Archive for the ‘book history’ Category


Bibles to Impress

   Posted by: sdickins Tags: ,

Among the Watkinson’s extensive collection of rare books and ancient texts are gaudy Bibles and religious books. These eye-catching books are adorned with heavy, metal clasps, gold leaf, and other ornate designs. Of these ostentatious books, two stood out as especially flashy. The first book I found while I was shifting. It was an incredibly heavy book with two thick clasps adorned with crosses. The cover and textblock are both overlaid with gold leafing, adding to the dramatic effect. The second book is just as extravagant. The cover is decorated with gold designs and an intricate clasp. In the four corners are small, gold domes that add depth and a three-dimensional element to the cover. The text block is also decorated with gold leaf that has an ornate floral design. The irony of these books is that they are both about religion. There are many teachings in the Bible that discourage flaunting wealth and being overly extravagant. For example, a proverb in the King James version of the Bible states, “the love of money is the root of all evil…” 1 Timothy 6:10. This is a cautionary verse about the dangers of greed and money. It seems contradictory to create religious books with very flashy covers. Or maybe it was okay to make them flashy because they were about God’s teachings? Either way, they are interesting to look at and worth checking out at the library.

Posted by Lizzie Smith, ’20, Watkinson Student Assistant


Jack London Discovered in the Stacks

   Posted by: sdickins Tags:

Back when I was in elementary or early middle school, there was a period of a few months when everyone was reading Jack London novels like White Fang or The Call of the Wild. Something about those tales of struggle in the wilderness appealed to our suburban sensibilities. So, when I found this specially bound edition of The Call of the Wild in the Watkinson’s Private Press collection this summer, I was naturally excited. In 1960, the book (originally published in 1903) was reprinted for the members of the Limited Editions Club, who clearly had a flair for the aesthetic. The Yukon adventure novel has been bound in wool and died in a green and black plaid pattern–an appropriately outdoorsy choice. In addition, beautiful illustrations have been added that really capture the mood of the story. I like this edition because it shows how form and content can be made to harmonize. It also reminds me that even books that are not considered high literature can still be special.

Posted by Caroline Reger, University of Connecticut, 2018, Watkinson Student Assistant



Perspectives of Freedom and Marriage

   Posted by: rring

[Posted by Kelly Vaughan, for prof. Chris Hager’s course, ENGL 329: Civil War Literature]

“The Yearning of his Heart for His Loved Ones:” Perspectives of Freedom and Marriage from Former Slaves Peter and Vina Still

Kelly2The Kidnapped and the Ransomed: Being the Personal Recollections of Peter Still and his wife “Vina,” after Forty Years of Slavery describes the life of Peter and Vina Still. Peter was a former enslaved man who lived in Kentucky and Alabama and attempted to collect money to purchase his wife from her master after successfully purchasing, and thus freeing, himself.[1] Peter Still was kidnapped as a young boy when he was living in New Jersey and enslaved in the South for forty years, where he met his wife, Vina, and had children with her. Still was a slave for 40 years when he was able to escape to Philadelphia through use of the Underground Railroad. When he arrived in Philadelphia, he not only coincidentally reunited with his biological brother, William, but formed an alliance with a white abolitionist named Seth Cocklin. After Still raised $5,000 in hopes of purchasing his wife and children back, Cocklin aided Peter in his rescue attempt. During their travels from Philadelphia to Alabama, Cocklin, who was impersonating a slave holder, was caught alone from Still and arrested, and soon after killed.[2] This is one example of the measures abolitionists would take in order to aid runaway slaves.

While the transcription of this particular narrative exists online, the original copy exists in Trinity College’s Watkinson Library. This book was published in 1856 by William T. Hamilton in Syracuse, five years before the Civil War started. The book, which is bound in an evergreen colored cover, is 409 pages long, with advertisements for other published slave narratives at the end, including the notable Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years A Slave. The book itself is not large, no more than approximately 6”w x 8”h.

This particular narrative is unique among the majority of slave narratives because it was not actually written by Still himself. Still told his story to Kate E.R. Pickard, who then transcribed Still’s story into this biography.[3] The entire collection of narratives introduces other characters in their life (particularly the numerous slave masters both Peter and Vina had), the early days when Peter was sold repeatedly to different plantations, Vina’s life on the plantation, the momentous moment when Peter purchased himself and traveled to Philadelphia where freedom was waiting for him, and in the final Chapter 37, the reunion between Peter and Vina. The introduction to the text, written by a Unitarian minister by the name of Samuel May, provides a short biography of Kate Pickard and her personal relationship with Peter Still. Pickard was a schoolteacher living in the same vicinity where Peter and Vina were enslaved; Peter would occasionally assist in the same offices Pickard was working in. There, she developed a fondness for his cheerful spirit and polite tone. She was moved by his grit and aimed to use this narrative as a platform to share the humanity and humble love many slaves like Peter had. Additionally, May writes in his introduction that this narrative intends to illustrate:

all the qualities of our common, and of our uncommon humanity–persistence in the pursuit of a desired object; ingenuity in the device of plans for its attainment; self-possession and self-command that can long keep a cherished purpose unrevealed; a deep, instinctive faith in God; a patience under hardship and hope deferred, which never dies; and, withal, a joyousness which, like a life-preserver, bears one above the dark waves of unparalleled trouble.[4]

Kelly1May addresses the contested moral underpinnings of slavery and reinforces the importance of faith and a strong relationship with God among slaves.

“The Marriage” highlights fifteen-year-old Vina’s loneliness as a slave on Mr. McKiernan’s plantation. For her, marriage to Peter would provide a companion, despite her young age. Kinship and procreation was one of the most popular motivations for slaves to marry, as well as the opportunity to strengthen one’s Christian faith. After they married, Peter ran away to the North, freeing himself and then dedicating his time as a free man to designing a plot that would save Vin and their family. Through this narrative, readers learn about the difficulty and repetitive nature of slaves being separated; however, Vina’s marriage provided her with fulfillment rather than anguish, despite their physical separation at the time. Pickard also emphasizes that Peter felt he had never received anything for himself before, despite his work ethic and impressive behavior. Historian Tera Hunter writes that slaves “lived under the auspices of masters who controlled the terms of their most intimate relationships,” including marriage.[5] This highlights the political and personal autonomy of slaves prior to the Civil War.

Since Peter was noted as being favored by Vina’s master, it is unsurprising that they were granted permission to marry. Theoretically, their master could threaten to separate them if they behaved poorly. However, a marriage would be beneficial to a slaveholder if the couple procreated and raised children who could become slaves in just a few short years. In the beginning of “The Marriage” chapter, Pickard describes waiting for the right moment in which Vina and Peter could pursue marriage. Their families were close, which Pickard notes was a rarity for slaves, even those who were just a couple of miles away. Vina found companionship in Peter, and the two, according to Pickard, “waited for a favorable opportunity to be united in marriage.”[6] Peter felt he deserved to be married and have a partner like Vina, for he had been a dedicated servant and was consistently “bright [and] good-humored” when visiting Mr. and Mrs. McKiernan’s plantation, where Vina was in servitude.[7]

Pickard’s narrative is both syntactically attractive and deeply galvanizing to readers. She describes Peter and Vina in very different ways, highlighting Peter’s personal strength and cheerfulness (“a fine, cheerful fellow”), while painting Vina as the scared, lonely young slave (“a timid, shrinking maiden”).[8] Pickard also emphasizes their age difference (Vina was 10 years younger than Peter when they married), so as to show that Peter will be the savior of Vina’s fate. Today, scholars understand expectations and possibilities for slaves depending on their gender. Historian Eric Foner argues that predominantly single, male slaves were the most likely to successfully escape:

Most fugitives…were young men who escaped alone. Those with immediate families often sought to retrieve their wives and children after reaching the North. Some, like Douglass, planned for months; others, like Pennington, decided to run away because of an immediate grievance—in his case, his owner’s threat to whip his mother for insubordination.[9]

With this in mind, it is less surprising that Peter was able to escape, save Vina, and was later shaped as the hero of his own narrative. Runaway slaves were, in some ways, responsible for their own emancipation. Marriage provided a form of limited freedom for enslaved blacks, as it allowed them to gain access to love and family. While they were not physically free for as long as they were enslaved on a plantation, their bargaining with slave masters for marriage helped them to achieve a form of freedom.

The Kidnapped and the Ransomed reveals the experience of a runaway slave and the measures runaways would go to in order to reunite themselves with their family. The unique perspective of this narrative (biographical, rather than autobiographical) provides another lens for analysis. How would the narrative have changed had it been written from the perspective of Vina, rather than Peter, who was noted as more bleak of the two? Would the perseverance and faith engrained in Peter materialize in this narrative? Runaway slave narratives like Still’s served as a vehicle for protest and galvanized other abolitionists at this time. An understanding of the human experience is crucial to understanding the political landscape of the Civil War and a sense of historical empathy.

[1] Pickard, Kate E. R, and William Henry Furness. The Kidnapped and the Ransomed: Being the Personal Recollections of Peter Still and His Wife “Vina,” After Forty Years of Slavery. W.T. Hamilton, 1856.

[2] “Peter Still’s Story.” PBS, Web.

[3] Pickard, Kate E.R. “The Kidnapped and The Ransomed.” The Gilder Lehrman Collection, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, New York. Web.

[4] Pickard: xxi-xxii

[5]  Hunter, Tera. “Putting an Antebellum Myth About Slave Families to Rest.” The New York Times. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.

[6] Pickard: 109

[7] Pickard: 108

[8] Pickard: 108

[9] Foner, Eric. Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad. W. W. Norton & Company, 2015, New York. p. 5


Lessons from a Confederate Cookbook

   Posted by: rring

[Posted by Wendi Delaney, for prof. Chris Hager’s course, ENGL 329: Civil War Literature]

Ring0001Confederate Receipt Book. A compilation of over one hundred receipts adapted to the times. Richmond, Virginia: West & Johnston, 1863.

In 1863 on a cool day in early fall a young Confederate woman is preparing to receive visitors for the afternoon. Because of the Union blockade she is not able to present herself in the latest fashions, nor is she able to offer them the usual refreshments of coffee or tea, but she is learning to make do with what she is able to find.  She has not bought a new dress for over two years and today is wearing an older day dress that she has attempted to make look new by repurposing some bits of lace from an old worn out dress that is no longer serviceable. She is wondering what she can serve for refreshments because the coffee which she normally serves is either no longer available, or when it is the price is so high she cannot afford to buy it.  As she looks through her newly acquired Confederate Receipt Book for ideas of what to serve her guests she comes across a recipe for coffee made with acorns.  Because it is autumn she has good supply of fresh acorns underneath the oak tree behind her house.  With high hopes that this substitute for coffee will be better than the last, she goes outside to collect the acorns.

In Trinity College’s Watkinson Library there is a small, 154-year-old, 28-page cookbook with dry, brittle, yellowed pages and a front cover no longer attached.  It was published in 1863 by West and Johnson in Richmond, Virginia and is titled, Confederate Receipt Book. A compilation of over one hundred receipts, adapted to the times.[1] Cookbooks are not a unique item to kitchens in America, nor is it unique for them to be adapted to meet the needs of regional people with ingredients only found in specific areas. What makes this item unique is that it was published for the people of the new Confederate nation and was tailored to their unique situation of not having items available to them because of the Union blockades.  It is believed to be the only cookbook published in the South during the Civil War.[2]  Cookbooks form a literary genre that fulfills the need of educating people on how to make culinary dishes. Some also contain other information and helpful hints to make a household economical and efficient.  When they are tailored to a specific geographic region, event, or time period, they tell of the ingenuity and creativity of people adapting to changes or challenges found in their daily lives.  They also show a willingness of people to share their knowledge and experience to help others.  The contents of this small book reveal some of the challenges Confederate women faced during the Civil War and how Confederate women of all classes—wealthy, yeoman, and poor—were expected to deal with them.

Ring0002After the Civil War broke out, the Union blockade took hold of southern ports, effectively preventing the South from shipping out or receiving any supplies or commodities. Because of this the cost for food, household items, and clothing began to rise. To adjust to the changing conditions women started to make sacrifices by going without some of the luxuries they were used to. During the summer of 1861 one woman from Virginia felt “intensely patriotic and self-sacrificing” when she resolved to give up ice cream and cakes.[3]  Because women were not allowed to physically fight in the war, making these sacrifices helped them feel like they were doing their patriotic duty for the cause; they believed the food and materials they were not using for themselves were being used for their men in the Confederate army.  This belief is reflected in a book published in 1864 by Alex St. Clair Abrams called The Trials of a Soldier’s Wife, in which the heroine explains, “Woman can only show her devotion by suffering, and though I cannot struggle with you on the battle-field, in suffering as I have done, I feel it has been our holy cause.”[4]  As the war continued, the effects of the blockade became more intense forcing women to sacrifice more than just ice cream and cake. The average cost of feeding a family for a month rose from $6.55 in 1860 to $68.25 in 1863.[5] Items that were either in short supply or very high-priced included coffee, tea, sugar, meats, flour, medicines, household items such as soap and candles, and clothing and cloth material. Many women recorded the shortages, costs of goods, and how they dealt with the challenges in their diaries.

Among the many items written about in Civil War diaries, coffee gets a lot of attention. During the war the price of coffee rose from 30 cents per pound up to $50 per pound.[6]   In some parts of the South the price soared as high as $70 per pound.[7]  Because of the scarcity and soaring cost of coffee, many tried to find alternative ingredients that would be an acceptable alternative, but it was not an easy task.  Parthenia Antoinette Hague lamented the poor substitutes and popularity of the drink when she wrote, “One of our most difficult tasks is to find a good substitute for coffee. This palatable drink, if not a real necessary of life is almost indispensable to the enjoyment of a good meal, and some Southerners took it three times a day.”[8]   Items used to replace the coffee bean included rye, wheat, sweet potatoes, chestnuts, chicory, and other grains and seeds that could be roasted and ground.[9]  In The Confederate Cookbook under the section for “MISCELLANEOUS RECEIPTS” there is a receipt that calls for acorns to be prepared in place of the treasured coffee bean.  Most of these substitutions were so intolerable some chose to go without as in the case of one prominent housewife of Virginia who stated “We must do without it except when needed for the sick.  If we can’t make some of the various proposed substitutes appetizing, why we can use water. That, at least, is abundant, and can be given without money and without price.”[10]

Wheat flour was another food item that was in short supply.  Many of the larger plantations were focused on planting more cash crops such as cotton or rice, while some of smaller farms and plantations would cultivate some cotton or rice but would plant more food crops such as wheat.[11]  Wheat that was grown in the southern states before the war would have been sold north for processing and in return the flour would be sold to the southern states.  Once the blockade was in place that process stopped.  As with coffee, southern women had to find an alternative for wheat flour, and one alternative was rice flour.  In the Appendix of the Confederate Receipt Book, there are 2 ½ pages dedicated to “Recipes for Making Bread, &c., From Rice Flour.” This section of recipes was sent in to the Editors of the Columbus Sun, in Russel County, Alabama, by Elizabeth B. Lewis, who felt the need to share her knowledge with other women who were asking how to make bread with rice flour.[12]  This section includes recipes for bread, Johnny cakes, sponge cake, rice pudding and rice griddle cakes.

As many women do today women of the Civil War tried to stay up on the latest fashions.  Southern women found it difficult to do this because the Union blockade prevented shipments of new clothes and materials used to make new clothes.  Some women became embarrassed when they wore out their silk dresses and had to wear dresses made from calico, which was a material worn by slaves and servants.  Just as Scarlett O’Hara, in the movie “Gone with the Wind,” made a new dress from green curtains, many women made new clothing from materials found around their house, like bed-ticking or the lining of a pre-war garment. They would also re-adorn dresses using old lace or materials from other worn-out dresses[13]  Women reading the Confederate Receipt Book found a section called “HINTS FOR THE LADIES” dedicated to helpful tips on how to “freshen up a dress of which they have got tired, or which may be beginning to lose its beauty.”[14]

The longer the war continued the more dire Confederate women’s situations became. In 1864 one Confederate official informed President Davis that people were starving to death.[15]  Southern women were no longer feeling it was their proud patriotic duty to make the sacrifices they were so willing to make at the onset of the war.  They became desperate and in March of 1863, the year this book was published, “Bread Riots” occurred in Richmond and many others towns across the South.  In Richmond women marched on Capitol Square armed with knives, pistols, and hatchets demanding that shop owners lower their prices.  When no acceptable solution was reached they raided local shops, taking items such as food, shoes, clothes, brooms and hats.[16] The timing of publication for this book may have been a coincidence, but it may have been published as a response to the riots as a way to help the women of the South find alternatives and ease some of the hardships they were enduring.


[1] Receipts is another word for recipes.

[2]Dorothy Denneen Volo and James M. Volo.  Daily Life in Civil War America (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1998), 232.

[3] Faust, Drew Gilpin. Southern Stories. Slaveholder in Peace and War. (Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 1992), 125.

[4] Faust, 119.

[5] Volo pg 57.

[6] Brock, Sallie A. Richmond during the War: Four Years of Personal Observation, by a Richmond Lady. (New York: G.W. Carleton & Co., 1867), 79,

[7] Hague, Parthenia Antoinette. A Blockaded Family. Life in Southern Alabama during the Civil War. (1888. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 1991), 101. In her book Hague gives an idea of how much work an average man would have to do in order to afford just a pound of coffee when she writes, “A good workman received 30 dollars per day so it would take two days of hard labor to buy one pound of coffee.”

[8] Hauge, 101.

[9] Brock, 79.

[10] Brock, 79.

[11] Hague, xviii.

[12] Confederate Receipt Book, 25.

[13] Thompson, 38.

[14] Confederate Receipt Book, 27.

[15] Faust, 125.

[16] Volo, 58.


Marianne Moore’s Poems (1921)

   Posted by: rring

Moore1[Posted by Joel Kalodner for ENG 812 Modern Poetry, Professor Rosen]

“That Darwinian Gosling”

If the wishes of American poet Marianne Moore had been honored, this slim collection of her poetry — her first publication outside the pages of literary magazines and landmark Modernist journals such as Dial and the Egoist — would have remained unmade and unread.

Famously resistant to publication after several early disappointments, and with a well-deserved reputation for perfectionism, Moore had by 1921 weathered several years’ worth of importuning in favor of a collection from friends and admirers including Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, H.D, Yvor Winters and Robert McAlmon. Eliot offered his personal assistance from post-war London, writing to Moore that “[Your poetry] interests me. I wish that you would make a book of it, and I should like to try to get it published here. I wish you would let me try.” Pound, likewise, was enthusiastic and just before Christmas, 1918 wrote to tempt her with a prime spot in his Modernist pantheon: “[C]an I get one into print for you? … I have got Joyce, and Lewis, and Eliot, and a few other comforting people into print, by page and by volume.” More scathing was her friend Yvor Winters’ critique, who, while once again advocating for publication, chided Moore for her reticence: “People who leave poems littered around in the magazines are so very much like people who leave papers around in the parks. But that, I suppose, is their own affair.”

Moore2By late 1920, some of her advocates had had enough and together the poet H.D., the historical novelist Bryher (pen name of Winifred Ellerman), and Ellerman’s soon-to-be husband Robert McAlmon agreed to take matters into their own hands. Selecting twenty-four of Moore’s poems from various magazines, the group contacted Harriet Shaw Weaver, then publisher of the Egoist Press in London, with a plan to publish the collection; Weaver was herself intimately familiar with the poet’s position on the topic, having suffering a fresh, albeit polite, rejection after she’d proposed a similar book to Moore as recently as that May. Despite the unusual circumstance, Weaver agreed to go behind the poet’s back and produced the volume without ever securing her approval.

We can imagine Moore’s shock when, one morning in early July of 1921, a similar volume to the Watkinson’s showed up in her mailbox shipped straight from the Egoist Press, London, her name gracing its cover and the very poems she’d so vigorously guarded now printed within. Although she refused to indulge in anger or assign blame, explaining at the time that she knew her friends had acted “out of love,” Moore nonetheless had sharply wry words for Bryher in a letter written that afternoon: “I received a copy of my poems this morning with your letter and a letter from Miss Weaver … In Variations of Plants and Animals under Domestication, Darwin speaks of a variety of pigeon that is born naked and without any down whatever. I feel like that Darwinian gosling.”

A Passion for Revision

Moore4Of particular note in the Watkinson’s copy of Poems (1921) is the presence of hand-written corrections to the text by Marianne Moore herself. This extraordinary habit was apparently characteristic of the poet, who made it her practice to revise, in pen, those things within her previously published volumes which had come to displease her. In the Watkinson’s copy, inscribed by Moore herself to noted bibliophile and Trinity stalwart Harry Bacon Collamore in 1957, we witness the poet carefully editing ‘mistakes’ fixed into print some thirty-six years previous, with a firm hand and a practiced attention to detail: not ‘Talisman’ but rather ‘A Talisman’ she insists, appending the new letter both to the table of contents and the head of the poem, even as she attentively re-works the notices of prior publication to correct what she must have felt were unforgivable failures made during the placement of commas in the original.

Grace Schulman, editor of the Penguin Classics collection of Moore’s poetry, recalls the poet sending Schulman a copy of her book Nevertheless “with textual insertions and deletions she had made in ink,” a practice Schulman associates with what she calls Moore’s “passion for revision.” The Watkinson’s copy too bears these marks left behind by Moore’s ceaseless, systematic review of her prior work, and stands as evidence of her dedication to change, her steady refusal to accept notions of fixed textual permanence which often attach to the event of publication.Moore3


Finally, a note for the typographically inclined — throughout this edition we encounter an unusual type of ligature, which is a term typesetters use for any connection inked between two otherwise distinct letters, such as the joined ‘æ’ still employed at times in modern English. In the Watkinson’s Egoist Press edition of Poems, however, there are ligatures on virtually every page, most often linking adjacent s-t and c-t pairs in a purely decorative fashion; this was a ‘house style’ characteristic of their London typesetter, and which was thought to lend text a certain ‘archaic’ quality, reminiscent for readers of the much more widespread use of such decorative techniques by publishers of the past.

Moore5The professional term for such a ligature, that is, a ligature which is purely discretionary and used solely for ornament, is a ‘gadzook’ — a term coined, like the curse word which shares its origin, as a variant of the blasphemous “God’s hooks,” referring to the nails used to attach Christ to the cross (that long-time British favorite, ‘bloody,’ is similarly evolved from the blasphemous “God’s blood!”). While the specific origin of this usage in typography is obscure, the visual reference, along with its nod to archaism, remains perfectly clear.


Schulze, Robin G., ed. Becoming Marianne Moore: The Early Poems, 1907-1924. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. Print.

Schulman, Grace, ed. The Poems of Marianne Moore. New York: Penguin Books, 2005. Print.

Shin, Nick. “Diggin’ It: The Buried Treasures of Typography.” Graphic Exchange mag. N.d. Web. 21 April 2016.


Manikin Number Three and Marianne Moore

   Posted by: rring

[Posted by Mollie Hantman-Weill for ENG 812 Modern Poetry, Professor Rosen]

Moore1At only a few inches tall and a few millimeters wide, Monroe Wheeler’s Manikin Number Three, a printing of Marianne Moore’s poem “Marriage,” is tiny and unassuming. The copy was presented to me in a red cover with an envelope taped to the inside binding. Once opened, the envelope reveals the small copy of Marianne Moore’s work. The cover is bright blue, with a Greco-Roman style depiction of a scene from Homer’s The Odyssey. Printed in 1923, this is one of 200 copies that were produced. Monroe Wheeler, a publisher and New York native, had previously published Manikin Number One, a very small collection of poetry by Janet Lewis, and Manikin Number Two, a printing of William Carlos Williams poem “Go Go” only months earlier. Harry Bacon Collamore, a lover of poetry, who gave many books of poetry to the library, donated this copy of Manikin Number Three to the Watkinson Library.


Moore2The font is particularly interesting. The cover and title page is printed in a type set called Narcissus Roman, named after the hunter of the Greek myths, and was invented by Walter Tiemann in 1921, two years before Wheeler’s publication. This font was commissioned for a sandpaper company and was inspired by a series of ornamental inline capitals first made in 1745 in France. Narcissus Roman aims to inspire thoughts of early 1700’s era Paris, and of Louis XVI. This typeset is also credited for sparking the revival of 18th century Parisian-style typography in 1920’s America.

The first few pages of the printing are not bound to the rest of the pages. Glenway Wescott, American poet (though an expatriate living in Paris for much of his life) wrote a few hundred words on Marianne Moore to be included in Manikin Number Three. Why Wescott? As it turns out, Wescott and Wheeler were dating for much of their lives, the relationship not ending until Wescott’s death. Wheeler must have convinced his boyfriend to write a forward for his publication. Wescott’s introduction, called “Miss Moore’s Observations,” is a slightly rambling, four page compliment of Moore’s work. He speaks to Moore’s talent, even going so far to recommend the reader other poems by Marianne Moore he thinks they would enjoy. My favorite except of his writing is as follows:

An untrampled field of experience presents itself to Miss Moore’s unquailing mild untroubled stare. She has then, naturally enough, no desire to be radical or secretive in her meaning. She wishes to convey or evoke. If the idea and its emotion seem obscure to anyone it is because they are unusual. I have a friend to whom no concept seems single and unified which is not made up of components joined in a familiar way by familiar desires or drama. Those who miscomprehend Miss Moore, unless they are wholly indolent, are like him. So much for the ‘meaning.’

The poem is printed following Wescott’s introduction. At the end of the poem, Marianne Moore signed and dated the copy (November 7, 1953). I am confident that if she had seen any misprints in the poem, she would have corrected them when she signed it, but, as there were not marks on the copy other than the signature, we can assume that the poem was printed exactly as she wanted it to be. I do not know why Wheeler choose this specific poem to be the only Moore poem to print, besides that it is an excellent work, but one guess is the length of the poem. “Marriage” is close to three hundred lines long, making it just long enough for the print to be substantial without needing multiple poems, which would make it a collection.

Moore3The copy ends with a quote, chosen by Wheeler, from The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton, published in 1621. The quote reads, “Even so might Virginia, and those wild Irish have been civilized long since, if that order had been hitherto taken, which now begins, of planting colonies, etc.” Below that is the price of the item, circa-1923, and Monroe Wheeler’s street address. Today, this copy would be sold from anywhere between four hundred dollars to one thousand dollars, depending on condition and whether or not it was signed.


Baskin’s Crane

   Posted by: rring

Baskin1[Posted by Justin Martin for ENG 812 Modern Poetry, Professor Rosen]

Hart Crane’s visage (who could mistake his decimating eyes) stares from atop a torso-like mass of dark veins and lines on the second title page of Voyages: Six Poems by Hart Crane, an artistic rendering of Crane’s celebrated erotic suite published 25 years after his suicide. The poems, which feature threads of nautical imagery throughout, take on strange new meaning in the print: “The sea lifts, also, it’s reliquary hands.” Hart Crane now lies somewhere within that sea, and his poetry continues to find new light and appreciation in his absence, in this case in the accompaniment of Leonard Baskin’s wood engravings, which, as well, are a part of the bold title card pasted to the front of the book’s four-fold case.

Leonard Baskin, born in 1922, was 10 years old when Hart Crane passed away. In 1942, while studying at Yale University, Baskin founded the Gehenna Press, initially for the purpose of publishing fine pressings of his own works – the company’s first two releases were books of Baskin’s own poetry and wood engravings, respectively. These first two books, On a Pyre of Withered Roses and A Little Book of Natural History, were published nine years apart, the second’s release delayed by Baskin’s time serving in WWII. Baskin’s purpose in founding and developing the Gehenna Press, one might speculate, was to follow the lead of William Blake’s duality as poet and bookmaker. Leonard’s poetry on its own never claimed much right to legacy, but he certainly had insights into the workings of the craft and an appreciation for influential predecessors like Crane.

Baskin2The book itself mimics the qualities Crane takes on at times in the Voyages: sensitive, textured, always hinting at something deep and monstrous beyond the surface. Crane’s poetry is printed on Amalfi handmade paper, accompanied by seven of Baskin’s engravings printed in one instance on the aforementioned Amalfi paper, but for the most part on much thinner, transparent japanese paper, which is, in one instance, bound into the book’s spine, and, otherwise, pasted quite precariously onto the other, thicker pages.

One particular print, a circular design which frames an abstract landscape of lines and fractured details, accompanies the third voyage, perhaps the most iconic of the six, on a green sheet of the thin japanese which is pasted across the top edge, horizontally, to the opposite page, left to hang unglued on all other sides, like some ghastly hanging curtain. Scattered vertical line fragments in the wave-like texture resemble “ribboned water lanes…/ laved and scattered…”


Baskin3The book held at the Watkinson is one of 975 copies originally printed, all by hand. It is a slender little thing. The cover is worn, presumably by time. It commands a certain amount of spectacle as its quad-folding encasement opens at all angles, only to reveal the actual book inside to be near-identical to the encasement’s cover. The book itself forces one to be intimate with it: the thin, fragile Japanese pages peer out from behind their thicker, whiter counterparts, and, as one progresses through the Voyages, prove to be pasted in at differing angles, prompting one to constantly adjust their attention so as to avoid tearing the things out.

One of Baskin’s most powerful contributions to the poetry: the sprawling circuitry of a beak emerging from the engraving accompanying Voyage IV. The bird lies motionless on the page, its talons seemingly hanging from the mess of intricate lines which makes up the bird’s body (so delicately spacing out and unraveling within its breast). The cut is a haunting rendition of, perhaps, the “chilled albatross’ white immutability”.

A print of Voyages by Gehenna and the Museum of Modern Art could cost anywhere between $200 and $700, depending on wear on the copy and whether it is signed or not, and can be found fairly easily via a google search or on websites like

Baskin4The print can be taken as a work firstly and perhaps solely done by Baskin himself, since its publishing date, 1957, is before Baskin turned over his position as sole printer of the Gehenna Press. Baskin obviously wanted to not only present, but interact with the poetry in his printing, creating an entirely new experience out of Crane’s Voyages, intimately giving texture, in both the two- and three-dimensional senses, to his verses. Crane’s eyes in his portrait seem to speak to this intimacy; their openness spills down into the sharp and tense mass of tendrils below, within the ribcage.



An unknown Frost poem?

   Posted by: rring

[Posted by Cameron Driscoll for ENG 812 Modern Poetry, Professor Rosen]

Frost1For my Modern Poetry class with David Rosen, I was assigned to find something interesting at the Watkinson Library pertaining to the poet Robert Frost. While looking at some of the books donated by a Mr. Henry Bacon Collamore, I came across a copy of North of Boston. Inscribed on the inside of the front cover was a poem—specifically a sonnet in iambic pentameter, personally written by Robert Frost for Mr. Collamore.

Here is a picture of the poem in its original condition

The poem was written in Frost’s cursive handwriting, and was a bit hard to transcribe, but after some help from the team at the Watkinson, I was able to figure out what was written. Low and behold, when I was done, I realized this was a totally new poem by Robert Frost— one unknown to the outside world. Here I present publically for the first time, “A Convention” by Robert Frost:




A Convention

While they beneath bepennoned gardens yearned

With blare of brass and eloquence amain

For legislation to relieve the pain

Of living having been too hardly earned,

Something went right: outside the weather tunnels,

The drouth was broken with a little rain;

And in that merely momentary gain

Their meeting, cause, and party were adjourned.


Yet there had been the surest of the sure

About the malady if not the cure:

It was a case of desert: earth would soon

Be as uninhabitable as the moon

What for that matter had it ever been?

Who advised man to come and live therein?

Firstly, I should say that frost uses quite a bit of archaic language in this poem that was very hard to recognize, and therefore to transcribe. Instead of using the more modern “abound” or “surround” frost uses the word “amain”. This example of archaic language appears to be uses entirely for form in order to rhyme with the word “pain”. Next, he used the word “drouth” which is an archaic synonym for the word “drought”. One word in particular, appearing in the first line, was the most difficult to transcribe: “bepennoned”. Firstly, you will not find this word on any online dictionary, or for that matter in any handheld dictionary that I could find. I asked in my Modern Poetry class if anyone had any idea what it meant, and there were various ideas, however, none of them seemed satisfactory. Luckily, my mom is an English major, and a very smart one at that, so I asked her, and after 10 minutes she came back to me with the answer. Thanks mom, you rock.

The poem appears to be about a town meeting that is about to discuss a drought that has left a town without water. The town is full of symbols of wealth and abundance: they have gardens with pennants hung between them, everything is “eloquent” and brass instruments are used to convene the convention to order. However, despite this societal wealth, they are resource poor in water, as they haven’t had any rain, and, of course, cannot support the town without it. Frost wrote a lot about the relationship between man and nature, and I think this poem is an example of Frost pointing out how man often tries to claim a certain knowledge about nature that is entirely unfounded, and more generally, how men are often far too sure of themselves.

They are ‘legislating’ to “relieve the pain” of this drought.  However, as they discuss this problem, all of the sudden a light rain storm comes and breaks the drought. This is in some ways a bit ironic, as several in the convention were among the “surest of the sure” that the drought was a “case of desert” that would soon render the whole planet as “uninhabitable as the moon”.

The poem ends by asking two interesting questions. Essentially, he is asking about the origins of man. The first question appears to be rhetorical and can be taken one of two ways: either Frost is saying that the plant had never been “uninhabitable as the moon” or it always has.

The second question is even a bit stranger, “who advised man to come and live therein?” Is Frost trying to say that God was mistaken in putting man on Earth? Is he asking more specifically about who’s idea it was to ship people over to North America? I am unsure, however, I am certain some other young English student will come across this poem and will continue the work I have started here.

The Watkinson rocks.

Have a great summer.




[Posted by Bridget Reilly for ENG 812 Modern Poetry, Professor Rosen]

Stevens1Wallace Stevens’ Esthétique du Mal was published in July 1945. Holly Stevens, the poet’s daughter, gave the book to the Watkinson and it is one of 300 copies printed. The modestly sized book is made from luxurious materials that Stevens personally selected. The cover is decorated with vibrant blue Natsume straw-paper and the poem is printed on supple pace paper. Abstract illustrations by Wightman Williams accompany the poem. Stevens3George Dillon, the critic who reviewed the book when it was first published, likened Williams’ designs to the “marginal doodlings of his satanic majesty” (97). Dillon’s assessment seems an apt description of the bizarre illustrations. However, the drawings and the fine materials Stevens selected make the book a visually interesting object. Dillon admitted that the book was an artistic achievement and called it “a blue phenomenon” (97). He writes, “his [Stevens’] new long poem […] has been made into something which belongs to the décor of opulence” (97).

Stevens, no doubt, would have been pleased by Dillon’s assessment. His 1945 correspondence reveals that he was deeply concerned with how the book would look and function, not poetically, but as a physical art object. Between June and November, Stevens wrote three times to his friend and multimedia artist James Guthrie. In each letter, all of which can be found at the Watkinson, Stevens talks almost exclusively about the book, its materials, its design, and the process of its printing. In his responses to Stevens’ letters, Guthrie attempts to open up the discussion and talk about current events and his own poetic endeavors, but Stevens always directs the conversation back to Esthétique du Mal. It seems that for the good portion of 1945, the book’s production was one of Stevens’ main interests, and, at times, the cause of great stress.

Stevens2However, in June, Stevens writes optimistically about Cummington Press, the small boutique printer he was working with. He informs Guthrie that the press is “really the work of not that much more than one man [Harry Duncan],” and his partner Wightman Williams (the books illustrator). He explains that the work they do is “quite extraordinary” (June 25 1945).

By October, Stevens was still certain that the book’s printing job “definitely add[ed] to the text.” However, in his letters, Stevens seems less happy with the book and the press. He mentions to Guthrie that he is weary about Duncan’s and Williams’ desire to “use color to some extent” in the poem’s text. Stevens downplays his reluctance to Guthrie, but in a letter to Duncan, Stevens does not hold back. Stevens explains, “I cannot think of a decent book that I have in which the text is printed in colored ink, and I am strongly against it. However, I leave the make of the book to you” (Cummington Press Correspondence10). Not surprisingly, the poem was printed in black ink.

In addition to questioning Duncan’s and Williams’ creative sensibilities, Stevens was also displeased with the delay of the book’s publication. He explains to Guthrie that the book’s production is behind schedule and that the press “feels victimized.” Considering the technology Duncan and Williams were dealing with and the bullying tone Stevens often took with them, perhaps the pair had good reason for feeling that way. The hand-press, which “was operated manually by two people and resembled the press that Gutenberg invented,” could only work on cool days with high humidity (NewYorkTimesObit). This made printing mostly seasonal and not nearly as efficient as the high-powered executive poet would like it to be. In addition, because of World War II the press continuously experienced paper shortages. At one point, Duncan and Williams had to use Pink straw-paper for the cover instead of the blue Stevens had selected. As one can imagine, Stevens was not pleased. For Stevens, neither the war nor technological glitches seemed good reasons for the delay of the book’s printing. He writes to Guthrie that the book really “ought to have been published by this time” (Oct 18 1945).

Based on his correspondence, it is clear that Stevens spent a lot of time thinking about the book’s production and its appearance. Indeed, as far as Esthétique du Mal was concerned, Stevens was as much, if not more, interested in how the booked looked as he was with the poetry it contained. When the book was finally finished in November, four months after publication date written on the title page, Stevens sent a copy to good old Guthrie. In his letter he writes, “I shall be interested to know what you, yourself, think, not about the poetry, but about the book” (Nov 23 1945).  Stevens’ preoccupation with the aesthetic appearance of this material object seems to give credence Robert Frost’s critique that Stevens was a poet of “bric-a-brac” (NewYorker). Admittedly, Stevens’ discussion of the book suggests that it can be seen as one of many beautiful objects that interested the insurance executive, who lived well and was unopposed to weaving images of material comfort into his poetry. When publishing Esthétique du Mal, Stevens insured that the book could fit seamlessly into the world he depicts in “Sunday Morning.” Indeed, we can picture it now: there is the woman in her “peignoir,” there is the green  “cockatoo/ upon the rug,” and there is the blue phenomenon lying casually on the drawing room table.

Works Cited

Dillon, Geroge. “A Blue Phenomenon: Esthétique du Mal by Wallace Stevens, Wightman Williams.” Poetry 68.2 (1946): 97-100. Print.

Masel, Carolyn, ed. “Stevens, Wallace. Wallace Stevens-Cummington Press Correspondence, 1941-1951.” Libraries of the University of Missouri: Special Collections and Rare Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 May 2016. <>.

Pace, Eric. “Harry Duncan, 80, Hand Printer of Literary Works, Dies.” New York Times [New York] 23 Apr. 1997, Art.

Schjeldahl, Pater. “Insurance Man.” The New Yorker 2 May 2016.


Pound, Paper, Pomp

   Posted by: rring

canto cover[Posted by Dan George for ENG 812 Modern Poetry, Professor Rosen]

Magisterial and imperious, I found the first edition of Ezra Pound’s Cantos 17-27 at the Watkinson. The ten cantos and their accompanying initials illustrated by Gladys Hynes span over about thirty pages, though the grandeur of the poem smolders with hugely outsized ambition.

In a volume over a foot tall, beneath a cover that divulges the bare minimum in gilded letters, Ezra Pound’s poetry lives. The presentation of the book is stylized like an unearthed medieval illuminated text. The initials span more than half the page of most of the cantos they precede and present the content of the canto in a succinct tableau.

It strikes me that the cantos contained in this volume, as well as the preceding cantos and a few to follow, did not enter trade publishing editions for years. The first cantos were printed in 1925, this installment came in 1928, the first trade edition went into print in 1933. During those years, Ezra Pound’s work was only available in these exclusive limited editions. The fissure of time (and, frankly, of the artistic quality in the printings) between these luxurious first editions and the trade editions suggests to me that this is how Pound primarily imagined a reader’s encounter with The Cantos. There is much to read into this gesture of exclusivity and extravagance.

canto 17 iiOnly 94 copies of this book were printed on to four types of extremely fine quality paper. The first, most valuable set of four are signed by the author and artist, printed on fine calf vellum. The next set of five are signed by Pound and printed on Imperial Japan Paper. A set of fifteen on Whatman Paper, of which the edition in the Watkinson Library is one. The majority of the printing, seventy in total, are printed on Roma Paper.

The selection of these four types of paper seems to be significant — they do more than make this book a valuable curio. Vellum represents the very dawn of print culture and is predated only by stone carved print and papyrus. Imperial Japan Paper is culled from a tradition of printed word that developed discretely from the Western European developments. This paper is a nod to Basho, and Confucius, and the pictogrammatic language that he appropriates for the Cantos. The Roma Paper is an archival quality of paper produced in Italy bearing a distinctive Romulus and Remus watermark. Pound’s fascination with eras of Italian Empire, and his eventual fanatical fascism, are gestured towards with this paper.

 Whatman Paper came into being in the second half of the 18th century. Whatman developed a process of making laid paper that became the recognizable sheet of paper we are veritably awash in today. The improvement from a woven paper, the standard for European texts dating back to the medieval period, to a more industrially reproducible laid paper made a more widely profuse print culture possible.

One can glean much about the poem only considering little more than the paper of these original editions. In crafting these special editions, we get a glimpse at the promethean Pound. There is Pound the aesthete, the decadent with his uncompromising vision of how the poem must be. There is Pound the witting entrepreneur exasperating the demand for his poems with a cruelly cutting supply. There is Pound the literary snob that only wants to be cherished in elite coterie circles and would rather his poems stay off of every middle-class shelf. There is Pound the visionary that presents the poem and the presentation of the poem inextricably bound. There is Pound the maddening and maddened withholder.

pound's papersAnd then I think of the flimsy recycled pulp on which I first read these cantos, without the festive initials. I cannot help but feel that my first encounter of this poem was a pale simulacrum of the one I found in the Watkinson. The bombast with which The Cantos are presented here creates an occasion for a very different aesthetic experience with the poem. It is not a poem to be dipped into between train stops or waiting for a kettle on the boil. It is not a poem to be stuffed into a jacket pocket or tossed into a tote. One has to make time to be in the presence of it: maybe light a few candles, set some flowers in a vase, or rub fragrant oils on wrists. It is the occasion for a conjuring or a communing with the past.