Monday, April 28, 2008

All Feasts, All the Time-

We just got in a wonderful new publisher's overstock on the history of feasting-

"Charlemagne’s Tablecloth. A Piquant History of Feasting" by Nichola Fletcher. Published by St. Martin’s Press: 2004.

“Not only Charlemagne himself, but King Midas and Robert Burns also make appearances in this award-winning history. From a humble meal of potatoes provided by an angel and the extravagance of medieval and Renaissance revels, to Mardi Gras and the refinement of the Japanese tea ceremony, Charlemagne's Tablecloth covers an astonishing array of unique feasts.”

Hardcover. 6.5”x9.5”, 256 pages, black & white illustrations, dust jacket. New condition. $12.00.

You can buy a copy in our Ebay store.

Monday, April 21, 2008

By the Rude Bridge-

It's Patriot's Day here in Massachusetts, a legal holiday not familiar to many folks outside the Bay State. It commemorates the Lexington-Concord Battle of 1775, as immortalized by favorite son Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his famous poem written for the ceremony for the completion of the Battle Monument at the bridge, April 19, 1836-

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.

Patriot's Day now means an 11 a.m. Red Sox game, the Boston Marathon, and services and re-enactments in many towns which have companies of volunteer Minutemen who dress up in colonial-era garb and march on their town greens. The Lexington-Concord area has the whole panapoly of celebrations, including a local company of the British 10th Regiment of Foot, the soldiers who were among the companies that marched to Concord that day. As a kid growing up in Concord, I always wanted to be one of the Redcoats. My illusions were shattered one day when I was walking down by the post office and saw a lanky Redcoat take off his tall tin hat and squeeze himself into a tiny VW parked by the curb.

Oh well. Happy Patriot's Day!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Judging a Book by Its Cover-

I admit it- I do sometimes judge a book by its cover, and sometimes I can't resist buying a book for its cover. Here are a few garden-related covers that struck my fancy lately-

I love the Art Deco feel of this one, and its simplicity-

This is from the 1920s, and I loved both the cover, which shows the classic 1920s suburban cottage garden, and the subject matter-

I picked this one up last year. Its a beautiful cover, and it also looks a lot like our woods out back do in the winter at sunset-

And how was I supposed to resist this?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Well, I'll Be A Monkey's Uncle-

Here's an interesting little piece of Victorian Architecturalia (no, I'm not sure if that's a word either) -

"The Oxford Museum" By John Ruskin & Henry W. Acland. Published in London by Smith, Elder and Co.: 1859.

An interesting discourse touching on the principles of the Gothic Revival, handwork and the dignity of workmen, and the proper decoration of buildings, as they were related to the architecture of Oxford’s famous Museum of Natural History, popularly known as the Oxford Museum. Championed in the 1850s by Sir Henry Acland, who felt that Oxford was ignoring the natural sciences, the Museum brought all those disciplines, including geology, astronomy, geometry, chemistry, and zoology under one roof. And quite a neo-Gothic roof it was... The building was designed by Deane and Woodward of Dublin, with assistance of one sort or another from Ruskin, who notes here-

“In the competition [for the design] scarce any limitation was imposed, and to style none. Thirty-two designs by anonymous contributors were sent in; the majority of the judges, after a thoroughly English battle, in which some professed advocates of Gothic architecture deprecated the application of Gothic Art to secular purposes, -thereby denying to their own style that malleability which is, perhaps, its highest prerogative, -the design, ‘Nisi Dominus oedificaverit domum,’ was accepted”.

The Museum was the scene of the famous 1860 debate during which Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, asked Thomas Huxley whether he was descended from a monkey on his grandfather’s or grandmother’s side, to which Huxley replied that he had-

"no need to be ashamed of having an ape for his grandfather, but that he would be ashamed of having for an ancestor a man of restless and versatile interest who distracts the attention of his hearers from the real point at issue by eloquent digression and skilled appeals to religious prejudice."

Hardcover. 4.75”x7.5”, 111 pages plus a 4-page list of other titles by the authors; steel-engraved frontispiece of a pillar with fern carvings; a full-page woodblock plate of decorative tracery; a folding plan of the museum; publisher’s pebbled & embossed cloth with gilt titles; spine slightly faded, minor soil and a little wear, but overall a very nice, fresh copy.

This copy has the handsome engraved bookplate of Herbert John Gladstone [1854-1930] on the front pastedown. Lord Gladstone was the son of Prime Minister William Gladstone, and after lecturing on history at Keble College, Oxford, he embarked on a long political career which culminated in his appointment as Home Secretary under Asquith from whence, after some controversy over domestic policy, he was booted “upstairs” and sent to South Africa as the first Governor-General and High Commissioner of the Union of South Africa.


Monday, April 14, 2008

The Things You Find in Books-

This was actually the title of a thread on an email list recently. It is always fun to find something quirky, odd, or interesting tucked into a book. A few months ago I picked up a copy of a very obscure little book of poetry published in 1898 titled"Sandwort" by Anna J. Granniss because it was printed in my hometown of Keene, New Hampshire. As I opened it up, this little card fell out-

Paying by the poem! I thought that was rather clever, and it seems we're basically back to that business model now in the online music industry...

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Artist Who Knew Poe-

Anonymous books are always a puzzle- why did the author choose not to reveal his name? What is the story behind it? Often there is an interesting tale to tell, and that is the case with a little 19th century book titled "Handbook of Young Artists and Amateurs in Oil an American Artist", published in New York in 1845.

The author was a man named Laughton Osborn [1809-1878], who was an amateur painter and professional (though usually anonymous) author, whose work is now largely forgotten. He is seen most vividly today through the eyes of Edgar Alan Poe, who knew him as an entertaining, sometimes virulent author, and a poetic contributor to several of Poe's magazines.

Poe included a vivid sketch of Osborn in his 1850 essay "The Literati", where he related that he had read and been amused by several of Osborn's anonymous literary works, the most notable of which had been "The Confessions of a Poet, by Himself". "Confessions" had been widely criticized by literary critics as obscene.

"It is not precisely the work to place in the hands of a lady," Poe admits, while judging it "quite remarkable For artistic unity and perfection [with] sentiments audacious and suggestive at least, if not at all times tenable."

Violent criticism of the "Confessions" from one New York newspaper editor brought forth a stinging satirical rebuke from Osborn titled "The Vision of Rubeta, an Epic of the Island of Manhattan". This satire, Poe notes-

"was not only bitter but personal in the last degree. It was, moreover, very censurably indecent - filthy is, perhaps, the more appropriate word".

Still, Poe declares, it was the best satire written to the time in America, which was, he admits, not saying all that much, as it was also just about the only satire written up to that time in America. Osborn had once complained in a private letter to Poe that he had absolutely no friends, and Poe muses that he was-

"undoubtedly one of "Nature's own noblemen, full of generosity, courage, honor - chivalrous in every respect, but, unhappily, carrying his ideas of chivalry, or rather of independence, to the point of Quixotism, if not of absolute insanity," and that Osborn had "few equals at downright invective."

Odd then, that he had no friends...

America's own foul-mouthed Quixote was also a playwright, specializing in pseudo-historical tragedies and comedies, and an amateur painter, from which hobby came his interest in the French works he translated to produce this "Handbook of Young Artists". In this book Osborn discusses materials and implements, coloring, finishing, the technique of painting drapery, painting landscapes, and finally varnishing, cleaning, repairing and lining. The book is a source of much useful information on 19th century techniques and materials, and is also of interest as an example of an influential 19th century American art manual. It was re-issued a number of times in the 1850s and 60s.

Poe summed up Osborn as-

"a poet, painter and musician (who has) absolutely succeeded as each. His scholarship is extensive. In the French and Italian languages, he is [quite] at home, and in everything he is thorough and accurate."

Osborn's "Treatise on Oil Painting," Poe concludes, was "highly spoken of by those well qualified to judge."

Well, it would have been, wouldn't it? Who would have wanted to cross pens, or paintbrushes, with Laughton Osborn?

We have a copy of this book for sale here.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

They Call it... Fake!!

We're featuring an interesting item in our Ebay store this week, a catalog that played major part in one of the more fascinating tales of antiquities forgery in the 20th Century-

It had all started in late 1915 when Gisela Richter, renowned expert on Greek and Roman antiquities at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, received a letter from John Marshall, the Museum’s veteran purchasing agent in Italy, describing a newly discovered life-size Etruscan warrior figure in terra-cotta which had been discovered in an Italian field. The “old warrior” (he had a white beard and was emaciated, somewhat like, as one observer commented later, a Giacommetti sculpture) was soon followed by a massive four-foot tall terra cotta warrior’s head, and there was even talk of a greater treasure waiting to be found...

You can read the complete story here.