Archive for July, 2012

[Posted by Erika Jenns, Indiana University ’13]

As I near the end of my journey through Lydia Sigourney’s life and published works, I’ve begun to examine the Watkinson’s holdings that pertain to her family as a whole.  The Sigourney family maintained an interesting and eclectic collection of literary pieces.  I’ve come across books inscribed by Lydia’s daughter, Mary, and her son, Andrew, books that Lydia owned or that were given to her by friends, and items that belonged to her husband, Charles.

One particularly interesting item is a letter (fragment) written by Charles Sigourney to Thomas Jefferson, and Jefferson’s subsequent reply.  Aside from the allure of handling a letter written by Thomas Jefferson, I was awestruck upon first seeing the careful, elegant handwriting–which appears as if it has been typed.  Each line is neat and straight; few words are crossed out.   In their correspondence, the men share their opinions and suggestions regarding the reform of collegiate education in America and what should be done to improve it.  NOTE: I have largely kept the spelling, and made a few editorial changes (especially punctuation), but include the scans so that readers may see the originals.

Letter fragment from Charles Sigourney to Thomas Jefferson (the first page is not present in the collection):

…. these objections, which may at least be guarded against input, if not remedied, your plan may be successful, and certainly, for one, I hope you may find it productive of all the good you have ever anticipated from it.

I have long been sensible, for I have spent some years of my early life in England, that in thoroughness of instruction in classical learning the first of our Universities are inferiour to the English, and those of a second & third grade even behind their superiour Academical schools.  That deep-read familiarity with, and past introduction of appropriate citation from, the classical writers of Greece and Rome, that readiness of reference to their facts & beauties, that “curiosa felicitas,” in combining the beauties of modern diction with classic corruption of Cicero & Plato, resulting from an understanding stored with the wisdom of antiquity, which distinguishes many of the parliamentary and forensic crates of Great Britain, is so rarely witnessed with us either in the Senate, or in the Forum, that, except in the case of a very few, among whom W. John Randolph, and the late Fisher Ames may be remembered it is almost unknown among us.  The introduction therefore, into our country of some superior scholars from Europe will certainly have a tendency to elevate our literary taste, ambition & character, and will, besides, I trust, lead to the adoption of a system of instruction, in our higher seminaries of learning, more thorough than what now exists.

I would here take occasion to remark that some of the best of our College – professors are those who have been taken, with a discriminating hand, from our own youth, sent to Europe to expand their views and perfect the maturity of their talents, and who have returned to us with minds enriched by the views and experience of older nations, and imbued with the opinions, wisdom, and habits of the literary worthies, with whom they have had the privelege of associating.  Thus imposing an European polish or superstructure on an American foundation.  Professors Silliman & Everett are examples of this remark.

My dear Ser when I look back on what I have written, I feel as if an apology were now really necessary for the unusual length of this letter, which has swelled under my hand, almost insensibly, to very much beyond what I at first contemplated.  I hope you will forgive my occupying so much of your time.  And I beg you to be assured that whatever communication you may honour me with in return will be gratefully received, and in the spirit of perfect friendliness & candour, (and I add, because I know that evil has arisen from the license taken in similar cases) the, unsolicited, pledge on my part that it shall not, or any part of it, be suffered to make it’s appearance in the newspapers.  With great respect I have the honour [sic] to be / Your very obedient servant / Charles Sigourney / Hon.ble Thomas Jefferson / Charlottesville / Virginia

Thomas Jefferson’s Response to Charles Sigourney:

Dear Sir / Monticello Aug. 15. 24.

Your favor of July 30 has been duly recieved, and with pleasure, there being nothing of which I am more desirous than to see a spirit of cordial fraternity cultivated among the various seminaries of our country.  Their only legitimate object is the extension of instruction among our fellow-citizens, towards which it matters nothing whether it flows from one place or another.  Our’s has not yet proceeded far enough to enable me to answer all you enquiries.  I inclose you however the original report, made by Commissioners under the order of our legislature.  They were required to propose a site for the University, a plan of the necessary buildings, and a general view of the sciences and professorships requisite.  This was done in the report and confirmed by the legislature.  The plan of buildings therein sketched in general terms was then prepared, and I send you a copy of it.  The buildings are all compleated except one, & that nearly so.  These have occupied us between 5. and 6. Years, and will have cost about 300. M. D. ground, buildings and every thing included.  In April last we were enabled to send an agent to Great Britain to procure some professors, those of the first order not being to be had in this country, for had it been in our power to seduce from their present situations some of the eminent characters established in our American seminaries, it was forbidden by every honorable principle; and a resort to secondary and unemployed characters would not have fulfilled the object of our institution.  We considered too that a country which is willing that it’s science should be stationary, there it is, may employ it’s own eleves [pupils (French)]; but if it wishes to advance, it must seek instruction from countries already in advance of them.  I know that our pride & prejudices bristle up at the employment of foreigners, but it is science we want, and to this we must sacrifice our pride and prejudices.  Some difficulties will arise in accommodating to our habits the ideas, methods and manners of those we employ.  This too is a part of the price we are to pay for their aid.  We must meet the difficulty, compromise with it, and make up our minds, with the honey, to swallow the few dregs we cannot separate from it.  No good in life can be obtained pure and unmixed.  We must take it as it is offered, alloyed always with some evil.  And at what other price have we obtained all our arts and sciences?  Our constitution I think is good.  We are, as we ought to be, made regularly and highly responsible to the legislature for our administration.  Moral and pecuniary regulations for the government and discipline of our university, I am not able to give you, because we have not yet acted on them.  We defer that until autumn when we hope to derive some aid from the experience of our professors.  A paragraph cut from a newspaper, and now inclosed, will give you, as far as is yet ascertained, a view of our general schools, the time fixed for their opening, the probable expences, and some other particularities.

The university is but one part of a general plan which I proposed to our legislature five and forty years ago.  I need not detail to you the historical circumstances which, till lately, have prevented our entering on it.  That proposed the establishment of primary schools in words to be laid off about 5. or 6. miles square, intermediate colleges in large districts, distributed over the state, for the languages, and other instruction, preparatory for the university, and for the elements of some other sciences useful in ordinary life to those who do not aim at an university education; and lastly the University.  Selections too were proposed to be made from the poor, but promising subjects of the primary schools, to be sent at the public expence to the intermediate colleges, and re-selections from among these again who should have their education compleated, in like manner gratis, at the University.  This last institution is the only one which can be said to be in a promising train.  The middle grade of instruction is, as yet, left to private enterprise; and the plan adopted for primary schools, very different from what I had proposed, is found so absolutely inefficient that after having wasted on it 45 M. D. a year for five years, it must be abandoned, and some better one substituted.   in our plan of the University, we have blended agriculture among the duties of one of the professors of the natural sciences.  But our agricultural societies are proposing to give up their funds for the establishment of a distinct professorship for that important science; and with that will probably be incorporated something of the plan of Fellenberg in Switzerland*, engaging youths of the poorer class, who will perform the labours of the farm in the intervals of recieving other instruction in the schools analogues to their vocation.  The jealous of our religious sects has forbidden the public authorities to take under their direction the religious instruction of our youth.  We have therefore invited them to fix their schools of divinity on the confines of the University, within reach of the other sciences, so necessary to place the clerical order on an equal line of respect with the other learned professions.

We are disappointed in recieving the last donation of our legislature of 50. M. D. for the purchase of a library and apparatus; the contingency failing on which it depended.  We hope they will make it good at their next section; but in the mean time we set out under the disadvantage of great defect in these two important articles. Letters from our academical envoy in England, when he had had time only to augur the prospects  before him, are as encouraging as could be anticipated.

I have thus given you, Sir, as full a view of our incipient institutions for the education of our citizens as can yet be given.  Much is still to be filled up of the remaining chapters of their history, of which a few verses only will be included to the eye and age of 81.

I thank you for the report on the deaf and dumb, nothing can interest more the feelings of benevolence.  Age, as well as accident has rendered writing, to me, so laborious and painful, that I decline it as much as possible.  But the subject of your letter lies so very near my heart that I must offer it as an apology for so lengthy an answer.  With every wish therefore for the prosperity of your undertaking, be please to accept the assurance of my great esteem and respectful consideration.

Th. Jefferson

[Docketed] Th. Jefferson. Monticello aug.t 15. 824. rec’d


*Philipp Emanuel von Fellenberg was a Swiss philanthropist and educational reformer.  Fellenberg founded a school to educate poor children in both agriculture and academics, and he worked to raise the living conditions of the poor to a status closer to that of the upper class.

[Posted by Erika Jenns, Indiana University ’13]

While scrutinizing extended spines on the shelves beneath the Watkinson, lost in the Dewey decimal system, I stumbled across the New Book of Nonsense.  I almost overlooked this gem of cynical criticism, as it was not the volume I had been pursuing.  I was pleasantly surprised by the crass drawings and captions included within.

The New Book of Nonsense was created as part of a fundraising effort for the Great Central Fair, which took place in Philadelphia in June 1864.  The fair was planned to raise money for the Sanitary Commission, organized by women from Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey to help sick and wounded soldiers in the U.S. Army during the Civil War. The first fair was held in Chicago in 1863.  The fairs provided a sense of unity for the local communities, and the members saw themselves as having a share in the nation’s future.

The New Book of Nonsense is based on a fad started by Edward Lear, a British author, artist, illustrator, and poet.  “The Learian limerick focused on the singular individual, an old or young “Person,” “Man,” or “Lady,” who was distinguished by unusual appearance, behavior, talents, diet, or dress. In its most typical form it announces the existence of the eccentric, notes his dwelling place, and describes his distinctive features; then it explains the consequences of his peculiarity and concludes with an apostrophe.”

The limericks and their complimentary drawings are aimed at individuals in both the north and south and around the globe.  The age and sex of those targeted varies as well.  The content is sometimes political in nature, but more often, the jests are directed at the general public.

Page 5 – There was a young lady who said “I seldom wear hair on my head; I carry my locks about in a box, For such is the fashion” she said.

Page 7 – There was a young lady of Cork, Who partook of her soup with a fork, “If I eat it like that I Shall never get Fat!” Said this cleaver young lady of Cork.

Page 9 – There was an old man of the plains, Who said, “I believe that it rains;” So he buttoned his coat, and got into a boat To wait for a flood on the plains.

Page 11 – There was a young girl who wore bows, Who said, “if you choose to suppose This hair is all mine, You are wrong I opine, And you can’t see the length of your nose.”

Page 14 – There was a dear lady of Eden, Who on apples was quite fond of feedin, So she gave one to Adam, Who said, “thank you madam,” And so they both skedaddled from Eden.

Page 17 – There was an odd man of Woonsocket, who carried bomb-shells in his pocket; Endeavoring to cough one day – they went off, and of course, up he went like a rocket.

Page 19 – An innocent stranger asked, “where Is the funniest place in the fair?
“Where the Nonsense Book lies” the committee replies, Is the funniest place in the Fair.

Page 30 – There was an old man and his wife, who lived in the bitterest strife: He opened the stove, pushed her in with a shove, And cried “there! you pest of my life.”

Page 31 – There was a young student at Yale, Who became thin, abstracted and pale; His friends said it was drinking, He declared it was thinking, But one can’t believe students at Yale.

Page 43 – There was a prodigious young fop, dressed to kill from the foot to the top: All the girls at the Fair could do nothing but stare And keep clear of that killing young fop.

Page 53 – My good Southern Brother look here, one thing to y mind is quite clear If we put out this Furness, it no longer will burn us, Nor warm little darkies up here.

Flipping through the pages of The New Book of Nonsense gave me a sense of what may have been culturally acceptable in the 19th century, or rather what was considered to be taboo.  The lighthearted, rhyming messages that accompany these crudely drawn renditions of what members of polite society should not partake in are a much different approach than Lydia Sigourney would have deemed appropriate.  The New Book of Nonsense is a refreshing break from the strict etiquette guides written by Sigourney, which are like being wrapped in an ever-tightening corset rather than traipsing barefoot and free.


Surprises Between Pages

   Posted by: rring    in Interns, Lydia Sigourney, Students

[Posted by Erika Jenns, Indiana University ’13]

A book’s history is comprised of more than an author’s thoughts put down on a page; it extends to and is largely dependent on the reader.  The importance of the reader’s experience with the book lies in the finer details: the coffee stains, the hand-written notes, and the tiny remnants of life left between pages.  A reader desires a relationship with the text, and as in any other relationship, he or she will inevitably leave pieces of himself or herself behind.

After brief encounters with 71 of Lydia Sigourney’s published works, it pains me to come across a book that appears never to have indulged in such a wonderful affair.  Was there no reader to connect with the text?  Did it sit idle on a bookstore shelf waiting to be purchased? How can it be that this text does not bear a single mark of understanding, confusion, enlightenment, or love?  Luckily, I have stumbled across scribbled notes and children’s drawings more often than not, or at least often enough to feed my desire for proof of personal relationships with Sigourney’s texts.

Evidence of one such relationship can be seen in a copy of Zinzendorff, and Other Poems. A needlework cross, backed in satin ribbon is inserted between the pages of a poem titled “The Dead Horseman.”  The initials “IHS” grace the top of the piece and represent the Christogram, an abbreviation for Jesus Christ.   It is likely that it was used as a bookmark and was created by the young woman whose name can be found in an inscription on the first title page, “Miss Catherine Bueno [?] from H. P. J.”

Several of Sigourney’s books have similarly personal pieces nestled between their pages.  One example is a copy of Sketch of Connecticut, Forty Years Since. A letter has been taped into the gutter of the front endpapers, and despite its crumbling appearance, it illustrates the personal relationship that Sigourney had with the text and the woman to whom she addressed the letter.

“Tuesday, Dec 13th 1831,

My Dear Miss Woodbridge,

Though I am not authorized to claim a promise from you to aid us on the day of our Fair, yet I have continued to trust your goodness for a favorable result to my solicitations.  Feeling that you and your Sisters can scarcely have recovered from the fatigue of your great exertions for the poor Mohegans [?], we would request nothing but the “light of your countenance,” at our sale-tables, on Tuesday next, from 2 in the afternoon, through the evening.  Should you be able to gratify us, it would give us all pleasure to see you at Mrs. Dr. Lee’s tomorrow evening at seven, where a few ladies meet to consult about arrangements for the Fair, particularly respecting the decoration of the Hall where it will be held, with greens, in honour of the approaching Christmas.

with love to your sisters, -yours affectionately,  L. H. Sigourney”

A copy of Sigourney’s Sketches, also contains some pasted in notes.  Within the essay “The Family Portraits,” in the gutter of pages 128 and 129, there is a pasted in note.  It elaborates on the relationships between the people described in the essay including, her husband, Charles Sigourney.  Charles was involved in the founding of Trinity College.  He was the first secretary of the Trinity Trustees.

“Mary Ronchon, granddaughter of John Beauchamp, (pronounced in the French, not the English manner,) was the grandmother of Charles Sigourney, one of the original Trustees of the College and Mrs. Sigourney’s husband.  John Beauchamp removed with his family from Boston to Hartford, where he died Nov. 14, 1740, in his 88th year.  One of his daughters was mother of John Laurence, Treasurer of Connecticut 1769-1789, who was greatgrand-father of William Roderick Laurence, of 1856, who gave to the college the portrait of Bp. Berkley copied by him from the picture in Yale College, and also gave a collection of coins and one of autographs.  Another daughter of John Beauchamp was wife of John Michael Chenevard, and ancestors of John Chenevard Comstock of the class of 1838.  Charles S. Hoadly.”

Relationships with Sigourney’s texts were not reserved for adults; in an 1844 copy of Sigourney’s Select Poems, a child’s drawing has been left behind.  It resides within the pages of her poem “The Volunteer” and depicts a cracked tombstone.  The inscription on the tombstone reads, “Elizabeth ghter [sic] of Joshua & Sar7 [sic] Chandie died March 11th 1758 in her 3rd year.”  The drawing has been made on the verso of a small slip of paper that came from the A. F. Wood Apothecary in New Haven, Connecticut.

Evidence of a more sentimental bond can be found in a copy of Sigourney’s Evening Readings in History. This copy is dedicated to her son Andrew.  The inscription reads, “Little Andrew from his Mama.”  Andrew was Sigourney’s only son, and one of only two children that survived from infancy.

While there are many more books in the Watkinson’s collection of Sigourney’s works with inscriptions, annotations, and various tidbits of reader’s lives, the five instances described above provide a glance into the secret lives hidden behind gold stamped covers and between roughly cut pages.  These descriptions are proof that there is more to a text than what the author puts on paper and sends to print; a reader’s relationship with a text is just as influential in the journey it takes.


Sigourney’s Didactic Tactics

   Posted by: rring    in Interns, Lydia Sigourney, Students

It seems that Lydia Sigourney’s destiny had always been to teach; whether in person or through her writing, her life followed an instructive path from her youth.  As a child, she often “played school with her dolls ‘reproving their faults, stimulating them to excellence, and enforcing a variety of moral obligations’ “ (DeLong 36).  She continued to teach into early adulthood and to employ didactic tactics in her writing, much of which was aimed at a young audience and carried messages of conduct, religion, and morals.  Five of Sigourney’s books containing such messages are described below.  These five, however, do not comprise an all-inclusive list; many more of her books contain similar messages aimed at children and adults alike.

Her blatantly instructive book, How to Be Happy, provides a gender-neutral formula for success and happiness in life that carries many messages similar to those conveyed in her books for boys and girls.  She illustrates the method of proper treatment for a variety of individuals, including one’s parents, siblings, and elders.

Sigourney’s writing for boys was different than most of the popular literature written for them at the time.  It demonstrated a need for boys to become men with “a home-centered value system that endorsed masculine self-sacrifice and social obligation” (Parille 5).  In her book, The Boy’s Reading Book; in Prose and Poetry, for Schools, the passage titled “Good Manners” outlines the benefits of proper behavior and the need for it.  She also says that a man without manners is “an offense to the Almighty,” and good manners “must be worn as daily apparel, not as a suit for company” (Sigourney, The Boy’s Reading 114-115).

In The Girl’s Reading-Book; in Prose and Poetry. For Schools, Sigourney includes passages titled “Order,” “The Good Daughter,” and “Procrastination.”  In the passage entitled “Order,” emphasis is placed on the necessity of having a proper place for things, and life without order is compared to having “wise laws, and paying no regard to them” (Sigourney, The Girl’s Reading 19).   She explains that if these bad habits are established as a child, they will carry on into adulthood and cause irreparable damage to one’s reputation and temperament.  “Procrastination,” a poem, warns of the repercussions of idle waiting.  Sigourney describes various aspects of nature, such as the bird in flight or the running stream, and explains to the reader that should you ask such things to stop and wait, they would answer, “’A future day is not our own’” (181).  Her final warning is that one must do “what thy duty dictates, do” and “delay no longer” for fear that death is upon us at each moment in our lives.

Letters to Young Ladies and Letters to Mothers include similar messages, catered to women of the age group indicated by each title.  In Letters to Young Ladies, Sigourney discusses the upbringing of young women.  Some of the contents include: “Manners and Accomplishments,” “Friendship,” and “Self-Control.”  In the section titled “Manners and Accomplishments,” she argues that manners are more important than things like dress or beauty because manners are “more permanent, and more certain in their results” (Sigourney, Letters to Young 105). In Letters to Mothers, some of the contents include: “Idiom of Character,” “Duty to the Community,” and “Hospitality.”  In the passage “Duty to the Community,” Sigourney states that she feels “peculiar solicitude with regard to the manner in which our daughters are reared. … they are emphatically our representatives” (Letters to Mothers 170).  Throughout the passage, she describes the importance of education for girls and the need for their mothers to be careful not to allow their daughters to indulge in “elaborate dress, and fashionable parties.”

In addition to the didactic endeavors of the five books mentioned previously, Sigourney worked to deliver her messages in person as a teacher in both Norwich and Hartford, Connecticut.  After coming to Hartford to stay with the Wadsworth family, Daniel Wadsworth suggested that she start a school for girls in his mother’s home.  One of Sigourney’s students was a young deaf girl, Alice Cogswell.  Alice’s family worked hard to ensure that her life was as normal and fulfilling as possible despite her handicap, and Sigourney did the same.  She worked closely with Alice to teach her to read and write and was the first person in the United States to teach a prelingually deafened child to read and write.  While she was working with Alice, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, a recent graduate from Andover seminary school, was working with Laurent Clerc, a deaf Frenchman, to learn sign language.  In 1817, Gallaudet returned to the United States with his new knowledge and Clerc as his partner.  Together they opened the first school for the deaf in the U.S.; it was located in Hartford.  It has been argued, “that these two men would never have been called on to play the roles they did without the earlier and necessary contributions of Lydia Huntley Sigourney” (Sayers and Gates 369).

Years after her work with Alice and the opening of the school, Sigourney gave Gallaudet a signed copy of her book, Memoir of Mrs. Hooker, in 1841. The role of these three individuals, and especially of Lydia Sigourney, changed the opportunities available for deaf people in the United States.  Her dedication to teaching and pure-minded motives allowed her to see past Alice’s handicap and to provide her with a challenging education.  As with her childhood dolls, Sigourney sought to stimulate each of her students to excellence despite their differences.

[Posted by Erika Jenns, Indiana University ’13]

Works Cited

Parille, Ken. “What Our Boys Are Reading.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 33.1 (2008): 4-25. PDF file.

Sayers, Edna Edith and Diana Gates. “Lydia Huntley Sigourney and the Beginnings of American Deaf Education in Hartford: It Takes a Village.”  Sign Language Studies, 8.4, (2008): 369-411. PDF file.

Sigourney, Lydia H. The Boy’s Reading Book; in Prose and Poetry, for Schools. New York: J. Orville Taylor, 1839. Print.

—. The Girl’s Reading-Book; in Prose and Poetry. For Schools. New York: J. Orville Taylor, 1839. Print.

—. Letters to Young Ladies. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1837. Print.

—.  Letters to Mothers. New York: Harper & Brothers. 1839. Print.

[Posted by Erika Jenns, Indiana University ’13, who is performing an internship in the Watkinson by contributing to this blog about our collection of Sigourney items.]

Nestled between Harriet Beecher Stowe and Henry Miller on compact shelves at the Watkinson, I found Lydia H. Sigourney’s impressive array of published works awaiting me, in modest, patient rows.

The gilt bindings in various colors require the space of five shelves, and this is only half the collection.  As I labored over 135 “Sigourney” entries in the Watkinson catalogue, pulling each item from the shelves, I began to ponder the life of a book living down beneath the Watkinson reading room, pressed so close to fellows or strangers.  I’m not sure which would be more agreeable, to be sandwiched between sister and brother editions, next to a distant cousin with a different name, or cozied up with an individual created by another pen entirely.

The majority of Sigourney’s books have been assigned spaces next to family members.  Her first book, Moral Pieces, was published in 1815, and the three editions, all in a row, show the signs of aging.  Two reside in boxes to prevent the loss of their covers or delicate pieces of their spines, and while the hinges of the third remain intact, the beautiful gilded roses on the spine have begun to disappear.  Other titles boast their youthfulness with their well-intact, heavily gold-stamped spines shining out from between some of their less fortunate family members.  I have yet to uncover the details of their lives.

The mother of these creations, Lydia Howard Huntley Sigourney, was born in Norwich, Connecticut on September 1, 1791.  In 1811 she and her friend, Nancy Maria Hyde, opened a school for girls, but it closed soon after when Hyde became ill.  In 1814, Sigourney moved to Hartford and established another school for girls in the home of Daniel Wadsworth.  Wadsworth later arranged for the publication of Moral Pieces.  Four years later, she married Charles Sigourney.  He did not support her ambitions as a writer, so she began to publish her works anonymously.  She often donated the profits from her publications to various organizations, such as, “the temperance movement, peace societies, and missionary groups,” but as her husband’s financial situation deteriorated, Sigourney began publishing under her own name again.  Her profits became the source of the family income.

Sigourney was “one of the first women in the United States to establish a successful and remunerative career as a writer.”  She published 67 books in her lifetime, edited The Religious Souvenir from 1839 to 1840, and “from 1839 to 1842, she was listed as an editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, primarily for the prestige her name conferred on the journal.”  Sigourney died in her Hartford home in 1865, and her autobiography, Letters of Life, was published a year later.