Napoleon’s Kindle: Discover the Miniaturized Traveling Library That the Emperor Took on Military Campaigns

Every piece of tech­nol­o­gy has a prece­dent. Most have sev­er­al dif­fer­ent types of prece­dents. You’ve prob­a­bly used (and may well own) an eBook read­er, for instance, but what would have afford­ed you a selec­tion of read­ing mate­r­i­al two or three cen­turies ago? If you were a Jacobean Eng­lish­man of means, you might have used the kind of trav­el­ing library we fea­tured in 2017, a hand­some portable case cus­tom-made for your books. (If you’re Tom Stop­pard in the 21st cen­tu­ry, you still do.) If you were Napoleon, who seemed to love books as much as he loved mil­i­tary pow­er — he did­n’t just amass a vast col­lec­tion of them, but kept a per­son­al librar­i­an to over­see it — you’d take it a big step fur­ther.

“Many of Napoleon’s biog­ra­phers have inci­den­tal­ly men­tioned that he […] used to car­ry about a cer­tain num­ber of favorite books wher­ev­er he went, whether trav­el­ing or camp­ing,” says an 1885 Sacra­men­to Dai­ly Union arti­cle post­ed by Austin Kleon, “but it is not gen­er­al­ly known that he made sev­er­al plans for the con­struc­tion of portable libraries which were to form part of his bag­gage.” The piece’s main source, a Lou­vre librar­i­an who grew up as the son of one of Napoleon’s librar­i­ans, recalls from his father’s sto­ries that “for a long time Napoleon used to car­ry about the books he required in sev­er­al box­es hold­ing about six­ty vol­umes each,” each box first made of mahogany and lat­er of more sol­id leather-cov­ered oak. “The inside was lined with green leather or vel­vet, and the books were bound in moroc­co,” an even soft­er leather most often used for book­bind­ing.

To use this ear­ly trav­el­ing library, Napoleon had his atten­dants con­sult “a cat­a­logue for each case, with a cor­re­spond­ing num­ber upon every vol­ume, so that there was nev­er a moment’s delay in pick­ing out any book that was want­ed.” This worked well enough for a while, but even­tu­al­ly “Napoleon found that many books which he want­ed to con­sult were not includ­ed in the col­lec­tion,” for obvi­ous rea­sons of space. And so, on July 8, 1803, he sent his librar­i­an these orders:

The Emper­or wish­es you to form a trav­el­ing library of one thou­sand vol­umes in small 12mo and print­ed in hand­some type. It is his Majesty’s inten­tion to have these works print­ed for his spe­cial use, and in order to econ­o­mize space there is to be no mar­gin to them. They should con­tain from five hun­dred to six hun­dred pages, and be bound in cov­ers as flex­i­ble as pos­si­ble and with spring backs. There should be forty works on reli­gion, forty dra­mat­ic works, forty vol­umes of epic and six­ty of oth­er poet­ry, one hun­dred nov­els and six­ty vol­umes of his­to­ry, the remain­der being his­tor­i­cal mem­oirs of every peri­od.

In sum: not only did Napoleon pos­sess a trav­el­ing library, but when that trav­el­ing library proved too cum­ber­some for his many and var­ied lit­er­ary demands, he had a whole new set of not just portable book cas­es but even more portable books made for him. (You can see how they looked packed away in the image tweet­ed by Cork Coun­ty Library above.) This pre­fig­ured in a high­ly ana­log man­ner the dig­i­tal-age con­cept of recre­at­ing books in anoth­er for­mat specif­i­cal­ly for com­pact­ness and con­ve­nience — the kind of com­pact­ness and con­ve­nience now increas­ing­ly avail­able to all of us today, and to a degree Napoleon nev­er could have imag­ined, let alone demand­ed. It may be good to be the Emper­or, but in many ways, it’s bet­ter to be a read­er in the 21st cen­tu­ry.

Note: This post was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in 2017. Giv­en that Napoleon is back in the news, with the new Rid­ley Scott film, we’re bring­ing it back.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Dis­cov­er the Jacobean Trav­el­ing Library: The 17th Cen­tu­ry Pre­cur­sor to the Kin­dle

Napoleon’s Eng­lish Lessons: How the Mil­i­tary Leader Stud­ied Eng­lish to Escape the Bore­dom of Life in Exile

Why Is Napoleon’s Hand Always in His Waist­coat?: The Ori­gins of This Dis­tinc­tive Pose Explained

Napoleon’s Dis­as­trous Inva­sion of Rus­sia Detailed in an 1869 Data Visu­al­iza­tion: It’s Been Called “the Best Sta­tis­ti­cal Graph­ic Ever Drawn”

Behold the “Book Wheel”: The Renais­sance Inven­tion Cre­at­ed to Make Books Portable & Help Schol­ars Study (1588)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

The Entire Manuscript Collection of Geoffrey Chaucer Gets Digitized: A New Archive Features 25,000 Images of The Canterbury Tales & Other Illustrated Medieval Manuscripts

Ear­li­er this year, Oxford pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture Mar­i­on Turn­er pub­lished The Wife of Bath: A Biog­ra­phy. Even if you don’t know any­thing about that book’s sub­ject, you’ve almost cer­tain­ly heard of her, and per­haps also of her trav­el­ing com­pan­ions like the Knight, the Sum­mon­er, the Nun’s Priest, and the Canon’s Yeo­man. These are just a few of the pil­grims whose sto­ry­telling con­test struc­tures Geof­frey Chaucer’s four­teenth-cen­tu­ry mag­num opus The Can­ter­bury Tales, whose influ­ence con­tin­ues to rever­ber­ate through Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture, even all these cen­turies after the author’s death. In com­mem­o­ra­tion of the 623rd anniver­sary of that work, the British Library has opened a vast online Chaucer archive.

This archive comes as a cul­mi­na­tion of what the Guardian’s Car­o­line Davies describes as “a two and a half year project to upload 25,000 images of the often elab­o­rate­ly illus­trat­ed medieval man­u­scripts.” Among these arti­facts are “com­plete copies of Chaucer’s poems but also unique sur­vivals, includ­ing frag­men­tary texts found in Mid­dle Eng­lish antholo­gies or inscribed in print­ed edi­tions and incunab­u­la (books print­ed before 1501).”

If you’re look­ing for The Can­ter­bury Tales, you’ll find no few­er than 23 ver­sions of it, the ear­li­est of which “was writ­ten only a few years after Chaucer’s death in rough­ly 1400.” Also dig­i­tized are “rare copies of the 1476 and 1483 edi­tions of the text made by William Cax­ton,” now con­sid­ered “the first sig­nif­i­cant text to be print­ed in Eng­land.”

Four cen­turies lat­er, design­er-writer-social reformer William Mor­ris col­lab­o­rat­ed with cel­e­brat­ed painter Edward Burne-Jones to cre­ate an edi­tion W. B. Yeats once called “the most beau­ti­ful of all print­ed books”: the Kelm­scott Chaucer, pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture, which you can also explore in the British Library’s new archive (as least as soon as its ongo­ing cyber attack-relat­ed issues are resolved). As its wider con­tents reveal, Chaucer was the author of not just The Can­ter­bury Tales but also a vari­ety of oth­er poems, the clas­si­cal-dream-vision sto­ry col­lec­tion The Leg­end of Good Women, an instruc­tion man­u­al for an astro­labe, and trans­la­tions of The Romance of the Rose and The Con­so­la­tion of Phi­los­o­phy. And his Tro­jan epic Troilus and Criseyde may sound famil­iar, thanks to the inspi­ra­tion it gave, more than 200 years lat­er, to a coun­try­man by the name of William Shake­speare.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Behold a Dig­i­ti­za­tion of “The Most Beau­ti­ful of All Print­ed Books,” The Kelm­scott Chaucer

Ter­ry Jones, the Late Mon­ty Python Actor, Helped Turn Chaucer’s Can­ter­bury Tales Into a Free App: Explore It Online

Dis­cov­er the First Illus­trat­ed Book Print­ed in Eng­lish, William Caxton’s Mir­ror of the World (1481)

40,000 Ear­ly Mod­ern Maps Are Now Freely Avail­able Online (Cour­tesy of the British Library)

The British Library Puts Over 1,000,000 Images in the Pub­lic Domain: A Deep­er Dive Into the Col­lec­tion

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Explore the Florentine Codex: A Brilliant 16th Century Manuscript Documenting Aztec Culture Is Now Digitized & Available Online

The Span­ish con­quista of the Amer­i­c­as hap­pened long enough ago — and left behind a spot­ty enough body of his­tor­i­cal records — that we tend to per­ceive it as much through sim­pli­fi­ca­tions, exag­ger­a­tions, and dis­tor­tions as we do through facts. What we now call Mex­i­co under­went “essen­tial­ly an inter­nal con­flict between dif­fer­ent indige­nous groups who saw the arrival of strangers as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to resist hav­ing to pay trib­ute to the Aztec Empire,” says Uni­ver­si­dad Nacional Autóno­ma de Mex­i­co his­to­ry pro­fes­sor Berenice Alcán­tara Rojas. “When the Spaniards ini­tial­ly attacked the Mex­i­ca cap­i­tal, they were swift­ly dri­ven out.”

“Only when aid­ed by var­i­ous groups of Indige­nous allies, as well as by the spread of a ter­ri­ble small­pox epi­dem­ic, did they man­age to force the ruler Cuauhte­moc and oth­er Mex­i­ca lead­ers to capit­u­late,” Rojas con­tin­ues, draw­ing upon details pro­vid­ed in the ver­sion of the events laid out in the Flo­ren­tine Codex.

That ency­clo­pe­dic series of twelve 16th-cen­tu­ry illus­trat­ed man­u­scripts lav­ish­ly doc­u­ments the known soci­ety and nature of that land at the time — and has now, near­ly 450 years lat­er, been acknowl­edged as “the most reli­able source of infor­ma­tion about Mex­i­ca cul­ture, the Aztec Empire, and the con­quest of Mex­i­co.”

“In 1547, Bernardi­no de Sahagún, a Span­ish Fran­cis­can fri­ar who com­mit­ted most of his life to work­ing close­ly with the Indige­nous peo­ples of Mex­i­co, began col­lect­ing infor­ma­tion about cen­tral Mex­i­can Nahua cul­ture, life, peo­ple, his­to­ry, astron­o­my, flo­ra, fau­na, and the Nahu­atl lan­guage, among oth­er top­ics,” says the Get­ty Research Insti­tute. “Nahua elders, gram­mar­i­ans, scribes, and artists worked with Sahagún to com­pile a three-vol­ume, 12-book, 2500-page illus­trat­ed man­u­script, mod­el­ing its con­tent on Euro­pean ency­clo­pe­dias, espe­cial­ly Pliny the Elder’s Nat­ur­al His­to­ry,” all of which has been dig­i­tized, trans­lat­ed, and made avail­able at the Get­ty’s web site.

A thor­ough­ly mul­ti­cul­tur­al project avant la let­tre, the Flo­ren­tine Codex (named for the Medici fam­i­ly library in Flo­rence, where it was sent upon its com­ple­tion) has only just become acces­si­ble to a wide online read­er­ship. Though it’s “been dig­i­tal­ly avail­able via the World Dig­i­tal Library since 2012, for most users it remained impen­e­tra­ble because read­ing it requires knowl­edge of six­teenth-cen­tu­ry Nahu­atl and Span­ish, and of pre-His­pan­ic and ear­ly mod­ern Euro­pean art tra­di­tions.” By offer­ing search­able text in mod­ern ver­sions of both those lan­guages as well as Eng­lish — to say noth­ing of its brows­able sec­tions orga­nized by peo­ple, ani­mals, deities, and even by Nahu­atl terms like coy­ote and tor­tilla — the Dig­i­tal Flo­ren­tine Codex re-illu­mi­nates an entire civ­i­liza­tion.

via Hyper­al­ler­gic

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Codex Quet­za­le­catzin, an Extreme­ly Rare Col­ored Mesoamer­i­can Man­u­script, Now Dig­i­tized and Put Online

Native Lands: An Inter­ac­tive Map Reveals the Indige­nous Lands on Which Mod­ern Nations Were Built

Explore the Codex Zouche-Nut­tall: A Rare, Accor­dion-Fold­ed Pre-Columbian Man­u­script

How the Ancient Mayans Used Choco­late as Mon­ey

Peru­vian Schol­ar Writes & Defends the First The­sis Writ­ten in Quechua, the Main Lan­guage of the Incan Empire

How the Inca Used Intri­cate­ly-Knot­ted Cords, Called Khipu, to Write Their His­to­ries, Send Mes­sages & Keep Records

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Behold Gustave Doré’s Illustrations for Rabelais’ Grotesque Satirical Masterpiece Gargantua and Pantagruel

When François Rabelais came up with a cou­ple of giants to put at the cen­ter of a series of inven­tive and rib­ald works of satir­i­cal fic­tion, he named one of them Gar­gan­tua. That may not sound par­tic­u­lar­ly clever today, gar­gan­tu­an being a fair­ly com­mon adjec­tive to describe any­thing quite large. But we actu­al­ly owe the word itself to Rabelais, or more specif­i­cal­ly, to the near­ly half-mil­len­ni­um-long lega­cy of the char­ac­ter into whom he breathed life. But there’s so much more to Les Cinq livres des faits et dits de Gar­gan­tua et Pan­ta­gru­el, or The Five Books of the Lives and Deeds of Gar­gan­tua and Pan­ta­gru­el, whose endur­ing sta­tus as a mas­ter­piece of the grotesque owes much to its author’s wit, lin­guis­tic vir­tu­os­i­ty, and sheer brazen­ness.

Nor has it hurt that the books have inspired vivid illus­tra­tions from a host of artists, one of whom in par­tic­u­lar stands out: Gus­tave Doré, whom Richard Smyth calls “one of the most pro­lif­ic — and most suc­cess­ful — book illus­tra­tors of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry.”

Here at Open Cul­ture, we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured the art he cre­at­ed to accom­pa­ny the work of Dante, Cer­vantes, and Poe, each a writer pos­sessed of a high­ly dis­tinc­tive set of lit­er­ary pow­ers, and each of whom thus received a dif­fer­ent but equal­ly lav­ish and evoca­tive treat­ment from Doré.

For Rabelais, says the site of book deal­er Herib­ert Ten­schert, the 22-year-old artist pro­duced (in 1854) “100 images that oscil­late between the whim­si­cal and the uncan­ny, between real­ism and fan­ta­sy,” a count he would expand to 700 in anoth­er edi­tion two decades lat­er.

You can see a great many of Doré’s illus­tra­tions for Gar­gan­tua and Pan­ta­gru­el at Wiki­me­dia Com­mons. The simul­ta­ne­ous extrav­a­gance and repug­nance of the series’ medieval France may seem impos­si­bly dis­tant to us, but it can hard­ly have felt like yes­ter­day to Doré either, giv­en that he was work­ing three cen­turies after Rabelais.

As sug­gest­ed by Herib­ert Ten­schert, per­haps these imag­i­na­tive visions of the Mid­dle Ages — like Balza­c’s Rabelaisian Les con­tes dro­la­tiques, which he also illus­trat­ed — “res­onat­ed with Doré because they remind­ed him of the mys­te­ri­ous atmos­phere of his child­hood, which he had spent in the mid­dle of the medieval city of Stras­bourg.” What­ev­er his con­nec­tion, Doré cre­at­ed images that still bring to mind a whole range of descrip­tors: somber­ly joc­u­lar, rig­or­ous­ly volup­tuous, com­pelling­ly repel­lent, and above all pan­ta­gru­elist. (Look it up.)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Gus­tave Doré’s Exquis­ite Engrav­ings of Cer­vantes’ Don Quixote

The Adven­tures of Famed Illus­tra­tor Gus­tave Doré Pre­sent­ed in a Fantasic(al) Cutout Ani­ma­tion

Gus­tave Doré’s Dra­mat­ic Illus­tra­tions of Dante’s Divine Com­e­dy

The Dro­lat­ic Dreams of Pan­ta­gru­el: 120 Wood­cuts Envi­sion the Grotesque Inhab­i­tants of Rabelais’ World (1565)

Gus­tave Doré’s Mag­nif­i­cent Illus­tra­tions of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” (1884)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

A Free Digital Archive of Graphic Design: A Curated Collection of Design Treasures from the Internet Archive

We’ve got a thing for cre­ative prob­lem solvers here at Open Cul­ture.

We also love a good com­mu­ni­ty-spir­it­ed project.

Graph­ic design­er Valery Mari­er ticks both box­es with, a free graph­ic design archive that was born of her frus­tra­tions with online research at a time when Covid restric­tions shut­tered libraries and archives.

The non-prof­it dig­i­tal library Inter­net Archive is rich in inter­est­ing mate­r­i­al, but its lack of cura­tion can often leave the user feel­ing like they’re sort­ing through the world’s most dis­or­ga­nized junk shop, root­ing for hid­den trea­sure.

Mari­er was also dis­cour­aged by “a com­bi­na­tion of con­fus­ing boolean oper­a­tors and an absolute hodge­podge of dif­fer­ent meta­da­ta tags and cat­e­go­ry names:

I fig­ured that if I was hav­ing these prob­lems, then there were like­ly oth­er folks who were as well. So I decid­ed to put my design skills to good use and work on a solu­tion. The biggest issues that I felt need­ed to be solved were the user expe­ri­ence, and the con­tent cura­tion. For the archive’s cura­tion, I opt­ed to curate each item man­u­al­ly. While I could have like­ly fig­ured out a way to curate these items using an auto­mat­ed script, I feel that there is an inher­ent val­ue to human cura­tion. When a col­lec­tion is curat­ed by a com­put­er it can seem con­fus­ing and arbi­trary. Where­as with human cura­tion there is often a delib­er­ate con­nec­tion between each object in the col­lec­tion. For the nav­i­ga­tion I want­ed to ensure that it was sim­ple enough that any­one could under­stand it and oper­ate it. So instead of hav­ing a ton of com­plex oper­a­tors, I instead decid­ed to orga­nize them by their aspect in design.

Graph­ic design nerds, rejoice!

Mari­er deter­mines which of the finds should make the cut by con­sid­er­ing rel­e­vance and image qual­i­ty.

A quick peek sug­gests graph­ic design­ers are not the only ones who stand to ben­e­fit from this labor of love.

Edu­ca­tors, his­to­ri­ans, and activists will be reward­ed with a sup­ple­ment to the Guardian from Feb­ru­ary 1970, which pro­vid­ed an overview of the Black Pan­ther Par­ty in their own words. There’s a ton of infor­ma­tion and his­to­ry packed into these 8 pages, from its for­ma­tion and its 10-point pro­gram, to an inter­view with then-incar­cer­at­ed par­ty chair­man Bob­by Seale.

The IBM Ergonom­ics Hand­book from 1989 address­es an ever­green top­ic. Office man­agers, phys­i­cal ther­a­pists, and dig­i­tal nomads should take note. Its rec­om­men­da­tions on con­fig­ur­ing the work space for max­i­mum effi­cien­cy, pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and employ­ee com­fort are sol­id. It’s not this hand­some lit­tle yel­low and blue employ­ee manual’s fault that ref­er­ences to now-obso­lete tech­nol­o­gy ren­der it a bit quaint:

Think of two fair­ly recent inno­va­tions in our lives — the push but­ton tele­phone and the pock­et cal­cu­la­tor. Both have a stan­dard key set lay­out, but not the same lay­out.

Mari­er elect­ed to let each pick be rep­re­sent­ed by its cov­ers, fig­ur­ing “what bet­ter way to browse designed objects than by how they look.”

We agree, though we’re wor­ried about where this might leave 1924’s Posters & Their Design­ers. How can its staid blue cov­er com­pete against its sexy neigh­bors in the posters cat­e­go­ry?

Small busi­ness own­ers, set dressers and pub­lic domain fans should give Posters & Their Design­ers a chance. Behind that dis­creet blue cov­er are a wide assort­ment of stun­ning ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry posters, includ­ing some full col­or repro­duc­tions.

While not specif­i­cal­ly typog­ra­phy relat­ed, Mari­er wise­ly gives this resource a typog­ra­phy tag. Hand let­ter­ing loy­al­ists and font fanat­ics will find much to admire.

We hope to pique your inter­est with a few more of our favorite cov­ers, below. Begin your explo­rations of here.

via Eye on Design/Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Let­ter­form Archive Launch­es a New Online Archive of Graph­ic Design, Fea­tur­ing 9,000 Hi-Fi Images

Down­load 2,000 Mag­nif­i­cent Turn-of-the-Cen­tu­ry Art Posters, Cour­tesy of the New York Pub­lic Library

40 Years of Saul Bass’ Ground­break­ing Title Sequences in One Com­pi­la­tion

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.


Gustave Doré’s Magnificent Illustrations of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” (1884)

One of the busiest, most in-demand artists of the 19th cen­tu­ry, Gus­tave Doré made his name illus­trat­ing works by such authors as Rabelais, Balzac, Mil­ton, and Dante. In the 1860s, he cre­at­ed one of the most mem­o­rable and pop­u­lar illus­trat­ed edi­tions of Cer­vantes’ Don Quixote, while at the same time com­plet­ing a set of engrav­ings for an 1866 Eng­lish Bible. He prob­a­bly could have stopped there and assured his place in pos­ter­i­ty, but he would go on to illus­trate an 1872 guide to Lon­don, a new edi­tion of Samuel Tay­lor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and sev­er­al more huge­ly pop­u­lar works.


In 1884, Doré pro­duced 26 steel engrav­ings for an illus­trat­ed edi­tion of Edgar Allan Poe’s gloomy clas­sic “The Raven.” Like all of his illus­tra­tions, the images are rich with detail, yet in con­trast to his ear­li­er work, par­tic­u­lar­ly the fine lines of his Quixote, these engrav­ings are soft­er, char­ac­ter­ized by a deep chiaroscuro appro­pri­ate to the mood of the poem.


Above see the plate depict­ing the first lines of the poem, the haunt­ed speak­er, “weak and weary,” slumped over one of his many “quaint and curi­ous volume[s] of for­got­ten lore.”

Below, see the raven tap­ping, “loud­er than before,” at the win­dow lat­tice.


By the time Doré’s edi­tion saw pub­li­ca­tion, Poe’s most famous work had already achieved recog­ni­tion as one of the great­est Amer­i­can poems. Its author, how­ev­er, had died over thir­ty years pre­vi­ous in near-pover­ty. A cat­a­log descrip­tion from a Penn State Library hold­ing of one of Doré’s “Raven” edi­tions com­pares the two artists:

The careers of these two men are fraught with both pop­u­lar suc­cess and unmit­i­gat­ed dis­ap­point­ment. Doré enjoyed phe­nom­e­nal mon­e­tary suc­cess as an illus­tra­tor in his life-time, how­ev­er his true desire, to be acknowl­edged as a fine artist, was nev­er real­ized. The crit­ics of his day derid­ed his abil­i­ties as an artist even as his pop­u­lar­i­ty soared.

One might say that Poe suf­fered the oppo­site fate—recognized as a great artist in his life­time, he nev­er achieved finan­cial sta­bil­i­ty. We learn from the Penn State Rare Col­lec­tions library that Doré received the rough equiv­a­lent of $140,000 for his illus­trat­ed edi­tion of “The Raven.” Poe, on the oth­er hand, was paid approx­i­mate­ly nine dol­lars for his most famous poem.


Project Guten­berg has dig­i­tal edi­tions of the com­plete Doré edi­tion of “The Raven,” as does the Library of Con­gress.


Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Clas­sic Read­ings of Poe’s “The Raven” by Vin­cent Price, James Earl Jones, Christo­pher Walken, Neil Gaiman, Stan Lee & More

The Raven: a Pop-up Book Brings Edgar Allan Poe’s Clas­sic Super­nat­ur­al Poem to 3D Paper Life

The Simp­sons Present Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” and Teach­ers Now Use It to Teach Kids the Joys of Lit­er­a­ture

Clas­sic Illus­tra­tions of Edgar Allan Poe’s Sto­ries by Gus­tave Doré, Édouard Manet, Har­ry Clarke, Aubrey Beard­s­ley & Arthur Rack­ham

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

What Makes James Joyce’s Ulysses a Masterpiece: Great Books Explained

Here on Open Cul­ture, we’ve often fea­tured the work of gal­lerist-Youtu­ber James Payne, cre­ator of the chan­nel Great Art Explained. Not long ago we wrote up his exam­i­na­tion of the work of René Magritte, the Bel­gian sur­re­al­ist painter respon­si­ble for such endur­ing images as Le fils de l’homme, or The Son of Man. Payne uses that famous image of a bowler-hat­ted every­man whose face is cov­ered by a green apple again in the video above, but this time to rep­re­sent a lit­er­ary char­ac­ter: Leopold Bloom, the pro­tag­o­nist of James Joyce’s Ulysses. It is that much-scru­ti­nized lit­er­ary mas­ter­work Payne has tak­en as his sub­ject for his new chan­nel, Great Books Explained.

Indeed, few great books are regard­ed as need­ing as much expla­na­tion as Ulysses. It was once described, Payne reminds us, as “spir­i­tu­al­ly offen­sive, anar­chic, and obscene,” yet “in the hun­dred years since, the book has tri­umphed over crit­i­cism and cen­sor­ship to become one of the most high­ly regard­ed works of art in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry.”

The strength of both this acclaim and this con­dem­na­tion still today inspires a mix­ture of curios­i­ty and trep­i­da­tion. But as Payne sees it, Ulysses is ulti­mate­ly “a nov­el about wan­der­ing, and we as read­ers should feel free to wan­der around the book, dip in and out of episodes, read it out aloud, and let the words wash over us like music.” It’s also “an exper­i­men­tal work, often strange and some­times shock­ing, but it is con­sis­tent­ly wit­ty, and packed with a tremen­dous sense of fun.”

That lat­ter qual­i­ty belies the sev­en years of lit­er­ary labor Joyce put into the book, all of it dis­tilled into the events of a sin­gle day in Dublin, June 16, 1904, as expe­ri­enced by Bloom, an “ordi­nary adver­tis­ing agent” and a Jew among Catholics; the “rebel­lious and mis­an­throp­ic intel­lec­tu­al” Stephen Dedalus, Joyce’s alter-ego and the hero of his pre­vi­ous nov­el A Por­trait of the Artist as a Young Man; and Leopold’s “pas­sion­ate, amorous, frank-speak­ing” wife Mol­ly. (Payne rep­re­sents Dedalus with Raoul Hauss­man­’s The Art Crit­ic and Mol­ly with Han­nah Höch’s Indi­an Dancer.) In this frame­work, Joyce deliv­ers kalei­do­scop­ic detail, from the quo­tid­i­an to the mytho­log­i­cal and the sex­u­al to the scat­o­log­i­cal, all with a for­mal and lin­guis­tic brava­do that has kept the read­ing expe­ri­ence of Ulysses fresh for 101 years and count­ing.

Relat­ed con­tent:

James Joyce’s Ulysses: Down­load as a Free Audio Book & Free eBook

Why Should You Read James Joyce’s Ulysses?: A New TED-ED Ani­ma­tion Makes the Case

Every­thing You Need to Enjoy Read­ing James Joyce’s Ulysses on Blooms­day

The Very First Reviews of James Joyce’s Ulysses: “A Work of High Genius” (1922)

Read the Orig­i­nal Seri­al­ized Edi­tion of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1918)

Great Art Explained: Watch 15 Minute Intro­duc­tions to Great Works by Warhol, Rothko, Kahlo, Picas­so & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

A Lavishly Illustrated Catalog of All Hummingbird Species Known in the 19th Century Gets Restored & Put Online

If you don’t live in a part of the world with a lot of hum­ming­birds, it’s easy to regard them as not quite of this earth. With their wide array of shim­mer­ing col­ors and fre­net­ic yet eeri­ly sta­ble man­ner of flight, they can seem like qua­si-fan­tas­ti­cal crea­tures even to those who encounter them in real­i­ty. They cer­tain­ly cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of Eng­lish ornithol­o­gist John Gould, who between the years of 1849 and 1887 cre­at­ed A Mono­graph of the Trochilidæ, or Fam­i­ly of Hum­ming-Birds, a cat­a­log of all known species of hum­ming­bird at the time. As you might expect, this is just the kind of old book you can peruse at the Inter­net Archive, but now there’s also an online restora­tion that returns Gould’s illus­tra­tions to their orig­i­nal glo­ry.

A Mono­graph of the Trochilidæ “is con­sid­ered one of the finest exam­ples of ornitho­log­i­cal illus­tra­tion ever pro­duced, as well as a sci­en­tif­ic mas­ter­piece,” writes the site’s cre­ator, Nicholas Rougeux (pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture for his dig­i­tal restora­tions of British & Exot­ic Min­er­al­o­gy and Euclid­’s Ele­ments).

“Gould’s pas­sion for hum­ming­birds led him to trav­el to var­i­ous parts of the world, such as North Amer­i­ca, Brazil, Colom­bia, Ecuador, and Peru, to observe and col­lect spec­i­mens. He also received many spec­i­mens from oth­er nat­u­ral­ists and col­lec­tors.” Tak­en togeth­er, the work’s five vol­umes — one of them pub­lished as a sup­ple­ment years after his death — cat­a­log 537 species, doc­u­ment­ing their appear­ance with 418 hand-col­ored lith­o­graph­ic plates.

All these images were “ana­lyzed and restored to their orig­i­nal vibrant col­ors in a process that took near­ly 150 hours to com­plete. As much of the orig­i­nal plate was pre­served — includ­ing the del­i­cate col­ors of the scenic back­grounds in each vignette.” You can view and down­load them at the site’s illus­tra­tions page, where they come accom­pa­nied by Gould’s own text and clas­si­fied accord­ing to the same scheme he orig­i­nal­ly used. You may not know your Phaëthor­nis from your Spheno­proc­tus, to say noth­ing of your Cyanomyia from your Smarag­dochry­sis, but after see­ing these small won­ders of the nat­ur­al world as Gould did (all arranged into a chro­mat­ic spec­trum by Rougeux to make a strik­ing poster), you may well find your­self inspired to learn the dif­fer­ences — or at least to put a feed­er out­side your win­dow.

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Hum­ming­bird Whis­per­er: Meet the UCLA Sci­en­tist Who Has Befriend­ed 200 Hum­ming­birds

Explore an Inter­ac­tive Ver­sion of The Wall of Birds, a 2,500 Square-Foot Mur­al That Doc­u­ments the Evo­lu­tion of Birds Over 375 Mil­lion Years

What Kind of Bird Is That?: A Free App From Cor­nell Will Give You the Answer

A Beau­ti­ful­ly Designed Edi­tion of Euclid’s Ele­ments from 1847 Gets Dig­i­tized: Explore the New Online, Inter­ac­tive Repro­duc­tion

Explore an Inter­ac­tive, Online Ver­sion of the Beau­ti­ful­ly Illus­trat­ed, 200-Year-Old British & Exot­ic Min­er­al­o­gy

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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