Archive for March, 2015

A New Fund of Amusement: Annotating 18th-Century Word Games

March 25, 2015

Books of jokes and riddles have a long history. But it’s not too common to find annotated riddle books, with answers added in manuscript by historical readers. The Clark owns one such item, an exceedingly rare copy of a late-eighteenth-century Canterbury riddle book filled with “aenigmas, aenigmatical entertainments,” “one hundred rebuses,” “one hundred and twenty condundrums, twenty sentimental toasts, two acrostics, and six songs.”

title page

title page of The Aenigmatical Repository (1772)

In his preface addressed “To the Public,” pseudonymous author Charles Crinkum claims the “squibs of imagination” featured in his Aenigmatical Repository; or, New Fund of Amusement (Canterbury, 1772) “may perhaps rouse the genius, and awaken the inquiry of the puerile.” The Clark’s copy of this book—one of seven surviving today and the only copy in the U.S.—is also rare because of its contemporary manuscript annotations. These handwritten additions supply answers to the text’s many word games, as in the book’s first engima:

first enigma

First enigma

first enigma solution

First enigma with solution

“For I like man am made to toil …
One patch upon my face descry’d,
Denotes my consequence, and pride …
More might be said—but now I’ll ask
My readers to remove my mask.”

The answer, of course, is “The Ace of Spades.”

Sadly, the manuscript answers in the “Desert and Liquors” section are largely illegible, thanks to an inexpert trimming and binding job:

trimmed marginalia

Obscured marginalia

But answers in the “Geographical Rebuses” section came through fine:

geographical rebuses

Geographical rebuses

Apparently readers in eighteenth-century England would see the following—”A hero’s distinction, and that noted place / Where Hop-merchants harbour—a heavenly race!”—and immediately think: “Ah yes—Scarborough!” Modern readers (especially on this side of the Atlantic) have clearly lost the cultural context for deciphering and appreciating the content of some of these games.

Examples from the “one hundred and twenty condundrums” are more promising when it comes to the interpretive abilities of modern readers, though most of the answers are utterly stupid:



Q: “Why is a purse taken upon the highway like a clandestine marriage?”
A: “Because it is unlawful.” (Reminds me of the bad joke books I read in grade school.)

This one’s a little better:

Q: “Why is a public procession like the late Mr. Addison?”
A: “Because it produces Spectators” (With the obvious reference to Addison’s periodical The Spectator.)

The answers to one section of conundrums consist entirely of play titles:

play title answers

Play title answers

E.g., “A Nocturnal Vision, on the twenty-fourth of June” = “Midsummer’s [sic] night dream.”

Another page asks readers to fill in the appropriate “Dramatic Authors”:

dramatic authors

“Dramatic Authors”

Q: “What we are compelled to do when we are afflicted with an ague, and a warlike instrument among the antients.”
A: “Shakespeare”

It’s possible these answers were copied in part from A key to The ænigmatical repository (1772), published the same year. (There are only two copies of this even rarer Key, both in the UK and neither digitized on ECCO; thus I have not been able to determine whether the supplied answers were copied from A key or solved by the annotating reader.) A Key is advertised near the beginning of The Aenigmatical Repository: “A Key to the Aenigmatical Part of the following Publication, as also of the Rebuses and Conundrums, will speedily be Published.” But since a few pages have conundrums missing answers …

conundrums missing manuscript answers

Conundrums missing manuscript answers

… it’s very likely the book’s manuscript additions came from the mind of a clever reader, and were not copied directly from a book: those answer-less conundra may have proven a bit too “aenigmatical” to solve, as in,

“Why is a printer like the stock list of farces at the Theatres Royal?”

I’ll leave you to sort that one out.



Editorial Note: The Clark’s copy of Aenigmatical Repository (1772) was on display last week (March 20, 2015) for the ASECS Conference Reception, along with a select group of materials from our rare book, manuscript, and fine press collections.

“Oscar Wilde and the Visual Arts” at the Clark, 3/31/2015

March 4, 2015

William Andrews Clark Lecture on Oscar Wilde

“Oscar Wilde and the Visual Arts”

Given by Nicholas Frankel, Virginia Commonwealth University

Tuesday, March 31, 2015, 4:00 p.m.

Oscar Wilde had much to say about the visual and decorative arts. His relationships with leading figures in the art world—notably James Whistler, Aubrey Beardsley, Edward Burne-Jones, and Charles Ricketts, as well as the critics John Ruskin, Walter Pater, and John Symonds—were integral to his ideas, and he was himself the subject for several important visual artworks, including the Clark Library’s own portrait by R. G. Harper Pennington. For students of literature, Wilde’s direct engagements with art and artists are important chiefly for their effects upon his practice as an imaginative writer. The lecture traces the influence of fine art on Wilde’s poetry, fiction, and criticism, while demonstrating the centrality of the decorative and book arts to his published work. Touched upon are Wilde’s early quarrels with Whistler over the respective merits of painting and literature. But increasingly Wilde came to see language itself as something iconic and inherently visual, and it is in his books of the early 1890s—Dorian Gray, The Sphinx, and the famous English edition of Salome, illustrated by Beardsley—that we see the full flowering of Oscar Wilde’s interest in the visual arts.

Oscar Wilde, by R.G. Harper Pennington

Nicholas Frankel is Professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University and the author or editor of a number of books relating to Oscar Wilde, including Oscar Wilde’s Decorated Books (University of Michigan Press, 2000); Masking The Text: Essays on Literature and Mediation in the 1890s (Rivendale Press, 2009); The Sphinx, by Oscar Wilde, with Decorations by Charles Ricketts (Rice University Press, 2010); and The Picture of Dorian Gray: An Annotated Uncensored Edition (Harvard University Press, 2011). The last was named an Honor Book in both fiction and criticism categories at the 2012 Stonewall Book Awards and has been translated into Portuguese, Greek, and Italian. His annotated edition of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest will appear from Harvard in 2015, and he is currently preparing further annotated editions and a new biography of Wilde for Harvard. He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Humanities Center, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Bibliographical Society of America, and the Yale Center for British Art.

This biennial lecture on Oscar Wilde is made possible by a generous endowment founded by Mr. William Zachs.

Registration Deadline: March 26, 2015

Admission is complimentary, but advance registration is requested:

Please be aware that space at the Clark is limited and that registration closes when capacity is reached. Confirmation will be sent via email.