RGSSA Library Catalogue

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Some Christmas Treats

    For Christmas I've found some goodies from the collection, happened across recently during the cataloguing project. Just picking my way painfully through the 5000-odd remaining titles! Other problems keep cropping up all the time - gee, our maps need cataloguing. (I knew that.) Any qualified map cataloguers out there? We’d love to hear from you! In fact I’d give you a medal. (Not one of those ones kept in the safe, no. But definitely a medal.)

    To be more serious for a moment, it has been a stressful few months at the Royal Geographical Society of South Australia. It isn't helping that the lift in the beautiful old Mortlock Building of the State Library of South Australia is out of order and will not be fixed for some time. That’s a lot of stairs for a person with a crook hip like yours truly. But we are still open, Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and browsers are welcome. If there’s a notice up, as often on Fridays, saying that the wing is closed to the public, this does not mean to users of the RGSSA. Just tell State Library Security (you’ll see the desk right there on Level 1) that you would like to visit the RGS. Walk right through the main floor of the Mortlock Building towards North Terrace, up the stairs past the first gallery, and up the next 1/2 flight to the mezzanine, and there we are. Do ask if there is anything in particular you would like to see.

    And so to the Chrissie treats! Well, you may decide they’re oddies rather than goodies, but that's the joy of the collection: you never know what you’ll find next.

Campbell, Donald, 1751-1804.
    A narrative of the extraordinary adventures, and suffering by shipwreck & imprisonment, of Donald Campbell, esq., of Barbreck: with the singular humours of his Tartar guide Hassan Artaz; comprising the occurrences of four years and five days, in an overland journey to India. / Faithfully abstracted from Capt. Campbell's "Letters to his son." The 6th ed. With plates. London : Printed for Vernor, Hood and Sharpe, 1808.
Described in the preface as an "abstract ... of the sixty-three letters" written by "Capt. Campbell, (formerly a Commander in the Cavalry of the Nabob of the Carnatic)", the work briefly covers Donald Campbell's journey across Europe, describes his travels in the Middle East, and gives detailed descriptions of his shipwreck off the Malabar Coast in western India, his capture by the forces of Hyder Ali, and his imprisonment under "Hyat Sahib", i.e. Hyat Saheb or Muhammad Ayaz Khan, the "jemadar" of Bidanore (Bidanur, the Kingdom of Keladi), with a biography of the jemadar. After describing the death of his companion, Mr Hall, in prison, the narrative finishes with Campbell’s release and return home, the British forces under General Mathews having relieved the Malabar forts.

    Here is an example of the text, where we learn how Hyat Saheb was adopted by the ruler of Mysore, Hyder Ali. This is also the point at which Campbell mentions one of the famous figures of Indian history of the period, Hyder Ali’s son, “Tippoo Sahib”. That is, Tipu Sultan, Nawab of Mysore, 1753-1799, “the Tiger of Mysore”. Wikipedia has a very detailed article about the life and times of this extraordinary man, who was fluent in several languages, sent ambassadors to Europe, and died gallantly at the head of his troops fighting the British (causing Sir Walter Scott to compare him to Napoleon, greatly to the latter’s disfavour!):

“IN the evening. of the day on which the jemadar Hyat Sahib had honoured Capt. Campbell with an audience, given him clothes and money, and informed him that a proposal, which he called flattering, would be made to him, he was sent for to attend, not at the court, but at the house of a man high in office. As he expected to meet Hyat Sahib himself, and trembled at the thoughts of his expected proposition, our traveller was surprised, and indeed pleased to find that it was with one of his people only that he was to have a conference. This man received him with great kindness, encouraged him, made him sit down with him, and began to speak of Hyat Sahib, whom he extolled to the skies, as a person endowed with every great and amiable quality, and possessed of the friendship and confidence of his master, Hyder Alli, in a greater degree than any other person, Tippoo Sahib, his own son, not excepted: he then gave him the private history of Hyat - saying, that he was born a Gentoo Prince, of one of the provinces of the Malabar coast, which had fallen beneath the irresistible arms of Hyder, and had been by him annexed to the vast Mysorean empire. Hyat, he said, was then only a boy of eleven or twelve years of age, of a most promising genius, and a quickness of mind unusually met with in one of such tender years. Hyder, who was in all respects a man of unrivalled penetration, thought he saw in the boy that which, if properly cultivated, would turn out of great use to a state; and as, in all Mahomedan governments, unconnected, isolated boys, oft-times slaves, are bred up in the seraglio to succeed to the great offices of the state, Hyder adopted the boy, had him made a Mahomedan, and, in fact, treated him as if he had been the issue of his own loins, and brought him up with all the affection and tenderness of a fond parent. ...”

One does wonder, rather, what Tipu Sultan thought of his father’s favouring another boy!

As you can see, the narrative based on Campbell’s letters is very readable. However. it suffers, typically of many of the memoirs written in the very early 19th century, from an inability to construct a coherent and logical narrative. Thus it isn't always clear exactly when and where, and often why, a given scene takes place. Much of the context is ignored or taken for granted. Another example is the following. Here it’s not only very difficult to establish the context, it’s also hard to fight your way through the pompous moralising. It’s a pity, because the factual bits are really unusual.

Howell, William, 1753-1842
    Some interesting particulars of the second voyage made by the missionary ship, the Duff, which was captured by the Buonaparte privateer in the year 1800 / by W.H., Superintendent to the Mission. Knaresbrough [Yorkshire] : Printed and sold by Hargrove and Sons, 1809.

As far as I can tell “W.H.” was William Howell (1753-1842), the pastor at Knaresborough, Yorkshire. You might expect this to be the tale of a Christian mission to the heathen of some remote place, but it isn't. Howell‘s group of English missionaries started out with this intention but never reached their destination. Approaching Rio de Janeiro they were taken by the French privateer, the Buonaparte, under Captain Rivière, which then sailed, along with the captive Duff, to Montevideo. It was very frightening, especially as the men were separated from the women of the party and nobody knew what was going to happen to them all. But at Montevideo the captives spent some time in comparative freedom. Howell records his observation of the customs, especially at Easter, of the people of Montevideo and the surrounding region. He then recounts his party’s transfer to a Portuguese ship, the Medusa, and the voyage back to Lisbon, where they were freed. The actual events are interesting and so is the record of life in South America at the very turn of the 18th century - but the pious asides are not only very tedious in themselves but make the story very hard to follow!

In the context of our collection, those two are quite expectable. Goodies, then? Though they have their own oddness. The third Christmas offering, however, is definitely an oddie for our collection: it's not travel or exploration or even remotely connected with geography - unless you contend, as some geographers do, that geography is the study of world everything! ...Maybe it's their detractors who say that. Never mind, it's all part of the human pageant - and the collection most certainly shows you that!

Uzanne, Octave, 1852-1931, and Courboin, François, 1865-1926
    Fashion in Paris : the various phases of feminine taste and aesthetics from 1797 to 1897 / by Octave Uzanne ; from the French by Lady Mary Loyd, with one hundred hand-coloured plates & two hundred and fifty text illustrations, by François Courboin. London ; New York : W. Heinemann ; C. Scribner's Sons, 1898.
"The Eiffel Tower, from the Exhibition Gardens (1889)"
The text of Modes de Paris, as it was originally called, is slightly disappointing but the big interest of this book is the pictorial content. The painter and printmaker François Courboin was most active as an original artist in the 1880s-1900s. After that he concentrated on documenting the history of French printmaking: he was conservateur-adjoint du Cabinet des estampes at the Bibliothèque nationale. Among other important works, between 1923 and 1929 Courboin published a massive four-volume Histoire illustrée de la gravure en France. His work also appeared in editions of such prominent authors as Balzac, Musset, and Gautier. His fashion illustrations are distinguished by their clear line drawing and luminous colour.

For me, this is definitely a goodie: I’ve been interested in the history of costume since I was old enough to haul Dad's two big art books off the bottom shelf and onto the carpet - without lifting them, you understand. If you share this interest you might like to know that Courboin’s pictures of earlier periods often pop up in other sources as unattributed examples of the fashions of those times. Be wary: there is obviously a lot of research behind them but they are not, of course, contemporaneous with the fashions they illustrate. You can see particularly in the two examples below that although the fashions have changed drastically, the artist’s distinctive style is the same.

"A drive in a whiskey, Longchamsps, Year V (1797)" and "A smart corner of the Rue Richelieu: the East India Company's warehouse (1854)"
Mille remerciements, cher M. Courboin, for this reminder of the Rue de Richelieu; I walked down it every day for months to the BN when I was a student in Paris. (It is “de”.) Ah, me, the long ago... Or you could say, it's serendipity! Its just wonderful, the unexpected treats that turn up in the RGSSA’s collection!

Thank you so much for your support throughout the year, dear blog readers. It’s so encouraging to see the stats go up and to get some feedback, too. The kind remarks at the RGSSA volunteers’ Chrissie lunch party were most appreciated. As was the lunch!

Wishing you all merry Christmas, happy Hanukah, happy holidays,

and all the very best for a peaceful and safe New Year.