The first English translation of Russian verse, or a literary forgery?

One rare item I shall have with me next week at the New York book fair is this:

It’s a work I’d never heard of before: the first edition (there was also a reissue, with a cancel title-page, in 1816) of supposedly a translation of a poem, in which ‘a Russian Boyar adopts the son of a deceased peasant, for whom he entertained a friendship.  His lordship was at this time childless; but, shortly after, his lady presented him with a daughter.  She only lived, however, to embrace her child, and to recommend her future union with the adopted Alexis.  The Boyar promises.  The children are brought up with the avowed intention of being united; but, when they have attained an age to be sensible of their mutual and unalterable attachment to each other, the arrival of a noble stranger changes the scene: he induces the Boyar to Exile his favourite, for the purpose of weakening his daughter’s hitherto approved affection, and of marrying her according to her rank.  The heroine true to her first love pines for her absent Alexis; till, being at the brink of the grave, her father resolves to restore his child, by recalling the object of her affections, and blessing their union.  But mercy came too late.  The youth, more noble of spirit than of birth, seeks glory in the field of battle, and falls at the battle of Dresden, with the name of a hero …’ (Critical Review).

The book is not listed in either of the standard bibliographies of English translations of Russian literature and begs the question: is it a translation at all, or simply an unknown English writer capitalising on the fashion for all things Russian which arose in Britain during the Napoleonic Wars?

For details of this, and other books I shall be exhibiting at the fair, please click here.


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The perils of emigration

Another month, another book fair.  In the past, New York book fair has taken place in April, but this year it’s moved to the beginning of March.  This has meant carefully selecting, even as far back as December last year, which items to take to California, and which items to take to New York.  The selection for Oakland worked well, and I was very pleased with how the fair went.  Hopefully, the visitors to the Park Avenue Armory in New York will be as interested in what I have chosen for them!  Here’s one intriguing item:

It’s a rare satirical print, ‘dedicated to all those who would exchange their homeland for a foreign, far-off country.’  The story which the print tells begins with the hero leaving Germany with his family; together they spend a month being tossed about on the waves of the Atlantic, with any provisions either beginning to run out or spoil, before they finally reach America, ‘more dead than alive’, only to find the place raging with cholera and coffins piled up at the docks.  They then travel by steamer up the St Lawrence River, pressed together cheek by jowl with their fellow passengers in the stifling heat, everyone battling the urge to throw up.  When they arrive at the Canadian border, they discover from the agent that the land they purchased is covered in trees, which need to be cleared before farming can begin.  At this point, the narrative, at least in terms of geography, becomes confused: they meet with snakes and monkeys in the forests; they must dig the land under the blazing sun (90° in the shade); they are plagued by mosquitoes that ‘sting like needles’, chased from a neighbouring swamp by a crocodile, and come across spiders the size of your hand.

Two years pass, and they have still to make a profit.  Their ‘neighbour’ (who lives five miles away) consoles them that they might be doing as well as him in about 12–14 years.  The final line of illustrations spells the end: all their worldly possessions burn down for the third time, forcing them to abandon their frontier life.  During their journey back, they are captured by cannibals, who try to boil him and his family alive.  By a miracle, our hero escapes.  In the final frame, we find him, poor and friendless, ‘like Robinson Crusoe’, looking longingly after a ship to take him back to Germany.

Judging from the print itself, I thought probably mid nineteenth century as a production date.  Then I discovered that six of the images, or versions of them, appear in a little book published in Leitmeritz (present-day Litoměřice in the Czech Republic) in 1850 called Das Goldland Californien.  There was a copy at Bonhams in 2015.  It’s impossible to know which came first, the book or the print, but one obviously served as the source for the other.


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O say, can you see…?

The last few weeks have been busy preparing for the California Book Fair.  America has been in the news recently, of course, and so I am interested to see what people make of one item I shall be exhibiting next week in Oakland:

If it looks familiar, that’s because it’s the tune to The Star-Spangled Banner in its original form (both textually, rhythmically, and harmonically), published around 1780.  In fact, I have two printings of it:

The song was written by John Stafford Smith for members of the Anacreontic Society, and first published by Longman & Broderip, c.1779.  The following year they reprinted the song (the one on the left here; the only difference between this and the first printing are the additional words ‘and No. 13 Hay Market’ in the publishers’ address).  The plates were used again c.1784 by the publisher Anne Bland (the printing on the right here), with a re-engraved title section.

‘The social cachet of the Catch Club, with its permanent waiting list for membership, and its success in reviving the catch and establishing the glee, inevitably inspired emulation …  One of the earliest and most significant London imitators was the Anacreontic Society, founded in 1766 …  It took its name from the Greek lyric poet Anacreon, famous for his celebration of love and wine …  The Anacreontic Song, ritually performed at all meetings of the society, had been specially composed by members of the society under the direction of John Stafford Smith to words by the lawyer Ralph Tomlinson, for a number of years president of the Anacreontics’ (Robins, Catch and Glee Culture in Eighteenth-Century England, pp. 72–3).  The song ‘soon became well known both in England and America, and its melody was also used as the setting for about 85 different printed American poems, almost all of a patriotic nature, from 1790 to 1820’ (Fuld, World-famous Music, p. 530).  The tune was first published with Francis Scott Key’s poem The Star Spangled Banner in Baltimore in 1814.  Eleven copies are recorded; the last in private hands sold at Christie’s in 2010 for over $500,000.

If you’d like to hear what the original sounds like, here you are:

For details of these, and other items I shall have with me at the fair, please click here.

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A burlesque Tempest

When I put out a list on the theatre last year, this was one of the most sought-after items: excerpts from Ariel, a burlesque stage production based on The Tempest by the prolific playwright, librettist and editor of Punch, Francis Cowley Burnand (1836–1917).

Ariel was first performed by John Hollingshead’s company at the Gaiety Theatre on 8 October 1883, with Ellen ‘Nellie’ Farren (1848–1904) in the title role and Arthur Williams (1844–1915) as Prospero.  It received mixed reviews; The Times complained of the ‘flatness and insipidity’ of Burnand’s text and of his ‘vulgarising’ the original.  The Observer was less censorious, finding the piece moderately amusing, and predicting correctly that it would run well until making way for the annual Gaiety pantomime at Christmas.  It is certainly more jocund than its source material, containing a musical chorus of Storm Fairies, a duet between Miranda and Prospero, and a music-hall number for Alonzo entitled Just My Luck.

F. C. Burnand

From 1860 until his death Burnand produced more than two hundred burlesques, farces, pantomimes and other stage works.  He took over the editorship of Punch following Tom Taylor’s death in 1880, and is thought to have improved the paper’s tone, brightening it with his ‘rackety leadership’ (Oxford DNB).  Arguably his greatest editorial move was the publication of the enduring classic The Diary of a Nobody (1888).

Although it purports to be a selection of excerpts, no full version of the play is recorded and this may either the whole, or its only survival.


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Lovely litho

The past couple of weeks I have written about the opportunities offered by lithography to British musicians in the nineteenth century, and the problems they also encountered.

One of the obvious benefits of the new medium was illustration, and a number of recent acquisitions set me thinking about this:

This song was published c.1820, i.e. before lithography was being used in the UK for music itself (the notes are all engraved here), but was beginning to be employed to enhance the outward appearance of music publications.  The title illustration depicts a moment in the song: a young woman and her parents, she (and their dog) turning towards the window and the tap-tap-tapping of her beloved.  The composer, Willliam Thomas Parke (1762–1847), was principal oboe at Covent Garden for forty years, but took to composing light songs such as this in his later years.

Published in 1826, this is is a relatively early work by Barnett (1802–1890), though he was a published composer when still in his teens.  (The production from which it comes, Before Breakfast, was a highly popular musical put on by Richard Brinsley Peake, ‘one of the author’s most successful plays, performed no fewer than thirty nights in its first season’, Oxford DNB).  Again, the title-page here is lithographed, but the music is engraved.

This is the first edition of a ballad by Charles Henry Purday (1799–1885), published in 1837,  and ‘written upon the occasion of the tremendous storm of the 29th of November 1836, which severed the Tree represented on the title page in two; which Tree, and the Church are faithfully sketched as they stood previously to the above period, in the Parish of Boughton Monchelsea, near Maidstone, Kent.’

Later in the century, in the 1880s, another musician, Frederick Ouseley (1825–1889), Professor of Music at Oxford for over thirty years, turned to lithography for producing the handouts to accompany his lecture series on Spanish church music:

The volume contains five pieces: the opening of Doyague’s Magnificat for double choir; Eslava, Bone Pastor; Ledesma, Sancta Mater; Brós, Benedictus; and Ozcoz y Calahorra, Lauda Zion.

For more details on these, and other music, please see my recent Music list.


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Disappointed of Merseyside


Here’s rare book: the first (and probably only) edition of A Selection from the Music in use at the Church of St John the Divine Fairfield, privately printed in—presumably—a small number of copies, in 1858.  (This is Fairfield, Merseyside, by the way, not Connecticut.)  The compiler was one J. B. Cooper.







The whole thing is wonderfully ornate, and a fantastic example of Victorian private lithography, but it seems the final result did not meet with Cooper’s approval:


This was after having previously thanked the printers, Marples and Fraser, and their foremen for their ‘valuable assistance’ and for ‘furnish[ing] me with facilities which the limited resources of my own office and press did not supply’.

St John the Divine, Fairfield (architect: W. Raffles Brown) was consecrated in 1853, just five years before Cooper created his book.  According to its website, the Diocese of Liverpool agreed to demolish the church in 2008, as it had become structurally unsound.


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The new opportunities of lithography

I’m currently putting together a list on Music, to be sent out next week.  One item in particular brings together a number of things which interest me: a) music, b) illustration, c) lithography, d) provincial imprints, e) private printing:


Lithography, as Michael Twyman notes, was largely neglected by British music publishers in the first four decades of the nineteenth century.  ‘One man who did experiment with the printing of music lithographically, though only as a sideline, was the Birmingham antiquarian William Hawkes Smith.  He had his own lithographic press on which he produced his own sets of pictorial lithographs of an antiquarian kind, but he also printed a few pieces of music.  The best known of these are his “Quadrilling”, which is known to exist in three editions [1820, 1821, 1822], and “Washing day” …  Both publications had their pen and ink decorations “designed and executed” by Smith and it is clear from the unusually comprehensive imprint of “Quadrilling”, which reads “W. Hawkes Smith, del. fec. & lithog: impr: 1821”, that he did everything himself.  Both publications are delightfully naive and are of interest primarily for their early date, provenance, and novelty’ (Early Lithographed Music, 1996, p. 386).


Twyman returned to the work in his Panizzi Lectures: ‘Lithography made it possible for words, pictures, and other graphic marks to be produced together using precisely the same technology … [Smith’s work] illustrates as well as any single item can the new opportunities offered by lithography in this respect.  Hawkes Smith wrote the verses, set them to music, wrote out both the text and the music, drew the illustrations, designed the publication, printed it, and published it too …  His three known music publications, a couple of which ran to further editions, are in some respects closer to being “desktop” publications than their late twentieth-century equivalents’ (Breaking the mould: the first hundred years of lithography, British Library, 2001, pp. 8–9).


The satire itself targets the quadrille, ‘one of the most popular ballroom dances of the 19th century’ (New Grove), which had been introduced to London at Almack’s Assembly Rooms in 1815 and must soon have spread across the country.


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Donald: the mask’s thrown off

Sometimes, in the book world, there are wonderful coincidences; you can come across a book you’ve never heard of at precisely the right moment.  Take this, which I found just earlier this week:


Published in about 1794, it was written by Samuel Harrison (1760–1812), one of the country’s principal tenors for almost 30 years, some difficulties with his voice notwithstanding: ‘the voice was at once the weakest and most pure and equal ever heard in England’ (The Harmonicon, 1830); his intonation was perfect.  ‘After George III heard him sing at one of Queen Charlotte’s musical parties at Buckingham House, he arranged for Harrison to sing the opening recitative and aria in Messiah at the 1784 Handel Commemoration festival in Westminster Abbey.  He had made his first appearance at the Three Choirs festival as principal tenor in 1781, at Gloucester. From 1786 until 1808 he sang at each of the Hereford meetings, and from 1801 to 1808 was a principal at Gloucester and Worcester as well.  The 1811 festival was managed by Harrison with others’ (Oxford DNB).


‘Signor Corri’, mentioned in the subtitle, is the influential music teacher Domenico Corri (1746–1825).  He had arrived in Britain in 1771, settling initially in Edinburgh, where he gave lessons and ran concerts for some eighteen years, before moving to London and a successful career as a music publisher.


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Bloody satire

I was looking for something election-related for today’s blogpost.  I wrote about a couple of very nice items connected to the Russian 1906 (parliamentary) election a few years ago, but I don’t think I’ve shared this before:

It’s a merciless (and rather bloodthirsty) satire of the Radical-Socialist Édouard Herriot and the Cartel des gauches during the 1928 election by the great caricaturist Sennep (i.e. Jean-Jacques Pennès, 1894–1982), strikingly printed in red and black on ‘butcher’s paper’.


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Bor’ba in Boston

A bookseller’s year is marked by the book fairs.  Summer is a quiet time, but in autumn everything starts up again.  There was York, then the ILAB Congress in Budapest, and now there’s Grasmere (a first for the ABA), Seattle, Frankfurt, INK in London (another new fair), Boston, and Chelsea.  Obviously, I can’t attend all these, so have decided this year on Boston, where I shall be exhibiting for the first time.  As I have written elsewhere, the show is my shop, a chance for collectors to see what I sell.

One of my interests is the theatre.  Another is cross-cultural material, books which document the reception of, often, Anglo-American culture in Continental Europe.  Here’s one book I intend to have on my stand in Boston, something which I cannot locate another copy of in the West:


It’s the first edition in Russian of Nobel Laureate John Galsworthy‘s third play, Strife (1909), published in Moscow in 1918, just a year after the Revolution.  While rarely staged now, the play, which features a strike in a Welsh factory and the battle between the directors and the workers, was highly successful at the time—it was voted as one of the National Theatre’s 100 most influential plays of the twentieth century—and would have proved perfect material for the early Bolshevik theatre.

John Galsworthy (1867-1933)

‘At the white-heat core of [Galsworthy’s] play are the eternal human conflicts between idealism and pragmatism, justice and mercy, the needs and rights of individuals and communities.  Two men are simultaneously its hero and antihero: the board’s chairman and the strike’s leader.  Each is honourably committed to his beliefs; each is disastrously prepared to sacrifice himself and others for the sake of his vision’ (The Guardian, 21 August 2016, on Chichester Festival Theatre’s recent production).

The striking cover and the stage designs illustrated in the book are by Vasily Denisov (1862–1921), a Symbolist artist who worked a lot in the theatre.


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