13 OCTOBER 1961, Page 19

Pleasures for Pelican People

DON'T say a word to the specialists, who despise the jackdaw picking of other men's brains for exquisitely useless facts on subjects other than their own — but among this month's new batch of Penguins there's a fact-pocketer's delight called Musical Instruments Through the Ages, edited'by Anthony Baines. This is the sort of book •that explains how, while the Early Christians were being munched by the lions, some Roman forerunner of the cinema-organist pounded away mood music on an organ called a hydraulus, with the inevitable result that the Early Christian liturgy was notably short on organ music. In the Dark Ages you either played the organ rather violently by hitting the thing with a clenched list, or carried a dear little portative organ about with you in medieval processions, blowing away with the left hand, playing with the right, and keeping your long medieval sleeves as far as possible out of the music.

The shawm, a jolly reed instrument which Bartok heard played in Algeria and on which he commented coldly that in- doors the sound nearly busts your ear- drums, is played without drawing breath and with a device to support the blown-out cheeks. In ancient Greece they bandaged the shawm-player up as a safety measure against cheek-sag, cutting a small hole in the middle so as to allow some sort of contact between reed and breath. An Athenian writer of the second century A.D. described the 'islanders of the Ocean', or early Britons, as keen panpipers. A'nd in the last few years a small firm in Calcutta has produced the unforgettable 'O.K. phone', cautiously described by Mr. Baines as 'a kind of zitherized re-creation of the ancestor of the clavichord' and surely no one could say fairer than that.

This gluttonously enjoyable and learned but most unsolemn book is illustrated with pictures of ancient musical instruments of great decorative elegance, cross-sections of others to show their remarkable innards, and here and there a line drawing of, say, an Anglo-Saxon king moodily strumming on an Anglo-Saxon lyre or a fourteenth- century person in winklepickers plucking strangely at the psaltery. Each section is contributed by a different specialist, and there's a specially lively chapter by the king of percussion Mr. lames Blades, with some cautiously phrased information about how the percussion players, in a comradely way', work out among them- selves who is going to find a spare minute to have a bash at the wood block, sleigh bells, cowbell, anvil, and thunder-sheet when the need arises.

Once having thoroughly mastered the history of musical instruments, you can limber up for a fast gallop through Penguin's 1961 issue of World Events, which gets the whole of 1960 neatly down on paper, not forgetting one or two facts that may so far have passed you by com- pletely. There is more enlightenment on living in the present from Michael Young's satire written with a 2034 A.D. eyeview The Rise of the Meritocracy, and reporters on the sex war should especially note his section on the Modern Feminist Move- ment, paying close attention to the eugenic campaign launched by professor Eagle and his helpful wife.

When you think quickly of a Penguin (and most quick thinkers call up the instant image of a small mostly orange book as often as a medium-sized bird in evening dress) do you think of fiction (this . month's bunch includes Lucky Jim, the book someone must have called seminal away back in 1954) or of some unexpected publication of quite a different shape ? This month produces the Penguin Atlas, of Medieval History, by Colin McEvedy. This irresistible half-guinea's worth tells, through maps, where in A.D. 528 you went for amber, furs, papyrus, slaves, and emeralds and also enables you to pinpoint the Volga Bulgars, the Khanate of the Golden Horde, and something fairly enigmatic but once clarified surely never forgotton calledGhuzz. As a clearer-up of the medieval muddle that hangs about, in the minds of too many of us, this beautiful and curiously fairy-tale book must be kept ready to hand and never lent to anybody.

This mpnth° those whose temperament and habits bend towards what the library shelves refer to desperately as non-fiction can bone up in Pelicans on Hinduism, bridge, the history of the Christian Church from 1789 to the present day, and organic chemistry, and if every Pelican ever published, properly read and digested and not just bought and stored in a spirit of hopefulness, didn't make a full Renaissance Man out of a Pelican addict, it would be only by some unaccountable oversight on the part of the editors.