But our history is more storied than this. Indeed, VRZHU Press as it is known today is just the most recent incarnation of what began in the 1500s in the tiny German town of Bad Muskau on the Polish border. Originally known as Veröffentlicher von Versionen die Schäferhund Eingeweiden (loosely translated as "Publishers of Versions of Sheepdog Entrails"), much of its early history was lost in a tragic fire in 1816. Indeed what little we know about VRZHU's first three centuries are based on what was written down by the survivors based on their memory of the records destroyed in the fire and the oral history of earlier publishers still living at the time. While we concede that these testimonies are suspect, they are sadly all we have to go by.
The story that has come down to us is that the founder, one Leopold Fuhrwerk, was an itinerant poet who carried his books by cart, selling and reading village to village through German Silesia (then part of the Habsburg Monarchy). He seemed successful, but at some point Fuhrwerk's more satiric work caught the attention of the authorities who did not look kindly on his more pointed policial commentary. His quatrains about the "poofiness" of Archduke Rudolf pantaloons not only proved the big hit poem of 1568, it also threatened Fuhrwerk's safety. Sadly the quatrains about the young future Holy Roman Emperor were lost in the fire of 1816, but they proved scandalous enough to lead to Fuhrwerk's banishment from Silesia.
Fuhrwerk resettled in Geneva where he died in 1629 from a case of faulty leeching.
The bitter irony of Fuhrwerk's death is not lost to us. You see, in an attempt of broadening the press's offerings, Fuhrwerk had just published the German edition of William Harvey's groundbreaking treatise Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus which disproved the practice of leeching and bloodletting. His death reminds us of the importance of trusting what we publish.
His family continued publishing and took the operation in different directions. The next two centuries saw the growth of what we now know as VRZHU Press -- the name was mercifully shortened from Veröffentlicher von Versionen die Schäferhund Eingeweiden upon Fuhrwerk's move to Geneva. They specialized in devotional poetry and, most successfully, wartime pamphletry.
It is this latter work which is of note, as the press seemed to go where the work was, and in some cases operated as a proto-Hearstian fomentor of conflict. In 1673 VRZHU opened presses in Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm and began publishing pamphlets that many historians credit for the start of hostilities that led to the bloody, and pointless, Scanian War of 1675. The war lasted four years; during which VRZHU profited from the publication of humorous treatises attacking the intelligence and eating habits of the enemy. What is of interest is that what VRZHU published in Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm was all the same, except for the change in nationality: the Danish and Norwegian pamphlets were scurrulously anti-Swedish, while the Swedish pamphlets were fiercely anti-Danish and Norwegian. Extant pamphlets from this period include the Swedish pamphlet "What Peril Lies in the Danish Lutefisk Brine!" and the Norwegian pamphlet, "The Crown Lies Crooked on Princess Ulrike Eleonora's Head." Both published by VRZHU Press and going through multiple printings.
It was a regrettable chapter in the history of the press. But this being a particularly contentious century in European warfare, it was also a very long chapter. Historians believe the press responsible for egging on 1683's Franco-Spanish War of the Reunions, agitating both the Austrian and Ottoman empires into 1716's Austro-Turkish War, and bullying France disastrous entry into 1748's Second Carnatic War, and 1762's Spanish and Portuguese War.
Such agitations could not go uncontested and reached a frenesí when VRZHU's Madrid director,Gustav Pohleur was sentenced to death for publishing a pamphlet on the zoological parentage of the Infanta Maria Josepha. Her father, the Spanish King Charles III, was not amused and had Pohleur put in stocks, and then condemned to death after a thorough clinical entrail deciphering.
The press' century of war-related endeavors were put to an end by Fuhrwerk's great, great, great grandson, Michel Le Caretier (who Francified the family name open moving operations to Paris in 1753). In the aftermath of their wartime publications, the company's fortunes were vast, but its political position precarious after Pohleur's public trial and execution. Having made a fortune of ridiculing the culinary customs, hygienic habits, and questionable ancestral roots of most of Europe's nations and their aristocratic houses, Le Caretier had the good sense to move operations to the American colonies, opening businesses in New York and Philadelphia. Le Caretier (now operating as "Michael Carter") returned the press to its poetic roots and established itself as the home for the voices of American poetry. This is the inheritance we look forward to sharing with you in future installments. The earlier history is largely regrettable, although it allows us the shabby comforts of our architectural déshabillé.
We're lucky and proud, especially in these days of publishing industry contraction and meltdown, to benefit from such a long and storied past, albeit little known to the outside world. As a limited release publisher of poetic disquisition and arcana approaching its fifth century of productivity, we're blessed with a remarkable archives of material from our publishing forebears.
Yesterday during a rainy day conclave at VRZHU's Southeastern Regional Headquarters, we took some time to go through our voluminous archives. Now the VRZHU Archives archives are immense and due to the economic downturn we have had to lay off about three quarters of our staff. That staff included three interns and a chihuahua. So after feeding little Fallstaff, we settled into about two hours of cobweb clearing and were delighted to find this gem from VRZHU Press's 1886 publication Pastures of Poetic Anthems and Descants of Delectation. The work was a huge success of the year and served as the requisite anthology for two generations (copies fetch a pretty sum online and in antiquarian bookstores). Here is Horace Bowleshare's gripping Ode from this collection.
To A Plum-Pudding
Shall fumes of haggis fill Apollo’s nose?
Of “country messes” shall the Muse be fain?
And thou, consummate compoud, thou remain
But them (too rare) of culinary prose!
Spheroid oblate, whose microcosm shows
Choice gifts of nature from her triple reign
For Art’s deft hands to mingle and constrain,
Till round thy “spotty globe” blue ether glows.
Salt, sugar, suet, flour and eggs and spice,
Citron’s green masses, raisin’s sanguine crowd,
Milk, cognac, lime-juice; minor dainties which,
Though not essential, are exceedingly nice—
Sweet may be other cates (sic), but thus endowed,
O well-yclept plum-pudding, thou art rich.