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Hieroglyphic Journal of a Voyage to the Caribbean (1815)

The Traveller’s Guide to Madeira and the West Indies. Being a hieroglyphic representation of appearances and incidents during a voyage out and homewards. … With a treatise explanatory of the various figures, etc; 1815; Haddington, G. Miller and sons.

This unusual and delightfully ingenious book employs a series of “hieroglyphic” plates to frame an account of a trade voyage to Madeira and The West Indies undertaken in 1814. Plate 4, for example (see second picture below), displays the dates March 28th to April 15th in a calendar-like grid, for each day either a dot, to connote nothing of importance happened, or a little illustration summing up that day’s events — in this case, the sighting of a tropical bird, a large mass of seaweed floating by, or the arrival of a storm. For a further explanation of these “emblematic figures” the author offers an “Explanatory Key”, which reads ostensibly as a regular journal recounting highlights from the course of days, except rather than under the headings of dates, they relate directly to the pictures and are so numbered. According to its anonymous author, referred to only as “a young traveller”, the plates came first, the motive for which was a “deficiency of time to note down my observances as they occurred”. All in all it is a curious, but strangely compelling device — the note-taking aspect (albeit unusual given its pictorial nature) given emphasis over any kind of official after-the-event spinning of a narrative.

Housed at: Internet Archive | From: the British Library
Underlying Work: PD Worldwide | Digital Copy: No additional rights
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