at the British library http://instagr.am/p/WU2YugCGJO/
at the British library http://instagr.am/p/WU2YugCGJO/
This map was conspicuously absent from the blog post on First World War satirical maps which I wrote over a year ago. “Hark! Hark! The dogs do bark!” is a famous image, but I didn’t have an example in stock back then. I’ve finally found one and I plan to make up for my omission now, but if you are interested in how this map sits alongside others of this genre do read the earlier piece: http://tinyurl.com/72ebeg2
The map was published by G.W. Bacon in 1914 with a title drawn from the traditional (and subversive) rhyme. We don’t know the artist, but it was designed by Johnson, Riddle & Co, and supplied with a text liberally sprinkled with dog-related puns by Walter Emanuel. As map-dealer Roderick Barron has noted, Emanuel was a regular contributor to Punch but he was specifically known to contemporary readers for his anthropomorphic dog books illustrated by Cecil Aldin, including The Dogs of War (London: Bradbury, Agnew & Co, 1906). His association with this piece can hardly be chance.
The belligerent powers at the centre of the map have been given appropriate canine form: a British bulldog, French poodle, German dachshund and - in reference to Austro-Hungary’s volatile ethnic fault line - an Austro-Hungarian mongrel.
Britain is represented by a Churchillian sailor (Churchill was First Sea Lord and - only partially obscured by the whiskers of this humble Jack Tar - the features do resemble his; it may, however, be entirely coincidental: I may be influenced by the sub-Churchillian jowls of the British bulldog).
Here’s the very German dachshund, complete with pickelhaube and Kaiser Bill moustache, getting a bloody nose:
It’s not exactly visceral stuff, but look closely and there are other splashes of blood. The Austrian mongrel is being stung on the foreleg by the Serbian hornet, but his tail is already caught under the Russian steamroller, piloted by the Tsar himself and threatening to crush the Central Powers through sheer weight of numbers.
The treatment of Turkey is particularly interesting. The Turk is one of the few human figures on the map (a failure of imagination on the part of the artist, or is the zoomorphic/anthropomorphic divide more pointed?) The Ottoman crescent is raised over Constantinople but the Imperial German tricolour flies from the battery protecting the Dardanelles and the battleships in the Black Sea. The artist acknowledges German military support for their Turkish ally, but the Turk is pulling the strings tied to the battleships and he controls the water gate which closes the Dardanelles to the British ships milling nearby. A foolish German lapdog of indeterminate breed, wearing a token fes, is tied to the Turk’s waist.
The motif of battleships on strings is repeated by the British sailor on the other side of the map. We are invited to see them as iron dogs of war, straining to be unleashed, but it also gives them an unreal, toylike quality. This is a scrap between dogs and not to be taken too seriously. To quote from Emanuel’s text, as I have in the title of this post: “accidents will happen in the best regulated families”. Like other maps of this nature, it reflects the sentiments prevalent at the outbreak of war.
UPDATE: March 1 2013. This afternoon I showed this map to a couple who came into the shop (looking for geological maps, initially …) and the first thing they said was “oh look, it’s Churchill”. The identity of the British sailor, top left, isn’t necessarily the most important feature of the map, but after thinking about it and discussing the map with friends I am even less convinced than I was a week ago that the widely accepted view - that it is a representation of Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty - is correct. I can see the popular appeal of presenting him as a humble rating, even adding some whiskers for effect, but the features are those of an older man. This could only be Churchill in 1940, not 1914. My money is on John Bull (who often does have whiskers and is generally presented as ruddy cheeked and in the prime of life).
I’ve just been contemplating one of Willem Blaeu’s more striking cartouches, which adorns the map of the Turkish Empire which he engraved in the 1630’s. It was copied directly by cartographers including Merian, and clearly influenced others such as de Wit. But what message was he attempting to convey? This example, with original hand-colour, was printed in Amsterdam by his sons Cornelis and Joannes in 1640, a couple of years after his death:
Here’s a detail of the cartouche itself:
Most descriptions of the map which I have read make vague references to a depiction of the Ottoman Sultan enthroned between ‘two allegorical figures’ or even ‘servants’. Allegorical they most certainly are (both clad in loosely classical garments), but I suspect they are menacing the Sultan rather than serving him. The motto at the foot of the plinth is a Latin proverb derived from Sallust: ‘small states flourish through unity; the greatest are torn apart by discord’. It would have held particular relevance for a Dutch cartographer as the first part of the phrase was adopted by the Dutch Republic, and it was minted on the coinage Blaeu would have handled on a daily basis. Blaeu may be suggesting that the patchwork of small states visible in the upper left hand corner of the map will eventually triumph over the Ottoman Empire, although in this period, despite occasional military reverses, the Empire remained an expansionist power. In this light the allegorical figures may represent discord and harmony: the fruits of ‘war’ (or possibly internal strife, who is dressed as a typical Renaissance Roman), and a distinctly Amazonian ‘unity’, triumphantly brandishing a scimitar. The Sultan’s pose is regal, but ‘war’s’ inverted torch suggests the end of empire, and ‘unity’s’ scimitar is dangerously close to the Sultan’s ear.
UPDATE: March 2013
I thought it might be worth contrasting Blaeu’s Turkish Empire cartouche with the one he prepared for his map of Persia:
Same cartographer, same period and covering a neighbouring region, but an entirely different approach. The central figure is generally thought to be Shah Abbas the Great (see, for example, Cyrus Alai in General Maps of Persia, Brill 2010). He is richly attired and flanked by two of his guards - protected, rather than threatened. The decorative elements on most early modern European maps of Persia also accentuate the positive, with images emphasising the wealth, power, scientific knowledge and trading potential of the Persian Empire. Maps of Persia also show a greater density of place-names than any other Asian country mapped in this period. Trade is the key. Persia was the most accessible Islamic country, a possible gateway to the riches of the East, which shared a common enmity with the Ottoman Turks with the European ambassadors, adventurers and merchants who ventured there in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
For those of us not perverse enough to fast and abstain in the dead of winter, here’s a new crop of food and drink titles.
From the Home Entertaining Series there’s a 1955 edition of Robert Vermeire’s Cocktails: How To Mix Them (£50), a classic of the barman-written genre.
More examples of maps which have interested me. All happen to be from the same era, but I’m making no further claims for coherence - they just instances where the cover art alone is worth the price of admission.
The cover for an aeronautical chart of Germany:
I had never realised that the original BP was German-owned. I had long associated the company with Anglo-Persian Oil, but it seems the story doesn’t start there. Nor was I aware of the active role played by the company - which was by now British-owned - in the interwar German market. Fortunately I found a concise summary on Ian Byrne’s excellent ‘Petrol Maps’ website:
Despite its name, the original company which carried the name BP in Britain was controlled by the German-owned Europäische Petroleum Union, which was the sole vendor of Shell motor spirit in the UK. Expropriated as foreign property during the First World War it was sold in 1917 to the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, in which the UK Government had bought a major stake. This did not deter Anglo-Persian/BP from entering the German market itself in the early 1920s and towards the end of the decade it progressively took control of the former Oil Exporting organisation from Romania, which sold motor spirit in Germany under the name “OLEX”.
Here’s a link: http://www.ianbyrne.free-online.co.uk/bp-germ.htm The site is highly informative and worth visiting even if you are not a petrol map head.
Here’s a 1936 Deutsche Lufthansa Summer Timetable (with route map), for the English-speaking market:
The aircraft in silhouette is the Ju 52, flanking the Olympic rings. 1936 was the year of the Berlin Olympics and the year that the Ju 52, introduced as a civilian airliner, was tested in action for the first time - serving with the German Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War. Used as a bomber (at Guernica, for example) as well as a transport, the Ju 52’s shadow would never again fall quite so benignly. The back cover advertises what remains the world’s only regular, commercial, intercontinental airship service, between Germany and South America.
'England's blame' was a 1939 supplement to the Illustrierter Beobachter (‘Illustrated Observer’), a propaganda magazine published in Munich by the Nazi party:
It unfolds to reveal maps of the world and the British Isles. On the cover, a pipe smoking corporal is borne along by enslaved subjects of the Empire. A bit thick, one might say, given some of the schemes then being touted around by the publisher’s compatriots, but unified Germany arrived too late on the scene to develop much in the way of a formal empire, and what she had grabbed had largely been lost in 1919; the evils of empire was a useful stick for Nazi propagandists.
On an entirely different note, here’s a striking cover for the 1940 edition of Motor Runs from Bombay, published by The Times of India Press in Bombay. These include routes suitable for the monsoon season (if you’ve ever experienced an Indian monsoon you’ll appreciate why that might be handy).
Stanley Jepson also wrote on big game hunters (“well-known shikaris”) and published a travelogue on the overland route to India. On the basis of the titles alone one might be tempted to dismiss him without reading further. However, he was an enthusiastic film-maker (here is a film he wrote and produced: http://www.colonialfilm.org.uk/node/1332) and as editor of the popular Illustrated Weekly of India he seems to have encouraged young photojournalists such as T.S. Satyan and Homai Vyarawalla, India’s first woman press photographer, who died earlier this year. Note to self to find out more.
And to close, a distinctly Death on the Nile era map of Cairo by Alexander Nicohosoff, published in Alexandria in the mid 1930s:
In my mind it is poking out of the linen pocket of a tourist on a Nile steamer.
I’m often asked how maps were printed in the hand-press period. And the (short) answer is that that between the late fifteenth and the early nineteenth-centuries, the finest results were obtained by taking impressions, one at a time, from etched and/or engraved metal plates, which were usually made of copper. The next question, sometimes, is to ask me if there is anything to stop people using these plates to turn out facsimiles today.
There is plenty one can say about early paper stocks and original hand-colour, but the shortest answer (again) is that very few original copper-plates have come down to us. Copper (then, as now) was a valuable raw material. There were very few incentives not to melt down and re-use plates which were worn or carried out-of-date information. Some copper plates had long lives, but once their commercial usefulness was over, if even ‘antiquarian’ interest was exhausted, they went into the melting pot.
But every now and again there is an exception.
Bohemian artist and etcher Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677) was probably the greatest exponent of his craft active in mid seventeenth-century England. He arrived in London in 1636, was a Royalist during the Civil Wars and took temporary refuge in Antwerp, but he returned to London in 1650, and following the Restoration he was appointed ‘Scenographer or designer of Prospects to the King’. He died in penury, “owning little more than his bed and a few pots and pans” (Worms/Baynton-Williams Dictionary of Map Engravers, Rare Book Society 2011; NB, if you are a librarian, collector or dealer and don’t have this book by now, shame on you). If you haven’t guessed by now, it is one of Hollar’s plates, his map of Kingston-upon-Hull, engraved c. 1642, which I have just purchased.
W. Hollar fecit, his signature.
The scholarly importance of the plate lies in the clues it might offer us about Hollar’s working techniques. I suspect that there is much work to be done on that score. But there is also a thrill in handling the skilfully worked metal which Hollar created with his own hands 370 years ago, the very plate which each and every subsequent impression was pulled from, the same plate which sat in the shops of Robert Sayer and Robert Laurie and James Whittle. There is something of the relic hunter in us all, perhaps! But before considering the transmission of the plate in detail, here it is in its entirety:
In the upper part of the plate is a view of the city and its fortifications taken from the Humber; there is an inset map of the general environs, and Hollar’s own signature can be seen bottom centre, below the town plan itself. All delicately etched and, of course, everything is reversed. Working with acid must have been second nature to a seasoned professional like Hollar, and mirror writing something he could do in his sleep, but the workmanship of a plate like this demands enormous respect from a layman like me.
Very few of Hollar’s original plates are known to have survived. Richard Pennington attempts a census in his Descriptive Catalogue of the Etched Work of Wenceslaus Hollar (CUP 1982, p. lii). Hollar produced numerous maps but, leaving this plate of Hull aside, no others are listed - although there are a handful of topographical views. Hollar’s famous prospect of London before and after the Great Fire would be among the most impressive, but although Pennington was aware that it had surfaced in the London trade, its current whereabouts were unknown to him. This then, could be a unique surviving example of a cartographic copperplate in Hollar’s hand.
The map forms item 984 in Pennington’s Catalogue; in terms of the transmission of the plate, Pennington notes that the map was still being offered in the late eighteenth-century, appearing in printseller Robert Sayer’s catalogue of 1766 and in Laurie & Whittle’s of 1795. Also in the 1790’s an entirely new plate, following Hollar’s map, was engraved by Isaac Taylor (1759-1829 - being the second of the two Isaacs in Worms/Baynton-Williams) which was used to illustrate John Tickell’s The History of the town and country of Kingston-upon-Hull. However, the original copperplate is known to have survived: it still existed in 1933, when it was in the possession of Hull printing firm Richard Johnson & Sons. And, if I’m right, I’m looking at it now.
UPDATE, November 8: Really excellent news. The plate has found a permanent home in the national map collection at the British Library - which is where such a unique and potentially illuminating fragment of British cartographic history really belongs. Pinda and I carried it over this morning, and rare maps curator Tom Harper and colleagues were genuinely thrilled. From now on it will be available for anyone who is researching Hollar (and I can visit it myself) and Tom tells me that after cleaning (I didn’t get out the duraglit …) it may be displayed to the public in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery, which houses a permanent display of the treasures of the British Library. The rediscovery of the plate may also be in time for inclusion in Simon Turner’s updated edition of Pennington.
UPDATE: March 2 2013: thanks to Tom Harper and the professional photographers at the BL, this image of the printing plate, a vast improvement on my own:
Finger marks more in evidence but far less glare …
UPDATE MARCH 2014
You can now go and see Hollar’s plate for yourself. As promised, it is now on public display in the Treasures gallery in the British Libary at St Pancras, selected from 4.5 million other maps and atlases in our national map collection.
An example of the print, pulled from this very plate, is displayed above. The British Library’s copy is from The King’s Topographical Collection, assembled by George III.
Both images of the display were kindly supplied by the British Library (copyright British Library board).
"They cut his throat from ear to ear, his head they battered in; his name was Mr William Weare, who dwelt at Lyon’s Inn." This well-enough known fragment of doggerel has been inscribed in an early hand at the back of one of my Chelsea bookfair purchases, an 1824 first edition of George Henry Jones’ Account of the Murder of Mr William Weare:
It’s a nice book, uncut in its original boards, with 8 pages of publisher’s advertisements at the front - always of interest. The murder itself caused a sensation. It exposed the seamier side of late Georgian England, an underworld of gambling and amateur boxing. Weare was brutally murdered by three fellow gamblers in a dispute over money, and his body was dumped in a nearby pond. John Thurtell, the ringleader, was hanged; one accomplice, William Probert, was pardoned after turning King’s Evidence, but was also hanged a couple of years later after stealing a horse. The third man present, John Hunt, was transported to Australia, where in time he raised a family and became a police constable. What attracted me to the book, though, were the maps:
Dated December 1st 1823, this map of the immediate environs of Probert’s house at Gill’s Hill near Radlett, where the murder took place, is a very early example of a lithographed map by Charles Hullmandel. Hullmandel’s seminal treatise The Art of Drawing on Stone was published in 1824, and he became the foremost lithographer of the period, responsible for the printing of Edward Lear’s glorious parrots (and many of his landscapes) and most of John Gould’s birds.
It reminds of nothing so much as the crime maps in golden age detective novels. I recently treated myself to a re-reading of Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Nine Tailors and was using her map to pick my way around the imagined landscape of Fenchurch St Paul, and the plan of the parish church where much of the action takes place. There are innumerable examples of these fictional maps to pick from, possibly drawing inspiration from a genre of maps illustrating real crimes, such as this one. Hullmandel’s map identifies the place where the murder was committed, the spot where a witness heard the report of a pistol and the pond where the body was found. There is also a plan of Gill’s Hill cottage and grounds, identifying the pond in which the body was first concealed and even the location of the sofa where one of the murderers passed a couple of nights after the event:
And a final note on provenance, as the book had a rather nice contemporary ownership inscription dated February 1824:
Maria Fawkes (1798-1854) of Farnley Hall, near Otley, Yorkshire, had recently married General Sir Edward Barnes, a veteran of the Peninsula and Waterloo, who took up his post as Governor of Ceylon in this year. According to one online source it was a whirlwind romance, lasting just three weeks, and the general idolised her. The house still exists, in public ownership.
UPDATE: 15 November. Thanks to Francis Herbert for drawing my attention to Tony Campbell’s article on Rowland Hill’s 1817 murder map, concerning the murder of Mary Ashford: http://www.maphistory.info/murdermap.html
The Weare murder map, above, seems to have been of general interest - produced for contemporaries who were trying to visualise the scene and, potentially, for those going on a tour of the site (these went on for some years: Walter Scott followed the Weare murder trail in the later 1820s, an incident featured in Judith Flanders’ The Invention of Murder, HarperPress 2011). However, Tony Campbell suggests that Hill’s map was potentially ‘the first exercise in forensic cartography’. The route taken by the accused man was instrumental in securing his acquittal, on appeal.
I’ve never seen a map quite like this before. It’s on a small vellum leaf (13.5 x 8.5 cms) which has been pierced with great intricacy to create a lace-like effect; the hand is eighteenth-century and southern European, possibly Spanish. Saint Barbara watches over her island: a fanciful depiction of the coastline forms a cartouche around her name.
As the leaf is now separated from the rest of the book it is difficult to say much more with certainty, but it could well have formed the frontispiece of a little prayer book, perhaps belonging to someone with the given name Barbara, who would have celebrated her name day on the saint’s feast day. It seems a little delicate to have belonged to an artilleryman or engineer - Barbara is the patron saint of anyone who works with explosives - but that is just a guess. It seems unlikely to me that it formed part of a complete isolaria or island book - though it’s a lovely thought. Here’s the map:
Santa Barbara is the smallest and most southerly of the Channel Islands, the archipelago off the Californian coast, just west of Los Angeles. It was named in 1602 by the Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino, who reached the island on the saint’s feast day, December 4th. The map bears little relation to the actual coastline of Santa Barbara as we know it today, but that isn’t at all unreasonable. It is a tiny island, and if our eighteenth-century artist had access to a map of the region at all, Santa Barbara is unlikely to have been depicted with any degree of accuracy. I do get a sense that the artist had seen other maps or charts with small islands on them - the style is quite distinctive. And perhaps there was a genuine connection between the family that commissioned the work and the sea. Again, one can only speculate. This is a map which raises more questions than it answers.
In previous posts I’ve mentioned that there was an early flowering of cartoon and satirical maps during the Crimean War, but they rarely turn up and so I was delighted to acquire this example:
"Done by T.O." which I think we can reveal with some certainty to be Thomas Onwhyn, and published by Rock Brothers and Payne in 1854, this Comic Map of the Seat of War is among the earliest satirical maps of Europe; certainly the earliest I’m aware of. Mind you, all the elements one finds in later maps by Fred Rose and his successors seem to be in place already, including the bad puns. The Caucasus become ‘Cork as us mountains’ with stoppered summits; the up-ended bottle clutched by the Turkish Turkey is labelled ‘the Sublime Port[e]’; Malta is represented by a foaming tankard of ale - ie malt.
Some references are vaguely historical or just plain whimsical, but without particular reference to the Crimean conflict. So, for example, Elba appears as Napoleon’s famous bicorne and Tunis is a banjo-playing lioness in hareem trousers and curly-toed slippers. Don’t ask me why. For the most part the imagery is carefully considered and entirely relevant. Neutral Italy is dismissed as a dog of indeterminate breed wearing a papal crown, and running scared (eyes swivelled behind) because a battered kettle -Sicily, possibly a neat reference to Mount Etna - has been tied to its tail.
National beasts are much in evidence: the British lion; the imperial eagle of Napoleon III’s Second Empire; a rather dopey Russian bear, wielding a knout knotted with skulls and labelled ‘despotism’, ‘bigotry’, cruelty’, ‘slavery’, ‘ignorance’ and ‘oppression’ and other choice terms. Prussia, on the other hand, becomes a vacillating weathervane, unsure which side to support (if either). Poland is manacled, her very name spelled out in bones.
There is an optimistic early reference to the Baltic campaign. An Anglo-French fleet was dispatched in April 1854, and our map was printed in May. The fleet is helped on its way by Danish bellows, followed by a puff of breath from Stockholm, carrying the words ‘Go it Charley’. The tiny British admiral in the leading vessel, declaring ‘I’ll give him a flea in his ear’, is probably meant to be Charles Napier. It was the largest fleet assembled by the Admiralty since the Napoleonic Wars, and it achieved remarkably little. Public attention at the time - and public memory since - was mostly focussed on what happened in the Crimea.
In May 1854 most of that lay in the future. It was not until the autumn that Russian withdrawal from the Danubian Principalities led the Allies to search for something else to do with the armies which had been transported to the region with such great trouble and expense and blowing of trumpets. However, the Allied Black Sea fleet was already operational, and it is shown here clipping the Russian Bear’s claws around the great Russian naval base at Sevastopol.
The title and scale are worthy of note. The scale is a pair of scales, the ‘balance of power’, with the Russian bear outweighed by the combination of French cockerel, Turkeys, and British lion. The lettering ‘seat of war’ is constructed from soldiers of all the belligerent nations.
None of the scanty auction records or institutional catalogue entries which I have located credit a particular artist. However, the signature “done by T.O.” appears in Asiatic Turkey, in the bottom right hand corner of the map. An entertaining trawl with my friend Angus O’Neill through Bryant & Heneage’s Dictionary of British Cartoonists and Caricaturists (Scolar, 1994) and Houfe’s Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century British Book Illustrators (ACC 1996) turned up Onwhyn as the most likely suspect. Right place, right time, “with an eye for the comic”. Not conclusive in itself, but a reminder of why I keep a proper reference library: googling ‘T.O.’ would get you nowhere. Houfe’s ODNB entry for Onwhyn is the clincher: Onwyhn signed himself T.O. and was associated with “shadowy publishers such as Rock Bros and Payne”. This was supported by a search on Worldcat, which showed that Onwhyn produced work for the firm on either side of 1854, and one can also look at images of other work by the artist; stylistically, it’s spot on.
According to ODNB, Onwyhn was born in Clerkenwell, son of a bookseller and newsagent. He was responsible for a set of illustrations for a pirated edition of Pickwick (of ‘singular vileness’ according to Dickens) and in Houfe’s opinion, Onwhyn’s “most lasting contribution was to the ephemeral end of the book trade in the 1840s and 1850s, illustrating the comic side of everyday life”. There wasn’t a living to be made, and he spent the last twenty to thirty years of his life as a newsagent, taking up his father’s profession.
So, it seems we have Thomas Onwhyn to thank for inspiring a whole genre of similar maps. His name should be up there with Fred Rose. It is difficult to gauge the popularity or reach of the map, but a Belgian derivative exists, published in Brussels by Louis Mols-Marchal: http://belgica.kbr.be/fr/test/cp12270Plus_fr.html
Some of the imagery is repeated in later maps, which may suggest a certain awareness or continuity following on from this particular work. Discussing the relationship between the work of William Mecham and Lillie Tennant in an earlier post I was able to demonstrate that artists in this genre were well aware of both their contemporaries and predecessors: http://timbryars.tumblr.com/post/9290475824/europe-as-a-lady-england-as-george-the-dragon
If you take a look at Louis Raemakers’ 1915 map you will see that he, like our anonymous mid-nineteenth century Englishman, has shown Gibraltar as a bulldog. And in 1914 Karl Lehmann-Dumont portrayed a Russian bear next to a knout-wielding lout. My post on WW1 satirical maps is here: http://timbryars.tumblr.com/post/14824179535/satirical-maps-of-the-great-war-1914-1915 Unfortunately the reliance on broad stereotypes which made all these maps so appealing to contemporaries makes it difficult for us to assign specific sources with confidence, but there’s no doubting that this Crimean map was the start of something new.
My first guest on this blog is Angus O’Neill (Omega Bookshop). This is a delightful tale of books and booksellers, and of local interest for me as it all took place a few yards from my shop. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and be sure to click on the link at the end for the denouement, if you haven’t guessed already!
For five years I was a shopkeeper. This was longer than my enemies (and friends) expected. Even the pleasant surroundings of Cecil Court were powerless to detain me any longer; my accountant also had views on the subject, and I had no hesitation in assigning my lease as soon as two reliable people could be found to take it on. Now I work from home, and from a Dickensian dungeon (although Dickens would have approved of the spacious Peabody flats above it): but, for a few months, delusions of grandeur remained, and I rented an Office.
It was a temporary arrangement, and the landlords were good to me. They were refurbishing the premises, which were just around the corner at 30 Charing Cross Road, a tall building dating (I suppose) from around 1910. It was part of the deal that I would move from floor to floor as the work progressed: this led to some unusual expedients, such as enormous lengths of telephone extension cable, but I had a capable assistant. The rooms were light and pleasant, and it was not even very expensive (the rent, that is, not the rates). Although the ground floor has long been occupied by a delicatessen to whose charms I seem to be (uniquely) immune, there was something about the spirit of the place which seemed to welcome books and booksellers. Rational in many respects, I have often been receptive to what is now termed ‘psychogeography’, and something about this spot was oddly appealing.
It didn’t last. One of those sudden shortages of London office space resulted in the landlord receiving a substantial offer for the lease on the whole building, and - after a settlement more generous than our agreement strictly called for - I packed my books and left. It had been an agreeable few months, but it was over.
Years later, however, I found a reference to the building - or, rather, a previous building on the site - which seemed to me to be not entirely without interest for the students of local book trade history and, indeed, the byways of Victorian literature. The story is a simple enough one: the shop, before the Charing Cross Road was redeveloped, had once been a bookshop, started by a German immigrant who also engaged in publishing. One of the works produced under his imprint would have looked slight by any standards: a rich customer, with time on his hands, had produced (at his own expense, not that of the bookseller) some 250 copies of his anonymous translation of a number of ‘oriental’ verses found in the library of the Asiatic Society in Calcutta. Unsurprisingly, these had not sold well (both author and title were close to unpronounceable) and, within a couple of years, they were relegated to the ‘penny box’ outside what was then no. 16, Castle Street. Even at that price, trade in the pamphlets was not initially brisk: but the poems were enjoyed by a few customers, among them two young Irishmen, a philologist named Whitley Stokes and a translator called John Ormsby. They gave copies to some of their literary friends, and the work gradually acquired a modest succès d’estime: so much so, in fact, that within seven years the bookseller/publisher had put the price of the pamphlet up to an altogether more bullish three shillings and sixpence.
In a more rationally organised parallel universe, all these stories would have ended there. The German immigrant - who had started his business with a capital of only £70, not a substantial sum even at the time - would have retired into obscurity, commemorated perhaps by a handful of lightweight catalogues and forgotten publications; his name would have survived as a footnote to the history of Marx and Engels, for whose Neue Rheinische Zeitung he was, briefly and improbably, the English correspondent, but that is about all. As for the idea that the Persian poetry would ever have a wider appeal… well, what would be the chances of that?
And yet, and yet… Happily, not everything in life turns out as predicted by the level-headed: http://tinyurl.com/7pyyfnp .