memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for October 24, 2011

Universal Magazine 1786

The eighteenth century in England (and indeed elsewhere) was an age of supreme aesthetic elegance. Even the magazines of the period were elegant (even their tat was classy)

I have here a book – a bound copy of The Universal Magazine for the year 1768.

A combination, I suppose, of the Daily Mail, Financial Times, Times Literary Supplement, National Geographic, Wikipedia and Hello Magazine, The Universal Magazine for 1768 has something for everyone.

For the apiarists we can read in the July edition a lengthy treatise about Hives and Bee-Boxes, in double columns of minute dense print which runs for four pages.

If you want to go from London to Norwich, a fold-out map shows you how in the June edition.

If you are interested in Natural History we have in the February edition:

… a description from M. Daubenton, of the French Academy, of most sorts of BATS that are known, both foreign and domestic, and to render the subject more agreeable and intelligible, we have illustrated with an elegantly engraved Quarto Copper-plate, representing the HEADS of seven different species of that Animal.

The description goes on for six pages; after reading that little lot there’s not much about BATS that you don’t know;  boy, you’ve certainly got BATS nailed (you can cross BATS off your list).

If you have a reverence for families of ancient lineage, then you can enjoy an exhaustive and wordy account of the Talbot family.

This was the age of reading and ingesting ideas and knowledge at leisure, don’t forget (among those predisposed by education to do so), not the age of the sound-byte, not the age of the 5-minute-attention-span, not the age the synopsis, the résumé, the summation, the ball-park figure, the fiddled stats and the bottom-line, to be regurgitated later under the guise of knowledge.

The acceleration of technology has rendered peoples’ lives frenetic; we are mentally restless and confused and need to calm down – might one suggest Buddhism?

There was a row of these battered volumes in a back corridor with a double row of shelving containing the spill-over from my father’s small library. Dilapidated and scruffy books rubbing shoulders with the obscure and esoteric ones, piles of tiny dusty old volumes together large folios and a huge wreck of an early 18th century family Bible, laying its own lateral shelf, spine-less revealing the cords used to hold together the wooden front and back boards. (Take it away, take away, my father said to me, with the bibliophile’s despair, burn it, do what you want it’s a monstrous thing; only be careful to cut out and preserve the first two pages containing a record of the family births and deaths).

So I lugged it back to Portugal … I had to pay excess baggage-weight (it had a small suitcase to itself) what’s all this? asked the customs officer, aghast; believe it or not, I replied, it’s an old Christian Bible and Psalter; and we both contemplated the Thing in silence; (he must have thought that I was a religious nutcase – one of those creepy Christian Fundamentalists one is always reading about, Creationists or, scariest of all, the Domnionists).

Back to the row of magazines: I think the volumes covered in sequence the years between about 1765 and 1780. I certainly remember presenting 1776 to an American friend on his 60th birthday; he was blown away. I think you will agree with me that it was a pretty cool gift – the subtext being: during the year when Your country was being born, We were up this kind of stuff.

Even the book plate (of an obscure Yorkshire family) at the front of these volumes has a certain elegant 18th century cool.

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