Archive for February, 2012


War of 1812 Naval accounts

   Posted by: rring    in Students

[Posted by Taylor Wikins (’14), a student in Zak Sitter’s English course, “1816: A Romantic Microcosm”]

The Naval Monument, containing official and other accounts of all the battles fought between the Navies of the United States and Great Britain was written by Abel Bowen and published by George Clark in 1836 in Boston, Massachusetts.  This work is a direct account for all reports between the United States and Great Britain navy during the War of 1812.  Its written by a publisher, engraver and author named Abel Bowen who lacks the military experience one would need to write a military work.  As I read these accounts, a question continued to arise in my mind, how could an author publish and write a work of which he had no previous experience in the field?  It made little sense to me but being that the work had little to no narrative made me understand the circumstances more.

In the beginning of the work, we are given a preface that in my opinion was an unrealistic view into the lives of the soldiers in the Navy.  Bowen portrays the Navy in a very idealistic way, which differed greatly from the rest of the text. Following the preface the naval monument begins with direct accounts between officers in both the United States and Great Britain navies. These accounts include conversations about different tactics that the naval army would participate in, live accounts of battles with the British and conversations between captains.  These reports gave the audience a chance to truly connect with the soldiers who were in battle.  In addition to the United States accounts, the book contains some reports from the British naval force. These British reports differ greatly from the US reports in that they were increasingly emotional and formal.  The US accounts were more realistic and genuine, giving its audience a first person perspective.

The book itself was very fragile and brittle when I first looked at it in the Watkinson.  The cover of the book was a simple brown face with no text on it, the spine of the book looked like the spine of an encyclopedia.  Covered with fine gold designs and text that stated the title and publication date of the work.  The pages of the book were damaged and stained to a point where some were falling out of the book, causing me to read it with great care.  Inside the book contained many pictures of the various boats used in naval battles during 1812-1815.  It was interesting to see a visual of some of the boats and scenes of battles in this work.

This book became of particular interest to me because I was drawn to the detailed description of the battles.  I found it interesting that these accounts were recorded almost down to the minute.  There were many instances where this work would take the reader from a scene on a boat involving gunfire to then figuring out how to resolve the situation.  This text was enticing to read while also being able to get an inner look at naval life in war during 1812.


Registering Slaves

   Posted by: rring    in Students

[Posted by Brandon T. Lewis (’13), a student in Zak Sitter’s English course, “1816: A Romantic Microcosm”]

J. M. Richardson and J. Ridgway published Brief remarks on the slavery registry bill: and upon a report of the African Institution, recommending that measure, in 1816 in London, England. The item was published in a very large blue book with a spine that may have been white when first published, but is now a tan-brown color due to its age. There are other published items in the book, most of them discussing religious persecution of Protestants occurring at the time. The book containing these items, including the one I selected, is called a “pamphlet”. The pamphlet shows considerable wear indicative of its age; the top and bottom of the spine have broken off, exposing the bindings that hold all of the documents together. There is a title on the spine of the pamphlet, reading “Tracts on Protestant…” but the end of the title has faded and is incomprehensible. The book’s cover has fragile attachment to the pamphlet. The edges of the pages inside the pamphlet are very frayed, appearing to be broken and chipped. While there are some stains, the pages themselves are in relatively good condition, even though it was clear that I needed care when navigating the book.

There is no author specified for the piece, but it can be assumed that the author had access to the meeting of Parliament. The document is about the introduction of a bill to the House of Commons that would prevent illegal trading of slaves in the British colonies. The bill was introduced by William Wilberforce, considered a leader of the movement to stop the trading of slaves in the British Empire. The bill was created as a measure to stop illegal slave trading in outside territories, particularly Jamaica. In 1807, Parliament passed the Slave Trade Act, which made the slave trade illegal throughout the British Empire. However, there was evidence that West Indian countries were still participating in the slave trade, hence the need for a slave registry. It is important to note that only the trading of slaves was deemed illegal in the Empire. Slavery itself would not be illegal until 1833, with the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act.

Lord Castlereagh, also known as Robert Stewart, was Leader of the House of Commons and noted the significance the bill would have. He believed that the passing of the bill would ultimately lead to the abolition of the slave trade altogether, something that he supported wholeheartedly. Lord Castlereagh also presented the opposition to the bill, coming from Jamaica. Their parliament believed that the new law proposed would violate and infringe on their constitutional rights.

What drew me to this item was the chance to learn about how slavery was enacted, or abolished, in countries others than the United States, which my knowledge was primarily limited to. A lot of what I learned from the “brief remarks” came from the author’s own commentary on the bill. In his analysis of Lord Castlereagh’s comments, he said, “every prudent man would deprecate the unnecessary introduction of a question which separated this country the United States of America”. The author also expressed concern amongst the government that the British Empire could risk losing the West Indian colonies if they pushed more rules and regulations on them. The author seemed to believe that passing the bill without having sufficient enough evidence would be detrimental due to the backlash it would. The author note that, despite the general weakness of West Indian colonies in terms of military forces, it would be foolish of the government to underestimate their abilities to try to claim independence. Referencing the United States once again, the author poses the possibility of the United States attempting to gain control of Jamaica, in an effort to strengthen their naval power.

Given the year of this item’s publication, I found the comment very indicative of the concerns Britain had over the stability of its empire. Forty years prior, the United States of America succeeded from the empire because they believed the empire was imposing intolerable rules and tariffs on them. The quote I reference in particular carries a hint of lingering ire regarding Britain’s loss in the American Revolution. It also speaks to the concerns of at least some that the war with United States was the beginning of a gradual decline in the Empire’s global power. It was a fear so strong that losing Caribbean colonies would be catastrophic enough to have Parliament reconsidering exerting its power over them.

While the document itself is specifically about a single event, it goes to show how one piece of literature can be truly indicative of a country’s past, present, and future, as mine was.


An American Fairy Tale

   Posted by: rring    in Students

[Posted by Jackie Pennell (’14) a student in Zak Sitter’s English course, “1816: A Romantic Microcosm”]

When I was looking over the very long list of publications from the year 1816, I was unsure of what book to study. I decided that Crystalina, A Fairy Tale seemed an interesting choice because I have always enjoyed fairytale stories. When I went to the Watkinson to examine the book, I was not sure of what to expect. I was handed a large book binding that contained an envelope with the actual book inside.

Crystalina has a blue, cardboard binding which is as worn as its pages. I found it in a larger envelope because the front cover of the book is completely detached. Upon inspecting the pages of the book, Rick Ring informed me that the book is comprised of full and half sheets of paper. The half sheets indicate that Crystalina was not as expensive to print as a book printed entirely on full sheets of paper.

When I was examining the cover page, I discovered that Crystalina, A Fairy tale by an American, was published in New York by George F. Hopkins in 1816. I was surprised that the author of Crystalina, John Milton Harney, is not mentioned on the cover page. All that is mentioned about Harney on the title page is that he is American. The preface of the narrative poem also mentions that John Milton Harney is a “native of the United States”.

The preface is interesting because it informs the reader of the origins of the poem along with Harney’s apprehension in publishing Crystalina. It is written in third person, so it is unclear whether Harney wrote it himself. However, the reader may infer that Harney wrote the preface because it reveals his concerns that the American critic will receive his work with “proverbial indifference and even contempt”. The reader learns that Harney completed Crystalina in 1812, but decided not to publish the poem until 1816. From reading the preface, it is clear that the uncertainty Harney feels in publishing Crystalina might be the reason why he is not specifically mentioned as the author in the published book. Harney finally published the poem placing faith in the “generosity, liberality, and justice of (Harney’s) fellow countrymen” that they might receive the poem well.

The poem consists of six Cantos and as the preface states, it is “founded chiefly, on the superstitions of the highlanders of Scotland”. The plot of the poem is typical of a classic fairy tale story. The hero of the story is a gallant knight named Rinaldo who must prove himself worthy to marry the princess Crystalina.  When Rinaldo proves himself worthy by fighting in battle, he returns to find Crystalina gone. In the first canto, Rinaldo ventures to find a seer who reveals that Crystalina has been abducted. The rest of the poem follows Rinaldo on his quest to find and save Crystalina.

Crystalina is organized into lengthy stanzas and it is in iambic pentameter. The first stanza of the poem has a rhyme scheme of ABAB, but the rest of the first canto has an AABBCC…rhyme scheme. The literary style of the first canto reminds me slightly of Milton’s epic poetry. Like much of Milton’s poetry, there are several references to mythological figures such as Orestes, and Rinaldo compares himself to Tantalus.  There is also dialogue within the poem such as in the first canto when there is dialogue between the seer and Rinaldo.

After the six cantos, there is a separate short poem entitled “The Ecstacy”. The poem has three shorter stanzas; in the first stanza, the speaker of the poem is imploring nature to prevent disaster and hardship. In the second and third stanzas, the speaker asks nature to bring joy and happiness. The final short poem “The Ecstacy” is certainly a fitting ending for Harney’s happily-ever-after fairytale.


“Good Works” still applicable today!

   Posted by: rring    in Students

[Posted by Claire Shutt (’13), a student in Zak Sitter’s English course, “1816: A Romantic Microcosm”]

This piece is a sermon entitled “A Sermon on Universal Benevolence: Containing Some Reflections on Religious Persecution and the Alleged Proceedings at Nismes.” Reverend James Archer delivers this sermon. It is published in London in 1816 by Joseph Booker. This is the second edition. Reverend Archer’s sermon is published with a collection of other sermons as well as speeches and minutes, all having to do with Catholicism. Most pieces in this collection have been published within a few years of one another. The binding of the book, a collection of pamphlets, is extremely worn so all that can be made out is “Tracks on Catholic L.” The faded black cursive letters after the L are overlapping and difficult to make out. The spine of the book that holds together this collection is falling apart, so it must be handled with care. The ends of the pages are brown and worn.

In this sermon Reverend Archer focuses on benevolence. He beings the sermon by stating that example is more powerful than reasoning and then argues that Jesus is that example. Jesus has fed the hungry and cured the sick, among other good deeds. Reverend Archer believes everyone should learn from Jesus and not only do good themselves but also teach others to do the same. Reverend Archer also makes the point that it is important to attend church. Not only does attending church signal a person supporting Jesus, but it also brings the community together.

After preaching about what is right, Reverend Archer begins to discuss what is wrong. He is extremely adamant that violence is not the answer; violence is wrong. He believes violence contradicts what the Bible says. Therefore, he is very distressed about the ongoing tension between the Protestants and the Catholics. With God as the common denominator, there should be no serious issues between the two denominations, especially no violence. Reverend Archer then circles back to the beginning of his sermon and closes with saying that if a person does not do good in his life, he will spend his final days before death wishing that he did.

Throughout the course of his sermon Reverend Archer quotes parts of the Bible in congruence with his argument. He also mentions a letter written by St. Augustine when is he speaking to the conflict between the Catholics and Protestants.

When I first came across this piece I almost did not stop to read it; religious discourse can be quite tiresome. However, after only two pages I was completely interested. Reverend Archer seemed to have such an open mind about accepting all denominations under the larger umbrella of Christianity, which I liked. The subject of the sermon, being a good person, is also a great topic mostly because it is still applicable today. Though this document is well over a century old, there are still lessons to be learned from it today. I am curious firstly if Reverend Archer was ahead of his time in 1816 with these ideas and secondly if the other parts of this collection share similar ideas to these.


“Improving” literature

   Posted by: rring    in Uncategorized

[Posted by Molly Curry (’12), a student in Zak Sitter’s English course, “1816: A Romantic Microcosm”]

Elegant Extracts in Prose: Selected for the Improvement of Young Persons, published in London and printed for F.C. and J. Rivington [etc.] by G. Woodfall & H. Bryer was edited by Vicesimus Knox and published in the tenth edition 1816 (originally in 1783). The publication—composed of four sections, called “books”—is compiled in two separately bound books (anthologies): Prose I and Prose II. Each of the two prose books contains two parts—in Prose I) Book I, Moral and Religious; Book, II Classical and Historical and in Prose II) Book III, Orations, Characters, and Letters; Book IV Narratives, Dialogues. The books belong to a three-part educational anthology series, which gives a sense of the different kinds of late 18th and early 19th century English texts. As evident in the titles of each of the four books, several different types of texts are exhibited in the series, all with some sort of educational service to “young persons,” or students.

The books are in moderate physical condition. They are bound very typically for books of that era—in basic brown leather with hard front and back covers adorned by decorative engravings and gold detailing along the borders. The books are clearly used, with the front and back covers of each either loose or detached completely (but still kept with the pages) from the leather spine. Each book is about an inch to an inch and a half in width, measuring slightly under 8×10 inches across the covers. According to these conditions, it appears as though the books were frequently used. The hard cover binding suggests a sense of quality of text, yet neither the finest nor the most ornate bindings were used. This type of binding seems to propose the notion that this anthology was a part of a respectable series, used by school students in this era.

Vicesimus Knox, a headmaster and writer, was a renowned member of a long line of family invested in education. He was a well-educated and religious man, who led a highly accomplished existence. He took over the position of Headmaster at Tonbridge School in Kent (an preparatory school in England for boys) only one year upon graduation from St. Johns College in Oxford, at age twenty-six. The young, zealous, and highly educated young man drew a large increase in admissions. This increase was also partly to do with his writing. Within the first few years of being headmaster, he gained much notoriety from his publications Essays Moral and Literary, published in 1778, and Liberal Education, or, A Practical Treatise on the Method of Acquiring Useful and Polite Learning, published only a few years later, in 1781. He was clearly very passionate about the education of young pupils, which is comprehended through this publication and even further reiterated in several others to follow.

Then, finally, late in his career (shortly after retiring as Headmaster, but still displaying an unyielding fervor for educating the youth), he published Elegant Extracts in Prose: Selected for the Improvement of Young Persons. The publication focused on his profound knowledge of English literature. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, his aim was to compile an anthology of English literature (found important, moral, educational, virtuous, and worth-while by him) that would serve to “[improve] …youthful and middling readership.” He focused more on modern literature (of the time) and less on classical. The anthology also showcased several non-fiction essays (mainly selected from Addison, Johnson, Richard Steele, and Hugh Flair) in additional to modern fictional pieces of literature. What was particularly progressive about this publication was its attention to eighteenth century female writers (such as Anna Aiken, Hester Chapone, and Catherine Macaulay). He believed in and wanted to see an increase the education of girls/women. Knox has cast a lasting influence on the Tonbridge School’s library. It is said in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: “Knox’s own literary tastes and their influence, are clearly reflected in the coverage of the Tonbridge School library during his mastership.” A vast selection of the library’s literature was written by authors of the various prose chosen by Knox for this very anthology (and others in its series). Although the anthology was first actually published in 1783, one of its later editions (of which there are several) dates to 1816.

Based on both the physical condition and the knowledge behind the editor’s creation of the books as well as its lasting impact, it can safely be presumed that these books were used a great deal in English upper schools in the late 18th and early 19th century. The anthology series was costly and well known around the time of its publication; hence why they were referenced in novels such as Jane Austen’s Emma, published in 1815. Robert Martin, the character in Emma that reads from the anthology is insinuated to be a man who has money and is learned (simply because of his reading of the anthology, perhaps among other factors). The implications provided by novels such as Emma, which reference the anthology, attest to its esteemed reputation and stature. The anthology, as illustrated by the four books of which it is composed, offers English texts which emphasize religion, classical literature, historical literature, public speaking, use of characters, letters, narrative, and dialogue between characters. These topics were and are still, today, the foundations of English literature.


A “Horrid Massacre” by Pirates!

   Posted by: rring    in Uncategorized

[Posted by Marc DiBenedetto (’13), a student in Zak Sitter’s English course, “1816: A Romantic Microcosm”]

The Pirates.  A Brief Account of the HORRID MASSACRE of the Captain, Mate, and Supercargo of the Schooner Plattsburg of Baltimore was printed in Boston by H. Trumbull.  The author and publisher are not specified but it is clear that the purpose of the text is as an address to the public to inform them of the “Horrid Massacre on the High Seas.”  The date of publication is also not specified although the account in which the text addresses took place in July of 1816 as several dates are referenced throughout the story-like description of the account.

The writer goes into detail on the mutinous actions of the crew of a ship led by a man known as John Williams.  In short, the vessel departs from Baltimore early in July of 1816 with a cargo of nearly $42,000.  The crew of only fourteen men, led by John Williams, successfully takes over the vessel by beating the captain and first mate and then proceeding to toss them overboard the ship.  They also brutally beat Baynard (the supercargo) to death on the deck of the ship and after seriously injuring the second mate with an ax, John Williams elects to spare his life.  This proves to be a costly mistake when Onion (the second mate) turns the mutineers over to authorities after arriving in Copenhagen.  The proceeding trial and decision of execution caught the attention of many as the courtroom was filled to capacity during every day of the trial as well as thousands being present at the hangings.  The mutineers were found guilty of murder and piracy.  The popularity of the trial no doubt led to the inspiration and decision to make a specific detailed account of the events of the mutiny in the very book I am reporting on.

The book itself is clearly very fragile and I used extreme caution when handling it.  There are stains of different kinds of every page of the text as well as dozens of smudged and/or faded words that were particularly difficult to read and required some deciphering of sorts.  I decided to choose this specific book because of its title and subject matter.  I have personally always loved pirate stories and adventures and to read about an event that actually took place was very interesting for me, and even more so that I got to read about the account from an original text.

I was also surprised to find this type of text as its own independent book.  It seems like something that would likely be found as a newspaper story and not something that received its own book and binding.  It would be interesting to find out how often these types of pieces, going into great detail on specific stories, were published and printed.  It could be compared to a sort of modern day TV special on a contemporary topic.  Such as a news station going into greater detail on an injured soldier returning home after war or a child rising from poverty to prosperity.  While the book I selected is clearly meant to inform the public it is clear that it also has an entertainment value that motivated the story to have its own independent text.

I guess this could be considered a modern day news special for 1816.