Daguerreotyped Reader,

I own plenty of old books that have at some time or the other been the textbook of an unhappy schoolchild or two, and their bored doodles and sometimes even their homework cover lengths of battered page-margins. That is almost certainly true of my next book in these little stories of my library: The Pantheon, Representing the Fabulous Histories of the Heathen Gods and most Illustrious Heroes.

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I can’t say exactly when it was printed – the first and last few pages have been ripped out apparently a long time ago, but surprisingly the cover is pretty much completely intact. The binding stylistically is of the last quarter of the seventeenth century, being a single-tone panel binding, but the style of it is simple and it could easily be an early 18th century binding done by a country binder as a cheap but hard-wearing piece of work.

Oh look, a binding.

Oh look, a binding.

Indeed it needed to be hard-wearing; the original owner certainly used this book thoroughly, and it seems to me that he is largely responsible for the state of the book today. This is John Digby – a mysterious owner who has the handwriting of a young teenager, and filled the front and back paste downs with his name and two years in which he seems to have read the book – 1745 and 1748. Thanks to a hand-written alternative to a bookmark in one margin, we know that on 20th March 1745 he had read up to page 76.

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His bored doodles turn up from page to page, and he’s coloured in a few parts of different engravings with his ink pen. He must have been studying Latin since, even though the book is in English, a short handwritten essay from 1745 appears on the back of one of the book’s engravings, which discusses Theseus and the Minotaur. There’s also several corrections of printing errors, and in one translation of a poem Digby even steps in to fix the rhyming of one line.

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Aside from him, sadly, there is no history of the owners of this little book. The nibbling along some of the fore-edges shows that it was once kept where mice were running around, and the wear on the boards suggests it has more likely been kept for most of its life on its side rather than stood upright on a shelf. Other than that, there is very little that one can assume about this quaint old schoolbook.

Adieu, Happy Reader

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