Eliot1[Posted by Jia Yu for ENG 812 Modern Poetry, Professor Rosen]

T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land was published as a single book by Boni&Liveright in November, 1922. The first edition of The Waste Land comprises of 1000 copies, and one of these can be viewed at Watkinson Library, Trinity College. The book I held in hand is about the size of an A5 notebook and has 64 pages in total. Judging from its appearance, the book probably has been checked out many times by readers over the years. The stiff board binding is lose, and the place for a title sticker is torn off from the black canvas cover (Fig.1). According to the bookplate, the book was initially received by Trinity Library as a special collection with the donation from Elton Fund, which was founded by a Trinity alumni, John, P. Eton, in 1854, and this collection later merged with Watkinson Library after it was built.

The worn-outness does not veil the aura the book emits. On the limitation page, it writes, in 5mm type front: ““Of the one thousand copies printed /of The Waste Land this volume is /number 894” (Fig.2) Gazing at it seems to throw you into an imagined community –who are the original readers of the first thousand copies? The number 894 becomes enigmatic which seems not only to identity the uniqueness of the book, and offers an imaginary space for its readers. With this design, the editor seems to have in his mind the future collective value of the book.

Reading the poem in a book format is slightly different from reading it in Eliot’s Selected Poems. Unlike Selected Poems, one has “Sweeney Among the Eliot2Nightingales” before it and “The Hollow Men” after the poem, which all might have impacted one’s understanding of The Waste Land. As a single book, the poem becomes its own context and content. Firstly, the epigraph that is printed in the beginning of the poem is moved to the title page. The epigraph is put in the middle of the title page, between the author’s name and the name of the publisher. By making the epigraph a part of the title page, the editor separates it from the rest of the poem and gives a weightier meaning to the title itself. Only after flipping through the limitation page, the second half title page, one finally finds the real poem. In addition, the book invites a participatory experience towards the reading.

Interestingly, copious notes are made by several different readers. These note makers attempt to identify the sources of the quotes and at the same time try to unravel what is Eliot’s intention. For example, one find notes marks about the allusion, such as “Philomel” beside “Twit twit twit/Jug jug jug jug jug/So rudely forc’d/Tereu” (30). One also find comment like “humanism?” beside “Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,” (16); One writes “To Hollow man” beside “Do you know nothing? Do you see nothing?/Do you remember/ nothing?” (21); one writes “tempest” beside the sentence “Those are pearls that were his eyes.” One also finds “extreme despair?”  beside “What shall we ever do? (22); One marks “extreme despair?” beside “what shall we ever do?” And one marks “form of grief” beside “Treu” (31). For these readers, reading The Waste Land means putting a lot of effort of identifying connections, just as what we were doing in class.

On the last page of the book, one finds an “epitaph” -two readers’ response to the book that further affirm the authorial ethos this book attempt to present (Fig. 3). These two notes are transcribed as below:

Eliot3Eliot’s presentation is good- Lasting examples! – although- he writes absolutely and many can not gain the entire value – modern man is in a hurry “Hurry up please its times” – can’t take time to analyze all material again greatest fruits.

Modern moralists recognize the fault in the 20th cent(ury) human but do not give any corrective measures- Philip Wylie, (An) Essay on Morals, Eliot does!

Judging from the tone of the writing, the first note probably comes from the first owner of the book. He is delighted to find the poem resonant with the fast pace of modern life. The second reader responds both to the first reader and the book itself. He cited from a book to argue that the modern writer does give a “corrective measures” to the fault of modern life.  Since this book, Philip Wylie’s An Essay on Moral is published in 1947, the note is definitely made later than that. Over twenty years, the first reader identifies Eliot as a speaking voice for his time and the second reader attempt to read him into a representative moralist figure. Both readers recognize the positive energy Eliot generalizes in a poem seemingly full of despairs. The reverence they give to him seems hard to understand yet the original dust jacket does provide a possible answer.

According to the photos of the original dust jacket I retrieved from New York Public Library Digital Resources, these responses correspond with the advertised value of this book. On the front side of the dust jacket, it presents the book title and a text box illustrating this poem as the 1922 Dial award. The left flap of the jacket contains an introduction of the poem, which praises it as a synthesis of all of Eliot’s early works, and gives a universal voice to addresses the despair and resignation arising from spiritual and economic consequences of the war. Published three years after WWI, the series number “894” can be identified as any individual in the society who tries to understand his life in the wasteland of the culture. And through this design, one sees in this book how a publisher attempts to preserve an author’s aura in the age of mechanical reproduction.

[Posted by Kate Sheely for English 812: Modern Poetry]

HD2Poet H.D. (a.k.a. Hilda Doolittle) published her first novel, Palimpsest, in 1926. It’s an eye-catching object—a bright red jacket with wavy blue lines and an inside hard cover decorated with what appear to be gold Egyptian hieroglyphics, or an artist’s rendition of hieroglyphics. As is indicated on the jacket of the front cover, only 700 initial copies were printed in the expatriate’s home country, the United States, despite her relative success as a modernist poet.

An original copy of Palimpsest, published by Boston’s Houghton-Mifflin Company, can be found in Trinity College’s Watkinson Library in Hartford, Conn., where I viewed it in February 2016. According to the WorldCat research database, as of March 2016, there only 111 of these American editions accounted for in libraries worldwide, with 3 copies available in Connecticut: one at Trinity College, one at Yale University library, and one at the Bridgeport Public Library.

It’s immediately obvious that H.D.’s pen name is gender neutral. What is interesting about Palimpsest is that it preserves the ambiguity of H.D.’s gender identity. “In its snaring of the elusive overtones of life this first venture into the novelist’s field by one of the most distinguished of contemporary poets thrusts forward the established frontiers of prose fiction,” touts the front cover of the book, avoiding any gendered pronouns.

The inside left jacket flap advertises a reprint of Willa Cather’s My Antonia, referring to the author as “Miss Cather.” The back jacket flap describes Godfrey Elton’s The Testament of Dominic Burleigh, referring to the author more than once as “Mr. Elton.” We see no such mention of H.D.

Looking at Palimpsest, it is also interesting to observe the name of the printer: “Printed at Dijon (France) by Maurice Darantiere.” As it turns out, according to the State University of New York, Buffalo (which has a few original documents online), Darantiere also printed modernist writer James Joyce’s Ulysses, which had just been published a few years earlier by Sylvia Beach, owner of the Paris bookstore Shakespeare and Company, where modernist poets such as T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound spent time. (T.S. Eliot published one of the first review of Ulysses in the October 1922 Vol. 1 of his literary review, The Criterion, which is also available for viewing at the Watkinson Library.)

HD1Describing the muddled web woven among the writers, businesspeople, and lovers is fascinating. Although it’s impossible for me to independently verify every piece of information available online about the printing of Palimpsest without more extensive research of original sources, it’s clear the web was very tangled. Ulysses was initially typed and edited by Robert McAlmon. According to rare book dealer Priscilla Juvelis, Inc., Robert McAlmon is the one who sold to Houghton-Mifflin the rights to print 700 copies of Palimpsest. McAlmon was, for some time (1921-27), the husband of Bryher (a.k.a. Winifred Ellerman), who, according to Poetry Foundation (among others), was H.D.’s lifelong female lover. (H.D. pens a dedication to Bryher at the beginning of Palimpsest. See photo.)

For a bit of local history embedded in Palimpsest, the edition at the Watkinson Library contains a sticker of bookseller Edwin V. Mitchell, who had a store in downtown Hartford at 27 Lewis St., a store which at the time Palimpsest was printed would have been a recently opened business. The Connecticut Historical Society has a digitized collection of scrapbooks put together by local resident Mary Morris, and the June 1920 edition contains photos of Mitchell and information about the opening of his bookstore in 1923 (see page 102 of 189 in the PDF version of the scrapbook).

Mitchell’s friend and business partner, James Thrall Soby, joined as a partner in the bookshop in 1929. His papers were published in the 1970s, and his piece titled 27 Lewis Street is available at the Connecticut Historical Society. It is easy to envision Mitchell purchasing Palimpsest when one reads Soby’s description of Mitchell and the bookstore.

HD3The house in which the shop was located was one of several two-story brick houses built on the short street in the middle of the 19th century. It was a beguiling location in downtown Hartford and doubtless it had been chosen by Edwin Mitchell because it reminded him of places where bookshops were found in London, a city he revered. He stacked new books from the creaky floors to the high ceilings on the ground floor [ . . . ] and, later, a rare book room [ . . . ].

—James Thrall Soby in 27 Lewis Street

 It’s always interesting to find out in what ways local lore plays into any given research project. For me, the most fun aspect of examining H.D.’s first novel was digging up information about the bookshop form whence it came. After viewing Mary Morris’s scrap book newspaper clippings and James Soby’s captivating piece about his time at the Mitchell bookshop with the help of the Connecticut Historical Society, and scoping out the property thanks to the convenience of Google Maps (see screenshot), I will certainly be walking past 27 Lewis Street next time I’m in downtown Hartford and imagining it full of old books one hundred years ago.


[Posted by Dr. Scott Gwara, professor of English at the University of South Carolina]

Fig 1Datable to about 1470, manuscript 7 in the Watkinson Library is a “Book of Hours,” a prayer-book widely used by the laity in Europe from about 1300 to 1550. These manuscripts were often illustrated with lavish paintings called “miniatures” or “illuminations.” Nearly all Books of Hours include an “Office of the Dead,” which is recited for deceased loved ones. Because the Office of the Dead has readings from the Book of Job, it also served as a personal reflection on mortality. A miniature in MS 7 reveals this emphasis in the extravagant depiction of a lady speared by Death in the presence of her knight [fig. 1]. Featured in some of the manuscript’s other miniatures, the lady doubtless depicts the book’s original owner. A zombie-like Death aims his dart at her abdomen. Will her demise result from appendicitis? Food poisoning? Or, since she walks in a private garden with her lover, perhaps childbirth?

While popular in the Renaissance, scenes of “Death and the Maiden” are exceptionally rare in Books of Hours. This distinctiveness enabled me to identify the manuscript as one of very few medieval books in antebellum America.

Fig 2The Watkinson manuscript came from the collection of Joseph J. Cooke, a mercantile and real estate tycoon. When Cooke died in 1883, he left $5,000 to each of ten libraries in New England to buy his books at auction. Trinity College bought six manuscripts, including this lovely Book of Hours [Other Cooke manuscripts can be found at Yale, Brown, and the Providence Athenaeum].

Cooke’s manuscript came from the collection of William Menzies, whose library was auctioned in in New York in 1876. A copy of the auction catalogue at Harvard records Cooke’s name as the buyer and the price he paid: $80. The catalogue quotes a certain “Rev. W. Bacon Stevens”: “it contains thirteen miniatures of grouped figures, one of which represents a lady, with a gaily attired knight, while Death in the form of a skeleton steals up from behind, and transfixes her with his dart.” This statement yields a clue to an even earlier owner.

Originally from Maine, William Bacon Stevens practiced medicine in Savannah from about 1838. There he met Alexander Augustus Smets (1769-1862), one of the wealthiest men in Georgia … and a voracious bibliophile. [Alexander Augustus Smets, from an engraving published in De Bow’s Review (1852): “[His library] has a reputation wide as the country, and scarcely a scholar or distinguished personage visits Savannah without seeking it out and feasting upon its contents.”] Fig 4Smets’ library of 5,000 books included twelve “ancient manuscripts,” one of them “Death and the Maiden.” In 1841 Stevens contributed an essay called, “The Library of Alexander A. Smets, Esq., Savannah” to the Magnolia, a Savannah monthly. He praised Smets’ library as “rich in ancient manuscripts,” writing the text cited above in the Menzies catalogue (“it contains thirteen miniatures of grouped figures,” etc.).

As far as I can determine, Smets was only the third person in America to collect medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. Some of his medieval books survive at the New York Public Library, Indiana University, and Yale. One belongs to the Earl of Crawford in Scotland. Even more significantly, as Stevens’ article got re-published in newspapers, journals, and magazines, Smets’ manuscripts became the best known antebellum collection in North America, praised in Leipzig, Boston, New York, New Orleans, and London. Some of these reports express surprise that European patrimony had fallen into the hands of an American.

Fig 7Smets’ manuscripts were auctioned in New York in 1868. Menzies probably bought “Death and the Maiden” at the sale. At that time the manuscript would have had Smets’ teensy autograph, “A. A. Smets Savannah” plus a date of acquisition. But the manuscript was re-bound, and the new binding explains why this Book of Hours has never before been associated with Smets. At the time, it was common even for the original bindings of medieval manuscripts to be replaced. Luckily, this manuscript did not have an original binding, and the new one by William Matthews is a bona fide treasure. Matthews was the leading binder in New York, and the first American genius of “bibliopegy”—the art of bookbinding.

It’s always satisfying to uncover the provenance of medieval manuscripts, and it doesn’t get any better than this. Watkinson MS 7 not only represents the best of antebellum collecting in America but also conveys the afterlife of medieval books in second-, third-, and fourth-generation ownership.


The Courant in the late 18thC

   Posted by: rring   in Americana, Classes

[Posted by Sarah Mowery for AMST 838: America Collects Itself, from Colony to Empire]
We are reading Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A Midwife’s Tale in AMST-803 (Historiography). In Ulrich’s work I have found inspiration for this post; not from the book’s content, but rather in Ulrich’s methodology. Ulrich’s primary source was a diary kept by Martha Ballard, an active midwife, between 1785 and 1812. Ballard’s daily entries were succinct and to the point, simply stating weather, visitors, housework performed and midwifery calls.  There was not enough meat on the bones to retell a full story, and for years the diary was overlooked by historians who concluded it was noteworthy but too limited.  Ulrich overcame this obstacle by looking to other sources to link the activities of a local midwife with other local happenings in the town of Hallowell, Maine and in doing so she was able to tell not just the tale of one local midwife, but to develop a picture of the larger community.
And so I turned to newspapers for this project, wondering what tidbits I might find of pre-Revolutionary life in America.  At the Watkinson I found a folio containing editions of the Connecticut Courant between January 4, 1774 and May 31, 1774.  The Courant was the third newspaper to be printed in Connecticut.  It was preceded by the Connecticut Gazette printed by James Parker in New Haven beginning in 1755 and the New-London Summary, or The Weekly Advertiser, first printed in August 1758 by Timothy Green.
The Courant was founded by Thomas Green, a relation of the aforementioned Timothy.  With printing in his blood, in 1757 Thomas turned to the Gazette’s office in New Haven for training under John Holt, the manager of Parker’s publication.  In 1760 he assumed managerial responsibilities for the Gazette and in 1764 he opened his own shop in Hartford to begin publication of the Courant.  In a history of Connecticut Newspapers in the Eighteenth Century prepared for the Tercentenary Commission of the State of Connecticut, Jarvis Means Morse described Thomas as “not as bold an editor as his contemporaries in New Haven and New London.”  Morse notes that Thomas’ publication stayed away from controversy and editorial commentary.  This approach changed in 1770 when management of the Courant was assumed by Ebenezer Watson.  Mr. Watson was the publisher of the editions of the Courant I examined for this post and based upon my readings he does not appear to have shied away from relaying news of Revolutionary America.As I turned the well-worn folio cover of Watson’s publication I was transported to New York, December 17, 1773.Detestable Tea. No. 471; Tuesday, December 28, 1773 – Tuesday, January 4, 1774. The Boston Tea Party occurred on December 16, 1773.  This edition of the newspaper was therefore published just days following that momentous event.   The front page is filled with the happenings of Boston and contains articles originally printed in both New York and Boston on 12/17/1773. New York’s response to the Tea Party opens Connecticut’s new year.  By advertisement distributed throughout New York on December 16, 1773, citizens of the City were called to action by the Members of the Association of the Sons of Liberty.  A meeting was to be held “to morrow, (being Friday) on Business of the utmost Importance: — and every Friend to the Liberties and Trade of America, are hereby most cordially invited, to meet at the same Time and Place.”Mowrey1The subsequent article describes the proceedings of the December 17, 1773 meeting.  Despite bad weather a “respectable number of citizens” attended the meeting at City Hall.  John Lamb, a member of the Association addressed those gathered, reading aloud letters from Boston’s and Philadelphia’s Committees of Correspondence, relaying the happenings in Boston “relative to the Importation of the East India Company’s Tea.”   Following the reading, a “Committee of Fifteen Gentlemen was chosen to answer those Letters, and to correspond with our Sister Colonies on the subject of the dutied Teas.”   This was followed by a message from the governor read by the mayor of New York declaring that one of the six ships carrying the “detestable tea” would be offloaded in New York.  The mayor asked the attendees if they consented to such and the crowd responded with a “general No, No, No.” It was then resolved that “this Body highly approve of that spirited and patriotic Conduct of our Brethren, of the City of Philadelphia, and the Town of Boston, in Support of the common Liberties of America.”  New York would stand in solidarity with Boston.

Of interest to note is that the ship bound for New York was “by an Act of God, fast on Shore, on the Back of Cape Cod.” Severe weather delayed the ship’s arrival and open revolt prevented its docking; it shrunk back to the land of its colonial overlord.

But the Boston Tea Party and the colonies’ responses are well documented and well studied.  While it was fascinating to stumble upon this account what I was really hoping to find were the tidbits of local life in Connecticut.  In turning the page I found just that.

Lost and Found: 12/28/1773: Mr. David Riley of Wethersfield placed an ad warning his creditors that his wife had “without any reason or cause eloped and willfully deserted [his] house” and that the public be warned – she should not be given credit upon his good name.  In a quick online genealogical search, I found reference to a Sarah Goodrich, born July 28, 1743 in Wethersfield, “poss. the Sarah Goodrich who m. David Riley May 17, 1773 at Rocky Hill.” Could this be the same Sarah and David and if so, what could have caused Sarah to run off just seven months into their marriage?

1/4/1774: Similarly, Ichabod Wadsworth offered a reward of six pence for the return of his “servant boy named George White” who had run away.  Mr. Wadsworth provided quite a detailed description of the runaway youth.  George was still missing as of the following publication.

1/31/1774: Poor Mr.  Jonah Gillet of Windsor was hopeful that his “stray’d” two year old HEIFER would make its way back home. A “handsome” reward was offered for its safe return.

4/18/1774: A “Negro Man about 26 years of age” reportedly ran away from Elihu Hyde.  Reward: $7. A sad commentary of the definition of property in 1774.

The Poet’s Corner offered a lovely piece written by “Maria” entitled Winter.   A sampling follows:  “The herbs and flow’rs that deck’d the field / Are winter’d all, and left; / The streams and Brooksto ice congeal’d / Are chain’d by Winter’s frost. / But nature changes all combine / To prove their Author’s hand divine.”

Job Opportunities. A blacksmith sought a “LAD, about 14 years of age” to apprentice. Asher Bull of New Hartford sought to hire three journeymen, joiners by trade.

For Sale. Ames’s Almanack for 1774 to be sold at the Printing Office.  (A 1762 edition of Ame’s Almanack is part of the Watkinson collection.)

Fighting Words. 3/8/1774 – “Four Millions of free Americans signed on to A new Creed, founded on immutable TRUTH.  We most solemnly DECLARE, that we sincerely believe the Parliaments or General Assemblies of North-America, have no more right…to tax the people of Great-Britain, than the Parliament of Great-Britain have to tax the people of America.”

4/8/1774 – New Haven”  “To complete the ruin of this island, we have a stamp-act, which has just taken place, and is perhaps the most oppressive order ever imposed, even in in oppressive governments.”

Letters to the Editor. 3/10/1774 – From Mr. Aaron Horsford of Wetherfield: “Mr Watson, please to insert the following in your next…I observ’d in your paper No. 480, a very ill-natur’d piece…”

It should be noted that for the most part, the “national” news offerings of local newspapers – such as the accounts of the Boston Tea Party relayed above – were simply articles reprinted from their original publications.  Jarvis notes that any local news was very limited.  But I found glints of local history in each of the last two pages of the Courant.  Much like Ulrich looked to Ballard’s diary, here we can look to the advertisements placed by local subscribers.  These ads very much add meat to the bones of local history and give us a taste of life in Hartford in 1774.

One final note is of an ad I came across in the edition covering the week of February 15, 1774 which is on topic for our class America Collects Itself.  Here we have an ad placed by Benjamin Trumbull of New Haven offering a “reward” of three dollars for a publication printed in New Haven in 1656.



Modern Medicine of 19th Century America

   Posted by: rring   in Americana, Classes, Students

[Posted by Meghan Crandall for AMST 838: America Collects Itself, from Colony to Empire]

medicalcoverThe Family Doctor: A Counsellor in Sickness, Pain and Distress, for Childhood, Manhood and Old Age by Professor Henry S. Taylor, was published in 1869.

Looking through the Watkinson for books on medicine at first seemed like an easy enough task, but when you search for ‘medicine’ you come up with 652 pieces. It was Taylor’s plan which drew me to this text–to be honest, speak in simple terms and use common sense in respect to medicine in the 19th century. “We are sure that without health we can neither enjoy happiness nor discharge the duties which devolve upon us; and we know also that, if we would enjoy a healthy old age, we must exercise the care and prudence of the old while we are yet young”.  It is clear that the author asks his readers to think highly of their health. It is intended as a guide to understanding and preventing illness.

Family medicine is based on knowledge of the patient and patient’s family, and in some cases even the community. The goal of Family Medicine is to provide personal, comprehensive, and continuing care for the individual patient, family and community.  I can’t remember having seen a recent book published that offers this kind of knowledge without using medical terminology. Instead we get sites like webMD.com; medical-dictionary.com, and medicinenet.com; which if you’ve ever been on any of these sites you find you have most of the symptoms listed; thus you are extremely sick, and the language used is not plain. “Our plan is with all honesty, simplicity and common sense, to guard our friends against what is prejudicial to health, and then to tell them what to do when disease visits them.”

While The Family Doctor may be out of date by modern standards it still offers great advice. “We regard Tobacco as one of the greatest enemies of the human family, and indeed of all life.” Clearly in 1869 and even before they knew the problems with tobacco, and the medical establishment is still fighting to stop tobacco use. Taylor states that “Nicotine was the awful agent chosen by Bocarme for poisoning his brother-in-law, because it killed and left no sign whereby to convict him.”

AMST 8380004The book covers topics such as The Sick Room, Diseases of Children, Diseases of Men and Women, Wounds, Accidents and Minor Diseases, and Diseases of Women. The Sick Room is placed in the upper part of the house because diseases proved more fatal in the lower levels, such as kitchens or cellars. It should be well-ventilated and the fewer people allowed in the room the better. These requirements are not much different than current standards of care. What is most interesting is the book’s in-depth descriptions of diseases such as Whooping Cough, Croup, Teething, Thrush, Cholera Infantum, Colic, Hickups, Diarrhea, Constipation, Vomiting, Worms, Rickets, Scalled Head, Ringworm, Rose Rash (False Measles), Chicken Pox , Small Pox, and many more. While we may not see hiccups as a disease it was depicted as a spasmodic affliction of the diaphragm, and perhaps the stomach.  The suggested cure was to have the patient in bed drinking cool drinks with the administration of sweet spirits or white-wine whey, or a teaspoonful of vinegar as often as needed.

Among the work’s precepts were “Good morals preserve good health”, “Good ventilation and good drainage are the first importance to health”, “Air is to the lungs what food is to the body; therefore, breathe all the fresh air you can”, “Laugh and grow fat is a good adage; cheerfulness begets health and health begets cheerfulness; and both, thankfulness for God’s mercies”, this piece of advice is not so different than what we use today “Live, Laugh, Love” is a common quote, and “To be angry is to be contemptible; it destroys self-respect and digestion”.

Though the book was printed in 1869 it still discusses many things of concern to public health officials, and describes diseases in the mainstream 19th century and family health before the family doctor became commonplace. Linking The Family Doctor to similar books within the library is a simple task. Right Living by Charles E. Rosenberg written in 2003 writes of similar topics as The Family Doctor. Both these books note the existence of disease and treatment, but in different times; thus allowing readers to see the progression of medicine in America.


Some Chinese Ghosts

   Posted by: rring   in Americana, Classes, Students

[Posted by Mariah West for AMST 838: America Collects Itself, from Colony to Empire]

Hearn coverOriginally, in delving into the depths of the Watkinson search engine, I found this book purely through my own personal whimsy. I was searching through the subject of mythology and this unassuming book appeared—but what a title! When I held this well-loved and well-worn book in my hands, I was charmed by its stained and dulled cover and its inscription from the original owner—Daisy Foster. Nothing about this book was personalized beyond that—no annotations, no folded pages. Nothing but an index card, apparently from a book dealer from whom it was purchased guaranteeing a good price based on recent auctions. For approximately $35 this book was purchased by Dr. Jerome P. Webster, who donated his collection of Far Eastern and Maritime books to the Watkinson in 1910. Why this was such a good deal became apparent when searching for the origins of this edition—in some sort of disorganized confusion, the publishers believed that Lafcadio Hearn disliked the mustard yellow cover and wanted it reprinted. They chose to burn the majority of this printing, but several copies escaped, including this copy filed away in the belly of the Watkinson!

Hearn tpAt first I was hesitant in reading this book. I thought that I would be disappointed in the treatment of the legends and the myths of China—especially ones that were translated at the height of exoticism and anti-Chinese sentiments in the United States. I was pleasantly surprised to find the contents to be lovingly and respectfully presented with great care to maintain their origins. I suspect that a great deal of this care comes from Lafcadio Hearn’s own background of isolation, abandonment, and disrespect as well as his great enjoyment of the different and unknown.

This book contains six legends formatted into a short story. There is “The Soul of the Great Bell,” “The Story of Ming-Y,” “The Legend of Tchi-Niu,” “The Return of Yen-Tchin-King,” “The Tradition of the Tea-Plant,” and “The Tale of the Porcelain-God.” Each story features important explanations of traditional Chinese morality and duties portrayed with florid and picturesque language. While the majority of the stories do have a horrific and violent end, much like the tradition of the Grimm Brother’s European fairy tales, the reader cannot help but become swept up in the fantastical descriptions that Hearn paints for her. Each story conveys the importance and the interest in material goods that was a part of dynastic China—nothing is regarded higher than artistry and the self-sacrifice that is pursued within these stories.

With “The Soul of the Great Bell,” we follow the journey of an artist and his daughter who have been ordered by the Emperor, a demi-god, to make the grandest bell in the history of China. The artist will always fail at his goal, the daughter soon learns, until his bell is forged with the sacrificial blood of a virgin. Upon the threat of her father’s death, the daughter throws herself into his forge and becomes immortalized through the bell due to her filial piety.

In “The Story of Ming-Y,” we follow the trials and tribulations of the young and brilliant Ming-Y as he finds a job as a tutor with a wealthy family and meets a beautiful woman. Ming-Y and the woman, Sië, fall madly in love and pursue a secret affair. Shortly Ming-Y is discovered through his exhaustion that he has been spending nights away from where he is supposed to be. Both his father and his employer are incredibly concerned and confront him, and force Ming-Y to introduce them to Sië. When Ming-Y attempts to bring them to her home where they had been meeting, they find nothing but a tomb.

“The Legend of Tchi-Niu” follows a poor but pious man named Tong-yong who was orphaned at an early age. In order to have his father buried properly he sold himself into slavery. While his life as a slave was miserable, Tong-yong maintained his ancestors’ graves as was required and spent much time practicing his family worship. Eventually, Tong-yong met an incredible woman who promised to provide. As time went on, she was able to buy Tong-yong’s freedom and secure a house and land for him to farm through her amazing skills with silk weaving. Once his freedom was secured, they had a child who was the most gifted and brilliant child ever seen. One night, his wife came to Tong-yong and told him she must leave them. She was a goddess sent by the Master of Heaven to reward him for his dedication to filial piety.

“The Return of Yen-Tchin-King” follows the illustrious heroics of the Supreme Judge from one of the Six August Tribunals who was commanded by the Emperor, the Son of Heaven, to control a revolt. Yen-Tchin-King was so loyal to the Emperor and the Master of Heaven that he could not be swayed into betraying his master’s even at the threat of his own life. When the rebels executed him, he passed on to serve the Master of Heaven who rewarded his greatness, wisdom, and virtue with a corpse that would never corrupt of decay and would become an emblem of justice for the future generations.

“The Tradition of the Tea-Plant” follows the painful but moral story of the origin of the tea plant—something obviously important to the social and traditional customs of China. A young ascetic monk finds distraction and temptation within a beautiful young woman. Beauty this corporal world is so fleeting and illusionistic that is should not draw the monk away from his spiritual journey. But alas—he cannot return to his meditation. In a final attempt to seek enlightenment while ignoring his desires he slices off his eyelids and throws them to the ground. From his sacrifice grows the sacred tea-leaf, forever mimicking their original form.

Finally, “The Tale of the Porcelain-God,” which is by far my most favored of these legends. While very similar to “The Soul of the Great Bell,” this story follows the grand tradition of porcelain and vase-making within the dynastic periods of China’s history. Once a great potter was so revered and respected for his talent that the Emperor of China called upon him to produce a vase that resembled human flesh. Try as he could, the potter created the most beautiful vases, but not one could compare to human flesh. In his despair over the Emperor’s disappointment and threatening advances against the artist’s life, he contacted and begged the Porcelain-God who resided within his kiln. A deal was made to produce a vase that resembled human flesh, something that could only be achieved when the vase itself contained the spirit of a human. In his final attempt, the potter made the most wondrous vase, painted it with care, and threw himself into the fire with his last piece. When the fires died down and the vase was removed from the kiln, it was like no other—appearing to breath and with the sumptuous undertones of flowing blood. The artist would live forever contained within his most prized work.

This book also contains a glossary of Chinese words which have not been translated into English for the fear of mistranslation and the desire to maintain authenticity within the stories. This glossary is, at least to me, a very impressive inclusion to a book from the 1880s, although it probably had much to do with the popular exoticism and orientalism of aesthetic practices during the 18th and 19th centuries.


Anne Bradstreet

   Posted by: rring   in Americana, Classes, Students

[Posted by Sara Mowery for AMST 838: America Collects Itself, from Colony to Empire]

Ellis_title page of 1678 second editionAnne Bradstreet’s collected poems, edited by John Harvard Ellis, was published in 1867 by A. E. Cutter in Charlestown, and bears the mark “No. 157 of 250 copies printed.”  Ellis’s Preface provided me with reassurance that this edition would indeed hold true, if not exact, to the first edition of Bradstreet’s works which was published during her lifetime in London in 1650.  Specifically, Ellis explains that at the time of his edition there had been three published editions of Bradstreet’s collected works.  The first (1650), a second published in Boston in 1678 six years after Bradstreet’s death, and a third published from the second edition in 1758, also in Boston.  Ellis notes that the third edition contains “numerous omissions of words, changes in spelling, and other alternations of little importance.”  In his edition, Ellis paid careful attention to maintaining the integrity of the second edition of Bradstreet’s collection thereby, it would appear, dismissing any value in the third edition.  The second edition, Ellis notes, “contained the additions and corrects of the author, and several poems found amongst her papers after her death.”  In other words, the second edition is a more exhaustive collection of Bradstreet’s work.  It also provides “extensive” corrections to both spelling and grammar.

“I changed my condition and was married, and came into this country, where I found a new world and new manners, at which my heart rose.  But after I was convinced it was the way of God, I submitted to it and joined the church at Boston.” [i]   This recollection, shared by Anne Bradstreet with her children once many years settled, speaks volumes to a woman’s position and identity in Puritan colonial society.  Specifically, a woman’s duty was to submit, be it to God or to husband, and most preferably to both.  Yet Anne Bradstreet would do something remarkable for her times.  She would become the first published female poet in colonial America.  A female voice, un-muted.  Bradstreet first came to my attention in a survey undergrad American Literature course.  We read a handful of her poems and spent all of five minutes discussing her work and life in class.  Remarkable, in my opinion, given Bradstreet’s significant accomplishment.  And so I chose for this post to delve deeper into why Bradstreet’s voice carried while so many female voices were muted in colonial America.

I have briefly encountered another colonial America Anne during my studies – Anne Hutchinson.  While this post is not about Hutchinson, and I will not devote any great length to a discussion on Hutchinson, it is important to make note of Hutchinson because her banishment from society stands in stark contrast from the acceptance that Anne Bradstreet received.  Bradstreet’s female voice won over her contemporaries, rather than inciting their wrath as Hutchinson’s had.  Hutchinson and Bradstreet were contemporaries, somewhat.  Anne Hutchinson settled in America from 1634 to 1643 and Anne Bradstreet from 1630 to 1672.  They lived among the same Puritan settlers under similar male confines.   So why did Hutchinson’s voice get her banished while Bradstreet’s voice was rewarded with the ultimate prize for a writer; being published?  For an answer I look to how the two women chose to express themselves.  Anne Hutchinson’s voice was fervent and oppositional; she directly challenged the ministry.  Anne Bradstreet on the other hand sneaked in through the back door; her writings left much room for interpretation.  Her voice was equally challenging; not in its demanding strength but in its crafty manipulation.

By way of example, I look to To my Dear and Loving Husband.

If ever two were one, then surely we.

If ever man were lov’d by wife, then thee;

If ever wife was happy in a man,

Compare with me ye women if you can.

At first reading, this is a love poem written by a devoted wife.  She expresses not only her love but also urges others to look to this couple as an example of married bliss.  However, Bradstreet’s words quickly force us to question if there is perhaps more she is trying to tell us when she continues:

I prize thy love more than whole Mines of gold,

Or all the riches that the East doth hold.

My love is such that Rivers cannot quench,

Nor ought but love from thee, give recompence.

These lines speak of such trivial matters of earthly possessions and payment.  She attempts to place a size and value on love.  In this, Bradstreet has strayed from the ethereal to the earthly; and in doing so, she diminishes the value of love.  If her love can be compared to such an earthly thing as a mineral, if a value can be placed upon it, if it can be measured, surely its magnificence is overrated.

Thy love is such I can no way repay,

The heavens reward thee manifold I pray.

Then while we live, in love lets so persever,

That when we live no more, we may live ever.

Anne Hutchinson’s story reveals a rift in Puritan society between those who preached the covenant of grace and those who preached the covenant of works.  In the above lines I hear Bradstreet’s musings on this debate.  She speaks of salvation; “heavens reward,” and tells her husband that “while [they] live, in love let’s so persever.”  Her practical approach is to deal with the here and now, loving her husband while they live, so that they may enjoy eternity together.  It is in these final lines of the poem that I believe Bradstreet’s female voice speaks out against the contentious debate that plagued Puritan society.  Softly and cleverly hidden in endearing terms of affection towards her husband, Anne Bradstreet gives her own interpretation of salvation and how one can attain it.

Another example of Bradstreet’s ability to express herself in an unforgiving puritan society is in The Prologue. Here, Bradstreet’s use of epic genre invokes classical style:

To sing of Wars, of Captains, and of Kings,

Of Cities founded, Common-wealths begun,

For my mean pen are too superior things:

Or how they all, or each their dates have run,

Let Poets and Historians set these forth,

My obscure Lines shall not so dim their worth.

In using this genre and style, Bradstreet mimics the writing style of the Great Men; a style well accepted throughout history.  In doing so, Bradstreet sneaks onto the scene.  Yes she is a woman.  But her style is familiar, and therefore, she is allowed to continue.  She cleverly carries this deceit forward in the next stanza where she hides within her theme, simply mimicking her muse, Bartas:

A Bartas can, do what a Bartas will

But simple I according to my skill.

Bradstreet has set the scene for us.  We are safe to read on, un-threatened by the humble female voice.  Yet in the blink of an eye she springs on us, as if glaring at the reader, knitting needles angrily click-clacking, body tense:

I am obnoxious to each carping tongue

Who fays my hand a needle better fits,

A Poets pen all scorn I should thus wrong,

For such despite they cast on Female wits:

If what I do prove well, it won’t advance,

They’l say it’s stoln, or else it was by chance.

The once self-diminishing and humble Puritan wife is now the combative and angry Poet.  She angrily calls out society and its “carping tongue” that insist a woman’s voice is better silenced; a woman’s place is in the home.  She is no feeble-minded female.  Her “Poets pen” is guided not by accident or chance but rather by an intelligent “female wit.”  The next stanza shows us just how clever Bradstreet’s Poetic pen could be:

Let Greeks be Greeks, and women what they are

Men have precedency and still excel,

It is but vain unjustly to wage warre;

Men can do best, and women know it well

Preheminence in all and each is yours;

Yet grant some small acknowledgement of ours.

With this stanza Bradstreet speaks in more conciliatory tones, gradually calming the reader down.  In a single breath she acknowledges a man’s “precedency” and “preheminence” while also asking that her female voice be judged not by its femininity but by the intelligence that guides it.  The entire poem is a whirlwind of emotion and manipulation.

From the role of diminutive sex to angry feminist to well-reasoned litigator, The Prologue and To My Dear and Loving Husband are prime examples of Anne Bradstreet’s clever use of manipulative language and style that would save her from a fate similar to Anne Hutchinson.  Anne Bradstreet’s works survive today, neatly bound and displayed in library stacks worldwide.  Ironically, Cotton Mather, the grandson of John Cotton and turncoat of Anne Hutchinson, would sing Anne Bradstreet’s praise, writing that her poems “have afforded a grateful entertainment unto the ingenious, and a monument for her memory beyond the stateliest marbles.” [ii]  Thankfully, time alters perspective; the female voice of each Anne has survived history in spite of those who believed such a voice should not.

[i] Heimert, Alan and Andrew Delbanco. The Puritans in America: A Narrative Antholog. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.

[ii] Radcliffe, David Hill. Spenser and the Tradition: English Poetry 1579-1830 A Gathering of Texts, Biography, and Criticism. n.d.


White Mountains

   Posted by: rring   in Americana, Classes, Students

[Posted by Jane Smith for AMST 838: America Collects Itself, from Colony to Empire]

SweetsercoverThe 1890 edition (with updates) of an 1876 guide to the White Mountains edited by Moses Foster Sweetser (1848 –1897) is a fascinating glimpse into late nineteenth century outdoor travel and travel writing.  Bent’s Bibliography of the White Mountains, published in 1911, billed it as “the most comprehensive guide to the White Mountains that has been published,” and this seems to be an accurate claim.  Sweetser is incredibly thorough, both in describing the natural beauty that awaits his readers and in helping them plan every detail of their trips. Published at a time when the advent of paid time off and inexpensive train travel opened up recreational opportunities  for the middle class, Sweetser’s  guidebook offers all the tools for planning  a “do it yourself ” vacation.


M.F. Sweetser edited other travel books for Houghton Mifflin during the late nineteenth century, including guides of the Maritime Provinces and New England, among others. AMST 8380002His handbook for travel in the White Mountains appeals to the hearty outdoorsman interested in hiking the trails of the area, as well as to families or others focused on relaxing stays in grand resorts or smaller hotels.  Extensive sections on geology, topography (with fold out maps), nomenclature, history, scenery and an unusually long section devoted to “Indians” take up the front portion of the guidebook. Sweetser is a stickler for details, at one point carefully explaining to his readers missing topographical graphics, an admission that is charmingly quaint in our Google Earth era. “It was intended to have also panoramas from Moosilauke and Mt. Lafayette, but protracted cold and snowy weather settled down when the Guide-book party moved in that direction, and prevented the drawings.”



SweetsermapDetailed descriptions of train routes, walking trails and accommodations, arranged by geographic area, dominate the last part of the book.  The number of train routes (and train companies) seemingly servicing every nook and cranny of the White Mountain area is impressive, especially when compared to our current scaled-down Amtrak service.  Sweetser  also includes a comprehensive overview for 1890 in the front of the book, noting minute changes in train or stage service and lodging updates, such as his comment about the fabled Glen House, “The new Glen House is one of the foremost summer hotels in the world, and its surroundings have been much adorned of late.”

Sweetser seems as comfortable with the scientific and practical portions of the guidebook as he is with the subjective and descriptive passages.  His depiction of the ideal season to visit is more exuberant than we might see in contemporary guidebooks.

“From the middle of June to the middle of July foliage is more fresh; the cloud scenery is nobler; the meadow grass has more golden color; the streams are usually more full and musical; and there is a larger proportion of the ‘long light’ of the afternoon, which kindles the landscape into the richest loveliness…”

Nor does he hold back his opinion of a less desirable scene, “The Ossipee Ponds are less attractive, on account of the dull surroundings and desolate shores.”

A good portion of the book concerns what Sweetser calls “pedestrian tours or what we would call “hiking.”  In text aimed only at men, he proclaims that these walking tours, “afford ground for rejoicing to lovers of American physical manhood.” Sweetser orients much of the book, particularly those sections dealing with outside adventures, around the Appalachian Mountain Club, formed in 1876. The club had 700 members at the time of the 1890 printing (as compared with 150,000 today) and was created specifically to explore the White Mountains by MIT Professor, Charles Pickering.  Sweetser leverages the organization’s credibility and reputation throughout the book.

One of my favorite sections in Sweetser’s guidebook contains practical advice for men planning pedestrian tours while in the White Mountains. In the days before performance fabrics, he suggests the following attire.

“A flannel shirt, with a rolling collar of the same material, is about all the chest-covering which is comfortable in warm weather walking. Linen collars and cuffs are quickly melted by perspiration; the waistcoat is quite      superfluous; the coat (a light English shooting jacket, buttoning across the breast, is the best)….”

He then gives the following resourceful advice for footwear.

“Shoes should be selected with great care, and should fit neatly… the bottoms of the soles and heels should be garnished with rows of the soft iron hob-nails to prevent wearying slips….

Sweetser also offers a method of repelling the black flies and mosquitoes famous in the White Mountain area, “Various preparations of tar and oil, and other ingredients, are used to anoint the hands, face and neck…” Finally, with our modern day emphasis on hydration and the omnipresent water bottle, it is difficult to grasp Sweetser’s advice to those thirsty souls ascending the White Mountains.  He suggests that they, “carry a bottle of cold tea to be drank [sic] sparingly and at wide intervals” or that they, “drink from water found along the way – springs or rain found in the hollows of flat rocks…after a rain storm.”

The White Mountains was such a popular tourist destination in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that a bibliography devoted to guidebooks and other types of literature about this specific area was complied in 1911. Bent’s Bibliography of the White Mountains, originally published by Houghton Mifflin for the Appalachian Mountain Club, contained lists of magazine articles, newspapers, fiction, poetry, journal articles and artwork about this scenic area. Sweetser’s handbook  for the White Mountains also appears in one other significant  bibliography  with a lengthy but descriptive  title, Descriptive List of the five-hundred and forty-eight books published by Houghton Mifflin & Co. and Exhibited in the Model Library of the American Library Association at the Chicago Exposition of 1893.

Sweetser’s handbook is most intriguing for the details it reveals about travel and everyday life in 1890. While the scientific sections are a bit tedious, the rest of the handbook is an appealing and complete vacation guide, written with sincere enthusiasm. It is sad to think that the area has changed so much since Sweetser so thoroughly and eloquently described it in 1890.





Cadwallader Colden

   Posted by: rring   in Americana, Classes, Native American, Students

[Posted by Sarah St. Germain for AMST 838: America Collects Itself: From Colony to Empire]

coldencoverCadwallader Colden’s The history of the Five Indian Nations depending on the Province of New-York in America was first published in 1727 and is an important work of history from the colonial period. Colden was a physician, natural scientist, lieutenant governor of New York, and the first representative to Iroquois Confederacy. He was born in 1688 in Scotland and made his way to America in 1710. He wrote essays on the filth of New York City, philosophy, and botany, as well as this important work.

The Watkinson’s copy of The history of the Five Indian Nations was published in London in 1747, which one editor claimed had, “alterations and omissions so numerous , that students to whom these English editions are familiar have really no idea of what the work was as originally written by Colden”. He also notes that George Brinley of Hartford, owned a copy of the original press run. Although the Watkinson owns a portion of his collection, this original copy is not included. The book includes a fold-out map; a dedication; detailed introduction (“being a short view of the form of government of the five nations”); a vocabulary of tribal names; and chapters like, Of the Transactions of the Indians of the Five Nations with the neighbouring English colonies and Mons. De la Barres Expedition and some remarkable transactions in 1684.

Just the Introduction itself is a wealth of information. For instance, Colden notes that the Iroquois:

“Never make any prisoner a slave”

“Keep themselves free of the bondage of wedlock”

“Theft is very scandalous among them”

“Are much given to speech-making”

“Have no kind of publick worship”

“They always dress the corps (sic) in its finery”

ColdenThe map is fairly detailed and shows the tribes of the New York and Great Lakes region. If you focus on the New York section above “The Countrey of the Five Nations”, you will see each of the five nations spelled out in their territory. If you look closer still, you will see a small building drawn near each. These are what were known to the English as “castles”. In Little Falls, NY, where I grew up, there was a place called Indian Castle Church. It never occurred to me that it was a weird name, or that it had history behind it.  Indian Castle in Danube was so named from the upper Indian castle or fort, built in 1710 on the flat just below the mouth of Nowadaga creek.”  -New York State Museum Bulletin, November 1917. This castle is located above the ‘s’ in Mohawkes. Each one of the five nations had a castle.

The brief vocabulary section includes many names that are familiar today, though the spellings are very different.  It offers words known to the French with an Iroquois interpretation. For instance:

Chigagou (now Chicago): Caneraghik

Detroit: Teuchsagrondie

Manhattan: New York City

Algonkins: Adirondacks

Renards: Quaksies (renard is French for duck so you can see the relationship between the words)

In addition, the dedication alone offers an in-depth look into the politics of the times. Dedicated to “The Honorable General Oglethorpe”, Colden writes, “If care were taken to plant and cultivate [the Iroquois]… they would become a people whose friendship might add honour to the British nation”. In a time before the American Revolution, he clearly believes that the strength of the Iroquois should be harvested to fight (at the time) the French. Later, the Mohawk, Seneca, Onondaga, and Cayuga nations would join the British in the Revolution, while the Oneidas and Tuscaroras (the sixth nation, added in 1723) would join the Americans.  Later, he equates the Iroquois with the Romans, saying that to increase their strength as a confederation; they “encourage the People of other Nations to incorporate with them”.  “The cruelty the Indians use in their wars… is deservedly indeed held in abhorrence: But whoever reads the history of the famed heroes (the Romans), will find them not much better in this respect.” This is a fairly balanced line for a 17th century writer.

Colden continues with a “short view” of the Iroquois government and then part one, chapter one: From the first Knowledge the Christians had of the Five Nations, to the time of the happy revolution in Great Britain. (Note: Colden uses the word “rodinunchsiouni” as the Iroquois word for their nations. In English today, it is Haudenausaunee, people of the longhouse).

He includes stories of warriors, hunting parties, and expeditions that, “may seem incredible to many” but show “how extreamly revengeful” the Iroquois were. Don’t forget that Colden equated them with the Romans. Much of the book is based on tales of the battles and skirmishes between the Five Nations, the French, the British, and other tribes.

The final portion of the book stems from Colden’s political career:  Papers relating to An Act of the Assembly of the Province of New York for Encouragement of the Indian Trade &c and for prohibiting the selling of Indian Goods to the French, viz. of Canada. An incredible lengthy, yet descriptive title. This is comprised of treaties, letters, speeches, and a list of the people who attended a council in Philadelphia in 1742. The spelling of the names of the Indians who were in attendance (from at least 7 different tribes) gives an incredible lesson on language and phonetics. Even today, the Iroquois languages are difficult to read (the pronunciation and the English alphabet aren’t completely compatible. It would be quite a project to sound out the names and try to glean meaning from them).

Cadwallader Colden’s The History of the Five Indian Nations is still used today as a reference for historical books on the Iroquois. His attention to detail and (mostly) balanced writing make it one of the finest books on the topic.


Summer scholar (NERFC)

   Posted by: rring   in Americana, NERFC

[Posted by Jordan Watkins, NERFC Fellow]

“Certain Peculiar Circumstances … Have Become Our Own in Every Essential Particular”: Antebellum Slavery and History as Past and Present

            Slavery forced antebellum Americans to confront history in new ways. These confrontations encouraged new considerations about the relationship between the present and their sacred religious and legal historical texts—the Bible and the Constitution—and their corresponding favored historical pasts. In the first decades of the new republic, the presence of pasts made familiar through uses and interpretations that conflated historical differences and collapsed historical times guarded Americans from the more disorienting intellectual upheavals of historicization. However, when the slavery crisis fueled a growing emphasis on historical and contextual interpretation in both biblical and constitutional debates, it fostered an awareness of historical distance of the sort that encouraged more historically attuned readings and applications of both the Bible and the Constitution. The process marked an important development in American historical consciousness: the historicization of the nation’s most transcendent, familiar, and useful historical eras and associated historical texts signaled that all periods were subject to temporal vicissitudes and that qualitative changes and contingencies divided all historical eras. This marked an important step in the understanding that each historical period existed as a discrete temporality. In this way, southern slavery contributed to the introduction of a modern American historical awareness.

Watkins3When I arrived at the Watkinson, I set out to further explore the spread of contextual interpretation in biblical and constitutional readings and to examine the overlap between those readings. In the first source I read—Samuel Cary’s published sermon, Ignorance of the True Meaning of the Scripture (1814)—I encountered a clear statement signaling the trend toward the kinds of historical readings of scripture that biblical criticism encouraged. A Harvard graduate and a Unitarian minister, Cary explained to his Boston Battle Street Church congregation that most Christians are but imperfectly acquainted with the facts relating to this book, which have been brought to light by the reseaches [sic] of biblical criticism. In order to comprehend rightly the works of men who lived at a very remote period, and who wrote with particular objects in view, and are known to have accommodated themselves to the circumstances of their own time; it is manifestly necessary, that we should know something of the state of the world at that period generally, and of the particular state of those individuals or societies, who are in any way concerned in these writings.[1]

This source lends further credence to the idea that a broad range of America’s biblical exegetes explicitly called for historical readings of the Bible. The biblical debate over slavery that grew and developed in the succeeding decades led some to ignore the historical approach, but others, including the eminent biblical scholar Moses Stuart, used just such an approach to explicate the scriptures and to explain their meaning for Americans relative to southern slavery.

In this same period, a similar development emerged in constitutional interpretation. Americans began to read the Constitution, a text from a period much closer in time than the biblical past, in relation to its historical context. In my manuscript, I contend that the passing of the founding generation spurred an interest in uncovering the founders’ and framers’ writings, which encouraged the use of historical sources—such as Madison’s Papers (1840)—to determine the meaning of the nation’s supreme legal text. The attempt to read the Constitution in light of the framers’ intent, a process that required historical narration, received official sanction in Dred Scott (1857). While the emphasis on reading the Constitution as a historical text spread and developed in the 1840s and 1850s, the prospect was present much earlier. Watkins1While at the Watkinson, I read Delaware Senator Nicholas Van Dyke’s speech On the Amendment Offered to a Bill for the Admission of Missouri (1820). In the speech, Van Dyke reasoned against the Tallmadge Amendment, which would gradually abolish slavery in the proposed state of Missouri. In his argument, he gloried in his nation’s penetrable past: “Its history is brief, and known to all: the time and manner of its creation, the circumstances attending its adoption are recent and familiar. Many of the enlightened statesmen whose talents and labors were devoted to this great work, yet live to share the honors which their grateful country bestows, as a reward due to their distinguished merit.”[2] Ironically, the emphasis on contextualizing the Constitution became more emphatic after those “enlightened statesmen” had passed on. And in the 1840s and 1850s, historical interpretations began to show that profound historical differences separated the founding era from the present despite the relatively brief time separating the two periods. Indeed, its penetrable nature made historical distance all the more clear once the slavery debate directed interpreters to plumb its depths.

While at the Watkinson, I also discovered sources that further demonstrated the overlap in biblical and constitutional debates over slavery, even with figures who already play a prominent role in my project. Unitarian minister William Ellery Channing, like his more outspoken colleague Andrews Norton, partook of the new emphasis on contextual readings of the Bible. This approach encouraged him to separate out what he understood as eternal Christian truths from their temporal biblical trappings. On the issue of slavery, in particular, he used a contextual reading to argue that Christ and the apostles, recognizing the temporal constraints placed upon them by slavery’s presence in their society, inculcated principles meant to flower and ultimately abolish slavery in a future period. While highlighting Channing’s role in the early part of the manuscript, he drops out of the narrative as I turn from biblical to constitutional debates. However, in the writings that I examined at the Watkinson, I noted that his constitutional arguments similarly display historical readings.Watkins4 For example, in his two-part pamphlet on The Duty of the Free States (1842), Channing cited Madison’s Papers to contend that the framers took care not to recognize property in man. He noted that “the phraseology and history of the constitution afford us some shelter, however, insufficient, from the moral condemnation of the world.”[3] In the second part, Channing explained that, in reference to the fugitive slave clause, which, he argued, recent rulings in northern states had made unconstitutional, “The Constitution was not established to send back slaves to chains. The article requiring this act of the Free States was forced on them by the circumstances of the times, and submitted to as a hard necessity. It did not enter into the essence of the instrument; whilst the security of freedom was its great, living, all-pervading idea. We see the tendency of slavery to warp the Constitution of its purposes, in the law for restoring the flying bondman.”[4] Again, as in his biblical reading, Channing made an appeal to context, citing the importance of the “views of its authors,” and he did so in order to separate out the Constitution’s temporal necessities from its timeless truths.[5] In this and other writings from the 1830s and 1840s, he juxtaposed what he and other antislavery writers described as slavery’s corrupting power with the spread of the “a new state of mind” associated with “the civilized world,” a state of mind that demanded that the Constitution “be brought into harmony with the moral convictions of the people.”[6]

I encountered most of Channing’s writings within bound volumes of pamphlets on the slavery issue, arranged chronologically. These volumes led to perhaps the most interesting insight that resulted from my perusal of the Watkinson’s collections. While looking for particular pamphlets that engaged the biblical and constitutional debate over slavery, I discovered a host of related pamphlets, including moderate antislavery and proslavery southern writings. In perusing these sources, I discovered further evidence of the close interpretational ties between moderate antislavery and proslavery readers. A number of moderate northerners appear in my dissertation, including Daniel Webster and Moses Stuart, but only a few southerners show up, including Roger Taney, and thus the southern voice remains in the background of the narrative. I argue that slavery increased historical awareness among a number of abolitionists, leading some of them to dismiss the Bible and the Constitution as outdated texts or, more persuasively, to argue that the historical distance demanded new readings. To be sure, some abolitionist writings—more of which I discovered at the Watkinson—put forth biblical and constitutional interpretations that conflated temporal distance and collapsed time.[7] However, moderate antislavery thinkers who desired peace and, especially, southern proslavery writers who aimed to justify the historically legitimate institution, were most invested in static readings of the Bible and the Constitution that ignored historical distance.

Southerners often drew attention to abolitionism’s perceived willingness to dismiss and condemn the nation’s authoritative religious and legal historical texts. For example, an 1850 article in The United States Magazine, and Democratic Review condemned William Lloyd’s Garrison’s ideas, the “dogmas of the New Messiah,” and his followers, “who believe neither law or Gospel.”[8] Many southerners who condemned Garrisonian attacks on the nation’s sacred historical texts juxtaposed those venerated sources with the innovation of abolitionism: “Either abolitionism must be put down, and the ancient, time-honored, venerable old Christian church sustained against these marauders and moss-troppers, or an entire new system of government corresponding with the new code of piety and morality propounded by the new expositor of the Gospel, must be adopted.”[9] Both abolitionists and proslavery writers attacked opposing developments as corrupt innovations. But while many abolitionists highlighted proslavery consolidation as a deviation from antislavery expectations—either biblical or Revolutionary—proslavery writers portrayed abolitionism as a deviation from biblical and Revolutionary realities.

A number of northern moderates joined southerners in similarly critiquing abolitionism. For example, in a sermon delivered in South Berwick, Maine, in late 1850, Congregationalist Benjamin Allen Russell praised the “immortal Constitution,” a “sacred instrument” that demanded obedience to ensure the nation’s continued existence.[10] Showing signs of the drive toward Dred Scott, he insisted that “the decision of the Supreme Court … is the decision of the nation.”[11] He combined the appeal to the supreme legal text and the Supreme Court with the supreme religious text. Both sacred texts, when understood in the light of history, evidenced that the ancient apostles, not to mention the ancient prophets, and the late founders encouraged slaves to obey their masters. Russell contrasted the actions and teachings of the apostles and views of the framers with those of the abolitionists, who dismissed the Constitution’s outdated instructions and believed that the Bible “belongs to a dark age.”[12] He insisted that the teachings of the ancient apostles and those of the modern abolitionists “come into direct conflict with each other.”[13] Furthermore, no one had questioned the framers’ fugitive slave clause until now, Russell asserted. Still, along with other antislavery writers, he believed that the framers had anticipated that “through the operation of the principles of freedom which the new Government would embody, under the influence of the religion of Christ, [the slave’s] chains would ultimately be knocked off, and he stand up in all the conscious dignity of a freeman. These expectations have been in some degree realized.” According to Russell, abolitionists’ radical efforts had arrested these expectations, setting back the expected “period of universal emancipation” fifty years.[14] This reading, which Daniel Webster had also advanced in his Seventh of March speech, stood in direct contrast to that offered by other antislavery writers and later by Abraham Lincoln, which posited that proslavery consolidations rather than abolitionist innovations had choked the framers’ antislavery expectations. These debates about what constituted corruption spread awareness of historical change, even among interpreters set on ignoring historical distance in their biblical and constitutional interpretations.

Examining these pamphlets at the Watkinson solidified one of my preliminary arguments: the Fugitive Slave Law brought together biblical and constitutional interpretation as had no other event in the nation’s history. It also confirmed another contention: the spread of historical awareness was uneven, as demonstrated in the continued commitment to static readings of the Bible and the Constitution. Indeed, while the slavery debate encouraged a number of readings that appealed to historical distance, just as often it inspired flat readings and a clear conflation of historical differences.

Watkins2In another sermon from late December, 1850, Episcopalian minister Nathaniel Sheldon Wheaton, a Yale graduate and former President of Trinity College, also appealed to both the Bible and the Constitution to encourage acquiescence to the Fugitive Slave Law. He cited the most scrutinized biblical text in the slavery debate, Paul’s epistle to Philemon, wherein Paul encouraged Onesimus to return to his master Philemon. Seeming to follow the reading of Moses Stuart, while omitting the careful historical research that accompanied the former’s analysis, Wheaton contended that because the apostle’s “certain peculiar circumstances … have become our own in every essential particular, we naturally recur to it for instruction.”[15] Providentialism supported Wheaton’s disregard of historical distance: “we know and feel that we are doing right when, under parallel circumstances, we act as he did. One might almost suppose that the providence of God had anticipated the very crisis in which this country is now placed, and had caused this comparatively unheeded letter to be written as a guide to Christian consciences now.”[16] Rather than insisting on the temporary nature of biblical passages, as so many liberal Christians now did, Wheaton appealed to “facts,” “circumstances,” and “ancient history,” to illuminate Paul’s actions and then proceeded to assert that the apostolic letter had more importance in 1850 than when it was authored.[17] Wheaton’s historical reading had the purpose of ignoring the historical distance that such a reading could expose.

Even in his use of tenses, Wheaton exhibited a proclivity to collapse time. In discussing Philemon, he slipped from past to present tense:

One of his slaves, Onesimus, escaped from his bonds, and found his way to Rome, where St. Paul then was, an honourable prisoner within limits, but allowed to exercise the ministry. There, Onesimus hears the Apostle preach, and is converted to the faith in Christ, He seeks an interview with the Apostle, whom he had probably known as the house of his master in former days; confesses to him that he is a fugitive, and solicits his counsel.[18]

Many used the present tense to recount biblical passages, but the fluidity shown here seems notable. Regardless of whether or not this passage reflects Wheaton’s historical awareness, or lack thereof, it illuminates the ease with which interpreters spoke of the distant past as present.

One last point about Wheaton’s interpretation bears mentioning as it highlights an argument that became powerful among conservative northerners and proslavery southerners. Although, in a number of instances, he ignored historical distance to emphasize the relevance of Paul’s example and to contrast it with that of the abolitionists, his central contention rested on an appeal to circumstances: “On a candid review of all these circumstances, I know not how an unprejudiced mind can evade the conclusion, that the holding of men to involuntary service is not, under all circumstances, inconsistent with Christianity.”[19] Like many southern writers, Wheaton used historical precedent, in this case biblical precedent, to show that slavery is not of necessity evil and at odds with Christian belief. Here, Wheaton drew attention to a circumstantial difference, but one he called “an exception in regard to a single point.” He cited the “constraint of civil law,” recently bolstered in the Compromise of 1850, to show that the Americans’ imperative to return fugitive slaves was greater than Paul’s.[20] In stark contrast to anti-slavery readings, the (sole) circumstantial difference Wheaton uncovered between the apostle’s time and his own supported southern slavery. Wheaton went further with his circumstantial argument, in suggesting that, with the prior assistance of New England ships during the colonial era, “domestic servitude has become so incorporated with the whole texture of southern institutions and society … that by no possibility can slavery be suddenly torn out, without the most deplorable consequences.”[21] Some antislavery writers made a similar point about slavery’s relationship to New Testament times, but whereas they argued that Christ and his apostles had planted the seeds of slavery’s abolition, Wheaton argued that the approach of the first century must be applied in the nineteenth. In his argument, historical precedent and the historical change supported southern slavery.

These sources, which represent only a few of the writings I read at the Watkinson, demonstrate the uneven development of historical awareness that resulted from the biblical and constitutional debates over slavery. A number of antislavery writers, especially abolitionists, used the historical distance that historical research revealed to either damn the nation’s sacred religious and legal texts or to argue for the need read them in relation to historical change and in light of historical distance. Many other writers, including moderate antislavery proponents, southerners, and some abolitionists proffered at least marginal historical readings, but then conflated the exposed historical differences and collapsed the revealed historical time to assert the relevance of the actions and beliefs of past figures. The emerging awareness of historical distance waxed and waned in this period, offering another example of the contingent and uncertain nature of historical development. However, even when antislavery and proslavery writers aimed to ignore historical distance in applying the lessons of sacred texts, their debates spoke to its presence. The fact that such distance had to be dismissed demonstrated an awareness of its reality. Slavery, more than anything else, contributed to that awareness in antebellum America.

[1] Samuel Cary, Ignorance of the True Meaning of the Scriptures, and the Causes of It. A Sermon Preached at King’s Chapel, at Brattle Street Church, and at the Thursday Lecture, in Boston (Boston: John Eliot, 1814), 14-15.

[2] [Nicholas Van Dyke,] Speech of Mr. Van Dyke, on the Amendment Offered to a Bill for the Admission of Missouri into the Union, Prescribing the Restriction of Slavery as an Irrevocable Principle of the State Constitution. Delivered in the Senate of the United States, January 29, 1820 (n.p.), 5.

[3] William Ellery Channing, The Duty of the Free States, or Remarks Suggested by the Case of the Creole (Boston: William Crosby and Company, 1842), 25.

[4] William Ellery Channing. The Duty of the Free States. Second Part (Boston: William Crosby and Company, 1842), 11.

[5] Ibid., 19. His emphasis on extracting the universal from the temporal is evident in his statement that “it is not only necessary to consult the history of the period of [the Constitution’s] formation, but to apply to it the principles of universal justice” (20).

[6] Ibid., 28.

[7] For example, while La Roy Sunderland acknowledged historical differences between the biblical past and the American present, and indeed contrasts biblical slavery from American slavery, he aims to condemn slaveholders via the Bible—“there is not one sin of any kind, committed at the present day, which is more directly and explicitly described in the language of the Bible”—despite those differences. In the last section, which follows antislavery extracts from the Old and New Testaments, Sunderland concluded with a series of quotes from eminent men of the “civilized world,” including the Americans founders, which he extracts from their context to condemn slavery. La Roy Sunderland, The Testimony of God against Slavery: A Collection of Passages from the Bible, which Show the Sin of Holding and Treating the Human Species as Property. With Notes. To which is Added the Testimony of the Civilized World Against Slavery (Boston: D. K. Hitchcock, 1836), 88.

[8] “Abolition vs. Christianity and the Union,” The United States Magazine, and Democratic Review 27 (July 1850): 8.

[9] Ibid., 6, emphasis in original.

[10] B. R. Allen, The Responsibilities and Duties of American Citizens. A Sermon, Preached in the Congregational Church, South Berwick, ME. Thanksgiving Day, Dec. 19, 1850 (Boston: Crocker and Brewster, 1851), 5, 8.

[11] Ibid. 7.

[12] Ibid., 11.

[13] Ibid., 18.

[14] Ibid., 24.

[15] N. S. Wheaton, A Discourse on St. Paul’s Epistle to Philemon; Exhibiting the Duty of Citizens of the Northern States in Regard to the Institution of Slavery; Delivered in Christ Church, Hartford; Dec. 22, 1850; by N.S. Wheaton, D.D. (Hartford: Case, Tiffany and Company, 1851), 5.

[16] Ibid., 6.

[17] Ibid., 8, 9, 10, 13.

[18] Ibid., 7, emphasis mine.

[19] Ibid., 9.

[20] Ibid., 13.

[21] Ibid., 17.