Literary Discoveries.

Ramblings in an Eclectic Library.

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Middle English.

A new page of books on Middle English collects dictionaries, grammars, anthologies, and miscellaneous studies.

June 2, 2021.

Joannes Boemus.

The popular Renaissance ethnographer, who wrote about all the nations of the world without leaving his monkish cell, has been added to our page of Ethnography and Anthropology. We have the original 1520 edition, a Tudor translation of two out of three books, and a Jacobean translation of the whole that adds some other interesting material on Ethiopia.

May 26, 2021.

English References.

Our page of English references had grown unwieldy, so we have divided it into sub-pages. As usual, we have done our best not to break any bookmarks, so the original References page now serves as an index to all the other pages. At most you will have to click one more time to find what you are looking for.

May 16, 2021.


We begin a new page on the Americas before Columbus with a considerable infusion from the prolific Daniel G. Brinton.

May 4, 2021.

La Vie privée d’autrefois.

For those who can read French, here is a treasury of information about daily life in France, and especially Paris, from the 1200s to the 1700s: La Vie privée d’autrefois. Arts et métiers, modes, mœurs, usages des parisiens du XIIe au XVIIIe siècle, d’après des documents originaux ou inédits. Par Alfred Franklin. Paris: Librairie Plon, 1887–1901. There are 23 volumes in the set, covering almost all those aspects of life that usually merit only a glance from historians. We have added the set to our French History page.

May 2, 2021.


A hundred years ago Pictorialism was beginning its decline, as the “straight-print cranks” (as one Pictor­ialist called them) began their ascendancy and promoted the new dogma that photo­graphs should be sharp and clear records of what was in front of the lens at the time.

The merest glance at a current pho­tography magazine or site will show that Pictor­ialism has come roaring back, now armed with digital tech­nology that would have made the artists of a century ago drool.

We take no position in the debate for or against Pictor­ialism, because the debate seems silly. If you can pro­duce a good picture straight from the camera, go ahead. If you can pro­duce a good picture with three days’ manipu­lation in your dark­room or image editor, go ahead. The only ques­tion is whether you can produce a good picture.

It is, however, interesting to see how many of the clichés of current pictor­ial pho­tography are catalogued as faults in the lit­erature of a hundred years ago. Perhaps the most obvious among them is the use of extreme wide-angle lenses to produce what the first genera­tion of Pictor­ialists would have decried as “violent perspec­tive.” Incorrect perspec­tive is another fault that the old masters would not have expected from anyone beyond the Brownie stage: street­scapes with buildings that seem to be falling in on each other because the camera is not held level, or because the perspec­tive is not adjusted with a rising front (or by angling the enlarger, or by using the perspec­tive tool in your image editor).

But these faults are all symptoms of the dominant fault of our culture today, which is a lack of patience. We have no time for subtlety. We do not believe in subtlety. A work of art that does not make its point right now will be skipped over and ignored. Therefore our photo­graphs must be striking, meaning that they immediately stop a viewer. The reaction we look for is “Wow!” Of course, “wow” lasts for only a few seconds, and then the viewer moves on to the next thing. But if we get the “wow,” then verily we have our reward.

This is in most ways the opposite of the ideal of the original Pictor­ialists. It is quite true that some of them—generally the lesser ones—went for the striking effect. But you have only to read the writings of the best artists to see how much they were con­cerned with subtlety—how much effort they put into reducing the contrast in their land­scapes, for example, so that the viewer would be invited to pick out the details slowly and contem­platively.

Here, then, is an oppor­tunity to explore another world, an alternate uni­verse of pictorial pho­tography where subtlety is the most desired quality, and a work reveals its treasures over time. Our greatly expanded Photography page gathers the writings and the photo­graphs of some of the best artists (and one or two of the worst). For pho­tographers who still use film or plates, it will prove a treasury of antique processes and techniques. For digital pho­tographers, it is a fasci­nating study to see how the same effects can be had with digital tech­nology. For all pho­tographers, these old masters bring a challenge: can we make pictures that reward a long engage­ment, not just a fleeting “wow”?

April 24, 2021.

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