The Noble Life of Moretto: An 18th-century Venetian Dog

21972, page 22

The author and his beloved dog on page 22. (Cotsen 21972).

On this dog day of summer, we thought we’d relieve the heat with a little canine levity in the Cotsen Children’s Library.  It’s not a children’s book, but it could be considered a forerunner of fictional animal autobiographies like Edward A. Kendall’s Keeper’s Travels in Search of His Master (1799) or Anna Sewell’s better known  Black Beauty.

The above image is from Il Moretto del Pittoni: narrazione encomiastica serio-faceta della dignissime perogative che in lui si attrovavano (In Venezia : Presso Leonardo Pittoni, MDCCXIII [1713]). Which is a mouthful of 18th-century Venetian. Very (very) roughly translated, the title is:”The Moretto Pittoni: The most Serious-facetious Laudatory Narration that is My Worthy Perogative to Find for Him. This half-serious encomium (an extensive celebratory and eulogizing biography of a person or thing) narrates the life and death of Moretto, the venerable dog of the author Giovanni Battista Pittoni and his publisher/father Leonardo Pittoni.

Most of the text is in Venetian, but the opening poetry of praise on the frontispiece (and the lengthy closing “epigraphe”) are in Latin.

frontispiece and title-page spread

The frontispiece and title-page spread.

The story opens with Moretto being found and then taken home to the young author. It follows him through his adventures as a young pup and the tricks he performed in his youth. But the life of Moretto takes a turn for the worse, unfortunately, when he finds himself in a confrontation with the dreaded family cat:

page 26

Page 26. Could the Pittonis have sat by and watched the epic battle without intervening?:

As a result of this episode, the poor dog is blinded. But much to the chagrin of his enemy this means the family treats him even better. Moretto is fed the best doggy meals while the cat looks on enviously:

page28

Page 28. Interesting to see that the Moretto was fed in the kitchen.

But nothing can hold back Moretto! Despite his blindness he continues on in his virtuous life.

A well respected member of the dog community:

page34

Page 34. This looks like an unsupervised dog play group.

And a courageous defender of his home from the traditional enemy:

Page 30

Page 3. How many animals were there in the Pittoni household, anyway?

The latter part of the book mostly deals Moretto’s old age and dignified infirmity. As the wise and aged canine reaches his golden years, he can no longer return to his bed without a little assistance:

Page 45

Page 45, where you’ll also see a picture of Moretto on the wall.

Alas! At the almost impossibly ripe old age of 25, Moretto succumbs to his rheumatism:

Page 53

Page 53. Poor Moretto…

 

For a relatively short book (72 pages), the story of Moretto’s life is bursting with 171 references and comparisons to classical thinkers and figures like Socrates, Boethius, Ovid, Seneca, etc (citations at page 68 and 69); a purposeful exaggeration of the encomium form. Though I think it is clear that the Pittonis loved their dog and mourned his loss (they published a book about his life after all), I can’t help but appreciate their sense of humor in creating a facetious and over-the-top tribute to a family pet.

Thanks to John Bidwell, Astor Curator and Department Head of Printed Books and Bindings at the Morgan Library, for helping with the translation of the text. Any errors are mine alone.

P.S.  Can anyone take a guess as to Moretto’s breed?

The Spirit of 1776: An American Copy Book Older than This Country (Slightly)

34370frontwrapper

34370, front wrapper with an engraving illustrating a fable.

Since we are inaugurating a long weekend celebrating Independence Day today (huzzah for a holiday on Monday!), I thought it might be appropriate to share an equally important contemporaneous manuscript to the Declaration of Independence from the Cotsen collection.

The above image is the front wrapper of Samuel Holbrook’s copy book. Composed between June and September 1776 in  Hartford, Connecticut and Boston, Massachusetts, this copy book is a rare written artifact that has survived from the time of the founding of this country. A copy book (or copybook) is an educational practice book in which a pupil practices penmanship and the basics of reading (and often arithmetic) by copying as closely as possible passages from an engraved instruction manual. So of course, they often contained alphabets of Roman and italic letters, upper and lower case to copy.

page [8]

page [8]

Sam Holbrook’s copy book happens to have an entry that is a day earlier than a very auspicious date for this country:

34370page[1]

page [1]. Notice that Sam is using red ink for the headings and black for the precepts.

As you might have guessed, besides learning the rudiments of penmanship, copy books were often meant to be morally instructive  by providing life advice. These kinds of proverbial couplets pictured above, and other aphorisms, are typical  fodder for copy books and other forms of moral instruction throughout the  eighteenth century (think of the various kinds of “sayings” from the wildly popular Poor Richard’s Almanac). Moral instruction and life advice, however, doesn’t always have to be typographically or stylistically boring:

page [6]

page [6].  This is an uncommon layout, judging by other American copy books in Cotsen’s collections

page [11]

page [11]. Notice that Sam used red, blue, and black ink on this page.

 Either Samuel Holbrook hadn’t heard the recent news about independence or had (Gasp!) Tory sympathies. In the image below, Sam has copied out an extensive praise of British merchants and their far-reaching benefits:

page [13]

page [13]. Sam was probably using a British copy book, which might also explain all the pro-English sentiments.

 If you want to read more about how this Cotsen copy book has been featured in our public outreach program, Cotsen in the Classroom, check out this blog post by Dr. Dana on her blog: Pop Goes the Page.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!