Book review – Gossip from the Forest by Sara Maitland

 

Gossip from the Forest: The Tangled Roots of Our Forests and Fairytales
by Sara Maitland
Published November 2012 by Granta Books
ISBN: 9781847084293

This started well, with the above – wonderfully feminist – definition of the word ‘gossip’. However, it quickly turned into an interesting but very confused book.

On one hand it’s a social history of England’s woodlands, examining how people have lived in and used the forests over the last thousand years or so. It’s also a fascinating breakdown of Germanic fairytales, their history and development. The author suggests that fairytales and forests are inextricably linked – an argument I find quite convincing. However, the problem for me is that Maitland spends her time frolicking round English woods (and a couple of Scottish ones) when the forests of the fairytales are in central Europe. The really nice premise of this book is spoiled for me by this odd geographic choice. I wanted to learn about the fairytales in the Germanic woodlands – their origin and real-world context.

A major bugbear for me was the author’s choice to visit a few Scottish woodlands… while still discussing english history! As well as just being insulting, those later forays into Scottish trees felt rushed, half-hearted and poorly written in comparison to earlier chapters. An attempt to pad out the book and nothing more.

The author’s re-tellings of several fairytales are excellent. If she had chosen to write two books, one about english woodland history and another about fairytales, I’m sure they would have made two very good works. Squashed together they seem disjointed, confused and un-natural.

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…the horological journals…

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I am minded to write a short article for one of the horological journals…

This is an actual quote from an email I received this morning. Gloriously olde-worlde as this is, it was only the second archaically worded email I got today (both from external enquirers). The other regarded a case from 1807… and could have been written by a gentleman of that time!

I love my job.

 

 

Images of 1950s Glasgow in the National Records of Scotland

Fascinating photos contained within Glasgow Sheriff Court records held by the National Records of Scotland‏.

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Open Book

You might expect the pictures contained within Sheriff court Records to be graphic or disturbing, showing the details of crimes and their victims. Of course, this is often the case – but sometimes the pictures can instead give us a glimpse into social or local history.

In a payment case for damages for injuries occurring in a Glasgow washhouse or ‘steamie’ in 1959 we found this wonderfully candid shot. This photograph provides a snapshot into the working of such a wash house. The large washing machines can be seen in the background, with basins on the right, airing cabinets on the left, and tables for folding in the foreground. It definitely shows what a chore hand washing used to be and how much we take our home washing machines for granted! Such an everyday shot of a very ordinary place would usually not have been a typical subject for a…

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What can a battered old copy of Pilgrim’s Progress tell us about how books were printed in the past?

An interesting post explaining why we talk about ‘folio’ and ’12mo’ sized books. A nice accompaniment to my previous post ‘Adventures with auld Acts: Pre-1707 Acts of the Scottish Parliament’

University of Glasgow Library

Both big books and small books usually started out being printed on sheets the same size Both of these early printed books could have been printed on the same size sheets of paper

When you look at an old printed book you’re not really looking at a single book but a series of smaller ‘booklets’ joined together. Books weren’t printed one page at a time but on large sheets of paper subsequently folded into booklets (called gatherings). Therefore pages aren’t the building blocks of early printed books; sheets are. Whether it’s a teeny wee pocket book or a heavy big lectern book, it may well have started out being printed on on the same size sheet of paper.1

A big book, like a lectern Bible, will often contain a series of four page booklets joined together, each booklet formed from two pages printed on either side of a sheet of paper which has then been folded once (books made in this way are described as folio format).2

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Adventures with auld Acts: Pre-1707 Acts of the Scottish Parliament

I had such a fun enquiry this morning! It started off looking like a simple request for an Act of the old Scottish Parliament. Easy-peasy since we have two sets of Thomson’s Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland in stock. However, my enquirer expected c.24 of 1661 to be on the topic of diligence… but it was not (dun dun daaaaa!)

We double checked a couple of sources, including Stair’s Institutions of the law of Scotland but the Act was always cited as c.24 of 1661. Then I remembered that, although Thomson’s Acts (known as the Record edition) is considered the key text, there are various other versions of the Scottish Acts available. Also, I later realised, since Stair’s work was published in 1681 he would certainly not be referring to a set of volumes commissioned by Queen Victoria!

I went off to find one of our tiny ‘Glendook’ editions of the Acts. The two volumes look striking when juxtaposed since the Glendook is only 16cm tall while the Record edition is literally larger than my torso!

 

Glendook is tough to work with. The tiny page size means tiny text. Also, there’s no space for extraneous information, such as year of enactment! As I paged through I happened upon what looked like the Act I was after but was required to leaf back several pages to check I was, in fact, looking at the correct year.

So, I confirmed that c.24 of 1661 was an ‘Act concerning appearand airs their payment of their own and their predecessours’ debtswhich was just what we’d hoped for. I then used the Record edition index to establish the Act was noted as c.88 in that publication. Job done! All I had left was a bit of fighting with the photocopier to make big copies of tiny books and small copies of giant ones.

Happy enquirer. Happy librarian  🙂

Some information on the two editions:

Record Edition
This is ‘Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland’ or ‘Thomson’s Acts’ by Thomas Thomson and Cosmo Innes, printed in twelve folio (43cm) volumes from 1814-75. Published by command of Queen Victoria, this edition was the most complete version of the Acts of Parliament published until that point, and has remained the key work used by historians ever since. The final volume contains an index which is very useful for tracking down Acts when you only have a name or subject.

Errors:  Separate but related acts are often merged into one, numbering of statutes is erratic from volume to volume, occasionally including forfeitures and other private business, in other instances leaving such acts out altogether. Original manuscript numbering is ignored completely.  Thomson’s overzealous editing means that some of the text, especially in the older Acts, is not as originally passed (see Notes on the Sources for the Parliaments of Scotland, 1426-1466 for details).

Duodecimo (or Glendook) Edition
Duodecimo Edition refers to ‘Glendook’s Scots Acts’ or ‘Laws and Acts of Parliament made by King James the First and his royal successors, kings and queens of Scotland‘ by Sir Thomas Murray of Glendook (1682). This was published as two volumes containing statutes from 1424 to 1681.  A third volume (1685 to 1707 by William Duke of Queensberry and others) was published later. The name ‘Duodecimo’ refers to the size of the volumes. These are the smallest volumes of the Acts we hold.

Errors:  There is a note on the St. Andrews University website detailing the errors in this edition of Scottish Acts.  Glendook’s work seems to be based on previous publications rather than original records. Of the two Glendook editions published, the earlier 1681 folio has fewer typos than this duodecimo edition.  The work is incomplete, excluding public acts and occasionally entire sessions of parliament but including Acts of Sederunt as if they were statutes.

Judging a book by its cover: Life of Michael Howe Bush ranger

I saw a pretty looking wee book in the library today…

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with a title the seemed kind of jolly…

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…until I saw the title page.

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Very nice  😦

Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso…

indexFor the latest instalment in my occasional series “Law books which are slightly more exciting than most other law books” I present:

Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso : A Tale of Race, Sex, and Violence in America by Kali Nicole Gross

How’s that for a title?