The Prisoner of Chillon and other Poems by Lord Byron

The Prisoner of Chillon and Other PoemsThe Prisoner of Chillon and Other Poems by George Gordon Byron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Having read several books on books in a row, it was nice to get back to some poetry. This was a great volume to choose. The title piece was wonderful. Its rhythm was excellent. Byron used nature to cheer the prisoner, but not in a way that diminished the despair or hopelessness of the situation. It was a moment of beauty that wasn’t over-written. He captures the sadness of the prisoner’s food and the cruelty of his captors:

Our bread was such as captive’s tears
Have moisten’d many a thousands years
Since man first pent his fellow man
Like brutes within an iron den (lines 134-137)

I originally bought this volume for ‘Darkness’, and I wasn’t disappointed. It is an apocalyptic tale that was influenced by a real world Indonesian volcanic eruption that affected weather throughout Europe (darkness, cold weather, etc.).

‘The Dream’ is a sad tale of young lovers who went their separate ways yet never could forget each other. As the man reflects while he is getting married, his new bride wasn’t “The Starlight of his Boyhood” (line 148).

Overall, a great read that I will come back to again.

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The Bibliography of the Strawberry Hill Press by A.T. Hazen

A Bibliography of the Strawberry Hill Press: With a Record of the Prices at Which Copies Have Been Sold, Including a New Supplement,A Bibliography of the Strawberry Hill Press: With a Record of the Prices at Which Copies Have Been Sold, Including a New Supplement, by Allen T. Hazen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fantastic! I love the details of everything that came off the Strawberry Hill press. I also enjoyed Mr. Hazen shine light on forgeries, unauthorized prints and items incorrectly assigned to the press. He covers the history of their printing, citing from various sources, including the original journal of the press done by Horace Walpole. The facsimiles of title pages and other printed items are joyous to behold. This bibliography is true biblio-porn!

I love seeing bibliography used not just as a dry recording method, but as a tool to solve mysteries, date printings, reconstruct history and uncover forgeries. Hazen inspected many copies of each item, comparing fonts, paper, watermarks, etc., to figure out which items were true editions and which came later, produced by Strawberry Hill’s at times unscrupulous printer Thomas Kirgate. For example, Hazen looks closely at an item that was supposed to have been published in 1757 and was quite valuable. Upon inspection, he finds that the font used in this particular edition hadn’t been invented until 1764, hence the piece was done at a later date and “pre-dated” to increase its value (pp. 154-158). This bibliography is full of interesting examples like this one.

For anyone interesting in Strawberry Hill, Horace Walpole, 18th century society, or small press printing, this is a great read.

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A second journey round the library of a bibliomaniac by William Davis

A Second Journey Round the Library of a Bibliomaniac; Or, Cento of Notes and reminiscences concerning rare, curious, and valuable booksA Second Journey Round the Library of a Bibliomaniac; Or, Cento of Notes and reminiscences concerning rare, curious, and valuable books by William Davis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Davis’s Second Journey wasn’t as fun or interesting as his first. The books selected weren’t as ‘neat’ (for me) as the ones he chose for his 1821 journey. But, I’m still happy to have been able to peruse it.

I would highlight one cited book: Richardi de Bury (originally Richard de Aungerville)’s Phylobiblion de querimoniis Liborum omnibus literatum amatoribus perutile (1473). A fabulous study of how to manage libraries, preserve its books and lending rules. Libraries are one of my favorite places in the world.

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A journey round the library of a bibliomaniac by William Davis

A Journey Round the Library of a BibliomaniacA Journey Round the Library of a Bibliomaniac by William Davis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This looked like such a fun book when I stumbled upon it. I bought a University of Michigan Library scanned copy that was printed on demand. So, modern trade paperback format with the scanned pages of the original 1821 book. I love the look of the old fonts and page layouts, but I was able to be a little less gentle with it than I would if I had the original.

Some might find bibliographies boring or only useful when doing research. I enjoy them no matter what. But, Davis makes this a fun and quick read for a more general audience. He covered books from about 1430 up to 1809. Depending on the entry, he would talk about the book, its history, the author or some interesting, related tidbit. When possible, he lists sale prices of the book through time.

I learned some cool things, e.g. Shakespeare’s 3rd folio was seen then as more valuable than the 2nd, since the 2nd was riddled with problems. He had two neat things on Cervantes’s Don Quixote. First, contemporary (to Davis) critics highly valued the Motteux English translation, even though it’s in less favor today. And even in 1821, the beauty of Ibarra’s Don Quixote was beyond question. When discussing Knight’s Account of the Remains of the Worship of Priapus (1786), he writes of Brydone’s thoughts on Catholics appropriating ancient myths and gods, and simply renaming them (p. 87-90). Fascinating.

The edition I bought also has his second Journey around the library, published in 1825. I’ll write a separate review for that one once I finish it.

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The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

The Left Hand of DarknessThe Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have to admit that I didn’t read this book all the way through. After the first 75 pages, I started skimming. It just never grabbed my interest but I felt I needed to work through it, even if I was scanning. The politics and argument that Le Guin makes are pretty good, especially her thoughts on gender and sex. When this was first published, I know it would have been groundbreaking. But today, while many of the bad norms regarding gender on our planet are still in place, they are at least not buried or hidden in darkened places. A flashlight is highlighting them, although we still need to stamp them out.

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Malleus Maleficarum by Jacobus Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer

Malleus MaleficarumMalleus Maleficarum by Jacobus Sprenger
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was an impulse buy of a fine binding (Folio Society) with a local connection (Baltimore librarian and collector) based on a translation by Montague Summers, who wrote the Gothic Bibliography I consult regularly. I can’t say this purchase was really worth it, but I’m glad to have read it.

The editor of the series, Pennethorne Hughes, attempts to whitewash the Catholic Church’s action in murdering “witches”, predominately women. He says that while maybe many of the women killed were not witches, there still was something going on, hence the need to be vigilant. He claims that the Inquisitors and their overlords had nothing to gain by pursuing frivolous trials. He says they were only acting as best they could. This is disingenuous and simply fails to see the power that the Church had at that time and all the efforts it went to to sustain and grow that power from its founding up to the present. And he ignores human nature and how some people use a judicial process to punish those who they dislike or feel wronged them in some way.

The text itself is broken up into three parts. The first and third are only summarized in this edition. The first covers the “scientific” basis of witchcraft while the third covers the “trial”, torture and execution of the condemned. The editor notes that he has summarized the methods of torture in order to not offend or be sadistic. In some sense, I think he should have included it to further show how horrible this whole project was. He does give enough for me to wonder if the Malleus Maleficarum is being used as the foundation legal document for the US military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay. By that I mean that the accused shouldn’t be allowed access to competent legal representation, they should be mentally then physically tortured, lied to, promised salvation and then executed since by definition they were guilty before proceedings began. Sadly, not much has changed in 529 years.

The second section focuses on what witches can do and how to undo their acts. It is a testament to Christian misogyny. Women are weaker, less spiritual, easily deceived, subverters of god and man, etc. Women who defy men for whatever reason are by definition under the influence of the devil. The logic of the writers is also very convoluted. Evil is all powerful, but only when god lets evil work. So, the god they are protecting and worshiping is childish, spiteful and sadistic and willing to harm even the just. How people didn’t rise up earlier from this religion boggles the mind.

The editor tries to end in a good way, noting how the situations that led to the Malleus in the first place are still present today (1968). He sees it in communism, fascism, the Red Scare of McCarthy, the Holocaust, the violence during Algerian independence, etc. He says while he cannot condone the violence, he hopes that after reading this edition, we may begin to understand how it came about. This effort raised the book for me from 1 to 2 stars. He could have gone a lot further, perhaps with an afterward, but maybe that should be saved for a different work.

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Horace Walpole and the Strawberry Hill Press 1757-1789 By Munson Aldrich Havens

Horace Walpole and the Strawberry Hill Press, 1757-1789Horace Walpole and the Strawberry Hill Press, 1757-1789 by Munson Aldrich Havens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a fantastic read, especially for those fond of old books and printing. How often do you get to follow a press from birth to death? Read about every piece that came from it? I’ve been fascinated with Horace Walpole and reading about his private press was just a blast.

I also liked a quote from Walpole upon hearing of the death of a close friend (the poet Thomas Gray): “Methinks as we grow old, our only business here is to adorn the graves of our friends, or to dig our own” (p. 52).

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