Archive for April, 2012

“The figure of this noble bird is well known throughout the civilized world, emblazoned as it is on our national standard, which waves in the breeze of every clime, bearing to distant lands the remembrance of a great people living in a state of peaceful freedom.  May that peaceful freedom last forever!

[there follows a vivid and dramatic account of an eagle hunting a swan, an many observations of their habits]

. . . Before steam-navigation commenced on our western rivers, these Eagles were extremely abundant there, particularly in the lower parts of the Ohio, the Mississippi, and the adjoining streams.  I have seen hundreds going down from the mouth of the Ohio to New Orleans, when it was not at all difficult to shoot them.  Now, however, their number is considerably diminished . . .

In concluding this account of the White-headed Eagle, suffer me, kind reader, to say how much I grieve that it should have been selected as the Emblem of my Country.  The opinion of our great Franklin on this subject, as it perfectly coincides with my own, I shall here present to you. ‘For my part,’ says he, in one of his letters, ‘I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country.  He is a bird of bad moral character; he does not get his living honestly; you may have seen him perched on some dead tree, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labour of the Fishing-Hawk [i.e., the Osprey]; and when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish, and is bearing it to his nest for the support of his mate and young ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him, and takes it from him.  With all this injustice, he is never in good case, but, like those among men who live by sharping and robbing, he is generally poor, and often very lousy.  Besides, he is a rank coward: the little King Bird, not bigger than a Sparrow, attacks him boldly, and drives him out of the district.  He is, therefore, by no means a proper emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America, who have driven all the King Birds from our country; though exactly fit for that order of knights which the French call Chevaliers d’Industrie.'”

–J. J. Audubon, Ornithological Biography, I (1831), 160-168 [excerpted].


Happy Birthday, Audubon!!!

   Posted by: rring    in Audubon, exhibitions

One of our new “regulars” from the area who comes in every week to see the new bird reminded us that on this day 227 years ago (April 26, 1785) John James Audubon was born.

Here is “Plate #1” which was on display all summer and which started our page-turning exhibiton. If you look closely, you can see the Library of America edition of Audubon’s works, a normal-size book, for scale.

On Thursday May 3rd, at 5:30pm in the Watkinson Library reading room, our five Creative Fellows will present their projects (amid light refreshments) to the Trinity community. Faculty and students who wish to see some of the possibilities of this program “made real” are especially invited. One project, still in process, is Chloe Miller’s (’14) online semi-fictional travelogue across the temporal and geographical spectrum, based on sources she found here.

You will also hear music composed by Francis Russo (’13), view Norse myths retold by John Bower (’12), hear poetry composed, hand-printed and read by Lelsie Ahlstrand (’12), and see a film produced by Perin Adams (’13). ALL of these projects were based on books and manuscripts found in the Watkinson:

Last semester the students in Devin Dougherty’s “Drawing I” class came into the Watkinson for two three-hour sessions to sketch birds.  These were not (of course) LIVE birds, but images that can be found in our amazing collection of ornithological books.  During the Common Hour (12-1:30) on Tuesday May 1st, we will have an opening reception for this exhibit, with prof. Dougherty and some of the student artists present.  Please stop by!

“I regret that I am unable to give any account of the habits of a species which I have honoured with the name of a naturalist whose merits are so well known to the learned world.  The individual represented in the plate I shot upwards of twenty years ago, and have never met with another of its kind.  It was in the month of May, on a small island of the Perkioming [i.e. Perkiomen] Creek, forming part of my farm of Mill Grove, in the State of Pennsylvania.  The bird was fluttering amongst grasses, uttering an often repeated cheep.

The plant on which it is represented is that on which it was perched when I shot it, and is usually called Spider-wort.  It grows in damp and shady places, as well as sometimes in barren lands, near the banks of brooks.

–J. J. Audubon, Ornithological Biography, I (1831), 153 [excerpted].

“The flight of the Towhe Bunting is short, low, and performed from one bush or spot to another, in a hurried manner, with repeated strong jerks of the tail, and such quick motions of the wings, that one may hear their sound, although the bird should happen to be out of sight . . . it is a diligent bird, spending its days in searching for food and gravel, amongst the dried leaves and in the earth, scratching with great assiduity, and every now and then uttering the notes tow-hee, from which it has obtained its name . . .

The favorite haunts of the Towhe Buntings are dry, barren tracts, but not, as others have said, low and swampy grounds, at least during the season of incubation. In the Barrens of Kentucky they are found in the greatest abundance . . .

They generally rest on the ground at night, when many are caught by weasles and other small quadrupeds. None of them breed in Louisiana, not indeed in the state of Mississippi, until they reach the open woods of the Choctaw Indian Nation.”

–J. J. Audubon, Ornithological Biography, I (1831), 150-151 [excerpted].

“This, reader, is one of the scarce birds that visit the United States from the south, and I have much pleasure in being able to give you an account of it, as hitherto little or nothing has been known of its history.

It is an inhabitant of Louisiana during the spring and summer months, when it resorts to the thick cane-breaks of the alluvial lands near the Mississippi, and the borders of the numberless swamps that lie in a direction parallel to that river . . . In the month of May 1809, I killed a male and a female of this species, near the mouth of the Ohio, while on a shooting expedition after young swans.  The following spring, I killed a female near Henderson in Kentucky. In 1821, I again procured a pair, with their nest and eggs, near the mouth of the Bayou La Fourche, on the Mississippi, and since that period have killed eight or ten pairs . . .

The manners of this bird are not those of the Titmouse, Fly-catcher, or Warbler, but partake of those of all three.  It has the want of shyness exhibited in the Red-eyed and Yellow-throated Fly-catchers.  It hangs to bunches of small berries, feeding upon them as a Titmouse does on buds of trees; and again searches among the leaves and along the twigs of low bushes, like most of the Warblers.  On the other hand, it differs from all these in their principal habits.  Thus, it never snaps at insects on the wing, although it pursues them; it never attacks small birds and kills them by breaking in their skulls, as the Titmouse does; nor does it hold its prey under its foot in the way of the Yellow-throated Fly-catcher or Vireo, a habit which allies the latter to the Shrikes . . . I have never heard it utter a note beyond that of a querulous low murmuring sound, when chasing another bird from the vicinity of its nest.”

–J. J. Audubon, Ornithological Biography, I (1831), 147-148 [excerpted].


Just acquired, Lafcadio Hearn-iana

   Posted by: rring    in New acquisition

We’ve just acquired a group of books by and about Lafcadio Hearn, which will join an already impressive collection both in the Watkinson and the main library stacks.

Lafcadio Hearn was a mongrel child of the world,—a global villager,—a man unattached to country, kin, or creed.  He was a sensitive underdog marginalized for his proclivities from beginning to end.  Born Patrick Lafcadio Hearn on June 27, 1850, on the Ionian island of Leucadia just north of Ithaca (of Homeric fame), Lafcadio’s own odyssey would bring him to far shores and settings, both exotic and mundane.

In 2009 the Library of America published a selection of Hearn’s works, edited by Christopher Benfey, entitled Lafcadio Hearn: American Writings.  In an interview Benfey stated, “I’m completely convinced that Hearn’s time has come.  He famously wrote that he worshiped ‘the Odd, the Queer, the Strange, the Exotic, the Monstrous.’  Such pronouncements have made it easy to dismiss him as some oddball combination of Poe and Gauguin, living in an escapist world of dreams.  But what Hearn was really interested in was the astonishing variety of human life.”

Hearn’s mother, Rosa Antonia Cassimati, was from Cerigo (known to the Greeks as Cythera); his father, Charles Bush Hearn, was an Irish surgeon and officer in the British Army.  Their romance was not favored by either of their families.  After Charles was re-assigned to the West Indies, he managed to send Rosa and young Patrick to Dublin, where his relations greeted these “gypsy” additions to their household with predictable warmth.  An estranged aunt who doted on Patrick took them in, but after Charles finally returned to Ireland and established a little household in 1853 it became clear he had lost interest in Rosa.  He took a new military assignment in the West Indies, and by the time he returned in 1856, Rosa had gone back to Greece and left five-year-old Patrick alone with his great-aunt.  Charles Hearn annulled their marriage, and the Hearn family hid the boy from his mother when she returned to Ireland to see him.

At age nine or ten young Patrick discovered the library in his great-aunt’s house, and found several books of art containing images from Greek mythology.  “How my heart leaped and fluttered on that happy day!” he would later write.  “Breathless I gazed; and the longer that I gazed the more unspeakably lovely those faces and forms appeared.  Figure after figure dazzled, astounded, bewitched me.”  This fascination with the elder gods did not sit well with his aunt, a devout Catholic, who sent him to a boarding school—three quarters monastery and one quarter military academy—run by “a hateful venomous-hearted old maid.”  Guy de Maupassant, who attended the school months after Lafcadio left, wrote “I can never think of the place even now without a shudder.  It smelled of prayers the way a fish market smells of fish . . . We lived there in a narrow, contemplative, unnatural piety—and also in a truly meritorious state of filth . . . As for baths, they were as unknown as the name of Victor Hugo.  Our masters apparently held them in the greatest contempt.”

When he was sixteen Hearn suffered an accident which blinded his left eye, and from then on he would instinctively cover it with his left hand in conversation, or look down or to the left when photographed.  Financial troubles forced him to seek schooling in London while living with a dock worker and his wife (distant relatives)—and there he made his first forays into the underside of urban existence, fascinated and repelled by “the wolf’s side of life, the ravening side, the apish side; the ugly facets of the monkey puzzle.”  Fed up with his dilatory and dreamy ways, his family gave him a one-way ticket to New York City and told him to make his way to Cincinnati, to another set of relatives who didn’t want the strange young man.  Penniless and homeless, he wandered the streets of the river town until he found work doing odd jobs at one of the local newspapers.  In October of 1872 he submitted a review of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King to the editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer, which became his first signed publication.  Thus was born a literary journalist—an intelligent, provocative observer with a ripe facility for language and a penchant for exposing the horror and the humor of everyday urban life.

Christopher Benfey notes, “One of our best current travel writers, Pico Iyer, uses the phrase ‘global soul’ for people who have adapted themselves to our new world of mass migration and globalization.  Hearn, it seems ot me, was an early version of a global soul.  Born into the British Empire, he experienced firsthand the bitter divisions of the American Gilded Age, and lived to witness the rise of a new power in Asia: Imperial Japan.”

“Late in his life,” Benfy continues, “Hearn became the Brothers Grimm for Japan, assembling the bare bones of some Japanese ghost stories and transmuting them—with a whiff of Poe and Mérimée—into literary masterpieces.”

“You have now, kind reader, under consideration a family of woodpeckers, the general habits of which are so well known in our United States, that, were I assured of your having traversed the woods of America, I should feel disposed to say little about them.

The Red-heads . . . remain in the southern districts [of the U.S.] during the whole winter, and breed there in summer.  The greater number, however, pass to countries farther south.  Their migration takes place under night, is commenced in the middle of September, and continues for a month or six weeks.  They then fly very high above the trees, far apart, like a disbanded army, propelling themselves by reiterated flaps of the wings . . .”

I would not recommend to anyone to trust their fruit to the Red-heads; for they not only feed on all kinds as they ripen, but destroy an immense quantity besides.  No sooner are the cherries seen to redden, than these birds attack them.  They arrive on all sides, coming from a distance of miles . . . Trees of this kind are stripped clean by them . . .

It is impossible to form any estimate of the number of these birds seen in the United States during the Summer months; but this much I may safely assert, that an hundred have been shot upon a single cherry tree in one day.”

–J. J. Audubon, Ornithological Biography, I (1831), 141-142 [excerpts].