A Story from Contes pour les Bibliophiles
The End Of Books
A prognostication from the past
In 1895 Octave Uzanne and Albert Robida published, in France, Contes pour
les Bibliophiles (Stories for Bibliophiles). We're going to re-publish this as an
e-book, taking advantage of the ability of modern technology to reproduce the
color and monochrome images in ways that would be prohibitively expensive to
duplicate on paper. Here's a sample to get your interest piqued.
The eleven stories in Contes, all revolving around books
(or at least printing) are interesting, bizarre, weird... one could go on in
true Fanthorpian fashion. But even better than the stories are the illustrations by Albert
Robida was born in 1848 and died in 1926. During his lifetime he reportedly drew 60,000
pictures and wrote and/or illustrated over 200 books. His first published work came out
in 1866, and he appeared in "La Vie
Parisienne," as well as journals less well-known to the world outside France. One of his
works, La Guerre au XXe Siècle (1887) is of some interest in the field of
science-fictional treatments of future wars, and is the subject of current papers and a
critical edition by I. F. Clarke in Britain.
Robida is forgotten (or was never known) in America, but in France he is remembered.
His sketches and caricatures, particularly of humorous and satirical visions of what lay in
the future, were decades ahead of their time. Disney adopted some of his drawings as
backgrounds for their views of the future at a pavilion at Epcot, and web sites
attempt today to bring some of his best work back into circulation.
If Robida is mostly forgotten, Uzanne can be truly said to have vanished from the
cultural consciousness of the world. Yet he was well known as a writer and critic of his
day, and some of his works command high prices from rare-book dealers. One presumes that
much of his work was more bound to the circumstances of the current day than were the
drawings of Robida, whose art has a certain timelessness to it (even where it graphically
predicts a future that demonstrably did not happen).
What follows is one of the pieces from Contes. Writing and drawing
in 1894, Uzanne and Robida give us predictions
of a post-literate society. Music and speech are everywhere! Newspapers are forgotten,
and news presenters are valued for their emotional tone instead of the accuracy of their
reporting. Recordings combined with cinema present costumed drama and humor in the
home. (This is 1894, remember; Edison had truly just begun to produce his films.)
Printed books are over and done with! They are no longer needed. As some companies
(Hidden Knowledge, for example) begin to create electronic books that will never
be published in printed form, we need to remember... it was all
predicted more than a hundred years ago.
Special Note: Those of you who read "IEEE Computer Graphics" will find the May/June 2000
issue reprints several of the images here. It was our pleasure to supply them for the
paper on "E-Books and the Future of Reading" by Dr. Beverly Harrison of SoftBook.
If you are reading this at the end of a communications modem,
I will advise you that it may take a while to load
all the images. We include this piece in the "EXTRAS" folder on our CD-ROM editions;
in that case, it doesn't take much time at all. But if you are reading this on the Web,
you may wish to go make yourself a cup of coffee, or pour a glass of
wine ... and come back to take a look into the future that may still happen.
Read about the
End of Books.
Notes on the re-creation of "The End of Books"
The original drawings in the collection
Contes pour les Bibliophiles were scanned as color and
black-and-white drawings at 600 dpi, and cleaned up in
Photoshop. The drawings were extracted and processed individually to reduce their file
size and improve their visual presentation on computer screens. The text was run
through Textbridge 9, which did a surprisingly good job at OCR.
The HTML layout merges
the recovered text and the processed images back together again, and is designed to
approximate that of the original. It is impossible to imitate it exactly, for all
browser configurations, in HTML. You can do it in PDF; we looked at conversion to
PDF but decided to keep things simple. One hopes also that future
XML layout tools will provide this capability.
The original is in French, and
providing a proper translation is outside the
scope of this project. I wrote a summary
in English for those us of who do not have
the French language. Or see the "Scribner's Magazine" references below.
I have no idea what was originally written as the last word in the caption of the drawing of
Gutenberg and the devil. It appears to have been scratched off the printing plate.
Contes pour les Bibliophiles was noted in "The Century Magazine"
(May, 1895, page 354 ff.) in a review section on "Books in
Paper Covers." I say noted; but actually, only the cover was reviewed.
The cover was reproduced in a photoengraving in "Century" and its artistic values
were denigrated; the contents apparently remained unread. Perhaps they were
unhappy because Uzanne ocasionally appeared
in English in "Scribner's Magazine", which competed fiercely with "Century".
If anyone knows of contemporary reviews of Contes or "La Fin des Livres"
I would much appreciate
hearing from you about them.
The story itself appeared in a clumsy English translation in "Scribner's", Vol. 16
(1894), pp 221-231, with illustrations by Robida some the same as those in the
collection Contes, and some different. In general the pictures
were printed more clearly in Contes. The page images are on
the web in both JPEG and GIF format at
Dave Price's website at Oxford
Another place to see this on the web, with a different set of JPEG
images of the "Scribner's" pages, is at the
Kent at Canterbury, which also has an HTML of the whole
piece with the artwork located in
approximately the right places (but of questionable size),
and an HTML version with the art left out.
A fabulous resource for anyone interested in the history of American magazines (or
American history in general) is the
MOA project at Cornell. They have
put up on the web full-page images of the complete editorial contents of long
runs of 19C magazines. "Scribner's" is included; at MOA you can see what else was in the
same issue with this piece. Unfortunately, their reproduction of the illustrations is
not so good, either because of their imaging methodology or because they were working
from bad microforms. Also, it has always been common for libraries to discard the
covers and ads from magazines before binding them, to save money and shelf space;
today we find the ads and cover illustrations more interesting than most of the
stories and features. The volumes displayed by MOA generally
lack the ads and covers. Such is life.
To find out more about Albert Robida and Octave Uzanne:
UPDATE 5 October 2006: Stéphane Bois writes again to mention an interesting article (in French)
on Robida and his work, with many illustrations by Robida, in the December 2003 issue of Arts & Métiers du Livre, Number 239. He also says that
examination of the volumes of Le Livre Moderne, "continuation" of Le Livre, finds that they do
not contain any further stories of the type found in Contes [see below for some links].
UPDATE 13 October 2005: Robida now has his own tribute
website: http://www.robida.info/! Click on the
links to see various examples of Robida's work. Knowledge of French is not a requirement,
though it will increase one's enjoyment. The organization "Les amis d'Albert Robida"
("The Friends of Albert Robida") is now linked from this site, and claims over 200 members.
"Albert Robida's Imperfect Future" in "History Today," July 1998. (I have not yet
seen this article myself.)
essay, with pictures of some of his books. (In French.)
And, of course,
television predicted in 1877 (in English and French).
Some interesting pages at pansophist.com display
Albert Robida illlustrations, as used by Disney at the recently
closed Horizons pavilion (1983-99) at Epcot:
A different piece by Uzanne, also from "Scribner's", (1892, p. 558) can also
be found at the MOA project: "Conversations and Opinions of Victor Hugo - from
Unpublished Papers Found at Guernsey". Yet another is "The Arts Relating to
Women, and their Exhibition in Paris" (Vol. 13 (1893), page 503). You should
be able to go
directly to the "Scribner's" volumes at MOA from this entry page.
All of the URLs given above are subject to sudden and unexpected change!
The web is dynamic, changing, upredictable, and sometimes unreliable. They were
tested, updated, and working correctly on 13 October 2005.
In the six years since this page first went online, more than half the links originally
listed have gone dark or moved, and one was taken over by a porn site. You can always
get the latest links by careful use of a search engine like Google.
UPDATE 13 October 2005:
Stéphane Bois writes to send us many fascinating pieces of information about Uzanne and Robida, and
to tell us that the original publications of several of the sections of Contes, in the
magazine Le Livre, are
now online in the "Gallica" digital library section
of the Bibliothèque
nationale de France. Whle this magazine ceased publication in 1889, its successor
magazine, Le Livre Moderne, was also under the direction of Uzanne; issues of this magazine
are not yet online, but it is likely that further pieces (possibly including La Fin des Livres) appeared there.
Stéphane also sent biographies and reviews of Uzanne and Robida and their work, which
we will be making available for you when time permits.
Places you can go on the Hidden Knowledge websites:
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This page updated 27 August 2002, 13 October 2005, and 4 October 2006