Fête Nationale

Bonne Saint-Jean à tous!

Saint-Jean-Baptiste_et_l'Agneau_de_DieuNe trouvez-vous pas étrange qu’un état qui viens de passer une loi pour forcer la laïcité célèbre l’anniversaire d’un saint catholique comme fête nationale? N’est-ce pas absurde, voir hypocrite? Comprenez-moi bien: j’ai toujours été en faveur de la laïcité mais une laïcité pour tous et pratiquée dans le libre choix.

De toute façon, je crois qu’il est malgré tout plus approprié de se baptiser dans la bière au nom du solstice (fête de la musique, midsummer, etc.) que pour célébrer Saint Jean le baptiste

Vive l’été !

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[ Illustration: “Saint-Jean-Baptiste et l’Agneau de Dieu”, par Liénard de Lachieze (enlumineur français du XVe s.), Missel romain copié en 1492 pour l’évêque de Comminges Jean de Foix, feuillet 252r. (Sources: Wikimedia; BnF – Gallica, ms. latin 16827).]

Cabinets of curiosities

My nephew, Sébastien, has just started a blog (in French) about how he is building and assembling his own cabinet of curiosities. It is very interesting. He is suggesting lots of crafty and thrifty ways to create such cabinet. I particularly like his entry about old books. He is very creative (he is a writer after all) and has a very strong background in science (molecular biology); he really succeeds to combine both aspects with great ingenuity. With this blog he is sharing his passion for the scientific wonders and natural oddities of the past. I am quite impressed. It is fascinating and I recommend to have a look.

My nephew also reminds us that my great friend Mario Tessier, the venerable and learned scholar known as the “Futurible”, had introduced us to the history of the cabinet of curiosities in one of his famous “Carnets” published in Solaris #191 (p. 111-125). It is quite an edifying article that I encourage you to read if you want to push further your knowledge on this subject.


Athenian Tetradrachma (5th c. BCE)

I have myself been collecting such curiosities since I am a child. When I settled in my home I placed a glass case in the center of the library room where I gathered a few of those items collected over the years. Unfortunately, for lack of space, it is a small display and most of my collection is still in boxes, spread around the house on top of bookshelves or even (for my most precious items like my Athenian tetradrachma, my Marc Antony or Lucius Verus denarii or my Leo I the Thracian solidus) in a safe. I have already introduced my collection in an entry about old books. However, inspired by my nephew, let me now elaborate a little more about my own cabinet of curiosities.


Aesope’s Fables [1593]

Of course, most of my collection is articulated around books — mostly old ones. However, as a kid, I started collecting stones, minerals, fossils and coins (very few of those are displayed). At some point, because I was studying the origin of metallurgy in ancient Mesopotamia, I started collecting metal cups (mostly in silver and tin — choose wisely your graal!) and my roman studies prompted me to acquire many greek, roman and byzantine coins. Whenever I can I try to add some antiquities (pseudo or authentic) or pieces of old technology (but those are rare and expensive, so I’ve acquired them so far from family or friends). But I am mostly into old books and metal stuff… Here is the core of my cabinet of curiosities:


Left side

Top: my collection of cups and (plated) silver plates; note the authentic 4th c. roman terracotta on the left. Bottom: my oldest books (16th-17th c.), some fossils, amethyst and native copper samples, a few coins, more metal cups and some Japanese-style tea cups (on top of a portable Go board).


My oldest books

Detail of the fossils and old books (Svmma Omnivm Conciliorvm et Pontificvm [1633], Lucien [of Samosata] [1664], Valerius Maximus Factotum ac dictorum memorabilium libri IX [1659], Qvinti Horatii Flacci Poemata [1643], Aesopi Phrygis: Fabulae [1593], and [Iustiniani Augusti] Digestorum sev pandectarum (Pars quarto [liber XX-XXVII]), De Pignoribvs et hypothecis [1581]).


Right side

More old books (18th-19th c.), metallic gobelets, non-metallic cups (the smallest is in walrus ivory), a pair of small wooden masks of unknown origins (Balinese? Malaysian?), an (half-hidden) incised Malian knife with leather scabbard, some Inuit art, a false skull (an ashtray in pottery) and various mementos.


On top of the shelves: a metronome, my grandpa’s French horn, an 18th c. tradesman’s balance scale, Chinese art reproductions, fake katanas, an original Rubik’s Cube and an authentic (undated) Chinese ding (ritual bronzes).


On top of the shelves: a 70s helicopter’s pilot helmet, an (African? Undated) bronze mortar & pestle, a transportable Lumex microscope, an old 1-A Kodak Jr folding camera [1912] and a terrestrial globe (60s or 70s).

I have many more interesting items that I could display. Following my nephew’s example, I will do my best in the future to find clever ways to share them with visitors (and seek to acquire — or make — new ones; although I am far less creative than Sébastien). And you, do you have a cabinet of curiosities?

To be continued?

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Solde de livres 2019

abm_2019_affiche_vf_tgpComme tout les ans, les Amis de la Bibliothèque de Montréal organisent leur solde de livres pour offrir à petits prix aux Montréalais les livres dont les bibliothèques ne veulent plus (mais qui sont encore en très bon état). Vous y trouverez tout les genres de livres (plus de cent milles romans, documentaires, bandes dessinées, magazines, pour adultes, pour enfants, en français, en anglais et même parfois dans d’autres langues!) à très bon prix: 0,50 $ (livres jeunesse et magazines), 1,00 $ (livres adultes), 2,00 $ (BD et manga), et 3,00 $ (Dictionnaires, encyclopédies et « beaux livres »).

Le Solde de livres 2019 se tiendra du samedi 25 mai au dimanche 2 juin, de 13h00 à 19h00, à l’aréna Martin Brodeur (300, boulevard Robert, Montréal, juste à côté de la bibliothèque de St-Léonard). Les quantités sont limités sur certains types de documents (BD, dictionnaires). Le paiement doit être comptant seulement; il y a pas d’échange ou de remboursement possible. Et, S.V.P., veuillez apporter vos propres sacs. Pour plus d’information vous pouvez visiter la page Facebook.

Le but de cet événement est “de prolonger la vie utile de ces livres, d’aider à répandre le goût de la lecture et de permettre aux citoyens de Montréal d’enrichir leur bibliothèque personnelle à faible coût.” De plus, les revenus de la vente serviront à financer des activités d’animation dans les bibliothèques. Les documents invendus seront ensuite offert à des associations sans but lucratif et organismes communautaires, puis à Renaissance et finalement à la Fondation des parlementaires / Cultures à partager (qui les expédie dans des pays en voie de développement — comme en Afrique francophone et en Haïti). Ultimement, les livres qui restent après tout ça sont recyclés pour le papier. Rien ne se perd! Quelle entreprise louable…

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“Natural History” – final research


My mystery book

Recently, the interest for one of my old books was rekindled when I found some new information about it on the internet. Since the prefatory pages of the book are missing the author and date of publication are unknown. I had only the title, Natural History, and the publisher:  William Milner of Halifax. Further investigation on WorldCat revealed more details allowing me to identify two possible authors for the book. Finally, I was able to compare my book with a microfiche copy at the University of Montreal, definitively identifying it as Richard COPE’s Natural History, which lead me to order a monograph about the work of William Milner in order to (hopefully) learn even more on this particular edition.

IMG_4437A little less than three weeks after filing the Inter-Library Loan (PEB) request, the Bernard BARR’s document about William Milner arrived at the National Library (BAnQ). Unfortunately, the whole process was utterly disappointing. The NYPL refused to lend its copy, so the book came from the University of St-Andrews’ library in Fife, Scotland, therefore the loan incurred a fee of $C 42.00 ! Not only the book was just a self-published monograph of sixty single-side pages with a simple plastic spiral binding, but the lending library requested that it had to be consulted on site, at the BAnQ. The book was on hold at the National Collection, a secure place where you have to check your coat and bag in a locker room before entering and you have to put all the material you need (notebook, pen, laptop, wallet, etc) in a basket that you carry with you. It was the first time I was visiting that place and it was all quite unexpected. Luckily, the staff was very nice and helpful. Instead of spending hours reading the book, I was allowed to digitize a copy on the photocopier (its control menu was not user-friendly at all and source of many frustrations). 

IMG_4441The book title is: “William Milner of Halifax: printer and publisher. Checklist of a collection of books printed by William Milner and his successors and imitators.” The only publishing information is “York: Ken Spelman”. No author is listed on the cover, but the notice from the University of St-Andrews’ library is helpful on that subject: the author is NOT Bernard BARR (who simply wrote the foreword) nor Ken Spelman (the “publisher”, but who was given as author by Amazon) but Peter MILLER and T. FOTHERGILL (who compiled the information).

Disappointingly, the book is of little use to me. It is far from exhaustive; its main source of information seems to be the Spelman’s bookshop collection as well as a few articles in Yorkshire’s newspapers and historical magazines (the bibliography also list a few references that briefly mention Milner, like Victor E. NEUBURG, The Popular Press Companion to Popular Literature, pp. 132-33 or Leslie SHEPARD, The History of Street literature, pp. 104-106). I was expecting a complete list of all titles published by Milner but it seems that such reference doesn’t exist. A search on Google doesn’t yield much either. In fact, the most useful tool in this research was probably WorldCat

IMG_4440William Milner of Halifax: printer and publisher mentions Richard COPE’s Natural History only ONCE (“Cope (Richard) Natural History … New Edition, Improved and Enlarged. Roy 8vo. 730 pp. 425 ills. Maroon cloth”) in what the book calls the “Imprint 7”—which falls into the third incarnation of the publishing company, Milner & Co, located in London between 1883 and maybe 1900. “Maroon cloth” seems to describe well the cheap cover of my edition (and “Roy 8vo” means that it is a Royal octavo format, i.e. 10″ by 6¼” or 253 mm x 158 mm, therefore about the same size than my copy) but my book was clearly printed during the “Imprint 1” period (Halifax: William Milner, 1834-1851). Also the copy that I have seen at the University of Montreal unmistakably falls into the same imprint as it is dated from 1846 (while mine unfortunately has no printing date left—or never had one as it happened often with this publisher). This fact confirms that the Miller/Fothergill monograph is obviously incomplete.

I was not able to acquire more precise information on my book. However, it was not a complete waste of time since it has allowed me to learn more about the printing industry in nineteen century England. It seems that William Milner was a pioneer of cheap literature and remains an unsung hero of the poor Englishmen as he provided them with affordable literary classics (selling for as little as a shilling or even a sixpence) that would have without any doubts further their education and culture. Several other publishers, like William Nicholson, followed his example. 


The Spelman’s collection ?

They printed books not only in great quantity (printing titles by the ten of thousands with total circulation often amounting over a hundred thousand!) but also in variety as they covered a large array of subject matter (from BurnsPoems, to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Arabian Nights, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Richard Johnson’s The Seven Champion of Christendom, etc.) and offered a “range of plain and variously ornamented styles to suit differing tastes and pockets” [cf. Bernard Barr’s introduction to William Milner of Halifax and Shepard’s History of Street Literature]. The life of those publishers (and particularly of William Milner) and their cultural missionary work would certainly make quite an interesting subject for a historical TV series. 

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A new beautiful era of harmony

ReiwaThe Japanese government has announced last night that the name of the new Japanese era will be Reiwa (令和).

Each time that there is a new emperor, Japan’s calendar start a new era (時代 / jidai) or period (元年 / gannen). The era name (年号 / nengō or 元号 / gengō) is always selected carefully and has a great cultural significance. However, today it is mainly used only on government official paperwork (driving licenses, official calendar, etc.). Everyday use generally follows the Gregorian calendar. The previous era of modern Japan are Meiji (Prince Mutsuhito, 1868-1912), Taishō (Prince Yoshihito, 1912-1926), Shōwa (Hirohito, 1926-1989) and Heisei (Akihito, 1989-2019). Reiwa will be the 248th era name of Japanese history.

This change usually happens upon the death of the emperor, as his son ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne. However, this time, the emperor Akihito chose to abdicate for health reason on April 30th and he will be succeeded by his elder son, Naruhito, on May 1st. Another departure from tradition is the fact that, in the past, the name was inspired by Chinese literature. This time, the panel of experts selected to choose the name took the idea from Japanese classical literature, as it is derived from the ancient poem anthology Man’yōshū. 

The first character of the name, Rei [], means good fortune (the “auspicious wave of energy of the plum blossoms carried by the wind”) and the second character, Wa [], means   gentle, harmonious or peace and tranquility.  It could therefore be translated as “fortunate harmony” or “auspicious harmony” (although some seems to translate it as “redolent harmony”).

The announcement was well received by the Japanese as they expect the name to embody their hope for a better future

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Latest acquisition

A couple of years ago I’ve talked about my collection of ancient books. Well, I just made a new acquisition. I never thought I would find more interesting (but affordable) books to add to this collection…

This week-end I went to the Westmount Book Fair at the Green Center in Westmount. I’ve been hearing about this bi-annual antiquarian book fairs for a while and always wanted to have a look but was always too busy. When I saw another one advertised on facebook, I thought now was the time. Although I was rather apprehensive that I would find a very interesting (and expensive) book.

The Westmount Book Fair was organized by Wilfrid M. de Freitas, who is himself a bookseller. It was the 27th edition of what is advertised as “the smallest ancient books fair in Canada, where booksellers from Quebec and Canada will help you discover a wide selection of books, brochures, maps, printed matter and small papers”. It was indeed a small venue with a little more than a dozen stands.

I took a quick look and identified all the books the would interest me and fit into my unfortunately small budget: the Caesar commentaries (in French, 1763, $125), the work of Tacitus (2 vols in latin, 1772, $350), and the work of Valerius Maximus (1659, $275). More affordable but out of my subjects of interest for this type of books (ancient authors, 16th to 18th century editions) there was also a Short French Dictionary (in English, 1701, only $100). There was also a big format velum book (about 25 cm hight and 8 cm thick) from the 17th century about mythology (a mere $5000 !), the works of Bossuet in a big volume ($4500), a few sheets from German old books (incunable?) or a large format book (in-folio) about the myth of the wandering jew illustrated by Gustave Doré for which I didn’t even dare looking for the price tag. Out of interest and price range, I also noticed the first annual compilation of the bande-dessinée magazine Pilote ($500-$700). It gave me a few interesting books to choose from. After, deliberating over the interest (age, condition of the binding, subject) and the price, I finally chose the Valerius Maximus. It was the only 17th century edition in my list, in relatively good condition and at an affordable price. It was sold by Mr. de Freitas and he even gave me a small discount.

IMG_4317VALERE MAXIME, A PARIS, CLAVDE BARBIN, dans la grand’ Salle du Palais, du cofté de la Salle Dauphine, au Signe de la Croix. M.DC.LIX. [1659]”

The title of the book (which doesn’t appear on the first page) is “Factotum ac dictorum memorabilium libri IX” [nine books of memorable deeds and sayings]. The binding (pork skin?) includes two volumes (it’s 4.5 cm thick), in the sextodecimo format (in-16, in this case 8 x 12.75 cm) . According to the note from Mr. de Freitas, it’s the second edition in French, translated by Jean Claveret. It is a collections of a thousand historical anecdotes, many lifted from earlier Roman writers, re-drafted by Valerius Maximus as moral and social models. It was written during the reign of Tiberius (around around CE 30 or 31). It is quite interesting…

The Collection (or my cabinet of curiosities)


The next book fair, organized by the Confrérie de la Libraries Ancienne du Québec, will be the 36th Antiquarian Book Fair held at the Concordia University (Pavillon McConnell, 1400 bout Maisonneuve O.) Saturday September 28th (from 12:00 to 18:00) and Sunday September 29th (from 11:00 to 17:00).

IMG_4304While having my nose in old books, I decided to do some more research on one of my (very interesting) books on which I have little information. It’s an octavo volume (15 x 24 x 5 cm) titled Natural History. It has a cardboard cover, covered with brown cloth and thin leather. It doesn’t have a title page and the only publisher information appear on the very last page: “WILLIAM MILNER, PRINTER, CHEAPSIDE, HALIFAX.” I first thought it was printed in the maritime provinces in mid-19th century (I think my father purchased it in Gaspésie in the 60s, for $35). It has 730 pages and is in average condition (yellowed pages and several stains, little tears in the cloth of the cover).

It seems inspired by Pliny’s Naturalis Historiae, but it is not its translation as it has a different content organization and covers more modern subjects: Part I : Of the Universe, Part II-XXII: Animals (mostly mammals), Part XXIII: Unclassified Animals, Part XXIV-XXX: Birds; then A History of the Fishes in General (including cetaceous, crustaceous, frogs, lizards, serpents, turtles, and insects !) Part I-XII.

With a closer examination and more research, I discovered new information about this book. First, it seems that the printer is NOT from Nova Scotia but rather from England. Cheapside is a street in Halifax, West Yorkshire, England. William Milner (1803-1850) is a printer who was known for publishing lots of cheap books (selling for sixpence (2 pence) and a shilling (5 pence)). He apprenticed as a printer, but started publishing his own books, first with local printers and then setting up his own press in the 1830s (or in 1844). After his death, his stepsons took over the business under the name Milner & Sowerby. Therefore, my books must have been published between the 1830s and 1850. I will try to find more about this publisher. There is a book that seems to list some of his production, so I will probably start there. To be continued…

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