in 1822), was working on a draft of an as yet unidentified or unpublished essay.

In 250 words over eighteen lines with numerous cancellations and insertions, De Quincey, apparently after chug-a-lugging laudanum (tincture of opium), to which he was addicted, took flight and soared to Xanadu as a  phoenix ecstatically lost in the ozone and content to be above it all, a mummified skeleton lying in a blissful state. That one-page, drug-addled manuscript has now come to auction.

It reads, in part:

"In a clock-case housed in a warm chamber of a spacious English mansion (inevitably as being English, so beautifully clean, so admirably preserved, [noise there is none, dust there is none, neither moth nor worm doth corrupt] how sweet it is to lie! – If thieves break through and steal, they will not steal a mummy; or not, unless they mistake the mummy for an eight-day clock. And if fire should arise, or even if it should descend from heaven is there not a Phoenix Office, able to look either sort of fire (earthly or heavenly) in the face ... Mummy or anti-Mummy, Skeleton or Anti-Skeleton, the Phoenix soars higher above both, and flaps her victorious wings in utter defiance of all that the element of fire can accomplish—making it her boast to ride in the upper air high above all malice from earthly enemies...."

To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway, Write high, edit sober. It appears, however, that De Quincey, never completely free of opium's grip, remained stoned through the editorial process. This is is an opium-soaked apparition, a fantastic proto-Surrealist Gothic phantasmagory. It must have seemed to De Quincey that he had broken the boundaries of prose and ascended to that enchanted place where reveries take flight onto paper without volition or physical exertion, highly automatic writing while under the spell of the Oneiroi, the dream-spirits who emerge like bats from their deep cavern in Erebos, the land of eternal darkness beyond the rising sun, the infinite night that day cannot break. Don't mess with the Muse, feed Her. Judging by his penmanship there was laudanum in his inkwell.

This De Quincey manuscript, an early example of high-lit. during the Romantic period demonstrating the effect of opium on literary creation, is being offered at Bonham's Fine Books & Manuscripts sale, February 17, 2013, in San Francisco where it is estimated to sell for $800-$1200.

Manuscript image courtesy of Bonham's, with our thanks.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Mother of Political Satire, or Why Did Yankee Doodle Call His Hat Macaroni? A Booktryst Golden Oldie

by Stephen J. Gertz

 Despite their wide popularity and broad distribution, and their importance in the history of British caricature, the color-plate books and albums of Mary Darly are now quite rare.

Who was Mary Darly?

The Paris Shoe Cleaner.

"Although most well-known cartoonists have been men, one of the most influential early figures in the field was a woman, Mary Darly. Though often overlooked in histories of the subject, women have played a significant part in the development of cartoons and caricature in Britain from its beginnings in the days of Hogarth almost 300 years ago right up to the present… However, the mother of them all, perhaps, was the eighteenth-century artist, engraver, writer, printseller, publisher and teacher, Mary Darly (fl.1756-79), who also wrote, illustrated and published the first ever manual on how to draw caricatures" (Bryant, The Mother of Pictorial Satire).

Her husband, Matthew, had established a print publishing and retaiing shop in 1756. The two immediately published a wealth of caricatures. What remains significant about this burst of activity is that it was the first time that caricature, which exaggerated facial features to comic effect, was joined to political satire.

"During the early 1770s, the rage for caricatures in London was fueled by the activities of the print publishers, Matthew and Mary Darly, who flooded the market with their wry visual commentaries on social life. Among their productions were dozens of prints representing a group of men labeled by contemporaries as 'macaronis,' allegedly because of their affectation of foreign tastes and fashions. The macaronis were an ephemeral phenomenon, as well as an extension of the fops and beaus of the earlier part of the century. They were called, among other epithets, 'noxious vermin,' 'that doubtful gender,' and 'amphibious creatures,' and were compared variously to monsters, devils, reptiles, women, monkeys, asses, and butterflies.

The French Marow-Bone Singer.

“Their concern for elaborate clothing, including tight trousers, large wigs, short coats, and small hats made them the ridicule of their generation, who focused on their gender ambiguity and the dangers of their conformity to foreign and effeminate fashion. A contemporary pamphlet, The Vauxhall Affray, sums up this view: 'But Macaronies are a sex Which do philosophers perplex; Tho' all the priests of Venus's rites Agree they are Hermaphrodites. This gender ambiguity is the aspect of the representational life...' (West, The Darly Macaroni Prints and the Politics of "Private Man." Eighteenth-Century Life 25.2 [2001] pp.170-182).

The Female Conoiseur.

"…the marks that had been codified into the macaroni type [were]: fine sprigged fabric, tight clothes, oversized sword, tasseled walking stick, delicate shoes, and, most recognizably, an enormous wig. This wig, combining a tall front with a fat queue or "club" of hair behind, was the feature that epitomized the macaroni's extravagant artifice during London's macaroni craze of the early 1770s. Named for the pasta dish that rich young Grand Tourists brought back from their sojourns in Rome, the macaroni was known in the 1760s as an elite figure marked by the cultivation of European travel. But as The Macaroni and Theatrical Magazine explained in its inaugural issue in 1772, 'the word Macaroni then changed its meaning to that of a person who exceeded the ordinary bounds of fashion; and is now justly used as a term of reproach to all ranks of people, indifferently, who fall into this absurdity.' Macaroni fashion was contagious, and as it spread beyond its original cadre into the rising..." (Rauser, Hair, Authenticity, and the Self-Made Macaroni. Eighteenth-Century Studies 38.1 [2004] pp. 101-117).

The Surry Macaroni.

"In 1762 [Mary Darly] assumed responsibility for this aspect of their business...She described herself as ‘Fun Merchant, at the Acorn in Ryder's Court, Fleet Street’ (Clayton, 215)...When, in early 1762, a new shop at the Acorn in Ryder's Court near Leicester Fields began to advertise caricatures, it was Mary Darly who was named as publisher. Her principal targets were the dowager princess of Wales, her alleged paramour the earl of Bute, and his allegedly locust-like Scottish friends and relations, of whom the Darlys promised prints ‘as fast as their Needles will move, and Aqua fortis Bite’ (Public Advertiser, 28 Sept 1762).

The Unfortunate Macaroni.

“To this end Mary welcomed contributions from the general public: ‘Gentlemen and Ladies may have any Sketch or Fancy of their own, engraved, etched &c. with the utmost Despatch and Secrecy’ (ibid.). That she herself was the etcher of these designs was established by her offer to ‘have them either Engrav'd, etched, or Dry-Needled, by their humble Servant’ (ibid.). In October she published the first part of Principles of Caricatura (1762) which according to the title-page provided guidance in drawing caricatures and which reinforced her offer to give exposure in the capital to the ideas of provincial amateurs: ‘any carrick will be etched and published that the Authoress shall be favoured with, Post paid’...Mary Darly fostered enthusiasm for graphic satire, cultivated a polite audience, and increased sensitivity to caricature as an artistic convention.

The Fortunate Macaroni.

"In the early 1770s...the Darlys relinquished political satire and instead published satires of fashion, manners, and well-known individuals. Inviting sketches and ideas, they warned that ‘illiberal and indelicate Hints, such as one marked A. Z. [were] not admissible’ and that ‘low or political Subjects will not be noticed’ (Public Advertiser, 15 and 22 Oct 1) Contributions were received from a variety of amateurs, including the talented William Henry Bunbury, Edward Topham, and Richard St George Mansergh. Prints mocking affected macaronis and extremes of dress and coiffure were characteristic. In 1773 they held an exhibition of 233 original drawings for prints. Collected sets were offered from 1772 with a portrait of Matthew Darly dated 1771 as frontispiece (BM 4632). (Timothy Clayton, Matthew Darly. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004).

I’m writing as I ride a pony into town, a feather in my hat. Suddenly, I have an urge for pasta. Why? Where is Mario Batali when you need him?

The Martial Macaroni.

The Macaroni character plays a role in the American Revolution. "Singing a song in Revolutionary America was not necessarily an innocent act...One of these songs [Yankee Doodle], which told the story of a poorly dressed Yankee simpleton, or 'doodle,' was so popular with British troops that they played it as they marched to battle on the first day of the Revolutionary War. The rebels quickly claimed the song as their own, though, and created dozens of new verses that mocked the British" (Yankee Doodle - Lyrical Legacy at the Library of Congress).

"Why did yankee doodle stick a feather in his hat and call it macaroni? Back in Pre-Revolutionary America when the song 'Yankee Doodle' was first popular, the singer was not referring to the pasta 'macaroni' in the line that reads 'stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni.' 'Macaroni' was a fancy ('dandy') style of Italian dress widely imitated in England at the time. So by just sticking a feather in his cap and calling himself a 'Macaroni' (a 'dandy'), Yankee Doodle was proudly proclaiming himself to be a country bumpkin, because that was how the English regarded most colonials at that time" (United States National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences).

Well, there you have it. Is it too much of a stretch to wonder if the culture wars in America began when colonial hayseeds internalized their status as an elite class of Revolutionary War citizens to proudly distain intellectualism and urbanity?

I don’t know. But my parrot has just dropped a flight feather into my bowl of penne bolognese, which I shall now proudly place upside down upon my head as a pasta-hat in tribute to the Yankee-yokels who threw the Brits’ scorn back at them with wit. I am, as ever, the soul of patriotic dignity.

American humor: It’s straight line from Yankee-Doodle to Hee-Haw, despite the detour through the Borscht Belt.

Images from 24 Caricatures by Several Ladies, Gentlemen, Artists, &c. and volume ll of Caricatures, Macaronies & Characters by Sundry Ladies, Gentle.n, Artists, &c. [London]: M Darly, No. 39 Strand, 1771-1772, and courtesy of David Brass

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Snap Judgements: New York's Photo League

by Alastair Johnston

The Radical Camera: New York's Photo League, 1936–1951
Yale University Press, edited by Mason Klein and Catherine Evans, 248 pp., with 150 duotones and 76 B&W images.

This book and touring exhibition presents a comprehensive look at a little-known and important American art organization of the mid-twentieth century. Formed in 1936, the Photo League of New York shut down 15 years later during the Red Scare of the McCarthy era. Their parent organization, the Film & Photo League, was formed in 1930 as part of FDR's New Deal to make documentary films. A number of Leftists and Jews were prominent in their ranks. Like the WPA before them these artists had an incredible empathy for their subjects, and believed in art in the service of progressive social activism. The Photo League, led by Paul Strand, Walter Rosenblum and Sid Grossman, broke away from the parent film unit after an unresolved fight over aesthetic versus political approaches to their work. There were some 400 members over the years, and today we recognize the big names of street photography among them: Lisette Model, Weegee, W. Eugene Smith, Berenice Abbott, Lou Stoumen, Aaron Siskind, Jerome Leibling, Dan Weiner, and many others who created a new aesthetic, both in terms of the composition and printing of their work, and in the subject matter.
Lisette Model, "Lower East Side, ca. 1940"

Lewis Hine was obviously a key figure in their formation, in fact he left his archives to the Photo League (and this was the beginning of a nightmare as one unscrupulous member -- Rosenblum -- started printing Hine's negatives and added a studio stamp to the back to make them appear to be vintage prints, as a marketing scam). Hine, like Jacob Riis, pioneered documentary portraits of the grim life of "the other half." Riis was the first to use flash photography to cast light on the seedy all-night dives or hobos' lairs under bridges. Hine snuck into factories to find children tending huge dangerous machines: his work had a major impact on child labor laws in the USA. His oeuvre gave the Photo League permission not to be squeamish and to bare all in their own work. Newly introduced hand-held 35 mm cameras -- also embraced by Paul Strand -- made spontaneous street photography possible and, despite any political agenda, the members were able to incorporate poetry and self-expression into their work.

Marvin E Newman, "Halloween, South Side, 1951"

I had always loved Helen Levitt until I found out she cheated: she had a spy camera that had a mirror in it so she would be facing one way and looking in the viewfinder, as if she were photographing the street, but in reality was taking a picture at 90 degrees of people on the stoop. To me it's important to engage the subject in the photo for a successful image. However there are other, unknown, photographers in here that catch those "Levitt" moments with aplomb and, presumably, without resorting to mirrors. Marvin E Newman's "Halloween, South Side, 1951," is a classic "Levitt" shot, and one that has not been widely published. Quite a few of the Photo League photographers, such as Arthur Leipzig, were interested in children's games. Similarly the caught-on-the-fly moments of Austrian Robert Frank are foreshadowed in the cauldron of the Photo League.

In the case of the WPA photographers, their government-backed mandate was to document the migration of farmers in the Dust Bowl: for the Photo League the poor inhabitants of Harlem in their backyard became the subject of a documentary study from 1936-40.

Vivian Cherry, "Game of Lynching, East Harlem, 1947"

"Game of Lynching," a series by Vivian Cherry (a former dancer who took up photography when she was injured), shows two little white boys holding the arms of an African American youth as part of a very different game. Cherry sent the images to McCall's who rejected them saying they were a little too real for publication and they did not think their readers could empathize or identify with the protagonists. But the rise of the picture press, such as Life, Look and PM magazines, was a great forum for these artists from the Depression through the Second World War and on to the burgeoning Civil Rights struggle. To bolster their ranks the Photo League also got Jack Delano, Arthur Rothstein and John Vachon, three of the great unsung heros of the WPA, as members. (Because Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange are such giants, history has unfairly overlooked the many other talented artists who worked for Roy Stryker in the Farm Security Administration.)

Aaron Siskind, "The Wishing Tree, Harlem, 1937"

Aaron Siskind became a well-known teacher, and as a member of the Photo League he had the idea of the Harlem project: Ten photographers (Max Yavno and Morris Engel included) documented life in the poor black neighborhood of Manhattan and then staged exhibits around New York to show the results. Unfortunately, in Siskind's re-edited version of the project, the images tended to reinforce stereotypes of impoverishment.

Arthur Leipzig, "Ideal Laundry, 1946"

In 1951 the Photo League members were blacklisted for leftist leanings but had already made their mark in paving the way for street photographers. Soon MoMA and other important venues would accept street photography into their exhibitions. After the group was disbanded, Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin turned to cinema and made the wonderful "Little Fugitive" which is available on DVD.

Jerome Leibling, "Butterfly Boy, New York, 1949"

The exhibit is on view through Jan 21 at the Jewish Museum in San Francisco then goes to the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach through April 2013.

Monday, January 14, 2013

In Search Of Athanasius Kircher

by Stephen J. Gertz

In 1602, the year of Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher’s birth, the study of nature was called natural philosophy. At his death in 1680 natural philosophy died with him; “science,” as we understand it today - the investigation of the natural world through rational, evidence-based means - had overtaken the old world and Kircher, the most celebrated figure in the world of knowledge of his time.

The 17th century was the most fascinating era in the history of scientific inquiry. It was an estuary for science, the rivers of ancient and medieval thinking about nature meeting and mixing with the nascent sea of rationalism in a fertile zone of transition, diversity, and productivity. Athanasius Kircher was in the middle of it all, a towering figure whose reputation for wisdom, knowledge, and erudition awed his contemporaries of the century’s first generation. The strange, the curious, and the marvelous were his stock and trade. Kircher was the Einstein of his age, a genius, the man with  all the answers, the most famous “scientist”  in the world.

The second generation remained in thrall of him but began to perceive cracks in his work (Leibnitz went from adore to abhor), which covered everything: astronomy, linguistics, microscopy, geology, chemistry, musicology, Egyptology, horology, medicine, magnetism, optics, pneumatics, mathematics, Hermeticism, you name it. He was, as characterized by scholar Paula Findlen, “The Last Man Who Knew Everything,” a grandiose statement yet not without truth. In Kircher’s time, the sciences had not yet split into separate and distinct entities and what was known about each was fairly limited. An omnivorous, insatiably curious intellect could be aware of all that was going on. Kircher was that man, an encyclopedia with legs.

From his base in the Vatican in Rome he stood at the center of The Republic of Letters, the vast international Jesuit network of correspondents. He was the hub through which knowledge from the four corners of the earth passed, collecting information and then distributing it through his letters and books.

By the time the century’s third generation of scientists began to assert themselves, however,  Kircher was old news, his reputation tattering, his life’s work derided. As time passed he was relegated to the scrap-heap and became a curious footnote in the history of science.

That changed in 1966, the year that John E. Fletcher completed his 900-page Master’s thesis on Kircher (published in 2011), the first in-depth inquiry into the man, his work, and his world. The thesis - more a doctoral dissertation - Athanasius Kircher, ‘Gernamus Incredibilia’: A Study of his Life and Works with a Preliminary Report upon his Unpublished Correspondence, opened a big door in academia. By the 1990s, scholars from around the world had rushed through it and the Kircher renaissance was in full flower. His importance in the history of science has been firmly re-established. It is impossible to understand the 17th century without coming to terms with Athanasius Kircher and his legacy.

Now, John Glassie, a former contributing editor to The New York Times Magazine, has written a biography, A Man of Misconceptions, to introduce Kircher to a popular readership. This is important. When we think of science in its modern beginnings we think of Isaac Newton, its father. But Kircher was Newton’s scientific grandfather; he influenced everyone in his heyday and immediate wake, even his dissenters, who were inspired to correct his mistakes. He was ultimately proved wrong about just about everything he wrote about, and he wrote a  lot, over thirty books, each, for the most part, huge tomes lavishly illustrated with some of the century’s finest, most dramatically designed copperplate engravings, all created under Kircher’s direct supervision. His books were must-reads for the 17th century cognoscenti.

It is what he was so wrong about and why that makes Kircher one of the most fascinating characters to have ever trod the world stage.

First edition, 1658.

He believed that inner Earth was populated by demons and goblins - but not pygmy men; don’t be silly. He believed in palingenesis, which has nothing to do with the origins of a certain ex-governor of Alaska but everything to do with regenerating plants from their ashes; he claimed to have done it; alas, no one could replicate his success. A method to heal a wound at a  far distance from the wounded without direct intervention? Sure. A machine that organized the chaos of knowledge into an easily comprehensible order? Done that. Sunflower seeds that tell time? You betcha. Snake stones with magic properties? Why not? Rivers of fire within Earth? You doubt it? Christianity in ancient China,  way before the Jesuits arrived in the 16th century? Kircher saw evidence. The lost mysteries of the universe found in Egyptian hieroglyphics? Kircher was sure he’d discover them.

These are the sorts of things that Kircher whole-heartedly embraced. It was not unreasonable, then, for Glassie to have subtitled his bio, The Life of an Eccentric in a World of Change.

Third edition, 1678. (First edition, 1664, i.e. 1665).

Yet “eccentric”  is a misnomer. It is only in retrospect that Kircher can be viewed so and only out of context. The comic possibilities in his life and work are certainly apparent - Kircher, in his autobiography, a posthumously published (1684), slight octavo volume of 78 pages, inadvertently keys into them, his early years related as a sort of Perils of Pauline as told by a somewhat pompous dignitary astonished at every footstep by each adventure, his survival, and the grace of God and the Virgin Mary. Glassie often tends to mine the comedy of Kircher, a rich vein to be sure but not the mother lode.

When Kircher was wrong, he was very wrong. His published a formula for squaring the circle that met with scorn and outright amusement by his fellow mathematicians. Contemporaries, often friends, wrote entire books refuting Kircher. Italian poet and scientist, Francesco Redi (1626-1698), devoted his Esperienze intorno alla generazione degl’insetti (1668) and Esperienze intorno a diverse cose naturali (1671) to demolishing Kircher’s ideas on regeneration and spontaneous generation. When he later wrote a letter to Kircher outlining the negatives in Kircher’s claim of the miraculous healing powers of the snake-stone, that did it.

From Kircher's Arca Noë (Noah's Ark, 1675).

Kircher never responded to his challengers; he had surrogates handle the dissenters. His disciple and assistant, Guiseppe Petrucci, wrote Prodromo apologetico alli studi Chircheriani (1677) to attack the “envious and strident ignorance of his unjust accusers.” As seen in  the book's engraved title-page, Petrucci is writing a very long scroll to the heavens while sitting on the back of Kircher's critics, symbolized by a crocodile with a cherub on its beak to keep its mouth shut, Kircher's books at his feet with vultures picking at them; there was a lot to defend.

But when Kircher was right, he was dead-on correct. In Scrutinium Physico-Medicum...Pestis (1658), he was the first to propose the germ theory of contagion, the most significant contribution to medicine since William Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of blood in 1628 (De Motu Cordis). He correctly gleaned the relationship between heiroglyphics and the Egyptian Coptic language. There are other examples. His convictions were absolute and unshakeable.

Engraved title page to  Petrucci's
Prodromo apologetico alli studi Chircheriani (1677).

He had, however, a soft-spot for the curious and strange, and was often persuaded by the slimmest evidence of the incredible. But he was not alone in that. To one degree or another, every natural philosopher and serious thinker of the 17th century was fascinated by what nature was revealing to them in their observations and studies. It was a world of marvels and wonders all to the glory of God and the majesty of His creation, often strange and bizarre but, as was slowly becoming manifest, knowable in a reliable way.

From the early 1630s through the late 1660s, Kircher’s influence was felt everywhere in the sciences and other areas of intellectual inquiry. He was the elephant in the Vatican, second only to the Pope in public awareness but probably more interesting as a tourist attraction for visiting dignitaries, of which there was a steady stream. Making the pilgrimage to see him and his museum of natural curiosities and marvelous machines was like a trip to Disneyland with Walt as personal guide. (He loved building ooh-ahh sundials, clocks, and machines; he was a gadget freak. Born in the 20th century but with 17th century perspective, Kircher might have invented Magic Fingers: A Miraculous Device to Bring the Muscles of the Human Body and the Mind Into a State of Complete Blissful Relaxation While in a Supine Position Upon a Mattress in a Cheap Roadside Hostelry). Kircher can be accused of many things but eccentric is not one of them. He was completely of his time and no one thought him nutty. He was the most distinguished citizen of the  world of knowledge. The rationalists of the era did not grow up in a vacuum.

For the last six years it has been my ongoing privilege to be deeply involved in building the world’s finest collection, public or private, of Kircher’s books in all significant editions and translations and more: first editions of books that influenced him, that he influenced, were dedicated to him, referred to him and his work, positively or negatively, and/or were written by a significant friend or correspondent (there were many), in the finest copies obtainable. The client is a man of vision. One day Athanasius Kircher and His World will be donated to the collector’s alma mater where it will dwarf in size and scope the Kircher collections at Stanford and Brigham Young universities. Reading all the significant literature in English about him including many of Fletcher's papers, identifying, finding, putting each book into perspective within Kircher’s universe and writings, and composing a compelling story for the client continues to be a personal joy as well as a professional responsibility.

Glassie’s book was a pleasure to read, even if, at times, I was frustrated by his reliance on entertainment to put Kircher across. After six years of immersion I feel as if I know the man. But readers who love interesting non-fiction narratives, are attracted to the unusual (which is just about all of us), love to learn about fascinating people and interesting times and have some fun, too, will enjoy A Man of Misconceptions.

MATHER, Cotton. The Christian Philosopher:
A Collection of the Best Discoveries in Nature,
With Religious Improvements.
First edition, London: 1721.
Second edition, Boston: 1815.

In 1721, forty-one years after Kircher’s death, the esteemed Jesuit came to America via the first book written by an American (and the first book, period) to introduce the new world of science and its marvels to the Colonies. The Christian Philosopher: a Collection of the Best Discoveries in Nature with Religious Improvements cites Kircher and often, his work presented on a par with that of Robert Boyle, Hooke, and Newton, with some of the dubious claims of Kircher’s Mundus Subterraneus (1665) accepted at face value. It was written by Cotton Mather, the Puritan pastor of Boston’s North Church, prolific writer, controversial figure in the Salem Witch Trials, and proud member of the Royal Society of Science perhaps best known as Ichabod Crane’s favorite author. In 1815, just shy of a hundred years after its initial publication, The Christian Philosopher was reprinted in an edition published in Boston in 1815, an early year in the Second Great Awakening, the religious revival movement that swept through the United States during the  the 19th century. 

With this book Kircher’s shadow has stretched across the centuries to influence modern Americans. How else to explain Marshal B. Gardner’s A Journey to the Earth’s Interior (1913, reprinted 1920) “showing the Earth bisected centrally through the polar openings and at right angles to the Equator, giving a clear view of the central sun and interior continents and oceans,” a work of pure gibberish and pseudo-science all dressed-up with charts, diagrams, and yes, an illustration of a “working model” of Marshall’s Earth with central Sun. Pyramid power, magnetic bracelets with curative powers, magic rocks in Sedona, Arizona, healing crystals - the New Age movement - is Kircher-land, the 17th century re-asserting itself to declare, I'm still here. Significantly, within Mather’s subtitle was an ill-omen of things to come: “With Religious Improvements,” science mediated by dogmatic faith, the very thing that doomed Kircher. His belief that the world of nature was a magical place whose laws conformed to Catholic tradition was the achilles heel that lamed his thinking,  ultimately too loose and credulous.

There is evidence that toward the end of his life Kircher may have understood that science had changed forever and his critical thinking left something to be desired.

"In the forty years in which I have played a role in this theater of all people," he wrote to the mystic poet Quirinus Kulmann (1651-1689), "I have learned from frequent experience how much trouble may result from an inconsidered piece of writing."

Receipt for a cashed letter of exchange signed by Kircher,
April 21, 1667.

In the end, if Kircher was eccentric it was only in his belief that alchemy was nonsense and its practitioners charlatans at a time when it was still popularly accepted. In later life and after his death Kircher was accused by some of being a charlatan.

It is the supreme irony of seventeenth century science that its greatest paragon of rationalism, the man whose work changed the world and whose methodology became standard, had a dark secret that the Royal Society kept hidden for hundreds of years, suppressing his manuscript papers on the subject lest his towering contributions be stained and deeply discounted. His first and foremost passion, which he pursued to the end of his life, was scorned. It was an embarrassment.  It was so Old World. It was charlatanism. It was a scandal.

Isaac Newton was a dedicated alchemist. You can take  a man out of the 17th century but you can't take the 17th century out of  the man.

All images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.
Subscribe to BOOKTRYST by Email