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Double Act

Adam Smyth: ‘A Humument’, 11 October 2012

A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel 
by Tom Phillips.
Thames and Hudson, 392 pp., £14.95, May 2012, 978 0 500 29043 9
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... volume is, among other things, a homage to Schulz, a Jewish writer murdered by the Nazis in 1942. Adam Thirlwell’s Kapow! features an array of typographical tricks – blank space, folded pages, blocks of text set at right angles – in an attempt to track the non-linear thinking of a narrator during the Arab Spring. What relationship exists between Mallock ...

Rub gently out with stale bread

Adam Smyth: The Print Craze, 2 November 2017

The Print Before Photography: An Introduction to European Printmaking 1550-1820 
by Antony Griffiths.
British Museum, 560 pp., £60, August 2016, 978 0 7141 2695 1
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... The Compleat Drawing-Book​, published by Fleet Street printseller Robert Sayer in 1755, is a handbook for the amateur artist that aims to provide ‘Proper Instructions to Youth for their Entertainment and Improvement in this Art’. The core of the book is a series of ‘Many and Curious Specimens’: prints from images ‘engrav’d on one hundred copper-plates’ that present vignettes to study and copy ...

Quill, Wax, Knife

Adam Smyth: Collier’s Letter Racks, 18 July 2013

Mr Collier’s Letter Racks: A Tale of Art & Illusion at the Threshold of the Modern Information Age 
by Dror Wahrman.
Oxford, 275 pp., £22.95, November 2012, 978 0 19 973886 1
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... This Booke,’ Leonard Digges claimed in a preface to Shakespeare’s First Folio, ‘When Brasse and Marble fade, shall make thee looke/Fresh to all Ages.’ If we take the First Folio as our biggest bibliographical landmark, the history of early modern print looks like a journey towards material permanence: towards the production of books that had the power to endure through time, and to ‘redeeme’ their authors ‘from thy Herse ...

I have written as I rode

Adam Smyth: ‘Brief Lives’, 8 October 2015

‘Brief Lives’ with ‘An Apparatus for the Lives of Our English Mathematical Writers’ 
by John Aubrey, edited by Kate Bennett.
Oxford, 1968 pp., £250, March 2015, 978 0 19 968953 8
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John Aubrey: My Own Life 
by Ruth Scurr.
Chatto, 518 pp., £25, March 2015, 978 0 7011 7907 6
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... A friend​ who teaches in New York told me that the historian Peter Lake told him that J.G.A. Pocock told him that Conrad Russell told him that Bertrand Russell told him that Lord John Russell told him that his father the sixth Duke of Bedford told him that he had heard William Pitt the Younger speak in Parliament during the Napoleonic Wars, and that Pitt had this curious way of talking, a particular mannerism that the sixth Duke of Bedford had imitated to Lord John Russell who imitated it to Bertrand Russell who imitated it to Conrad Russell who imitated it to J ...

23153.8; 19897.7; 15635

Adam Smyth: The Stationers’ Company, 27 August 2015

The Stationers’ Company and The Printers of London: 1501-57 
by Peter Blayney.
Cambridge, 2 vols, 1238 pp., £150, November 2013, 978 1 107 03501 0
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... Numbers​ 130 and 131 Fleet Street are today occupied by a branch of the sushi chain Itsu and one of Jeeves (‘London’s Finest Dry Cleaners’), but in 1501 this was Wynkyn de Worde’s home and printing house: he rented a former inn for £3 6s 8d a year from a priory in Buckinghamshire. De Worde would have looked out at the cistern house of the Fleet River; on a weekday morning now, the glass and chrome of Shoe Lane is full of suited twentysomethings ...

How to Perfume a Glove

Adam Smyth: Early Modern Cookbooks, 5 January 2017

Recipes for Thought: Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern English Kitchen 
by Wendy Wall.
Pennsylvania, 328 pp., £53, November 2015, 978 0 8122 4758 9
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... John​ Partridge’s The Treasurie of Commodious Conceits, and Hidden Secretes (1573) offers, to modern eyes, a bafflingly eclectic collection of what could loosely be called recipes, in the early modern sense of receipts, or texts received: ‘Fine Sauce for a roasted Rabbet: used to king Henry the eight’; ‘To comfort the heart, and take away Melancholy’; ‘To make red sealing Waxe’; ‘Marmalad of Quinces’; ‘To make Oile of Earth wormes … good for the sinews that are cold’; ‘To bake a Capon with yolks of Eggs’; ‘To know whether a Woman shall ever conceive or no’; ‘A Fumigation for a Presse, and clothes that no Moth shall breed therin’; ‘To heale leaperie faces, great swollen legs, or inflamed hands’; ‘A perfect way to cure the loathsome disease of the French Pockes ...

It looks nothing like me

Adam Smyth: Dürer, 5 July 2018

Albrecht Dürer: Documentary Biography 
by Jeffrey Ashcroft.
Yale, 1216 pp., £95, January 2017, 978 0 300 21084 2
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... had a range of masterpieces behind him: woodcut series such as Apocalypse (1498); engravings like Adam and Eve (1504) and St Jerome Penitent in the Wilderness (c.1496); some paintings and altarpieces. In Venice he soon sold the small panel paintings he’d brought with him (‘Two I let go for 24 ducats, and the other three I exchanged for the three ...

Do hens have hands?

Adam Smyth: Editorial Interference, 5 July 2012

The Culture of Correction in Renaissance Europe (Panizzi Lectures) 
by Anthony Grafton.
British Library, 144 pp., £30, September 2011, 978 0 7123 5845 3
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... When the King’s printer Robert Barker produced a new edition of the King James Bible in 1631, he overlooked three letters from the seventh commandment, producing the startling injunction: ‘Thou shalt commit adultery.’ Barker was fined £300, and spent the rest of his life in debtors’ prison, even while his name remained on imprints. ‘I knew the tyme when great care was had about printing,’ the Archbishop of Canterbury lamented, ‘but now the paper is nought, the composers boyes, and the correctors unlearned ...

Ropes, Shirts or Dirty Socks

Adam Smyth: Paper, 15 June 2017

Paper: Paging through History 
by Mark Kurlansky.
Norton, 416 pp., £12.99, June 2017, 978 0 393 35370 9
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... In​ 1619, for a bet, John Taylor – prolific poet, proud Londoner, waterman, prankster, anti-pollution campaigner, barman, literary celebrity, palindrome enthusiast (‘Lewd did I live, & evil I did dwel’) – sailed forty miles down the Thames to Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey in a boat made from brown paper. He fashioned oars from dried fishes tied to sticks, and strapped inflated animal bladders to the sides of the boat to help it float ...

Not to Be Read without Shuddering

Adam Smyth: The Atheist’s Bible, 20 February 2014

The Atheist’s Bible: The Most Dangerous Book That Never Existed 
by Georges Minois, translated by Lys Ann Weiss.
Chicago, 249 pp., £21, October 2012, 978 0 226 53029 1
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... One of the ways​ in which literary texts are capacious is their ability to contain, within themselves, imaginary books: books that the more literal-minded real world isn’t yet able to realise. Borges’s short fiction is teeming with them. In ‘The Library of Babel’, Borges imagines a library ‘composed of an indefinite, perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries ...

Play for Today

Adam Smyth: Rewriting ‘Pericles’, 24 October 2019

Spring 
by Ali Smith.
Hamish Hamilton, 336 pp., £16.99, March 2019, 978 0 241 20704 8
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The Porpoise 
by Mark Haddon.
Chatto, 309 pp., £18.99, May 2019, 978 1 78474 282 9
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... Ben Jonson’s​ comedy The New Inn (1629) was, by all accounts, a theatrical disaster: ‘negligently played’ at the Blackfriars Theatre, according to its title page, ‘and more squeamishly beheld’. The actors were hissed off stage, but Jonson, possessed of what the Renaissance scholar Joseph Loewenstein has called a ‘bibliographic ego’, was not a man to walk away ...

Tom Phillips: An Interview

Tom Phillips, Adam Smyth and Gill Partington, 11 October 2012

... collagist, and the creator of ‘A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel’, which was reviewed by Adam Smyth in the issue of 12 October 2012. The following conversation took place on 16 September 2011 at the South London Gallery, between Phillips (TP), Smyth (AS) and Gill Partington (GP).AS: Do you have many academic ...

I now, I then

Thomas Keymer: Life-Writing, 17 August 2017

AHistory of English Autobiography 
edited by Adam Smyth.
Cambridge, 437 pp., £64.99, June 2016, 978 1 107 07841 3
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... to do his Memorabilia.’ The democratisation of autobiography is one of the running themes of Adam Smyth’s revelatory history of the genre, from the radical sectaries of the Civil War era to the volunteer diarists of Mass-Observation three hundred years later. But Carlyle, like Lockhart, wasn’t cheering at the arrival of what he called, in ...

In America’s Blood

Deborah Friedell, 24 September 2020

The NRA: The Unauthorised History 
by Frank Smyth.
Flatiron, 295 pp., $28.99, March, 978 1 250 21028 9
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... right to own guns ‘granted by God to all Americans as our American birthright’. But as Frank Smyth points out in his new history of the NRA, the organisation was actually founded because a group of Union Army veterans were dismayed by how few Americans actually knew how to shoot, particularly compared with Europeans. According to one of its ...

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