4to (207 x 167 mm). 326 pp. Title woodcut of Chronos, woodcut head- and tail-pieces, the tailpiece on p. 66 with the author’s name in intertwined letters, final tailpiece showing Mercury, the head-pieces with the imperial double-headed eagle. Occasional light browning. Contemporary Brokatpapier (Dutch-gilt paper)- covered boards, decorated with figures of dark-skinned musicians and animals amidst swirling foliage, manuscript paper shelf-mark label on spine, edges blue-sprinkled (joints cracked, some chipping to paper, small stain to upper cover).***
only edition of a vast collection of chronograms by a blind auxiliary bishop of Prague and cabinet of curiosities collector. The present edition, along with a later work by the same author, Cancer chorographicè incedens, published in 1755, appear to be the largest chronogram collections ever published.
Chronograms are sentences or short paragraphs containing letters that can be read as Roman numerals (they are printed as capital letters), which together add up to a date; the trick is of course to find as many different (meaningful) sentences as possible to produce the desired number. Jan Rudolf Sporck (1694-1759) was a master of this genre, which was popular in the centuries when life moved at a slower pace. The approximately 3000 sentences in this volume, including three on the title-page, “add up” to dates ranging from 1749 to 1752, presumably the dates of their composition. The chronograms are grouped in thematic sections. Most are either religious (on God, the scriptures, the saints, the doctrine of faith, the Virgin), or are grouped under the general rubric of “moral sentences and proverbs,” with some diversions into history and miscellaneous topics.
Auxiliary bishop and capitulary at St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague Castle, Sporck “was apparently interested in the arts and sciences, because he created a private cabinet of curiosities. He is known as a significant collector of the arts... but his natural history collections would have passed away unnoticed [had he not created], probably during 1719-1741 ...a [manuscript] catalogue [Delineationes Sporckianae], illustrating specimens in his possession...” (Mlíkovský, p. 33). This eccentric man, who besides an inquisitive mind also clearly possessed a sense of humor, hid not only the date of publication but his own identity in the books that he published. In this book his name is disguised in a woodcut tailpiece; in the Cancer it lurks in a marginal note (cf. Hilton, p. 428). The Talpa or mole of the present title alludes to his own blindness, as does the sub-title (Chronographici, quos caecus inter tenebras fecit, lucis exposuit...).
In both this edition and the Cancer chorographicè, the imprimatur, dated 30 August 1751, is signed by Antonius Wenceslaus Wokaun. Hilton knew of a third chronogram collection by Sporck but could not ascertain its title: it may be the Lentus limax ex vinea, of which the British Library holds a 432-page volume described as “manuscript notes”.
I locate one other copy, at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. Apparently no one has previously identified the author. The work was unknown to Hilton and I locate it in no bibliographies.
On Sporck cf. James Hilton, Chronograms, 5000 and more in number (1885), pp. 427-441; and Ji í Mlíkovský, “Bird collection of Johann Rudolf Sporck (1694-1759) in Prague, Bohemia,” Journal of the National Museum (Prague), Natural History Series Vol. 179 (4): 33-39; 24 August 2010 (online Nov. 2015). Item #2744