Archive for the ‘Americana’ Category


Summer scholar (NERFC)

   Posted by: rring

[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.


Tyrone Power’s Impressions of America (1836)

   Posted by: rring

[Posted by Emily Leonard for AMST 851: The World of Rare Books (Instructor: Richard Ring)]

IMG_2892Film buffs think of “Tyrone Power ” as the breathtakingly handsome actor who was 20th Century Fox’s top male attraction from the mid-1930s to early 1950s, starring in such classics as The Mark of Zorro or Witness for the Prosecution. Theatrical cognoscenti know that the real star in the family was the film idol’s great grandfather, the first Tyrone Power, an Irish comedian who packed theaters all over the Continent before his triumphal tour of the United States in 1833, ’34 and ’35. Impressions of America is the record of these travels.

My master’s thesis concerns the early Republic and, among other things, how foreign visitors viewed it. Power’s book is particularly important because, unlike the negative reports of his fellow Britons who traveled in the United States in the 1830s, it provides an appealing picture of an ambitious young nation, a bit bumptious but always sure that its destiny lay west and that any enterprising person could find success if only he looked far enough. Since Frances Trollope, Fanny Kemble, and the great Charles Dickens, among others, could find little to admire and much to condemn in American society, Power’s Impressions of America is essential to the development of my thesis. But there was not a single copy to be found on the Internet, Amazon or in local bookstores. It has never been reprinted and, surprisingly, Project Gutenberg has digitized only the second volume. A search of the Trinity College catalog turned up the first edition, in 2 volumes, at the Watkinson. I could now provide the balance I need for my review of the early Republic.  Power’s Impressions of America provides the perfect response to the sharp criticism of observers like Dickens and Captain Frederick Maryatt, whose disdain for all things American so incensed the citizens of Detroit that they hung him in effigy.

Power found the citizens of the young Republic “clear-headed, energetic, frank and hospitable…” (x) His assertion that a “working man at the dinner table was as courteous and well-mannered as the elegant lady who sat next to him” (92) refutes other European travelers’ complaints about “… spitting-boxes, tobacco, two pronged forks…”(346). He had, from the outset, been determined to ignore these minor irritants, while focusing on “the great labors” that were rapidly transforming the nation as it moved west.

The energy and ambition exhibited by the average American made a strong impression on Power.  He described “… a community suited to and laboring for their country and its advancement rather than for their own present generation,”(x) noting the many voluntary philanthropic societies devoted to improving community life and, with some amusement, the American predilection for playing soldier as manifest by the ubiquitous musters of militia in towns and villages during the summer months. These glimpses of democracy in action provided a strong contrast to the conditions in Great Britain and Ireland where powerless workers were in virtual bondage to their employers. Indeed, it may well have been the contrast between his down-trodden, near-to-starving Irish compatriots, suffering under the Penal Laws, and the apparently well-fed, decently dressed house slaves Power encountered in his travels in America’s south that made him so tolerant of that ‘peculiar institution.’

“My days were passed at the hospitable house of

Mr. G——n, where I encountered many pleasant

people; and was attended by the sleekest, merriest

set of Negroes imaginable, most of whom had grown

old or were born in their master’s house: his own

good-humoured, active benevolence of spirit was

reflected in the faces of his servants.” (110)

Power’s comments on New Englanders offer some support for this explanation of his failure to condemn slavery. Although he has only praise for Boston’s “…houses of the largest class, well built and kept with the right English spirit as far as regards the scrupulous cleanliness of the entrance areas and windows,” (102) he is not so flattering about the New England character.

“From both the creed and the sumptuary regulations

of the rigid moral censors from which they were spring,

they have inherited a practice of close self-observation

and a strict attention to conventional form which gives a

rigid restraint to their air.” (125)

Or, in the more generous spirit of gentle teasing which is his usual approach to the foibles of Americans in general, he describes a Boston theater audience:

“[it] ‘…is in the character ascribed to New Englanders that

they should coolly and thoroughly examine and understand

the novelty presented for their judgment and, that, being

satisfied and pleased, they should no longer set limits to the

demonstration of their feelings.” (124)

In one area, Power does echo the negative reaction of his fellow travelers. He depletes the way in which new immigrants, especially the Irish, are treated by the native-born. Noting that the Boston’s Tremont Hotel is entirely staffed by Irish lads, he makes a plea for their acceptance into Yankee society, which he characterizes as one with “…many prejudices inseparable from a system of education even to this day sufficiently narrow and sectarian.” (126)

But his major emphasis is on the rapid expansion of the nation, and the people who are accomplishing it:

“…these frontier tamers of the swamp and of the forest:

they are hardy, indefatigable, and enterprising to a degree;

despising and contemning luxury and refinement, courting

labour, and even making a pride of the privations which they,

without any necessity, continue to endure with their families.

They are prudent without being at all mean or penurious, and

are fond of money without having a tittle of avarice. This may

at first sight appear stated from a love of paradox, yet nothing

can be more strictly and simply true; this is, in fact, a singular

race, and they seem especially endowed by Providence to

forward the great work in which they are engaged—to clear the

the wilderness and lay bare the wealth of this rich country with

herculean force and restless perseverance, spurred by a spirit of

acquisition no extent of possession can satiate.” [216]

The paradox here is why the other British travelers’ generally negative reports on America’s citizens in the early Republic which aroused such ire in both the parlor and the press have been reprinted many, many times, while the work of one who saw us as we like to think we were has been so nearly forgotten?  Thanks to the Watkinson library and the seventeen other rare book repositories holding copies, Tyrone Power’s Impressions of America will continue to be available for scholars to study the young nation as it was creating the myths and the legends that form our modern understanding of America’s history.


Hatha Yoga

   Posted by: rring

[Posted by Allexandra Beatty for AMST 838/438, “America Collects Itself”]

Hatha Yoga: The Yogi Philosophy of Physical Well-Being with Numerous Exercises by Yogi Ramacharaka (Chicago, Ill.: Yogi Publication Society, 1904)

imageMost medical treatises written in 1904 would rarely seem relevant in any contemporary discussion of health and wellness.  After all, is it not the case that the most popular explorations into the secret to wellbeing and happiness depend precariously on some sort of scientific discovery?  Surprisingly, and out of the pages of history, Hatha Yoga by Yogi Ramacharaka offers a scientific and spiritual answer to many current health and wellness questions.  Within the pages of this 110-year-old text are explorations of the correlation between the mind and body—analyses of the synchronic relationship between energies, thoughts, and mental attitudes and their physical manifestations.

Rather than delving into a list of common ailments and their scientific root cause, this book reshapes the perception of health and wellness from a focus on disease, to a focus on maintaining balance and order in the natural state of existence.  Here, the body serves as a vehicle, as a Temple of the Spirit, to be used as an instrument of soul growth.  Yogi Ramacharaka points to two Principles of the Vital Force that guide one’s state of health.  The first is Self-Preservation, which “moves us along in the direction of health, as surely as does the influence within the magnetic needle make it point due north.” (26).  The second is Accommodation, meaning our constant navigation through the ever-increasing technological and industrial complications that distract the body and mind from its natural state.  We are living in a time where natural living becomes disturbed.  Sleep, stress, eating, and health are all out of balance and prioritized improperly.  Instead, we must allow the Vital Force to flow freely through the body, in the most natural of ways, returning to the most basic, simple, and undisturbed way of nature, in order to decrease the gap between the mind and body.  Eliminating the dichotomy between mind and body, or spirit and form, will allow for a more synchronous life.  As the mind and body become one—adopting the natural order of things whereby the body acts as a conduit for the spirit—the Vital Force igniting one’s existence will blossom.

The chapter titled, “The Laboratory of the Body” deals with the most fundamental physical elements of the human form—teeth, salivary glands, tongue, stomach, blood, skeletal system, and so on.  Yogi Ramacharaka points to the importance of understanding the functionality of the body, as one needs to maintain the machine in order to attain a higher spiritual state of mind.  As such, several chapters are dedicated to the structure and functions of the body, paying particular attention to the intended functions of the digestive, circulatory, and breathing systems.  All three are explained pseudo-scientifically, bearing both diagrammatic and spiritual descriptions.  As such, these sections connote the proper and improper uses of the body, highlighting the negative effects of improper digestion, circulation, and breathing.  Most poignantly, Yogi Ramacharaka describes the fermentation and putrefaction of unmasticated food particles left to rot in the stomach—the consequence of hasty eating and gluttonous consumption habits.  Furthermore, this submission to appetite rather than true hunger leads to the transmission of said rotten particles into the circulatory system—permeating negative energy throughout the body.  In order to combat the circulation of putrefied elements and negative energy, Yogi Ramacharaka points to an essential principle of Hatha Yoga used to harness positivity and channel the abundant Life Forces—Prana.

“Prana is the name by which we designate a universal principle, which principle is the essence of all motion, force or energy, whether manifested in gravitation, electricity, the revolution of the planets, and all forms of life, from the highest to the lowest.  It may be called the soul of Force and Energy in all their forms, and that principle which, operating in a certain way, causes that form of activity which accompanies Life” (158).

Chapter X is entirely devoted to the absorption of Prana, specifically through food.  The body is a storehouse of energy, drawn from the environment—plants, animals, sun energy, and air.  The consumption of food, therefore, is a primary means of absorbing Prana, as it touches most all of these areas.  The most moving phrase throughout the entire treatise on physical nourishment and care of the body deals with that intangible sense of vitality one may witness in oneself, or others, who seem to be vibrating with positive energy, or Prana.  Yogi Ramacharaka writes:

“You know the sensation which one sometimes feels when in the presence of a highly ‘magnetic’ person—that indescribable feeling of the absorption of strength or ‘vitality.’  Some people have so much Prana in their system that they are continually ‘running over’ and giving it out to others, the result being that other persons like to be in their company, and dislike to leave it, being almost unable to tear themselves away” (68).

This sensation of abundance in both body and spirit is the goal of Hatha Yoga.  Moreover, is it not the goal of every human being to feel fulfilled?  To be abundant in one’s own sense of calm, strength, vitality, and life—so much so that we may share this gift of wholeness with others?

The next portion of this treatise deals with the physical exercises involved in maintaining the physical body, not just for nourishment.  Yogi Ramacharaka first describes the nature of correct and incorrect breathing—the former: using the entirety of one’s lungs (high, middle, and low), the latter: breathing against the chest and collar causing tension and straining the delicate lungs.  After the correct method is established, relaxation breathing is described as a form of generating, maintaining, and recharging pranic energy.  Once one has mastered breathing exercises, one must turn to the physical poses most commonly associated with yoga practices.  Not only do they involve stretching, but they also deal with strength and muscular stimulation—though, as Yogi Ramacharaka wisely points out, strength is not an attribute of the vain and narcissistic, but an essential quality of every healthy, centered being.

The last portion of this book deals with rest, rejuvenation, as well as mental and spiritual freedoms.  It moves beyond the descriptions of the body’s natural state and step-by-step instructions on how to maintain it.  Rather, it moves into the realm of the spiritual, whereby one’s energy manifests itself positively or negatively in the body.  “The material body is but temporary, and the body itself nothing more than a suit of clothes to be put on, worn, and then discarded, yet it is always the intent of the Spirit to provide and maintain as perfect an instrument as possible.” (250).

Ultimately this book will leave you with a sense of wholeness, realizing how easy it is to “return to Nature”, as Hatha Yoga commands.  Beyond the many physical benefits to this practice, the emotional and spiritual growth that accompanies this simplistic return to stasis and inner peace seems like a retreat in a fast-paced, competitive contemporary world.  Yogi Ramacharaka concludes with the plea:

“Let us return to nature, dear students, and allow this great life to flow through us freely, and all will be well with us.  Let us stop trying to do the whole thing ourselves—let us just LET the thing do its own work for us.  It only asks confidence and non-resistance—let us give it a chance.” (255).

I invite you to experience this book on your own, as an exploration into your unique inner-self.  See what a few mere adjustments to your diet, breath, exercise, or even emotional elasticity will do for your health and wellbeing.  Give it a chance.


The Children’s Almanac 1879-83

   Posted by: rring

[Posted by Mollie Scheerer ’14 for AMST 838/438 “America Collects Itself”]

IMG_7725Ella Farman’s The Children’s Almanac for the years 1879-1883 is a beautiful, small book with a green cloth cover, embossed illustration, and gilt lettering on the cover. American almanacs are annual publications containing information such as weather forecasts, tide tables, planting and harvesting dates for farmers, astronomical information, and religious holidays. This almanac, however, is slightly different. It contains only eighty pages as opposed to most almanacs of the same time that could have many more. Farman’s almanac is also more of an anthology of poetry to interest the children reading it.

On the first page inside is an inscription reading “Willie R. Witherle, Dec 25th, 1878,” either a dedication or the signature of the owner. Opposite the title page is a beautiful lithograph of a young girl seated by a window reading to her dolls with a short phrase below: “Good little heart maketh gay the dark and stormy winter day.” The almanac is filled with phrases such as this in order to instill good morals in children. The book was published by D. Lothrop and Company in Boston and very much embodies the New England values of the late nineteenth century for the middle and upper classes. In Farman’s author’s note, she discloses the purpose of the almanac: a “little everyday book designed for a handy pocket reference and school-desk companion.” She intended for it to be a way children could learn and be reminded of the morals with which they were brought up.
IMG_7727Just like an “adult” almanac, Farman divides hers into months for the years 1879 through 1883 almost as chapters, although she makes it a more appealing and interesting almanac as her audience is children. After the author’s note is a list of the original poets whose work Farman includes in the order in which they appear. Each month has its short own poem written by well-known literary figures such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Celia Thaxter, and J. T. Trowbridge. A unique component to these poems is that their signatures are included at the end. The colorful lithographs that separate each season are beautifully detailed and Farman also includes intricate steel plate etchings for every month done by the engraver W.J. Dana in Boston. All illustrations depict happy children in various seasonal situations to engage children reading the almanac.
Beginning January is a poem by Longfellow opposite a detailed engraving of a young boy and girl happily sledding down a snowy hill on a toboggan. On the next page are simplistic calendars for each year between 1879 and 1883 as references for the young minds for whom she wrote the almanac. Opposite the calendars are the “Daily Conduct-Mottoes” to which she referenced in her author’s note. For every day of January Farman includes a short phrase by important literary figures, some of whom also wrote the poems in the almanac. Farman wrote that she hopes the children will take heed of their Birthday-Motto but also pay attention to their Daily Conduct-Motto as an everyday reminder of how they should live their lives. She hopes they will keep these mottoes in mind each day in order to become as strong and true as the grandest men and women they can think of. She says, “Read it, hold it up high in your thoughts, and honor it in your deeds.”   After the Conduct-Mottoes there is a blank page entitled Memorandia: Studies for the School Year for the children to keep their own thoughts and notes. With this, they can contribute to the almanac and perhaps be inspired by the poems or mottoes and write their own.
My favorite monthly poem in the almanac is by Celia Thaxter for the month of August. Opposite a tranquil etching of a young girl washing her feet in a pool of water surrounded by cattails, Thaxter writes,
“Buttercup nodded and said, “good-bye!”
Clover and daisy went off together,
But the fragrant water-lilies lie
Yet moored in the golden August weather.
The swallows chatter about their flight,
The cricket chirps like a rare good fellow,
The asters twinkle in clusters bright,
While the corn grows ripe and the apples mellow.”
The poem perfectly embodies the month of August and the gentle language is appealing to children of every age.
Each month is unique and the different messages and etchings are interesting. February’s poem is by Mrs. A.D.T. Whitney with a magnificent engraving of a little girl curled up by a window surrounded by icicles with five birds on a branch below. Every engraving, poem, and lithograph relate to the month or season they are in. On the next pages are the calendars and mottoes, as with every month. Since my birthday is in February I paid special attention to the mottoes. As an example of one of the mottoes, my birthdate, February 17th, has a Longfellow quote: “Here’s a fellow who can both write and fight!” (I’d like to think so, Longfellow.)
The lithographs after March, June, and September also contain phrases to instill children with the values they need to grow into strong and true men and women, of course reflecting the transition between seasons. The lithograph between June and July reads, “Never be idle, never be sad / Go in the sunshine and grow glad!” and depicts a small girl having a tea party with dolls, embodying the ideal summer afternoon for the target audience. The detailing of the lithographs is exquisite; they seem to glow as the carefully placed ink radiates the light off the page. Although the etchings are equally as detailed, the lithographs stand out in this almanac and would have certainly captured the children’s eyes.
This almanac truly embodies the Victorian Era in America as it teaches children (of the middle and upper classes, of course) to uphold the moralities of the period. The advice, poems, and drawings are quite darling and the almanac, as Farman so intended, would have been the perfect book to store in a pocket or desk for daily reminders of these values. The children in possession of this almanac could certainly relate to the children depicted in the etchings and lithographs, as well as take pleasure in finding their birthday and the associated motto which they would hopefully, as intended, adhere to for all their lives.

Fanny Elssler

   Posted by: rring

[Posted by Susan Hood for “America Collects Itself: From Colony to Empire”]

The Letters and Journal of Fanny Ellsler, Written Before and After Her Operatic Campaign in the United States, Including Her Letters from New York, London, Paris, Havana, &c. &c, [sic]. Published by H.G. Daggers, New York, 1845.
Purportedly by Fanny Elssler (1810-1884), a celebrated artiste of the Romantic ballet, this 65-page pamphlet was actually written by Henry Wikoff (c. 1813-1884), an American diplomat, adventurer, and occasional reporter. His reputation waxed and waned due to professional and personal triumphs and intrigues in Europe and his native United States. (For instance, Wikoff befriended Mary Todd Lincoln while acting as an undercover spy in the White House for the New York Herald, but that’s another story.)
Wikoff turned impresario by accident when the New York theater manager who had engaged Elssler for an unprecedented American debut died. Wikoff arranged for the ballerina’s debut on May 17, 1840 at the Park Theatre in New York City. From the next two years, over her repeatedly extended tour of the United States, he handled the bookings and contract negotiations, and served as publicist and company manager. She gave 208 performances, and received a then-astonishing fee of $500 for each.
Scholar and collector Allison Delarue reveals the history and authorship of the Letters and Journal in his book, Fanny Elssler in America (Dance Horizons, New York, 1976). He states that the articles first appeared in London in the December 1843, and January and February 1844 issues of Fraser’s Magazine, whose editor “made it clear that the work was not from the pen of Fanny Elssler, but it did contain her impressions….” Delarue notes that the New York Herald reprinted the articles (without giving dates, however), and that the newspaper’s editor credits Wikoff. In conclusion, he writes: “Fanny Elssler’s travels were of sufficient interest to be published anonymously as a pamphlet.”
In this pamphlet, however, the ballerina’s surname name is misspelled, possibly due to a typesetting error (her surname was occasionally misspelled in Europe).
In the Letters and Journal, Wikoff reminds readers that the majority of sophisticated Europeans view America as a “barbarous” place, and many warned Elssler that it was “a country hardly yet cut out of its primeval forests, where life is spent in unremitting toil for its necessaries, where few enjoy its comforts, and where none care for its luxuries.” The pamphlet also contains telling details and charming anecdotes that could only have been learned from Elssler. Here are a few examples:
“…how should a poor dancer, whose travels have been chiefly confined to the Opera-house, who has crossed rivers with the aid of a mechanist, and scaled mountains by running up some hidden stairs, be expected to know anything of a half-savage land, thousands of miles away? [Letter II]
“Then think of the consumption in satin shoes; I seldom use less than three pairs each night, and the slightest soil condemns them, and that upon the dirtiest stage in the world, purposely kept so to avoid slipping. These opera-shoes are of such peculiar make, uniting a certain stiffness with the most perfect pliancy that only one man in Europe has been found with genius adequate to the work—Jansin de Paris. [Letter III. The cobbler was Janssen.]
“The curtain fell amid a roar that sounded like the fall of mighty waters, and that soon brought me before them. Their applause was perfectly frantic, cheers and bravos saluted me, and flowers and wreaths fell like rain upon me. You cannot suppose that I stood unmoved amid such sights and scenes. My heart beat till I thought it would leap from its socket, and my eyes overran in grateful testimony of their fervent goodness. I essayed to speak, and stammered forth a few simple words of thanks, and withdrew. [Letter XVII, on her New York debut.]
The Watkinson’s copy of The Letters and Journal of Fanny Ellsler [sic] was purchased for 75 cents (slightly less than $19 in contemporary currency) at Anderson Auction Galleries in February 1909. A librarian noted on the title page “not in Sabin or Lowe,” indicating that this 1845 publication was omitted from standard American bibliographies a century ago.
Possibly bibliographers of Americana had their sights set only on materials pertaining to colonial and revolutionary times. Most had no interest in the performing arts. Furthermore, ballerinas were widely considered but a rung above prostitutes, and their performances were considered entertainment for men.
Delarue’s Fanny Elssler in America should be of interest to many bibliophiles of Americana, for it contains facsimiles of period publications and lithographs, including an early–and lengthy–comic strip. This and Ivor Guest’s definitive life of the ballerina (Wesleyan University Press, 1970) are invaluable in understanding the social, cultural, and historical forces at play in America during 1840-42. Although Elssler was admired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and President Martin Van Buren, in 1841 she was subject to a series of attacks from the press (notably Horace Greeley in the Tribune) and from the pulpit (Reverend Henry Ward Beecher). Her artistry, combined with Wikoff’s press support, squelched the anti-Elssler campaign.

Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter

   Posted by: rring

[Posted by Rene Dion for “America Collects Itself: From Colony to Empire (AMST 838/438)]

Scarlet pageIn 1848 the Seneca Falls Convention was held in New York State.  This gathering was unlike any other, as people came to discuss the social, civil, and religious rights of women. For the first time in history the well-established patriarchy of America was being publicly challenged. Two years later, the first in an annual series of National Women’s Rights Conventions took place in Worchester, Massachusetts.  At the same time, not too far from there, Nathaniel Hawthorne was giving life to one of literature’s most famous feminist characters, Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letter. Set in the harsh Puritan community of seventeenth-century Boston, this tale of an adulterous affair that results in an illegitimate birth reveals themes of legalism, sin and guilt. Although publicly shamed and ostracized, Hester Prynne gains self-knowledge, and her ultimate restoration to emerge as the” first true heroine of American fiction.”

Hawthorne spent his college years building friendships with the likes of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, future naval commander Horatio Bridge and future president Franklin Pierce. After graduating he began to spend much of his time reading, writing and researching his family’s Puritan past. He published his first novel Fanshawe anonymously but did not receive much attention. Eventually, his school mate Bridge convinced him to publish under his own name and without Hawthorne’s knowledge put up money to guarantee any losses with the publisher, Samuel G. Goodrich. Twice-Told Tales, a short story collection published in 1837, was a success and received a few favorable reviews including one from his friend Longfellow.

scarlet letter booksHawthorne continued to write short stories for publication but the income left much to be desired. He and his wife Sophia moved to Salem, Massachusetts to live with Hawthorne’s mother in 1845. He began working at the Salem Custom House but this career was short lived as Hawthorne was let go from the job just three years later. Financially unfortunate but it left the window open for him to take the time to write again. By 1850 he had completed The Scarlet Letter which included a preface that refers to his three-year tenure in the Custom House and makes several allusions to local politicians, who did not find appreciation in the acknowledgement. When he delivered the manuscript in February 1850, Hawthorne said “some portions of the book are powerfully written”, but also added that it would probably not prove to be popular, although he did hope for such. When he read the final part of the novel to his wife, he told a friend that “it broke her heart … which I look upon as a triumphant success.”

Despite complaints from certain people of Salem of being slandered in the introduction and some critics’ objections to the novel’s shocking subject, it was immediately hailed as a work of genius and became known as “America’s first major novel” (American National Biography). A 2,500-copy second edition of The Scarlet Letter included a preface by Hawthorne dated March 30, 1850, that stated he had decided to reprint his introduction “without the change of a word… The only remarkable features of the sketch are its frank and genuine good-humor.”

The Watkinson Library currently houses three 1850 editions of The Scarlet Letter, two American publications and one from England. To assist in distinguishing them from each other, I was referred to Jacob Blanck’s Bibliography of American Literature (v.4), also a part of the Watkinson’s collection. Overall it provides more than 37,000 records of literary works from American writers from the American Revolution to 1930. James L. Harner, who wrote the resource book Literary Research Guide, refers to it as “one of the monumental bibliographies of the twentieth century.” In it I found a flawless description of the first edition with basic information including the publishers (Boston: Ticknor, Fields and Reed) and  further specifics including the type of cloth the cover was made from as well as the kind of paper used (“yellow end papers, cream end papers”). The publisher’s list on page 4 is dated March 1, 1850.

The second edition by the Boston publishers was “extended by the addition of a ‘Preface to the Second Edition’ dated March 30, 1850.” where Hawthorne stated he wouldn’t change a word regarding the Custom House chapter, the semi-autobiographical introduction.

The last version of The Scarlet Letter that the Watkinson holds is a second edition printed in London 1850 by William Paterson. It was not listed in Blanck’s bibliography. Slightly smaller in height and owning a black rather than brown cover it was easily discernible from the American versions.  But once it is opened, exactly the same classic novel sits inside.

The Scarlet Letter received instant and enduring success because it addressed spiritual and moral issues from a uniquely American perspective. In 1850, adultery was a scandalous subject, but because Hawthorne had the support of the New England literary community, it became accepted as suitable for the masses. The Scarlet Letter is widely considered to be Hawthorne’s magnum opus.  This psychological tale of passion, revenge and redemption still resonates with readers today.


Playing Cards and Gaming

   Posted by: rring

[Posted by Jacob Miller for “America Collects Itself: From Colony to Empire” (AMST 838/438)]

A Bibliography of Works in English on Playing Cards and Gaming, compiled by Frederic Jessel, is a chronicle of all written works that reference or discuss subjects surrounding and including playing cards and gaming. Jessel was the dean of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University and one of the foremost collectors of books about playing cards and gaming. His bibliography is still considered the standard authority on the subject and serves as the foundation for the continued collection of works about gaming in all of its forms. The fact that this book still holds weight amongst historians studying this subsection of history speaks to its niche nature, but also substantiates the longstanding historic curiosity and intrigue that surround the often-typecast world of gambling, gaming and cards. There are 1700+ unique bibliographic entries in the text, covering a massive variety of different games. The subject matter includes everything from illustrated informative rulebooks like Winterblossom’s 1875 text, “The Game of Draw-Poker Mathematically Illustrated,” to more psychologically minded texts that explore the compulsions and dark side of the gambling culture.

I discovered a catalogue for a collection by a rare book collector and trader, Natalie Galustian, titled All In: A unique collection of first and rare editions, photographs and prints on poker and gambling. When cross-checking this catalogue’s contents with Jessel’s bibliography, almost all of the works that bore the indexed label of poker and fit the time frame were a part of this catalogued collection. Since “All In” allegedly sold to an unnamed buyer for a sum of over $200,000, it is clear that Jessel’s work served as a foundation for a collection that holds the interest of modern collectors. Galustian was quoted as saying “The collection traces the development of the game through the 19th and 20th centuries, and shows how the wealth, quality and scholarly nature of the writing on poker proves it is a game of skill, not chance.” While I cannot speak for Jessel, the fact that he took on the challenge of chronicling the literary history of gaming in English suggests that he shared in Galustian’s sentiment for gaming as a whole. The existence of the resource he created allows someone to reference all of the scholarly writings along side everything else and draw their own informed conclusions about where gaming fits into the world.

While the impact of this book is specific to the subject matter it addresses, I think that the most important lesson I learned from my experience with this book is the role that a bibliography plays in collecting as a hobby. I would imagine that the bibliography is the foundation for many collections as it allows for a collector to serve their subject matter with the due diligence and background that will allow for fulfillment of the collection’s true purpose. If a collection seeks to preserve a time period, or concept in history through its presence, it must offer an unbiased and complete documentation of all the relevant books and texts associated. The work of a bibliographer and a collector are inherently linked, as their respective work can often serve a common goal. Just as a bibliographer may peruse pre-existing collections to confirm the meticulous reliability of their own work, many of these very same collections and the collectors who created them probably began their journey utilizing the works of famous bibliographers who came before them. Jessel’s work has maintained integrity, as his work seems to be one of the cornerstones for the historical literary contextualization of this subject mater.     

For me, Jessel’s text helps to confirm the validity and importance that the bibliographic medium provided to the intellectual and literary world. Without a collection of all these relevant texts, there is truly no way of substantiating or contextualizing modern day arguments or histories of any game or the culture that surrounds it. This book served its purpose in a multifaceted way as it not only got me thinking about the chronicled history of the world of gambling, but it also led me to make my first acquisition of a collectible book. After recognizing the intricate and diverse subject matter associated with the history of gaming, I purchased a first edition copy of a history of gambling referenced by Galustian’s All In catalogue. David G Schwartz’s Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling will be the newest addition to an ever growing collection of Poker instructional books and historical narratives surrounding the world of gambling. Utilizing the modern day manifestation of the legacy created by Jessel’s text, All In, I have begun the long process of building a collection that attempts to achieve the context and consistency achieved by Jessel and all those the implore the bibliographic medium.


The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

   Posted by: rring

[Posted by Allexandra Beatty for AMST 838/438, “America Collects Itself”]

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow illustrated by Felix O.C. Darley (The American Art-Union, 1850).

Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a well-known and beloved tale throughout the northeast.  The ghoulish story, set in Tarrytown, New York (or rather, Sleepy Hollow), narrates the encounter between Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman.  This edition is set in large format (32 x 29 cm), containing 16 pages of text and 6 black and white plates featuring recognizable scenes from the story.  Interestingly, these illustrations were not published interspersed between relevant passages, but appended to the complete narrative.

Subscribers to the American Art-Union would have been familiar with this tale, as it was originally published in 1820.  This edition, released in 1850 and illustrated by Felix O.C. Darley, provided a different experience for readers who were well acquainted with the twists and turns of the Legend’s plot.  Rather, this publication offers a unique synthesis of illustration and text.  Through the lens of another artist (fine, not literary), the overall experience is altered dramatically.  The accompanying images are finely tuned amalgamations of facial expressions, body language, and sparse scenery giving structure to the composition, and grounding the figures within the narrative arc.  Unfortunately, the plates are untitled and, as noted, separated from the original text.  As such, they act as their own narrative, beginning first with Figure 1—a scene within Ichabod Crane’s classroom.

sleepy hollow0001Here, the knobby-kneed schoolteacher is surrounded by a group of disinterested, shy, and mischievous young boys.   Ichabod stares half-heartedly at a quill held in one hand while he pares away the tip with a tool in his other.  sleepy hollow0002

In Figure 2, his expression is starkly the opposite.  Ichabod winches his head in earnest, gesturing a word of caution to the surrounded group of listeners.  One cowers in fear, another stares wide-eyed, and another has drifted to sleep in his arms.  Surrounded by the accouterments of a humble home, this image offers a vision of Ichabod retelling the folklore of Sleepy Hollow, and the legend of the Headless Horseman.

sleepy hollow0003Figure 3 jumps to a scene between Ichabod and the woman of his affection, 18-year-old Katrina Van Tassel.  Perhaps the most evocative of Darley’s illustrations, this piece uses the languid tree limbs mirror Ichabod’s limp body posture as he croons over his beloved.  Katrina sits firm and stoic, looking away from how downward longing.

sleepy hollow0004Figure 4 represents the climax of his relationship with Katrina, as they dance in the center of this composition, Katrina nearly meeting the viewer’s eye and Ichabod looking back at her, again, lovingly.  Among the crowd are a myriad of characters—some drunk, some sleeping, some foolish, and some simply enjoying themselves.  This densely populated scene speaks to the generalized nature of the overall narrative, whereby Washington Irving’s tale typifies a sense of regionalism.  His writing seems to apply to the cultural tendencies of northeastern Americans from the early to mid 19th century.  As such, the illustration of such figures could prove to be a useful tool in connecting American Art-Union subscribers to the narrative, though published 30 years after its intended audience.

sleepy hollow0005sleepy hollow0006Figures 5 and 6 finally reveal the Headless Horseman.  The first shows the character disguised as a traveler, his face turned away from the viewer.  In his lap, an indiscriminate round object sits perfectly out of sight.  Notably, the rider’s horse seems to be gesturing in a similarly disguised manner.  His head is reared down, as if bowing to the oncoming Ichabod Crane, though wide-eyed and seemingly fear-stricken.  The facial expressions of Ichabod and his horse are perfectly mirrored—both caught at the brink of a sharp inhale upon the sight of the cloaked traveler and his horse.  The horse’s legs are taught and spread, in a stopped and abrupt motion.  Ichabod too seems caught off-guard, as his cloak is still billowing behind him.  At their feet, a small puff of dust has been disturbed, signaling unrest and disruption.  The last plate features the exciting chase between the Headless Horseman and Ichabod Crane.  Again, the horses and their respective riders appear with mirrored expressions.  The cloaked rider is finally revealed to be “headless”, while the flank of Ichabod’s panicked plow horse hides the other animal’s face.   Ichabod and his horse are both painfully wide-eyed in sheer dread.  Darley most successfully conveys the stress and tension of the scene within the body of Ichabod’s horse—the visible rib cage, reaching muscles, and taught neck of the animal bespeak terror and desperation as the two clamor toward safety.

As successful as these images may be in visually conveying key points in the written narrative, they seem to lack conclusiveness and fluid linear progression.  These six plates offer only a few glimpses into the characters of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  Furthermore, they offer no sort of finality—though the story ends is a rather poignant paradox.  True to the story, however, there is no neat conclusion to be backed in a nice bow and handed to consumers of said piece.  Rather, the lack of finality in the visual storyboard reflects the integrity of the original narrative, whereby readers are left stunned, reaching back to page one to begin again.


A Little Known Byrd of America

   Posted by: rring

[Posted by Susan Hood for “America Collects Itself: From Colony to Empire”]

A reasonable assumption could be made that books by pre-revolutionary Americans were published before 1776. That is not the case with the scant milestone works by Colonel William Byrd of Westover, Esquire (1674-1744), an aristocratic Virginian known to contemporary scholars of American history, literature, and book collecting as William Byrd II.

Byrd’s manuscript of  “A History of the Dividing Line in the Year 1728”–the subject being the disputed border “betwixt the colonial governments of Virginia and North Carolina”–was evidently favorably known among a coterie of early American historians and literati, but his first-hand account of exploration was not published until 1841 by a small firm in Petersburg, Virginia. This report, with other short works by Byrd, was re-printed in a two-volume set in 1866 in Richmond, Virginia, and another iteration, edited by the scholar John Spencer Bassett, ensued in 1901 from the major New York publishing house of Doubleday, Page.

The Watkinson Library holds the 1841 and 1901 editions, and the differences are striking. The 1841 copy is exceedingly slim, printed on what appears to be thin wood-pulp paper, now dark brown and brittle, the acidic content corroding the white thread binding. The type is small and antiquated to contemporary eyes, and the page margins are exceedingly narrow. In contrast, the 1901 volume, of which only 500 were printed, is lavish: the font size is large, the margins unusually wide, even more so at the page bottom (approximately four inches), the creamy-hued paper is intended to look like laid, and is obviously low-acid or perhaps acid-free, for there is no discoloration.

Was the 1841 publication intended for wide distribution? Who was the audience? What explains the reverential and luxurious 1901 edition? I found a hint in a book in my possession, printed circa 1925: “American Literature” by John Calvin Metcalf. In his thumbnail biography of Byrd, Metcalf states “he was only incidentally a writer; perhaps no one would be more surprised than he, could he return and look into a history of American literature, to find his name high among the authors of the colonial period.” Metcalf briefly discusses the “Dividing Line,” and cites the following passage (comments in brackets are mine):

Since the surveyors [charting the latitude] had enter’d the Dismal [Swamp] they had laid eyes on no living creature; neither bird nor beast, insect nor reptile came into view. Doubtless the eternal shade that broods over this mighty bog, and hinders the sunbeams from blessing the ground, makes it an uncomfortable habitation for anything that has life. Not so much as a Zealand frog could endure so anguish a situation. It had one beauty, however, that delight’d the eye, though at the expense of the other senses: the moisture of the soil preserves a continual verdure, and makes every plant an evergreen, but at the same time the foul damps ascend without ceasing, corrupt the air and render it unfit for respiration. Not even a turkey buzzard will venture to fly over it, no more than the Italian vultures will over the filthy lake Avernus or the birds in the Holy Land over the salt sea where Sodom and Gomorrah formerly stood.

In these sad circumstances the kindest thing we cou’d do for our suffering friends was to give them a place in the Litany. Our chaplain for his part did his office, and rubb’d us up with a seasonable sermon. This was quite a new thing for our brethren of North Carolina, who live in a climate where no clergyman can breathe, any more than spiders of Ireland.

The passage demonstrates Byrd’s erudition, his powers of observation, and gives a taste of his keen and occasionally sardonic wit.

Yet reading only a portion of the “Dividing Line” is revelatory, for Byrd could be classified as an early American “nature writer.” To think the “Dividing Line” was penned eight years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, and more than two centuries before Henry David Thoreau went to live at Walden Pond! Byrd tells of parakeets flying into apple orchards in the fall, “apt to be loud and mischevious”; of conch shells found on beaches; of wolves, foxes, and bears; and of a polecat (a relation of the ferret), which despite issuing a noxious odor to repel enemies, was killed, cooked, and eaten by members of his company.

Byrd explains that the surveying commission took 16 weeks and covered 600 miles. They began surveying at the Atlantic coast, sailing among the coastal islands and inlets, and forging rivers. The expedition was conducted in two parts, in the spring and the fall, to avoid rattlesnakes, which are most active and menacing during the heat of the summer. Rattlesnakes obviously posed dangers to his party (on foot most of the time) and their horses (laden with provisions, muskets, gunpowder, tomahawks, and presumably surveying equipment, tents, and scant changes of clothing). He lists a number of venom antidotes that could be concocted from a number of flowering plants categorized as rattlesnake root and a variety of fern.

Byrd also recounts encounters with settlers, and describes how their “homely log-houses” were built. This, from a wealthy patrician who lived in an enormous mansion made of brick! On the trek, his company baptized children of white residents. The party was also regally entertained by what may have been the last remaining Indian village in those parts. He mentions that the natives groomed their hair with bear grease, and that the women were offered as night companions. He appears to have regarded the native people with favor, whereas he deems white North Carolinians as having a “thorough aversion to labor,” and remarks upon the “Slothfulness of the People,” by which he must mean the men, for he mentions that the women begin their work at dawn. He attributes the men’s laziness to the climate.

For those who thought early American writing was nothing but reiterations of hellfire and damnation, turn to the stylish, informative, and humorous Byrd.


Mourt’s Relation

   Posted by: rring

[Posted by Rene Dion for AMST 838/438 “America Collects Itself”]

Mourt’s Relation is the earliest known eyewitness account of the Pilgrims’ first several months after landing at Cape Cod. Although no official author is listed it is known to have been primarily written by Edward Winslow, a senior leader on the Mayflower and future governor of Plymouth. The account details the day to day diary of the settler’s explorations of their new land, relations with the surrounding Indians, and up to the first Thanksgiving.

Mourts Relation

Mourt’s Relation was first published in London in 1622 by George Morton. The original booklet was mostly lost and forgotten over time and possibly overshadowed by William Bradford’s retrospective account Of Plimoth Plantation written several years later. With this in mind I knew my chances of the Watkinson housing an original copy were fairly slim. What I did find was a copy from 1865. At the beginning is the publisher’s preface which states that this copy is just that, a copy, a facsimile, a “page by page and line by line edition.”  For some reason this encouraged me to continue on. Sure, it wasn’t a 400-year-old book but as I kept reading I could imagine that it was. All I needed were the words on the page for me to travel back to the first days at Plymouth Rock.

As I leafed through I found the Chronological Table of Events listed towards the back. This was a very short daily synopsis of the day’s events starting in July 1620. An example would be “Saturday, November 11. Saw Cape Cod.” I found myself really enjoying reading through each day and envisioning what it must have been like to record a diary of such importance. Events such as on “November 30, 1620:  Wigwams and graves were found as well as the very first baby, Peregrine White was born.” Although I must admit my favorite entry is this: “December 5. Francis Billington nearly blows up the Mayflower.” Who is Frances Billington? I must know more. I had never considered seeing the Pilgrims as individuals rather than a group. Apparently Francis was making explosives and shot a musket in the Mayflower while it was anchored at Cape Cod. As I read on it came to light that these Billingtons were known as troublemakers in the colony. Young John Billington, brother of Francis, got himself lost in the woods in late August. Apparently, this caused enough trouble to earn an entry in the book. John Billington, father of both boys, was hanged for the murder of fellow settler John Newcomen in 1630.

More significant entries included the meeting on February 17, 1621 where Myles Standish was elected as Plymouth Colony’s first commander, a position he would hold until his death in 1656.  Recorded on August 13, 1621 was Standish leading a ten-man search party to find Squanto, the Indian liaison to the Pilgrims, who was captured by the Wampanoag Indians.

The event that Mourt’s Relation is perhaps most associated with among historians is the first Thanksgiving. It appears in a brief paragraph stating, “Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after have a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the company almost a week, at which time amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain, and others.” In my research I found it to be believed by historians that Edward Winslow wanted to stress harmony with the tribes and abundance of harvest so as to attract more English settlers to the New World. It is often stated that the hardships of the first year were downplayed by its authors.

As I searched through Mourt’s Relation and found great little facts and stories, I realized how glad I was to have stayed with my initial choice. It had made me want to find out more about the goings on of these transplanted people. When my interest is piqued I have to know much more about a subject. I believe the Watkinson will be seeing much more of me perusing its collection for more fascinating stories of America’s history.

mourts-relation-title-page[Curator’s note: here is an image of the title-page of the original 1622 publication]