Monthly Archives: September 2005

Item of the Day: Letter from Sir John Popham (1592)



(Click on address and letter to enlarge.)

This letter appointed a hearing of the cause between Sir Edward Hoby, Knight, and the College of Brazen Nose, at Serjeants’ Inn, Fleet Street, on Friday before the ensuing Term, with the autographs of Sir John Popham, Knight, Lord Chief Justice, and Thomas Egerton, Attorney-General, afterwards Lord High Chancellor, signed 25 November, 1592.

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Filed under 1590's, Letters, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt

Item of the Day: Pickering’s Letter to Rufus King (1798)

(Click on letter to enlarge.)

This is a letter from Colonel Timothy Pickering in Trenton to Rufus King, Esq., in London, dated 15 Sept. 1798. In this letter, marked “private,” Pickering as Secretary of State brings King up to date on developments in the XYZ affair involving the three-man delegation sent to Paris to settle issues relating to French seizures of American ships. As a result of French efforts to solicit a bribe, two of the delegation had returned, and there was concern that Gerry, who remained in Paris, might act on his own. In describing Gerry, Pickering has enciphered the language in parentheses “I never met a man (so destitute of candour and so full of deceit as Mr. Gerry).” Note the index finger drawn in along the left-hand margin, announcing the death of a printer. In the continuation of the letter, Col. Pickering tells of the “absurd and preposterous conduct” of Mr. Gerry and of the “extensive calamity of the yellow fever,” which was “more malignant and mortal than in any former year.”

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Filed under 1790's, Letters, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt

Item of the Day: Coke’s Institutes of the Lawes of England (1633)

Full Title:

The First Part of the Institutes of The Lawes of England: or A Commentary upon Littleton, not the name of a Lawyer only, but of the Law it selfe. Authore EDW. COKE Milite. The third Edition, corrected.

Written by Sir Edward Coke. A marvelous example of seventeenth-century typesetting and engraving. Plate two is “The true portraiture of Judge Littleton the famous English Lawyer.” Printed in London by M.F.I.H. and R.Y. Assignes of I. More Esquire, 1633.

From the Preface:

I shall desire, That the learned Reader will not conceiue any opinion against any part of this painfull and large Volume, vntill hee shall haue aduisedly read ouer the whole, and diligently searched out and wellconsidered of the seuerall Authorities, Proofes, and Reasons which wee haue cited and set downe for warrant and confirmation of our opinions thorow out this whole worke.

Mine aduice to the Student is, That before hee reade any part of our Commentaries upon any Section, that first he reade againe and againe our Author himselfe in that Section, and doe his best endeuours, first of himselfe, and them by conference with others, (which is the life of Study) to vnderstand it, and then to reade our Commentarie thereupon, and no more at any one time, than he is able with delight to beare away, and after to meditate thereon, which is the life of reading. But of this Argument wee haue for the better direction of our Student in his Study, spoken in our Epistle to our first Booke of Reports.

And albeit the Reader shall not at any one day (doe what he can) reach to the meaning of our Author, or of our Commentaries, yet let him no way discourage himselfe, but proceed; for on some other day, in some other place, that doubt will bee cleared. Our Labours herein are drawne out to this great Volume, for that our Authour is twice repeated, once in French and againe in English.

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Filed under 1630's, Legal, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt

Item of the Day: Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary (1785)

Full Title:

A Dictionary of the English Language: in which the Words are Deduced from their Originals, and Illustrated in their Different Significations by Examples from the Best Writers. To which are Prefixed, a History of the Language, and an English Grammar. By Samuel Johnson, LL.D. In Two Volumes. The Sixth Edition.

Printed in London for J.F. and C. Rivington, L. Davis, T. Payne and Son, W. Owen, T. Longman, B. Law, J. Dodsley, C. Dilly, W. Lowndes, G.G.J. and J. Robinson, T. Cadell, Jo. Johnson, J. Robson, W. Richardson, J. Nichols, R. Baldwin, W. Goldsmith, J. Murray, W. Stuart, P. Elmsly, W. Fox, S. Hayes, A. Strahan, W. Bent, T. and J. Egerton, and M. Newbery, 1785.

From the Preface:

IT is the fate of those who toil at the lower employments of life, to be rather driven by the fear of evil, than attracted by the prospect of good; to be exposed to censure, without hope of praise; to be disgraced by miscarriage, or punished for neglect, where success would have been without applause, and diligence without reward.

Among these unhappy mortals is the writer of dictionaries; whom mankind have considered, not as the pupil, but the slave of science, the pioneer of literature, doomed only to remove rubbish and clear obstructions from the paths through which Learning and Genius press forward to conquest and glory, without bestowing a smile on the humble drudge that facilitates their progress. Every other author may aspire to praise; the lexicographer can only hope to escape reproach, and even this negative recompense has been yet granted to very few.

I have, notwithstanding this discouragement, attempted a Dictionary of the English language, which, while it was employed in the cultivation of every species of literature, has itself been hitherto neglected; suffered to spread, under the direction of chance, into wild exuberance; resigned to the tyranny of time and fashion; and exposed to the corruptions of ignorance, and caprices of innovation.

When I took the first survey of my undertaking, I found our speech copious without order, and energetick without rules: wherever I turned my view, there was perplexity to be disentangled, and confusion to be regulated; choice was to be made out of boundless variety, without any established principle of selection; adulterations were to be detected, without a settled test of purity; and modes of expression to be rejected or received, without the suffrages of any writers of classical reputation or acknowledged authority.

Having therefore no assistance but from general grammar, I applied myself to the perusal of our writers; and noting whatever might be of use to ascertain or illustrate any word or phrase, accumulated in time the materials of a dictionary, which, by degrees, I reduced to method, establishing to myself, in the progress of the work, such rules as experience and analogy suggested to me; experience, which practice and observation were continually increasing; and analogy, which, though in some words obscure, was evident in others.

In adjusting the ORTHOGRAPHY, which has been to this time unsettled and fortuitous, I found it necessary to distinguish those irregularities that are inherent in our tongue, and perhaps coeval with it, from others which the ignorance or negligence of later writers has produced. Every language has its anomalies, which, though inconvenient, and in themselves once unnecessary, must be tolerated among the imperfections of human things, and which require only to be registered, that they may not be increased, and ascertained, that they may not be confounded: but every language has likewise its improprieties and absurdities, which it is the duty of the lexicographer to correct or proscribe.

[. . .]

In hope of giving longevity to that which its own nature forbids to be immortal, I have devoted this book, the labour of years, to the honour of my country, that we may no longer yield the palm of philology, without a contest, to the nations of the continent. The chief glory of every people arises from its authors: whether I shall add any thing by my own writings to the reputation of English literature, must be left to time: much of my life has been lost under the pressures of disease; much has been trifled away; and much has always been spent in provision for the day that was passing over me; but I shall not think my employment useless or ignoble, if by my assistance foreign nations, and distant ages, gain access to the propagators of knowledge, and understand the teachers of truth; if my labours afford light to the repositories of science, and add celebrity to Bacon, to Hooker, to Milton, and to Boyle.

When I am animated by this wish, I look with pleasure on my book, however defective, and deliver it to the world with the spirit of a man that has endeavoured well. That it will immediately become popular I have not promised to myself: a few wild blunders, and risible absurdities, from which no work of such multiplicity was ever free, may for a time furnish folly with laughter, and harden ignorance in contempt; but useful diligence will at last prevail, and there never can be wanting some who distinguish desert; who will consider that no dictionary of a living tongue ever can be perfect, since while it is hastening to publication, some words are budding, and some falling away; that a whole life cannot be spent upon syntax and etymology, and that even a whole life would not be sufficient; that he, whose design includes whatever language can express, must often speak of what he does not understand; that a writer will sometimes be hurried by eagerness to the end, and sometimes faint with weariness under a task, which Scaliger compares to the labours of the anvil and the mine; that what is obvious is not always known, and what is known is not always present; that sudden fits of inadvertency will surprize vigilance, slight avocations will seduce attention, and casual eclipses of the mind will darken learning; and that the writer shall often in vain trace his memory at the moment of need, for that which yesterday he knew with intuitive readiness, and which will come uncalled into his thoughts to-morrow.

In this work, when it shall be found that much is omitted, let it not be forgotten that much likewise is performed; and though no book was ever spared out of tenderness to the author, and the world is little solicitous to know whence proceeded the faults of that which it condemns; yet it may gratify curiosity to inform it, that the English Dictionary was written with little assistance of the learned, and without any patronage of the great; not in the soft obscurities of retirement, or under the shelter of academick bowers, but amidst inconvenience and distraction, in sickness and in sorrow. It may repress the triumph of malignant criticism to observe, that if our language is not here fully displayed, I have only failed in an attempt which no human powers have hitherto completed. If the lexicons of ancient tongues, now immutably fixed, and comprised in a few volumes, be yet, after the toil of successive ages, inadequate and delusive; if the aggregated knowledge, and co-operating diligence of the Italian academicians, did not secure them from the censure of Beni; if the embodied criticks of France, when fifty years had been spent upon their work, were obliged to change its oeconomy, and give their second edition another form, I may surely be contented without the praise of perfection, which, if I could obtain, in this gloom of solitude, what would it avail me? I have protracted my work till most of those whom I wished to please have sunk into the grave, and success and miscarriage are empty sounds: I therefore dismiss it with frigid tranquillity, having little to fear or hope from censure or from praise.

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Filed under Dictionaries, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt

Item of the Day: A Short Dictionary of the most Universal Language of the Savages (1818?)

Full Title:

A Short Dictionary of the most Universal Language of the Savages. [Short Dictionary of the Algonkin Language]

Bound with The Late Regulations respecting the British Colonies on the Continent of America considered, in a Letter from a Gentleman in Philadelphia to his Friend in London. / The Late Occurrences in North America, and Policy of Great Britain, Considered. / Considerations on the Propriety of imposing Taxes in the British Colonies: for the Purpose of raising a Revenue, by Act of Parliament. / Authentic Account of the Proceedings of the Congress held at New-York in MDCCLXV on the Subject of the American Stamp Act. / Two Papers, on the Subject of taxing the British Colonies in America… / An Application of some General Political Rules, to the Present State of Great Britain, Ireland and America: in a letter to the Right Honorable Earl Temple. / An Enquiry into the Rights of the British Colonies; intended as an Answer to “The regulations lately made concerning the colonies, and the taxes imposed upon them considered.” In a letter addressed to the author of that pamphlet. / Discourse delivered at the Consecration of the Synagogue of KK shirit Yisroel in the City of New-York, on Friday, the 10th of Nisan, 5578, corresponding with the 17th of April, 1818.

Note: Appears to be taken from v. 2, p. 289-304 of “New voyages to North-America: containing an account of the several nations of that vast continent…” / Louis Armand de Lom d’Arce Lahontan, baron de. / London: J. and J. Bonwicke, R. Wilkin, S. Birt, T. Ward, E. Wickstee; and J. Osbon, 1735.

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Filed under 1810's, American Indians, Dictionaries, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt

Items of the Day: By Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin

Written by Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797):

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: With Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects

Contains dedication, advertisement, table of contents, and introduction. The end of the book reads: “End of first volume.” No more was published. Printed in London for J. Johnson, No. 72, St. Paul’s Church Yard, 1792.

Read Wollstonecraft’s Vindication online

An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution; and the Effect It Has Produced in Europe. By Mary Wollstonecraft. Volume the First.

Contains advertisement, preface, contents, and a list of works lately published for J. Johnson. Volume 2 was never published. Printed in London for J. Johnson, in St. Paul’s Church-Yard, 1795.

Read Wollstonecraft’s French Revolution online

* * *

Written by William Godwin (1756-1836):

Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, and Its Influence on Morals and Happiness. First American from the Second London Edition Corrected. In Two Volumes.

Contains preface, preface to the second edition, and table of contents. Two volumes. First American from the second London, corrected. Printed in Philadelphia by Bioren and Manda, 1796.

Read Godwin’s Enquiry online

Memoirs of M. Wollstonecraft Godwin, Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Contains the Akerman’s trade card printed on the last leaf. A biography of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin from her birth to her death in 1797, written by her husband William Godwin. Printed in Philadelphia by Samuel Akerman, 1804.

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Filed under 1790's, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt, Revolution, Women

Item of the Day: Voltaire’s Letters Concerning the English Nation (1733) and Bell’s Operative Surgery (1816)

Full Title:

Letters Concerning the English Nation.

Written by Mr. de Voltaire. Contains preface, contents, publisher’s advertisments, “A letter concerning the burning of Altena, as related in the Hisory of Charles XII, King of Sweden,” and index. This translation, often attributed to John Lockman, was published before the French edition. Voltaire’s picture of English life, observed during his two year stay, was of great popular appeal. In this work first appeared the famous anecdote of Newton and the falling apple. Harcourt Brown has argued that more than half of the book was in fact written by Voltaire in English and rewritten by him in French for the French editions. The letters which Brown suggests were written in English (numbers 1-8, 10, 12, 18, 19, 21, and 22) deal predominantly with Voltaire’s personal experiences and observations in England, with literature — Bacon, Swift, Butler, Pope, Waller, Rochester, and the dramatists — and with aspects of public life of his day. The book created such a scandal that it was soon condemned and copies burned by the hangman in June, 1734. A warrant was issued against Voltaire but he succeeded in escaping. Printed in London for C. Davis and A. Lyon, 1733.

***

Full Title:

A System of Operative Surgery, Founded on the Basis of Anatomy. In Two Volumes. The Second American, from the last London Edition.

Written by Charles Bell, Surgeon of the Middlesex Hospital; Fellow of the Royal Society, and of the Royal College of Surgeons, of Edinburgh; Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of London; Associate of other Learned Bodies; and Reader of Anatomy in the Chair. Two volumes, second edition. Contains preface, contents, introduction, illustrations, plates, “Recommendations ” of this work, preface dated London, 1814. “Of Gunshot Wounds” was first published as part of the second edition of the present work, London, 1814. It was later published separately in the same year “for the accomodation of the purchasers of the former edition” under the title, “A dissertation on gun-shot wounds.” Published in Hartford by George Goodwin and Sons, 1816.

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Filed under 1730's, 1810's, Medicine, Philosophy, Posted by Carrie Shanafelt