Spring (Not-so) In the Air

        Noon - Retirement

Noon – Retirement

As we gaze upon Montreal’s snow blanket in mid-March, let us also fantasize of the spring that is promised to be near with a few verses from a 1814 chapbook titled Day, A Pastoral.

Now the pine-tree’s waving top
Gently greets the morning gale!
Kidlings, now, begin to crop
Daisies in the dewy vale.


By the brook the shepherd dines;
From the fierce meridian heat
Shelter’d by the branching pines,
Pendant o’er his grassy seat.


Now the flock forsakes the glade,
Where uncheck’d the sun-beams fall;
Sure to find a pleasing shade
By the ivy’d abbey wall


 Not a leaf has leave to stir,
Nature’s lull’d serene, and still!
Quiet o’er the shepherd’s cur,
Sleeping on the heath-clad hill.

This English Pastoral Poetry was relatively refreshing to encode in the process of The Chapbook Digitization Project — especially in the winter term as it poetically describes the day of a shepherd dependent on nature. Amidst downtown Montreal in it’s coldest days, I am left, unlike the resting shepherd in the image, to ponder on brighter days.

The chapbook’s wood engravings were illustrated by Thomas Bewick without colour. The displayed picture was edited to convey the spring colours that are a product of my imagination 🙂

Hearts, stars, and horseshoes, clovers and blue moons…

rainbow2 rainbow3 rainbow4 rainbow5

Since it’s Saint Patrick’s Day I thought I’d share a tangentially related chapbook on pots of gold and rainbows, though you can forget about any red balloons. The moral of The Boy and the Rainbow, in a typical Victorian fashion, is to ignore such childish nonsense because regular work will get you more gold than chasing rainbows.

For a more serious look at Irish culture and literature, there are a number of chapbooks published in or about Ireland which are a part of the digitization project. You can find some of the titles here.

The “Chap” in Chapbook

This month the text-recognition team is working through a number of religious tracts — the Cheap Repository, published in the late 1700s and early 1800s by Hazard and Marshall. While chapbooks were often sold apiece, collections were sometimes later bound by the printers and sold as a whole. In our collection, individual chapters are unbound. (You can see a professionally-bound version of the Cheap Repository, with a table of contents, from 1807 on Google Books.)

PN970_C52_no_25 - 0023

A book containing an index of titles (a meta-chapbook?), with an introduction to the printers and their aims, can be found here. In fact it’s more of a promotional piece than a finding aid, as the majority of the pages are occupied with a list of subscribers to the collection. As such, it’s an interesting document of a corporate privacy policy: it seems Facebook’s use of uploaded photos is more contested today than having one’s name and status used to endorse purchases in the 1800s.

Riddles for a Rainy Day

Spring has sprung here at the library, and that means lots of grey skies and damp walks. As a bright spot, though, I stumbled upon an educational riddle book. It has a unique lay out, with a full-page illustration and clue one one leaf, and the answer, complete with historical and geographical information on the other.

You might be familiar with these word and picture puzzles, known as rebus. A rebus is an allusional device that uses pictures to represent words or parts of words, and was a popular pastime in the 18th century and on into the 19th century.

With that quick history lesson, here are some of the picture riddles. Let’s see if you’re as smart as a child from 1811 England (mouse-over for answers):

The Seat of Learning



A Seaport in Wales



A Place in Lincolnshire



How did you do? Three for three?

Ye’re surly far wrang.

Some of our chapbooks are less jovial and more philosophical. Published in 1842 at the beginning of the teetotal movement, here’s a dialogue between two men on the effects of the corn laws during famine in the 1800s. I’m not a historian, so I found some extra research on the topic to be pretty interesting. Even without the context, the arguments presented by John, the abstinent Christian reformer, as to how productivity and national debt are all entwined in the propensity for drink of the everyday man, are even more entertaining when read aloud in that delightful rural dialect:

T. Ah, noo John, are ye really gaun to tak a’ the hair o’ comfort us puir bodies hae left ? if it wasna for the dribble o’ dram I get noo and than, I wad sink un’er my affliction athegither; ye canna deny I’m sure but it raised the spirits and mak’s us cheery mony a time, when nae ither thing will do’t.
J. O yes, Thomas, I must confess it raises the spirits, and that to an awfu’ degree, sometimes to 80, but next morning you will find them sink to 40, being 20 below par, and then what state do ye fin’ yoursel’ in ? do ye fin’ your purse ony benter? do ye fin your head ony healer? your character ony better, or your conscience ony sounder, after wallowing in that sinfu’ drink? I trow no, Thomas.

For more dialogues to rival Socrates, like the Dialogue between John and Thomas, on the corn laws, the charter, teetotalism, and the probable remedy for the present disstresses, try The Bible of Divine Origin.