Archives for the month of: August, 2020

The fifteen years following World War II world appear to be an ideal world to which sentimentalists from our President on down seem to wish they could get back. It was certainly a good time for book publishers. “In 1948, average US publishers ‘beg[a]n to make profit on a book when sales approach[ed] 10,000′” Corinna Norrick-Rühl informs us, relying on J. W. Kappel: “Book Clubs and Evaluations of Books” from Public Opinion Quarterly, 1948. This assertion comes from her Cambridge Elements digital booklet Book Clubs and Book Commerce, from which most of what follows is quoted.

One might wish one’s book historians would take a little more care with their words before they leap to sweeping conclusions. Who knows what exactly the average publisher might have been in Mr Kappel’s mind? I would however be amazed if any publisher describable as anything other than “large” was seeing total sales per title of anything like 10,000 copies. Although times were good, and libraries world-wide scurrying to refill their shelves, I’d be readier to settle for a fifth of that or even less as an average — and as most of the publishers active then managed to stay in business I have to assume they were making at least some profit. Professor Norrick-Rühl, who is one of the editors of the series, is no doubt, along with Mr Kappel, thinking of trade publishers only — which ones, how many, how are we to know? This carefree collapsing of “publishing” into “trade publishing” is what we expect from the social media commentariat not from academics. Just because books like the Cambridge Elements volumes are short surely doesn’t justify shortage of care and attention.

Professor Norrick-Rühl continues “The BOMC, [Book of the Month Club] by comparison, at that point guaranteed ‘a publisher whose book is selected a minimum sale of 333,333 books . . . and the Literary Guild guarantee[d] a minimum sale of . . . 500,000 to 600,000 copies’.”

To the eye of a current book publisher, these numbers are quite extraordinary. In those days book clubs were the way many, maybe most people, acquired books. The most common format was a monthly mailing to all members of the club offering a main selection which would be sent to you unless you responded saying “no” and requested another of the books on offer. Lots of people would just let the main selection come: your deal with the book club would commit you to buying a number of books per year, so you could opt out for a few months each year. My copy of Robert Penn Warren’s Flood (published by Random House) contains the original book club response card:

No doubt the punched holes identify Ms McCormack in The Literary Guild’s system.

Even though royalties from the Book Club would usually, per contract, be shared between publisher and author, they could represent a significant earnings boost for both. “In 1989, the New York Times published revealing numbers about the additional income generated by book club editions, specifically by book club deals with the BOMC. Traditionally, the article stated, authors received half of the licensing fee, which ran ‘from the low four figures for an alternate [selection] to the mid-five figures for a distinguished but not wildly commercial main selection.’ The other half remained with the publisher. In addition to the licensing fee, the authors could hope for royalties (10 percent) if the advance earned out. Apparently, Stephen King withheld a novel from the clubs in the 1980s. According to the press, King was ‘convinced’ that book club sales were reducing his retail sales. Tellingly, the following four King books were bought by the BOMC for approximately $1 million each. Industry insiders disclosed that the deal courted King with a share as high as 80 percent instead of the usual 50.”

“In 1946, John K. Hutchens wrote, ‘[e]ven those to whom the clubs are approximately anathema don’t question the far-reaching effectiveness of the distribution system.’ He went on to share impressive distribution statistics: ‘of the 75,000 book packages mailed daily by the four Doubleday clubs, and the 15,000 by the Book-of-the-Month Club, [most] go to people in towns of less than 100,000 population.’ Furthermore, for the People’s Book Club, ’66 percent [we]re estimated to live in towns of less than 10,000, ten miles or more from the nearest book store. Thousands dwell in far places, on farms remote even from a village’.” If you didn’t have a bookstore in your town, and you were eager to keep up with “culture”, the book club was the way to go. (The fact that “book club” now tends to mean book discussion group, not a negative-option monthly book buying program, indicates how far we’ve come, and how we forget.)

From Publishing Perspectives comes this piece by Richard Charkin discussing the way the book club concept could be stretched into the world of academic publishing, obviously at a slightly smaller scale. Even in the eighties and nineties we’d get the occasional book club deal, usually from specialized clubs. Because the numbers were smaller, these were usually manufactured together with the publisher’s own edition, and would be sold to the bookclub at run-on cost, marked up as much as you could get away with. (The bigger book clubs would usually print their own editions.) This unit cost assistance (the more you print the cheaper each copy is) would also boost the publisher’s margin. The concern skeptical publishers (like Stephen King, above) often had was that the book club sale would cannibalize the regular sale, with the result that most of your customers would simply end up buying the book they’d have bought anyway, but at a discounted price. This concern never really had any validity; and it is anyway impossible to “prove”. We now, I think, accept that any sale is a good sale, and don’t waste too much time wondering whether we might have been able to wrest a couple more dollars from our customers.

I guess the final withering away of the book club business has to be seen as another consequence of Amazon’s success. Amazon may also have had an important role in making us worry less about discounted pricing!

See also Book clubs, and Subscription publishing.

Of course selling things is what the business is all about, but just taking the cash at the till is not the be all and end of bookselling. “Selling” implies some personal engagement. People have been enthusiastic at supporting their local bookshops, but now many of them are reportedly beginning to grumble at delays in service. Hang on a bit: the corner bookstore wasn’t designed to just mail you a book with Amazon-like efficiency and speed. If you’re supporting them, have a little patience, and support them. In normal times they do more for you than just packing up a book and shipping it to you. They’ll give you advice, suggestions, conversation, and potentially provide a cultural focus for the neighborhood.

One big bookseller who has been having their share of turmoil recently is Barnes & Noble. The mail order business may have come into its own over the past six months, but James Daunt, head of B&N, reminds us that “Amazon is not a bookseller, it’s a seller of books” and there is a difference. At his piece at Retail Drive he lays out his plans to make Barnes & Noble a great bookseller again. (Link via Shelf Awareness.)

Let us keep our fingers crossed that it all works out. B&N have been able to use the coronavirus shutdown to redesign their stores and to refocus their stocking policies. Now that the stores are reopening we need to hope that the public responds to a more individual, curated selection of stock at B&N stores, with the emphasis less on comprehensiveness, celebrity and bestsellerdom and more slanted toward literary quality. They have been buying adventurously and copiously: so if you don’t go out there and buy some of their books, publishers will at the very least be facing huge returns!

What is it about people that mandates that any big successful business has to be cried down? We used to complain about those huge chain booksellers, until they started dying off in the face of competition from Amazon, onto whom we have now transferred our animus. One can see how a publishing company might complain about the biggest fish in the pond — big customers tend to be able to demand big discounts — but I find it weird that the American public can be relied upon to cuss and swear upon learning that Jeff Bezos is now worth $2 billion. Isn’t that the cherished American dream?

So please control your knee-jerking and consider buying some books at Barnes & Noble (but don’t of course forget about your local independent bookshop). We all should want B&N to succeed — and success depends on your going there occasionally.

Via The Digital Reader comes this CNN story about the publishing of 25 works by women under their real names, rather than the male pseudonyms they originally used.

The Reclaim Her Name series is being financed by Baileys, to celebrate 25 years of the Women’s Prize for Fiction which they now sponsor, and they are getting a bit of stick from many quarters. The Guardian runs down these critiques.

Now I dare say some women were “forced” to use male pseudonyms, but I always thought that the decision was largely one of pseudonymy rather than of gender concealment. After all ladies writing novels was by no means unheard of, nor indeed unspeakable, when George Eliot was writing. Of course you could no doubt find one or two ladies who’d mutter disapproval, but you can always find someone to disapprove of anything. Charlotte Brontë did however write “we did not like to declare ourselves women, because — without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called ‘feminine’ – we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice.” Mary Ann Evans was clearly a shrewd business woman: one probably has to assume she thought it more likely that books written by men would sell better than ones by women.

Whatever the inadequacies in execution it’s nice of Baileys to do this. And just think — when the books are donated to libraries as planned nobody will be able to find them, because who’d look under Dupin for a book by George Sand, etc.? Maybe clever librarians will think to cross reference and/or shelve non-alphabetically.

In my post on Pseudonymy I did discuss the case of J. K. Rowling, though CNN takes this instance even further. Pseudonyms were (are) far from uncommon. The king of disguise would appear to be Søren Kierkegaard who apparently wrote under about twenty pseudonyms.

Here’s a relevant infographic from Mashable.

 

Does anyone know how many words there are in English? Dictionary.com discusses the question. (Link via Shelf Awareness for Readers.) Of course the total number is ultimately of no importance to anyone: you say what you say, and you’ve got to use words when you speak. Someone estimates that an English speaker may know around 40,000 words, and only use about 20,000 of them. But who is that “English speaker”? It seems self-evident that the numbers will vary from individual to individual.

The number of words in English? Infinity’s probably the only reasonable answer you could venture. And if anyone challenges your total just respond by coining* a new word, something which anyone can do on the spur of the moment, or on the splite of the moment. (Had to wrestle spell-check to get that word into the corpus. But wait a minute, the OED already contains this word, with the meaning of a narrow opening, though it is now noted as obsolete. So I’ll switch to splunt. OK: I might have difficulty getting the OED editors to accept that creation, but surely we can say whatever we want as long as we get our point across.)

As a result of a comment on a recent post, I recently found out that the editors of The Oxford English Dictionary believe that it currently contains about 90,000,000 words — that’s total words, not headwords — apparently that comes to about 300,000 according to Wikipedia, though the Dictionary website says 600,000 — which may just be a definitional issue. And while this obviously doesn’t do anything to answer our question, it is a whole lot of words. And with 50 people working away at it the total word count of the Dictionary will only grow. Eighteen new words were added in July alone. OUP’s Dictionary department is always happy to receive notifications of quotations which predate their earliest examples of the use of words. I recently saw a request from them soliciting early quotations in the letter M.

But the Oxford English Dictionary is relatively skimpy when compared to the Logos Dictionary, which claims to contain 7,580,560 entries in 188 different languages. They don’t give us a word count but one might guess it’d have to come to more than 90 million even if their results are just single words. According to Wikipedia‘s no doubt untrustworthy list of the World’s Largest Dictionaries the OED is a relative midget; not even the largest in English. But who’s counting? There are clearly more than enough words for us to manage to get by.

See also Digital dictionaries.

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* To coin a phrase or word is a slippery term, meaning what it means — to create a new expression — but also meaning its exact opposite — in ironic usage, to restate something which is a cliché. The OED defines the term as “an expression used ironically to introduce a cliché or a banal sentiment.” They don’t deign to recognize the non-ironic meaning. Which does give me pause: maybe that non-ironic sense doesn’t officially exist. Still, it’s been used enough to count as part of our used vocabulary.

Cabbie Blog has a nice piece about war work involving the use of conkers (horse chestnuts) to create ammunition during the First World War.

Conkers is a game played by two, each with a conker threaded onto a piece of string knotted below it. You take turns striking each other’s conker until one of them breaks. The break may come when you receive a hit or when you strike your opponent’s. Disaster may result from tangled strings. Most frustrating. Various techniques of hardening your conkers were attempted: the only one I remember trying is baking them in the oven, which never seemed to do any good. But do not allow yourselves to be beguiled into the image of wartime conker battles.

Since 1889 the British Army had been using cordite to replace gunpowder in the manufacture of bullets and shells. An essential ingredient of cordite is acetone which was in short supply. In 1916 Chaim Weizmann, then a lecturer in chemistry at Manchester University, developed a method using bacteria to ferment starch, a process which yields a mixture of 3 parts acetone, 6 parts butanol and 1 part ethanol. After the War the largest plant in the world, in Peoria IL, would use molasses as raw material, but in the early years of the War, wood was the raw material you turned to for Professor Weizmann’s bug, Colostridium acetobutylicum, to chew on, other starches no doubt being needed for food! Unfortunately it was soon recognized that there were not enough trees in the whole of Great Britain to yield sufficient acetone to make enough bullets to win the war, and alternatives were sought.

Cabbie Blog tells us that school children were paid to gather conkers — something we’d all do anyway for free — though we would of course keep them for conker fights. I do recall as a schoolchild being paid to collect rosehips as part of the WWII effort to keep the population healthy, and we were given a day’s holiday every year to harvest potatoes. I suppose I would have sold conkers had there been a market, certainly my backup supply. Harvesting conkers involves the use of a big stick which you hurl up into the tree, knocking the ripe chestnuts down. You then rush to grub in the grass to get as many of them as you can grab, chucking the green shells away. It does however seem hard to imagine that there could ever have been enough chestnuts to make a difference to the war effort.

We had a great chestnut tree in our garden, and I’d try to restrict access to it as well as I could. Today I overlook a big chestnut tree in the next-door apartment complex, but for the last few years it has been showing signs of distress. The leaves have been turning brown far too early; they started browning in late July this year and the nuts are not developing remaining wizened little black balls. In the Spring we had a good show of blossoms, but most have not developed into fruit. 2017 was a problem year for this tree too, though it did better in 2018 and 2019. Is heat the problem? We seem to be evolving into a sub-tropical climate here in Manhattan. I don’t think the tree can be 100 years old yet: o tree thou art sick. Maybe the invisible worm has got it.

Portrait from Pembroke College

Interesting Literature has an interesting analysis of Christopher Smart’s poem, “My Cat Jeoffry”. Claims for this as the best cat poem in the English language are hard for me to judge, not being a cat fan.

Christopher Smart, a contemporary of Pope and Johnson, is a bit of a shadowy presence in the literary pantheon. For years I would try to track down the out-of-print Penguin Selected Smart, but could never catch up with an undamaged copy of it. My search ended however when I entered into the world of print on demand at Oxford University Press, where they (of course) publish a six-volume scholarly edition of Smart’s Poetical Works, ideal material for a print-on-demand program.

For the avid reader working on print on demand, one of the joys of the system is that once you have received a copy of a POD book from the manufacturer — and we’d always check a sample when we first set up a book for POD — there’s nothing you can do with it other than throw it away or take it home. This is because print on demand books are, as their name implies, not printed until someone demands a copy. When an order is received there’s no mechanism for hesitating and looking around to check whether or not we might have a copy lurking in stock — a print on demand title is by definition not in stock. The computer is programmed to respond to an order for a POD book from anyone anywhere by instructing the manufacturer to print one and send it off direct to that customer. Thus it is that I have copies of the POD versions of first two volumes of the Smart works — which at this stage of my life is frankly enough.

Christopher Smart was born at Shipbourne in Kent in 1722 into a relatively prosperous family. In 1733 when his father died he was sent to grammar school in Durham to enjoy “the advantages of  a good school, change of air to strengthen a weakly frame, and the notice and protection of his Father’s relations”. Six years later he went up to Pembroke College in Cambridge, becoming a Fellow in 1745. In 1747 drink and extravagant living brought him to the brink of disaster, and he had to be rescued from arrest for debt by a subscription among the Fellows of the College. He had to resign his Fellowship in 1753 after his marriage. Already in 1747 he was spending most of his time in London trying to break into the literary world and indulging in a bit more roistering.  From 1757 till 1763 he was confined to a couple of “madhouses” where he wrote “Jubilate Agno”. It seems that the major symptom of his illness was a compulsion to pray in public. Samuel Johnson testifies “My poor friend Smart shewed the disturbance of his mind, by falling upon his knees, and saying his prayers in the street, or in any other unusual place . . . He insisted on people praying with him; and I’d as lief pray with Kit Smart as any one else”. After his release Smart wrote vigorously, was arrested and imprisoned for debt at fairly regular intervals, and eventually died at the age of 49 in 1771.

“My Cat Jeoffry” is actually part of a longer poem, “Jubilate Agno” which occupies the entirety of Volume One of the OUP edition. Jeoffry occupies 74 lines out of a total of 1737. “Jubilate Agno” is the only major part of Smart’s work which survives in manuscript, now being housed at Harvard. It was not published in his lifetime, seeing the light of day first in 1939 in an edition by W. F. Skeat* under the title Rejoice in the Lamb: A Song from Bedlam. The Jeoffry section of “Jubilate Agno” falls about half way through the surviving bits of the work and begins:

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.

Christopher Smart has been compared to William Blake (“Jubilate Agno” is his prophetic  book), and Interesting Literature sees him as a precursor of Walt Whitman. The incantatory, psalm-like direct delivery, with lines of varying length do indeed point in that direction. The work contains invocatory lines beginning “Let” and response-like lines of comment starting “For”. The only two lines in the whole work which don’t start with either “Let” or “For” are the first two, which begin “Rejoice” and “Nations”. Here’s a sample couplet with a local interest:

Let Arodi rejoice with the Royston Crow, there is a society of them at Trumpington and Cambridge.

For I bless the Lord Jesus from the bottom of Royston Cave to the top of King’s Chapel.

Arodi, the son of Gad, appears in Genesis 46:16 on the list of those who went into Egypt. The Royston Crow, apart no doubt from living at Royston, a town about 15 miles south of Cambridge, is apparently the hooded crow, what we in the Borders would call the hoodie craw. (The cave is in the middle of town beneath the crossroads of two ancient routes, Ermine Street and the Icknield Way.) A large number of lines like this invoking birds of various breeds are followed by more with fishes, then flowers. Insects and other creatures are interspersed from time to time. In truth “Jubilate Agno” is an odd work. Because it is unfinished, we really have no idea how Smart might have seen its final structure, but even if he had reworked it fully I suspect we’d still be puzzling over it. It would seem to me probable though that “My Cat Jeoffry” is not really an intentional poem. It’s more like a found poem, consisting of a list of “For” lines waiting for some “Let” lines to fill it out I suspect.

William Butler Yeats, in his Introduction to The Oxford Book of Modern Verse in 1936 (thus pre-“Jubliate Agno”) describes Smart’s “A Song to David” as the first poem of the Romantic period. Donald Davie has suggested that he might be “the greatest English poet between Pope and Wordsworth”. Christopher Smart, in his youth “the pride of Cambridge”, then later “poor Smart the mad poet”, is now being recognized as the poetic innovator that he actually was.

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* Clearly chosen by destiny for this task. Line 206 of Fragment B starts “Let Nicanor rejoice with the Skeat”. (Here skeat does however indicate the fish which we’d designate skate.)

Publishers can of course claim that they are only doing what the state education boards require of them, but there’s a history of some fairly embarrassing holes and distortions in our school history textbooks. David Crotty at The Scholarly Kitchen sends us this John Oliver video together with a bad language warning!.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

Now that books, thanks to print-on-demand, can remain in print in perpetuity, the right of authors to be able to reclaim their copyright has become even more important. Technology has turned a grant of rights, seen originally as temporary, lasting only until demand was satisfied, into a signing away of rights potentially in perpetuity. Now that a publisher can keep a book available without there being any inventory in existence anywhere, there is no longer any reason to declare a book out of print.

The procedure for getting your copyright back which was introduced in the Copyright Act of 1976 allowed authors to claim back rights in a window from 35 to 40 years after publication or registration. The law required rigid adherence to a set of regulations, and the Copyright Office now proposes to relax things especially around timing and “harmless errors”. A discussion of the changes may be found at The Federal Register.

The Passive Voice, reporting on The Authors Guild’s involvement, has a sensible take on all this.

Be it noted that just because your grandmother’s book is now just available in a print-on-demand manner, there is not an automatic gain in your claiming back the rights. If annual demand has gone down to single figures, what advantage is there for you in claiming back rights? Do you want to become a publishing company on your own? The original publisher, the source for the book for 35 or more years will probably be able in any case to sell more copies than you can, and if the sale is in the single digits you’ll never get another publisher to want to take the book on. But if the book is selling in the hundreds each year, there might be some reason to go for it. Do bear in mind that as people have been used to getting the book from publisher A for so long, the chances are that publisher A will have an edge in the marketplace. But maybe you’ve proposed additions or revisions to the book and they’ve resisted — then another publisher might be a better bet. But be sure you get the new publisher to commit before you ditch the old one.

Independent Bookstore Day is usually in April, but this year, for some reason, it was postponed till 29 August. Lots of virtual events on offer this time round.

Brooklyn bookstores have gotten together Publishers Weekly reveals to design stuff of their own. I thought the T shirt from the main site, shown here, was quite nice (even if it has the wrong date — maybe especially because it has the wrong date*) but Brooklyn, which has taken over from Greenwich Village/Soho/Lower Eastside as the main cultural center in NYC, has clearly felt a need to assert itself.

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* Actually, if you go to try and buy one, you’ll find that they have of course updated the design to say just 2020.

Everyone, or every reader, I probably should say, in Scotland knows our two national poets. Robert Burns is obviously one of them, and William McGonagall is the other. To outsiders the work of the latter may be unfamiliar. He is rarely referred to without the tag “the worst poet in the English language,” which is a little unfair, though he’s undoubtedly a contender.

Lapham’s Quarterly has an appreciation in which they opine that McGonagall was born in Ireland and moved to Dundee as a little boy. (Link via Lit Hub). The Scottish Poetry Library however tells us he is “thought to have been born in Edinburgh”: keep your hands off our national treasures, Lapham’s! In the “Brief Autobiography” printed in the edition of his works which I have, McGonagall himself tells us he was born in Edinburgh in 1830. He was however a determined self-promoter, and maybe scholars have learned not to trust his words. His dates are usually given as 1825-1902.

After eighteen months’ schooling, at the age of seven he was set to work as a handloom weaver. He would give performances of scenes from Shakespeare to his work mates, and later gave public recitations. He tells us “The most startling incident in my life was the time I discovered myself to be a poet, which was in the year 1877. [This would make him 47 by his own account, five years older according to Lapham’s.] During the Dundee holiday week, in the bright and balmy month of June, when trees and flowers were in full bloom, while lonely and sad in my room, I sat thinking about the thousands of people who were away by rail and steamboat, perhaps to the land of Burns, or poor ill-treated Tannahill,* or to gaze upon the Trossachs in Rob Roy’s country, or elsewhere wherever their minds lead them. Well, while pondering so, I seemed to feel as it were a strange kind of feeling stealing over me, and remained so for about five minutes. A flame, as Lord Byron has said, seemed to kindle up my entire frame, along with a strong desire to write poetry; and I felt happy, so happy. . . ” At once the newly fledged poet answered the “voice crying, ‘Write, Write!'” by penning an Address to the Rev. George Gilfillan which he submitted to the Dundee Weekly News who at once published it, as they appear to have been eager to do with the rest of his oeuvre. The poet’s first steps began, somewhat differently from the version linked to above:

Rev. George Gilfillan of Dundee,
    There is none can you excel;
You have boldly rejected the Confession of Faith,
    And defended your cause right well.

Nothing too objectionable in that I think. But the Poet and Tragedian often rises to heights of banality and triteness which end up being quite impressive. His subject matter is often a disaster of one kind or another, so his form might be held to be quite appropriate. A favorite poem of his to have a go at is “The Tay Bridge Disaster”, and the Lapham’s piece goes for it. I rather prefer his earlier celebration of the construction of the bridge. The first two stanzas read:

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay!
With your numerous arches and pillars in so grand array
And your central girders, which seem to the eye
To be almost towering to the sky.
The greatest wonder of the day,
And a great beautification to the River Tay,
Most beautiful to be seen,
Near by Dundee and the Magdalen Green.

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay!
That has caused the Emperor of Brazil to leave
His home far away, incognito in his dress,
And view thee ere he passed along en route to Inverness.

The rest may be found at McGonagall Online.

What explains the survival of McGonagall’s poetry? There were after all lots of other poetasters getting their stuff published in local newspapers — a phenomenon surviving even into my childhood. Robert Crawford in his invaluable, if immensely long, Scotland’s Books says “his verse is so earnestly and elaborately bad that deservedly, despite all naysaying, it has ensured his immortality”.

For myself, I seek an explanation more in publishing business history than in any badness of the verse. Dundee is a center of traditional non-traditional publishing. Oor Wullie, The Broons, Desperate Dan, in other words The DandyThe Beano and above all The Sunday Post all originate with D. C. Thomson in Dundee and have for generations engendered many spin-off books. Publishing a book of the verses of a local phenomenon would be a logical step in such a business climate. The title page of my copy of Poetic Gems has a double imprint, Dundee: David Winter and Son Ltd., 15 Shore Terrace, and London: Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd.,3 Henrietta Street, W.C.2. The bibliographical history tells us it was first published in two parts in 1890, First published as one volume 1934, and that it enjoyed its Fourteenth impression in 1966. It’s printed on yellowing groundwood, though it’s holding together fine. Mr McGonagall tells us that on his abortive visit to Balmoral in hopes of meeting with Queen Victoria he sold a copy of his poems to a serving girl for the price on 2d (tuppence). In 1966 I had to lay out 5/-, only 30 times more.

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*Robert Tannahill (1774 – 1810), another weaver poet, who drowned himself in Paisley Canal.