A report on the 13th October 2009 OxBoink was posted
to the newsgroup by Mike Lyle and is reproduced here:
here to see the posting and the rest of the thread in the
Several of the usual suspects, Laura Spira, Katy & David Jennison, Jac
Collier, Julia & Phil Cresswell, and the undersigned, welcomed John
Wilkins, Aussie philosopher of science, to the home of lost causes on 13
Oct 2009. Julia and I walked him by way of interesting oddments (such as
what were probably bits of the window-frames of Beaumont Palace,
birthplace of the Lionheart and his bro Lackland: these pieces of gothic
stonework were set with casual elegance along the top of a brick wall in
Pusey St) to the Brassière Blanc. There we met the rest of the party,
and proceeded with very decent prix-fixe nosh.
On display were John's latest book, _Species: a History of the Idea_ and
Julia's, _The insect that stole butter?_, the Oxford Dictionary of Word
Origins. OUP still take a fairly responsible attitude to editing and
proof-reading, but there was a nice neologism in Julia's. I thought
"cacophany" might form an occasionally useful companion to "theophany",
"epiphany", and the like; but, no, it was a plain old-fashioned typo.
I'm still working through _Species_: I knew about so-called "ring
species", of course, but it had never occurred to me precisely how
debatable a concept biological "species" actually is. Quite fascinating.
The book ends with a typically AUE-worthy sentence: "And /suidae/ may
evolve feathered forelimbs for locomotion."
After deliberation, it was decided that the author should not sign the
Coventry Library copy, in case it prompted some collector to steal it.
We then learned (from Laura?) of a nifty author wheeze: you go to
bookshops and sign all the copies of your books. This apparently
generous gesture means the shop can't return unsold volumes to the
publisher and get their money back.
A typo in the menu led to Phil's revelation that a "pood" was an old
Russian unit of weight, equal to 40 Russian "funt", or 36 of our pounds.
(See OED for details.)
After lunch we chortled our way back to OUP, where lay in store a great
treat arranged by Laura. The Press's private little museum is
beautifully set up, and a few of its treasures were on display. There's
an almanac plate criticised by Turner; a dictionary slip by Tolkien (he
specialized in W, which was published last: it's the north-European
derivatives that begin with that non-Graeco-Roman letter); the famous
letter from Thomas Hardy mentioning that the dictionary didn't include
"ewe-lease" or "cow-lease" --it finally did, in quotations from Thomas
The account-book was open at the page for _Alice in Wonderland_. Dodgson
paid for the publication himself, and felt obliged to withdraw the first
impression because Tenniel complained about the print quality of his
pictures. Twenty paid-for copies are still out there, and if you've got
one, we were told it's worth three million Jimmy o'Goblins. The rest
were given away to schools, so little chance of survival... He craftily
sent the plates to the US, where Tenniel wouldn't notice: these ones are
only worth a few tens of thousands of dollars. We were privileged to be
allowed to _hold_ a charming /Alice/ memorabilium, the original plate
from which they printed the Mouse's Tale--see:
It's not at all clear how they made that printing plate, which is in
type, not engraving. I'd like to go back and solve the mystery.
We also had a dry-run go at the old-fashioned hand-powered single-sheet
printing press: hard work. B.Litt students produce, or used to, a new
edition of an old pamphlet on this machine as part of the course. Nice
to think of all the famous and nonfamous hands which have heaved those
We inevitably visited some bookshops, and were particularly taken with
The Albion Beatnik bookstore (www.albionbeatnik.co.uk), one of those
small ventures one wants desperately to succeed...he even wraps your
books neatly in crisp green paper.
A lot went on at the other end of the lunch table, but the only bit of
that I heard was a mention of deafness.
Photos by David
Clockwise from left: Julia, Katy, Jac, Phil, Laura, Mike, John
Laura, Mike, John, Julia (and Julia's book, The Insect That Stole Butter?)
Laura, John, Julia (and John's book, Species)
Sign passed en route from Brasserie Blanc to the Oxford University Press museum