Undine (frontispiece) 1897
Undine (frontispiece detail) 1897
Undine (cover and spine) 1897

I found this Victorian Era copy of Undine by Friedrich de La Motte Fouque in the toss away bin on one of my recent book hunts. This copy, published in 1897, is illustrated by Rosie M. M. Pitman. The cover and binding are water damaged but the pages and pictures are in pretty good shape. It appears to be unread since it still has uncut pages. One of my favorite stories about a water nymph who falls in love with a mortal and is gifted with a soul. It’s rather an epic fairy tale which someone aptly described as fairy tale noir. A lovely book with a well rounded and sympathetic heroine. Mischievous and somewhat unseelie water sprite steal a few scenes. There is a later version with Arthur Rackham illustrations. I’ve scanned a few of these less well known interpretations. The detail on the Frontispiece (pictured above) depicts the water sprites who mock Undine for falling in love with a human.

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For Meate or Medicine

The Fourth Book of Distillations containing many singular and secret recipes.

While sorting through the old books at the Horticultural Center, I picked up a musty old tome which I thought was a history of gardening. It turned out to be a book about alchemy and the construction of various types of stills. Most chapters focus on use of plants by the Puritans of New England for herbal medicines and tonics. However, it does occasionally veer off into herbal lore and “the chemical art” of the early alchemists. The book was in rough shape, water damaged and falling apart so the scans are not so nice. Of course, I had to offer up a few bits of it, since this blog threads together the subjects of my fascination – art, old books, gardening, and alchemy. Included among these tattered pages, is a hand drawn map from the 1600s of the area where I now live and work. Sadly, it was too faded and ink smeared to scan well.

Three Bees

“The fifth chapter deals with the sum total of background knowledge applied by the settlers to their task of growing, distilling, and preserving all they would need for both meate and medicine. The sixth deals with ‘the meate’ and the seventh with ‘the medicine’ for which they felt sure so many plants were intended”. – Anne Leighton

The embattled Alchymia among her limbecks and furnaces.
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Notes on The Young Reader

I have in my hands this small fabulous book from 1835 titled “The Young Reader”, so well rubbed in all the right ways that it is an artifact of sculptural elegance. The content is as fascinating as it’s current presentation. When I look through early readers such as this one, I don’t have to wonder why certain authorities seem determined to eradicate their existence.

The Young Reader

There are currently attempts to pass ridiculous “Nanny State” laws which seek the physical destruction of such wonderful objects and the complete removal of their content from circulation. The value of such a book is not just in the obvious charm of aged paper, a young artist’s scribbles, and whimsical yet technically proficient illustrations. The value is also contained in the artfully chosen collection of stories, poems, and lessons.

The lessons contained therein do not attempt to dumb down or disney-fy (Fie!) certain aspects of reality. There is an odd and effecting mix of grittiness and sentimentality presenting a common sense wisdom. The young readers are addressed with respect for their intelligence, potential, and emotional fortitude. They are assumed to be capable of learning self sufficiency. This particular copy was once owned by Henrietta Henrietta who seemed determined to master the letter “y” with sepia toned ink and a feather pen. She has delightfully decorated a wee treasure containing an eclectic mix of literature, fables, and moral tales which also happen to encourage basic reading and comprehension skills.

These older books have become popular with home schoolers and educators who are fed up with the neurosis-inducing thin skinned political correctness and vapid spiritless mind-numbing nonsense favored by our current system of education. Why would the gatekeepers of culture and so-called “education” feel threatened by this material? There could be lead in the books they so claim. Lead my left butt cheek. This is pure gold.

Whether it is because so few writers of talent have undertaken to furnish good materials for a compilation like this, or whether there is a great intrinsic difficulty in writing for children so as to be instructive without being dull, and simple without being silly, it may not be certain. But it is certain, that but a few writers have been happy in the production of pieces interesting and profitable to very young children. – John Pierpont

My child, what a good thing it is that you can read! A little while ago, you know, you could only read very small words; and you were forced to spell them all, thus c, a, t, cat; d, o, g, dog.

Now you can read pretty stories, with a little help, and by and by, if you take a good deal of pains, you will be able to read them without help.

When you can read in a book, by yourself, it will be easy for you to learn a good many things, and amuse yourself and your friends by reading, and make yourself learned, and good, and happy.

See here I have got a book, that has a good many stories in it, and a good many pictures, too, that will help you to understand the stories better.

The stories, and the verses have been made by some good friends of children. They knew a great deal, and wished to have all the little boys and girls have good books to read in, to make them wiser and better.

The first story in this book is about a foolish little lamb, that would not mind her mother. And the story is meant to show that little children, as well as little lambs, should always mind their parents, and seek their advice.




The full story of The Cats Who Went To Law.

The full story of The Sagacious Goose.

The Sagacious Goose

The Sagacious Goose

I typed it as it was. (Hopefully) Note: emblematical, eyeing and under tone ?

The Sagacious Goose

Many persons seem to think that a goose is a bird that has neither wit nor wisdom. They laugh at the poor harmless animal and seem to consider it good for nothing but to be stripped of its feathers, for our beds, and to be roasted for our dinners.

Indeed the goose has become proverbial for its stupidity, and emblematical of a dunce; for we often hear a dull boy, or a simpleton of a man, called a goose; and the old proverb says, “If all fools wore white caps, they would look like a flock of geese.”

Now this is doing great wrong to this useful and valuable bird, which after all, has received from its Maker as much wisdom as it wants for its own use, and it sometimes has some left for the use of us owners.

The city of Rome was once saved from destruction by the cackling of a goose, which wisely kept awake when the army of the Gauls was going to attack it, and when all the inhabitants had foolishly gone to sleep.

And the story that I am now going to tell you, gives still stronger proof that a goose is sometimes a more sensible bird than he passes for.

“I have known one,” says Mrs. Hall,–” a snowy gander,–who formed a singular and devoted attachment to a gentleman, and never deserted his side, if he could avoid it.

“When the gentleman rode, the poor bird ran or flew after him. When he walked, it strolled along also; and refused food, even when pressed by hunger, except from his master’s hand.

“At dinner time he used to sit patiently outside of the window that opened upon the lawn, eyeing his protector; and standing first on one leg, and then upon the other.

“But the greatest proof of superior intellect that he evinced, was one afternoon, when following his master through some marshy ground that skirted a neighboring bog; the gentleman, trusting to his knowledge of the dangerous district, did not take heed to his way as he ought and presently found himself sinking into a bog hole.

“The efforts he made to get out, only sunk him deeper, and he must have been inevitably swamped, had he not crossed his fowling-piece over two fallen trees, one on each side of him, and held fast by that, although he had not strength enough to free himself from the thick mud, and the rank, tangled weeds.

“His faithful dog seeing his master in this dilemma trotted off for assistance; and the gander, after walking around him, stretching his neck, and cackling in an under tone, at length raised himself into the air, and flew round and round over his head, making, at the same time, the loudest noise that he could.

“This attracted some turf-cutters to the spot and the gentleman was extricated from the bog, before his servants, alarmed by Rover’s having come home without his master, had time to come to his assistance.

“Nothing could exceed the poor gander’s delight when he saw his friend again at liberty. He rubbed himself, like a cat, against his legs, shook his wings and cackled with much glee, and I can say that, for the remainder of his life, he was treated with that high respect which was due to his eminent services.”

I trust we shall hear no more from silly or mischievous boys, about the stupidity of a goose, until they will tell us how, if they had been in the situation of this gander, they would have contrived better than he did.

Lesson Eighty-Fourth from The Young Reader