A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.5 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places...
I would love to write a book like this. The full title of the work by J. Birchall, The Admonitory Task Book;: Consisting of Prose and Poetry, Original and Selected: Interspersed With Striking Aphorisms, Useful Maxims, and Moral Precepts. Designed for the Use of Schools (1819). I want very badly to open this book. Unfortunately, it isn't anywhere to open--it seems not to be located in WorldCat/OCLC.
The source for this lovely title is Holletts Rare Books from the U.K. --its beautiful.
The Charities Bureau of Kansas City published this handbook in 1921 for the annual fund raising season: The Hand Book for the Campaign
is a concise account of the principal helping-hand organizations, many
of which have (from our seat here in the future) quite extraordinary
We find "The Rest Cottage" ("maintained as a refuge and
rehabilitation sot for homeless and unfortunate women and girls and
their destitute children"), the "Receiving Home for Children", "The
Home for Infants", "The Orphan Home for Girls", "The Child Welfare
Club", "The Children's Hotel", "The Whatsoever Circle", "The Home for
Aged Women and the Destitute", "The Presbyterian Home and School for Crippled Children", "The Helping Hand Association for the Blind", "The Girls Hotel", "the Childrens Bureau", "The Finding Society", "The Home for Aged Women of the Mexican Christian Institute", "The Hopkins receiving Home" and of course "The Society for the Friendless" (providing aid to the "man who comes from prison", from Lansing, Leavenworth and St. Joesph. Actually the members of this society would receive the newly released convict as well as visit them in prison; the society reached over 13,000 men (and "girls in Industrial Schools") between 1919 and 1921.
There were dozens of these agencies that were providing help and relief to the needy in the Kansas City area in the pre-Federal-help days. It is very interesting to see these charities divided along lines of need, rather than have them gathered together under a giant umbrella like, oh, the Department of Health and Human Services or some such agency. Or just the Department of "Human Service"(?) on the state level of many states. It seems more appropriate to actually specify the nature of relief rather than hide it away under a giant Orwellian blanketing cover of general services--it would be okay to be reminded that there are needs for abandoned children and destitute girls. Perhaps it would make us all a little more aware of who needs what in this rich and capable society. It just seems to me that codifying the extreme of social need into more amorphous units like we have done in the last 50 years or so smooths the edges that people like Thomas Nast and Jacob Riis* and Charles Dickens and Virginia Woodhull and Dorothea Lange and Dorthy Day** managed to sharpen. Sharp edges are good.
* Jacob Riis was perhaps the first documentary photographer of the American "underclass", putting an indisputable photographic face on the living and working conditions of the laboring poor. A photograph of these conditions was irreproachable--it was something you could absolutely trust, mree so than an "artist's representation"; like seeing a photograph from the surface of the Moon. ** Dorothy Day, (above), perhaps the least-known of these names, was a tremendous figure in the civil and workers rights movement and the founder of the Catholic Worker.
There appeared on this blog last week a post regarding a library cataloguer who was not threatened or defeated by a work with an enormous and meandering title. The good librarian got right to it, recorded the deed, and moved on. Today's installment of card catalog magic presents a Library of Congress librarian who decided that enough-was-enough, and that there was simply too-much-title to record, and so simply left the rest of it to dots and to the imagination.
Now for the pamphlet itself and the rest of the title:
The author of this 1938 pamphlet simply started to write on the cover and continued through the rest of the work, and ended on the back cover. There was no title page, no chapter headings, just a collection of ideas with lots of lists and seemingly nowhere to go. For a short work (36 pages) the author could've dedicated another quire to some blank space, which really doesn't exist in the pamphlet but which is surprisingly helpful even if the message you are trying to deliver is somewhat, well, outre. There is a lot of very compressed talk about multi-dimensional spirit and conscience and bank deposits and replacing the dollar and tax collection with "circulation of values", and so on, deep into itself and a closed system of interpretation of the existence of the universe, harmony of spirit, and economic interpretations of "radio bulbs" and the (often misspelled) fourtth [sic] dimension. The writing is exhausting and enumerated, and even though by its colossal subject matter and the complex brevity it should be a reliably porous document, it is fairly rigid and brittle. It is a visionary work that somehow worked its way into print, and I'm happy for that, and even it is impossible to keep up with its runaway logic it is still a good ride.
The author's representation of a semi-vitruvian spiritual anatomy of humans, called Spirisoulman:
A detail of the fabulously-decorated heart region:
And of course part of the plan for universal economics which somehow wraps up the theory of in I.R., or the Inductive Rightousness of Inductive Truths:
Early on in the history of printed books there was a practice of extended title pages, where there would be the title, and then "support literature" further explaining the title to sometimes some great detail, occasionally winging its way into a title 200 words long. But that was pretty much before the 18th century and mostly before the 17th and mostly a not-common practice. The gigantic title in the 20th century seems to be mostly relegated to the less-traveled-road variety of public thinking.
And the card catalog for the undefeated librarian mentioned above:
There are times when a reader can get a little piece of social history in an unexpected place. For example, in the math text book that was just addressed on this blog1, there is a short anterior section called "A Practical System of Book-Keeping for Farmers and Mechanics". It is here where the reader is introduced to the keeping of a Day Book (which is different from a ledger and a cashbook) where the merchant would keep a record of what was sold to whom and for how much. To that end the author includes three pages of a sample Day Book, which displays a host of information for the modern reader about what could be expected to be found in the generic cash-and-carry trade in the U.S. in 1836. Most of the goods sold would have been purchased to make something else--there were not many items that would be considered to be a product for end use. So someone might not buy a carriage though they would buy the stuff that would go into making a carriage, or the ingredients for making beer rather than the beer itself, and so on.
And so, some of the entries from this practice Day Book:
6 yards of calico ($2.65), 2 yards of broadcloth ($3.25), 217 pounds of iron @ 8cents/pound= $17.36, 37 pounds of cheese ($3.70), 41 pounds of feathers ($28.70), 32 gallons of molasses, 300 pounds of pork (at 7 cents/pound), 30 bushels of corn ($13.50),1 cask of nails (225 pounds for $18), 32 gallons of molasses ($8), 30 pounds of harness leather ($16), 17 brooms ($2.08), 7 pounds of butter ($1.40), 7 tons of hay ($70), 50 dried hides ($200), 4 bushels of oats ($1.50), 1 cord of wood ($5), 28 pounds of lard ($4), 3 bushels of salt ($1.98), 75 yards of brown sheeting ($10.50), 500 pairs of men's shoes ($475), 120 pounds of blistered steel ($3.88), 100 pounds of Russia iron ($5), 300 pounds of bacon ($40), 3 pounds of coffee (48 cents), and 6 pounds of raisins ($1.99).
Fascinating--but even more so from a bit found earlier in the book--an interesting and longish example for practical mathematics, a very detailed question for addition. The presentation is a nearly full-page list of the contents of a country store, the inventory of which was being purchased by "a certain clerk" thus giving issue to the addition problem as well as a hint to what was found in a general store in 1836.
In this addition problem (which is somewhat problematic in that in the overall price column there is no differentiation between dollars and cents, so "4" means $4.00 anfd "50" can mean $50 or 50 cents) there are 46 entries, almost all of which are standard necessaries, with a few luxury items tossed in for the benefit of those who would have the occasional disposable income for such a thing. Overall the list is dominated by basics: sugar (354 pounds worth), tea, coffee, pork, beef, ham, rum, brandy, wine, vinegar, (40) empty barrels, (63) empty hogsheads, vinegar, axes, whips, wooden pails, kettles, tubs, ploughs, and rakes, and more (as we can see below). Less common was the book stock: 2 Hymn Books, 4 Perry's Spelling books, 2 Dwight's Geographies, and one copy of the iconic Morse's GeographyAnd it looks as though the buyer purchased everything for about $1071.00--which was a considerable sum. The average farm laborer was paid about $10/week, plus room and board in 1840; a carpenter might make $1-1.50 per say, while laborers in manufacturing (glass, iron, wool, cotton) all made about 80 cents-1.00 per day2. That means it would take the average man four years to save $1000, and probably more. In order to start this business to make money, you certainly needed to have some money to get started in making it. In the meantime, this is an interesting peep into what people bought in country stores in 1836.
1. Rosell C. Smith, Practical and Mental Arithmetic, on a New Plan, in which Mental Arithmetic is Combined with the Use of the Slate... which was printed in Hartford beginning in 1829 (my copy being printed in 1836).
2. See here for a decent look at what wages were like over decades in the 19th century.
DICTIONARY OF THE VULGAR TONGUE. A
BUCKISH SLANG, UNIVERSITY WIT,
[Here] UNABRIDGED FROM THE ORIGINAL 1811 EDITION WITH A FOREWORD BY
ROBERT CROMIE COMPILED ORIGINALLY BY CAPTAIN GROSE. AND NOW CONSIDERABLY ALTERED AND ENLARGED, WITH THE MODERN
CHANGES AND IMPROVEMENTS, BY A MEMBER OF THE WHIP CLUB. ASSISTED BY HELL-FIRE DICK, AND JAMES GORDON,
ESQRS. OF CAMBRIDGE; AND WILLIAM SOAMES, ESQ. OF
THE HON. SOCIETY OF NEWMAN'S HOTEL.
"The merit of Captain Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue has
been long and universally acknowledged. But its circulation was
confined almost exclusively to the lower orders of society: he
was not aware, at the time of its compilation, that our young men
of fashion would at no very distant period be as distinguished
for the vulgarity of their jargon as the inhabitants of Newgate;
and he therefore conceived it superfluous to incorporate with his
work the few examples of fashionable slang that might occur to
his observation...."--from the preface.
Gelett Burgess (1866-1951, a Boston high-ground MIT grad poet/critic/all-around lit figure who wrote a lot and created an important Little Magazine called The Lark) continued his work in humor and nonsense and future-vision with his The Lively City O'Ligg, a Cycle of Modern Fairy Tales for City Children, in 1899. There's a lot in this squarish book to suggest itself as a sort of farcical-absurdist tomorrow's retro-vision fiction--its only his second book, and not the work he is most famous for, and it was written for the amusement of kids, but really for kids of all ages, and very funny. (Full text here via Internet Archive and prettier edition here via Hathi Trust.)
And it has great illustrations. For example, the front cover artwork (for the edition here) suggests a dimension of space/landscape and how it changes as a moving body viewing that scene approaches the speed of light--this is Burgess' art, and it is amazingly prescient of the modern art that was fast approaching in the next decade or so, only Burgess' name isn't very commonly associated with the precursors of displaying the fourth dimension in art. [He is there, though with early associations with Stieglitz at 291 and Max Weber. When I think of these early names it is generally of the more-obscure but very early W. Stringham in his "Regular Figures in n-Dimensional Space", published in 1880, followed by the great Jouffret in his geometries of four-space (published in the 1900-1905 or so), and then of course Charles Howard Hinton and the hyperspace philosophy of Claude Bragdon, followed by H.P. Manning's Geometry of Four Dimensions in 1914. But in between Jouffret and Manning there is also the artwork of Picasso and Braque and Metzinger Gleizes and Le Fauccionier and Gris and Kupka and Duchamp, all of whom addressed this issue of space and time and the fourth dimensions in their work, seminal pieces all and created between 1909-1912. Burgess himself came to the attention of the Stieglitz group by 1910 or so and was given an exhibition of his watercolors at 291 in 1911.)
The image illustrating the chapter three, "The Three Elevators" (above), just shows one of them bursting through the roof of an "immense building in the City of o'Ligg" "Twenty-seven stories high (!)". (At the time the world's tallest building wasn't in O'Ligg but in NYC: in 1890, it was the New York World Building, New York City (309 feet, from 16 to 26 stories, but that is another story; closer to the time of the Burgess book it was the
Manhattan Life Insurance Building, again in New York City which was 18 stories and 348 feet high. So the Burgess building was a big one by world standards in 1899--and of course there would be no tall structures like this without steel framing, or elevators, or for that matter fool-proof elevator emergency brakes. In any event the elevator spikes through the roof of the o'Ligg building, looking for all the world like one of the aliens from Wells' War of the Worlds, which was published a year earlier than this book, in 1898. (I should say the appearance was suggested by the first edition of Wells' 1898 book, as it was not illustrated.)
Another surprising example of found-modern art occurs in the final chapter, "The Eccentric Loom", when loom No. 7--like the other machines and implements in these stories--has a mind of its own and produces "something queer", a "crazy design" producing an "insane tapestry". The loom is "either crazy", or "it is a mighty clever machine; altogether too clever for me". But the design as an intentional piece of art for 1899 is pretty extraordinary--and the underlying premise, that the machine might be producing the art on its own, is exceptional and early.
To put the artwork in a more machine-creative-context, here's teh Burgess image that starts off the "Insane Loom" chapter:
There's much more in the Burgess book to discuss, particularly in the anthropomorphization of objects, as in the chapters dealing with a sleepwalking house, the boldness of a balloon, the laziness of o'Ligg lampposts, a flying stable, runaway chairs, and the like1. It is very enjoyable to watch Burgess breathe life into these objects, and give them personalities and lives. But it is a true joy to see him present some of the objects as the "artist" and not just the tool, as we see here in the opening paragraph of the chapter "The Blind Camera":
"THERE were many Cameras living in the Ligg Photo-
graphic Parlours, artists who looked down with scorn upon
all other machines, not only upon the manufacturing
or working members of the community, but upon such
aristocrats as the Bicycles and Balloons as well. The
musical instruments they recognized as artists, it is true,
but it was the Cameras' opinion that most musical instru-
ments were a bit mad. Even the Very Grand Pianos
often got out of tune ; and, besides, they were all totally
blind, from the Penny Whistles to the Church Organs.
The Cameras themselves were deaf and dumb, but they
never thought of that, as they had the best eyes of all
the objects in the City o' Ligg, except the Telescopes,
and the Telescopes didn't count ; they were not artists-
they were merely elaborate tools."
Perhaps our future Robot Overlords (a phrase taken from Mr. Eugene Krabs in Spongebob Squarepants) will one day in the future look backwards and find the beginning recognitions of the creative souls of machines in the work of Mr. Burgess.
The beautifully-named book by Bartholomaeus Anglicus, All the Properytees of Thyings, which was published in Westminster in 1495 (and also known as De proprietatibus rerum, also translated as On the nature of things, or On the properties of things), was originally written around 1225. The book was a
bestiary, a marvelous encyclopedia, a collection of all things as known
in the 13th century--it would be interesting to represent all that is
know today and compact it into a workable, logical, usable (printed !)
book of a thousand pages. The question of organization of knowledge
would be the key, of course, and how to make one flow to another
complimentarily as practicable...it would be an interesting project (for
someone else) to try and arrange the basis of human knowledge in a
finite space like that.
The titles of the sections of Anglicus' work consist of the following, lovely, topics:
In keeping with a post earlier today on a Medieval jewel of scholarship (Sacrobosco's Sphaera) is this short note on Nicolas of Cusa's beautifully-named de docta ignorantia, or On Learned Ignorance. Nicolaus (1401-1464, Nicholas Cusanus/Kues) was a philosopher, mathematician, theologian, astronomer, cardinal, and mystic, a product of the University of Padua (1423) and then the University of Cologne, and "arguably the most important German thinker of fifteenth century" (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, here). He was deeply intuitive, a visionary, and in his Learned Ignorance he presented a way of the human mind to release itself to learn the mind of god (among many other things). [Image: detail in Meister des Marienlebens, located in the hospital at Kues (Germany), showing Nicolas of Cusa.]
In this work is something really amazing--here's this wide thinker at the end of the Medieval period, writing on advanced theological issues, finding time to stop and smell the astronomical/cosmological roses long enough to think about the unending nature of the universe, about infinity, about the stars being suns for other planets, about the Earth spinning on an axis and circling the Sun. And all of this done without observations, and without calculation, and without a theory--its just a bunch of the big thoughts of modernity found in a small tract about knowing the Creator. Very curious.
The astronomical views of the cardinal are scattered through his philosophical treatises. They evince complete independence of traditional doctrines, though they are based on symbolism of numbers, on combinations of letters, and on abstract speculations rather than observation. The earth is a star like other stars, is not the centre of the universe, is not at rest, nor are its poles fixed. The celestial bodies are not strictly spherical, nor are their orbits circular. The difference between theory and appearance is explained by relative motion. Had Copernicus been aware of these assertions he would probably have been encouraged by them to publish his own monumental work.--Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913
Indeed! But I doubt that last sentence--Nicolas' work was entirely theoretical, and Copernicus was very heavy and deeply laden with data. Even though Nicolas was never considered a heretic--though it must have been a close call here and there--an earlier confrontation by Copernicus with his De Revolutionibus on anything but his death bed would probably have been received with a closed fist.
Out of the many hundreds of portraits printed in the first 25 years of the printed book, none were of actual people who were alive during the printing of the book. There were classic images of great thinkers, mythological beings, saints, martyrs and so on, but no "citizen" humans. Well, that was until Attavanti Paulus's (d.1499) book on law, Breviarium totius juris canonici, sive Decretorium breviarium, which was printed in Milan in 1479 (in a small folio) and contained a portrait of the author--it was, as A. Hyatt Mayor said in Prints & People, "the first printed portrait of a living private individual".
Well, this is more properly called "the Acciples", but for the sake of modernity we'll keep to "the teacher", and it is a beautifuil woodcut image has been reproduced and copied many times over the centuries. The source for it all is Promptuarium argumentorum dialofice ordinatorum, which was printed in Cologne by Henricus Quentell in 1496. The work is in the field of pedagogics and philology, and so the stout attention of the pupils and teacher to one another.
In Agustus Niphus, Libri Duo de pulchro liber primus, de amore librer secundus, and printed in Lyon by Beringen in 1549, the scholar and Aritotelian Agostino Nifo of Sessa (1473-1546) wrote two significant treatises on the nature of beauty and love (liber primus and secundus, respectively).
The amazing thing about this work is that Nifo analyzes the conditions of love and sexual expression as respondents to a psychological basis, and since this was so, that love and sex are a product of the mind and not necessarily a simple undisclosed deire, that the act and thought coul dno tbe considered to be of siunful natures--basically, the two were as natural a thing as could be, and one does not condemn the acts of nature.
Cornelius Duplicius Scepper (1500-1555) not only presented a beautiful book for publication in 1523--it was a work of deep scholarship, and it was edgy. Not skeptically-edgy, but a scientific-presentation-edgy, dismissive-via-the-facts-edgy.
The book (only two copies of which are found in libraries worldwide--at Brown and Oxford--though an online version is found here), Assertionis fidei adversus astrologos, sive signicationibus coniunctionum superiorum planetarum anni millesimi quingentesimi vicesimi quarti, was published in Antwerp for Franc. Byrckman on 16 May 1523. (The colophon at end describes the publication data so: "Symon Cocus, & Gerardus Nicolaus ... excudebant. Anno salutis humanæ MD.XXIII die xvi Maij. Impensis honesti viri Francisci Byrckmā ...")
The book evidently takes great and scholarly pains to point out any number of errors in miscalculations by astrologers, the weight of which and the diligence in historical presentation amounted to the book being a refutation of the claims of astrology. Among his many refutations is one that is quite simple and elegant: Scepper figures out that the starry firmament is at least 65 million miles from Earth, which means that the great vault is deeper and bigger still, and so given the size and the distance and the number of elements involved, it would be asking quite a bit of common sense to believe that all of that was having an effect upon the individual lives of Earthlings. Pretty good stuff for almost 500 years ago.
And just for the fun of it, here's a compilation video of tasty astrology debunkers, including Sagan, Dawkins, Tyson, Nye and Randi. Actually the James Randi part at about 4 minutes is absolutely priceless.
Scepper also wrote a biography/history of Charles V: Rerum á Carolo V. Caesare Avgvsto in Africa bello gestarum commentarij elegantissimis iconibus ad historiam accommodis illustrati. Authorum elenchum, è quorum monumentis hoc opus constat, sequens pagella indicabit in 1555.