Stephen Fovargue’s A New Catalogue of Vulgar Errors ~ Debunking Urban Legends of the 18th Century

Written by John Waite, John Waite Rare Books, Ascutney VT

Urban legends, our digital age term for “popularly-held mistakes,” have been kicking around since the rise of the first city, so every age and metropolis needs its Snopes.com to set the record straight. Writers of the Enlightenment fancied themselves slayers of superstition and ignorance, and the straightforwardly titled New Catalogue of Vulgar Errors, published in 1767 by Cambridge fellow Stephen Fovargue (d. 1775), offered itself as one such corrective to the “man of sense” who might be mistaken in many things. “Error is easily fallen into [and] in the disquisition of any Point, there are numberless wrongs, but there is only one Right,” Fovargue declares.

The errors he has in mind are principally those concerning “natural Objects, and the Phaenomena which daily present themselves to our view.” They are as practical as loading a “fowling piece,” drying hay in the sun, or guessing what a field dog is up to when he points. Some have to do with climate, weather and geography; some concern errors related to music and musical instruments, still others with medical procedures such as bleeding. One section is devoted to ghosts and apparitions; several have to do with education, writing and poetry. Fovargue even takes Londoners down a notch in their mistaken derision of country people, which must have guaranteed his book would not be found fashionable. However, he also wisely sidesteps questions that “may interfere with any religious Tenets, it not being the Intention of the Pamphlet to deprive Men of their Rest, by tearing from their Consciences those fixed Protestant Principles of Religion . . . which they and their Ancestors have long and peaceably enjoyed.” No sense stirring up too many hornets.

To the errors themselves! Or a few of them, anyway.

VIII. “That the Violin is a wanton Instrument, and not proper for Psalms; and that the Organ is not proper for Country-Dances and brisk Airs.” A case of prejudice on both counts, according to the writer, and how could one not agree? The violin, “commonly made Use of at Balls and Assemblies . . . has annexed the Idea of Merriment and Jollity to itself” while the organ, being a heavy and fixed instrument, “is not convenient for Country Dances” but is made use of “in most Churches . . .” Nevertheless, the violin is “capable of great Expression, but especially it is most exquisitely happy in that grave and resigned Air, which the common Singing-Psalms ought to be played with.” On the other hand, “nothing can be more adapted to the Performance of a Country-Dance, than an Organ.” Anyone who grew up listening to rock n’ roll or blues during the 1960s and ’70s would have to agree, as few sounds are more go-go than a Hammond B-3 organ booming through Leslie speakers. Dance to the music, Mr. Fovargue!

XV. “That there is now, or ever was, such a Science as Astrology.” Accusing ancient and idolatrous “Egyptian priests” of deceit, Fovargue praises his Britain where people have the “refreshing Liberty of hearkening to Reason, and of thinking as they [do] like best.” Continuing very much like an 18th century Rush Limbaugh, he reminds readers that “if thou didst live in some Countries, thou wouldst find, that thou must either think as others please to dictate to thee, or else keep they Thoughts to thyself . . . I tell thee, Reader, though art happy in being a Native of a Country where though art not deceived by the false Science of Astrology; and where anyone who understands it . . . will show thee as much of the Real Science of Astronomy, as thou desirest to learn . . . well knowing, that it will be a Means to give thee a more sublime Notion of the Supreme Being; for the more thou dost contemplate the vast Machinery of the Heavenly Bodies . . . the more thou wilt be convinced of the immense Contrivance of Him who laid the Foundation of the Heavens.” Deists could embrace the reasonable sounding notion of the clockmaker universe (“intelligent design”) while scoffing at the idea that planets and stars had any influence “upon the Lives and Fortunes of Individuals.”

XVIII. “That the Way to make Boys learn their Books, is to keep them in School all Day, and whip them.” Okay, that’s an error?

XX. “That teaching Boys Bawdy Books, will make them religious Men and good Clergymen.” Who would have believed it? But Fovargue’s issue here is whether young scholars should be “suffered” to read such a “Master of Intrigue, as Ovid; or some of the Odes of such a Libertine, as Horace.” Fovargue recommends instead “hardy Diversions, which are generally followed by Youth, such as Hunting, and the like, [that] can ever keep them in Health.” The constitutions of Englishmen, he writes, “will not endure any such Excess of Pleasure, as the Italians are able to sustain more easily.” Obviously, the Cambridge scholar never attended a football game, nor does he seem to have had any friends in the book trade. My apologies, but as far as the indulgence of vice goes, your average Englishmen is a world-class competitor.

XXXII. “That Negroes are not Part of the Human Species.” Slavery was practiced in the British Empire at the time of the book’s publication and to his credit, Fovargue delivers a rebuttal to this widely-held sentiment. He calls it a “Creolian error” by which he attaches the mistake particularly to Creoles who, you will be pleased to recall, were persons of European descent who were born in the West Indies or Spanish America. He got it right: the sentiment is racist. “The passive Appearance of these unhappy [slaves] at their Work, which sometimes resembles that of a Horse in a Mill, gives Master Tommy Sugar-Cane an Idea, which is the Cause of an Opinion, that a Negroe is Part of the Brute-Creation, and therefore ought to be thrashed. But indeed, Master Tommy, if I had the Care of thy Education, I would teach thee a more reasonable Way of Thinking.” He reminds “young Gentlemen” that the “Works of Nature are neither better nor worse either for your Approbation or Disapprobation of them” and he argues that education will show the true ability of Africans: “Let him have Instructions in Music, you will find that his Genius is greater than your own; teach him to fence, his Activity and Stratagem will surprise you. In short, instruct him in any Science, and he will discover a Capacity.”

Noteworthy too is Fovargue’s “Introduction,” in which he takes a moment to instruct 21st century internet users in the niceties of attribution. He points out, in what must have seemed like a wrist-slashing moment, that the third error in his book is “one which Sir Thomas Brown has taken Notice of; and it must be acknowledged, that the inclusion of it here was a Mistake.” He offers an excuse, of course, but owns up to the mistake (the accusation certainly was plagiarism) and almost apologizes.

All in all the book is an admirable effort, if a tad didactic for contemporary taste. But when wasn’t that the case?

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John Waite Rare Books
PO Box 6, Route 5
Ascutney, VT 05030
802-674-2665

You can follow John on his Tumblr blog here: Floating Copy, where this post originally appeared on June 26, 2013.

c2013, VABA

The Book Shed Outpost ~ Books are a-Happening in Benson Vermont! – and Tacos too!

By Joe Trenn, The Book Shed

From New York to Los Angeles through London, Moscow and Tokyo, pop-up stores have become the new big thing in retail. This summer the phenomenon comes to Rutland County when Benson gets it first pop-up store, The Book Shed Outpost.

Joe Trenn at The Book Shed

 

Open most weekends (weather permitting) in July and August and possibly through the fall foliage season the Outpost will be located next to West Coast Tacos on the corner of Route 22A and Mill Pond Rd. A wide assortment of books reflective of the stock available at the original Book Shed will be carried as well as a variety of discount books. The Book Shed, Rutland County’s oldest used book store, has been operating for 17 years in the village of Benson. According to the owner, Joseph Trenn, his biggest difficulty is in getting travelers to make the turn from 22A and drive the 3/4 of a mile to his location in the village. He is hoping that the conveniently located Outpost will help remedy that.

West Coast Tacos, an LA inspired taco stand, was opened this spring by Jan and Tim Bird of Benson just a few miles from New England’s west coast, the shores of Lake Champlain. The yellow corn tortillas for their various tacos and burritos are cooked on site. They offer a signature nine inch corn tortilla which is custom made for them. Rounding out the menu are hand cut nachos, burritos and a delicious steak and cheese sandwich. As an authentic accompaniment to their food the Birds make every effort to carry a cane sugar variety of Coca-Cola made in Mexico (“Hecho en Mexico para refresco”) – the fabled “Mexican Coke” is what we all drank years ago before the advent of high fructose corn syrup. West Coast Tacos is open everyday from 11-8 pm. Phone is (802) 236-1018.

It is shaping up to be a busy summer on this corner of Benson seven miles north of U.S. Route 4 in Fair Haven.  Books and Tacos on a summer day? – who can resist!

The Book Shed
733 Lake Road
Benson VT 05731
802-537-2190
mail@thebookshed.com
http://www.thebookshed.com/

 West Coast Tacos
58 Mill Pond Rd., Benson, Vermont 05731
(802) 236-1018
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/West-Coast-Tacos/555777621119229

c2013 VABA

A Sunday in Vermont with Jane Austen

Written by Joe Trenn of The Book Shed in Benson, Vermont.

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One of the more satisfying regular events on the calendar for northeastern literary seekers is the quarterly meeting of JASNA-Vermont, the Vermont region of the Jane Austen Society of North America. Organized and chaired by self-titled “Janeite” Deb the alter ego of Bygone Books owner Deborah Barnum and the Regional Coordinator of JASNA-Vermont, the meetings feature a talk on some aspect of Austen by an expert from academia or the wide, passionate world of Austen fandom. Before and after the talk there is a social gathering fueled by delicious scones and other delights prepared by Janeite Marcia Merrill and her volunteer bakers.

This past Sunday at Champlain College’s Hauke Conference Center (Burlington, VT), the usual venue, Sheryl Craig, a Ph.D. in Nineteenth-century British literature and a faculty member of the University of Central Missouri gave a fascinating talk on the seemingly dry subject of economics in the Austen canon. Craig reveals in her “Trickle-Down Economics in Pride and Prejudice; Or, Why Mr. Darcy Improves upon Acquaintance!” the subtle clues and allusions to the economic beliefs and practices of the heroes and villains in Austen’s work which would have been neither subtle nor hidden to her original readers. They only appear so to us.

the Workhouse, St. James’s Parish, from The Microcosm of London (1810)
[image: Wikipedia Commons] 

“What Jane Austen’s first readers did not need to be told was that a man named Fitzwilliam Darcy had to be a moderate Whig, one who supported Tory Prime Minister William Pitt’s tax and Poor Law reform proposals, and that Darcy’s home county, Derbyshire, paid high wages, provided generous welfare benefits, and funded the best system of poor houses in England. Thus, Darcy, and moderate Whigs like him, were worthy of both Elizabeth Bennet’s and the reader’s esteem and served as role models to be emulated throughout Georgian Britain and, as it turns out, throughout time.” (From the program notes.)

The thing that this talk shared with so many past events was the illuminating of an aspect of the novels which make them the enduring and powerful works of literature which have enthralled generations of readers since their creation 200 years ago. Judging from the range and quantity of questions by Sunday’s attendees Craig has hit on a particularly rich vein of interest in the Austen reader, perhaps even beyond those in attendance at this meeting. Working within the themes of love and money Miss Jane Austen will likely continue to elicit deeply ingrained feelings and provocative thoughts in her readers for generations yet to come. This writer hopes that Janeite Deb and her fellow travellers will continue to bring these events to us for our future enjoyment and edification.

Sheryl Craig

p.s. Note that for upcoming events, Janeite Deb will be delivering a talk “200 Years of Publishing and Collecting Pride and Prejudice” on September 22nd. Rounding out the year will be the Annual Tea on December 8th in celebration of Jane’s birthday, with UVM’s Rebecca McLaughlin on “Dear Jane: How Do I Choose the Right Spouse? Or, Why Does Mr. Darcy Get the Girl?” Both events begin at 2 pm at the Hauke Conference, Champlain College.

You can find out more information about JASNA-Vermont here:  http://janeausteninvermont.wordpress.com/

And the Jane Austen Society of North America here: www.jasna.org

c2013 by Joe Trenn for VABA