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Adam Smyth

Adam Smyth is editing Pericles for the Arden Shakespeare.

Rewriting ‘Pericles’

Adam Smyth, 24 October 2019

Ben Jonson’s​ comedy The New Inn (1629) was, by all accounts, a theatrical disaster: ‘negligently played’ at the Blackfriars Theatre, according to its title page, ‘and more squeamishly beheld’. The actors were hissed off stage, but Jonson, possessed of what the Renaissance scholar Joseph Loewenstein has called a ‘bibliographic ego’, was not a man to...

Dürer

Adam Smyth, 5 July 2018

In​ the late summer or autumn of 1505, Albrecht Dürer travelled on horseback from Nuremberg to Venice. According to Vasari’s Lives of the Artists (1550), Dürer was looking to settle a score with Italian painters who were using his monogram on counterfeit prints, but it seems just as likely he wanted to soak up as much as he could from Italian art, and to promote his name and...

The Print Craze

Adam Smyth, 2 November 2017

The Compleat Drawing-Book, published by Fleet Street printseller Robert Sayer in 1755, is a handbook for the amateur artist that aims to provide ‘Proper Instructions to Youth for their Entertainment and Improvement in this Art’. The core of the book is a series of ‘Many and Curious Specimens’: prints from images ‘engrav’d on one hundred...

Paper

Adam Smyth, 14 June 2017

In​ 1619, for a bet, John Taylor – prolific poet, proud Londoner, waterman, prankster, anti-pollution campaigner, barman, literary celebrity, palindrome enthusiast (‘Lewd did I live, & evil I did dwel’) – sailed forty miles down the Thames to Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey in a boat made from brown paper. He fashioned oars from dried fishes tied to sticks,...

Early Modern Cookbooks

Adam Smyth, 5 January 2017

John​ Partridge’s The Treasurie of Commodious Conceits, and Hidden Secretes (1573) offers, to modern eyes, a bafflingly eclectic collection of what could loosely be called recipes, in the early modern sense of receipts, or texts received: ‘Fine Sauce for a roasted Rabbet: used to king Henry the eight’; ‘To comfort the heart, and take away Melancholy’; ‘To...

‘Brief Lives’

Adam Smyth, 7 October 2015

A friend​ who teaches in New York told me that the historian Peter Lake told him that J.G.A. Pocock told him that Conrad Russell told him that Bertrand Russell told him that Lord John Russell told him that his father the sixth Duke of Bedford told him that he had heard William Pitt the Younger speak in Parliament during the Napoleonic Wars, and that Pitt had this curious way of...

The Stationers’ Company

Adam Smyth, 26 August 2015

’s books include Autobiography in Early Modern England. He co-hosts the literary podcast litbits.co.uk.

The Atheist’s Bible

Adam Smyth, 20 February 2014

One of the ways​ in which literary texts are capacious is their ability to contain, within themselves, imaginary books: books that the more literal-minded real world isn’t yet able to realise. Borges’s short fiction is teeming with them. In ‘The Library of Babel’, Borges imagines a library ‘composed of an indefinite, perhaps infinite number of hexagonal...

Collier’s Letter Racks

Adam Smyth, 18 July 2013

‘This Booke,’ Leonard Digges claimed in a preface to Shakespeare’s First Folio, ‘When Brasse and Marble fade, shall make thee looke/Fresh to all Ages.’ If we take the First Folio as our biggest bibliographical landmark, the history of early modern print looks like a journey towards material permanence: towards the production of books that had the power to endure...

‘A Humument’

Adam Smyth, 11 October 2012

On a Saturday morning in November 1966, Tom Phillips picked a book at random from a pile of novels at a house-clearance sale in Peckham Rye. Phillips had never heard of W.H. Mallock’s A Human Document (1892), but he liked the title and the yellow cover and handed over threepence. Back at his kitchen table, Phillips began a process of remaking or ‘treating’ the book: by...

Tom Phillips: An Interview

Tom Phillips, Adam Smyth and Gill Partington, 4 October 2012

Tom Phillips, who was born in 1937, is a painter, printmaker and collagist, and the creator of ‘A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel’, which was reviewed by Adam Smyth in the issue of 12 October 2012. The following conversation took place on 16 September 2011 at the South London Gallery, between Phillips (TP), Smyth (AS) and Gill Partington (GP).

AS: Do you have many academic...

Editorial Interference

Adam Smyth, 5 July 2012

When the King’s printer Robert Barker produced a new edition of the King James Bible in 1631, he overlooked three letters from the seventh commandment, producing the startling injunction: ‘Thou shalt commit adultery.’ Barker was fined £300, and spent the rest of his life in debtors’ prison, even while his name remained on imprints. ‘I knew the tyme when...

From The Blog
26 March 2018

We gathered last Thursday at 23-25 Brook Street – where Handel lived from 1723 to 1759, and composed the Messiah, and where Hendrix lived in 1968-69, when Electric Ladyland came out – for funeral biscuits with caraway seeds, and schooners of sherry, before the four-minute walk through a cold Mayfair evening to St George’s Church, Hanover Square.

From The Blog
9 October 2013

‘I hate books. Can't read them. They send me to sleep,' says the man responsible for annihilating tens of thousands of books a year. Let’s call him B. Secrecy is at a premium in his trade and we are granted an interview only after protracted negotiation, a series of deferrals and cancellations, and lots of provisos. Sat in a bare, bleak office somewhere in the Midlands, with the constant background din of next door's shredding machines, he lets us know we're fortunate to get a glimpse of the world of 'destruction work'.

From The Blog
5 February 2013

Browsing in a second-hand bookshop on Charing Cross Road in the spring of 2004, I came across a copy of History and the Early English Novel by Robert Mayer. I opened it up and loose papers tumbled out. Turning the book’s pages, I saw hundreds of annotations pencilled in the margins: shaky lines and ringed numbers and then, across the endleaves and inside back cover, a thick scrawl of largely illegible notes: page numbers, cross-references, summaries, words circled furiously or underlined – ‘21. Facts’; ‘135. Origins of novel’; ‘143-4. Cromwell, Defoe’. What looks like ‘48-9. Milton’s lust’ is probably ‘Milton’s hist[ory]’. The inside cover has an elegantly looping signature: ‘Christopher Hill/1997/7’. I put the loose papers back and handed over £15. Then I put the book on my bookshelf and forgot about it for nine years.

Life-Writing

Thomas Keymer, 16 August 2017

You could​ say that in literature you don’t really have a genre until you have a name for it – and the word ‘autobiography’, it turns out, hasn’t been around for...

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