Special Collections & Archives Blog

Author Archive

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou (1969)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014 12:39 pm

angelou dust jacket

Dust jacket from first edition of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, ZSR Special Collections

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) never intended to write an autobiography. In 1968 she was active in the civil rights movement and had a busy and successful career as a poet, playwright, performer, and educator. A recent project–  writing, producing, and hosting the PBS series Blacks, Blues, Black– had brought her to California, where she met Jules and Judy Feiffer. The Feiffers, immediately taken with Angelou’s fascinating history and storytelling flair, contacted Random House editor Robert Loomis. With help from James Baldwin, Loomis persuaded the initially reluctant Angelou to write a memoir. The result was Angelou’s most widely read book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

angelou title page

First edition title page, ZSR Special Collections

Published in 1969, the book chronicles Angelou’s life from the age of three, when she and her brother Bailey were sent to live with their paternal grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas.

angelou dust jacket flap 1

angelou dust jacket flap 2

Dust jacket description from the first edition of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, ZSR Special Collections

The book ends with Maya becoming a mother at age 16. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is dedicated to her son, Guy Johnson.

angelou dedication page

Dedication page from the first edition of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, ZSR Special Collections

The book was a critical and popular success, and it brought Angelou to the attention of national media as an important new voice in American literature.

Angelou eventually wrote five more autobiographical works.

angelou autobiographies

Three of Angelou’s later autobiographical works, ZSR Special Collections

She also continued to write poetry, dramatic works, and screenplays. In 1978 Angelou worked on an adaptation of  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings for the CBS television movie version of her memoir.

angelou algonquin notes

Maya Angelou’s introductory notes for the screenplay of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, on Algonquin Hotel stationery. From the Maya Angelou Film and Theater Collection, ZSR Library Special Collections and Archives.

angelou caged bird script MS

An early draft of the screenplay for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. From the Maya Angelou Film and Theater Collection, ZSR Library Special Collections and Archives.

In 1982 Maya Angelou accepted the position of Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University.  A beloved and influential presence on the Wake Forest campus,  Angelou made numerous appearances in the Z. Smith Reynolds Library. The Rare Books Collection holds a comprehensive collection of her works. And in 2001 Angelou donated to the library an extensive collection of manuscript materials relating to her career in the performing arts. The Maya Angelou Film and Theater Collection now resides in ZSR’s Special Collections and Archives. Materials relating to Angelou’s literary career are housed at the Shomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library.

angelou inscription

Inscription by Maya Angelou from ZSR Special Collections’ first edition of The Heart of a Woman.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings has never been out of print since its first publication nearly 50 years ago. The book has inspired countless readers with its story of resilience in the face of adversity. Angelou herself, in a 1990 interview with George Plimpton, commented that

There is, I hope, a thesis in my work: we may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated. That sounds goody-two-shoes, I know, but I believe that a diamond is the result of extreme pressure and time. Less time is crystal. Less than that is coal. Less than that is fossilized leaves. Less than that it’s just plain dirt. In all my work, in the movies I write, the lyrics, the poetry, the prose, the essays, I am saying that we may encounter many defeats—maybe it’s imperative that we encounter the defeats—but we are much stronger than we appear to be and maybe much better than we allow ourselves to be.

Maya Angelou touched many lives and played many roles during her 86 years. But her first love was language, and her literary works, Caged Bird foremost among them, are the durable gemstones that will be her legacy for future generations.

Grant Funding Supports Research at ZSR Special Collections and Archives

Wednesday, May 21, 2014 1:27 pm

Applications are now being accepted for 2014-15 Special Collections and Archives research grants. The Provost’s Grant for Library Research and the ZSR Travel Grants provide financial support for visiting researchers who wish to use Wake Forest’s manuscripts, rare books, or archival collections.

Since its inception in 2009, the ZSR Special Collections and Archives grants program has brought researchers from all over the world to the Wake Forest campus. Recent recipients of Provost’s Grants include Dr. Edward Blum, San Diego State University; Dr. Wendy Raphael Roberts, University at Albany SUNY; Dr. Saverio Giovacchini, University of Maryland at College Park; and Dr. Alan Libert, University of Newcastle, Australia.

The ZSR research grants have an obvious benefit for the researchers who receive financial support. But the program also has a lasting impact on the Wake Forest community, as the visiting scholars share their projects and discoveries while on campus. Although many of our grant recipients are college and university faculty, our researchers have also included students, journalists, authors, and documentary filmmakers. We welcome applications from researchers whose projects make creative use of our special collections and archival resources.

For more information about the library research grants, please contact Megan Mulder, Special Collections Librarian, at mulder@wfu.edu or 336-758-5091.

Complete Book on the Judgment of the Stars, by ʻAlī ibn Abī al-Rijāl (1485 Erhard Ratdolt edition)

Monday, March 31, 2014 4:49 pm

Liber in iudiciis astrorum incipit

Preclarissimus liber completus in iudicijs astrorum, a Latin translation of Alī Ibn Abī al-Rijāl’s principal scientific work, Kitāb al-bāriʻ fī aḥkām al-nujūm.

One of the oldest printed books in ZSR’s Rare Books Collection is a Latin translation of Alī Ibn Abī al-Rijāl’s principal scientific work, Kitāb al-bāriʻ fī aḥkām al-nujūm. The text, commonly known as Liber in iudiciis astrorum,  is a treatise on astrological methods by an 11th century Arab mathematician, printed in 1485 by a German printer working in Venice. The book is featured in the Special Collections exhibit Letters in Lead: Moveable Type and the Books It Created. Its history is a fascinating anecdote in the story of how print culture developed in Renaissance Europe.

Around 1450 a goldsmith in Mainz named Johannes Gutenberg developed a viable method for casting moveable type out of metal. The invention made mechanical printing feasible and gave rise to an entirely new profession in Renaissance Europe. Many aspiring printers learned the craft of printing from Gutenberg’s successors, and within a few years a coterie of printers had formed in Mainz. In 1462, however, warfare between rival sects of German Catholics led to the sack of Mainz and a diaspora of its printers around Europe. One of these displaced printers was Erhard Ratdolt, who transplanted his fledgling business to Venice.

Ratdolt flourished in his new location and quickly gained a reputation as an innovative printer of scientific texts. He experimented with multicolor printing and invented techniques for integrating woodcut illustrations and diagrams into pages of text. Ratdolt is particularly famous for producing the first printed text of Euclid’s Elements in 1482, and he specialized in printing editions of classic works of science and mathematics.

In 1485 Ratdolt printed the book in ZSR’s collection, a work on astronomy by the 11th century Tunisian court mathematician Alī Ibn Abī al-Rijāl, whose name was Latinized to Albohazen Haly or Haly Abenragel in European publications. Ratdolt’s volume bore the Latin title Preclarissimus liber completus in iudicijs astrorum ( The Complete Book on the Judgment of the Stars).

Liber in iudiciis astrorum colophon

Colophon (a printer’s statement found at the end of a text) from Erhard Ratdolt’s 1485 edition of Liber in iudiciis astrorum, indicating that printing was completed in Venice on July 4, 1485.

This astrological text was already well known to scholars in Renaissance Europe. It had been translated from Arabic into Castilian Spanish by astronomer Jehuda ben Moses Cohen in the 13th century, and from Spanish into a number of Latin translations.

In the world of the Renaissance, there was no sharp division between what we would call astronomy (the study of celestial bodies)  and astrology (the influence of those celestial bodies on terrestrial events). Medieval astrology was based on an Aristotelian concept of the universe, as interpreted by Claudius Ptolemy , which posited a universe with a stationary Earth at its center, surrounded by concentric spheres containing stars, planets, and other celestial bodies.

nuremburg ptolemaic universe 2

A woodcut illustration of the Ptolemaic universe from ZSR’s copy of the Nuremburg Chronicle (1493)

Medieval and Renaissance astrologers used mathematical formulas to predict the movement of objects in the sky. These calculations were used to create calendars, to determine propitious times for various activities, and to predict eclipses and other unusual events. Astrology was an important scientific pursuit, and Renaissance scholars eagerly sought to recover Arab and Byzantine astrological texts. The eastern astrologers had developed advanced techniques that were of great interest to scholars in western Europe.

Liber in iudiciis astrorum t8r

A page from ZSR’s 1485 Liber in iudiciis astrorum, with handwritten notes and astrological symbols in the margin.

Erhard Ratdolt’s Venice edition of Liber in iudiciis astroroum made this text available in print for the first time. As an example of incunabula (books printed in Europe before 1500), it is both typical and innovative.

Fifteenth century books share many attributes of the manuscript volumes that existed for centuries before the invention of moveable type.

MS oxford 1240

A page from a 13th century manuscript in ZSR’s collection

Like most early books, Ratdolt’s volume has no title page or table of contents. Its text was printed in  black letter type, which reflected the manuscript handwriting prevalent in 15th century Europe.

Liber in iudiciis astrorum q7r

Another page from the Liber in iudiciis astrorum; notes in red were added by hand by a 15th century reader.

As in manuscript volumes, the text is printed in two columns with minimal punctuation. Medieval and Renaissance manuscript texts, like the one pictured above, relied on rubrication – initial letters and other text in colored ink—to indicate section breaks and other textual navigation. Early printed books often left space for rubrication to be added by hand to printed text, since multicolor printing was difficult and time consuming. Erhard Ratdolt hit upon the idea of using decorative woodcut initials in place of color.

Liber in iudiciis astrorum q5r

Page from Ratdolt’s Liber in iudiciis astrorum, with various large, decorative initials denoting section breaks.

Liber in iudiciis astrorum initial d

Detail of one of Erhard Ratdolt’s decorative woodcut initials.

Ratdolt also pioneered techniques for including tables and woodcut charts in his pages of text, which was particularly important for scientific and mathematical books.

Liber in iudiciis astrorum chart

Page from Liber in iudiciis astrorum with woodcut diagram integrated into the text block.

In the 1480s Erhard Ratdolt also printed editions of several other important astrological works.  As historian Jonathan Green observes, Ratdolt “achieved a near monopoly during that decade for many astronomical and astrological works” [Printing and Prophecy (Ann Arbor: U. of Michigan Press, 2012) 135].  

Ratdolt’s edition of Liber in iudiciis astroroum was a large and probably expensive book. But the original purchaser of ZSR’s copy obviously make good use of the volume. It was heavily annotated by its 15th century owner(s), with pages full of manuscript notes, underlinings, added headings, and astrological symbols.

Liber in iudiciis astrorum b3r

Annotated page from ZSR’s Liber in iudiciis astrorum.

Erhard Ratdolt’s Liber in iudiciis astroroum embodies the cultural exchanges and the technological innovations taking place in Renaissance Europe. ZSR’s copy of this book was purchased in 1964 with funds from the Oscar T. Smith endowment. It is on view in ZSR Library’s Special Collections and Archives Reading Room through April 30, as part of the Letters in Lead exhibit, which traces the development of printing type and book design in Europe from its beginnings through the 21st century.

Hoffmann Collection in the News

Thursday, March 13, 2014 3:49 pm

The Gertrude and Max Hoffmann Collection is enjoying the limelight once again. An article by ZSR Special Collections Librarian Megan Mulder about the collection is featured in the Winter 2014 issue of Performance!, the publication of the Performing Arts Section of the Society of American Archivists.

The entire publication is available in PDF format here.  Don’t miss the cover photo of Max, Gertrude, and their photogenic cat!

Gertrude Hoffmann was a dancer, choreographer, and manager of her own dance troupe;  her husband Max was a ragtime composer and musician. Their papers, now part of ZSR’s Special Collections, include music manuscripts, photographs, posters, correspondence, and other materials– many of which are now available as digital collections. The Performance! article describes the Hoffmanns’ colorful careers in early 20th century vaudeville and on international tours, and also explains how the collection came to reside at Wake Forest.

For more information about the Hoffmann papers at ZSR Library, please contact Special Collections and Archives.

Letters in Lead: Moveable Type and the Books It Created

Thursday, February 27, 2014 10:45 am

letters in lead heading 1

The invention of a practical method for printing with moveable type was a watershed event in European history. From Johannes Gutenberg’s first metal types in the mid-15th century to letterpress printing of today, printers and type designers have practiced their craft to create texts that are both legible and beautiful.

baskerville milton

A 1759 edition of John Milton’s Paradise Lost by the famous printer and type designer John Baskerville.

Letters in Lead, the current exhibit in the ZSR Library Special Collections and Archives Reading Room (room 625), features examples of type and other materials of printing. The ZSR Preservation Lab houses a small 1906 job press and a large supply of type font. Examples of type and other equipment from the ZSR Press are included in the exhibit.

type drawer

One of many cases of moveable type from the ZSR Press collection

The exhibit also features volumes from the ZSR Rare Books Collection, tracing the development of printing and book design from pre-Gutenberg manuscripts to 20th century illustrated books.

manuscript book of hours

Page from a 14th century manuscript Book of Hours

Letters in Lead will be on exhibit February through April 2014. Visitors are welcome any time during Special Collections and Archives open hours, Monday-Friday 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., and other hours by appointment. For more information please contact Special Collections at 336-758-6175 or via our query form.

Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, by Robert Burns (1787)

Saturday, January 25, 2014 9:43 am

Title page of the Edinburgh edition of Burns's poems

Title page of the Edinburgh edition of Burns’s poems

In December of 1786 a young country poet from the west of Scotland traveled to Edinburgh. Robert Burns hoped to drum up support for a second edition of the collection of poems that he had recently published by subscription in Kilmarnock. On 6 December Burns wrote to a friend

I have now been a week in Edin[burgh] and have been introduced to a great many of the Noblesse.—I have met very warm friends in the Literati… [Letters of Robert Burns, 2nd edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985) 61A]

Shortly thereafter he joked to another friend that

I am in a fair way of becoming as eminent as Thomas a Kempis or John Bunyan; and you may expect henceforth to see my birthday inserted among the wonderful events, in the Poor Robin’s and Aberdeen Almanacks… [Letters 62]

Burns could hardly have imagined that his birthday—January 25—would indeed be celebrated far beyond Aberdeen. Robert Burns Night is commemorated all over the world with food, speeches, and song in honor of the man now widely known as the national poet of Scotland.

Frontispiece portrait of Robert Burns from the Edinburgh edition

Frontispiece portrait of Robert Burns from the Edinburgh edition

In 1786, however, young Robert Burns was an obscure country poet. The son of a tenant farmer from the southwest of Scotland, Burns always had a talent for poetry and song. He also had a fondness for women, which may have led indirectly to the first publication of his poems. A few months before his trip to Edinburgh, Burns was making plans to emigrate to the West Indies, in part to escape the demands the family of a woman who had recently borne his out-of-wedlock twins. Before quitting Scotland Burns decided to publish a collection of poems based on the traditional dialect and songs of his native land. The very modest volume, titled Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, was printed by John Wilson in Kilmarnock in July 1786, its production paid for by Burns’s friends and supporters.

In October 1786 Burns approached Wilson about the possibility of a second edition, which would include some new poems. But, as Burns recounted in another letter, the printer insisted on an advance of £27 for the paper

[B]ut this, you know, is out of my power; so farewell hopes for a second edition ‘till I grow richer! An epocha, which, I think, will arrive at the payment of the British national debt. [Letters, 53]

Before leaving the country, Burns decided to make an attempt at finding patronage in the much larger city of Edinburgh, where, he had heard, copies of the Kilmarnock edition had been well received. He was indeed eagerly received by the Edinburgh aristocracy, and he quickly secured the patronage of the Caledonian Hunt –an exclusive social club for Scotland’s wealthiest men—for the second edition of his Poems.

Dedication page addressed to members of the Caledonian Hunt Club

Dedication page addressed to members of the Caledonian Hunt Club

Much of Burns’s stay in Edinburgh was taken up with preparations for this second edition, which included some new poems not found in the Kilmarnock edition. Writing to one of his partrons in March 1787, Burns records that

I have today corrected the last proof sheet of my poems and have now only the Glossary and subscribers names to print. . . . Printing this last is much against my will, but some of my friends whom I do not chuse to thwart will have it so. – I have both a second and a third Edition going on as the second was begun with too small a number of copies.—The whole I have printed is three thousand. [Letters, 90]

The average edition size at the time for a work of poetry was under 1000 copies, so an edition of 3000 copies was clear evidence of Burns’s ascendant fame. And the 46-page list, printed at the beginning of the volume, of names and tiles of subscribers provided incontrovertible evidence that the literary elite of Scotland had given their approval.

First page of the subscriber list for the Edinburgh edition of Burns's poems

First page of the subscriber list for the Edinburgh edition of Burns’s Poems

Robert Burns was a gifted poet, but he also had the advantage of appearing at the right time. The antiquarian movement of the 18th century had brought about great interest in the literature and material culture of the distant past. And in Scotland, antiquarianism had a decidedly nationalistic bent. English language and culture had been encroaching in Scotland since the union of the two kingdoms in 1603, and Burns’s poetry provided a direct link to traditional Scottish folkways and dialects. Burns himself embraced his identity as a national poet, writing in 1787:

The appellation of, a Scotch Bard, is by far my highest pride; to continue to deserve it is my most exalted ambition.—Scottish scenes, and Scottish story are the themes I could wish to sing… [Letters, 90]

burns twa dogs

Among the new poems included Edinburgh edition was “The Brigs of Ayr”—a dialogue between old and new bridges over the river Ayr– dedicated to his friend and longtime patron John Ballantine. The desire to see this poem in print was a motivating factor in Burns’s publishing a second edition. In 1786, despairing of being able to raise money for a second Kilmarnock edition, Burns wrote

There is scarcely any thing hurts me so much in being disappointed of my second edition, as not having it in my power to shew my gratitude to Mr. Ballantine, by publishing my poem of The Brigs of Ayr . [Letters, 53]

burns brigs

Burns’s ode to haggis was likely responsible for this rather off-putting concoction (offal, onions, and oatmeal boiled in a sheep’s stomach) being enshrined as the national dish of Scotland.

Burns's ode to haggis, a traditional Scottish dish made of offal, onions, and oatmeal boiled in a sheep's stomach

Burns’s ode to haggis

The glossary included in the Edinburgh edition of Burns’s Poems preserves distinctively Scottish words and pronunciations. But the fact that even his fellow Scots needed a guide to the language attests that the dialect was rapidly disappearing from everyday use.

Burns's glossary recorded the pronunciations and vocabulary of the traditional Scottish dialect

Burns’s Poems included a glossary of distinctively Scottish words

The Edinburgh edition of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect made Burns’s reputation. It also gave him financial security, at least temporarily. On the eve of its publication Burns wrote that

I guess I shall clear between two and three hundred pounds by my Authorship; with that sum I intend, so far as I may be said to have any intention, to return to my old acquaintance, the plough, and, if I can meet with a lease by which I can live, to commence Farmer. [Letters, 90]

Burns did indeed go back to farming, at least for a while. He married the mother of his twin children and fathered several more children. Eventually he took on a job as an excise officer in Dumfries. But he continued to write poetry and continued to take an active interest in the study and preservation of Scottish culture. One of his best known poems, “Tam o’Shanter,” was published in a volume dedicated to the preservation of Scottish buildings and monuments.

First publication of Burns's poem "Tam o' Shanter" in The Antiquties of Scotland (1791)

First publication of Burns’s poem “Tam o’ Shanter” in The Antiquties of Scotland (1791)

Burns died suddenly in 1796 at the age of only 37. But enthusiasm for his poetry never flagged. Memoirs, tributes, and collections of his works were published, and the 1859 centennial of his birth was the occasion for many celebrations.

Souvenir publication from the Burns Club of New York City's centennial celebration

Souvenir publication from the Burns Club of New York City’s centennial celebration

Since then the tradition of commemorating Burns Night on January 25 has spread throughout the world. Robert Burns would no doubt be delighted that his writings have brought the songs and poetry of his beloved Scotland to a global audience.

ZSR’s copy of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect is from the Charles Babcock collection. It is particularly interesting as an artifact because it has never been altered or rebound. With its original printer’s cardboard binding and untrimmed pages, the book is exactly what an 18th century reader would have purchased from an Edinburgh bookseller.

Original publisher's binding on ZSR's copy of Burns's Poems

Original publisher’s binding on ZSR’s copy of Burns’s Poems

A Northern Christmas, by Rockwell Kent (1941)

Thursday, December 5, 2013 4:34 pm

A Northern Christmas, by Rockwell Kent, was an American Artists Group gift book for 1941

A Northern Christmas by Rockwell Kent was an American Artists Group gift book for 1941

American artist Rockwell Kent spent Christmas 1918 in a small cabin on an island off the south coast of Alaska. More than twenty years later he recalled the experience in words and woodcut illustrations in a holiday gift book titled A Northern Christmas.

Title page from A Northern Christmas

Title page from A Northern Christmas

The small book was published by the American Artists Group, an organization founded in 1935 for the purpose of providing art for the masses and, in the process, creating a market for artists to earn a living during the difficult years of the Depression. Many prominent artists were members, including Edward Hopper, John Sloan, Thomas Hart Benton, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Max Weber, and Eugene Speicher. The American Artists Group published small monographs and offered unsigned engravings, lithographs, and woodcut prints for sale at very affordable prices. But the group was perhaps best  known for its yearly offerings of Christmas cards designed by its artists. In 1941 they also began a series of small holiday gift books, of which A Northern Christmas was the first.

Frontispiece illustration from A Northern Christmas

Frontispiece illustration from A Northern Christmas

Let it snow or rain and grow dark at midday! The better shall be our good Christmas cheer within. This is the true Christmas land. The day should be dark, the house further overshadowed by the woods, tall and black. And there in the midst of that somber, dreadful gloom the Christmas tree should blaze in glory unrivaled by moon or sun or star.

Rockwell Kent, A Northern Christmas

Cover from American Artists Group Illustrated Monograph no. 2

Cover from American Artists Group Illustrated Monograph no. 2

Rockwell Kent (1882-1971) was born and educated in New York. His first art teacher was William Merritt Chase; later he studied with Abbott Handerson Thayer, Robert Henri, and Kenneth Hayes Miller.  Kent also trained as an architectural draftsman and was an accomplished carpenter. He worked in a variety of artistic media, but he is best known for his prints and for his many illustrations for classic literary works like Candide, Leaves of Grass, The Canterbury Tales, and, perhaps most famously, Moby Dick.

Rockwell Kent's famous dust jacket design for Moby Dick (Random House trade edition, 1930)

Rockwell Kent’s famous dust jacket design for Moby Dick (Random House trade edition, 1930)

Kent also wrote and illustrated several of his own books, many of them memoirs of his extensive travels. He often sought out remote areas of untouched wilderness for artistic inspiration. In 1918-19 he spent several months in Alaska with his young son (also named Rockwell).  The resulting book, called Wilderness, was published by G. P. Putnam in 1920.

Cover illustration for Rockwell Kent's Wilderness (1920)

Cover illustration for Rockwell Kent’s Wilderness (1920)

The south coast of the mainland of Alaska is a wilderness of spruce-clad mountains whose outlying, isolated peaks are islands. On one of these we lived, a father and his eight-year-old son. . . . the man in pursuit of his profession, the boy in pursuit of what of education lay in doing things, and both in that pursuit of happiness which, with whatever right, is still what every living creature wants. . . .

Of the fullness of the days–fullness of work and thought, of play, of little happenings, of uneventful peace–we kept record. That record is a book: its name is WILDERNESS. From WILDERNESS these notes about a happy Christmas in the north are drawn.

A Northern Christmas

The Rockwell Kent Papers in the Archives of American Art include extensive correspondence between Kent and Samuel Golden of the American Artists Group. In the 1941 correspondence they discuss all aspects of the production of A Northern Christmas, beginning with the necessity of getting permission from G. P. Putnam for the use of excerpts and illustrations from Wilderness. The publisher at first demanded a rather steep fee but became more reasonable after a “sharply worded letter” from Kent. In the end, Kent insisted that Putnam’s cooperation should be acknowledged in the colophon of A Northern Christmas.

Colophon from A Northern Christmas

Colophon from A Northern Christmas

A Northern Christmas  consisted mostly of excerpts from Wilderness, along with an introduction and a few new illustrations.

From A Northern Christmas

From A Northern Christmas

For Rockwell Kent, the wilderness idyll was a welcome respite from the materialism of the modern world. In the excerpts chosen for A Northern Christmas, Kent describes, in words and pictures, the spare and simple Christmas that he and his son celebrated with their landlord, an old Swedish homesteader named Olson.  The presents are few– young Rockwell receives a pocket knife, some old National Geographic magazines, and a broken fountain pen, but he “sits on the bed looking at the things as if they were the most wonderful gifts.” The holiday proves all the more memorable for its minimalism.

Christmas menu from A Northern Christmas

Christmas menu from A Northern Christmas

The food is good and plentiful, the night is long, only the Christmas candles are short-lived and we extinguish them to save them for another time. Finally, as the night deepens, Olson leaves us amid mutual expressions of delight in one another’s friendship, and Rockwell and I tumble into bed.

A Northern Christmas

Rockwell Kent wrote and illustrated a very different gift book for the American Artists Group the next year. The 1942 book, called On Earth Peace, is a rather bleak wartime fable about a Jazz Age princess humbled by loss and privation.

Cover illustration for On Earth Peace, Rockwell Kent's gift book for 1942

Cover illustration for On Earth Peace, Rockwell Kent’s gift book for 1942

Kent’s popularity as an artist waned somewhat after the war. His style fell out of fashion in the age of abstract expressionism, and his ongoing involvement in  socialist causes aroused suspicion in the Red-baiting 1950s. At one point Kent’s passport was revoked, and he sued to have it reinstated. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually ruled in his favor, a landmark decision that made it more difficult for the government to curtail a citizen’s right to travel.  Kent continued to work for progressive causes and tried to promote improved relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

Typed letter to Lynwood Giacomini, signed by Rockwell Kent

Typed letter to Lynwood Giacomini, signed by Rockwell Kent

The items pictured here are all held by ZSR Library’s Special Collections. The library has a sizeable collection of Rockwell Kent books, most of them previously owned by publisher Lynwood Giacomini, whose collection of American literature was purchased by the library in 1976. Giacomini kept up a friendly correspondence with many authors, and his collection includes a few typed letters from Rockwell Kent.

Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire Raisonné des Sciences, des Arts et des Métiers, edited by Denis Diderot (1751-1780)

Thursday, November 7, 2013 3:12 pm

Title page from vol. 1 of ZSR's Encyclopedie

Title page from vol. 1 of ZSR’s Encyclopedie

The Encyclopédie; ou Dictionnaire Raisonné des Sciences, des Arts et des Métiers is a 28-volume monument to the French Enlightenment, combining a wealth of information about all aspects of  human thought and achievement with a subversive attack on the stifling old regime of religion, classical tradition, and superstition. Many hands contributed to the Encyclopedie, but the man most responsible was Denis Diderot, whose recent 300th anniversary was marked by a renewed interest in his life and work.

The Encyclopédie was first conceived as fairly simple moneymaking venture. In 1745 printer/bookseller Andre-Francois Le Breton enlisted three other partners in a project to produce a French translation of Englishman Ephraim Chambers’s Cyclopaedia, or, An Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences. The two-volume Cyclopaedia, one of the first modern encyclopedias, had been a strong seller in England, and Le Breton saw a niche in the French market. But the first translator he hired proved incompetent, so he turned the project over to two young rising stars of the 18th century French philosophes: Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert.

From the outset, Diderot and d’Alembert saw the Encyclopédie project as an opportunity to set out their iconoclastic ideas on a grand scale. D’Alembert’s introduction, the Preliminary Discourse, has often been called a manifesto for the French Enlightenment. It reads in part:

 The work whose first volume we are presenting today has two aims. As an Encyclopedia, it is to set forth as well as possible the order and connection of the parts of human knowledge. As a Reasoned Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts, and Trades, it is to contain the general principles that form the basis of each science and each art, liberal or mechanical, and the most essential facts that make up the body and substance of each. These two points of view, the one of an Encyclopedia and the other of a Reasoned Dictionary, will thus constitute the basis for the outline and division of our Preliminary Discourse. We are going to introduce them, deal with them one after another, and give an account of the means by which we have tried to satisfy this double object.

If one reflects somewhat upon the connection that discoveries have with one another, it is readily apparent that the sciences and the arts are mutually supporting, and that consequently there is a chain that binds them together. But, if it is often difficult to reduce each particular science or art to a small number of rules or general notions, it is no less difficult to encompass the infinitely varied branches of human knowledge in a truly unified system.
[All English translations from The Encyclopedie of Diderot & d’Alembert:  Collaborative Translation Project.]

Frontispiece to vol. 1 of the Encyclopedie

Frontispiece to vol. 1 of the Encyclopedie

Diderot and d’Alembert attempted nonetheless to offer a unified vision of human knowledge. The engraved frontispiece for Volume I set out the basic ideas in visual form: the personification of Truth is illuminated in her temple, with her handmaidens Reason and Philosophy at her side. Theology is relegated to a subordinate position at Truth’s feet, and other branches of the arts, sciences, and trades fill out the scene.

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A later volume includes a large folded engraving of a “Tree of Knowledge” representing a taxonomy of human knowledge. Following the ideas first set forth by Francis Bacon, the Encyclopédie’s tree has as its three main branches Memory, Reason, and Imagination.

Tree of Life fold-out frontispiece from the first Table Analytique volume of the Encyclopedie

Tree of Life fold-out frontispiece from the first Table Analytique volume of the Encyclopedie

Diderot was the general editor for the project, and he and d’Alembert wrote many of the articles themselves. But Diderot also enlisted many other authors, including Louis de Jaucourt, Baron d’Holbach, Voltaire, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Some of the contributors to the Encyclopedie

The first edition of the Encyclopédie was offered for sale by subscription, a common practice for expensive works at this time. Originally conceived as a work of just a few volumes, the Encyclopédie quickly grew into a massive undertaking. The first two volumes of text appeared in 1751. Fifteen more text volumes followed over the next several years. Over 2500 engraved illustrations were also published in eleven volumes separate from the text. Subscribers did not receive the last volume until 1772, and the cost was far greater than had originally been proposed. But the readership was undaunted: as the publication process progressed, the number of subscribers increased from 2000 to over 4000.

The large folio volumes of the first edition were printed by at least four Paris printing houses. Illustrations in the Imprimerie section of the Encyclopédie itself illustrate the process by which the volumes were constructed.

18th century printing press in action

18th century printing press in action

Printing in the 18th century was a labor-intensive process. Compositors set each letter by hand; pressmen printed sheets one at a time. Binding was a completely separate process. It is estimated that a single volume of the Encyclopédie took nearly five months to produce, even with four or five compositors and twenty pressmen on the job.

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Not surprisingly, the Encyclopedists often ran into trouble with the civil and  religious authorities in 18th century France. Printing and selling of books was tightly controlled: one had to have an official permit from the king– called a privilege—in order to publish anything, and Diderot was constantly in danger of losing his. But the Encyclopédie project also had friends in high places. One of the officials in charge of government censorship of the press was Guillaume-Chrétien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes, himself a proponent of Enlightenment thinking. Malesherbes made sure that the work of the Encyclopedists could continue without interference, at one point hiding Diderot’s manuscript in his own home while government officials searched Diderot’s residence for subversive material.

Title page for vol. 7 of the Encyclopedie

Title page for vol. 7 of the Encyclopedie

In 1759 the Catholic church placed the Encyclopédie on its index of prohibited books. Even though French officials had little desire to interfere with what was by this time a very profitable enterprise, they had to pay at least lip service to the Pope’s ban.  Diderot’s privilege was revoked, and publication (which had reached the letter G) was temporarily halted. But with assistance from Malesherbes and others, Diderot was soon back in business, publishing the remaining volumes under the false imprint of a Swiss printer.

Title page for vol. 8

Title page for vol. 8

In the end the Encyclopédie contained over 70,000 articles on the widest imaginable range of topics. Subjects included a staunch defense of Reason (vol. 13) as the primary source of human knowledge:

No proposition can be accepted as divine revelation if it contradicts what is known to us, either by immediate intuition, as in the case of self-evident propositions, or by obvious deductions of reason , as in demonstrations.

And an equally impassioned condemnation of the Slave Trade (vol. 16):

Slave trade is the purchase of Negroes made by Europeans on the coasts of Africa, who then employ these unfortunate men as slaves in their colonies. This purchase of Negroes to reduce them into slavery is a negotiation that violates all religion, morals, natural law, and human rights.

But not all entries took on lofty subjects. An article on Werewolves (vol. 9) is decidedly skeptical:

The demonologists add that these men are not really transformed into wolves, but that the devil simply gives them that shape, or that he carries their bodies somewhere and substitutes for them the appearances of a wolf. The existence of such creatures is proven only by stories that are totally unconfirmed.

And in his entry on Chocolate (vol. 3), Diderot tries to be diplomatic on the controversial topic of whether or not to add vanilla:

The sweet scent and potent taste [vanilla] imparts to chocolate have made it highly recommended for it; but time has shown that it could potentially upset one’s stomach, and its use has decreased; some people who favor the care of their health to the pleasure of their senses, have stopped using it completely. In Spain and in Italy, chocolate prepared without vanilla has been termed the healthy chocolate ; and in our French islands in the Americas, where vanilla is neither rare nor expensive, as it can be in Europe, it is never used, when the consumption of chocolate is as high as in any other part of the world.

However, as there is still quite a large number of people who favor the use of vanilla, and as it is only fair that we should respect their feeling, we shall use vanilla in the composition of the chocolate , the one that might be the better-prepared and the best overall…. Since there are in tastes an infinite variety of opinions, everyone wants their interest to be reckoned with, and one would concede what the other refuses; and even if we were to agree on the ingredients to be mixed, it proves impossible to pinpoint dosages that would be universally accepted; and it should be deemed enough that these dosages suit the highest number of people, thus forming the trend that is most popular.

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More than 3000 engraved illustrations accompanied the text volumes. The plates are equally detailed and wide-ranging in subject matter. They cover everything from Shipbuilding . . .

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. . . to horsemanship (or lack thereof).

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Music. . .

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. . .to Mammals.

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Astronomy. . .

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. . . to Anatomy.

Volume of plates from the Encyclopedie currently on exhibit in ZSR Special Collections, along with artifacts from the Coy C. Carpenter Library archives

Volume of plates from the Encyclopedie currently on exhibit in ZSR Special Collections, along with artifacts from the Coy C. Carpenter Library archives

More than 4000 copies of the first edition of the Encyclopédie were printed in large folio format– a very large print run for an expensive book in the 18th century. Nearly half of the first edition went to subscribers outside of France, in other parts of Europe and North America. The Encyclopédie was reprinted in smaller, cheaper editions that proved equally popular. Many copies still exist in libraries throughout the world, providing countless readers with a direct link to the 18th century Enlightenment.

ZSR Library’s complete first edition was purchased with funds endowed by George W. Paschal, Jr.

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Recommended Reading

Death of a Naturalist, by Seamus Heaney (1966)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013 3:39 pm

ZSR's copy of the first edition of Death of a Naturalist

ZSR’s copy of the first edition of Death of a Naturalist

When poet Seamus Heaney died last month at age 74, obituaries hailed him as the greatest Irish poet since William Butler Yeats. The New York Times noted that Heaney, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995,

was renowned for work that powerfully evoked the beauty and blood that together have come to define the modern Irish condition. The author of more than a dozen collections of poetry, as well as critical essays and works for the stage, he repeatedly explored the strife and uncertainties that have afflicted his homeland, while managing simultaneously to steer clear of polemic.

Heaney was born in Northern Ireland in 1939. The eldest child of a Catholic farming family, he showed his intellectual gifts early and was sent to boarding school and then to Queen’s University in Belfast, where he took an English degree and began writing poetry.

1965 pamphlet published by Queen's University, Belfast

1965 pamphlet published by Queen’s University, Belfast

By 1965 Heaney had published poems in a number of magazines and newspapers. He submitted a manuscript for a book of poetry to Liam Miller, proprietor of the Dolmen Press in Dublin. Miller and his wife Josephine had founded the Dolmen Press in 1951 with the express purpose of publishing and encouraging Irish poets and artists, so it was a natural outlet for the young poet’s first publication. However, while Miller still had his manuscript under consideration, Heaney received an inquiry from an editor the London publishing firm Faber & Faber.

Title page from the first edition of Death of a Naturalist

Title page from the first edition of Death of a Naturalist

Heaney asked Miller to return his manuscript. As Clare Hutton observes in her introduction to The Oxford History of the Irish Book, Volume V, Heaney was influenced by the “cultural prestige” of the firm associated with T.S. Eliot, combined with the fact that “Faber was in a much more stable position than Dolmen, which, like many small Irish publishing houses, ran on a precarious financial basis.” So Heaney’s first volume of poetry, Death of a Naturalist, was published by Faber & Faber in 1966.

From the dust jacket of Death of a Naturalist

From the dust jacket of Death of a Naturalist

But the inscription in Liam Miller’s copy of Death of a Naturalist (now in ZSR Library’s Special Collections) suggests that he and Heaney remained on friendly terms.

ZSR's copy of Death of a Naturalist is inscribed by Seamus Heaney to Liam Miller

ZSR’s copy of Death of a Naturalist is inscribed by Seamus Heaney to Liam Miller

Death of a Naturalist was generally well received by the critics. Christopher Ricks wrote in the New Statesman (27 May 1966) that

Literary gentlemen who remain unstirred by Seamus Heaney’s poems will simply be announcing that they are unable to give up the habit of disillusionment with recent poetry. The power and precision of his best poems are a delight, and as a first collection Death of a Naturalist is outstanding.

The reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement (June 1966) called the collection “substantial and impressive” but took Heaney to task for the “rather glib or incongruous imagery stuck on in what seems to be an attempt to hit the required sophistication.” Meanwhile in the New York Times (26 March 1967) John Unterecker was a bit dismissive, calling the poetry “urbane, accomplished, [and] predictable,” but allowing that

Other poems, however, tougher than the norm and more powerful, build out of Heaney’s memories of his rural childhood a poetry that is a little like that Theodore Roethke might have written had he had an Irish upbringing rather than an American one.

Unterecker also devoted quite a bit of space to a discussion of the “odd, persistent set of rat references” in the collection. In this he may have been a kindred spirit of the unnamed reviewer, noted in Heaney’s own annotated copy of the book, who described the title poem as “a long, disappointing poem about frogs.”

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Faber & Faber published Heaney’s next collection, Door Into the Dark, in 1969.

Liam Miller's copy of Heaney's second published book of poetry

Liam Miller’s copy of Heaney’s second published book of poetry

Seamus Heaney went on to publish many collections of poetry, as well as essays, translations, and dramatic works. But at his death, many of the remembrances quoted “Digging,” the very first poem in Heaney’s first published collection. In it Heaney describes his father’s and grandfather’s work on the family farm and concludes

But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

The “squat pen” responsible for Death of a Naturalist would go on to compose some of the most iconic Irish poetry of the 20th century.

"Digging" is the first poem in Death of a Naturalist

“Digging” is the first poem in Death of a Naturalist

All of the images in this article are from Seamus Heaney titles originally owned by Liam Miller. ZSR Library’s Special Collections acquired Miller’s library and the Dolmen Press archives in 1986.

Louis MacNeice in Special Collections

Tuesday, September 3, 2013 12:12 pm

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Louis MacNeice, Blind Fireworks (London: Victor Gollancz, 1929)

Wake Forest University Press has recently released the American edition of Louis MacNeice‘s Collected Poems.  MacNeice’s poetry is experiencing something a renaissance, after spending several decades in the shadow of  W. H. Auden. As New York Times poetry critic David Orr observed in his review of this new collected edition,

[MacNeice’s] reputation has been steadily rising for 20 years in Britain and Ireland, in part because of vigorous support from Irish writers like Edna Longley, Paul Muldoon and Derek Mahon. MacNeice’s “Collected Poems” has finally been published in the United States, where readers will now have a chance to approach this under­estimated writer on his own terms.

ZSR Special Collections holds a large collection of MacNeice first editions, including Blind Fireworks (pictured above), his first published volume of poetry. MacNeice was newly graduated from Merton College, Oxford when Blind Fireworks appeared. In his foreword the young poet explains that

I have always admired the Chinese because they invented gunpowder only to make fireworks with it. I have called this collection Blind Fireworks because they are artificial and yet random; because they go quickly through their antics against an important background, and fall and go out quickly.

MacNeice’s future career proved anything but a flash in the pan: he went on to publish over 50 volumes of poetry, plays, and criticism. ZSR Special Collections’ Louis MacNeice collection is a part of our extensive holdings in 20th century English and Irish poetry.


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