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Is this book first-rate or feeble? Read my review and get the inside dope

Haydn's Dictionary of Dates

Joseph Haydn, Benjamin Vincent
Edward Moxon & Co., London
Edition / Year
9th Edition. 1860
In the section labelled

Book is tatty, but leather-bound and marbled

It is possible to know innumerable things and understand very little: to have a magpie kind of mind which collects facts as if they were in themselves treasures and not the merest accessories of thought. This book is like a Cabinet of Curiosities, full of little pieces of information all out of context; ordered only by alphabetical headings, one may read page after page and still learn nothing. Never mind, my copy is rather impressively marbled, and that's what counts.

As the title suggests, the content is principally concerned with when things happened, but since the bare dates are given with no relation to anything else, it is left to the reader to invent a context. In their mechanical repetition of matter from ill-assorted and often uncredited sources of uneven reliability, at times the articles attain a sort of higher dullness which is almost poetry. Here are some of my favourites:-

CORPULENCY. The most extraordinary instances of corpulency occur in England, where many persons are loaded with flesh or fat. Cornaro. In Germany some fat monks have weighed eighteen stone. Render. Of modern instances known, in this country was Mr. Bright, a tallow-chandler and grocer, of Maldon, in Essex, who dies in the 29th year of his age. Seven persons of the common size were with ease enclosed in his waistcoat. He was buried at All Saints, Maldon, Nov. 12, 1750. Daniel Lambert, supposed to have been the heaviest man that ever lived, died, in his 40th year, at Stamford, in Lincolnshire, weighing ten stone more than Mr. Bright, June 21, 1809. He is said to have weighed 52 stone, 11 pounds. James Mansfield died at Debden, Nov 9, 1856, aged 82, weighing 33 stone 14 pounds.

PROFILES. The first profile taken, as recorded, was that of Antigonus, who having but one eye, his likeness was so taken, B.C. 330. Ashe. “Until the end of the third century, I have not seen a Roman emperor with a full face; they were always painted or appeared in profile, which gives us the view of a head in a very majestic manner.” Addison.

SAW. Invented by Daedalus. Pliny. Invented by Talus. Apollodorus. Talus, it is said, having found the jaw-bone of a snake, employed it to cut through a piece of wood, and then formed an instrument of iron like it. Beecher says saw-mills were invented in the seventeenth century, but he errs. Saw-mills were erected in Madeira in 1420; at Breslau, in 1427. Norway had the first saw-mill in 1530. The bishop of Ely, ambassador from Mary of England to the court of Rome, describes a saw-mill there, 1555. The attempts to introduce saw-mills in England were violently opposed, and one erected by a Dutchman in 1663 was forced to be abandoned.

Be honest now, weren't you blindly ignorant before you read that? Imagine how it would be to read the whole book... What do you mean, you'd rather be out in the sunshine playing with your friends? You little swine, you'll never qualify as a library catalogue compiler if you don't apply yourself.

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Submitted by Loti irwin (not verified) on 19 Aug 2019 - 11:52 Permalink

I am writing about Joseph Haydn who wrote the original book. He died in 1856 and is buried in Highgate Cemetery. He left a wife and three children. He also wrote the Book of Dignities. Queen Victoria granted him a pension of £25 a year which he did not live to enjoy. There are many letters in newspapers of the time saying that a man who had laboured for so long should have been treated better. The great and the good all donated enough money for his wife to buy a small stationers shop to support the family.

Submitted by Maurice Majurey (not verified) on 22 Apr 2013 - 04:52 Permalink

I have a copy of the 22nd Edition and would commend it to anyone who loves English Victoriana. The frontspiece proclaims: "Containing the History of the World to the Autumn of 1898". Only a Victorian Bibliophile could be so precise and so un-selfconcious! How could you not want a book with such unabashed pretensions!

Submitted by David DeIcova (not verified) on 05 Sep 2011 - 10:25 Permalink

I have a first Ed. of this most fascinating book. One might think the information is useless but, let us not forget that"knowledge is Power". The world has already lost so much knowledge already which has created havoc and disorder in mainstream society. The teachers of today don't even teach reasoning skills anymore to the children of tomorrow. I hope that in my perseverance in preserving this book for future generations, maybe there can be hope for a new collective state of being united by the missing pieces of mans thought! It's a dictionary, like all dictionaries we consult for further understanding. It's not a romance novel.. It simpley is what it is?? A consultant of knowledge and a master piece of the collective intellect!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on 08 Feb 2009 - 13:33 Permalink

Great book to have and bore your familiy and friends with. As you say, you can read it for hours, or so I believe, and learn absolutely nothing, apart from the method of execution of poisoners. I've just got the 21st edition and am looking for another. I also have a battered copy of Townsend's Manual of Dates published in 1877. the entry for Corpulence states - In Sparta, citizens who grew too fat were soundly whipped. ..........was threatened with perpetual banishment if he did not reduce his body within reasonable dimensions. Now there is a topic for future debate.