Primer with Stories & Poems
A new primer (Part II) containing one canon of Psalms, fables, poems, and translations from foreign writers, as well as a woodcut portrait of the benefactor Sargis Alavaleanc’i.
According to scholar Haig Utidjian, “It was printed in Madras, which appears to be part of the New Julia diocese, in 1809, and is volume II of an “Alphabetical Book”, of which the first few pages seem to consist of psalms in the original Classical Armenian. Some of the later pages are devoted to other things – such as instructions about issuing receipts if someone pays their debt in instalments, and also a sort of spiritual poem…”. “The description within the volume itself refers to a “canon of psalms”, and “various other useful items” such as parables, poems and items translated from other languages.”
According to scholar Guillaume Aral, “Portrait of the engraver Aghavalian Sargis son of Dzadour (1809)”.
According to scholar Sebouh Aslanian, “This is indeed a curious work that I am familiar with despite it being outside of my area of interest and expertise (1512-1800). Though this is evidently an ABC Primer or Այբենարան (Aybenaran), the title page bears a slightly misleading title: Նոր Տետրակ որ կոչի Այբուբենական, New Book Called an Alphabetical! ABC Primers were a popular genre in the early modern period and continued to be so during the early nineteenth century, presumably since “home schooling” and not mandatory schooling by the state was the norm and the overwhelming majority of people (whether or not Armenian) were illiterate or semi-literate.
The printer, Sargis Tsatur Aghavelean or Aghavalean was a Julfan merchant residing in Madras and ran Madras’s Second or third (depending on how one counts) printing establishment from 1809-1812. He was preceded by Shahamir Shahamirean’s press (1772-1788) and the press of Shmavon Shmavonean (1789-1809) and followed by the press of Shahamirean’s grandsons (1812-). Not much if anything of substance is known about the man Aghavalean, save that he was most likely a merchant with a flair for publishing works of interest and use for his “nation,” including this two-volume primer for young Armenians in Madras who were already being “assimilated” into British society. His press issued four titles only including this two-volume primer. Interestingly, this second volume, like other primers from the early modern period, has segments from the highly popular Psalms of David and other works to provide moral advice. As Hakob Irazek notes in his “History of Indo-Armenian Printing” (Պատմութիւն Հնդկահայ Տպագրութեան), Aghavalean interestingly lifted a short segment of moral advice for the youth from an Armenian book published in Venice only a few years earlier by the Mkhitarist monk, Iknatios P‘ap‘azean titled “Girk‘ k‘aghak‘awarut‘ean” (1806) or A Book on Civility, thus demonstrating the existence of a public sphere shored up by medium of print (143).
Unlike most early modern Primers, this one has a section on commerce and trade, the profession that most readers were expected to enter upon achieving maturity at the age of 16. Here, of course, the segments on how to write bills of payment and other credit instruments are noteworthy. They show us that adolescent boys were expected to have some literacy to conduct long-distance trade. The example of a business letter on p. 95 is particularly interesting for me since it provides the Persian term for a bill of lading “Sitami” right after mentioning the Armenian բեռնագիր։ Here is a segment from p. 95 which is a business letter to Misters Gabriel Muradean and Zaccaria Hovsepean in Rangoon (Burma). “Բարձեալ եմք ՚ի նոյն նաւակի երեք մի օրինակաւ բեռնագրով (կամ սիթամով) որոց մինն ծրարեմք ՚ի յայսմ… We have loaded in the same boat three copies of the same bill of lading (or Sitam) of which one we have included in this letter….letter. Սիթամի in Persian as I had long suspected means bill or lading and here it is clearly explained to barely literate adolescent future merchants.”