Author Archives: Gerald W. Cloud

About Gerald W. Cloud

Gerald W. Cloud is the Curator for Literature in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library and Lecturer in English and Comparative Literature.

Problem: How to construct a vehicle with which one can transport oneself where one likes, without a horse

As part of an ongoing scholarly discussion, a colleague sent me the following image:

Now, the image, which depicts a vintage Frejus, does not at first appear to have a rare book or manuscript connection; however, RBML’s collections have great diversity and can provide scholarly content across many disciplines–here’s how.  If we consider Jacques Ozanam’s (1640-1717) Recreations mathematiques et physiques, qui contiennent plusieurs problêmes d’arithmetique, de geometrie, d’optique, de gnomonique, de cosmographie, de mecanique, de pyrotechnie, & de physique (Paris, 1694–RBML call no.: SMITH 511.9 1694 Oz1), we can find the starting point for my colleague’s FrejusRecreations mathematiques et physiques sets out to solve various mathematical problems, among them,

how to "construire un carosse, dans lequel on se puisse conduire soy-même là où l’on voudra, sans aucuns Chevaux"–or, roughly translated, How to construct a carriage with which one can transport oneself where one likes, without out a horse.

Here is Ozanam’s solution:

To this blogger’s eye, I see the foundations of the bicycle (full disclosure, I am far from the first person to make this connection, see especially David Herlihy’s Bicycle , page 15-6 (Yale UP, 2006).  But note the pedal powered drive train and the turning cogs, which closely resemble the chain rings on modern bicycles.

RBML holds several editions of Ozanam’s work as part of the David Eugene Smith Collection on the history of mathematics.  Here’s the title page and frontispiece of the 1696 edition (which bears Smith’s ex libris stamp in the upper right corner):

Here the plate has found its way to the front of the book, a sign of its perceived importance.  Ozanam’s vehicle or carosse, doesn’t look much like my colleague’s Frejus, but it does reach back to the bicycle’s roots, and emphasizes just how much ground RBML’s collections can cover.

Le Festin Nu [that’s French for Naked Lunch]

In 1964 the French publisher Gallimard brought out the first French translation of William S. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch under the title Le Festin Nu. Ironically, the book first appeared in Paris in its original English form in 1959, in the Olympia Press Traveller’s Companion series (see RBML‘s copy here). France traditionally had been a friendly place for many controversial English language writers of the twentieth century: James Joyce (Ulysses, 1922), Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer, 1934), and Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita, 1959) all published books that were either banned or considered unprintable in Great Britain or the United States.

In recognition of the French contribution to English language letters, and in the interest of fully documenting Naked Lunch‘s reception and the history of its publication, RBML recently acquired this copy of Le Festin Nu, copy number 1196 of 3,750 copies printed on vélin bouffant des papeteries de Téka. The text was translated by Eric Kahane, the brother of Olympia Press publisher Maurice Girodias (Kahane also translated Nabokov’s Loilta into French in 1959).

What’s curious is the letter to booksellers that Gallimard issued with the book, an example of which is included in the RBML copy, seen to the right.

For those who do not follow the French, the publisher warns booksellers that unsuspecting readers might be disoriented by the book’s particular characters and risk shocking misunderstandings over the sometimes brutal descriptions made by the author on certain aspects of modern society. Booksellers are further advised not to expose the book to public view and under no circumstances to sell the book to minors. One might ask, is this conservationism necessary in a country with a such a strong track record for literary tolerance? About a year before Le Festin Nu appeared in France, a Boston bookseller was arrested in January 1963, and charged with obscenity for selling the first American edition of Naked Lunch (Grove Press, 1962)–the book would not be cleared of that charge until July 1966, so perhaps Gallimard’s caution over this particular text was warranted. Also, the fact that the controversial text was printed in French made the brutalité of the text more accessible to Gallimard’s French readers. The author of this blog entry was able to find no recorded cases of casualties among French readers after indulging in Le Festin Nu. Gallimard continues to publish the book today .