The Tempest – William Shakespeare

Continuing with my plan to read plays through November, I am now starting The Tempest. I have several copies of this play, partly due to the two complete sets of Shakespeare’s works I have, one of which I covered in an earlier essay, but I also have three copies of the play in individual volumes. One from the Oxford University Press, one by Penguin Books from 1937 and the copy that I have been reading which is the beautiful Folio Society letterpress edition from 2008.

20181120 The Tempest 1

This edition is bound in green goatskin leather, blocked in gold with hand-marbled paper sides and limited to 3750 numbered copies although not all of these appear to have been produced. The book is large (14˝ x 10¾˝ – 35½cm x 27cm) and the pages clear and easy to read. As the Folio Society themselves said about these volumes…

The starting point was the text. Rather than keep text and commentary together, we decided to put them into separate volumes. Out went the elements that clutter the page : footnotes and textual variants. All that was left was Shakespeare’s words.

We decided to have the text printed by letterpress in 16-point Baskerville. The type is set in hot metal and impressed on thick, mouldmade paper. The margins are generous – over 6 centimetres – to allow the words room to breathe.

The result is a simple, understated design that is a delight to read and a pleasure to hold.

Needless to say the books were expensive (£295 per play) but they did set out to produce the finest editions available and the ones I have are amongst the treasures of my library. A comparison between the Folio Society edition and my complete Oxford Shakespeare can be seen below and it’s obvious which is the better to read.

Enough about the book, as Shakespeare himself wrote in Hamlet “The play’s the thing” and this was the last play written by Shakespeare so I’m looking forward to reading it.

The play opens with a short scene set on a ship that is caught up in the eponymous tempest and looks as though it will probably sink. On board is Alonso the King of Naples and several courtiers including Antonio the Duke of Milan, the noblemen are however getting in the way of the seamen trying to save the vessel and frankly are just a nuisance. The rest of act one takes place on the island home of Prospero and his daughter Miranda, during which we find out that Prospero is the true Duke of Milan who was usurped by his brother Antonio with the help of King Alonso.

Prospero has somehow gained magical powers during his exile on the island and with the aid of the sprite Ariel he caused the foundering of the ship but also ensured that all aboard survived. The other occupant of the island is Caliban, the son of the witch Sycorax who is enslaved to Prospero and is described as half man, half beast. Ariel is also in servitude to Prospero but this is because he rescued him from a spell by Sysorax and Prospero has promised that when he regains dukedom so Ariel will be free to go on his way. Towards the end of the first act Ferdinand (King Alonso’s son) finds Prospero and Miranda and immediately falls in love with her, which is clearly Prospero’s plan to try to regain his dukedom.

Act two moves away from Prospero to follow up the other characters in two separate scenes. In the first one the other noblemen including King Alonso assume that they are the only survivors of the wreck although Gonzalo in particular is perplexed by the condition of their clothing which suggests that this was no ordinary maritime disaster.

…Our garments being, as they were drenched in the sea, not withstanding their freshness and gloss, being rather new-dyed than stained with salt water…

…Methinks our garments are now as fresh as when we put them on in Afric, at the marriage of the King’s fair daughter…

Ariel joins the group although he is invisible to them and by means of music causes some to fall asleep leaving Sebastian (Alonso’s brother) and Antonio. Antonio suggests to Sebastian that with Ferdinand dead the only thing stopping him doing what he did to Prospero and taking the kingdom of Naples for himself is Alonso himself who is conveniently asleep at his feet. Sebastian has drawn his sword to kill Alonso when Ariel reverses the charm and the others awake. Sebastian explains the drawn sword by saying he had heard noises and was preparing to defend the king.

The second scene takes us to the last remaining significant characters in the play Trinculo the court jester and Stephano the drunk butler who has managed to salvage a barrel of wine and is happily working his way through it. These two also believe themselves the only survivors and stumble across Caliban who sees them as a means of escaping his slavery by getting them to kill Prospero. His clownish attempts to get them to help him and the drunken antics of the other two are quite funny.

Act three keeps the three groups apart and sees us catching up with them in turn in separate scenes. All three scenes are quite short and we bounce from Ferdinand and Miranda who are now getting on very well and are talking of marriage. Then to Trinculo and Stephano who are convinced by Caliban to attack Prospero but are also now quite drunk and have also introduced Caliban to wine so this plot is clearly going nowhere. Finally the king and his party meet up with Ariel and with Prospero watching and commenting although invisible to the party he can see that his plans are working.

20181120 The Tempest 2

Both of the final acts are short single scene performances and act four sees things moving forward quickly. Prospero agrees to the marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda as they continue to express their love for each other and when they have left the stage he works with Ariel to ensure that the plot hatched by Caliban to get the two drunks to kill him will fail although by now none of the them are in a fit state to do anything sensible.

Finally the fifth act brings everyone together at last, Prospero draws a magic circle on the stage and lures the noblemen into it where he reveals who he really is but decides to forgive rather than punish them. He also reveals that the ship didn’t sink, instead it has been anchored off another part of the island with the crew charmed asleep, these are woken by Ariel and prepare for sailing as soon as possible. It isn’t clear what happens to Caliban, he presumably remains alone on the island but everyone else returns to Naples with Prospero renouncing his magic as he regains his dukedom.

The Tempest is grouped with the Comedies within Shakespeare’s canon however there is nothing particularly comedic about it, it is probably there because it certainly isn’t a History or Tragedy which are the only two other options. The light relief is provided by Trinculo and Stephano during their interaction with Caliban but this, as explained above, is largely self contained within scene two of acts two and three. I’m not a big fan of Shakespeare’s later mystical plays but this made for a pleasant evenings read and I’m surprised that I haven’t got round to reading it before. As usual for a Shakespeare play there are several quotes that have enriched the English language and gone on to be used even by those who don’t know where they were first created:-

Hell is empty. And all the devils are here.

Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.

We are such stuff as dreams are made on

O brave new world

and the probable winner for the worst chat up line of all time is given to Ferdinand

Hast thou not dropped from heaven?

Note: The kingdom of Naples and the duchy of Milan sound odd to us now as Naples in particular appears far too small to be a kingdom, but in Shakespeare’s time both these houses existed. The kingdom lasted from 1282 to 1816 although from 1501 it was effectively a title only as control of Naples passed between France, Spain and Austria depending on which monarchy was in the ascendant at the time. As for the duchy of Milan that lasted from 1395 to 1814 although over the last century of this it was absorbed into the Austrian Hapsburg empire.

The World As It Is – A book for Subscribers

20180710 The World as it is 1

Well actually The World as it was, as these books date from 1884 and provides a glimpse into history 130 years ago. However before looking at the book itself the main reason for selecting it is to expand on the subject of subscribers editions that I first touched on in Burghall’s Diary  That book in my collection was sold against a prospectus, ‘The World As It Is’ is a subscribers only book and helpfully whoever had the parts subsequently bound included the subscription page so we know how it was sold. After a lot of description as to the structure of the proposed two volumes the subscription page concludes as follows:

The Work will be handsomely printed on super-royal 8vo paper, and will be illustrated by above 300 engravings printed in the text; seventeen maps and diagrams printed in colours, ten coloured plates show some of the principal races of the earth and some remarkable natural phenomenons, and twenty-eight separate page engravings representing notable and remarkable localities in many lands. – making in all FIFTY-FIVE separately printed illustrations. It will be issued in Fourteen Parts, of 80 pages of letterpress, at 2s. each, or Seven Divisions in stiff paper covers at 4s. each, forming when completed two handsome large 8vo volumes. Whether viewed in the aspect of the wide range of its contents, of its educative value, its wealth of illustration, or its moderate price, this work will be found to be quite unique of its kind.

LONDON:  BLACKIE  &  SON,  49  &  50  OLD BAILEY,  EC;

GLASGOW, EDINBURGH AND DUBLIN

Capitalisation is as printed in the document, I have used bold to represent the parts highlighted in italics in the original, this is a Victorian marketing department going full tilt. For those not familiar with the abbreviations used 8vo is a standard paper size usually written as octavo. Standard octavo paper is 9 inches high by 6 inches wide (23cm x 15cm) The pages of the book are actually 9.7 inches high by 7.2 inches wide (24.6cm x 18.4cm) which is presumably where Blackie have come up with super-royal although both super octavo and royal octavo are larger than this.

The price is given as either 14 lots of 2s. or 7 lots of 4s. s. standing for shilling so a total of 28 shillings regardless of how you had the parts. Using the Bank of England inflation calculator (which unfortunately only goes up to 2016) this ‘moderate price’ was apparently more like £159.65 in 2016 or just over £168 by 2018 adding the extra 2 years inflation. Also bear in mind that like modern magazine part works you then need binders, in fact back then you definitely did as these were literally just loose pages, especially the illustrations, and came with instructions for the bookbinder as to where the pages should go. So you would buy the remarkably solid board covers available from Blackie and then pay a bookbinder to put it all together meaning you wouldn’t see any change out of the equivalent of at least £200 probably closer to £250 for your ‘moderate’ purchase. I bought the books in the mid 1980’s and according to the price still visible inside paid £2.50 for the pair at the time, the paint stains on the boards no doubt keeping the price well down. I remember the second hand bookshop where I bought them fondly, the proprietor wrote a year code letter next to the price in all his books, A for his first year of business, B for the second etc. he had been trading for getting on for 20 years by the time I bought this and if you could find anything in the shop coded A you could have it for free.

20180710 The World as it is 2

The books are really interesting although anyone looking at them and deciding to visit a place based on the information provided would definitely have a surprise coming; for example Swanston Street in Melbourne certainly looks different nowadays :

20180710 The World as it is 4

It’s the illustrations that I like so much and that first attracted me to these books, that and odd bits of history that you suddenly spot whilst scanning through. The United States of America is described  as a republic consisting of 38 states and 8 territories with an organised government, besides the Indian territory, the territory of Alaska and the District of Columbia. Seeing a map with Indian Territory clearly marked instead of Oklahoma emphasise the fact that the books pre-date the ‘land runs’ of settlers into the Indian lands and are a full 23 years before the Indian Territory ceased to exist altogether when the state was created in 1907.

20180710 The World as it is 5

The smaller illustrations within the text are also beautiful steel engravings as these two pages show, one from the Amazon basin in Brazil and the other from the Transleithan Provinces of the Austrian Empire most of which is now the independent country of Hungary with the Transylvanian region making  up the western part of Romania. You do have to know some history to even start looking places up as they may well not be under the country you expect.

20180710 The World as it is 6

20180710 The World as it is 8

Budapest is described throughout this section as two cities Buda and Pesth (the extra h is how it is spelt in the book) and when you are there the city does feel like two distinct places even now.

The colour plates are not a strong point though, the artist who did these wasn’t really of the standard of the rest so they are a bit of a let down even though the colours are still strong, the best one by a long way is the one representing China:

20180710 The World as it is 7

The books provide a glimpse into a world that no longer exists and for that they are fascinating. In fact they document a world that was rapidly disappearing even as it was published, so I think I will conclude this essay with what is apparently a typical Dutch interior, but is definitely is a museum piece now.

20180710 The World as it is 3

When I was Very Young – A.A. Milne

Although nowadays best known for his stories about his son Christopher Robin and his toys Winnie The Pooh and all the other characters in the Hundred Acre Wood, Alan Alexander Milne would rather be known for his other books and plays. He wrote a surprisingly good crime novel (The Red House Mystery) and over 3 dozen plays along with several books of non-fiction. When I was Very Young is one of his rarest works as the only publication of it is the limited edition from The Fountain Press printed in 1930. Just 842 copies were produced and all were signed by Milne on the limitation page at the back of the book, my copy is number 38. The book comes in a plain card slipcase rather than a dust wrapper although this easily damaged and is often missing from copies for sale

20180619 When I was Very Young 1

The book consists of five short biographical stories from Milne’s childhood which are written in the first person and probably true as the facts that it is possible to check are accurate, such as H.G. Wells being his science teacher at his first school, where his father was head-master. In the book his two older brothers are called David and John (in reality David Barrett Milne and Kenneth John Milne) and the age differences are correct along with the description of all three having blue eyes and golden hair. There are several illustrations by Ernest Shepard and the pages have the feel of handmade paper with rough edges. It’s short, here are only 23 pages of text along with 2 title pages, one page with the copyright information and the limitation page at the back so it definitely only takes a few minutes to read.

20180619 When I was Very Young 2

All of Milne’s Christopher Robin books were also printed as deluxe editions along with several of his plays and other works some of which were also released as signed limited editions. Milne, or at least his agent in America assuming he had one, also seemed to go in for special editions only sold in the USA so there are numerous varieties of some of his titles to collect especially limited editions and pre-signed signed copies. When I was Very Young was not even the first short book by Milne in being initially issued exclusively as such a volume, in 1929 The Fountain Press released The Secret and Other Stories in an edition of 742. The Secret has however since been printed in unlimited modern editions leaving When I was Very Young alone in not being available to a wider readership.

The first page sets the scene

20180619 When I was Very Young 3

After this introduction to the boys David isn’t mentioned in the first two tales, it is clear that Alan and John were close playmates though and the two boys shared a bed for many years but David, as the eldest, presumably had his own room. The first tale is a bit odd as it relates to an apparently shared dream of the two boys when they were about 5 years old for them to wake up one morning and find that everyone else in the world was dead.

As soon as we woke up we should know that it had happened; the absence of the governess from our morning toilet, the discovery of her body in the passage between her room and ours – these would be the first signs. Having explored all over the house to make sure that the thing had been done properly, and that there really were no survivors to say “Don’t” we would then proceed to such-and-such, a sweetshop, step over the body of the proprietress and have our first proper breakfast.

There then follows a drawing by Shepard with the boys eating chocolates and sweets in the shop with the corpse in the background.

20180619 When I was Very Young 4

Not exactly the gentle Winnie the Pooh type tale you might expect! The second story is considerably less disturbing but none the less would be surprising to us nowadays. The two boys had collected various mineral samples and decided that they wanted to show them to somebody at the Geological Museum (then in Jermyn Street). By now it was 1890 and they were 8 and 9 years old and living in St Johns Wood, which is about 3½ miles (5½ km) from the museum. However their father seemed quite happy to let them go on their own as long as they ‘asked a policeman to help them cross Piccadilly Circus’, one of the most busy and therefore dangerous junctions in the city. They manage the trip, meet the curator who spends time with them looking at their small collection and also shows them round the museum and on their way back buy some matches to strike in their bedroom at night after the lights had gone out.

Two very short reminiscences follow, both featuring all three boys, in the first, inspired by a book called The Golden Key they put on an impromptu (and unscripted) play which turns out to be very short and in the second again after being inspired by a book they decide to be sailors and having lined up in front of their father David explains this to him. After consideration their father explains that “There will be examinations to pass”, at this David promptly gives up on the idea.

The final story moves us forward in time again to 1896 when ‘John’ and Alan were both at Westminster Public School and Alan was 14. Although they were boarding students they were allowed out at weekends providing they had somewhere to stay and this one weekend they were staying at the home of some elderly friends of their father. They had found a firework left over from the bonfire night celebrations and decided to extract the gunpowder from it. After a while a fairly disappointing quantity of powder was tipped out…

20180619 When I was Very Young 7

I don’t know why Milne always refers to his brother as John rather than Kenneth or Ken in this short volume, particularly as he always calls him Ken in his book It’s Too Late Now: The Autobiography of a Writer published in 1939 and dedicated as follows; 1880-1929 To the memory of KENNETH JOHN MILNE who bore the worst of me and made the best of me.

Oddly David is called Barry in the autobiography so Alan does like to confuse his readers.

20180619 When I was Very Young 5

The signed limitation page at the back of the book

20180619 When I was Very Young 6

Fables from the Fountain

OK this one needs a bit of an explanation before we get to the book. Back in 1957 the great science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke published a book of short stories that he had written over the preceding 4 years and had appeared in various places in that time. The stories were all linked as a series of tall tales told in a pub called the White Hart by one of the regulars there, Harry Purvis. I first came across the book in the mid 1970’s when I was about 11 or 12 during a period when I was avidly reading through not only Clarke’s work but that of the other two writers of the ‘big three’ in Sci-Fi, Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. At first I wasn’t very interested, I was heavily into Sci-Fi and this was just a group of people in a pub telling stories, mind you some of them have a scientific base and they were funny so I persevered and grew to like the plot twists that were an invariable part of each tale. I no longer have the book, assuming I ever did, it could have been from the library, although I remember the cover well with a giant squid almost covering the pub and I have fond memories of the stories themselves.

I found out many years later that The White Hart was based on a real pub called the White Horse in London where Sci-Fi fans and writers used to meet up in the 50’s. These included John Christopher (The Death of Grass, The Tripods Trilogy etc.), John Wyndham (The Day of the Triffids, The Kraken Awakes etc.) and of course Arthur C Clarke himself. Appropriately the concept of Fables from the Fountain was dreamt up in a London pub by Ian Whates a few weeks after Clarke’s death in 2008 and the day after the Clarke award ceremony for the best new science fiction novel released in Britain. Whates had founded Newcon Press a couple of years earlier and conceived a homage to Tales from the White Hart with stories by current authors who had all in their own way been inspired by the great innovator that was Sir Arthur C Clarke.

20180417 The Fountain 1

The various writers in the new book have taken pseudonyms to be characters who meet at the Fountain to swap stories. Unlike the original the tales are given from assorted standpoints, rather than always by Harry Purvis although it’s good to spot references to him in several of the narratives. Because of the nature of the tales it is difficult to say much about them, they are short because of the premise of the book that they are stories told over a pint or two. Some like Neil Gaiman’s brilliant piece are very short at 4½ pages, so it is hard to avoid giving away the twists and turns they manage in so few words. Rereading the book after almost seven years (it was published in May 2011) for this blog  has been an interesting experience, I was surprised by how many I didn’t remember the ending to even if I instantly recognised the pre-amble.

There is high science represented and some truly awful puns, Professor Mackintosh explains how his life was saved by smoking, we find out surprising things about Muscovy Ducks, whilst Heisenburg, Schroedinger and surprisingly even William Blake get name checks. One of my favourites is ‘On the Messdecks of Madness’ by Raven about which I can say almost nothing without spoiling the enjoyment except it’s the only fantasy story I can recall that uses the great diarist Samuel Pepys’s admiralty career as a basis of the plot. Whilst another explains the 1908 Tunguska explosion and of course there is the obligatory Area 51 tale without which no collection of stories aimed at SF geeks would be complete.

The full list of stories are as follows, I’ve included the introduction here partly because the book does as well in the numbering of the index and also because Peter Weston’s introduction is definitely worth reading.

  1. Introduction – Peter Weston
  2. No Smoke without Fire – Ian Whates
  3. Transients – Stephen Baxter
  4. Forever Blowing Bubbles – Ian Watson
  5. On the Messdecks of Madness – Paul Graham Raven
  6. The Story Bug – James Lovegrove
  7. “And Weep Like Alexander” – Neil Gaiman
  8. The Ghost in the Machine – Colin Bruce
  9. The Hidden Depths of Bogna – Liz Williams
  10. A Bird in Hand – Charles Stross
  11. In Pursuit of the Chuchunaa – Eric Brown
  12. The Cyberseeds – Steve Longworth
  13. Feathers of the Dinosaur – Henry Gee
  14. Book Wurms – Andy West
  15. The Pocklington Poltergeist – David Langford
  16. The Last Man in Space – Andrew J Wilson
  17. A Multiplicity of Phaedra Lament – Peter Crowther
  18. The Girl With the White Ant Tattoo – Tom Hunter
  19. The 9,000,000,001st Name of God – Adam Roberts

The copy I have is the hardback limited edition (number 61 of 200) and is signed by all 19 writers. At the time of writing the title is still available from Newcon Press, although now only in paperback and not signed from this link.

Now if you’ll excuse me it’s Tuesday; so it’s the get together night at the Fountain, Polish barmaid Bogna will be serving behind the bar and I can hear the call of a pint or three of Old Bodger, although I’ll be careful to avoid the Ploughman’s lunches.

20180417 The Fountain 2

20180417 The Fountain 3

Burghall’s Diary – a record of the English Civil War

Until the advent of print on demand publications in the last decade or so the diary of Edward Burghall, vicar of Acton in south Cheshire was one of the most difficult to source of all local history accounts for that county. This was a pity as he was an eye witness to the progress of the English Civil War (1642-51) and his diary covers this entire period and once the style settles down it provides a real feel of how the county and its population was affected by the conflict.

The diary first appeared in print as an adjunct to the Chester edition of King’s Vale Royal of England by William Smith and William Webb, published by Daniel King in 1656, this book is now extremely rare and supplements like this are even rarer as they were not issued at the time but were additional extras that the publishers came up with as they found them. It was included in the combination volume of the relevant section of King’s Vale Royal with Sir Peter Leycester’s Antiquities of Cheshire published in two volumes by John Poole of Chester in 1778. The next time it is known to have been reprinted is as part of Cheshire Biographies by Barlow, printed in 1855 which is also a very difficult book to locate. After that we have to leap all the way to 1993 when it was printed for the first time as a separate book by The Tern Press of Macclesfield as a limited edition of just 200 under the title of Providence Improved and that is the copy on my bookshelves.

20180312 Burghalls Diary 1

As mentioned above Edward Burghall was vicar of Acton, a small village about a mile from the ancient market town of Nantwich which dominated the otherwise mainly rural surroundings in south Cheshire. Nantwich was for Parliament in the war against the Royalists so the diary does tend to cover the conflict from that side. The diary whenever it has been printed has included extracts from various years before the war which as well as illustrating the style of the diary at that time which was more of a series of notes rather than the  extended essays it became during the war also give an idea of Burghall’s belief that god shall strike down the unrighteous, there are very few examples of the righteous being blessed by god however.

20180312 Burghalls Diary 2

20180312 Burghalls Diary 3

Interesting as these are is showing the beliefs and attitudes of the people at the time the diary really gets into it’s stride with the origins of the war and descriptions of military actions. Here Burghall proves to be a faithful witness of manoeuvres either seen by himself or reported by people involved in the local area and especially in the lead up to the siege of Nantwich and it’s aftermath in January 1644.

This page from May 1643 also includes a drawing by Nicholas Parry of the Crown Hotel which still looks pretty much the same now as it did then.

20180312 Burghalls Diary 4 May 1643

Whitchurch is 14 miles (22½ km) from Nantwich so the soldiers starting at midnight marched 14 miles in 3 hours, fought a battle, won it, gained some booty from the defeated army and march 14 miles back again returning by 5 in the afternoon. Quite a days work! This isn’t the only example of similar there and back again in a day raids run out of Nantwich that are recorded in the diary; on another day they went to Chester, fought in a battle and got back a round trip of 41 miles (66 km)

20180312 Burghalls Diary 5 Oct 1643

By the end of 1643, as can be seen above, the Royalists were clearly getting fed up about the way the troops from Nantwich were able to so disrupt their positions that it was decided to move against the town itself.  By then Nantwich was the only town still under Parliamentary control in the entire county so it was definitely becoming a nuisance and  skirmishes started in October that would eventually lead to the Battle of Nantwich on 25th January 1644.20180312 Burghalls Diary 6 Jan 1644

 

The battle is still commemorated in the town each year and since the 1970’s there has been a re-enactment and other entertainments suitable to the period on the Saturday closest to the 25th January and is known as Holly Holy day as back in January 1644 the townspeople wore sprigs of holly in their hats to celebrate the victory there being no other colourful plants at that time of year. I was born in Nantwich and lived there throughout my childhood which is why wanted this book so much when it came out. As I said at the beginning of this blog nowadays it is easy to get the text from more than one print on demand source both here and in America, it is always found with Memorials of the civil war in Cheshire and the adjacent counties by Thomas Malbon, of Nantwich as both books are quite short and it makes for an interesting read.

Another aspect of this book that I want to cover is how this edition came to be printed. Crowd-funding is seen by many as a modern phenomenon, sites such as KickStarter and GoFundMe are in common use now however the book business has used this model for centuries with subscribers editions and selling books against a prospectus. Printing a book was an expensive game, and still is if you want an object of quality, so subscribers would be sought to put up money in advance to ensure that the massive initial outlay was at least mainly offset before the publisher went to press. Subscribers would get the earliest editions and often their name printed in the back, also their edition may be on larger paper or have extra illustrations to make it stand out. The alternative would be a prospectus, a simple sheet of paper produced to interest buyers before publication and again persuade them to pay before the physical book exists, usually by getting a discount on the final published price. That was how Tern Press went about selling this book as can be seen below as I kept my copy of the prospectus and tucked it inside the book when I had it.

The specials were a lot more expensive (from memory about £200) but for that you got an original watercolour by the artist tipped into the book and you could choose what you wanted him to paint. I however couldn’t afford that so handed over my £48 in advance of publication and eventually received number 31 in the post.

You don’t have to be from Nantwich, or even be interested in Cheshire history to find the book interesting. Burghall eventually lost his position at Acton on the 3rd October 1663, as a fervent Parliamentarian he was always at risk after the restoration of the monarchy in May 1660, and he died in apparent poverty on the 8th December 1665.

Robert Hooke’s Micrographia

2nd January 1666

Thence to my bookseller’s and at his binders saw Hookes book of the Microscope which is so pretty that I presently bespoke it.

20th January 1666

so to my bookseller’s and there took home Hookes book of Microscopy, a most excellent piece, and of which I am very proud.

21st January 1666

Before I went to bed I sat up till 2 a-clock, in my chamber reading of Mr Hookes Microscopicall Observations, the most ingenious book that ever I read in my life.

I have to agree with Samuel Pepys, I have added this book to my library in the last week and like the celebrated diarist I have spent hours late into the night reading and looking at the wonderful illustrations. It is hard to imagine just how revolutionary a work it was in it’s time, nobody had seen anything like it before. Very few people had access to a microscope and very little had been printed with illustrations of what you could see with the use of one. Micrographia was the first book published by The Royal Society, just three years after the society had been granted it’s royal charter in 1662 making it the oldest scientific academy in the world. Pepys had become a fellow of the society on 16th February 1665 so knew Hooke and would have been well aware of the book before publication.

Now it may seem odd to write a review of a book that came out over 350 years ago but the edition published by The Folio Society is the first high quality version printed in the last 200 years and reproduces in full size the original plates including large fold out pages that are up to 2 feet (60cm) across. The book is consequently large at 13½” × 8¾” (34.3cm x 22.2cm) and quarter bound in leather. The cover is printed on cloth and based on the eye of a grey drone fly and was designed by Neil Gower.

20180305 Micrographia 1

Inside the illustrations are the first thing to catch your eye but then the text pulls you in. Although this is primarily an important, and in its time ground breaking, scientific work Hooke wrote for the interested layman and even after all these centuries it is still an engaging story. Instead of just describing the illustrations he explains why and how he came to look at them in the first place, you get his first impressions and you can share in his sense of wonder at what is revealed.

20180305 Micrographia 2

A study of a piece of cloth to reveal the weave, the end of a pencil, a needle, nothing is beyond his inquiring mind and everything he looked at and wrote about was new to the reader who would not have had access to anything like this before.

20180305 Micrographia 3

The picture above is of the black spots on the leaves of the rose bushes in his garden. To his surprise these turned out to be ‘tiny plants’ growing on the leaves themselves. Nowadays we understand what he is looking at but the text explains his reasoning that this is some sort of mould and the next thing he then examines is a blue mould on a book bound in leather from a sheep to see if his premise is valid. You learn with Hooke and it’s no surprise that Pepys found the book so fascinating.

20180305 Micrographia 4

The large fold out plates are possibly the most famous pictures in the book and The Folio Society have reproduced pages from original 1st and 2nd editions (whichever were the best examples) held in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. There is also a small section at the end where Hooke turns his attention away from the very small to the very large and includes some observations he made with a telescope including an early map of part of the moon.

20180305 Micrographia 5

It really is a joy to own and read this book, which was published in 2017 in a limited edition of just 750 copies, mine is number 635. Whilst I love the normal production of The Folio Society and have over 400 books printed by them; it is their limited editions that are their crowning glory. Printed on the finest paper and treated as a work of art in their own right these books are rightly regarded as something special and Micrographia was the winner of the “Scholarly, Academic and Reference Book” category at The British Book Design & Production Awards 2017. A fantastic addition to any library.

There is a video of the book from The Folio Society on YouTube which  gives a better idea as to the size and beauty of this amazing work and this makes an interesting comparison to a video from The Bodleian Library about their first edition.

 

The Original Alice

Almost everyone knows the children’s tale Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll either having read the book, or seen or heard, one of the many adaptations over the years.  Most readers will know that Alice was a real person, one of the daughters of Henry Liddell, dean of Christ Church college at Oxford and the stories were told to entertain her and her sisters.  They will also know that Lewis Carroll was really the reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a 24 year old mathematics lecturer at Christ Church when he first met the Liddell’s. But what is less well known is that when the stories were first written down they were intended to just be a one off book as a gift to Alice and the title was Alice’s Adventures Under Ground.

20170116 The Original Alice 4

The book was handwritten and illustrated by Dodgson and was given to Alice for Christmas in 1864 when she was 12 years old, although he originally came up with most of the story when she was 10 on a trip up the river for a picnic. Alice treasured the little book for decades but eventually in 1928 at the age of 75 and now a widow needing money she sold it at auction for £15,000 (approximately £860,000 today). The book was bought by Dr Rosenbach, who was an American book dealer, and he subsequently sold it in the US.   The private collector who owned it died in 1948 and the book was again put up for auction this time making $50,000 (roughly $508,000 or £363,000 nowadays) and Dr Rosenbach was the top bidder at this auction as well.

20170116 The Original Alice 5

This time however was to be the last time it will ever come to the market. Several American benefactors led by book collector Lessing Rosenwald obtained the book in order to give it to Britain in thanks for the gallantry of the British people during the Second World War.  In November 1948 the book was brought on the liner The Queen Elizabeth across the Atlantic and presented to the British Museum with the Archbishop of Canterbury representing the country by receiving it.  The book is now part of the national collection (catalogue ref MS 45700).

In 1997 The British Library published a book by Sally Brown entitled The Original Alice, which now sadly out of print but fairly easy to find on the second hand market.  This tells the story of how Alice came to be written and compares Alice’s Adventures Under Ground to Alice in Wonderland with examples as to how the books differ.

20170116 The Original Alice 1 The illustrations of the original book included here are from another out of print edition, a beautiful leather bound facsimile of the original produced in a limited edition run of just 3750 copies by the Folio Society in 2008, this is somewhat more tricky to track down but it is a beautiful thing to own and read.  It comes in a lovely box with a ribbon to lift the book out with.

 

Although he never intended publication Dodgson did pass the book to his friend, the children’s novelist George MacDonald, to cast his professional eye over, before giving it to Alice. MacDonald’s children so enjoyed the book that Dodgson was eventually persuaded to publish.  He significantly rewrote the tales, removing a lot of references that only really made sense to the Liddell family and adding Pig and Pepper along with The Mad Tea Party. These additions and revisions to the original text almost doubled the length and took the book up from 18000 to 35000 words.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was finally published in November 1865 in an edition of 2000 copies but in a final twist these were withdrawn as the illustrator, John Tenniel, was unhappy with the quality of the reproductions of his pictures.  This makes the handful of copies that still exist one of the rarest of all children’s books.  The book was finally available to the public in 1866 and was an immediate success.  Alice’s Adventures Under Ground has been printed several times in the intervening 150 years but only the Folio Society have produced a true facsimile of the book with the leather binding and colour illustrations where appropriate, however it is worth searching out a copy of the text as first written as it gives a view of the story that Alice herself first heard and it is quite different to the text that we all know.

Welcome

1894 - Lane Christmas Book- The Life of Sir Thomas Bodley- 2 title pageWelcome to my book shelves, home to some 6500 volumes dating back to the mid 1700’s right up to the present day. I’m going to use these as the basis for short essays or reviews not just of these books but where ever they wish to take me.  The aim is to pick a book, or group of books each week and look at its significance, or just tell a tale as to why it has found itself here.

The Life of Sir Thomas Bodley featured with this first article is a good entry point as the Bodliean Library in Oxford takes its name from Sir Thomas who came to its rescue in the 1590’s and put it finally in the secure position it now holds as one of the worlds greatest libraries. So immediately we have a book leading to more books

When John Lane founded his publishing company in 1887 he chose to call it The Bodley Head in honour of Sir Thomas and for Christmas 1894 printed a very small number of copies of Bodley’s autobiography as gifts to friends and people who had helped set up the business.  Very few of these books have survived the intervening 123 years but it’s an interesting work that should perhaps be better known.

I have two copies of ‘The Life’ one still in the original card covers and one rebound in boards and this also includes the original compliments slip from John Lane.

My main interest in The Bodley Head however is in one of his employees in the 1930’s, Allen Lane, who went on to found a far more famous publishing company namely Penguin Books, which now owns The Bodley Head imprint and uses it for non-fiction titles.

Well over 2000 of my books are Penguins and I specialise in the first 10 years of the company 1935 to 1945 which led to some fascinating books and stories about how they came about as the firm struggled with wartime restrictions but also the greater need amongst the population at home and also servicemen/women for something to read.  More to come about those in future entries to this blog…