The Latin S (ſ)

As you’ve seen already, a few chapbooks in the 1700s-1800s were creative in their printing methods. The Cheap Repository, among others, used some neat ligatures, including the æ (as in “æther”), the œ (as in “Œdpial”), the “ct” wiggle (no ASCII character, unfortunately), and the Latin ſ, a character unfortunately recognized by most text-recognition software as an F. It makes for especially interesting work when you’re editing a Biblical tract full of Chriftians, fins, pioufness, wifdom, mifery, paffion, feizing with fudden fits … You get the idea.

I’m guessing it was something of a 27th letter for a while? Often Ss are replaced with ſs every time they appear in a word, except as the last letter (as in “diſtreſs” and “ſenſations” and “covetouſneſs”).

One of the cool things* I get to do in this job is learn how optical-character-recognition works and try to “teach” it to work better. To that end, I built a language. It’s exactly like English except it understands a good chunk of Latin ſ usage. So far it’s mainly  Christian/religious/moral terminology, as well as common words and phraſes — but, if used in conjunction with character-by-character training, and a digitizer who’s willing to add words to the dictionary as he/she goes along, it vaſtly decreases the error rate and improves readability (i.e. keeping editor brain-fry to a manageable level).

It’s not an open format, but rather a proprietary archive for ABBYY FineReader — but, on the off-chance that this helps anyone in the future, I’ve made it publicly downloadable on Google Drive. I’d love to know if anyone finds a use for it!

* Cool if you’re a computer geek.

Punch & Judy!

While I love it when we get to touch upon topics of historical significance, maybe my enthusiasm in this case should be reconsidered.

The popular Punch & Judy puppets (see here and here for more) have been around for centuries, and immortalized in countless ways. In chapbook form, however, the classic tale loses the absurd comedic effect that usually comes with the live show.

The Punch & Judy Foundation (yes, really) even dedicates a page to criticisms and (mis?)conceptions about the tradition. Easily my favourite part is that even Dickens had something to say about it:

In my opinion street Punch is one of those extravagant relief’s from the realties of life which would lose its hold upon the people if it were made moral and instructive…. I regard it as quite harmless in its influence and as an outrageous joke which no one in existence would think of regarding as an incentive to any kind of action or as a model for any kind of conduct.

“It is possible, I think, that one secret source of pleasure very generally derived from this performance, as from the more boisterous parts of a Christmas pantomime, is the satisfaction the spectator feels in the circumstances that likenesses of men and women can be so knocked about without any pain or suffering.

Seems like Dickens would’ve been pro-video-game.

My knowledge of Punch & Judy comes from the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business, and the 1940 version of Pride & Prejudice (with the inimitable Greer Garson and Lawrence Olivier); I’m sure the rest of you have your own references. Our copy of The Serio-Comic Drama of Punch & Judy sits in the Rosalynd Stearn Collection in the McGill Rare Books Library.

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.

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.

Sage Romantic Advice for Valentine’s Day

From The Norwood Gipsy’s Fortune Teller, published by W. S. Fortey and housed in our Children’s Collection of chapbooks, comes a set of helpful tips for procuring long-lasting romantic happiness. Examples include how to choose a husband by the colour of his hair, various methods to have your true love appear to you in a dream, and a particularly violent and smelly way to determine whether your crush is meant for you. Eat your heart out, Seventeen Magazine.

Black.—Stout and healthy, but apt to be cross and surly; if very black and smooth, and a large quantity, will be fond of where he fixes his attachment, not addicted to jilting, make a good husband and take care of his family; but if short and curly, be of an unsettled temper, given to drinking, somewhat quarrelsome, will shew much fondness at first paying his addresses, but be unsteady and forgetful afterwards.
White or Fair.—Will be of a weak constitution, rather stupid, very fond of music, will cut no great figure in the world, very moderate in his wishes, but will be the father of a large family.
Yellow. — Inclinable to jealousy.
Light Brown.—Neither very good nor very bad, middling in all respects, rather fond of the female sex, but upon the whole a good character
Dark Brown.—Sensible and good humoured, careful and attentive to business, generally makes a good husband.
Very Dark Brown.—Of a robust constitution, and of a grave disposition, but good tempered and sensible, very fond of his wife, though he may chance now and then to be careless.
Red.—Will be artful, cunning and deceitful, and make love to any woman he may come across; loves his wife so well, that she will scarcely have any clothing to her back; but is generally of a lively temper.

TO SEE A FUTURE HUSBAND.—On Midsummer eve, just at sunset, three, five, or seven young women are to go into a garden, in which there is no other person, and each gather a sprig of red sage, and then going into a room by themselves, set a stool in the middle of the room, and on it a clean bason full of water, in which the sprigs of sage are put, and tying a line across the room, on one side of the stool, each woman is to hang on it a clean apron turned the wrong side outwards, then all are to sit down in a row, on the opposite side of the stool, as far distant as the room will admit not speaking the whole time, whatever they see, and in a few minutes after twelve each one’s future husband will take her sprig out of the rose water and sprinkle her with it.

ANOTHER WAY TO SEE A SPOUSE IN A DREAM.—The party inquiring must be in a different county from that in which she commonly resides, and on going to bed must knit the left garter about the right leg stocking letting the other garter and stocking alone; and as you rehearse the following verses, at every comma knit a knot:—
This knot I knit, to know the thing I know not yet,
That I may see, the man that shall my husband be,
How he goes, and what he wears,
And what he does all days and years.
Accordingly in a dream, he will appear with the insignia of his trade and profession.

To know if your present Sweetheart will marry you.—Let any unmarried woman take the blade bone of a shoulder of lamb, and borrowing a pen knife (but be sure not to mention for what purpose) on going to bed stick the knife once through the bone every night, for nine nights in different places, repeating every night, while sticking the knife, these words:—
’Tis not this bone I mean to stick,
But my lover’s heart I mean to prick,
Wishing him neither rest or sleep,
Till he comes to speak.
Accordingly at the end of the nine days, or shortly after, he will ask for something to put to a wound he will have met with during the time you were charming him.

To know whether a Woman will hove the Man she wishes.—Get two lemon peels, wear them all day, one in each pocket; at night rub the four posts of the bedstead with them. If she is to suucceed the person will appear to her whilst asleep, and present her with a couple of lemons; if not, there is no hope.

For more, be sure to see the interpretation of symbols in dreams in The Universal Dreamer.

Poems to consider for Valentine’s Day

Looking for the right thing to say? These stories of love and loss are found in The Clown’s Song Book (published by the Torrey Brothers of 13 Spruce-Street, New York), found in the Sheila R. Bourke Collection of chapbooks.

When You and I were Young, Maggie.
I wandered, to-day, to the hill, Maggie,
To watch the scenes below ;
The creek, and the creaking old mill, Maggie,
As we used to, long ago.
The green grove has gone from the hill, Maggie,
Where first the daisies sprung;
The creaking old mill is still, Maggie,
Since you and I were young!

And now we are aged and grey, Maggie,
And the trials of life nearly done ;
Let us sing of the days that are gone, Maggie.
When you and I were young !

A city so silent and lone, Maggie,
Where the young and the gay and the best,
In polished white mansions of stone, Maggie,
Have each found a place of rest,
Is built where the birds used to play, Maggie,
And join in the songs that were sung—
For, we sang as gay as they, Maggie,
When you and I were young !

They say I am feeble with age, Maggie,
My steps are less sprightly than then ;
My face is a well-written page, Maggie,
But time alone was the pen !
They say we are aged and grey, Maggie,
As sprays by the white breakers flung ;
But to me you’re as fair as you were, Maggie,
When you and I were young !

Dumpty Humpty.
I’m a proken-hearted Dutchman, A boor old blayed oud Dutchman :
My vife’s she’s vent und gone, Und run avay, und giftf to me der shake.
She’s gone and jined Sorosis, Der Yommen’s Righd’s Sorosis :
Und vile she’s hafing pully dimes, I dink my heart vill preak.

Oh ! my Dumpty Humpty’s gone oud from my sighd, Und ve mighd hafe peen so habby, yes ve mighd,
Put now she’s gone avay to peen a vommen’s righd, Und I bed dat she’s got a dozen husman’s more.

She vas so nice und poody, So shblendid und so poody—
Ven I married her I nefer dinked, Dat she can use me so.
Pud she’s goned avay und greaved me, Gone righd off und leaved me,
Und now my heart’s dat pusted, I vant you all to know.

Put I must go und find her, Go on der shly und find her,
Bhust go righd up pehind her, Und to her I vill say:
“You dought dat I vas shooken, Pnt you find you are mistooken ;
You can’t fool me, Louisa, ‘Cause I voon’d pe fooled dat vay.”

Now, my friends, took a varning, Led my fade pe a varning ;
Dem vommens dem is all alike, Und I ped you dad its drue.
You can loaf dem and caress dem, Fix dem up und dress dem,
Dey vill bead you if dey got a shance, Und go vay und shook you, too.

Old Mother Hubbard, in colour

As I work through the chapbooks collection as a digitizer, I earmark things that I’d like to learn more about. This one is an interesting example, not only of a classic children’s tale (which, not being part of my childhood, I didn’t know had such a morbid undercurrent of grief-inflicted mental breakdown) in chapbook style, but of the kind of illustration work provided to items like this. The engravings are good, but the colouring seems to have been hand-applied, possibly in an assembly-line process that doesn’t seem to allow for much precision. I really want to isolate the dog in the first illustration, just to highlight the random intersections of blue, yellow, and orange.

You can see more of Old Mother Hubbard And Her Wonderful Dog in the Children’s Collection in Rare Books and Special Collections. If you know anything about the printing and colouring processes for books like this, feel free to share. You can find a similar colouring technique (applied with much greater precision) in Jack The Giant Killer — and woodcuts suspiciously similar to Old Mother Hubbard’s distinctive features in Old Dame Trot.

January: charms for the school-boy

When January bids the days unfold, The frost and snow increase the cold;
But new-year’s day and twelfth-cake night To young and old still yield delight.
From school released, the happy boy The skate and slide can now enjoy:
The expert skater proves his skill, By tracing figures out at will;
While humbler sliders now are seen To animate the wintry scene.

This month, the first of the new year, has, perhaps, as many charms for the school-boy as any other. New-year’s day, and twelfth-cake day, among others, sound particularly pleasant in his ear. But the holidays being over, Black Monday comes at last, and then he is the best off who has made proper use of his time.
Skating and sliding are healthy amusements, and are almost exclusively confined to this month; but unless great care be taken that the ice is very firm, and the water not deep, it is too often attended with danger.
Snow, which in this month usually falls in considerable quantity, serves as a warm covering to the plants on which it lies, and protects them from the frost, which would otherwise be likely to injure them.

(from The Months And The Seasons; Or, A Picture Of The Year, By J. Bishop, in the Children’s Collection)

Happy Winter!

DECEMBER now in turn succeeds, And clothes with snow the hills and meads;
And, with its days dark, cold, and drear, Completes the circle of the year.
But Christmas now, is near at hand, With all the joys it does command;
These to the school-boy yield a charm That does his every feeling warm.
But now, when frosts and snows prevail; Who can resist the orphan’s tale?
Who then would spurn the friendless poor ? Or drive the widow from the door?

DECEMBER is the last month of the year; it is quite as cold and dark as November,
but it brings with it thoughts of Christmas and the holidays, of the plum-pudding, the wine, and the cake, the happy party, and so many other pleasant things, that we cannot but welcome it once more.
But amidst all their pleasures, youth should not forget that there are others who have not the means to be so gay or so happy; then will their sports give a pleasure, which otherwise they cannot enjoy.

(from The Months And The Seasons; Or, A Picture Of The Year, By J. Bishop, in the Children’s Collection)