09 August 2017
Since when and why
In a little time I felt something alive moving on my left leg, which advancing gently forward over my breast, came almost up to my chin; when, bending my eyes downwards as much as I could, I perceived it to be a human creature not six inches high, with a bow and arrow in his hands, and quiver at his back… .
I like to report on my first encounter with the miniature books world as a moment that was like waking up from my ordinary library day of submersion in beautiful American artists’ books, and discovering an exciting alternative reality made of miniature items. I perceived that these objects almost animated, approximately three or four inches tall, kindly throwing darts of curiosity at me with their bows loaded with charm. I immediately fell enamoured with them, and it did not take long before my desk was busy with library materials on miniature books.
“For those of us who have been bitten by this particular bug”  there is nothing left to follow the appeal of the beauty offered by the small miniature art masterpieces.
Wondering ‘why’, and ‘since when’ have been the guideline of my innocent journey into the history of the little items. One of the first things I learned is that as old as the discovering of the written world is its counterpart in the miniature form. Secondly, I acknowledged that this world is regulated by laws, and for that, you will define as miniature books only those which respect the standard of being possibly even less than three inches but no more than four, and almost as it was heresy, five.
Defecting from the established rules in fact, an item of four inches or little more would only be a pain for a purist, and a joke for all artisans involved, printers, binders, papermakers, illustrators, illuminators, and engravers who would give all the very best of their art under more challenging and extreme circumstances from one to three inches.
It is said that to reach the completion of the 1878 Dante’s Divina Commedia edition (Padua: Salmin), also known as the “Dantino”, many artisans were injured: the necessary operations of preparing and cutting the types caused a serious injury “to the eyesight of both the compositor and corrector. It took one month to print thirty pages, and new types were necessary for every new form.”. Around the 70’s of the 19th century, two brothers from Padua, Italy, together with a small team of professionals such as casters, compositors, and correctors, developed an unprecedented minuscule typefaces, which they named carattere a occhio di mosca (fly’s eye type), and that was firstly used for the micro Dante’s masterpiece. The measures of the book are 1 1/4” x 1 3/4”, and it is only readable trough a magnifying glass .
Indulging in more technical details, you would call a miniature book a 64mo. A single leaf of paper folded 64 times, originally printed with 64 pages on each side of it, and then scrupulously folded in order to bring up the correct sequence of the pages. The size of the pages are obviously determined by the size of the original master sheet, but a 64mo would inevitable be around 3 to 5 inches .
The purpose of creating, producing and collecting miniature books is two-fold: firstly, the practicality and secondly, personal pleasure, and the sense of beauty in small objects. Before Gutenberg, for matters European, miniature manuscripts were periodically produced completed with illuminations. Subsequently, the production of miniature books has continued to reflect the latest progresses of print machines and processes. There were miniature books printed in early Gothic and incunabula type characters, or in the earliest Greek types, Hebrew and so on. As in a shrinking mirror they were reflecting all new type acquisitions and binding progress .
Little books were simultaneously produced in the centuries alongside regular standard, so that men and women of faith could easily bring with them their collection of psalms and devotional books, students could carry their small library in a pocket, smugglers of ideas could easily hide tiny booklets in a secret bottom of their cape, merchants could quickly retrieve from their belt a tiny but complete guide on the equivalence of grains prices, scales, measures and conversion, and foreign currencies value meanwhile closing a deal, or that sharp businessmen could brilliantly define a legal contract.
It has been for that purpose that some of the earliest examples of books on miniature support were produced during the Babylonian Empire, as for the case of two small cuneiform tablets of Ancient Mesopotamia which preserve an antique writing system and concern trade and administrative issues. One of them, a clay tablet dated back to the 7th year of the reign of Bur-Sin, circa 2325 B.C., comes from the region of Ur, today Iraq, and measure only 1 5/8” x 1 1/2”. It contains extremely useful information while dealing with barley and bran for sheep (1), and the other, a Babylonian clay tablet from Senkereh, now Iraq, is dated 2200 B.C., and measure 1 7/8” x 1 1/4”, it was also used in the trading of animals and provisions (2).
Another beautiful miniature object is the world’s first printing on paper. A very tiny scroll 23/8” tall obtained from wood blocks, is dated back to 770 A. D. and is well known as the D’harani prayer. Only the story of its origins is as enchanting as the scroll itself. With the aim of spreading awareness on Buddhism, the Japanese Empress Shotoku, gave order to print a million copy of these prayer-scrolls encased in charming wooden pagodas, then asked they be distributed all over the country divided among ten Japanese temples, a project which required over six years of continuous work .
Annalisa Ricciardi is currently working as Cataloguer of the American Studies Collections. She is working on a heterogeneous collection of extraordinary interest and artistic value of American fine press and artists’ books, such as limited, numbered, and rare editions chronologically placed between 18th and 21st century.
 Gulliver’s travels, illustrated by Rex Whistler (London: The Cresset Press, 1930), vol. I, p. 18 [Shelfmark: C.100.I.14].
 Louis W. Bondy, Miniature books: their history from the beginnings to the present day (London: Sheppard Press, 1981), p. 3 [Shelfmark: 2708.e.223].
 Louis W. Bondy, Miniature books, pp. 93-95; and Anne C. Bromer, Julian I. Edison, Miniature books: 4000 years of tiny treasures, (New York: Abrams ; New York: The Grolier Club, 2007), pp. 47-49, 114 [Shelfmark: LC.31.a.5071].
 Doris V. Welsh, The history of miniature books (Albany, New York: Fort Orange Press, 1987), pp. 5-11 [Shelfmark: 2708.e.1550].
 Welsh, The history of miniature books, p. 2.
 Miniature books from the collection of Julian I. Edison (St. Louis, Missouri: Washington University), pp. 1-2 [Shelfmark: Cup.406.j.11]. See a rare example of the D’harani prayer as illustrate by the Library of Congress Asian Collection page: https://www.loc.gov/rr/asian/guide/guide-japanese.html
19 July 2016
Among the American expatriate writers who congregated in Paris in the interwar period, Kay Boyle was one of the most prolific. In her long and varied career she published fourteen novels, among them Death of a Man (1936) and Avalanche (1944), several collections of short stories, essays, poetry and translations.
By New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer: Al Ravenna [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Kay Boyle was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1902. In 1922 she moved to New York, where she became an assistant to Lola Ridge, the editor of Broom magazine. Boyle attended Ridge’s literary gatherings, where guests included William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore. In June of the same year she married her first husband, the Frenchman Richard Brault, and the couple moved to France in 1923. While in Paris, Boyle met the writer and founder of Contact Editions Robert McAlmon, who became both a friend and a literary mentor.
In 1928 Boyle became acquainted with Harry and Caresse Crosby, founders of the Black Sun Press, one of the most renowned private presses run by American expatriates. The press, which was originally set up with the name Éditions Narcisse, published works by celebrated modernist writers including D H Lawrence, Hemingway and James Joyce. In March 1929 the press published Boyle’s Short Stories in a limited edition of 150 [Cup.510.fa.7.]. Some of the seven stories that form the collection had previously appeared in little magazines of the period, including transition, and all of them were reprinted alongside new work in the later collection Wedding Day and Other Stories (1930).
During the late 1920s and 1930s Boyle worked on several literary translations from French into English, including Joseph Delteil’s novel Don Juan. In 1931 the Black Sun Press published Boyle’s translation of a work by the surrealist writer René Crevel, Mr. Knife and Miss Fork, an extract of Crevel’s novel Babylone. The book was illustrated with nineteen photograms by the German artist Max Ernst. Boyle’s full translation of the novel into English was published in 1985 by North Point Press.
René Crevel, Mr. Knife, Miss Fork (being a fragment of the novel Babylone), trans. by Kay Boyle. Paris : Black Sun Press, 1931. [C.184.f.4] From top to bottom: cover, detail of the spine, front page and photogram by Max Ernst.
The following year Boyle’s poem ‘A Statement’ was published by a lesser known American private press, The Modern Editions Press, founded by the African American writer Kathleen Tankersley Young . The press produced two series of beautifully crafted short story and poetry pamphlets in 1932 and 1933. Boyle’s poem included a frontispiece by the cubist artist Max Weber. The Modern Editions Press was a short-lived project, as Young died unexpectedly in 1933 during a trip to Mexico.
Kay Boyle. A Statement. New York : Modern Editions Press, 1932. [RF.2016.A.26] From top to bottom: front cover and frontispiece by Max Weber.
The Library has recently acquired Kay Boyle: A Twentieth Century Life in Letters, a volume that collects Boyle’s correspondence, edited by Sandra Spanier. Boyle’s selected letters, spanning eight decades, bear witness to her central role in several modernist networks and presents a fascinating picture of American expatriate life in Paris and beyond during the twentieth century.
Boyle, Kay. Kay Boyle: A Twentieth-Century Life in Letters, ed. by Sandra Spanier. Urbana, Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2015. [YD.2016.a.2187]
Ford, Hugh. Published in Paris: American and British Writers, Printers, and Publishers in Paris, 1920-1939. London: Garnstone Press, 1975. [X.981/20326]
McAlmon, Robert and Kay Boyle. Being Geniuses Together 1920-1930. London: Michael Joseph, 1970. [X.989/5601.]
Spanier, Sandra Whipple. Kay Boyle: Artist and Activist. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1986. [YC.2002.a.22409]
22 March 2016
Langston Hughes is well known as one of the leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance, primarily for his poetry. However, there is a side to his work which has received comparatively less attention: his literary translations.
Langston Hughes in 1936, by Carl Van Vechten
Hughes was not a professional translator, and indeed most of his translations did not do very well commercially. His translations were driven by his interest in writers with whom he felt a connection, particularly authors who explored the representation of black identity beyond European literary models. Hughes felt a kinship with writers of the African diaspora in the Americas, whom he saw as linked by a similar cultural heritage and history of racial oppression. These included the Haitian writer Jacques Roumain, whose posthumous novel Masters of the Dew (Gouverneurs de la Rosée) was translated by Hughes circa 1947.
In 1948, Hughes (together with Ben Frederic Carruthers) translated a selection of poems by the Cuban writer and activist Nicolás Guillén. They were published under the title of Cuba Libre by the American Ward Ritchie Press, in a beautiful limited edition of 500 with illustrations by Gar Gilbert.
Cover and title page of Cuba Libre (1948)
Hughes met the poet Nicolas Guillén in 1930 in Cuba and they soon developed a friendship. Both men travelled together to Spain during the country’s civil war as war correspondents, an episode that Hughes narrated in his autobiography I Wonder as I Wander (1956). While the extent to which Hughes influenced Guillén’s style is still up for debate, their works have many aspects in common. Their poetry is a celebration of black folk culture, music and use of language. Often described as ‘poets of the people’, both men were concerned with representing class inequality and racial injustice.
Below is an extract from Guillén’s well-known poem ‘Tu no sabe inglé’, translated by Hughes as ‘You don’t speak no English’. Hughes’s translation used the African American vernacular to reproduce Guillén’s experimentation with the Cuban criollo (Creole) dialect in his poetry:
Con tanto inglé que tú sabía,
con tanto inglé, no sabe ahora
La mericana te buca,
y tú le tiene que huí:
tu inglé era de etrái guan,
de etrái guan y guan tu tri.
Nicolás Guillen, Motivos de son (1930)
All dat English you used to know,
all dat English, now can’t even
‘Merican gal comes lookin’ fo’ you
an’ you jes’ runs away
Yo’ English is jes’ strike one!
strike one and one-two-three.
Langston Hughes’s translation, published in Cuba Libre (1948)
Guillén, Nicolás. Cuba Libre, translated by Langston Hughes and Ben Frederic Carruthers (Los Angeles: The Ward Ritchie Press, 1948) [Cup.510.naz.3.]
Kutzinski, Vera M., The Worlds of Langston Hughes: Modernism and Translation in the Americas (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012) [YC.2013.a.1917]
Martin-Ogunsola, Dellita, ‘Introduction’. The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Vol 16: The Translations: Federico Garcia Lorca, Nicolas Guillen, and Jacques Roumain, ed. by Arnold Ra``mpersad (Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 2003) [YC.2005.A.3285]
Scott, William, ‘Motivos of Translation: Nicolas Guillen and Langston Hughes’. CR: The New Centennial Review, 5:2 (2005): 35-71. [3486.443000]
25 September 2012
It’s been a busy month for all of Team Americas, with much of my and Matt’s time in particular taken up with activities relating to our forthcoming exhibition On the Road: Jack Kerouac's manuscript scroll. Yes, we’re excited at the prospect of the arrival next week of Jim ('keeper of the scroll') with the typed manuscript, which will exhibited from 4 October until 27 December in our newly re-launched Folio Society Gallery in the Library's Front Hall.
The scroll will be taking centre stage in a specially designed 16 metre case so we decided that the accompanying BL material should focus on our sound recordings and Steve has put together a great ‘soundtrack’ to the scroll and the Beat Generation. You will be able to hear several contributions from Kerouac, including an excerpt of On the Road, jazz recordings which echo references in the novel, plus Allen Ginsberg reads Howl, and there are contributions by William Burroughs, Herbert Huncke, Joyce Johnson, Carolyn Cassady et al. Oh, and there’s Neal Cassady reading Proust too!
And the exhibition should look great, thanks to Fiona’s design and the generosity of Carolyn Cassady, the Allen Ginsberg Estate and the Kerouac Estate in letting us reproduce some wonderful images. So, schedule your visit now. The exhibition is free and there’s also an excellent events programme, including a preview screening of Walter Salles’ new movie.
Regular readers of the blog will know that we’ve highlighted our sound recordings relating to the beats before, but if you’re a new reader, here’s the link to a bibliography Steve put together some years ago. We also have really strong printed collections, and here’s a bibliography of those (be warned, it’s BIG). Picking just a few of these books to put in the exhibition was very difficult so we’ve opted for the holy trinity of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs, with just a couple of others.
Apart from writing Kerouac labels, I was also involved in our Inspired by Artists’ Books event on 4 September, at which we showcased some of our wonderful artists’ books and fine press holdings (here’s Fran’s blog on the event). I suppose it was inevitable that my brain would end up connecting the 2 themes so I started to think about whether we had any beat-related books which fall in to this category. Of course we do, and I featured Bill Burroughs and David Bradshaw’s Propagation Hazard at the event. But for this blog, I’ve chosen a Kerouac title. It’s by Mark McMurray, a colleague who is Curator of Special Collections and University Archivist at St. Lawrence University, teaches courses on the history of the book and printing, and who set up his own Caliban Press in 1985 - how he finds the time I don’t know! Anyway, Mark has made a couple of jazz-related titles, small, but perfectly formed and lovingly made, and here is an image of his History of Bop by Jack Kerouac.
08 May 2012
A secret delight of being in a great library is the arrival on one’s desk of a book which is not really what you are looking for, but proves completely fascinating.
I was pursuing J. William Lloyd an American anarchist-socialist who believed in free love and drugless medicine, when I ordered Joseph Ishill’s, Free Vistas: An Anthology of Life and Letters, Oriole Press, 1933.
I had come across Lloyd while writing my biography of Edward Carpenter. He visited Carpenter’s home at Millthorpe near Sheffield in 1913 while on a knapsack tour of Britain, dropping in on the Bolton followers of Walt Whitman en route.
Left politics and the many varieties of love were causes Lloyd embraced with enthusiasm , so he arrived as a pilgrim at the home of the advocate of homosexual freedom. He was, however, shocked to find Edward Carpenter smoking a cigarette!
It was David Sachs, a profoundly knowledgable second hand book dealer in Oakland, who told me that one of the women I am currently researching, Helena Born, was in contact with Lloyd after she migrated from Bristol to Boston in the 1890s. Helena ,along with her friend Helen Tufts, went to meetings of Lloyd’s Comradeship of Free Socialists in Boston.
Initially an anarchist, Lloyd became convinced that both anarchism and socialism were needed in society. Liberty, and individual variation needed to combine with ‘cooperation, sympathy and solidarity’ (Anarchist Socialism).
In his novel, The Dwellers in Vale Sunrise, Lloyd’s dwellers are ‘simplicists’ who dress in brilliant colours and wear strange barbaric jewellery, growing their hair long. They are early twentieth century hippies who live Lloyd’s ideal of free socialism.
Well there was no sign of Lloyd in the 1933 edition of Ishill’s, Free Vistas. There were, however, fascinating traces of Carpenter’s networks: the vegetarian Henry Salt who influenced Gandhi, the radical journalist, Henry Nevinson, the French novelist Romain Rolland as well as his friend who translated Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass into French, Leon Bazalgette.
Ishill gathered together a series of pamphlets, all of differing shapes and sizes and all lovingly crafted. So it was a magical experience to turn the pages decorated with woodcuts by John Buckland Wright as well as drawings by Bernard Sleigh and Lucienne Bloch, not to mention linoleum cuts and drypoint.
I found myself pausing to marvel that I could sit in a library and be able touch such a book. William J.Lloyd may not have been in that particular edition but his Free Socialism was there nonetheless in spirit.
Sheila Rowbotham is an Eccles Centre for American Studies Writer in Residence at the British Library. Selections from most of Ishill's major works published by the Oriole Press can be seen online via the University of Michigan library. Read Sheila's first post here.
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