Category Archives: Project Gutenberg

Incorrect book cover art is nothing new

A commenter1 on the Awful Library Books blog once pointed out that a certain print-on-demand publisher of old public domain books had published a classical book, I think it was Wuthering Heights, with a picture of a bicycle on the cover. This was evident nonsense to them since bicycles had nothing to do with the story. I am taking their word for it since I haven’t read that novel.

However, in browzing Project Gutenberg for material to read, I ran across two Horatio Alger books that exhibited the same problem. Yes I read those. Someday I will get a grand spreadsheet together to exhibit just how formulaic they are. Anyway…

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Seeing Things at Night – a study of titulature and coverture

I have previously mentioned patronizing Project Gutenberg for interesting and entertaining out of copyright works. This one I’ve no comment on the contents of, but am quite struck by the name and cover of.

First, the name. It’s deceptive. It sounds normal at first, but then becomes a quandary. How can you see things at night when, presumably, all is dark? Is it an oxymoron, or a suggestion of a light source?

Second, the cover design. This is what really took my attention. It has a quality that I can’t really explain. The orange on black lettering, the strange font (note the shape of the letter G) and the arching text combine to make me almost frightened of it, like it was designed for Halloween. I wish the contents of the book were as interesting as the cover is.

An odd type of tax return and an old novel

Some time ago on Guternberg I tried to read “The Boarding School” but it turned into a very sour-reading morality tract.

I had forgotten the name of the book and tried to remember some choice phrase that would bring it up in Googlewhacking. Eventually, I found it from remembering the word “botanizing” being used. It was on page 44:

“Botanizing, my dear! I fear you require light upon the subject; if there is any rare, very curious plant, give it the name of ‘Caroline Vincent,’ unless you prefer ‘the Spy detected.’”

But before that I tried to remember this passage (page 26):

When Miss Vincent entered the music-room to receive her first lesson, with haughty indifference she seated herself at the piano, and in a careless manner began a voluntary.

I, for some reason, had misremembered the expression used; searching for “noisy voluntary” turned up… tax law! It turns out that there is such a thing as a “noisy voluntary” when you admit to a past tax evasion and openly ask the criminal investigators at the IRS (This is in the United States) if you’re clear now.

To me, a “noisy voluntary” sounds like a shart in an office toilet that gets magnified by the hard surface walls and floors, but I have an immature sense of humor.

Bible read along “confusion”

Here is some more from the “Journal and Letters” of P. V. Fithian.

Background: Fithian is the private schoolteacher for the Carters of Nomini Hall in northern Virginia back in the 1770s. He instructs the family children who include Harry (confusingly his real name is Henry) and Bob, who is a troublemaker. It is Wednesday, December 22, 17731:

At Dinner Mr & Mrs Carter gave their opinion concerning what they thought pleasing and agreeable in a person; Mrs Carter said she loved a sociable open, chatty person; that She could not bear Sullenness, and stupidity—Mr Carter, on the other-hand, observed that it is just which Solomon says, that there is a “time for all things under the Sun”; that it discovers great Judgment to laugh in Season, and that, on the whole, he is pleased with Taciturnity—pray which of the two should I suit?

Before that interchange which must have put him ill at ease, Fithian describes teaching the school something out of the Bible:

It is a custom with our Bob whenever he can coax his Dog up stairs, to take him into his Bed, and make him a companion; I was much pleased this morning while he and Harry were reading in Course a Chapter in the Bible, that they read in the 27th Chapter of Deuteronomy the Curses threatened there for Crimes; Bob seldom, perhaps never before, read the verse, at last read that “Cursed be he that lyeth with any manner of Beast, and all the People shall say Amen.” I was exceedingly Pleased, yet astonished at the Boy on two accounts.—1st At the end of every verse, befor he came to this, he would pronounce aloud, “Amen.” But on Reading this verse he not only omitted the “Amen,” but seem’d visibly struck with confusion!—2d And so soon as the Verse was read, to excuse himself, he said at once, Brother Ben slept all last winter with his Dog, and learn’d me!—Thus ready are Mankind always to evade Correction!

For the explanation of people who aren’t familiar with English, especially KJV English: the term “lyeth” here means to have a sexual relation with. So in other words, bestiality. Bob on the other hand, was just getting warm with his dog. (Sigh, unfortunately even that sounds sexual).

The rest of the day is spent inveighing in secret against his employers and neighbors for their slave holding and one overseer in particular who goes into detail about his torturing skill.


  1. I can’t link directly to the page because Gutenberg checks referrers. It is pages 37-38. 

A true full-blooded Buck

Most everyone should know about Project Gutenberg, the site that types up and publishes free old literature that has lost its copyright, or never had a copyright. One such book is the “Journal and Letters of Philip Vickers Fithian“. In it, Fithian graduates college in New Jersey and then moves to Virginia to teach some wealthy planter (this is in the 1700s) children.

Fithian was a divinity student and evidently later on minister, but his tutoring or teaching was not specifically religious. He mentions things like arithmetic and languages. Notably he is displeased with several people for slave-holding and their treatment of their slaves, including his employer.

I will have to reread this to point out every part of it, but one thing I remember specifically, was this:

In Dr Thomsons Room there was hanging against the Wall a Skeleton!—Balantine, either to shew himself a true full-blooded Buck, or out of mere wantonness & pastime turned the Bones (as they were fixed together with Wires) into many improper and indecent postures; but this officious industry met with such reception from the company as it Justly merited, and as I wish’d might happen; for they gave visible signs of their contempt of his Behaviour

To me, the reading is so much enjoyable because of the archaic and unique wording, although the image of this person (who is the head of a firm!) playing around like this is amusing as well.

Gutenbergery III: Horatio Alger can be intentionally funny at times.

Horatio Alger is notorious for having written highly predictable stores about poor children (almost universally boys) who are moral and eventually patronized by wealthy people and so given success. Last count there were probably 100 or more of them before he died.

Occasionally one has more in it than just the same story in different words. Here is one, Robert Coverdale’s Struggle; Or, on the Wave of Success.

So far: Robert has succeeded in winning the trust of a lonely hermit dude in New England where he lives after his drunkard uncle dies trying to rob him. He is then sent out on a mission to find the hermit’s long lost son who was kidnapped by Charles Waldo, a scheming relative. The son, under the assumed name of Bill Benton, was forced to do farm work for a cruel family called the Badgers. In desperation, he runs away to a friendly neighbor’s.

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Gutenbergery: First of a new series!

I have for many years when bored, generally trolled Project Gutenberg for interesting or entertaining things to read. Sometimes I’ve found things that were just too good to not remember. I propose to excerpt some of those things and display them in posts with the forestory explained.

To start, I will select “The Adventures of Don Lavington; or, Nolens Volens” by George Manville Fenn: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/21316

As a Project Gutenberg book, the copyright has expired and the text I am reproducing below is free for all.

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