Back in March, when Wool Fever hit, I was working on the Bibliomania Tablet. Here's that story:
While collecting images of chained books (a category that never quite developed into a tablet) I found this weird little image - the B&W one in the middle - which I saved to investigate. Let me tell you, this is a lovely historical information pool that I could happily swim in for days....
The Rev Thomas Frognall Dibdin (1776–1847) wrote a book titled Bibliomania; or Book Madness, first published in 1809. That black & white image is from the frontpage of that book:
But before we can discuss Bibliomania, you must know that both the "book fool" image with oversized glasses and the poem right below it are taken from The Ship of Fools from 1509. The poem reads in the original (black) and my poor translation (blue):
According to a wonderful British Museum website https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/transformation-of-men-into-asses-in-the-ship-of-fools:
The Shyp of foyls (1509) is an English and Latin version of the highly popular German work by Sebastian Brant, Das Narrenschiff (1494), printed in Basel, Switzerland. The idea of the ship of fools – a ship without a pilot, filled with oblivious, irrational and silly humans – goes back to Plato. Brant uses the allegory as the basis for a moral satire on many different types of foolishness.
There's more: about how asses came to represent foolishness, and how Shakespeare used that ass trope, and from Plato up to the 1965 movie Ship of Fools. Also...this original version was illustrated by Albrecht Durer. Here's a few of the images:
If you look closely, you'll see that they're each wearing a cap with 2 long points (with bells), representing donkey ears. At anther website - https://silverfysh.wordpress.com/2011/01/13/the-buchernarr/ I read that:
"The man (the book fool on the frontpage) is wearing a nightcap (to hide his ass’s ears) while a fool’s hood with bells hands behind him, and he holds in his right hand a duster with which he swats at the flies come to settle on his books".
Here is the full image from the 1509 edition. The face in this one looks just a trifle more grim than the fellow in the 1809 book.
But let's get back to Rev Thomas Frognall Dibdin. He sounds like a man with a great sense of humor who is not overly weighed down by facts. Critics use words like 'rambling' and 'bizarre.' His book, Bibliomania, was a series of dialogues mocking the rabid book collectors of his day. It was a big hit at the time. And it was also illustrated.
Each chapter began with a red-and-black page, with different borders and a black-and-white version of an illuminated letter. Early printed books had these features to suggest the opulence of the old handmade illuminated manuscripts.
Examining these carefully, and looking at illustrations from different editions, I found all sorts of amusing images:
So I had a fine old time playing around with these images. Next week, you'll see what they grew into.
One more thing: yeah, all this is ripe for comparisons to our current political situation. Editorial cartoonists have had great fun with the whole 'ship of fools' motif. But I'm going to keep my head under the water of this deep informational pool and just enjoy poking fun at book-lovers, OK?
Any thoughts to share? Email me at Dianesavona@aol.com