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

J.P. Choquette Book Signing at The Eloquent Page

The Eloquent Page welcomes local author J.P. Choquette and her nationally released debut novel, Epidemic, a “Green Mountain Thriller,” on Saturday April 27 at 3 pm. Readers will recognize the terrain of this suspense novel, because Epidemic is set in St. Albans. When an epidemic devastates the community Ava Morley, a nurse at the “County Hospital,” faces a host of threats as she and a local reporter, Everett James, try to discover how the disease came to St. Albans.

J.P. Choquette is a member of Sisters in Crime. After reading from the novel, she will sign books, answer questions, and facilitate conversation about the writing and reading of great suspense. Light refreshments will be served.

The Eloquent Page is fully accessible, at 70 Main Street in St. Albans (phone 527-7243). The store hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 10-5:30.

Pride and Prejudice at 200

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was published on January 28, 1813 and this bicentenary year has gotten off to a rousing start with an abundance of news articles, blog commentaries, facebook and twitter babblings, and promises of a year filled with festivals, conferences and much more of the above.

Pride & Prejudice 1st edition, 1813

As booksellers our interest is in the printed word and the physical book – I append here with a link to the complete article one of the better photo-essays on the Pride and Prejudice phenomena over the past 200 years, as seen through the various book cover designs, and a great start to collecting – one title, many covers, here just a small sampling of the possibilities:  [this article was posted on Atlantic Wire on January 25, 2013]

“Monday marks the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice — fun fact: the book’s original title was the questionably Skinemax-sounding First Impressions — and the publishing world is awash in versions of the Jane Austen classic with which you might celebrate the monumental event. After all, Austen’s work has been in the public domain for nearly a century. How do you prefer your Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet star-crossed romance? Here’s a selection of covers from years past up through the present; the good, the bad, the jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and a few that pale in comparison to the book’s contents. First impressions are important! Jane Austen memory lane, let’s take a walk down you …”

Continue reading

A Sangorski & Sutcliffe binding - on Abeooks for $8,303

Vintage Classics, c2000

[Images from Atlantic Wire]

Further reading:

And this is just a smattering of all the chatter on Pride and Prejudice this past week – whatever would Jane Austen have to say about all this! [unfortunate that this is the only novel for which she sold the copyright outright to the publisher….!]

The Peacock edition, illus. by Hugh Thomson, 1895

c2013 VABA News Blog

Country Bookshop Sale Continues

Hello friends and neighbors.

I’ve made a command decision to continue our store-wide Half Price Sale until the end of December. Many people have been shopping here – they leave with smiles on their faces – so let’s keep those feelings alive.

What?: 50,000 books, prints, old postcards, and other paper items are on sale at 50% off our already low prices. This includes the rare books in our front room, as well as everything in all the other rooms. (Yes, there are a few exceptions, but they are few and far between.) This is a magnificent sale!

When?: We’ve already started – Country Bookshop Sale Days are on right now. We’ll be ending the sale on New Year’s Eve at 5 PM.
We’re open every day from 10 until 5. (We’ll be closed on Christmas Day, Dec 25th).

So, be merry and celebrate whichever holiday you celebrate.

And, when you’re looking for something special, for whichever special person is special to you – [whew] – come to The Country Bookshop.

Ben Koenig
The Country Bookshop
35 Mill Street
Plainfield, VT 05667
Phone/Fax (802) 454-8439
bookshop@TheCountryBookshop.com

Country Bookshop Book Sale!

My dear friends, neighbors, customers and colleagues,

As usual, we are having our half-price book sale which began on Friday (the day after Thanksgiving).

I consumed a bit too much turkey and stuffing on Thursday while the bookshop was closed. (An annual invitation for heartburn.) Then, I waddled downstairs and opened up on Friday in order to clear the shelves of books, prints on the walls and anything else that I could think of not nailed down. Almost the entire place is priced at 50% off during this sale.

When I say the “entire place” I mean just that. More than 50,000 books, old postcards, old photos, old pieces of paper, etc. and etc. – all at the most reasonable prices imaginable. If you’re looking for a great gift to give on the soon-to-be holidays, it is awaiting you at The Country Bookshop.

Gifts of real books, made of real paper, with either soft or hard covers, are still received with joy and appreciation by your family and friends. Beautiful art books, for instance. Or lovely illustrated children’s books. And at the lowest prices you may ever find. Don’t miss this sale.

Perhaps you know a teacher who would love to have a school book from 1875 to compare with a book from today. Well, we’ve got shelves of them to choose from. Maybe you know a collector who would appreciate a rare First Edition or a book signed by its author. They’ll be half off during this sale.

And we’ve got whole sections of books on travel, or Vermont, or law, or books in foreign languages, nature, music. We’ve also got inexpensive new CD’s and even used VHS videos (videos will be 50 cents during the sale).

I think you are getting idea: The Country Bookshop is a great place to find the rare and the unusual and the simply wonderful gift for holiday giving. Plus you’ll be keeping things local and helping the local economy.

So here’s the deal:

What: a half price sale.

When: beginning on November 23rd until I call a halt (who knows when? At least 10 days.)

What time: open from 10-5 seven days a week.

Where: (where?) Why, The Country Bookshop, of course, in the heart of Plainfield, Vermont.

I’m looking forward to seeing you – and we can help you carry those big purchases to your car. (We like to make things easy).

All the best,

Ben Koenig
The Country Bookshop
35 Mill Street
Plainfield, VT 05667
Phone/Fax (802) 454-8439
bookshop@TheCountryBookshop.com