Lotus-Eating #1: Introduction

I’ve adopted Lotus-Eating: A Summer Book by George William Curtis as my pet book. I had never heard of Curtis before, but the title caught my eye because it combines the generally unpleasant image of the lotus-eaters with the generally pleasant subtitle “A Summer Book.”

The outside of the book is just as eye-catching. The front and back covers are a bright, gaudy blue, and the spine is a darker greenish-blue crawling with gold scrollwork. It seems like one of the train books mentioned in class; if I had seen this on my way to the train, I would certainly have picked it up.

Here are the basic details: Lotus-Eating, a travel memoir about the northeastern United States, is Curtis’s third book. As mentioned on the title page, he had previously published travel memoirs Nile Notes of a Howadji and The Howadji in SyriaThe book features illustrations by Rensett (or possibly Kensett — the ornate gothic font was difficult to read) and was published by Harper & Brothers Publishers in New York in 1852. I think the cover is cardboard, and the binding is sewn. There are places towards the back of the book where the thread is visible.

The title page has a lot going on. It uses several different fonts: a classic roman for the title; a funky font with bubbly serifs for the subtitle; as mentioned, a gothic font for the illustrator’s name; and a thin font for the epigraph. The epigraph, from Hamlet, reads: “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.” This line continues the juxtaposition of unpleasantness/pleasantness found in the title; although it sounds nice as an epigraph, it’s from one of Ophelia’s “mad speeches.”

The chapters of Lotus-Eating cover the Hudson and the Rhine, Catskill, Catskill Falls, Trenton, Niagara, Saratoga, Lake George, Natant, and Newport. The chapter titles are all in a gothic font. Each chapter opens with a small illustration — sometimes an elaborate drop cap, but sometimes a standalone illustration. The chapters also have small illustrations throughout, as well as many, many block quotes. Almost every chapter ends with a block quote from a play or a poem.

Some of the most fascinating aspects of this particular copy, however, are the marks of ownership right inside the cover. On the left side, there’s a bookplate for someone named Arthur Swann featuring a little image of a swan. On the right side, there’s a different name printed in ink. Between the cover and the first page lies a handwritten note from George William Curtis himself, addressed to an unnamed “sir.” (I plan on reading it fully for another one of these posts.)

I study fantasy, juvenile and young adult fiction, pop culture, and fanfiction, so Lotus-Eating isn’t really related to my research (unless it turns out to have actual lotus-eaters in it). I am, however, from the New York/New Jersey area Curtis describes, and I want to learn more about his impressions of it. But most of all, I can tell that this book has a lot of interesting features, and I can’t wait to take a closer look at them.

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