Essays
Books

Lucian’s Trips to the Moon

Lucian’s Trips to the Moon

With his Vera Historia, the 2nd century satirist Lucian of Samosata wrote the first detailed account of a trip to the moon in the Western tradition and, some argue, also one of the earliest science fiction narratives. Aaron Parrett explores how Lucian used this lunar vantage point to take a satirical look back at the philosophers of Earth and their ideas of "truth". more

Sir Arthur and the Fairies

Sir Arthur and the Fairies

In the spring of 1920, at the beginning of a growing fascination with spiritualism brought on by the death of his son and brother in WWI, Arthur Conan Doyle took up the case of the Cottingley Fairies. Mary Losure explores how the creator of Sherlock Holmes became convinced that the 'fairy photographs' taken by two girls from Yorkshire were real. more

Mother Goose’s French Birth (1697) and British Afterlife (1729)

Mother Goose’s French Birth (1697) and British Afterlife (1729)

Christine Jones explores the early English translations of Charles Perrault's 1697 collection of fairy tales and how a change in running order was key to them becoming the stories for children which we know today. more

Athanasius Kircher and the Hieroglyphic Sphinx

Athanasius Kircher and the Hieroglyphic Sphinx

More than 170 years before Jean-François Champollion had the first real success in translating Egyptian hieroglyphs, the 17th century Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher was convinced he had cracked it. He was very wrong. Daniel Stolzenberg looks at Kircher's Egyptian Oedipus, a book that has been called “one of the most learned monstrosities of all times.” more

As a Lute out of Tune: Robert Burton’s Melancholy

As a Lute out of Tune: Robert Burton’s Melancholy

In 1621 Robert Burton first published his masterpiece The Anatomy of Melancholy, a vast feat of scholarship examining in encyclopaedic detail that most enigmatic of maladies. Noga Arikha explores the book, said to be the favorite of both Samuel Johnson and Keats, and places it within the context of the humoural theory so popular at the time. more

Vesalius and the Body Metaphor

Vesalius and the Body Metaphor

City streets, a winepress, pulleys, spinning tops, a ray fish, curdled milk: just a few of the many images used by 16th century anatomist Andreas Vesalius to explain the workings of the human body in his seminal work De Humani Corporis Fabrica. Marri Lynn explores. more

The Redemption of Saint Anthony

The Redemption of Saint Anthony

Gustave Flaubert, best known for his masterpiece Madame Bovary, spent nearly thirty years working on a surreal and largely 'unreadable' retelling of the temptation of Saint Anthony. Colin Dickey explores how it was only in the dark and compelling illustrations of Odilon Redon, made years later, that Flaubert's strangest work finally came to life. more

The Curious World of Isaac D’Israeli

The Curious World of Isaac D’Israeli

Marvin Spevack introduces the Curiosities of Literature, the epic cornucopia of essays on all things literary by Isaac D'Israeli: a scholar, man of letters and father of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. more

Simple Songs: Virginia Woolf and Music

Simple Songs: Virginia Woolf and Music

Last year saw the works of Virginia Woolf enter the public domain in many countries around the world. To celebrate Emma Sutton looks at Woolf's short story "A Simple Melody" and the influence which music had upon the writer who once wrote that music was "nearest to truth". more

The Forgotten Tales of the Brothers Grimm

The Forgotten Tales of the Brothers Grimm

To mark the 200th year since the Brothers Grimm first published their Kinder-und Hausmärchen, Jack Zipes explores the importance of this neglected first edition and what it tells us about the motives and passions of the two folklorist brothers. more

Henry Morton Stanley and the Pygmies of “Darkest Africa”

Henry Morton Stanley and the Pygmies of “Darkest Africa”

After returning from his disastrous mission to central Africa to rescue a German colonial governor, the explorer Henry Morton Stanley was eager to distract from accusations of brutality with his 'discovery' of African pygmies. Brian Murray explores how after Stanley's trip the African pygmy, in the form of stereotype and allegory, made its way into late Victorian society. more

The Strangely Troubled Life of Digby Mackworth Dolben

The Strangely Troubled Life of Digby Mackworth Dolben

In 1911 the soon-to-be poet laureate Robert Bridges published the poems of Digby Mackworth Dolben, a school friend who had drowned to death at the age of 19 almost half a century earlier. Carl Miller looks at Bridges' lengthy introduction in which he tells of the short and tragic life of the boy with whom fellow poet Gerard Manley Hopkins was reportedly besotted. more

Athanasius, Underground

Athanasius, Underground

With his enormous range of scholarly pursuits the 17th-century polymath Athanasius Kircher has been hailed as the last Renaissance man and "the master of hundred arts". John Glassie looks at one of Kircher's great masterworks Mundus Subterraneus and how it was inspired by a subterranean adventure Kircher himself made into the bowl of Vesuvius. more

Trüth, Beaüty, and Volapük

Trüth, Beaüty, and Volapük

Arika Okrent explores the rise and fall of Volapük - a universal language created in the late 19th century by a German priest called Johann Schleyer. more

The Implacability of Things

The Implacability of Things

Jonathan Lamb explores the genre of 'it-narratives' - stories told from the point of view of an object, often as it travels in circulation through human hands. more

The Last Great Explorer: William F. Warren and the Search for Eden

The Last Great Explorer: William F. Warren and the Search for Eden

Of all the attempts throughout history to geographically locate the Garden of Eden one of the most compelling was that set out by minister and president of Boston University, William F. Warren. Brook Wilensky-Lanford looks at the ideas of the man who, in his book Paradise Found, proposed the home of all humanity to be at the North Pole. more

The Lancashire Witches 1612-2012

The Lancashire Witches 1612-2012

Not long after ten Lancashire residents were found guilty of witchcraft and hanged in August 1612, the official proceedings of the trial were published by the clerk of the court Thomas Potts in his The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster. Four hundred years on, Robert Poole reflects on England's biggest witch trial and how it still has relevance today. more

The Polyglot of Bologna

The Polyglot of Bologna

Michael Erard takes a look at The Life of Cardinal Mezzofanti, a book exploring the extraordinary talent of the 19th century Italian cardinal who was reported to be able to speak over seventy languages. more

Seeing Joyce

Seeing Joyce

The "Bloomsday" of 2012 - 108 years after Leopold Bloom took his legendary walk around Dublin on the 16th June 1904 - was the first since the works of James Joyce entered the public domain. Frank Delaney asks whether we should perhaps now stop trying to read Joyce and instead make visits to him as to a gallery. more

Lost Libraries

Lost Libraries

In the latter half of the 17th century the English polymath Thomas Browne wrote Musaeum Clausum, an imagined inventory of 'remarkable books, antiquities, pictures and rarities of several kinds, scarce or never seen by any man now living'. Claire Preston explores Browne's extraordinary catalogue amid the wider context of a Renaissance preoccupation with lost intellectual treasures. more

Selma Lagerlöf: Surface and Depth

Selma Lagerlöf: Surface and Depth

In 2011 many countries around the world welcomed The Wonderful Adventures of Nils and the other works of the Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf into the public domain. Jenny Watson looks at the importance of Lagerlöf's oeuvre and the complex depths beneath her seemingly simple tales and public persona. more

The Mysteries of Nature and Art

The Mysteries of Nature and Art

Julie Gardham, Senior Assistant Librarian at University of Glasgow's Special Collections Department, takes a look at the book that was said to have spurred a young Isaac Newton onto the scientific path, The Mysteries of Nature and Art by John Bate. more

The Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi

The Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi

Andrew McConnell Stott, author of The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi, introduces the life and memoirs of the most famous and celebrated of English clowns. more

Navigating Dürer’s Woodcuts for The Ship of Fools

Navigating Dürer’s Woodcuts for The Ship of Fools

At the start of his career, as a young man in his twenties, Albrecht Dürer created a series of woodcuts to illustrate Sebastian Brant's The Ship of Fools of 1494. Dürer scholar Rangsook Yoon explores the significance of these early pieces and how in their subtlety of allegory they show promise of his masterpieces to come. more

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