Wednesday, August 22, 2012

On the Philosophy of Charming

John B. Newman. Fascination, or the Philosophy of Charming; Illustrating the Principles of Life in Connection with Spirit and Matter. (New York: Fowler & Wells, 1885).

Here's a lovely little volume for my phrenological friends. It was published by Fowler & Wells of New York. The publishing firm was founded by two brothers, Lorenzo N. and Orson S. Fowler (who championed the cause of phrenology when it was introduced to America by Dr. Johann Spurzheim in 1832) and they were later joined by Samuel Wells, who abandoned his medical career and married the brothers' sister Charlotte.

The inside front cover bears a bookplate "From Dr. F. B. Smith's Medical Library."

The table of contents is very descriptive in its detail, a characteristic of older books that I enjoy very much.

The book is a collection of conversations between a "doctor" and a "lady." There are 176 pages of text followed by 16 pages of publisher's advertisements, which are very interesting in themselves and will no doubt lead me further into related topics.

I will continue in a later post when I finish reading, and share some interesting passages with you. There are two copies in the Internet Archive in case you want to explore this book for yourself.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Reptiles and Birds by Louis Figuier

Figuier, Louis. Reptiles and Birds: A Popular Account of Their Various Orders, With a Description of the Habits and Economy of the Most Interesting. Revised by Parker Gillmore ("Ubique"). With 308 Illustrations. (London: Cassell & Co., Ltd., 1892).

"Placed side by side," says Professor Huxley, "a humming-bird and a tortoise, or an ostrich and a crocodile, offer the strongest contrast; and a stork seems to have little but its animality in common with the snake which it swallows." Nevertheless, unlike as they are in outward appearance, there is sufficient resemblance in their internal economy to bring them together in classifying the animal kingdom. [from the Introductory Chapter]

Reptiles and Birds features 308 engraved illustrations and I had some difficulty in limiting the number of choices for this post. I admit to being attracted to the beauty of the birds more strongly than to the strangeness of the reptiles. Below are pictured the Surinam Toad (Pipa monstrosa) bearing live young from pores on its back, followed by the Ring Snake (Natrix torquatas)

Here are a selection of my favorite bird illustrations: the Hawk Owl or Canada Owl (Surnia ulula), the Gray Parrot or Jaco (Psittacus erythacus), and the King Vulture (Sarcorhamphus papa).

The section which made the deepest impression on me is the following passage from "EXTINCT BREVIPENNES."
The order of the Brevipennes may be held to embrace some birds which have now disappeared from the surface of the globe, but which are supposed to be contemporaneous with man. The remains which are met with in quite modern alluvium scarcely admit of any doubt in this respect. In the first rank of extinct birds we may place the Dodo (Didus ineptus), which was indigenous to the Mauritius and the Isle of France, where it used to be abundant, if we may believe the testimony of the companions of Vasco de Gama, who visited there in 1497. At the end of the seventeenth century some of them still existed. Former travellers have described them; and these accounts, with skeletons and an oil painting in the British Museum, are the only information which we possess regarding them.
The Dodo was a fat and heavy bird, and weighed not less than fifty pounds. Its portly body was supported on short legs, provided with ridiculously small wings, making it equally incapable of running or flying, thus dooming the bird to rapid destruction. Lastly and principally, it had a stupid physiognomy, but little calculated to conciliate the sympathies of the observer. . . The Dodo did not even possess the merit of being useful after death, for its flesh was disagreeable and of a bad flavor. On the whole there is not much to regret its extinction. [pp. 367-368.]
The endangered Kiwi Bird of New Zealand has to this day managed to avoid extinction despite the fact that it was described by Figuier as being "rare."
Kiwi-Kiwi or Apteryx (Apteryx australis) . . . has no tail, and its mere stumps of wings are provided with strong and curved claws. It is a native of New Zealand, and keeps in the marshes where it feeds on worms and grubs. Being nocturnal, it is seldom seen. In spite of its short legs it runs very fast, and if overtaken, does not yield wihout an effort, using its feet, which are armed with long and sharp claws, as weapons of defense.
The natives call the bird Kiwi. They used at one time to hunt them very perserveringly, as much for their flesh as for their feathers, which they used in making mats. Now they have renounced this work, for the profits not compensating for the fatigue which is entailed. Day by day it is becoming more rare. It is curious that cxtinction should be the fate of most of the native New Zealand birds. [pp. 364; 367]
And, in closing, here are a few bird nest dots which bring to mind the lovely little reproductions found in dictionaries:

For more Reptiles and Birds, you can visit the Internet Archive.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Louis Figuier

Louis Guillaume Figuier (1819-1894) was a French chemist and writer on occult subjects. He took his doctorate in medicine and completed postgraduate study in chemistry. He is best remembered for his prolific writings popularizing the sciences. From 1857 to 1894 he edited and published an annual inventory of scientific discoveries--L'Anee scientifique et industrielle.

Work on occult subjects includes Le Lendemain de la Mort, ou La Vie Future Selon la Science (1872) dealing with the transmigration of souls. It is available in English translation from the Internet Archive as The To-Morrow of Death; or, The Future Life According to Science (1872) and, alternately, The Day After Death; or, Our Future Life, According to Science (1874).

His work on alchemy, L'Alchime et Les Alchimistes: Essai Historique et Critique sur la Philosophie Hermetique (1856 and 1860) and the four-volume Histoire du Merveilleus dans les Temps Modernes (1860-74) which includes information on the divining rod, animal magnetism, mediums and spiritualism, are also available from the Internet Archive in the original French language only.

The photograph of Figuier was taken by Felix Nadar. Figuier's obituary was published in the New York Times on November 10, 1894.

I have been collecting his beautifully illustrated natural science books in English translation and will present a separate post on each of the following titles:
  • The Human Race.
  • The Insect World: Being A Popular Account of the Orders of Insects, Together with A Description of the Habits and Economy of Some of the Most Interesting Species.
  • Mammalia: Their Various Forms and Habits.
  • The Ocean World: Being a Description of the Sea and Some of its Inhabitants.
  • Primitive Man.
  • Reptiles and Birds: A Popular Account of Their Various Orders.
  • The Vegetable World: Being A History of Plants with Their Structure and Peculiar Properties.

These titles are also available from the Internet Archive.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Wonderful Century

Wallace, Alfred Russel. The Wonderful Century: Its Successes and Its Failures. (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1898).

"The attempt has been made to give short, descriptive sketches of those great material and intellectual achievements which especially distinguish the Nineteenth Century from any and all of its predecessors, and to show how fundamental is the change they have effected in our life and civilization. A comparative estimate of the number and importance of these achievements leads to the conclusion that not only is our century superior to any that have gone before it, but that it may be best compared with the whole preceding historical period. It must therefore be held to constitute the beginning of a new era of human progress." [from the Preface]

". . .the more important of these are not mere improvements upon, or developments of, anything that had been done before, but that they are entirely new departures, arising out of our increasing knowledge of and command over the forces of the universe. Many of these advances have already led to developments of the most startling kind, giving us such marvelous powers, and such extensions of our normal senses, as would have been incredible, and almost unthinkable even to our greatest men of science, a hundred years ago." [p.3]

Described are Nineteenth Century innovations in modes of traveling (the railway and ocean-going steamship), labor-saving machinery (the sewing machine, typewriter, and combined reaping, thrashing and winnowing machine), the conveyance of thought (the electric telegraph, trans-Atlantic cable, and telephone) and numerous other scientific advances (friction phosphorus matches, gas-lighting, electric lighting, photography, the phonograph, Rontgen or X-rays, spectrum analysis, and anesthetics).

"We men of the Nineteenth Century have not been slow to praise it. The wise and the foolish. . . the rich and the poor alike swell the chorus of admiration for the marvelous inventions and discoveries of our own age which remind us every hour of our immense superiority over our comparatively ignorant forefathers." [p.1]

". . . there have been equally striking Failures, some intellectual, but for the most part moral and social. . . No doubt it will be objected that I have devoted far too much space to them--more than half the volume. But this was inevitable, for the very obvious reason that, whereas the success are universally admitted and had only to be described, the failures are either ignored or denied, and therefore required to be proved." [from the Preface]

Wallace discusses the following topics at length: Phrenology (35 pages), Mesmerism (18 pages), and Vaccination (over 100 pages not including 12 fold-out diagrams at the end of the book illustrating disease mortalities) in a chapter titled "Vaccination A Delusion--It's Penal Enforcement a Crime."

Wallace outlines the history of Phrenology beginning with its discovery in the last years of the Eighteenth Century by German physician Dr. Francois Joseph Gall who, after over 20 years of observation of the "diseased brain" as physician to a lunatic asylum in Vienna, began lecturing in 1796. Gall's most distinguished pupil, Dr. Johann Gaspar Spurzheim visits Great Britain in 1813 where George Combe takes up the study becoming "entirely emancipated from religious dogma, and became the best exponent of a well-reasoned system of natural religion."

Meanwhile, the religious community raised objections to Phrenology, deeming it "contrary to Scripture and dangerous to morality." Metaphysicians of the day "recognized no connection between the mind and the organism." The increase of itinerant uneducated phrenological lecturers damaged the overall reputation, and phrenology's association with mesmerism or hypnotism was "virulently opposed at the time by doctors against painless operations during the mesmeric trance."

The final death-blow to phrenology came in 1870 with experimentation on the brains of animals by excitation with galvanic currents. The findings were said to show conclusively that "portions of the brain which the phrenologists had alleged to be the organ of mental faculties are really only organs of muscular movements." Wallace documents prior experiments which "demonstrate that the stimulation of many parts of the cerebrum of man did excite both sensation and motion" and states: "Phrenology is a science of observation as truly as is geology itself." [p182]

In a chapter titled "Militarism--The Curse of Civilization" Wallace discusses crime and punishment with particular attention to the "Lunacy Laws" of his time. Writing about "The Vampire of War" he describes the expense involved in maintaining "the paraphernalia of war" by "nations armed to the teeth, and watching stealthily for some occasion to use their vast armaments for their own aggrandisement and for the injury of their neighbors."

The closing chapters address "The Demon of Greed" and "The Plunder of the Earth" by "a reckless destruction of the stored-up products of nature." Wallace admonishes: "Not only have forest-growths of many hundreds of years been cleared away, often with disastrous consequences, but the whole of the mineral treasures of the earth's surface, the slow products of long-past eons of time and geological change, have been and are still being exhausted, to an extent never before approached, and probably not equaled in amount during the whole preceding period of human history." [p. 367] One can only wonder how Wallace might react to the total destructive disregard of the environment which is perpetuated today!

Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) was a contemporary of Charles Darwin and is credited with having independently discovered natural selection and writing a letter that panicked Darwin into rushing publication of his Origin of Species. But Wallace has been relegated and consigned to an obscure historical position in comparison to that of Darwin. From what I have read about Wallace's background, there are a number of factors that contributed to the disparity. The Darwin family was richly endowed financially and well positioned socially. Because his father lost the family fortune, Wallace suffered from a middle class upbringing and a limited childhood education.

Wallace was interested in a broad range of disciplines. His failure to specialize caused him to be taken less seriously by his peers than the more focused Darwin. Indeed, Wallace became interested in a number of topics discredited by the strict scientist. Wallace embraced spiritualism and was a strong advocate for Phrenology, even as its popularity was waning. At eighty-one years of age, Wallace was described by G.K. Chesterton as the second (after Walt Whitman) greatest man of his time, stating "he has been the leader of a revolution, and the leader of a counter-revolution." [English Illustrated Magazine, vol. 30, 1914.]

My copy originally came from Newbold's Bookshop in New Zealand. (If you have an interest in Book Trade Labels, be sure to visit the Seven Roads Gallery to see their amazing collection.)

A number of copies of The Wonderful Century are available on the Internet Archive if you would like to explore it more for yourself. For a contemporary view of Wallace I recommend Infinite Tropics: An Alfred Russel Wallace Anthology edited by Andrew Berry (London & NY: Verso, 2002). Here are collected a sampling of his writing in many areas of science (evolution, biogeography, natural history, conservation, geology, glaciology, and eugenics) as well as topics of concern in spiritualism and social reform.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Schools & Masters of Painting

Radcliffe, A. G. Schools and Masters of Painting: With an Appendix on the Principal Galleries of Europe. Illustrated. New Edition. (New York: D. Appleton, 1885).

I first saw a copy of this book in the Mount Washington Valley Arts Association's library and totally fell in love with the engravings. Fortunately, I was able to locate a copy of my own. It came complete with a number of four-leaf clovers pressed between the pages.

And a previous owner preserved a newspaper clipping (titled Valuable Works of Art) reading, in part:
Paris and London are agitated over some paintings which in absolute value surpass any collections heretofore brought together. The first city boasts the possession of a Meissonier, who being still in the flesh has lived to see a price put upon his works never attained until death and age have joined to give the seal of greatness. . .The London collection is in the possession of the Duke of Marlborough, and he wishes to dispose of them to the nation.
The classified advertisements on the reverse are interesting as well:

The first mention of art in America occurs in chapter 18--Painting in the nineteenth century. Included are Allston, Stuart, Leutze and Huntington, sections on American portrait-painters, genre and figure painters, the landscapists Church, Bierstadt, Kensett and Cole, plus a special mention of Bradford's icebergs and Catlin's Indian pictures. The art world in 1885 centered around Florence, Rome, Venice, Madrid, The Louvre, London, Dresden, Munich and Berlin.

There are 566 pages of text followed by a 9-page Index of Artists. Also included are six pages of publisher's advertisements, the first quoting a review from the New York Tribune for Radcliffe's work:
The volume is one of great practical utility, and may be used to advantage as an artistic guide-book by persons visiting the collections of Italy, France, and Germany for the first time. The twelve great pictures of the world, which are familiar by copies and engravings to all who have the slightest tincture of taste [I love that one--'tincture of taste' !] for art, are described in a special chapter, which affords a convenient stepping stone to a just appreciation of the most celebrated masterpieces of painting.

There are eight copies, in various editions, of Alida Graveraet Radcliffe's book listed in the Internet Archive if you wish to explore further.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ten Thousand Wonderful Things

Edmund Fillingham King, Editor. Ten Thousand Wonderful Things: Comprising Whatever is Marvellous and Rare, Curious, Eccentric, and Extraordinary in All Ages and Nations, Enriched with Hundreds of Authentic Illustrations. (London: John Routledge & Sons, 1860).

"A Book of Wonders requires but a brief introduction. Our title-page tells its own tale and forms the best exposition of the contents of the volume. . . We trust it is needless to say that we have closed our pages against everything that can be considered objectionable in its tendency."

The volume contains a 4-page index to engravings and an 8-page index to subjects for a total of 684 pages plus four pages of publisher's advertisements (wherein I first discovered The Boy's Playbook of Science by John Henry Pepper, to be the subject of a forthcoming chapter of Biblio-Dots).

POPULAR AMUSEMENTS IN 1743: Rope-dancing, tumbling, vaulting, equilibres, ladder-dancing and balancing. . . likewise the extraordinary performance imitating the lark, thrush, blackbird, goldfinch, canary-bird, flageolet, and German Flute. . . everyone will be admitted for a pint of wine as usual.

THE CUPID OF THE HINDOOS: Presented riding on a parrot.

INTERESTING AND FANCIFUL RELIQUE: Presented by Mary, Queen of Scots to George Gordon, fourth Earl of Huntley. Consists of a lock of Mary's hair attached to a small ivory skull which is connected by a twisted skein of silk to the figure of a Cupid shooting an arrow.

This book is available on the Internet Archive if you would like to explore it more for yourself.

I will close with one additional wonderful thing. While trying to find information on the editor, Edmund Fillingham King, I discovered a site called Folk Art In Bottles. The link will take you to their gallery of miniature ships in light bulbs!