Rare Book Highlights: the oldest book

Large books sits in an open box with sides raised at angles to support the book when it is opened.

Quaestiones de veritate sitting in its cradle box specially designed by a former intern with the library’s Preservation Department.

Saint Thomas Aquinas. Quaestiones de veritate. Colonie: Johann Koelhoeff de Lubeck, 1475. Call number: XI 1475 T36.

It is certainly not the oldest book in the world, but it is the oldest book at Iowa State University Library. This copy of St. Thomas Aquinas‘s work, known in English as Disputed Questions on Truth and originally written in the 13th century, was printed by Johann Koelhoeff de Lubeck in 1475 in Cologne, Germany.  It is what is referred to as an incunabulum, or “incunable,” a book printed in Europe before the year 1501. “Incunabula” is a Latin word that translates to “swaddling clothes,” and it refers to books from “the cradle of printing” period–the first 50 years of printing following Gutenberg‘s invention of moveable type and the printing press. These are the first European books that were made in a mechanized fashion, after centuries of scribes in monasteries painstakingly copying books by hand.

With its designation as ISU’s Oldest Book, this Aquinas sees a lot of use. We trot it out for visiting VIPs getting a tour of the library. We show it to alumni, and occasionally to eager groups of students who heard something about a really old book. And this book is worth seeing. Not only because it is “really old,” but because it demonstrates a lot about how early books were made.

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The cover shows signs of being quite ornamental. Leather was stretched over wooden boards, and the leather was stamped with hot metal tools. These tools created diamond patterns and stamps of what looks like a deer, birds, fleur de lis, and other floral and geometric shapes. There are holes in four corners and in the center that likely once held bosses (click here for another blog post featuring bosses), and there are signs of clasps at the edges of the front and back covers.

Shows an open book. On the left side is a sheet with two columns of handwritten text.

Manuscript leaf used to attach the covers to the book.

Opening up the book, there are more interesting things to see. Above, you can see a manuscript leaf (a page that has been written by hand) that had been used as a front endpaper covering the wooden board of the cover. It was a common practice for early bookbinders to use manuscript waste or print waste in this way. Here is a close-up view of the manuscript writing:

Close up of the manuscript inside the front cover of the book.

Close up of the manuscript inside the front cover of the book.

The inside back cover is similar, but here, a strip of the paper has been torn away to reveal the cords laced in the board. The pages of a book are sewn onto a series of cords. These cords are then attached to the boards, as can be seen below. On the spine, you can see evidence of the cords hidden underneath the leather in what are known as raised bands.

Looking into the pages of the text itself, we see that the pages of the printed text look very similar to the manuscript pages lining the boards. In both the  manuscript and printed leaves, the page layout is very similar with two columns of text and wide margins that was commonly used for medieval manuscripts. The typeface was designed to resemble the form of letters in medieval scripts.

Two facing pages of a book. Each page has two columns of text. There are large red initial capital letters and other red markings added to the text by pen.

Inside pages of Quaestiones de veritate.

What also stands out are the red initial capital letters at the beginning of sections of the text. These features were also brought into printing from the medieval manuscript tradition. These initials could be decorated in various ways, and could sometimes contain elaborate figures and scenes. Here they are simple red letter forms, but I find them no less appealing for their simplicity.

The pages also contain numerous other red markings in the text. This is referred to as rubrication and is usually used to indicate the end of one section of text and the beginning of another, and sometimes to announce the subject of the section or its purpose. The word “rubrication” comes from the Latin rubrico, meaning “to color red.” A completed text was given to a special scribe known as a rubricator who would add the additional red markings. Here we see this early printed work following a similar process.

Thanks for coming on this tour of our oldest book in the collection. Now you can see why it gets so much attention!


Rare Book Highlights: Benjamin Franklin and electricity

Franklin, Benjamin. Experiments and observations on electricity, made at Philadelphia in America. London: Printed for F. Newbery, 1774. Call number: QC516 F854e5

Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Vol. 47, London: Royal Society of London, 1751-52. Call number: Q41 R812p

We’ve all heard the story of Benjamin Franklin discovering electricity by tying a key to a kite and flying it during a thunderstorm. But have you ever thought about how that story was documented?

Diagrams of leyden jars, lightnight rods, and various electrical experiments

The title page and frontispiece of Benjamin Franklin’s “Experiments and Observations on Electricity.”

As usual,the truth of the matter is a little more complicated than what we learned as children. Mythbusters performed an experiment to show that Ben would have been killed by the electric shock if he had actually touched the key. Other scholars note, however, that the charge in the key came from the surrounding atmosphere, and not from a lightning strike, making the charge much lower in intensity. Nor did Franklin exactly discover electricity. At the time, electricity was known and studied, but only in its static form (Carter 119). Franklin did prove through his experiments that lightning is a form of electricity, and he first proposed the use of lightning rods on buildings, masts of ships, or other tall structures, to attract the lightning away from the building and conduct the electric shock down into the ground.

Ben Franklin conducted a number of electrical experiments throughout the 18th century, along with a community of scientists throughout Europe. He shared the results of his experiments by letter, and he enjoyed a particular correspondence with Peter Collinson, a British scientist and Fellow of the Royal Society of London.  In his letters to Collinson, he described his experiments with Leyden jars, charged clouds, and lightning rods. Many of these letters were read at meetings of the Royal Society, where the experiments were discussed. Several other men of science performed their own experiments, and shared the results of these experiments through papers read at Royal Society meetings and through correspondence to Franklin and others.

Collinson gathered Franklin’s letters together and published them in London in 1751 under the title Experiments and Observations on Electricity, Made at Philadelphia in America. Five editions were printed by 1769, and editions in French, German, and Italian, were published not long after. Franklin’s work in electricity established his international reputation as a scientist, and this publication is considered to be “the most important scientific book of eighteenth-century America” (Carter 119).

Iowa State University library holds a copy published in 1774, the fifth edition by the printer F. Newbery of London. A description of the famous kite experiment can be found in Letter XI, from Oct. 19, 1752, shown below.

ISU also holds the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, where many of the letters from Franklin to Collinson and others are published. A different letter to Collinson describing the kite experiment is published in the Transactions. It was dated from Philadelphia on October 1, 1752, and it was read two-and-a-half months later, on Dec. 21, 1752.

Others were studying electricity at the same time. The same volume of Philosophical Transactions includes “An Account of the Effects of Lightning at Southmolton in Devonshire, by Joseph Palmer, Esquire,” which was read to the Society on January 9, 1752, and “An Account of the Phaenomena of Electricity in vacuo, with Some Observations thereupon, by Mr. Wm. Watson, F.R.S.,” read February 20, 1752.

Even if Ben Franklin did not “discover electricity,” he certainly made important contributions to the general understanding of the nature of electricity and lightning.

Work Cited

Carter, John, and Percy H. Muir. Printing and the Mind of Man. Karl Pressler, 1983.


Friday Fun!

Today Professor Lisa Ossian, from Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC),  brought her Western Civilization & U.S. History classes to learn about primary source research in  Special Collections & University Archives. Some of the students headed into our reading room or the library’s Media Center afterwards to start their research for their assignment.

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Contact us for more information on our instruction program.


Behind the Scenes – Homecoming 2016

Have you ever wondered what it takes to put together a pop-up exhibit? Last Friday, Special Collections & University Archives (SCUA) exhibited about two dozen items for three hours for Iowa State’s Homecoming. The temporary exhibit was open to the public, but our focus was alumni visiting for Homecoming. Today’s post is about our process.

Dry Run

Back in mid-August, we invited the Alumni Center to drop by and see what items we thought we’d include in the October Homecoming exhibit. This dry run entailed staff from the department brainstorming on what items would be best to put on exhibit and what order they should be displayed. Labels were made and the classroom was rearranged into an exhibit space. Heather Botine, Associate Director for Constituent Engagement, dropped by and gave us feedback on how we set the room up and what kinds of materials may engage alumni more. We also discussed what reproductions SCUA could provide for digital display over at the Alumni Center.

Heather Botine, Associate Director for Constituent Engagement, looks at our oldest book with Amy Bishop, Rare Book and Manuscripts Archivist. University Archivist, Brad Kuennen, and Collections Archivist, Laura Sullivan, in background.

Heather Botine, Associate Director for Constituent Engagement, looks at our oldest book with Amy Bishop, Rare Book and Manuscripts Archivist. University Archivist, Brad Kuennen, and Collections Archivist, Laura Sullivan, in background (Photo by Rachel Seale)

Two weeks out

We made sure to promote our Homecoming event in the library and in our social media. We enlisted the help of Monica Gillen, the Communication Specialist for the library, and Jody Kalvik, Instruction, Program Coordinator. Monica helped get the word out and Jody designed flyers, posters, a banner, and our signage.

The week before before Homecoming

We did one last practice run. We tweaked our list of items on display and took into account Heather’s set-up advice. We also invited Sonya Barron, Conservator, to drop by. Sonya ensured our items were sturdy enough to display, offered to provide mounts, and advised us how to safely display materials. We also made final decisions on what would be in the temporary exhibit and what order we wanted to display items, there was some rearrangement.  Pictures were taken of materials so we’d know how to set up the following week.

Two of our rare books propped up in book cradles (Photo b Rachel Seale)

Two of our rare books propped up in book cradles (Photo by Rachel Seale)

The week of Homecoming

Now that we had our exhibit finalists, we had to finish drafting and mounting the labels.

Friday of Homecoming!

We spent the morning setting up and our doors opened at 1 pm. We were so pleased at the opportunity to show off our treasures.

Thank you to everyone who visited us last Friday at 405 Parks Library. To those that missed seeing our treasures on display, drop by and see us sometime. We’re open from 9-5, Monday-Friday.


SCUA Treasures – Leave Your Legacy Homecoming 2016

Tomorrow, from 1-4 pm in room 405 Parks Library, Special Collections & University Archives (SCUA) will have selected treasures on display. We will have artifacts, rare books, films, student publications from the 1960s, and other wonderful items from our collections.

 

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Please drop by. All are welcome!

For the preservation of our treasures, please leave food & drink outside.


Rare Book Highlights: Hammer of Demons

Alexandro Albertino. Mallevs daemonvm, siuè, quatuor experimentatissimi exorcismi, ex Euangelijs collecti : in fine erunt due Benedictiones, & vna vulgaris deprecatio pro ignaris, & mulierbus, vt possint semetipsos praeseruare, & liberare Deo auxiliante : si non habuerint sacerdotem. Veronae: Typis Bartholomaei Merli, 1620. (Call number: BF1555 A38x )

The demon-possessed woman. Obscure Latin verses causing the possessed to writhe in agony. Familiar scenes to any fan of exorcism movies, or to any TV channel surfer this time of year.

That is why I couldn’t resist choosing Malleus Daemonum (or Hammer of Demons) for this month’s Rare Book Highlight after discovering this book while perusing our shelves recently. While works on demonology, or even religion more broadly, are not a collecting area here in Special Collections, we do have a few interesting books to be found on subjects such as these from an earlier era of less discriminate collecting.

Title page of Malleus Daemonum, 1620.

Title page of Malleus Daemonum, 1620.

Malleus Daemonum appears to be a very rare book on the subject of exorcisms. Trying various searches in WorldCat (an online union catalog that includes items from libraries in 170 countries), I found only 4 other copies of the 1620 edition like we have (one at the University of Illinois here in the United States and three at libraries in the United Kingdom), and another five copies of the 1624 edition in the United States, Australia, and in Rome.

First page of the litany section of Exorcism I

First page of the litany section of Exorcism I

As the subtitle implies (quatuor experimentatissimi exorcismi, ex Euangelijs collecti, or Four Most Experimented Exorcisms Collected from the Gospels), the book explores the subject of exorcisms in the context of the four Christian gospels. The main part of the text is divided into four sections, Exorcismus I, II, III, and IIII. Written in Latin, each begins with a litany, or series of formulaic petitions, along these lines: “Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison, Christe audi nos, Christe exaudi nos. Pater de Coelis Deus, libera hanc Creaturam tuam ab omnibus malis, et vexationibus Daemonium.” (Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Christ have mercy, Christ hear us, Christ graciously hear us. God the Father of Heaven, God, deliver this creature of thy family, from all evils, and vexation of evil spirits.) The litany continues for several pages, calling on the Trinity, the apostles, and the saints, to drive away demons. It culminates in a prayer, beginning, “Oremus” (We pray…) Next, are long sections discussing or perhaps quoting specific selections from each of the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The book ends with what appear to be three testimonials from priests, testifying to the book’s orthodoxy.

Oremus ("we pray")

Oremus (“we pray”)

To put this book in context, I looked at a number of recent scholarly works exploring witchcraft and demonic possession in early modern Europe and North America, roughly from the late 15th century to the late 18th century. In her book Demonic Possession and Exorcism in Early Modern France, Sarah Ferber explains that the high number of cases of demonic possession and exorcism of that period took place in the context of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, which brought a great deal of turmoil to Europe. She writes, “…in this context, public displays of battles with Satanic forces became a showcase for rival strands of Christianity. Exorcism – the ritual invocation and controlling of possessing demons, using prayer, sacred texts and exhortation – took place among every western Christian group, to varying degrees, in Europe and in its colonies” (3). The belief in demonic possession, or that spirits can take up residence in a person’s body in order to control it, has scriptural authority for Christians, specifically the gospel account of Jesus’ driving out the “Legion” of spirits from the man in Mark 5, essentially the first performance of exorcism in Christianity (Levack 11).

The proliferation of exorcism during the period was viewed as problematic by the Catholic Church, according to Ferber. Exorcists were sometimes viewed as having made a pact with the devil themselves, in their development of rituals to drive out the possessing demons, but the rite of exorcism also had its defenders. Most famously, Girolamo Menghi, an Italian Franciscan priest, published an authorized exorcism manual by the title Flagellum daemonum (Flail of Demons–it seems to me that our author Albertinus likely had this book in mind when titling his own) in 1576. Exorcists, both those viewed as genuine and those believed to be charlatans, used this work to establish their legitimacy (Ferber, “Demonic” 579, and Ferber, Demonic 38-39). In order to systematize the practice of exorcism, Pope Paul V approved an exorcism ritual that was published in 1614 in the Rituale Romanum, the priest’s service manual (Ferber, Demonic 38-29).

Malleus Daemonum on the shelf with its neighbors. See faint markings of previous letters on the spine.

Malleus Daemonum on the shelf with its neighbors. See faint markings of previous letters on the spine.

Examining the book beyond its text and historical milieu, it shows some interesting binding features. It is bound in limp vellum, meaning that the vellum is not stretched around a board, but is simply attached to the spine and folded around the text block, providing a flexible cover. On the spine is written, “E | V | Alberti | Malleu |Daemo | 23.” Beneath that are traces of previous writing that has been removed. This is what is known as a palimpsest, familiar to scholars of medieval manuscripts. Parchment and vellum were expensive to produce, so they were made reusable by scraping or washing the ink from a page. I am not experienced enough to know if this is a common feature of vellum used for bindings, but it is not something I have come across before. I cannot quite make out what was written underneath the current title.

Front cover of Malleus Daemonum in limp vellum with scribblings in ink.

Front cover of Malleus Daemonum in limp vellum with scribblings in ink.

Further of interest, there is more writing, not so thoroughly erased, on the front cover of the binding. It is more messily written, as if it were used to scribble some notes, and makes me wonder if this book was bound with a piece of reused parchment. Again, I cannot make out much more than “Ergo” (therefore). More of a student of paleography than I can currently claim to be would need to take a look at it.

Works Cited

Ferber, Sarah. Demonic Possession and Exocism in Early Modern France. Routledge, 2004.

–. “Demonic Possession, Exorcism, and Witchcraft.” The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe and Colonial America, edited by Brian P. Levack, Oxford University Press, 2013, 575-592.

Levack, Brian P. The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe. Pearson, 2006.


Where there’s smoke, there’s fire insurance maps

Prior to this week, I had never cataloged maps or atlases. My favorite thing about being a cataloger is learning new things — unfamiliar subject matter, but also how resources differ, and why those differences matter. Cartographic materials contrast greatly with the books and periodicals I normally encounter on the job. As a child, I was fascinated with maps and plans; sometimes I would draw maps of imaginary places, or cross-sections of fantastic buildings and caves. As an adult, however, I did not pursue cartography, geography, architecture, or any of the other professions that involve graphical representations of our natural and built environments. As a cataloger, I work with symbolic representations of primarily textual materials, so I faced a learning curve in cataloging Sanborn maps.

The Library of Congress maintains the world’s largest Sanborn Map Collection, which includes “some fifty thousand editions of fire insurance maps comprising an estimated seven hundred thousand individual sheets.” I recommend you read the linked essay, which is more interesting than I expected it to be, and provides a depth of context that’s not possible here, even if I knew the topic well.

Insurance maps of Des Moines, Iowa. New York: Sanborn Map Company, c1920.

Insurance maps of Des Moines, Iowa. New York: Sanborn Map Company, c1920. (Gift of Jerry J. Jennett, June 2016.)

One day I was hard at work, minding my own business, when along came three big books. You could have heard a pin drop: these bad boys are just over two feet square, and heavy. I ended up describing them as “1 atlas in 3 loose-leaf volumes (ca. 310 sheets).” In other words, it’s a huge map of Des Moines divided into a grid on about 310 sheets. If you’ve used road maps, then you know the basic format — once the map is too big to fold, it gets broken up. Breaking up these maps introduces the need for indices and “key maps,” without which the user would be lost.

 

sanborn-key-map

V. 1 KEY MAP (DETAIL). Insurance maps of Des Moines, Iowa. New York: Sanborn Map Company, c1920.

Above you see a small portion of the key map (scale: 1:12,000). Each numbered shape corresponds to one of about 310 “sheets” (scale: 1:600 or sometimes 1:1,200). As we’ll see further on, the 1:600 scale sheets are rich in details that the fire insurance companies valued.

Confusingly, Sanborn “sheets” are printed on both sides of the leaves (at least in this format). It’s tempting to think of these “sheets” as the pages of a folio, but the similarities are superficial. The distinction is a subtle one that I have struggled to describe. Documents have different structures; consulting a reference work is very different from reading a linear, unidirectional text. The Sanborn atlases are graphical reference works for a very particular audience. Numbered sequences — whether of pages, leaves, or other elements — are a feature of resource types that are in other ways dissimilar. Looking at our three-volume map of Des Moines, I can see why some owners would choose to disassemble it (or not acquire the whole set). It’s not surprising that the Library of Congress collection includes a great many “sheet maps” that are not bound into loose-leaf volumes like ours.

sanborn-detail-1

A TYPICAL SHEET (DETAIL). Insurance maps of Des Moines. New York: Sanborn Map Company, c1920.

Here we have a city block represented in a specialized manner. Notable are (1) the nature of the details, and (2) the evidence of revision.

(1) Annotations like “fire proof construction” and “paints & oils” were obviously of interest to the fire insurance companies that bought these maps. What is not clear from this closeup is that the buildings are color-coded: a brick building is shown in pink, a stone building in blue, etc. The insurance companies were also very interested in doors, windows, elevators, and certain other features; you’d need the key to understand the relevant symbols. Not shown above: notes on building security. Important buildings had one or more night watchmen who were noted on the map. Regular patrols might be tracked with watchclocks; “approved clock” is a favorable map note, “no clock” is a bad one indicating that the watchman could muck up his route or skip patrols altogether.

(2) Look closely — see where littler pieces of paper were pasted over the original sheets? These maps were originally issued in 1920, but they were revised many times. Sanborn employees would revise your maps and note the changes in a log. Sometimes they removed whole sheets and replaced them with new ones. An index might get an addendum, or it might be completely pasted over with a new one. The big changes are not mysterious — they are labelled or logged. The little changes are impossible to nail down. Did a Sanborn representative do them?… All I know is that our copies were altered at least twice a year, 1934 through 1937. The sheer number of little paste-overs is mind-boggling!

You can see these books at Special Collections and University Archives, ISU Library. Here they are in the online catalog. 

 

 


Rare Book Highlights: Like a Boss

Clavius, Christoph. Gnomonices libri octo. Rome, 1581.

In 1581, Christopher Clavius, a German Jesuit mathematician and astronomer, published what has been called the most comprehensive work on sundials of the period, Gnomonices libri octo. Clavius is most famous for his involvement in the development of the Gregorian calendar, which is the modern Western calendar in use today. The work is full of impressive tables and diagrams, but what I really want to focus on is the binding of the particular copy in our collection.

Cover of book in light-colored leather with metal pieces in the corners

Cover of Clavius’ Gnomonices Libri Octo

Our copy of Gnomonices is a first edition, published in 1581. Books printed at that early date, and continuing until the 19th century, were typically sold unbound. That means that the book was sold as a block of pages sewn together and covered in plain paper covers or boards, and the purchaser would take the book to a bookbinder to have a custom binding created for it. Often purchasers would have all the books in his library bound in the same style. That means that copies of early books could have vastly different types of binding. Our copy of Gnomonices is interesting because it has a fairly elegant binding with lots of hardware.

Close up of hole in leather showing wooden board underneath

Close up of hole in leather showing wooden board underneath (click for larger image)

Geometrical patterns stamped onto leather

Close up of blind tooling (click for larger image)

The binding material is blind-tooled pigskin over wooden boards. Let’s break that down. Pigskin is a type of tanned leather that was popular in Germanic and Scandinavian countries, made from pigs, as the name suggests. Tooling refers to the designs pressed into the leather made with metal hand-tools. If you are crafty, you might have done some leather tooling yourself. Blind-tooled simply means that the impressions are made directly into the leather, making an impression on the surface. Alternatively, the binding could have gold tooling, in which gold leaf is applied to the surface of the leather, leaving a gold pattern on the surface of the leather.

The binding also features a number of metal objects. Attached to the corners are bosses, metal knobs that slightly elevate the book from the table surface, protecting the leather from wear. These were features of medieval bookbinding, but they were also used later as decorative features. The book also shows evidence of clasps, which have come off the book over the years.

Metal corner on edge of book featuring an upraised knob in center

Close-up of boss

Clasps were another medieval bookbinding feature and were designed to protect the integrity of the binding, keeping the book closed during movement and thus easing the strain on the joints, where the boards were attached to the block of pages. These books were large, heavy objects!

Close-up of clasp remains

Close-up of clasp remains

What does it mean that this book was bound the way it was? By the 16th century the use of bosses and clasps were fading away as books were becoming more affordable through Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type and the spread of the printing press throughout Europe. Their use in this case then is primarily decorative. The bosses and stamps, as well as the tooled leather, suggest that this was the purchase of a particularly wealthy individual or institution. Was it bound as it was to join an illustrious library of many generations containing medieval manuscripts? Was it the prized possession of an individual and bound to enhance the prestige of the owner? What do you think?


Rare Book Highlights: Cobbett’s Corn

Cobbett, William. A Treatise on Cobbett’s Corn. London: W. Cobbett, 1828.

What do you think of when you think of Iowa?

Let me guess. Corn.

Cobbett's Corn title page, printed on paper made from corn husks, 1828.

Cobbett’s Corn title page, printed on paper made from corn husks, 1828.

That is why I love to pull out Cobbett’s Corn when people come to ISU’s Special Collections and University Archives. Not only is it a rare book focused on corn, but its first two leaves are actually printed on paper made from corn husks to demonstrate the usefulness of the plant.

William Cobbett was a lively writer with strong opinions. In his “Introduction” to the book, he explains that in the book he will

“show, what a blessing this plant will be to the English labourer, and how it will and must drive the accursed soul-degrading potatoe out of that land, into which it never ought to have come” (8).

Tell us how you really feel, Cobbett!

William Cobbett, portrait in oils, possibly by George Cooke, about 1831. National Portrait Gallery, London.

Cobbett’s animated writing style was matched by a spirited personality, which showed itself in his campaigns against corruption and fiery journalism that had a tendency to run afoul of the authorities. Born in 1763 in Farnham, Surrey, to a farmer and innkeeper, he joined the army at the age of 21, which took him to New Brunswick in Canada. After his return to England and leaving the army, he accused several of his former officers with corruption. Fearing retribution, he fled to France, but, as the country was in the midst of revolution, he soon left for America, settling in Philadelphia in 1792. There, he began his career in political journalism, returning to England in 1800 after losing a lawsuit for libel brought against him by the physician Dr. Benjamin Rush. He continued his political journalism in England, founding the Political Register in 1802, which he published until his death in 1835. He spent two years in prison (1810-1812) and paid a hefty fine for criticizing the flogging of a militiaman who had protested against unfair paycuts. Through his paper, he was an advocate for the poor and a proponent of Parliamentary reform. In the midst of social unrest, the government repressed dissent, which sent Cobbett fleeing once again to the United States in 1817, where he lived and continued to publish the Register for two years before returning to England.

Cobbett’s periods in North America exposed him to the maize that is native here. In fact, it was while serving in the army in New Brunswick that he first experienced “Indian corn” and “made many meals upon ears of corn in their green state” (14). Until this time, he writes,

“I used to be greatly puzzled by that text of Scripture (St. Matthew, chap. xii., ver. 1,) which told me that, ‘at that time Jesus went on the Sabbath day through the corn: and his disciples were an hungered, and began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat'” (14).

He then goes on (what I found to be) an entertaining digression for several pages of what he calls the “Scriptural history of the corn” (20), which includes little jabs at the corruption of the Church in England.

Engraving of a corn plant.

Plate 1 from Cobbett’s Corn, 1828.

The corn he suggests growing in England is a particular variety that his son discovered in France. It is a smaller variety that does not require long periods of heat to ripen, thus making it appropriate for England’s shorter, wetter summers.

Cobbett’s Corn is a less known book. He is better known for Rural Rides, in which he describes horseback rides through the country landscapes of Southeast England and the Midlands and shares his views on social reform. But Cobbett’s Corn is worth a look, as well. The bibliographer Morris L. Pearl wrote, “In this most entertainingly written treatise Cobbett skilfully blended agricultural and political advice with fascinating reminiscences. Contemptuous of his critics and enemies, he waxed lyrical at the prospect of English farm-labourers seeing ‘this beautiful crop growing in all their gardens…instead of the infamous Potato'” (Pearl, William Cobbett (1953), no. 154).

 


“The world’s first and longest-running scientific periodical”

Phil Trans tp

The title page of the copy held by ISU Library Special Collections and archives.

A patron has been examining our 350-year-old copies of the first issues of Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London, which gives me something interesting to blog about. The patron is Marcia Prior-Miller, an Associate Professor Emeritus from the ISU Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication. I met Marcia when she visited Special Collections a year or so ago, and I enjoyed talking to her about her research and writing. Now she’s back, and working on a book chapter. Its topic is the historical emergence of magazine and journal publishing. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London is one of the four earliest examples of magazines or journals; the other three publications are in German, Italian, and French, and we won’t address them here.

The first issue of Philosophical transactions […] contains ten entries on various scientific and technical topics. Some are essay-length; others are just paragraphs. None have illustrations, charts, or graphs. Nor are there bibliographical references or citations as we know them, although in some cases titles and names are provided. Henry Oldenburg seems to have edited the whole, drawing on an array of publications and correspondence. I find it to be interesting reading; the prose style is more colorful and lively than the scientific writing of our time.

Monstrous calf

Again, the first issue. Note that someone underlined dozens of words in ink that has turned brown with age. Perhaps it is iron gall ink.

Issue number two has pages numbered 17-32, i.e. it takes up where issue number one left off. To this day, journals (as opposed to magazines) commonly have “continuous paging throughout a volume.” Notably, volume two of Philosophical transactions […] does not begin with a fresh page one; rather, after some unnumbered pages, it carries on from p. 409. (Pardon me for noting these details. I am a librarian and a cataloger, so I can’t help but notice them!)

Issue two also feature the title’s first illustrations. They are beautifully done on a leaf that folds out. These figures are associated with the article (?) on pages 21-26 concerning “a way of producing Wind by the fall of Water.”

Phil Trans ill

Visit us here in special collections if you’d like to see our extensive collection of the Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of LondonYou can also view and download scans of individual issues (here, and I imagine elsewhere).

(My blog post’s title is borrowed from an exhibition catalog called Philosophical transactions: 350 years of publishing at the Royal Society (1665-2015). The catalog is an excellent resource in itself. You can view or download a PDF of it here.)