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March 30, 2012  |  15 years and a book  |  9126 hit(s)

More Friday Fun. This week I celebrated 15 years as a full-timer at Microsoft. My colleagues at work took me out to lunch and presented me not just with the giganto crystal that you get from the company as your 15-year marker, but with a very cool present: a book. Not just any book, tho — it is, to quote the title page in full:


Scientific and Literary


A New and Popular



The Belles Lettres:

Condensed in form, familiar in style, & copious in information;

Embracing an extensive range of subjects in

Literature, Science, and Art.

The whole surrounded with

Marginal Notes, containing concise Facts

with appropriate observations.

By Samuel Maunder

This was published in 1858 in London. (Actually, it’s the revised edition — the original was published in 1840.) It’s a beautiful little (literally little) book, bound in leather with an embossed title on the spine. Here’s a picture:

(The glasses are in fact required; the book is set in 6-point type.)

And here’s a picture of the title and faceplate.

The evening after the lunch, we were piled on the bed while Sarah read selections to us out of the treasury. There is of course a certain style to books written in the mid-19th century, but Mr Maunder also has a distinct personality. Here he is in the Preface, introducing his work:

     There are few tasks of more difficult accomplishment, than the one which an Author feels bound to undertake, when a performance which has engrossed much of his time, and to which he has probably directed his best energies, is about to be submitted to the public. Literary usuage appears, however, to have decided, that upon such an occasion, some prefatory observations are considered indispensable ; but, while prompted by a natural desire to enter somewhat freely into the merits of that which has occupied his most earnest attention, the overwhelming apprehension of being thought egotistical, and the bare possibility of really becoming so, will often paralyze the Writer’s well-intention efforts. In the present instance, I can truly say, that my incessant occupation from the hour I commenced this volume to the very eve of its publication, coupled as it has been with an anxious desire to render it worthy of public favor, have left me no time to consider what arguments would most likely to fix the reader’s attention to the following pages ; in what terms I should entreat his kind indulgence ; or upon what grounds I could venture to deprecate the severity of criticism.

     May I be allowed to say, that I have endeavoured to produce a work, which — while I am fully sensible of its numerous imperfections — I trust, may be generally acceptable, and, I hope, extensively useful?

I was also delighted with the following passage from the Preface, which in my line of work is known as “setting audience expectations”:

     I am well aware how natural it is for a person who is engaged in any particular study, or who has a predilection for some given topic, to be desirous of making himself as fully acquainted with it as possible, and to feel, perhaps, a degree of disappointment, where another person, with different views and pursuits, would be abundantly satisfied ; but the candid reader, I am persuaded, will grant, that a complete system of any science can hardly be expected in a work whose highest excellence must, after all, be a judicious brevity ; and that if the principles be clearly stated, they will often suffice till the details can be sought in works especially adapted for their elucidation. My great object has been to produce a book that should meet the wants and wishes of a very large and most respectable class of readers, whose opportunities of studying the ponderous tomes of science are as unfrequent as their aspirations after knowledge are ardent. To the literati, I know it can present few attractions ; to the man of science it presumes not to offer anything new. But there may be times, when even these may find it convenient to consult a hand-book of reference, so portable and yet so full, if it be merely to refresh the memory on some neglected or forgotten theme.

As promised, the book has marginal notes on every page containing concise Facts. Here’s a picture of one page that shows that there’s a Fact not just on the bottom, but running up the page:

We decided that Our Author had certain predilections himself. For example, consider the contrast between the entry for Dog, which begins like this and goes on for about the same length again:

   DOG, (Canis familiaris), an animal well known for his attachment to mankind, his incorruptible fidelity, and his inexhaustible diligence, ardour, and affection. But when we thus describe this faithful animal, we mean those only which man has domesticated. In his wild state the dog is a beast of prey, and of the wolf kind, clearing the earth of carrion, and living in friendship with the vulture. By Mahometans and Hindoos the dog is regarded as impure, and neither will touch one without an ablution ; they are therefore unappropriated, and prowl about the towns and villages, devouring the offal, and thus performing the office of scavengers. Tamed and educated by man, the numerous good qualities of dogs have claimed and received the tribute of universal praise. Their sensibility is extreme ; witness their susceptibility of the slightest rebuke, and restless anxiety to be restored to favour. Uninfluenced by changes of time and place, these animals seem to remember only the benefits they may have received, and, instead of showing resentment, will lick the hand from which they have received the severest chastisement. The skill of several species in the chase, where they act as the purveyors of man ; their domestic habits ; their kindness to children ; in a word, their general congeniality with man himself, have, in all ages, recommended them to his use and care.[…]

… and the entry for Cat; this is it in its entirety:

   CAT, a well known domestic animal, of the feline genus, but sometimes wild in the woods, and large and ferocious.

Anyway, we’ve been having a great time with this book, and all agreed that Mr Samuel Maunder must have been an interesting and congenial person himself. (His apparent aversion to cats notwithstanding.)