Friday, January 05, 2007


More about Edmund Curll

Yesterday's entry from The Reader's Encyclopedia mentioned Curle, but my biography of this scurrilous bookseller has his name spelled Curll (and a few title pages from books he was responsible for also have his name as Curll). I know I mentioned this biography here a few months ago, but I do so again - it makes wonderful reading - The Unspeakable Curll: Being Some Account of Edmund Curll, Bookseller; To Which is Added a Full List of His Books by Ralph Straus (Chapman and Hall, London 1927). A sample:

"There never was a man who was called by so many names. There never was a man who succeeded in irritating almost beyond endurance so many of his betters. And nothing could make his see the 'error' of his ways: he just continued to irritate. If, for instance, objection was raised to some book of his of the bawdier kind, it would as likely as not be followed by another even more scandalously improper. If a furious author declared that a book of his, published by Curll, was wholly unauthorized, he would probably find that a 'Second Volume' of his work was being advertised as 'Corrected by the Author Himself.'" (p.4)

A bit more:

"As for his title-pages, they were marvels of optimistic inaccuracy." (p.6)

The book does not merely explain the scandal attached to this particular bookseller and his wares, it also describes the entire literary world of the time: who was writing what, how work found its way into print, how authors were paid or not paid, the fate of manuscripts, pre-copyright-law printing practices, in short how books were made and sold for several decades in the early eighteenth century. It's really terrific, not to mince superlatives.

To continue in The Reader's Encyclopedia, I've made it through the Ds this morning. And I find myself unable to stop from adding a few of my own comments (which appear below in parentheses, like this).

Day or Daye, Stephen (1594?-1688). Printer of the Bay Psalm Book (1640), the first book in English printed in America. The town of Cambridge, Mass., granted him 300 acres of land for "being the first that sett upon printing." (p.279)

Delafield, E.M. (1890-1943). Pen-name of Elizabeth Monica Dashwood, English novelist, née de la Pasture, of which the name Delafield is an English adaptation. ... Her childhood French governesses were models for the Mademoiselle of her delightful Diary of a Provincial Lady (1931). ... (p.286)

diamond. (This entry is far too long to add all of here, but I must mention one small bit of it) Diamond. The little dog belonging to Sir Isaac Newton. One winter's morning he upset a candle on his master's desk, by which papers containing minutes of many years' experiments were destroyed. On perceiving this terrible catastrophe, Newton exclaimed, "Oh, Diamond, Diamond, thou little knowest the mischeif thou has done!" and at once set to work to repair the loss. (p.295) (Bad dog!)

disjecta membra. Scattered limbs, referring to the Maenads dismembering Pentheus. Hence in literature the literary remains of a poet or writer. (pp.299-300)

Dove Dulcet. Literally, the "sweet-sounding dove." A pseudonym used by Christopher Morley for some of his columnar contributions. (p.313) (The editor of this book was a long-time friend of Morley's. Morley wrote weekly columns for years, two of which were entitled The Bowling Green and Trade Winds, but many of which were written - early in his career - as anonymous filler, and remain unidentified, I'm sure.)

Dunmow flitch, the. The flitch of bacon mentioned below.
eat Dunmow bacon. To live in conjugal amity, without even wishing the marriage knot to be less firmly tied. The allusion is to a custom said to have been instituted by Juga, a noble lady, in 1111, and restored by Robert de Fitzwalter in 1244, which was that
"any person from any part of England going to Dunmow, in Essex, and humbly kneeling on two stones at the church door, may claim a gammon of bacon, if he can swear that for twelve months and a day he has never had a household brawl or wished himself unmarried."
Between 1244 and 1772 eight claimants were admitted to eat the flitch. Allusions to the custom are very frequent in 17th and 18th century literature; and in the last years of the 19th century it was revived. Later it was removed to Ilford. The oath administered is in doggerel... (a longish poem follows, which I refuse to type out, but which is well worth seeking out.) (p.323)

There are many entries I'd love to add here, but they are simply enormous. From yesterday in the Cs, courtly love, for example. Vicky, in yesterday's comments, mentions the huge entry on the saints and my edition also has it. Others that I find fascinating are the long entries about various colors, black and blue two days ago; today, the entry for the devil and all things devilish; and both yesterday and today, cat and dog. These, alongside entries for authors, works of literature, mythological figures, and all - well, it's a lot of fun and quite overwhelming. How long did it take Benét to compile this?! I am beginning to wonder.

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