Archive for November, 2011


Bird of the week (11/28/11), The Brown Titlark

   Posted by: rring    in Audubon, exhibitions

“Whilst residing among the meadows and ploughed fields, these birds feed on insects and small seeds, picking up some gravel at the same time.  Along the rivers, or on the sea-shores, they are fond of running as near the edge of the water as possible, and searching among the drifted leaves and weeds for such insects as are usually found there.  The vibratory motion of their tail is now more perceptible, being quicker.  Their feeble notes are also frequently uttered.  When shot along the shores, their stomachs have been found filled with fragments of minute shells, as well as small shrimps, and other garbage.  When raised by the report of a gun, they rise high, and sometimes fly to a considerable distance; but you may expect their return to the same spot, if you keep yourself concealed for a few minutes.  They are expert fly-catchers, inasmuch as they leap from the ground, and follow insects on the wing for several feet with avidity.  The company of cattle is agreeable to them, so much so, that they walk almost under them in quest of insects.”

From Audubon’s journal, July 1, 1821:

“I found this bird about three miles from St. Francisville in Louisiana, whilst engaged in searching for a Turkey, which I had wounded.  It was afternoon, and the heat oppressive.  I saw it innocently approaching us until within a few yards, anxiously looking, as if trying to discover our intentions; but as we stood motionless, it once came so near that I could easily have reached it with my gun barrel.  It moved nimbly among the twigs of the low bushes, making now and then short dashes at flies, which it swallowed after killing them under foot, as many other Fly-catchers are in the habit of doing, then peeping at us, and again setting off in pursuit of flies.”

The “Selby” in the bird’s name refers to Prideaux John Selby (1788-1867), a British ornithologist whom Audubon had met during his time in England.  Not only do we own Selby’s large folio volumes of Illustrations Of British Ornithology, last year we acquired two original copper plates which were used to illustrate them.


Bird of the week (11/14/11)

   Posted by: rring    in Audubon, exhibitions

The white-throated sparrow.

“This pretty little bird is a visitor of Louisiana and all the southern districts, where it remains only a very short time . . . How it comes and how it departs are to me quite unknown.  I can only say, that, all of a sudden, the hedges of the fields bordering on creeks or swampy places, and overgrown with different species of vines, sumach bushes, briars, and the taller kinds of grasses, appear covered with these birds . . .

It is a plump bird, fattening almost to excess, whilst in Louisiana, and affords delicious eating, for which purpose many are killed with blow-guns.  These instruments . . . are prepared by the Indians, [and are] sufficient to propel such an arrow [i.e., dart] with force enough to kill a small bird at the distance of eight or ten paces.

The tree is a Dogwood.


Artists in the Watkinson!

   Posted by: rring    in Classes, exhibitions

Yesterday we had a veritable flock of sketchers from Devin Dougherty’s Studio Arts class (Drawing I), who were seeking inspiration among the birds.  We set them up with an array of beautiful books from our Enders ornithology collection, and enjoyed having a dozen or so intent minds and hands at work, spread out in the seminar and reading rooms.

We are planning to put some of these sketches alongside the original books in the Watkinson exhibition cases in late April–stay tuned!


Acorn Club at the Watkinson

   Posted by: rring    in Uncategorized

On Saturday we hosted a meeting of the Acorn Club–a small but dedicated bibliophilic group (their archives are at the Connecticut Historical Society) that publishes books related to Connecticut history.  Here are a few of the more than 30 publications that they have published over the last 100 years:

Thomas Short : the first printer of Connecticut, by W. De Loss Love (Hartford, 1901)

Supplementary list of books printed in Connecticut, 1709-1800, by Albert Carlos Bates, M.A. (Hartford, 1938)

The journal of William Stebbins, Stratford to Washington in 1810, with an introduction by Leonard W. Labaree and notes by Pierce W. Gaines (Hartford, 1968)

Letters and documents of Ezekiel Williams of Wethersfield, Connecticut, Deputy Commissary General of Prisoners of War within the State of Connecticut (1777-c.1783), introduction & notes by John C. Parsons (Hartford, 1976)

John Warner Barber’s views of Connecticut towns 1834-36, edited by Christopher P. Bickford, J. Bard McNulty (Hartford, 1990)

Connecticut observed : three centuries of visitors’ impressions, 1676-1940, edited by Richard Buel, Jr. and J. Bard McNulty (Hartford, 1999)

For the members’ enjoyment I brought out a random sampling of items from our collection of books printed in Connecticut prior to 1800.  The earliest was this funeral sermon printed in New London and written by Cotton Mather, on Gurdon Saltonsall (1666-1724), Governor of Connecticut from 1708-1724.

Saltonsall was one of the few men in American history to step directly from the pulpit to the governorship.  His challenges were typical for the time: war with the native population and their allies, the French, boundary disputes with the adjacent colonies, and defending Connecticut’s charter from cancellation by England.  He was an early supporter and protector during Yale’s founding and its fledgling years, and came under political fire for insisting it be sited in New Haven rather than Hartford.

Another quite ephemeral piece is An account of the surprizing events of providence, which hapned [sic] at the raising of a bridge in Norwich, June 28th 1728 (New London, 1728).

This is part news story and part moral contemplation.  Forty men were working on building a bridge over the Shetucket River (about 3 miles from Norwich, CT), when a 100-foot section collapsed, dropping most of them 20 feet (and one man 40 feet) amid falling timbers to the rocky shallows below.  Many were injured, and two died: Jonathan Gale of Canterbury (who was just 19, whose father had recently died as well), and Daniel Tracy (who was 76, and only there to see the work being done as one of the founders of the project–he just happened to be on the bridge at the time).  This copy belonged to Tracy’s son, Winslow Tracy (1689-1768), which we can deduce from his signature, which he practiced writing on the back:

Another item, close to my bibliophilic heart, is a 1743 catalogue of the books in the Yale College Library.  It’s funny to think that this little 44-page pamphlet lists some 2,600 books of a library that now holds over 12 million volumes–a mere 270 years later.Lastly, my favorite, in an age when title-pages were like movie trailers today, giving a pithy summation of what was to come: The adventures of Colonel Daniel Boon, one of the first settlers at Kentucke: containing the wars with the Indians on the Ohio, from 1769 to 1783, and the first establishment and progress of the settlement on that river.  Written by the Colonel himself.  To which is added, A narrative of the captivity, and extraordinary escape of Mrs. Francis Scott, an inhabitant of Washington County, Virginia; who after the murder of her husband and children, by the Indians, was taken prisoner by them; on the 29th of June, 1785. (Norwich, 1786).


Bird of the week (11/7/11)

   Posted by: rring    in Audubon, Uncategorized

This is the first of what I hope to be regular posts about the weekly bird we will show in the Audubon (took me 7 weeks to get into the groove, but we have 428 to go, so no worries).  Basically, I’m just going to be letting Audubon speak, transcribing sections from his “ornithological biography,” so here we go:

Plate VII: Purple Grackle or Common Crow-Blackbird (male and female)

“I could not think of any better mode of representing these birds than that which I have adopted, as it exhibits them in the exercise of their nefarious propensities.  Look at them: the male, as if full of delight at the sight of the havoc which he has already committed on the tender, juicy, unripe corn on which he stands, has swelled his throat, and is calling in exultation to his companions to come and assist him in demolishing it.  The female has fed herself, and is about to fly off with a well-loaded bill to her hungry and expectant brood . . . see how torn the husk is from the ear, and how nearly devoured the grains of corn already are!  This is the tithe our Blackbirds take from our planters and farmers; but it was so appointed, and such is the will of the beneficent Creator . . . ” (from Vol. I, 1831, pp. 35-41).


Audubon kick-off event

   Posted by: rring    in Uncategorized

We were very pleased indeed to welcome Dr. Christoph Irmscher, a member of the English faculty at Indiana University, to tell us “how to read Audubon” on November 3rd.  Christoph recently edited the Library of America volume on Audubon’s writings, and has been working on Audubon for over 13 years, amid several other topics.  His faculty profile is here:

We held an informal “review” of the three other volumes in the Reading Room of the Watkinson between 4:00 and 5:00pm, and examined several plates while Christoph explained aspects of production and gave a rich overview of Audubon which was part biography, part literary criticism, and part art history.

Also on display were the seldom mentioned “text” volumes of the set (five volumes of “ornithological biography”–Audubon’s commentary on each bird), as well as three plates recently acquired that were used in the engraver’s shop as examples for the colorists.

The event was the official opening of our new, permanent display of our copy (owned by the engraver, Robert Havell, Jr.) of the famous Birds of America set, as well as a celebration of our recent acquisition of the American Flamingo, to replace the one stolen from the set 35 years ago by a professional thief.

It is always a pleasure to learn more about our own books, not only from specialists like Christoph, but from our own readers and students–some of whom you will find on our other blog, I Found It at the Watkinson.