THE FIRESIDE UNIVERSITY for Home Circle Study and Entertainment. With Complete Indexes ... Union Publishing House, Chicago, [Copyrighted by M. B. Downer & Co., 1898. All rights reserved. Published by the Union Publishing House, Chicago, 1898.]
1898. 8vo, pp. xiv, then random sample pages to 512, 2 index,  printed testimonials,  advertisement in half broadside giving descriptions and price of the bindings available,  blank ruled order book for subscribers (unused); the present example containing 24 full page plates, and numerous steel engravings; paper a little browned due to quality; with a number of neat pencil annotations, presumably by the salesman as an aide-memoire; with the contemporary inscription ‘Geo. W. Leline’s Book’ on decorated front endpaper; An appealing and variant issue of a salesman’s sampler of this popular, if perhaps slightly eccentric, work for the young on technology and science. Such sampler’s or canvassing books, previously little studied, are now being recognised as useful and important sources for the study of book publication and history. The 1898 work in full eventually spanned 535 pages with 25 leaves of plates, including the portrait frontispiece, as well as copious woodcut illustrations, many of which are also full-page.
The work is written in the form of a series of questions and answers, and is fairly wide-ranging in scope, although in the face of the rapid growth of technology, McGovern struggles at times with his explanations, clearly not fully comprehending himself, the principles that he is endeavouring to explain to his students. For example when attempting to define in common language the units of ohms, amperes, volts, joules, or watts, he simply answers, that ‘no’ they cannot be simply defined. In the chapter on ‘Life’, he asks ‘What three cardinal things may be named in the Universe?’. His answer: ‘Motion (Light and Heat), Matter and Life ... Wherein does Life differ from Motion? Life is a Motion that is eccentric, jerky or suspended. It has no regularity or period. If we see a speck of Life in a drop or water, it may go here or there, or it may stand still’ (p. 316).
Chapters are devoted to electricity, x-rays, compressed air, ‘bread, cake and pastry’, cheese, nuts, coffee, salt, the spectroscope, chemistry, the bicycle, soap, ice, our clothes, india rubber, paper, glass and concluding with astronomy. An eclectic mix indeed, and whilst perhaps not the most erudite of home companions, McGovern’s work, copiously illustrated with striking engravings, nevertheless went through a number of editions and proved extremely popular. Zinman, Canvassing Books, 986 (we have previously handled a variant issue).
Condition: sampler in contemporary brown cloth, upper cover elaborately lettered in gilt with title in blind on rear cover, matching spine sample hinged to fore-edge, with blue cloth sample mounted to hinged spine’s verso, with alternative red cushioned alligator grained leather front cover sample lettered in gilt and mounted on rear paste-down, with two alternate endpapers provided; head of spine lightly rubbed and worn, gilt on upper cover a little rubbed and faded, with some minor staining to rear cover, extremities lightly rubbed and worn; a good example.