Topsell’s Fantastic Four-Footed Beasts

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

Edward Topsell, a Church of England clergyman, was born in Kent in 1572 and managed the parish of St Botolph in Aldersgate, London from 1604 until his death in 1625 (Lewis, 2004).  Although he wrote several books, his most celebrated work is, ‘The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents’ (1607), a wonderful bestiary that describes all manner of creatures from Elephants to Bees to the Bear Ape Arctopithecus (or the three toed sloth as we know it today (University of Houston Library, 2013)).  Each entry describes the creature in detail, giving commentary from ancient, medieval and contemporary sources.  In particular, Topsell relied heavily on sixteenth century encyclopedia, ‘Historia Animalium’ by Conrad Gesner, reusing his work to the point where he could almost be accused of plagiarism (Lewis, 2004).  This makes Topsell’s following claim a little dubious:

I cannot say that I have said all that can be written of these living creatures, yet I dare say I have wrote more than ever was before me written in any Language

However, even though he was not a naturalist by any means and borrowed much of this work from others, ‘A History of Four-footed Beats and Serpents’ remains a fascinating text. One of my favourite things about the beastiary is that includes not only the familiar and common animals but also the fantastical and frightening!  Manticore, Satyr and Unicorn are all considered alongside cat and dog and horse and the descriptions provided are wonderfully detailed and perfectly illustrated.

Below are some of my favourite mythical monsters from the book:

manticore

Of the Mantichora

A terrifying monster residing in India that has earned the fearsome title of ‘man eater’, the Manticore is described by Topsell as a deadly combination of man, lion and scorpion:

a treble row of teeth beneath and above, whose greatness, roughness, and feet are like a lyons, his face and ears unto a mans, his eyes grey, and colour red, his tail like the tail of a Scorpion, of the earth, armed with a sting, casting forth sharp pointed quils; his voice like the voice of a small Trumpet or Pipe, being in course as swift as a Hart; his wildness such as can never be tamed, and his appetite is especially to the flesh of man.

The manticore uses its tail to attack hunters and prey and is able to grow back any quills lost in the fight.

 

 lamia

Of the Lamia

Topsell initially describes what he believes to be the fabled accounts of the Lamia, which show her as a ‘phary’ (fairy) or shape-changer who wishes to steal away children and tempt beautiful men.  As such creatures do not exist in the Bible, these tales originated, according to Topsell, from poets who use the term Lamia as an allegory for a harlot.

The true Lamia, instead hails from Libya and is known in Hebrew as the creature ‘Lilith’.  It is described as:

having a womans face, and very beautiful, also very large and comely shapes of their breasts, such as cannot be counterfeited by the art of any Painter, having a very excellent colour in their fore-parts without wings, and no other voice but hissing like dragons.

The Lamia is said to enchant men with its body before overthrowing and devouring them.

 

Unicorn

Of the Unicorn 

Although Topsell consults many ancient sources, he finds their accounts of the descriptions of Unicorns so divergent that he can only assume there are many varying kinds of the creature, much as there are types of dog or mice.  However, he confirms that they can be found in both India and Ethiopia, that they have a single horn in the middle of the forehead, are roughly the size of a horse, and tend toward a solitary life.

Of course the most fascinating part of a Unicorn is its horn and Topsell recounts an interesting story from the life of Apollonius of Tyana by Philostratus:

the Indians of that horn make pots, affirming that whosoever drinketh in one of those pots, shall never take disease that day, and if they be wounded, shall feel no pain, or safely pass through the fire without burning, nor yet be poisoned in their drinks, and therefore such cups are only in the possession of their Kings.

Although Apollonius discounted some of the effects of the Unicorn horn, he seemed to accept that it may have some medicinal properties.

 

dragon

Of the Dragon

Like Unicorns, dragons are also said to be bred in India and Africa and are diverse in size and colour.  The dragon illustrated above is the Winged Dragon whose wings are described as being of “a skinny substance, and very voluble, and spreading themselves wide, according to the quantity and largenesse of the Dragons body.”

More generally, dragons are beautiful to behold, despite their terrifying treble rows of teeth.  They have bright and clear seeing eyes, “dewlaps growing under their chin and hanging down like a beard[…] and their bodies are set all over with very sharp scales, and over their eyes stand certain flexible eye-lids.”

They also have very keen senses of seeing and hearing, making them the perfect watchful keepers of treasure and unmarried maidens.

According to Topsell (affirmed by Aristotle), dragons are specifically offended by eating apples and lettice and will eat the latter to vomit up any meat they find does not settle well in their stomachs!

To kill a dragon, Topsell recounts that Indians will,

take a garment of Scarlet, and picture upon it a charm in golden letters, this they lay upon the mouth of the Dragon’s den, for with the red colour and the gold, the eyes of the Dragon are overcome, and he falleth asleep, the Indians in the mean season watching and muttering secretly words of Incantation; when they perceive he is fast asleep, suddenly they strike off his neck with an Ax

Our edition of ‘The History of Four-Footed Beasts and Serpents’ is a later revised version to which is attached the ‘Theatre of Insects’ by T. Muffet.  Lewis (2004) suggests that Topsell had originally intended to produce his own third and four volumes on birds and fishes but these unfortunately were never completed.

Sources:
Topsell, E. (1658) The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents. London: Printed by E. Cotes, for G. Sawbridge at the Bible on Ludgate-Hill, T. Williams at the Bible in Little-Britain, and T. Johnson, at the Key in Paul’s Church-yard [COLE–004Q – available upon request]
Lewis, G. (2004) ‘Topsell, Edward (bap. 1572, d. 1625)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press
University of Houston Library (2013) Topsell’s The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents Woodcuts.  Available from: http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/p15195coll18

National Allotment Week: Top tips for green fingers!

Wright, and Wright (c.1909) The Vegetable Grower’s Guide.

Wright, and Wright (c.1909) The Vegetable Grower’s Guide.

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

 

It is not uncommon for inexperienced people to be guilty of omissions in providing for the establishment of a garden which strike horticulturists as almost ludicrous.

(Wright and Wright, 1909)

In honour of National Allotment Week we have dug up some handy horticultural tips from our collections to help turn us all into green-fingered gardeners!

 

 

Let’s start with some basics:

Tip #1: Setting out your plot the right way can make a big difference:

“All kitchen garden students should be taught the simple rule of arranging their plots so that the rows of vegetables run north and south.  This permits of sun rays getting free access to the rows.  When they run east to west the sun is kept from the inner rows by the outer ones in the case of tall crops.” (Wright and Wright, 1909)

Wright and Wright (1909) also suggest that a parallelogram shaped plot is best and emphasise not to forget planning in space for paths when designing your allotment garden!

 

Gardening Tools (Wright and Wright, 1909)

Gardening Tools (Wright and Wright, 1909)

Tip #2: Always have the right equipment for the job!

“Garden equipment cannot be provided without expense, and it is wise to face what is entailed resolutely.” (Wright and Wright, 1909)

There certainly is a lot to consider but this helpful illustration (right) should help you know your dibble from your bill-hook!

 

Tip #3: Make sure your plants get enough water at the right time:

When it comes to watering plants, Moore (1881) cautions that, “it is a wrong though common practice to press the surface of the soil in the pot in order to feel if it is moist enough, this soon consolidates it, and prevents it from getting the full benefit of aeration.”

While Garton (1769) helpfully adds, “whilst the nights are frosty water your plants in the morning; in warm weather water than in the evening, before the sun goes down.”

 

Now we have the hang of the fundamentals, how do we go about growing some vegetables?

Carrots (Wright and Wright, 1909)

Carrots (Wright and Wright, 1909)

Tip #4: Getting the soil right is very important!

According to Moore (1881) the enrichment of soil is often overlooked so when planting onions for example, remember, “a portion of good soil should be provided for each plant, and heavy mulchings of manure should be placed upon the surface as soon as practical after planting to prevent the soil becoming dry and parched.”

While for carrots, Wright and Wright (1909) suggest that, “the land best suited […] is unquestionably a deep, sandy loam. […] They are best grown after celery or some other fibrous-rooted crop for which the ground was manured the previous year.”

 

Tip #5: Not any old carrot will do, make sure yours are the cream of the crop with this advice from Wright and Wright (1909):

“Thinning is of the first importance, as on it turns not only the question of getting shapely roots, but also of baffling the maggot.  […] Carrots should always be thinned twice; the first time a few days after they have come through, the second when they are about the size of radishes.”

To make sure your carrots are a rich bright red, try mixing soot and wood ashes “into the drills when the seed is sown.” (Wright and Wright, 1909)

 

Tip #6: Protect your plants and keep garden enemies at bay:

To fight against an attack by slugs and snails, Wright and Wright (1909) suggest that as, “they are principally night feeders, […] an attack can be stopped by looking over the beds at night with the aid of a lantern, dropping any slugs into a jar of brine.  Lime dusted round the outsides of the bed will stop the approach of fresh hordes.”

 

Onions (Wright and Wright, 1909)

Onions (Wright and Wright, 1909)

Tip #7: Harvest your crops with care:

You have chosen the right soil, fought off the slugs, tended your plants with care and it’s finally time to reap your rewards but while some vegetables can be easily pulled up Wright and Wright (1909) suggest a different method for large onions:

“The authors find it a good plan to gently heave the best bulbs from side to side with the hands day after day for a week, breaking a few roots each time, and thus bringing growth to a standstill by degrees.  This answers much better than forking them straight out of the ground at one operation.”

 

Great advice, now what should we be doing in our allotments during August?

In his, ‘The Practical Gardener and Gentleman’s Directory, for Every Month in the Year,’ Garton (1769) makes some useful suggestions:

  • “Cauliflower-seed to produce an early crop next summer must be sown between the 18th and 24th of this month, which will be ready to plant under frames in the last week in October, to remain there till the latter end of February, or beginning of March.”
  • “Weed and keep clean the asparagus beds, and the plants sown in the spring. Do this work with the hand only.”
  • “Sow carrots for spring use. Do this in the 3rd or 4th week of this month, and don’t sow this seed too thick.”
  • “This being the season for pickling cucumbers; they must be well watered in dry weather, three or four times a week; and be gathered at proper sizes three times a week.”

Finally, according to Mrs Loudon (1870), August is “about the best time of the year to visit famous gardens, one of the best ways of improving our knowledge of the art of gardening.”

Frontpieve from 'The Complete Gardener' by Thomas Mawe and John Abercrombie, 1854 [MERL LIBRARY RESERVE--4756-MAW]

Frontpieve from ‘The Complete Gardener’ by Thomas Mawe and John Abercrombie, 1854 [MERL LIBRARY RESERVE–4756-MAW]

You can find more advice on allotments and growing your own food at the National Allotment Society webpage.

 

Sources:

Moore, Thomas (1881) Epitome of Gardening. Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black [MERL LIBRARY RESERVE–4756-MOO]

Wright, J. and Wright, H. J. (c.1909) The Vegetable Grower’s Guide. London: Virtue and Co. [MERL LIBRARY RESERVE–4752-WRI]

Garton, James (1769) The Practical Gardener and Gentleman’s Directory, for Every Month in the Year.  London: E and C Dilly [RESERVE– ]

Mrs Loudon (1870) The Amateur Gardener’s Calendar.  London: Frederick Warne and Co. [RESERVE–635-LOU]

All items are available upon request.

Explore your Archive: Ducks

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

Jemima Puddle Duck - Children's Collection 823.9-POT

Jemima Puddle Duck – Children’s Collection 823.9-POT

Today the theme of Explore Your Archives is  Archive Animals so we’re going to have a look at some of our wonderful archive Ducks!

 

Let’s start with perhaps our most famous duck, Jemima Puddle-Duck! UMASCS holds a 1908 edition of the tale, beautifully illustrating the adventures of Jemima who gets into trouble with a fox when leaving the safety of the farm to hatch her eggs. Jemima was based on a real duck that lived at Hill Top farm, the home of author Beatrix Potter.

 

According to the charmingly illustrated ‘Ducks: Art, Legend and History’ by Anna Giorgettii, [Merl Library 4534 GIO] ducks belong to the Anatidae Family, a word derived from the Latin ‘anas’ meaning ‘to swim.’ The book goes on to give all kinds of interesting facts and stories about ducks, including the idea that in ancient China a prospective lover would send a live duck or goose to the woman he desired.

John Lewis Printing Collection, Group XII 1

John Lewis Printing Collection, Group XII 1

 

Our modern term of endearment ‘duck’ was even used by the Romans in the form of ‘aneticula’ or ‘duckling’ (p82). It’s unsurprising then that this sweet Valentine’s Day greeting from our John Lewis Printing Collection (Group XII 1), dating to 1858, features a little duck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the beautifully designed ‘A Book of Ducks’ by Phyllis Barclay Smith, we learn that it was King Charles II in 1661 who first formed a collection of wild birds in St James’ Park, so setting a precedent for the creation of collections in parks, lakesides and ponds across the country.

Printing Collection 082 Kin/58

Printing Collection 082 Kin/58

 

Engravings by T. Bewick, MERL LIBRARY RES--1840-HIS

Engravings by T. Bewick, MERL LIBRARY RES–1840-HIS

The great range of birds within the ‘Anas’ genus is explored in ‘A History of British Birds’ vol. II (1805) alongside beautifully detailed wood engravings by T. Bewick. For example, the rather cute ‘Scaup Duck’ (bottom centre in the picture to the right) is described as having a broad, flat bill , a black head and neck glossed with green and fan shaped brown tail feathers.

 

Finally we have ‘Ploof – the wild duck’, number 3 of the Père Castor wild animal books series, written principally by Lida Durdikova.  Originally published in Paris in 1935 by Flammarion as ‘Plouf, canard sauvage,’  it tells the story of the duckling’s birth, his first visit to the pond, a frightening attack by a hawk and his adventures out on a big lake before finally describing his migration south for the winter.

Russian illustrator, Feodor Rojankovsky, is quoted describing his artistic beginnings developing from a trip to a zoo being followed by a gift of colour crayons. His beautifully intricate drawings of Ploof and his friends show that animals must have continued to fire his imagination!

Photo 11-11-2015, 13 59 39

Ploof, Children’s Collection FOLIO–598-LID

Ploof, back cover. Children's Collection FOLIO--598-LID

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

Peter Rabbit

Miami University Special Collections and Archives

Thesantis

Robert Louis Stevenson

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

Today celebrates the 165th birthday of Robert Louis Stevenson, most famous for his classic novels ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’.

 

Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, XReserve 823.89 STE

Indeed it is ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ that is credited with the accolade of having initially established Stevenson’s reputation as a writer of great talent, (Daiches.)

 

Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm.

― Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

 

However, in his life-time, Stevenson wrote a vast number of works, including over 20 novels, short stories and poems. He frequently experimented with a range of genres and styles also producing essays, travel writing, plays and biographies!

 

Robert Louis Stevenson books on a shelf

Robert Louis Stevenson, Children’s Collection 823.8STE

UMASCS holds examples of each of these genres, ranging from his 1982 history of Samoa, ‘A Footnote to History: Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa’ (XReserve –996.13-STE) to a fifth edition of his poetry collection, ‘A child’s garden of verses’ (Children’s Collection, 821.8-STE).

 

 

 

 

Some of our favourite editions however, are of his most well-known publications, including this beautifully designed copy of ‘Kidnapped’ from the 1920s:

Book cover for 'Kidnapped' featuring a ship design

Kidnapped, Children’s Collection 823.8 STE

 

Our Children’s Collection also hosts a fantastic range of illustrated book covers of ‘Treasure Island.’

treasure island

Sir, with no intention to take offence, I deny your right to put words into my mouth.

― Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

 

Although it was originally published in book form in 1883, after appearing in ‘Young Folks’ as: The Sea Cook, one of our oldest copies of ‘Treasure Island’ is a 1893, Cassel and Company Ltd, illustrated edition. Beautifully illustrated, it comes complete with a lovely map of Treasure Island itself.  A handwritten note inside the book shows it was originally a Christmas gift to one Francis Gore from his father in 1894.

Map of Treasure Island, 1893

Treasure Island, 1893. Caption reads: Francis C. Gore from my Father Christmas 1894.

 

 

Daiches describes ‘Treasure Island’ as, ‘an adventure presented with consummate skill, with atmosphere, character, and action superbly geared to one another.’ As such it is no wonder that it remains a favoured classic even today.

 

Sources

Daiches, David, “Robert Louis Stevenson.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Britannica Academic. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 11 Nov. 2015. <http://academic.eb.com.idpproxy.reading.ac.uk/EBchecked/topic/565977/Robert-Louis-Stevenson>.

Robert Louis Stevenson.org