Archive for April, 2011


Audubon case revealed!

   Posted by: rring    in Uncategorized

Today our carpenters took apart the shelving where the new  Audubon case is to be installed and un-crated the case.  We won’t take the case off the pallet until the wall is painted, so there’s still a bit of “under construction” feel to the Reading Room.  I figure we should be allowed at least as much slack as the Connecticut D.O.T.–and the Watkinson is so much more pleasant than Rte. 95!

The excellent feature of this particular piece of equipment is that one person can open the case, slide the bed out, turn the page, and slide the bed in, without any stress on the book or the human.  The glass is supported by gas struts, which raise automatically when it is unlocked.

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A big book needs a big case

   Posted by: rring    in Uncategorized

The Watkinson received a VERY large package yesterday morning.  Shown here in its crate, in which it was shipped from Germany, is a new display case for our copy of John James Audubon’s double-elephant folio Birds of America.

Trinity’s copy was a bequest from alumnus Dr. Gurdon Russell (1815-1909) in May of 1909, and it is apparently the copy that Robert Havell (the engraver) owned.  Havell is said to have selected every plate himself for this copy.  Russell bought the set in 1882 for $1,150.  The last set sold was knocked down at Sotheby’s (London) on December 6, 2010, and broke the record for the sale of any printed book–$11.5 million.  A pinnacle of art, science, and book making, it is the most valuable printed book in the world. 
The case will be placed near the wall behind it (after we remove the bookshelves), and we will work with a designer to create a permanent exhibition with information on the wall about Audubon, his book, and our copy’s provenance, which will be finished by August.

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Remembering Fred Pfeil

   Posted by: rring    in Uncategorized

Last night we had a very successful event in the Watkinson for the students of the “Fred.”  This is how they describe themselves:

“Begun at the start of the 2006-2007 academic year, the Fred Pfeil Community Project is a student-run campus living alternative named after beloved Professor of English, Fred Pfeil, who died of cancer in December 2005.  The purpose of The Fred is to create a comfortable and vibrant space for all students to unite social, cultural, and intellectual interests, thereby enriching campus life. ”

We invited these students, none of whom had ever met Fred Pfeil, to come and hear his colleagues and friends share memories and read a few poems, to give the students a sense of the man.  We produced a keepsake with three of these memories, which I include below for those who could not attend.  The pic shown is of all of the Fred students (past, present, future) around Elli Findly, Fred Pfeil’s widow.  About 60 people attended all told, and we are planning to make this an annual event on social justice and/or activism, in partnership with the fred. 


     For ten years I knew Fred and marveled at his genuine love for improving himself by helping others.  I spent many weekends with Fred at Enfield Correctional Facility where we ran workshops on Alternatives to Violence.  It was there that I saw how fulfilling and inspiring it could be to work selflessly helping others.  I engaged in this work when I could; Fred made this his life’s work.  And it was through such work that Fred’s life intersected with so many others, and through his example others like me became involved as well.   

     What would strike anyone who came to know Fred was his great joy about every day and about interacting with whomever he was with in a very personal and joyful manner.  Fred was fun.  He had a lot of fun and he was great fun to be around.  It was great fun just to ruminate about life with him because he was so thoughtful and insightful about so many things.  He made social activism fun, and he was a living example of how fulfilling life could be when lived with a greater purpose in mind.  I have known very few people personally who could inspire me to live a better life, and Fred remains the greatest example for me in this regard. 

     He was a great friend to so many people, and everyone one of them I think thought of themselves as a special friend to him.  Fred had the unique ability to make a very great number of people feel that they had a special relationship and friendship with him.  I remain amazed at the number of people whose lives Fred touched and who he inspired through friendship and example. 

     Fred’s death left a great hole in the lives of his many friends and colleagues.  All of us who knew Fred are poorer for his absence.  But in important ways I always feel Fred’s presence, mainly because it’s so hard to believe that someone who was so alive and so present in my life is now gone.  And so on occasion I find myself having silent conversations with him despite his absence.  I can easily hear his voice and I know what’d he say about certain things that I’d ask him.  And I can only hope that I remain inspired by Fred to live that better and fuller life that he sought not just for himself but for everyone around him.

—Brian Waddell

     Of all my memories of Fred, and particularly of those that focus on his social activism and concern for human rights and welfare, the one that stands out is the most personal. In 2004, my son Luke was in the throes of a teenage rebellion that manifested primarily as narcissism and hostility against me, his single parent. At first I found it strange that of all my friends and colleagues, Fred was the easiest person to talk to about my dilemma—after all, he had no children of his own and could never be a mother. But it was Fred’s wont to listen with his whole attention and then to search for how he might help with any situation. Not for him was the idle sympathy of “How hard that must be for you.” He was a person of empathy and action.

     Fred and I took a long drive to the Berkshires that spring, to meet with other members of the writing group that Fred had assembled, at Dori Katz’s house in Stockbridge. On the way back to Hartford, I was speaking with him about Luke and he held up a finger. “I have an idea,” he said. He told me about a group of young men he was mentoring—I no longer remember the name of the organization—in downtown Hartford. These were hardened young guys who had been in juvie or were on probation and who were gathering in a circle to come to honest grips with their lives over an intense weekend.

     At first I misunderstood Fred. I thought he was suggesting that Luke join this group of guys who’d been in trouble with the law, and I foresaw the outrage of my bratty teenager when he found himself labeled a juvenile delinquent. But as I started to object, Fred clarified his idea. He wanted Luke to come down to Wethersfield Avenue and help. He wanted him to be a peer mentor for the group. Luke would have to commit to the whole weekend. But Fred would help train him so that he could engage with the troubled young men in an effective way.

     “But you don’t even know Luke,” I objected. Wasn’t it enough that Fred was giving of his own time and energies to help these guys? Did he really want to put his therapeutic structure at risk by bringing in my kid, who wasn’t exactly a model of stability, to “mentor” anyone?

      Not to worry, Fred said, smiling. Just so long as Luke was willing to commit to the whole weekend. He was sure Luke could be very helpful. And maybe it would help Luke.

     To be blunt, I thought it was a crazy idea. But I agreed to propose it to my teenaged rebel. Luke had met Fred once, I think, at Fred and Elli’s housewarming, and had respect for him. “Just call him,” I said to Luke when I got home from the Berkshires. “He’ll explain.”

     Luke called Fred. He met with him. That weekend, for the first time in months, Luke was up before 8:00 a.m., and pestering me to get him down to Wethersfield Avenue on time, because he needed to help Fred, and Fred was counting on him.

     I don’t know what went on in those counseling sessions. I know that Luke came home a little wide-eyed at the stories he had heard. But he also came home walking a little taller, with a sense of purpose that I had not seen in him before. He was less quick to flare up, more aware of others around him.

     It was not, Fred insisted, a big deal. No, it wasn’t. And it wasn’t as if a weekend on Wethersfield Avenue solved my son’s issues. But what remains remarkable to me, after all these years, is how Fred knew, instinctively, exactly what he could offer that would be truly useful. He wasted no words, or time, on making himself feel generous, nor did he change his original goal with the young men downtown. He simply, on faith, picked Luke up and brought him along on the mission, knowing that the healthiest way to be in the world is to be engaged with others in the world, especially others who need you. That you find your strength, as you find your generosity, in using it. That’s a lesson Luke learned from Fred, and I—since, after all, the favor was for me—will keep dear to my heart.

—Lucy Ferriss

     As one who was privileged to chair both the Department and the Committee that hired Fred Pfeil, I have stories that go back to that moment when Fred agreed to trade his beloved Oregon for Connecticut. I could, then, talk about the way he balanced literary criticism and theory with writing novels, a delicate juggling act; or how he managed to merge an extraordinary commitment to political activism not only with his own intensely private meditative life but also with mentoring and teaching meditative mantras, moving between protest-peopled streets and Buddhist hermit cells, with a full life in between. Indeed, he was scheduled to teach a meditation class on the night he died.

     I could reflect on the ways in which he engaged students in his own activism – on behalf of Trinity’s food staff in their drive for equality or working for urgent causes further from home. Or on his inimitable style, commemorated in the annual “Fred Pfeil proletariat dress award” that, with tongues in cheek, we in the English Department used to give a graduating senior each year.  Or marvel at how Fred sustained his proletariat sympathies while retaining the admiration, respect, and affection not only of his students, colleagues and friends, but even of the administration whose policies he sometimes called into question.  Around us, the voices that rise in protest against the kinds of injustices that plagued Fred have often, in the terms of the poet W. B. Yeats, “grown shrill.”  But though he protested fiercely, often taking students to march with him, and even organizing a few on the Trinity campus, Fred’s voice was never shrill.  He reveled in life, and never lost either his sense of joy or his courtesy, even as he fought for those who had been dealt the lesser hands in the game he so loved. And he was, in turn, respected and revered often by those he criticized! A rare achievement.

     Speaking of administrators he did not alienate, Fred started Film Studies at Trinity with one of those administrators, a former English Department colleague, interim President of Trinity, and now President of the University of Puget Sound, Ron Thomas, and an equally good friend Professor Arthur Feinsod, now director of Theater at Indiana State University.  Knowing how important film was to Fred, I could, then, focus on my own commitment to sustaining and developing Film Studies at Trinity, my perpetual gift to Fred.

     There are many stories from the too few years we shared with him. But I have chosen to focus on the last few days of Fred’s life, when his friends and colleagues held our vigil in the hospice care wing of Hartford Hospital. For five long days, we waited and watched:  laughing, mourning, celebrating, sometimes sharing food while Fred held court in his room, meeting us one at a time for an audience fit for the regal presence he brought to those special, final days. The Pope himself could not have offered a more gracious presence.  With each of us he talked – about literature, about life, with an eye for planning for the future that he, as well as we, knew would not be his.  When reading poetry together with me – the poem of Gwendolyn Brooks that I would ultimately read at his Memorial service – he told me with a fond sense of expectation that he hoped he would be able to meet Brooks (who survived him by a mere five years) again in his lifetime, and he meant it. When I told him admiringly that he had read more than anyone else I had ever met, he thoughtfully replied:  “Well, there is always David Rosen,” a tribute from one unbelievable reader to another that I have often shared with David himself.

     Most of all perhaps, I remember the birthday party he threw in his hospice  room for Elli, whom he called his “sweetie,” on her birthday, November 26, the last Saturday of his life.  Having managed to hang on through Thanksgiving,  he had one more important date to keep, and he put an entire lifetime of reserved energy into making the last birthday Elli would share with him into a momentous occasion.  As he arranged for food to be brought in and to surprise her with a cake, friends, and presents, he told all who would listen how special it was to have shared his life with the woman who was his love, his partner, his fellow in meditation, and in the most basic sense, his soulmate, the most beautiful woman he had ever met.  Once that party was over – and it was the only time I recall that there was more than one of us at a time allowed into his room – Fred had made his peace. He was ready to let go, and he did.  He had told Elli that he had reached the querencia, the place in the bullring where facing his inevitable death the bull feels most comfortable.  Fred was there, in that protected magical circle – alive, vital, reaching out, but instead of attacking or defending himself, he spent his last days trying to make US comfortable, to help us share that space of recognition and acceptance with him. 

     I last saw him, just about an hour before he died on Tuesday afternoon, November 29, 2005, with Nick Davis, our first fulltime Film Studies professor, hired to replace Fred who was to take a two year stint in the Tutorial College, who was there to replace him as he moved into his more permanent leave.  As Nick and I stood beside our friend, it was obvious to both of us that without words, or even apparent recognition, Fred imperceptibly acknowledged us.  And so, instead of saying good-by, Nick told him about the film he would be screening that night, and I too shared stories of things to come, not things gone by.

    Fred’s voice has now been added to the Song of the Universe that he so loved. I believe he is present with us today as he will always be in the spirit of The Fred, in Film Studies, in the heart of his “Sweetie,” and in the broader universal kinship that he shared with all he knew, and that he still shares with us.

     So may I once more say simply:  “Good night, Sweet Prince.”

—Milla Cozart Riggio


At the beginning of the day we were asked to pick one of the three dozen or so manuscript fragments on the table and do our best to describe them (date, region, script, etc.).  I didn’t do too badly, given that I happened to pick the only work in Dutch (I posited 15th century, German or Dutch, from a Book of Hours, possibly part of the penitential psalms), and was happy to see that I was correct in the main (it is catalogued as from a Dutch Book of Hours, 1475, Use of Utrecht, though that is not certain).  We discussed using ultraviolet light to detect erased text—and, paraphrasing de Hamel, it is only useful 25% of the time, but of those times one often makes SPECTACULAR discoveries.

There followed a more formal introduction by de Hamel to medieval catalogues (essentially inventories of libraries), and the standard practice (developed at the Sorbonne in the late 13th century) of citing a manuscript by using the first words (incipit) of its second leaf AND its penultimate leaf.  Late medieval catalogues also include printed books (which often constitute as much as 50% of the inventory), despite an often-made assumption that all of them are in manuscript.  The late morning session was a powerpoint presention on the provenancing of a leaf from a manuscript containing the writings Thomas Aquinas—in the course of which we discussed the “pecia” system of production that was employed from the 13th century onward, whereby an approved exemplar manuscript was divided into sections and hired out to stationers to copy, both to increase production and to limit error rates.  At 6:00pm deHamel lectured at the Columbia Museum of Art to about 60 people, on the medieval Book of Hours as art, and his brilliant presentation received the warm approbation it deserved.


Day 1

 Born in London, Christopher de Hamel actually grew up in New Zealand, and early on (at 12 or 13) encountered and became fascinated with medieval manuscripts.  Educated at Oxford, he ended up (by accident he says, but such paths are often so), at Sotheby’s, and for 25 years (according to professor Scott Gwara’s intro) he fully described some 10,000 medieval manuscripts, and is estimated to have handled some 80,000.  His authority is apparent at every turn, but he is a charming speaker, and wears his knowledge with grace and humor.  A self-described antiquarian, de Hamel is unapologetically enthusiastic about manuscripts, and about how much fun he has working with them–it’s quite contagious.  

In the first session he stressed the major differences between medieval manuscripts and early printed books, including the obvious:  the former are produced one at a time, hand-written and multi-colored; the latter are produced in numbers, mechanically, in black and white; printed books were largely done on paper, and manuscripts on vellum or parchment (the two terms mean the same thing, i.e., any animal skin stretched and scraped clean).  According to one scholar, parchment is sheep or goat, and vellum is calf, but most curators, collectors, and dealers are generally not expert enough in mammalian dermatology to tell the difference.  Not much vellum was purchased before 1150, when only monasteries produced books, but was rather a by-product of eating meat, and plentiful in terms of demand.  The first recorded sale in England of vellum is by a vegetarian monastery in 1180, and with the rise of the universities (and thus, demand), purchasing vellum became necessary.  Oxford was buying vellum by 1200. 

The basic component of manuscript production is the quire / signature / clutch of parchment–i.e., one skin, folded one or more times to form a gathering, sewn together initially by a tacketing stitch in the upper left hand corner.  Quires are written one at a time, and then illuminated in the same fashion (always written first).  The illuminator does a rough sketch, draws over the sketch in ink, and then paints over the ink in whatever colors he choses.  He works in gold first, and then in the other colors: red (vermillion), blue (lapis lazuli, or azurite), green (verdigris), and yellow (saffron).  In terms of ink, most manuscripts are written in iron gall ink, despite many medieval recipes for carbon ink (which was used in printing).  Paraphrasing de Hamel, one must be careful in beliving medieval “how-to” guides, in that they tended to describe how things ought to be done, not necessarily how they were done.

De Hamel than gave a necessarily oversimplified overview of scripts in the West, which began with the Roman alphabet in square Capitals (suited to stone inscriptions) and Rustic Capitals (more useful in writing), to Uncial (the script of Christianity), which evolved into Half-Uncial and only survived as an Irish or insular script.  On the continent, Roman cursive (a minuscule script), which was the script of administration and bureaucratic communication, morphed over time into the Merovingian Cursive hands (France), Anglo-Saxon Minuscule (England), Visigothic Minuscule (in Spain, to the 11th Century), and Benaventine Minuscule (southern Italy).  Humanistic Minuscule, French andEnglish Cursive, Bastard Secretary & Black Letter Cursive were used for various kinds of texts through the end of the seventeenth century.  The point to remember that scripts were always merging and diverging, evolving and changing.  For a more precise and detailed (but brief, given the subject) account, see Michelle P. Brown’s British Library Guide to Writing and Scripts (U. of Toronto, 1998).

There followed a discussion of mistakes in manuscripts (wrong words, spelling errors, omissions, and additions) and forgeries (mostly a case of an early script with a later illumination–sometimes 20th century!).

The last session of the seminar on this day was a more formal presentation on how to identify and date a manuscript (or a fragment), using the knowledge so far presented, and using sources such as the Patrologia Latina, and websites like CHD Book of Hours (  We all took a short break, and then attended a public talk (ca. 200 people) by Dr. de Hamel on medieval Bibles.



Understanding the Medieval Book (1)

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For the next two days I’ll be blogging from Columbia, South Carolina, on the beautiful USC campus, attending a two-day seminar on “Understanding the Medieval Book.” Thirty (30) attendees from 12 states have come together for four workshops and two evening lectures given by Christopher de Hamel, a world authority on medieval (especially illuminated) manuscripts. Each workshop will focus on one genre of medieval book: the Bible, the Book of Hours (horae), the Breviary, and the Missal.

The Bible

As de Hamel notes in his The Book. A History of the Bible (2001), “probably more has been written about the Bible, over a longer period, than about any other subject. More manuscripts of the Bible, or parts of the Bible, survive from the Middle Ages than any other tangible artefacts.”

Books of Hours

“A Book of Hours is a compendium of different devotional texts which the owner could read in private … the core of the manuscript (usually about a third of the way through the volume) comprises the Hours of the Virgin: a standard series of prayers and psalms intended to be used in honor of the Virgin Mary at each of the canonical hours of the day. These are Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline.” (de Hamel, A History of Illuminated Manuscripts (1986, rev. 1994)–same for next two).

The Missal

A “fundamental distinction in the services of the late medieval Church is between the Mass and the daily offices. These were completely different in function and in form. The Mass is the communion service or Eucharist, one of the most solemn and important Sacraments of the Church, instituted by Christ at the Last Supper and consisting of consecrating and partaking of the bread and wine which represent the body and blood of Christ. It was celebrated at the altar, and its service-book was the Missal.”

The Breviary

“The Mass is not to be confused with the daily services performed in the choir: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. We discussed the shortened version of these offices in the chapter on Books of Hours. They are not sacramental services, but are basically prayers and anthems in honor and praise of Christ and the saints. Their service book was the Breviary. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, antiquarians used to call any medieval liturgical manuscript a ‘Missal’ (be cautious therefore of titles added on the spines of manuscripts), and even now cataloguers confuse Breviaries and Missals. To the medieval mind, this would be unthinkable.”

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