Real Scrooge ‘was Dutch gravedigger’

From The Telegraph: Real Scrooge ‘was Dutch gravedigger’.

He is synonymous with the traditional image of the Victorian English Christmas but Ebenezer Scrooge may have his roots much further afield.

According to Sjef de Jong, a Dutch academic, the Charles Dickens character may have been inspired by the real life of Gabriel de Graaf, a 19th century gravedigger who lived in Holland.

De Graaf, a drunken curmudgeon obsessed with money, was said to have disappeared one Christmas Eve, only to emerge years later as a reformed character. [continue]


I knew LibraryThing existed, but had never checked into it until last week. (Have you seen it? Do you use it?) It’s a catalog your books online site, and it’s heaven for book-lovers. The site explains:

Enter what you’re reading or your whole library — it’s an easy, library-quality catalog. LibraryThing also connects you with people who read the same things. (…)

  • Meet the world’s largest book club. Find people with eerily similar tastes.
  • Catalog with Amazon, the Library of Congress or 82 other world libraries. Import from anywhere.
  • Get recommendations. Tag your books and explore others’ tags.

Well. It’s amazing, and completely addictive. (Wonder where I’ve been for the last week? LibraryThing.)

It’s really fun once you’ve input a few hundred of your books. Then you’ll love exploring the "members with your books" list, and finding the fifty libraries most similar to your own. Or say you have a favourite — but very obscure — book. When you find that two other LibraryThing members own that same book, and that you can prowl through their collections… well. It’s a great way to find other books of interest.

Go try it out and let me know what you think. The hassle-free sign-up procedure only asks you to come up with a username and password, so you can go play right away.

Shakespeare-themed tube map

This Shakespeare- themed tube map (1072 x 337 px) is a fine and fun thing. A Guardian article, All change at Lady Macbeth, explains:

Titus Andronicus, the general who bakes the sons of an empress into a tasty pie, lies at the north-west edge of a new diagram of Shakespeare characters inspired by the London Underground map.

The eponymous hero of a play that features 14 slayings and six severed limbs sits on the edge of the Shakespeare universe, somewhere near Amersham. He has a knife and fork by his name to suggest his unorthodox culinary skills.

Gertrude, mother of Hamlet, is closer to Embankment at a crucial interchange where the Mothers line crosses Strong and Difficult Women. Henry V is at a junction of the Heroes and Warriors lines and pairs of happy lovers are gathered in what would be the Theydon Bois and Hainault regions of the Central line. Rosalind and Orlando (As You Like It) and Viola and Orsino (Twelfth Night) are accompanied by unisex toilet signs to indicate the sexual ambiguity of the plays.

The map has been devised by designer Kit Grover and Cambridge academic Hester Lees-Jeffries for the Royal Shakespeare Company and features on a new range of items including mugs, bags and T-shirts. [continue]

Those products are over here at the Royal Shakespeare Company website.

(Thanks to Dappled Things for mentioning the map and linking to it. If I hadn’t seen that, I wouldn’t have known to go hunting for more details.)
Continue reading

British Library books go digital

From the BBC: British Library books go digital.

More than 100,000 old books previously unavailable to the public will go online thanks to a mass digitisation programme at the British Library.

The programme focuses on 19th Century books, many of which are unknown as few were reprinted after first editions.

The library believes online access to the titles will help teachers.

"If there are no modern editions teachers cannot use them for their courses," said Dr Kristian Jensen, from the British Library.

"What we can read now is predetermined by a long tradition of what has been considered great literature," he added.

At full production approximately 50,000 pages per working day will be scanned. [continue]

The Year of Living Biblically

Amazon sells it: The Year of Living Biblically : One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. It’s A.J. Jacob’s new book, which describes his attempt to follow every rule in the Bible for a year.

Here, this is from a Newsweek interview:

NEWSWEEK: It’s been a little over a year since your experiment ended and you shaved your beard. How’s the life of sin?

A. J. Jacobs: It’s all right. I miss my sin-free life, but I guess I was never sin free. I was able to cut down on my coveting maybe 40 percent, but I was still a coveter. Flat-screen TVs, the front yard of my friend in the suburbs, a better cell phone, higher Amazon rankings. And that’s not to mention coveting my neighbor’s wife. I live in New York, I work in publishing, so there’s a lot of coveting, lying and gossiping.

What, if any, rules are you still following?

I’m not Ghandi or Angelina Jolie, but I made some strides. The experience changed me in big ways and small ways. There’s a lot about gratefulness in the Bible, and I would say I’m more thankful. I focus on the hundred little things that go right in a day, instead of the three or four things that go wrong. And I love the Sabbath. There’s something I really like about a forced day of rest. Also, during the experiment I wore a lot of white clothes, because Ecclesiastes says let your garments always be white, and I loved it, so I look like Tom Wolfe now. Wearing white just made me happier. I couldn’t be in a bad mood walking down the street looking like I was about to play in the semifinals at Wimbledon. One thing I learned is that the outside affects the inside, your behavior shapes your thoughts. I also really liked what one of my spiritual advisers said, which was that you can view life as a series of rights and entitlements, or a series of responsibilities. I like seeing my life as a series of responsibilities. It’s sort of, "Ask not what God can do for you, ask what you can do for God." [continue]

X-rays for ancient scrolls

From the Guardian: Ancient writings from the Dead Sea scrolls are to be read for the first time by British scientists using powerful x-rays.

The team will examine rare and unread fragments of the scrolls, which are believed to shed light on how the texts came to be written in caves along the north-west coast of the sea nearly 2,000 years ago.

The technique will give scientists from Cardiff University a first opportunity to read ancient texts considered too fragile to open.

They will look at the texts using x-rays produced at the £360m Diamond Light Source in Didcot, Oxfordshire. The machine works by propelling electrons at great speeds around a giant tunnel. As they corner, they emit x-rays 100bn times brighter than a medical x-ray.

Researchers led by Tim Wess have developed computer software that can "unravel" x-ray images of rolled up parchment documents to reveal the writing, even if the parchment has text on either side.

The scientists have focused their efforts on reading parchments from the 18th century and found that they are able to read 80% of the words written on documents without unravelling them. [continue]

Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management

You know about Mrs Beeton’s book, yes? In case not, here’s a brief intro from the Canadian Conservation Institute:

Beeton’s Book of Household Management is the pre-eminent 19th-century source of recipes for all seasons, for all foods (even guinea pigs!). Much more than a simple cookbook, it has provided generations of readers with delightful insights into the preparation of food for the well-to-do Victorian household. Take for example the section on rabbits. Each species is introduced with an engraving of the bunny in its natural state (fuzzy evocations of Beatrix Potter) along with a brief description of its habitat and habits. This is followed by directions for preparation, and concludes with an engraving of the finished product laid out on a plate ready to eat. And within this very thorough compendium of methods for preparing and serving food, Isabella Beeton also provided many tips on preserving and maintaining the tools of the household. [continue]

And perhaps you saw the Guardian article about Mrs Beeton last year: Mrs Beeton couldn’t cook but she could copy, reveals historian. Fascinating!

At any rate, somebody has put Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management on the web. Go read about the Arrangement and Economy of the Kitchen, Domestic Servants, or Game. Or go straight to Sweet Recipes, because who can resist looking at those?

Continue reading

Venezuela’s four-legged mobile libraries

From the Beeb: Venezuela’s four-legged mobile libraries.

Chiquito and Cenizo greet me with a bit of a snort and a flick of the tail.

Mules are too tough to bother being sweet. They do a hard job which no other animal or human invention can do as well.

But these mules are rather special.

They are known as bibliomulas (book mules) and they are helping to spread the benefits of reading to people who are isolated from much of the world around them. [continue]

India’s news calligraphers do it on deadline

From Wired: India’s News Calligraphers Do It on Deadline.

The Musalman is possibly the last handwritten newspaper in the world. Four professional calligraphers spend three hours on each page every single day to put out this daily paper.

While it’s a Muslim newspaper, it’s also a beacon of liberalism in South Asia, employing both women and non-Muslims. Two of the four katibs (calligraphers) are women and the chief reporter is Hindu. Indian royalty and poets often visit the paper to offer content and accolades. [continue]

This article includes 22 images, and you’ve just got to go see them. Wired has another article on this topic, too: A Handwritten Daily Paper in India Faces the Digital Future.

How undergarments improved medieval literacy

From AlphaGalileo: From Rags to Riches, Or How Undergarments Improved Medieval Literacy.

Thought the invention of the printing press led to an upsurge in literacy rates in the later Middle Ages? Wrong, according to some historians of communication, who believe that paper was more important than printing.

"The development of literacy was certainly helped by the introduction of paper, which was made from rags," says Dr Marco Mostert, a historian at the Centre for Medieval Studies, Utrecht University and one of the organisers of this year’s International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds.

"These rags came from discarded clothes, which cost much less than the very expensive parchment which was previously used for books. In the 13th century, so it is thought, as more people moved into urban centres, the use of underwear increased – which caused an increase in the number of rags available for paper-making." [continue]

In fabled city at the end of the earth, a treasury of ancient manuscripts

From the Guardian: In fabled city at the end of the earth, a treasury of ancient manuscripts.

A hot wind stirred up the desert sand. Fida ag Muhammad, a wispy man with a blue-grey turban, hurried across the street. Reaching a mud-brick building, he quickly unlocked its corrugated iron door and pushed it open. A beam of soft early-morning light pierced the darkness. On a metal table covered with a red bath towel sat half a dozen leather-bound manuscripts. Carefully untying the string around a small weathered pouch, Mr Muhammad pulled back its flaps to reveal a sheaf of yellowed papers. Their edges had crumbled away, but the neat Arabic calligraphy was still clear.

"A Qur’an," he said. "From the 1300s."

For an outsider, such a remarkable find might seem extraordinary. In Timbuktu and its surrounding villages like Ber, where Mr Muhammad lives, it is commonplace. After centuries of storage in wooden trunks, caves or boxes hidden beneath the sand, tens of thousands of ancient manuscripts, covering topics as diverse as astronomy, poetry, music, medicine and women’s rights, are surfacing across the legendary Malian city.

Their emergence has caused a stir among academics and researchers, who say they represent some of the earliest examples of written history in sub-Saharan Africa and are a window into a golden age of scholarship in west Africa. Some even believe that the fragile papers, which are now the focus of an African-led preservation effort, may reshape perceptions of the continent’s past. [continue]

Robot scans ancient manuscript in 3-D

From Wired: Robot Scans Ancient Manuscript in 3-D.

After a thousand years stuck on a dusty library shelf, the oldest copy of Homer’s Iliad is about to go into digital circulation.

A team of scholars traveled to a medieval library in Venice to create an ultra-precise 3-D copy of the ancient manuscript — complete with every wrinkle, rip and imperfection — using a laser scanner mounted on a robot arm.

A high-resolution, 3-D copy of the entire 645-page parchment book, plus a searchable transcription, will be made available online under a Creative Commons license.

The Venetus A is the oldest existing copy of Homer’s Iliad and the primary source for all modern editions of the poem. It lives in Venice at the ancient Public Library of St. Mark. It is easily damaged. Few people have seen it. The last photographic copy was made in 1901. [continue]

Modern techniques seek some secrets from ancient Irish manuscript

From the International Herald Tribune: Modern techniques seek some secrets from ancient Irish manuscript.

For a manuscript written 1,200 years ago and revered as a wonder of the Western world practically ever since, little is known about the Book of Kells and its splendidly illustrated Gospels in Latin. But the book may be about to surrender a few of its many secrets.

Experts at Trinity College in Dublin, where the Book of Kells has resided for the past 346 years, are allowing a two-year laser analysis of the treasure, which is one of Ireland’s great tourist draws.

The 21st-century laser technology being used, Raman spectroscopy, encourages hopes among those with a romantic view for an ecclesiastical intrigue like "The Da Vinci Code" or "The Name of the Rose."

But the precise subjects are more mundane. The laser will study the chemicals and composition of the book, its pigments, inks and pages of fine vellum. Experts estimate that 185 calves would have been needed to create the vellum on which the art and scriptures were reproduced.

Pending the laser analysis, experts assume that [continue]

Continue reading

How goat skin DNA solved Dead Sea scrolls mystery

From the Jerusalem Post: How goat skin DNA solved Dead Sea scrolls mystery.

Scientists at the Hebrew University’s Koret School for Veterinary Science near Rishon Lezion are helping to piece together some of the 10,000 fragments of Dead Sea Scrolls found decades ago in Qumran by examining the DNA profiles of the goats whose skin was used to make the parchment and reducing the number of possible matches.

Dr. Galia Kahila Bar-Gal said during a journalists’ tour at the nearby Hebrew University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, where students learn and treat animals, that she and colleagues were looking at genetic forms from each fragment to know which came from specific animals. Once they know that two pieces came from the skin of the same animal, it is easier to piece them together, she said. [continue]

Text reveals more ancient secrets

From the BBC: Text reveals more ancient secrets.

Experts are "lost for words" to have found that a medieval prayer book has yielded yet another key ancient text buried within its parchment.

Works by mathematician Archimedes and the politician Hyperides had already been found buried within the book, known as the Archimedes Palimpsest.

But now advanced imaging technology has revealed a third text – a commentary on the philosopher Aristotle. [continue]

The Codex Gigas, also known as the Devil’s Bible

From Radio Praha: Devil’s Bible returns home but only for few months.

The Codex Gigas, also known as the Devil’s Bible, is the biggest book in the world. Made at the start of the 13th century in a Bohemian monastery, it was one of the country’s most prized works of art. In medieval times, its uniqueness was even put on a par with the wonders of the world. But at the end of the Thirty Years’ War, it was taken by the Swedes and has been Swedish property since then. The National Library in Prague has now been allowed to borrow it for an exhibition that opens later this year.

Historians believe that the gigantic book, which has to be carried by two people, was most probably made in 1229 in a small Benedictine monastery in the town of Podlazice. Although the first mention of the book dates to 1295, the writing is thought to be about 65 years older. Its format – font and script – are uniform and it is believed to be the life work of one person, for whom it must have taken some 20 years to write. Zdenek Uhlir is from the National Library in Prague:

"It’s a parchment book and very huge. It is about 92cm high and about 51cm wide. That means that it’s the biggest book in the world. It weighs about 75 kilograms. It’s a very typical late-Roman book illumination and the typical colours are red, blue, green and yellow. It’s very difficult to read from the pages of this book because the script is very small — in some cases just seven millimetres big."

Why, how and by whom the Devil’s Bible was made has remained a mystery until this day. But legend has it that the book was written by a monk, who faced being walled up alive for breaching a monastic code, and promised to create the biggest manuscript in the world in just one night in return for being spared from punishment. But when he realised that he would not be able to deliver on his promise, he asked the devil for help and his prayer was answered. The devil, to which the monk sold his soul, is depicted in the Penitential – a chapter that takes the form of a handbook for priests, listing various sins and the corresponding forms of repentance. [continue]

Continue reading

Diaries of Darwin’s wife to be published online

From the Telegraph: Diaries of Darwin’s wife to be published online.

The diaries of the wife of naturalist Charles Darwin have been published online.

Emma Darwin’s diaries cover six decades of the couple’s life together and provide an insight into the daily life of the Victorian scientist and his family.

The 60 pocket books were previously known only to a handful of academics familiar with the Darwin archive at Cambridge University Library.

Appointments, family visits and illnesses are all noted in the books.

The first diary is dated 1824 when the then Emma Wedgwood was 16 years old.

She married Charles, her first cousin, in 1839 and kept a diary until the last year of her life. The diaries — which can be viewed at — reveal [continue]

Continue reading

Rare copy of work by Comenius found in Vienna shop

From Radio Praha: Rare copy of work by John Amos Comenius found in Vienna shop.

Josef Koller is a collector of antique prints who has devoted much of his life to finding rare and valuable books. During a recent stroll through Vienna, he walked into a little bookstore tucked away in one of the city’s narrow streets. And there, resting — almost forgotten — on a dusty shelf lay one of the most important pedagogical works of the 17th century. [continue, see photo]

Earliest gospels acquired by Vatican

From Earliest Gospels Acquired by Vatican.

The world’s oldest known copy of the Gospel of Saint Luke, containing the earliest known Lord’s Prayer, and one of the oldest copies of the Gospel of Saint John have been acquired by the Vatican, according to reports from Rome.

A nonsectarian New York nonprofit, Pave the Way, helped facilitate the acquisition.

Now stored in the Vatican’s Library, the documents are for the first time available for scholarly review. In the future, excerpts may be put on display for the general public.

Collectively known as the Bodmer Papyrus XIV-XV, the documents date to 175-225 A.D. and consist of 51 leaves from a manuscript that originally consisted of 72 leaves folded in the middle to form a single quire, according to Father Richard Donahoe, rector of the Cathedral of St. Paul in Birmingham, Alabama, who also helped with the acquisition.

"The papyrus authenticates that which has been passed down over the millennia," Fr. Donahoe told Discovery News.

He believes it is even possible the texts may have been copied from the original gospels.

Many of the earliest Biblical texts are [continue]

Continue reading

Rare 16th century nautical atlas found in Olomouc

From Radio Praha: Rare 16th century nautical atlas found in Olomouc.

Historians in the department of old prints and manuscripts at the Research Library in Olomouc have made a surprising discovery. While moving a safe containing rare documents to a new building, they found a seven-page nautical atlas that was hand-made in 1563. The richly coloured parchment with gold and silver linings shows the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea and the northern part of the Atlantic. Made by the Catalan cartographer Jaume Olives, there are only five others in the world – in Barcelona, New York, Florence, Milan, and Valenciennes in France. I spoke to the Olomouc Library’s Petra Kuncova:

"Jaume Olives was a famous producer of portable maps in the sixteenth century and he was a member of a very famous Catalan family of cartographers. The family came from the island of Mallorca and moved to Italy from time to time. We don’t know exactly why the atlas was made but it was probably commissioned by a rich or important person because only someone wealthy could pay for something so unique." [continue, see photos]

Books for cooks

From the British Library: Books for Cooks.

This unique collection of cookery books will transport you back in time. It will take you to medieval banqueting tables laden with peacocks and pastry ships; to the medicine cabinets of noblewomen; and to royal picnics in the jungle. It will show you how the poor were encouraged to re-use coffee grounds in Victorian London, and how a rationed population attempted to stay healthy during World War 2. You will find recipes for puddings and roasts, for beauty treatments and bed bug repellents, for pies made with live birds and frogs, and for dishes spiced with ingredients as valuable as jewels. (…)

The project includes extracts from 17 texts, beginning with The Forme of Cury, written by Richard II’s master-cook (one of the oldest known English cookery manuscripts), and ending in 1940 with some down-to-earth advice and instruction for wartime cooking from the Association of Teachers of Domestic Subjects.

By exploring these pages you will get [continue]

World’s smallest Bible found in a boot

From World’s Smallest Bible Found in a Boot.

Around 106 years ago, someone slipped a copy of the world’s smallest complete Bible in a child’s boot and stuffed it into a cottage chimney cavity to ward off evil. Now British archaeologists have identified the book, which a renovator discovered while working on the cottage in central England’s Ewerby.

In addition to the rarity of the book, the find represents one of the most recent instances of anti-witchcraft using a shoe amulet, according to British Archaeology editor Mike Pitts, who reports on the discovery in his latest issue.

The cottage also was part of the [continue]

Thanks to Lane for pointing out this story.

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry

This is from Christopher Smart’s Jubilate Agno.

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.

For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself. [continue]