Fun and games in the British Museum Reading Room

I’m just putting together my list for the forthcoming Boston Book Fair, as my books will be leaving early next week.  It’s always nice to be able to show new stock, freshly catalogued, and I shall have quite a bit with me.  As a taster, here’s one little item which caught my eye over the summer:

It’s the first (and seemingly only) edition of some satirical ‘fables’ sending up life in the British Museum, the Reading Room in particular.  Privately printed, in what must have been small numbers, it was presumably only distributed to a small circle of colleagues at the Museum.

Most of the fables represent the vagaries of life in the Museum Reading Room.  For example, from ‘The Reader and the Pigeons’, in which the prospective reader feeds museum pigeons and is castigated by the Principal Librarian, ‘we learn that Kindness of Heart is not always sufficient to obtain admission to the Reading Room’.  Other pieces include ‘The Mudie Calf and the incredulous Book-Worm’; ‘The Comforted Colophon’; and ‘To an Undated Incunabulum. A Sonnet. By a Lazy Cataloguer’:

‘These Fables are part of a series of moral tales, initiated some five or six years ago.  The series died in its prime’, states the Editorial Note.  I have not been able to find any more in the series, if indeed there were any; the only other copy I was able to locate, at the British Library, has an additional paper wrapper, upon which is printed: ‘To save them from unmerited oblivion, these are offered to his colleagues with all seasonable greetings by the editor.  Xmas, 1897’.


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British support for the French Revolution

Printed in 1792, this is one of the first publications from the newly inaugurated Convention Nationale, the third government of the French Revolution, and in which English, Scottish and Irish citizens, resident in France, voice their support for the revolutionary government.

The revolutionary governance of France had several early incarnations.  Following the two-year National Constituent Assembly and the one-year Legislative Assembly, the Convention Nationale was inaugurated after the insurrection of 10 August 1792, and was the first French government organised as a true republic, in which the monarchy was abandoned altogether, following the provisional suspension of Louis XVI.  The Convention was also the first French assembly elected without distinctions of class; all Frenchmen twenty-five years old or more, domiciled for a year and living by the product of their labour were eligible to participate.

This egalitarian spirit is vocally supported in this little work, a propagandist pamphlet which publishes other nationalities’ support of the revolution: ‘Les Citoyens Brittaniques & Irlandois, actuellement à Paris, animés du sentiment de la liberté que vos principes ont communiqué à la République française, se sont réunis Dimanche 18 Novembre, pour célébrer les brillians succès de vos armes …’

For more details of this, and other recent acquisitions, please click here.


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All Greek

I’m currently cataloguing towards the Boston book fair, and am enjoying working through things acquired over the summer.  Here’s one:

It’s a lithographed facsimile of a letter in Greek, signed by the President and four members of the Philomuse Society of Athens, 14 August 1819.  It was probably printed at the instigation of the Earl of Guildford, the leading philhellene of his day, and first president of the Philomuse Society, founded in Athens in 1813–4 and dedicated to the education of Greek youth, to be sent to existing and/or new subscribers.  It informs English members of the society that a separate branch is to be set up in London, where the capital from money raised will remain, with the interest being sent annually to Greece.  The second page contains the names of the English committee, under the chairmanship of the Earl of Guildford, which includes such names as Hobhouse, Leake, Haygarth, F. N. Douglas, Aberdeen, Gell, Walpole, Holland, etc.

I usually only deal in things I can read, and Greek isn’t one of my languages, but this letter is quite early for English lithography, which is an interest of mine.


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Rimsky-Korsakov’s Harmony Manual

As regular readers of this blog will know, my interests include Russia, music, and lithographic printing.  So it was with some excitement that I came across the following book:

Published in 1885, and lithographed throughout from a manuscript original, this is a copy of the second version of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s popular course on harmony, a book which went on to become the standard Russian work on the subject.  The first version of the text ‘was published in St Petersburg, 1884, under the title: Uchebnik garmonii.  Kurs Pridvornoy kapelly, vypusk pervy.  Garmonizatsiya akkordami v predelekh lady (Harmony Manual.  A Course for the Imperial Chapel, First Issue.  Harmonization with Chords within the Limits of a Mode).  This was followed by a complete revision of the 1884 edition, together with new material, this being published under the title: Uchebnik garmonii, sostavil N. Rimsky-Korsakov (Harmony Manual, Compiled by N. Rimsky-Korsakov).  The idea of writing the work originally arose as a result of his teaching a course of harmony at the Imperial Chapel for which, it was felt, a new approach was required.  Between 1885 and 1956, the Harmony Manual was issued 19 times, of which seven editions appeared during the composer’s lifetime’ (Gerald R. Seaman, Nikolay Andreevich Rimsky-Korsakov: A Research and Information Guide, 1988).

I have always had a soft spot for Rimsky-Korsakov.  On my first ever visit to Russia, I was lucky enough to stay with his descendants as my host family.




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Rule, Britannia! In Russia.

I’ve written before about First World War material on this blog (such as here and here), but even though there is a lot on the market you still come across things you’ve never seen before.

Published around 1914, these little Russian song-sheets were both edited/arranged by Aleksandr Chernyavsky (1871–1942), a pianist and composer, particularly of songs for the stage, who, in the years before the Revolution, ran Evterpa, a St Petersburg music publisher which specialised in popular editions of both classical and popular music in its series ‘The Universal Music Library’; these two were published in it as nos. 141 and 150 respectively.

Interestingly, the translations (the first anonymous, the second by Shcheglov) are metrical rather than literal, thus allowing Russians at the time to sing along at home.


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A Russian choir in Victorian England

Dmitrii Agrenev-Slaviansky (1834–1908) was a Russian singer who founded a choir in 1868, and toured for many years around Europe and the USA.  According to one source, they gave more than 15,000 concerts over 40 years.

This printed programme, from 1886, shows the kind of thing Western audiences could hear, many of them, such as ‘Kalinka’ and ‘Ei, ukhem!’ (sometimes called ‘The Song of the Volga Boatmen’), still well known to us today:

According to the Royal Collection website (where you can also see a photograph of the group), ‘this famous choir … [performed] on several occasions to members of the Royal Family.  The Prince of Wales invited them to provide some of the music at a garden party which he gave at Marlborough House on 11 July 1886.  Queen Victoria had been present at a performance given by the choir in St George’s Hall, Windsor Castle, on 29 June.’

For more details on this, and other pieces of Anglo-Russica, please see my most recent list.


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On the Road in Russia

‘The death of Stalin in 1953 brought about a gradual, partial relaxation of the terror that for decades had governed the attitudes of the Soviet populace, and particularly the intelligentsia.  At the height of the cold war, Soviet isolation from the West had been so complete and Soviet doctrine so rigid that genuine cultural contacts with America were virtually impossible.  Intellectual activity that led to any kind of overt admiration for American culture had been dangerous in the extreme.  Now the Soviet Union was once more emerging from isolationism, and as her intelligentsia gained release from their enforced timidity, their long-frustrated interest in things Western was given limited rein’ (Deming Brown, Soviet Attitudes toward American Writing, pp. 174–5).

One American book which came to Russian attention at this time was On the Road (1957), extracts from which were translated by by Vera Efanova (1909–2006) and published in the journal Inostrannaia literatura (Foreign Literature) in October 1960, in a number specially dedicated to youth culture, with illustrations by Vitaly Goriaev (1910–1982; People’s Artist of the USSR, 1981):

It was the first appearance of anything by Kerouac in Russian.  ‘Contemporary American literature faced a prolonged and complicated battle for recognition in the Soviet Union.  In 1958 the influential and reactionary critic Roman Samarin accused the magazine Inostrannaya literatura of favoring American literature over those of other nations …  In reply, the editor in chief defended his policy of printing works of critical realism, but confessed to insufficient ideological vigilance and promised that any future translations would be accompanied by a larger number of corrective and editorial comments.  Nevertheless, the magazine did continue to publish a wider variety of American authors.  In 1959 it printed Tennessee Williams’ Orpheus Descending—a feat that would have been unthinkable two years before.  Equally startling were the appearance in 1960 of excerpts from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (printed, however, as an example of the decadence of the “beat generation”) and the entire text of J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye’ (Brown, p. 195).


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The first dog drama

This is a copy of the first edition of a hugely-successful play, published 1803, thought to be the first ‘dog drama’, which began a vogue for the use of trained animals on the London stage.

Playwright Frederic Reynolds (1764–1841) wrote this afterpiece set in bandit-ridden Spain for Drury Lane, where it was first performed on 5 December 1803.  It was a spectacular success, thanks mainly to the novelty of Carlos the dog who dived from a rock into a tank of water to save a drowning child.  He is thought to have saved the Theatre, too, from financial disaster, and ‘Reynolds enjoyed retailing the story that [theatre manager, Richard Brinsley] Sheridan regarded the dog—not himself—as “guardian angel” and “preserver of Drury Lane”’ (Oxford DNB).

With its chorus of pirates and soldiers, the work is typical of the kind of melodrama which Reynolds made his own.  Although now largely forgotten, he was of sufficiently high profile to have been the subject of two lines of Byronic satire in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1808).

The title-page vignette shows the drowning boy Julio at his moment of salvation, played in the production by a young William West (1797/8–1888), later known as the ‘Father of the Stage’.

For more information, see my recent list on The Stage.


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‘Somewhat removed from the text of Shakespeare’

This was fun to catalogue.  Not only because it’s a triple bill (500 × 735 mm), but because it promotes an extravaganza at London’s Olympic Theatre in April 1853, the highlight of which was a Macbeth burlesque by Francis Talfourd (1828–1862).

Multi-production theatricals became increasingly popular throughout the nineteenth century, and this programme of entertainments follows a familiar lively format.  The evening opened with a one-act comedy entitled Faint Heart never won fair Lady! by jobbing playwright and herald James Robinson Planché (1796–1880), whose work was known for ‘running the entire gamut of dramaturgic taxonomy from burletta and masque to high drama and grand opera’ (Oxford DNB).  This was followed by Uncle Crotchet by Mrs Alfred Phillips, who appeared as Lady Macbeth in the following production, and two final one-act vignettes.

The highlight of the evening, Talfourd’s Macbeth ‘somewhat removed from the Text of Shakespeare’, was originally performed as Macbeth Travestie at the Henley Regatta in June 1847, and afterwards opened at the Strand Theatre in January 1848.  The present playbill advertises its second London production, and provides an amusing scene-by-scene synopsis, along with an irreverent list of dramatis personae.  The final section features an arch-comic piece offering spurious justification for what was evidently an eccentric array of costume: ‘I have introduced the tunic, mantle, cross gartering and ringed byrne of the Danes and Saxons, between whom it does not appear that any material difference existed …  Harold Hardrada, King of Norway, is described by Snorre as wearing A.D. 1066 a blue tunic and handsome helmet; but, as gentlemen of this period were not remarkable for honesty, it is by no means impossible that they properly belonged to someone else.  Roderick, King of Strathclyde, is mentioned as sleeping on a feather bed, proving, somewhat paradoxically, that, however downy the pillow might be, he was sufficiently wide awake to be down upon it.’

An alumnus of Eton and Christ Church, Oxford (where he co-founded the Oxford Dramatic Amateurs), Talfourd was notionally engaged in practising law, but was known chiefly as the writer of classical and Shakespearean burlesques such as the one advertised here.  His obituary in The Athenaeum noted that ‘Talfourd … has left the world with little or no adequate witness of his powers—the travestie and burlesque in which he revelled showing but one, and that the poorer, side of his gay and brilliant intellect.’

For more information on the playbill, see my recent list on The Stage.


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‘A refined image of disability’

The full caption reads: ‘ ‘This extraordinary young Man was born Dec.r 18. 1769, at Hook, in Hampshire, without Arms or Legs, as here delineated, occasioned as his Mother supposes by a Fright she suffered when pregnant with him.  Notwithstanding these Disadvantages he has by industry acquired the Arts of Writing & Drawing, holding his Pencil between the Stump of his Left Arm and his Cheek & guiding it with the Muscles of his Mouth.  In order to assist these extraordinary Efforts of Ingenuity, this Drawing was presented to him by Mr. Robertson, & Mr. Fittler kindly super-intended the Etching.  This Print is Sold by T. Inglefield at No. 8, Chapel Street, Tottenham Court Road, where Ladies & Gentlemen may see him & many more of his Performances.’

It seems only two portraits of the artist and etcher Thomas Inglefield were produced in the eighteenth century, both in 1787.  Both ‘display him working.  In the portrait by Samuel Ireland, Inglefield sits at his drawing board, drawing a pastoral scene, in an image that is intended primarily to demonstrate his ingenious way of holding and guiding his pencil using his cheek and arm.  The picture of a tree that he is engraving is also perhaps chosen to align Inglefield with the natural world to show that in spite of his unusual appearance he is part of natural creation.  The image, in which Inglefield’s face is partly obscured, therefore portrays him as an object of wonder, with much emphasis on his unusual physical characteristics.  The Portrait of Thomas Inglefield Etched by Himself, however, while also showing his manner of working, places much more emphasis on the subject’s humanity.  Inglefield’s handsome face and thoughtful expression compel the viewer to engage with his humanity.  Inglefield is portrayed as well-dressed, his “deformed” legs concealed by his trousers, and the stump not used for drawing discretely hidden in a sling.  The portrait presents a refined image of disability which focuses on the industry and sensibility of its subject.  It is an image that registers physical difference, but conceals its more “shocking” elements, protecting viewers from discomfort.  Although etched by Inglefield himself … the image, while emphasising Inglefield’s extraordinary abilities, is placed in the context of late eighteenth-century sensibility and humanitarianism, emphasising the kindness and assistance of the engraver’s benefactors’ (David M. Turner, Disability in Eighteenth-century England: Imagining Physical Impairment, p. 99).


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