I finally made it up to the Houghton Library at Harvard University to view the pet book I’ve chosen for this semester: an 1838 etiquette guide. Entitled More hints on etiquette: for the use of society at large, and young gentlemen in particular, the book was published in London by Charles Tilt. Its author–or authors, judging from the first person plural of the preface–are unknown; the author is listed in the book itself, in Greek letters, as paidagogos, a biblical-era household tutor responsible for teaching a school-aged child (and, ostensibly, the reader) proper conduct. While Harvard Library’s catalog notes that the guide was wrongfully attributed to Charles Dickens, there is an absence of further information. (Walter Hamilton suggests that the culprit is William MakePeace Thackeray.) Its whimsical black and white cuts are numerous and were drawn by illustrator and caricaturist George Cruikshank.
Small in size, the book represents itself as a pocket guide, to be carried around and used on the go. This is consistent with the role of the paidagogos, who accompanied his charge everywhere outside the home until the latter came of age. While the cheeky sections “On Dress” and on “Marriage” (listed in a Table of Contents) might be best consulted in the home, the reader could have referenced those on “Conversation” during “Dinner” and specifically in places like “The Shooting Gallery” and “The Billiard Room.” Its humor, however, makes me doubt whether it was to be used earnestly as a reference in those settings. Could the book be a parody of a genre?
The Houghton has three versions of the book, all from that year. Each has, from what I can tell paging through them, identical content. Even the two pages of ads each at the front and back of the books, listing the other Charles Tilt illustrated works, are identical in elements and format; this leads me to believe that they are all the same edition. They are printed on wood-pulp paper, and the text on one side of each of the 78 pages can be seen through the other.
The catalog entry contains some helpful information, however, about the physical variations between the three versions. Two are bound in cloth with vertical stitches–one purple (The catalog calls this one version A) and one green (part of the library’s Harry Elkins Widener collection)–with yellow lining paper on the inner covers and a gilt-stamped dandy on the front cover. The covers are textured with horizontal lines. The paper edges, too, are gilded. The catalog notes that these versions came in crimson cloth cases, which were not presented to me on my visit but are a further clue to their asserted portableness.
A third version (B) visually distinct from the other two is rebound in morocco, with ornate gilded trim framing the inside covers and decorating the spine. Harvard’s catalog lists the color of the goat skin as dark green, but I found it to be reddish. There are blank leaves between the inner covers and the rest of the book. Bands on the spine suggest that the rebinding process used horizontal stitches instead of the original vertical ones. Here, the rebound version also re-inscribes the work’s misattribution to Dickens.
Curiously, the original cloth cover is preserved in the book, bound in the back as pages. This cover is listed as olive, and this is true of the back cover; the front, however, looks bluish to me.
I’m excited to figure out more about the work, its mastermind, its rhetorical purpose, and why one of the versions I’ve come across was rebound with the original cloth preserved.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Heather Cole at Harvard Library for her assistance in finding a book that met my needs and interests. Thanks, also, to the man at the Houghton Library’s front desk, who helped me navigate the lockers and buzzers of my first experience with a special collection (I still have to try that carrot cake across the street).