Special Collections & Archives Blog

Author Archive

Provost’s Grant Researcher Presentation: Sin and the Civil War

Monday, June 17, 2013 3:37 pm
Thursday, June 20

3:00 p.m.

ZSR Library Special Collections and Archives Reading Room

Dr. Ed Blum of San Diego State University, who is currently in residence as a 2013 ZSR Provost’s Grant researcher, will give an informal talk about his current research.

Ed is co-author of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America. He is currently writing a book on ideas of sin and evil in the South during the Civil War, and he has been researching this topic in our Manuscripts and NC Baptist Historical Collections this month.

All are welcome to attend this presentation. Contact Megan Mulder for more information.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain (1885)

Monday, June 10, 2013 1:06 pm

Frontispiece illustration from the first edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

On nearly any list of list of best American Novels you will find Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. But it might easily never have existed.  Twain nearly abandoned his project midway through its writing, and its publication was temporarily derailed by a practical joke.

Twain’s first novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, was published in the spring of 1876 to great popular success.

First edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (American Publishing Company, 1876)

In August 1876 Twain wrote to William Dean Howells that he had already started writing

 …another boys’ book—more to be at work than anything else. I have written 400 pages on it—therefore it is very nearly half done. It is Huck Finn’s Autobiography. I like it only tolerably well, as far as I have got, & may possibly [pigeon-hole] or burn the MS when it is done.

Twain did indeed pigeon-hole his manuscript for several years, and he did not complete it until 1883. When the novel was finally finished, it was a very different book than the Tom Sawyer sequel that Twain had begun.  Huckleberry Finn takes on one aspect of Twain’s pre-Civil War childhood that Tom Sawyer did not: slavery.

In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Huckleberry Finn is a secondary character, a “romantic outcast” who lives on the fringes of civilized society.

Huckleberry Finn’s first appearance in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

In Huckleberry Finn Huck takes over as first-person narrator of his own story. The novel was Twain’s first attempt at writing an entire book in dialect, and he took pains to get his characters’ voices right. And without Huck’s distinctive voice and perspective, Twain could not have written the book that he did. In his introduction to a 1950 edition of Huckleberry Finn, Twain’s fellow-Missourian T.S. Eliot observed that

 Huck has not imagination, in the sense in which Tom has it: he has, instead, vision. He sees the real world; and he does not judge it– he allows it to judge itself. . . . Mark Twain could not have written . . . with that economy and restraint, with just the right details and no more, and leaving to the reader to make his own moral reflections, unless he had been writing in the person of Huck. And the style of the book, which is the style of Huck, is what makes it a far more convincing indictment of slavery than the sensationalist propaganda of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. [The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (London: The Cresset Press, 1950) p.ix-x]

You Title page of the first American edition

The process of publishing Huckleberry Finn was also an arduous one. Twain prided himself on being a shrewd businessman and involved himself in all aspects of publishing and marketing his own books. As one might expect, this led to difficult relations with his publishers. As Huckleberry Finn was nearing completion in 1884, Twain was becoming dissatisfied with his current publisher, James R. Osgood (who was indeed bankrupt by 1885). So Twain formed his own publishing company in partnership with his nephew Charles L. Webster.

Twain, as usual, had opinions on everything from marketing to cover design. In February 1884, for example, he wrote to Webster suggesting that they offer a package deal for buyers purchasing Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper, and the new Huckleberry Finn– a fine idea, except that the previous titles were still under copyright to other publishers [Mark Twain's Letters to His Publishers, 172]. In April he exhorted Webster to enlist as many pre-publication subscribers as possible and to time the book’s release for the Christmas market:

Keep it diligently in mind that we don’t issue till we have made a big sale. . . . Get at your canvassing early, and drive it with all your might, with the intent and purpose of issuing on the 10th (or 15th) of next December (the best time in the year to tumble a big pile into the trade)– but if we haven’t got 40,000 orders then, we simply postpone publication till we’ve got them. It is a plain, simple policy, and would have saved both of my last books if it had been followed. There is not going to be any reason whatever, why this book should not succeed– and it shall and must. [173]

But the American edition of Huckleberry Finn was not published in time for the 1884 holiday season, due to circumstances beyond the control of its author and publisher. The first set of books went out to reviewers and subscribers in November as planned. But it was soon discovered that an unknown prankster had altered the printing plate for an illustration on page 283 so that Uncle Silas was shown in a state of indecent exposure.

Corrected version of the Uncle Silas illustration

Tom Sawyer would no doubt have approved of the prank; Mark Twain, on the other hand, was furious. He recalled nearly all of the copies and had the pages replaced with a corrected version.  (A few copies of the censored illustration remain in circulation and command a very high price from collectors. )

The British edition, published in London by Chatto & Windus, made it through the print shop unscathed and was published in December 1884.

Cover of the first British edition, published by Chatto & Windus, 1884

The American first edition would not appear until February of the next year. Twain had to settle for publishing a few chapters of Huckleberry Finn in the December 1884 and January 1885 Century Magazine.

Excerpt from Huckleberry Finn from the December 1884 Century Magazine

The 174 illustrations and the cover design for Huckleberry Finn were by E. W. Kemble, a 23-year-old magazine artist selected by Twain.

Twain understood well the importance of visual images to the overall reading experience, and he had definite ideas about what his characters should look like. He was especially concerned that Huck and the other principal characters look attractive enough to be sympathetic. The author occasionally took Kemble to task for submitting illustrations that veered too far toward the comic grotesque.

Except for a few copies in deluxe leather bindings, the first edition of Huckleberry Finn appeared in illustrated green or blue cloth.

The first edition of  Huckleberry Finn sold well and proved popular with readers, but it was controversial from the beginning. Its critical reception was mixed. Some immediately hailed the novel as brilliant satire. But others were put off by the rough language and general unpleasantness of many of the characters. In a famous incident, the book was banned from the Concord, Massachusetts public library, whose board of directors included author Louisa May Alcott. By the mid-20th century Huckleberry Finn was an acknowledged classic and a fixture on high school reading lists. But critics then began to object to the novel’s all too historically accurate depiction 19th century race relations and racial epithets. This controversy is by no means resolves, as reactions to a 2011 attempt to censor Huck’s offensive language demonstrate.

Mark Twain would no doubt be pleased that Huckleberry Finn is still the subject of impassioned debate.

Inscription by Mark Twain from a 1901 Harper & Brothers edition of Huckleberry Finn

ZSR Special Collections has several copies of the 1885 first edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in various states. The collection also has the 1884 British edition and several later editions, including a 1901 edition inscribed by the author to Frank Willard. Willard wrote under the pseudonym Josiah Flynt the book Tramping with Tramps, a copy of which was in Mark Twain’s personal library.

Smiling Through the Apocalypse, edited by Harold Hayes (1969)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013 3:51 pm

Dust jacket designed by George Lois with illustration by David Levine

Tom Hayes’s documentary film on the life of his father, Harold Hayes, is titled Smiling Through the Apocalypse: Esquire in the Sixties. The film, which is currently showing at the River Run Film Festival, takes its name from a 1969 anthology of Esquire magazine pieces. Both works provide a view of the decade as chronicled by the iconic magazine and its remarkable editor.

From a typescript draft with notes by Harold Hayes

In November of 1969 Esquire magazine subscribers received a special offer from publisher Arnold Gingrich. The enclosed letter began, “You are just now escaping, by the skin of your teeth, the most incredible decade in this country’s history: the 1960′s.” It continued,

From Jack Kennedy’s brave cry, “Let us begin,” to the mad smile of Sirhan Sirhan . . . from the first jarring beats of rock music through the frightening chants of “Up Against the Wall,” you have in fact lived through the most interesting of times: a time of generation gaps, sex explosions, peacock revolutions, drug fads, pop art, war, madness, and super-cockeyed wackiness.

And so, welcome to the end of it all. The “cursed” decade is over, and frankly we are in a mood for celebration. To this end we have prepared the most ambitious project in Esquire‘s 36-year history — a book of the decade, our own special version of the sixties. It is a big, handsome, oversize volume of more than a thousand pages called

“Smiling Through the Apocalypse: Esquire’s History of the Sixties”

The anthology gathered some of the most memorable articles from Esquire’s most memorable decade. Wake Forest alumnus Harold Hayes had become managing editor in 1961 and chief editor in 1963, and as Frank DiGiacomo observed in a 2007 Vanity Fair article

Hayes’s Esquire would identify, analyze, and define the new decade’s violent energies, ideas, morals, and conflicts—though always with an ironic and, occasionally, sardonic detachment that kept the magazine cool as the 60s grew increasingly hot. Esquire would become the magazine of the New: “The New Art of Success,” “The New Seven Deadly Sins,” “The New Sophistication,” and, ultimately, the New Journalism, the fancy term given to nonfiction that’s written like a novel.

The Harold Hayes Papers, housed in ZSR’s Special Collections and Archives, shed light on  the creation and development of Smiling Through the Apocalypse. The project was important to Hayes, as it documented the eventful decade in the history of both the nation and the magazine. In a memo to Arnold Gingrich Hayes asked for complete editorial control of the project: “I hope you will not believe me to be challenging your authority or position with the magazine if I lean heavily on your forebearance [sic.] and request you to let me do this one alone.” (Gingrich’s response in a handwritten note: “I thought we had already reached that conclusion.”)

Materials in the Hayes Papers also show that the anthology’s (and the magazine’s) tone of casual irreverence was achieved through a great deal of creative brainstorming and meticulous planning by Hayes and his editorial staff. Below is one of Hayes’s many pages of notes on Smiling Through the Apocalypse. Here he listed possible titles for the book itself and for its sections.

Another page of notes listed categories with possible articles. A potential “section on Ladies” did not make it into the final book.

In order to have the anthology ready for sale by Christmas 1969, Esquire staffers had to meet some tight deadlines– as this memo to editor Byron Dobell made clear.

The volume led off with Norman Mailer’s famous article on John F. Kennedy, “Superman Comes to the Supermarket.” Its original publication in 1960 had sparked the first of many conflicts between Esquire and the contentious author, when Arnold Gingrich changed the title of the article without Mailer’s consent.

Although all of the articles in Smiling Through the Apocalypse had been published in Esquire, there were still issues of copyrights and royalties to be sorted out for the 50 authors collected in the anthology.

A typescript draft of another advertising flyer for the book is an artifact from a time when cutting and pasting involved actual scissors and tape. But the pasted-in quote from Harold Hayes provides his raison d’etre for the Esquire anthology:

The real history of the Sixties has already been written . . . by talented people who didn’t know (or care) they were writing history, because they were reporting what happened– as it happened. It’s all there — told like it was — in the pages of ten years of Esquire.

Harold Hayes’s introduction to Smiling Through the Apocalypse sums up Esquire‘s journey through the pivotal decade in American history. His take on Esquire began as a reaction against “the banality of the Fifties.” Hayes and his fellow editors and writers wanted to shake up the magazine world and bring a fresh perspective to American journalism:

[I]n words and/or pictures (curiously the pictures always provoked the greatest outrage, especially George Lois’s covers)  and occasionally with some loss of dignity, the idea was to suggest alternate possibilities to a monolithic view. . . . At Esquire our attitude took shape as we went along, stumbling past our traditional boundaries of fashion, leisure, entertainment and literature onto the more forbidding ground of politics, sociology, science and even, occasionally, religion. Any point of view was welcome as long as the writer was sufficiently skillful to carry it off, but we tended to avoid committing ourselves to doctrinaire programs even though advised on occasion that we might thereby better serve the interests of mankind.

As the decade wore on, the writing in Esquire reflected the increasing upheaval in the society around it:

Against the aridity of the national landscape of the late Fifties we offered to our readers in our better moments the promise of outright laughter; by the end of the Sixties the best we could provide was a bleak grin.

Hayes concludes his introduction with a reference to the “collective confusion” of Americans in 1969.

Harold Hayes continued as editor of Esquire until 1973, when a dispute with the management led to his resignation. Hayes went on to other projects, and Esquire became a very different sort of magazine. Nearly 50 years after its publication, Smiling Through the Apocalypse is a fitting monument to the editor and the magazine that best captured the Zeitgeist of the 1960s.

ZSR Special Collections’s copy of Smiling Through the Apocalypse was owned by Harold Hayes himself. It was part of the  large collection of books and manuscripts that Hayes bequeathed to his alma mater shortly before his death in 1989.

 

Behind the Scenes with Documentary Filmmaker Tom Hayes

Friday, April 5, 2013 3:35 pm

Editing Harold Hayes: The Making of a Documentary Filmmaker
A Discussion with Tom Hayes
Friday, April 19, 2013, 4:00PM
Special Collections Reading Room
Z. Smith Reynolds Library

Please join us in the Special Collections Reading Room on April 19 as Tom Hayes (WFU ’79) takes us behind the scenes of his documentary Smiling Through the Apocalypse, which is a featured film at the 2013 River Run Film Festival. The film explores the life and career of Tom’s father, Harold Hayes, with a focus on his years as editor of Esquire magazine in the 1960s.

In this informal presentation and Q&A session, Tom Hayes will discuss the making of Smiling Through the Apocalypse, a film described by one reviewer as “a 99 minute act of love, the story of a publishing icon through the eyes of his son.” Although he had worked as a television producer for over 20 years, Tom’s tribute to his father, who died in 1989, was his first foray into documentary filmmaking. As such it presented a host of new challenges– from fundraising, to navigating fair use law, to dealing with temperamental interviewees. Tom will discuss what he learned as a filmmaker during this process, and also what he discovered about his father’s profound influence on American journalism of the 1960s.

Harold Hayes, a Wake Forest alumnus and North Carolina native, was chief editor of Esquire from 1963 to 1974. During this time the magazine was on the forefront of the New Journalism. Contributors like Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, Gore Vidal, Nora Ephron, Peter Bogdonavich, and many others captured the essence of the turbulent decade in Esquire’s pages. In making his documentary Tom Hayes interviewed many of these authors, as well as designers, photographers, and Esquire staffers. He also made extensive use of archival materials, in particular the Harold Hayes Papers at Wake Forest. Materials from the Hayes collection will be on exhibit in Special Collections.

This event is open to the public. For more information, contact Megan Mulder at 336-758-5091.

Manuscript commentary on the gospels of Matthew and John, ca. 1240

Monday, March 25, 2013 2:18 pm

What’s the oldest book in your collection?

This is the question most frequently asked by visitors to ZSR’s Special Collections. Our oldest book is a manuscript codex dating from around 1240. Created two centuries before the invention of printing with moveable type, this book is a handwritten copy of a commentary on the Biblical gospel books of Matthew and John.

This volume has recently been the subject of study by medieval manuscript experts from some of our neighbor institutions, who have uncovered some interesting features.

Like the vast majority of medieval manuscripts, the text of this book is in Latin. However, physical features of the manuscript suggest that it was made in England. The text is a copy of a scholarly commentary on the gospels of Matthew and John, perhaps part of Hugh of St. Cher‘s Postillae in Universa Biblia juxta Quadruplicem Sensum.

The text has many features typical of manuscripts of this era. It is written on parchment (also called vellum), a specially prepared animal skin. The running heads in blue and red indicate the chapter title on facing pages. Here  MA THS  indicates that this part of the text is about the gospel of Matthew.

The commentaries on these two gospel books were bound together in their current form much later, probably in the 17th or 18th century. They appear to be pieces of a larger work, and some small notations in the manuscript suggest a reason for this.

This note at the bottom of one leaf includes the word “pecia” along with numbers (in Roman numeral form). The manuscript contains other such markings, which suggest that it might have been part of a 13th century system for copying books for Oxford University faculty and students. This pecia system was modeled after ones developed at Italian and Parisian universities.

Copying texts by hand was obviously a time-consuming process, and the rise of European universities in the 12th century created an increased demand for texts. The pecia system addressed this concern by lending out standard texts in parts (pecia is Latin for piece) to students or to the clergy who made up the university faculties. The borrower would copy the part of the text himself– or hire a professional scribe if he could afford it– and then return the piece to the university stationer (bookseller) for the next part. This system allowed for faster and more efficient production than the lending of lengthy texts in their entirety. Existence of a pecia system at Oxford is less well documented, but it is known that by the mid-13th century the local Dominican order had set up a proto-library of texts available for consultation and copying.

In the universities, the pecia system was also an attempt at quality control. Transmission of manuscript texts was a process prone to error: when texts circulated and copies were made from copies, the effect was like a game of telephone. Errors were transmitted and multiplied to the extent that it was sometimes impossible to determine the correct version of a text. In the Paris universities, the stationers were provided with exemplars– texts vetted by university officials for accuracy– which they lent to scholars for copying. With everyone copying from the same exemplar text, errors were at least reduced (though certainly not eliminated).

The page below shows one common form of correction in a manuscript text. The marginal notation on the left, outlined in red, is text that was accidentally omitted from the column next to it. A symbol in the main text indicates to the reader where the insertion should go.

The excerpt below shows the opposite type of error. In the last line of the left column, some words are crossed out in red and underlined with a series of dots. This indicates text inserted by mistake, which the reader should ignore.

ZSR’s manuscript appears to be an exemplar– a master copy  that was lent out for reproduction. The handwriting is skilled enough that it was likely produced by a professional scribe, or at least a skilled copyist. But it is not a deluxe manuscript. Decoration is minimal, and the parchment on which it is written is not high quality. The image below shows one large tear that would have occurred as the skin was prepared. The tear was once sewn up with thread (now disintegrated), as indicated by the tiny holes along the sides.

Smaller tears, holes, and discolorations exist throughout the text. Clearly this was a working textbook, not a luxury item.

Later owners’ marks in the text support the theory that the manuscript has English origins. Both probably date from the 16th or 17th century. One is by a Robart Emy.

The other is one Thomas How[e], who asserts that he “own[es] this booke.” Thomas, who one suspects was a rather young student, has used the margins of several other pages for doodling and practicing his penmanship.

We have little information on the provenance of this manuscript. There is no record of how it came to reside in ZSR’s collection, although a newspaper clipping in our files indicates that it was stolen in the 1970s by a part-time library employee and eventually resurfaced in the library at the College of William and Mary.

So our oldest book has led an exciting life. And it has many mysteries yet to be solved.

Medieval Manuscripts at ZSR, Part 1

Friday, March 8, 2013 1:58 pm

This week I attended  the third annual “Understanding the Medieval Book” symposium at the University of South Carolina. It was my first time attending this seminar, which is organized by Dr. Scott Gwara of the USC English department and held in USC Library’s Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. This year’s seminar was led by Dr. Eric Johnson, Curator of Early Books and Manuscripts at Ohio State University. Participants included teaching faculty, librarians, and students from various academic institutions. During the two-day symposium Eric described in detail the physical and textual features of medieval manuscripts, with a focus on religious texts. We learned about how manuscript books were created– from the making of parchment, to the scriptorium, to the bindery– and how they were used by their original owners. We also talked a lot about ways to use medieval books and fragments in the college (and even K-12) classroom.

ZSR’s Rare Books Collection does not have an extensive collection of medieval manuscripts. We have five manuscript codices (bound volumes) which I believe date from the late 14th/early 15th centuries. All are religious works in Latin. We also have a few manuscript fragments taken from larger works.

The image above is a page from one of ZSR’s manuscript codices. It is probably Italian (though the text is of course in Latin) and has many typical features of a manuscript from the 14th century. The red and blue ornamentation is not just decorative. Rubrication in medieval manuscripts served as a sort of punctuation, orienting the reader to line breaks and different sections in the text. Marginal notes and symbols, like the manicule (pointing finger), could be used to highlight important passages, add text or commentary, or correct errors in the text.

This very small New Testament manuscript from our collection is an example of the trend for “pocket Bibles” which began in the 12th century.

Most medieval manuscripts were written on parchment (also called vellum), which was specially prepared animal skin, usually goat, sheep or calf. Parchment was durable but very expensive, so bookmakers on a budget often made do with lower-quality skins. These might have uneven pigmentation, holes, or other flaws. The image above is a detail from another of ZSR’s manuscript books. The right margin shows a tear in the parchment, which was at one point repaired by sewing up the hole with thread.

Manuscript production in Europe fell off rapidly with the invention of printing from moveable type in the mid-1400s. Manuscript books were sometimes disbound and the parchment sheets put to other uses. One typical use was in the bindings of other books. Above is a manuscript page pasted inside the cover of a volume of the works of Horace, printed in Venice in 1490. Below, a page from a manuscript missal covers the outer binding of a 1532 Basel imprint.


Though the ZSR medieval manuscripts collection is not large, it gets a lot of use. I show the books to many medieval and Renaissance history and literature classes, and my History of the Book class uses the manuscripts extensively. And of course I pull them out every time someone asks the ever-popular “What’s your oldest book?” question. My goal in attending the USC symposium was to learn more about medieval manuscripts so that I could use them more effectively in teaching and so that I could create catalog records for our codices, which are currently undocumented. I definitely learned a lot, and I met some terrific medievalists. In fact, Dr. Gwara from USC and Dr. Jo Koster from Winthrop University have volunteered to make a site visit to ZSR next week, to look at our manuscripts and help me identify and describe them in detail. So check back for part 2 of this post, in which we’ll learn everything we ever wanted to know about medieval manuscripts at ZSR!

Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, by Phillis Wheatley (1773)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 5:14 pm

Frontispiece portrait from ZSR Library’s first edition of Phillis Wheatley’s Poems

Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral is the first published volume of poetry by an African-American author. This fact in itself would make the book significant, but Phillis Wheatley’s Poems has a complicated and fascinating history of its own.

Readers of the 1773 first edition would have been familiar with biographical details of Wheatley’s life. Born around 1754, the future poet was kidnapped from some part of Africa and transported to Boston aboard the slave ship Phillis in 1761. A frail child of not more than seven, she miraculously survived a transatlantic journey that killed nearly a quarter of her fellow-passengers (a figure slightly higher than average for slave ships of that time).

Most of the Phillis’s human cargo was sold in the Caribbean. Only those unfit for work on the plantations—women, children, the elderly, sick, or disabled—continued on to Boston to be sold as domestic servants. Slavery was legal in all of the British colonies in the mid-18th century, but African slaves were fairly uncommon in New England.

John Wheatley, a prosperous Boston merchant and devout Congregationalist, purchased the little girl as a companion for his wife, Susanna. She was named after the ship that brought her from Africa. Once in the Wheatley home, Phillis quickly displayed an aptitude for learning. Her education, likely undertaken by Susanna Wheatley and her 18-year-old daughter, Mary, was equivalent to that of the daughters of any well-off  New England family of the time. A prefatory note to the Poems describes Phillis’s early life and education:

Phillis Wheatley’s experience as a slave in 18th century Boston was highly unusual, in that she does appear to have been treated by Susanna Wheatley as a member of the family, or something close to it. Phillis herself wrote after Susanna’s death that “I was treated by her more like her child than her Servant; no opportunity was left unimprov’d, of giving me the best of advice…”.

Phillis Wheatley became a published author at the age of about 13, when her poem “On Messrs. Hussey and Coffin” was printed in the Newport Mercury newspaper. In 1770 her elegy for the charismatic Rev. George Whitefield was widely printed as a broadside.

Phillis Wheatley’s elegy for George Whitefield as reprinted in her Poems

By 1772 Phillis had apparently amassed a considerable number of poems in manuscript, which had been widely circulated among the Wheatleys’ circle. Susanna (presumably with Phillis’s approval) decided to seek a wider audience by having a collection of 28 poems published. She advertised the Boston Censor magazine for subscribers for “A Collection of Poems, wrote at several times, and upon various occasions, by PHILLIS, a Negro Girl, from the strength of her own Genius.” The volume was to be an octavo of approximately 200 pages “handsomely bound and lettered.” The publisher, Ezekiel Russell, would begin printing copies as soon as 300 subscribers were committed to purchasing the book.

Publishing by subscription was a standard practice for an unknown author in the 18th century, especially in the colonies. Boston printers made their living from steady sellers like primers, almanacs, newspapers, and pamphlets. Then as now, a book of poetry was unlikely to turn much of a profit, so an aspiring author would be required to finance the publication herself.

Colonial printing in general was a very small enterprise compared to the large and established publishing industry in London. So it is not surprising that the majority of books for sale in the North American colonies were imported from England, nor that many American authors sought London publishers for their works. Even as Phillis waited for subscribers to sign up for her proposed Boston publication, she and the rest of the Wheatleys were using their connections to make inquiries in England.

Phillis had sent a copy of her elegy for George Whitefield to Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntingdon, whom Whitefield had served as personal chaplain. The Countess was involved in many of the same evangelical causes as were the Wheatleys, and in 1772 she agreed to finance the publication of Phillis’s poems by London printer Archibald Bell. Since subscribers for the Boston venture were not very forthcoming, and since publication in London was far more prestigious anyway, the Wheatleys quickly agreed.

Dedication page from Wheatley’s Poems

At the suggestion of the Countess of Huntingdon, the Wheatleys provided an engraved portrait of Phillis for the book’s frontispiece. The portrait may have been done by another African slave living in Boston, the artist Scipio Moorhead. Phillis included a poem to him in the published collection.

The portrait was a somewhat surprising addition to the volume, such frontispieces being common only in substantial tomes by famous (and often long-dead) authors. But the Countess told the Wheatleys’ agent that it would “contribute greatly to the Sale of the Book”. She likely assumed that the portrait would reinforce the novelty of a young, enslaved, African woman writing a book of poetry.

The marketing of the London volume focused almost entirely on this seeming incongruity. Anticipating that there might be skepticism about whether Phillis was actually the author of the poems, she and the Wheatleys recruited eighteen of New England’s most prominent religious and political leaders to sign a document attesting to the veracity of her authorship.

Phillis herself was well aware that her published volume of poetry was not just a reflection of her personal abilities. For Phillis, the rest of the Wheatleys, and their like-minded supporters, Poems on Various Subjects was a political and moral statement intended to incite controversy.

Debate about the moral and intellectual capacities of people of African descent was raging in the 18th century public sphere, and the abolitionist movement was beginning to organize itself in England.  The nation had invented, and was still the major participant in, the trans-Atlantic slave trade. But the horrors of the slave trade and the appalling conditions on Caribbean plantations in particular had begun to turn English public opinion against the institution of slavery.

Supporters of the system of chattel slavery argued that these early abolitionists were naïve about the nature of enslaved Africans. Branches of 18th century science put forth the idea that the African races had evolved separately from the European and were essentially subhuman, incapable of true moral sensibility or artistic creativity. Therefore their use as slave labor was no more immoral than the keeping of domesticated animals. Opponents of this view put forth both religious and scientific arguments to counter it. Of course, there were many gradations on this spectrum of belief. Many people who were convinced of the overall inferiority of Africans (Thomas Jefferson, for example) still strongly objected to the inhumane treatment of slaves. And some, like John and Susanna Wheatley, who argued for the inherent equality of the races, nonetheless owned slaves themselves. But the argument itself was basic to the debate over whether slavery could exist in a civilized society.

As the publication of Phillis’s poems was being arranged, it was decided that she should make what was essentially a publicity tour to England. John and Susanna Wheatley’s son Nathaniel had planned a business trip to London in the spring of 1773, and Phillis accompanied him. Publicity for the book was meticulously planned by Susanna, Phillis, and their friends. Phillis’s poem “A Farewel to America” was published in New England papers upon her departure and was also sent ahead to London for publication there.

In the poem Phillis expresses regret at parting with Susanna (who was quite ill), but also eagerly anticipates her visit to the intellectual and cultural center of British society. The visit of an enslaved person to England at this point in time had other implications, which would have been well known to readers on both sides of the Atlantic. The Somerset Decision had recently ruled that enslaved Africans visiting England could not be forced by their purported masters to return to the Americas. If Phillis had chosen to stay in England in the summer of 1773, Nathaniel could not have compelled her return to Boston.

And it appears that Phillis thoroughly enjoyed her time in London. Although she did not meet her patron the Countess of Huntingdon (who was in Wales at the time), she visited many well-known figures and was toured around the cultural high points of London. Her visit was cut short, however, by news of Susanna Wheatley’s rapidly failing health. Phillis chose to return to Boston to be with Susanna during her last days, leaving London a month before her volume of poetry was published.

Title page from ZSR’s first edition

When Poems on Various Subjects appeared in September 1773, it was reviewed in at least eight London magazines. Reviewers invariably remarked on the unusual circumstance of an African slave writing serious literature, and several specifically pointed out the implications for the slavery debate. The Critical Review (September 1773) remarked that

The Negroes of Africa are generally treated as a dull, ignorant, and ignoble race of men, fit only to be slaves, and incapable of any considerable attainments in the liberal arts and sciences. A poet or a poetess amongst them, of any tolerable genius, would be a prodigy in literature.–Phillis Wheatley, the author of these poems, is that literary phaenomenon…. The author appears to be of a serious, and religious turn of mind.

Copies were sold in Boston too, and the book garnered as much attention and fueled as much debate in America as in England.

This historical context is important to an understanding of Wheatley’s poetry. In the 18th century, the highest form of artistic expression was poetry in the classical mode. Phillis’s formal language and classical allusions may sound stilted to modern readers, but it was vital that she prove her ability to write in this style. No one could argue that an author who could approximate the poetry of Homer and Ovid (or at least Milton and Pope) was possessed of a subhuman intellect.

Phillis’s religious sensibility is also an important aspect of the Poems. She was by all appearances genuinely devout in the Calvinist, evangelical Christianity of her Boston community. This too gave the lie to assertions that Africans lacked moral sensibility, and it lent support to evangelicals’ arguments that slaves should be taught to read the Bible and participate fully in religious life.

Most of Phillis Wheatley’s poetry cannot really be understood outside of its religious context. Particularly important is the Calvinist idea of Providence, and especially God’s ability to use even sinful acts of humans to achieve his purposes. The brief verse that Henry Louis Gates called “the most reviled poem in African-American literature” depends entirely on this idea.

For the poet, an act of profound evil—her kidnapping from Africa—was used by God for a good end—her introduction to Christianity. An 18th century Congregationalist would understand that this in no way excuses the sinful act itself (although some proponents of slavery in the 19th century would use religious ends-justify-means arguments for continuing the slave system). And no one who has read Phillis Wheatley’s poetry and letters would believe that this is her intent, in this poem or in others on the subject.

The publication of Poems on Various Subjects may have been politically motivated, but the voice of the young poet also comes through strongly, despite what may seem to us an antiquated style and theology. Phillis Wheatley’s poems contain many conventional self-deprecating references to her lowly status, but in fact she had little hesitation in addressing the grandest personages, from King George to General Washington. In one poem she offers advice to the graduating class of Harvard:

Phillis’s independence of mind is also evident in the little we know about her later life. John Wheatley granted her freedom (perhaps under some pressure from her English supporters), and Susanna Wheatley died shortly after Phillis’s return from England in 1773. Phillis seems to have remained with John Wheatley and later with Mary and her husband during first years of the Revolution. But both John and Mary died in 1778, and Nathaniel had married and remained in England. Against the wishes of members of the extended Wheatley family, Phillis married a free black man, John Peters, in 1778.

Later biographers depicted Peters as a lazy con man, unworthy of the refined Phillis’s attentions. But this is probably unfair. In truth, Peters seems to have been  intelligent, handsome, and ambitious. But the remaining Wheatleys disliked him, and Phillis seems to have had little contact with the family after her marriage.

John Peters advertised a planned second volume of Phillis’s poems in 1779, but it was never published. Peters, like many others, found himself in dire financial straits during the disastrous economic depression that followed the Revolution. He was likely interred in debtors’ prison more than once, leaving Phillis in difficult circumstances. The Peterses may have had as many as three children, but all apparently died in infancy.

Phillis, who had always suffered from respiratory ailments and an “asthmatic condition,” died in December 1784, probably while her husband was in prison. The manuscript of her second volume of poetry has never been found. We are left to remember this remarkable author only by her Poems on Various Subjects.

ZSR Library’s first edition of Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral was purchased in 1994 with funds from the Oscar T. Smith endowment.


Selected sources

Vincent Carretta. Phillis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in Bondage. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011.

 

Mukhtar Ali Isani. “The British Reception of Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects” The Journal of Negro History , Vol. 66, No. 2 (Summer, 1981), pp. 144-149.

 

Walt Nott. From “Uncultivated Barbarian” to “Poetical Genius”: The Public Presence of Phillis Wheatley”. MELUS , Vol. 18, No. 3, Poetry and Poetics (Autumn, 1993), pp. 21-32

 

Kirstin Wilcox. “The Body into Print: Marketing Phillis Wheatley.” American Literature , Vol. 71, No. 1 (Mar., 1999), pp. 1-29

 


New Acquisitions: Jan Hensley’s NC Authors Collection

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 9:55 am

ZSR’s Special Collections received an exciting addition to its Southern American literature collections in 2012 with the gift of Jan Hensley’s personal collection of materials by and about North Carolina authors. Mr. Hensley, who attended WFU in the 1960s, is a photographer, author, and collector who has been active in the North Carolina literary world for nearly 50 years. He is best known for his candid photographs of authors, which have been exhibited at Wake Forest and at many other venues throughout the state.

The Hensley Collection will be transferred to SC&A over the next three years. We received the first shipment of materials in December 2012 and have begun cataloging and processing. The first collections are materials by Burke Davis, Robert Watson, and Reynolds Price. Included in the Price collection is a bound volume of The Hi-Times, the student newspaper of Needham Broughton High School in Raleigh, NC. Price was chief editor of the paper during his senior year.

The Hensley Collection includesa wide array of print, audio, graphic, and archival materials.  Most authors represented are from North Carolina, but a few are from other regions in the South. The collection includes many books, most of them first editions and many of them autographed or inscribed by their authors. But it is the more ephemeral materials in the collection that may prove most valuable to researchers in the long run.

Jan Hensley’s collecting scope included things like small chapbooks, broadsides, journal and serial publications of poems and stories, and posters and flyers advertising author appearances or other events. Mr. Hensley also kept personal notes on his interactions with authors and made audiotapes of readings and question-and-answer sessions. These types of materials can document the early career of an author who went on to later renown, or the changes in literary publishing over several decades, or the interactions between authors and the reading public. Taken as a whole, the Hensley Collection provides not only a wealth of information on individual authors, but also a snapshot of the literary culture of North Carolina over the past half century.

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (1813)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 12:12 pm

On 29 January 1813 Jane Austen (1775-1817) wrote to her sister Cassandra with exciting news: “I want to tell you that I have got my own darling child from London.” The “darling child” was a copy of her newly published book Pride and Prejudice.

Half-title page from ZSR’s first edition of Pride and Prejudice

On this the 200th anniversary of its publication Pride and Prejudice is an undisputed literary classic, as popular with readers today as it was in 1813. But the novel’s path to publication was a long one.

Jane Austen began writing novels while still a teenager. The second youngest of seven children, Austen had the good fortune to be born into a family of literary enthusiasts. Her parents, brothers, and sister all had a lively interest in the popular books of the day, and they encouraged Jane’s literary efforts. Like the rest of her family, Jane was an avid reader. A favorite author was Frances Burney, one of the most popular and successful novelists of the late 18th century. That Jane Austen was a devoted fan is evident from the fact that she is listed as a subscriber in Burney’s 1795 novel Camilla.

She appears in the subscriber list as “Miss J. Austen, Steventon.”  It was the only time that Jane Austen’s name appeared in print during her lifetime.

The novel that would become Pride and Prejudice was probably written in 1796 and originally titled First Impressions. Jane’s father thought highly enough of his 22-year-old daughter’s work that he wrote to Fanny Burney’s publisher to inquire whether he would be interested in  “a Manuscript Novel, comprised in three Vols. About the length of Miss Burney’s Evelina.”

The publisher, Thomas Cadell, Jr., declined even to read the manuscript.

Title page of ZSR’s copy of Camilla

Meanwhile, Jane kept writing. Her novels and stories were circulated in manuscript among friends and family. And in 1803 she sold a novel called Susan to the publisher Benjamin Crosby for £10. For this sum Austen relinquished all copyright to Crosby, who was then free to do with the manuscript as he wished. And what he did was nothing. The book remained unpublished, much to Austen’s frustration. She eventually had to purchase the manuscript back from the publisher. It was published as Northanger Abbey after her death.

Austen had better luck with a novel called Sense and Sensibility. In 1810 the publisher Thomas Egerton accepted the book on commission. Egerton would finance the publication and receive 10% of all profits from the sales, but Austen would be responsible for repaying any losses should the book prove a failure. Fortunately for her, it was not a failure. Sense and Sensibility: A Novel in Three Volumes, appeard in 1811 and proved quite popular with readers. As was common with novels of the 18th and early 19th century, the author was not identified by name. The title page only allowed that the book was written “By a Lady.”

When Austen offered the revised manuscript of First Impressions, now called Pride and Prejudice (the new title was likely a reference to the ending of Frances Burney’s Cecilia), Egerton purchased the copyright for £110. It was hurried into print and was available for sale in London by January 1813.

Title page from ZSR’s first edition of Pride and Prejudice

In her January 29 letter to Cassandra, Jane seems quite pleased with the book:

I must confess that I think [Elizabeth Bennet] as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least I do not know. There are a few typical errors; and a ” said he,” or a ”said she,” would sometimes make the dialogue more immediately clear; but I do not write for such dull elves as have not a great deal of ingenuity themselves.

Austen’s contemporary readers agreed with her assessment that Pride and Prejudice was better than the average work of popular fiction. The Critical Review published a favorable account of the novel in March 1813, praising in particular Austen’s skill at characterization.

Elizabeth’s sense and conduct are of a superior order to those of the common heroines of novels. For her independence of character, which is kept within the proper line of decorum, and her well-timed sprightliness, she teaches the man of Family-Pride to know himself.

The Critical Review also approved of the lessons that young, female readers were likely to take away from Pride and Prejudice. Lydia’s story, for example, showed “the folly of letting young girls have their own way” and the danger of consorting with military officers. And the line that the author “draws. . . between the prudent and the mercenary in matrimonial concerns” was deemed potentially “useful to our fair readers.” The reviewer concluded with the assertion that

[T]his performance. . . rises very superior to any novel we have lately met with in the delineation of domestic scenes. Nor is there one character which appears flat, or obtrudes itself upon the notice of the reader with troublesome impertinence. There is not one person in the drama with whom we could readily dispense;– they all have their proper places; and fill their several stations, with great credit to themselves, and much satisfaction to the reader.

The opening lines of Pride and Prejudice are some of the most famous in English literature

William Gifford, editor of the Quarterly Review, echoed the general sentiment that Pride and Prejudice  was an improvement over the many overblown and sensational novels of the day:

I have for the first time looked into ‘Pride and Prejudice’; and it is really a very pretty thing. No dark passages; no secret chambers; no wind-howlings in long galleries; no drops of blood upon a rusty dagger– things that should now be left to ladies’ maids and sentimental washerwomen.” [Gilson 27]

The first printing of Pride and Prejudice likely consisted of about 1000-1200 copies– a typical first run for a novel at that time. And like most novels, it was published in a small duodecimo format (the large printed sheet folded to form twelve pages) in three volumes.

ZSR’s copy of the 1813 first edition of Pride and Prejudice, with marbled paper and leather binding likely dating from the late 19th century

The three-volume novel was becoming the standard form for popular fiction in the early 19th century. Even for books like Pride and Prejudice that were not so long as to be unwieldy in one volume, multiple volumes were the preferred format. This was largely due to the demands of private circulating libraries, which were by 1800 the largest purchaser of works of fiction.

English circulating libraries had their beginnings in the late 17th century, when some booksellers hit on the idea of offering books for rent as well as for sale. By the mid-18th century private lending libraries were a widespread phenomenon. After paying an annual subscription fee, a member was entitled to borrow books from the library’s collection. Most libraries had a sliding scale for fees: a higher subscription rate allowed one to borrow more books at one time. For such libraries the advantage of multi-volume works was that more than one borrower could have access to the book simultaneously, each reading one volume and returning it for the next.

Jane Austen herself was an enthusiastic patron of various circulating libraries. Books, reading, and libraries figure constantly in her novels and her letters.

Early in the novel Elizabeth Bennet assumes that she and Mr. Darcy are incompatible in their reading preferences (and in everything else).

Pride and Prejudice proved even more popular with readers than Sense and Sensibility. Anne Isabella Milbanke (soon to be Lady Byron) wrote to her mother early in 1813 that Pride and Prejudice was “at present the fashionable novel” among the well-to-do at the London social season. There was much speculation about the book’s authorship. In May Milbanke wrote that “I have finished the Novel called Pride and Prejudice, which I think a very superior work . . . . I wish much to know who is the author or ess as I am told.” [Gilson 25].

Although Jane Austen’s name did not appear on the title pages of any of her novels during her lifetime, the popularity of Pride and Prejudice in the small world of the English leisure classes ensured that her identity was soon widely known. Writing to her brother Frank in September 1813 Austen noted that

The truth is that the Secret has spread so far as to be scarcely the Shadow of a secret now — & that I believe whenever the 3d appears, I shall not even attempt to tell Lies about it.– I shall rather try to make all the Money than all the Mystery I can of it.

As an unmarried woman in her thirties with no inheritance, Jane Austen had good reason to hope that her books would make money.  She was otherwise entirely dependent on her brothers’ charity. Pride and Prejudice was successful enough that a second edition was printed in October 1813, and her third novel, Mansfield Park, was published the next year.

By the time Emma was ready for publication in 1816, Jane Austen had become famous enough that the Prince Regent requested that she dedicate it to him . Austen was no great admirer of the profligate Prince, but she complied. She had also acquired a more prestigious publisher, John Murray, who published the book for a ten percent commission.

Title page from ZSR’s first edition of Emma

Jane Austen did not live to see her last two novels (Persuasion and Northanger Abbey) in print. She died in 1817 at the age of 42.

Interest in her books, however, shows no sign of waning nearly 200 years later. Pride and Prejudice has not been out of print since the 19th century and has been subjected to stage, television, and film adaptations, sequels, prequels, fan fiction, and permutations that Jane Austen could hardly have imagined. But readers who find their way back to the original will likely agree with Sir Walter Scott that “That young lady had a talent for describing the involvements, feelings, and characters of ordinary life, which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with” [Gilson 475].

Pride and Prejudice, Volume 3, Chapter 1

 

ZSR Library received the first edition of Pride and Prejudice as part of the library of Charles Babcock. The volume also has the bookplate of another former owner, Robert Hoe,  a 19th century book collector and manufacturer of printing machinery who was  the first president of the Grolier Club.

 

Recommended reading

Bautz, Annika.  The Reception of Jane Austen and Walter Scott. London: Continuum, 2007.

Erickson, Lee. “The Economy of Novel Reading: Jane Austen and the Circulating Library.”  Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 . 30. 4 (Autumn, 1990):   573-590. JSTOR http://www.jstor.org/stable/450560 .

Gilson, David. A Bibliography of Jane Austen. New Castle, Del.: Oak Knoll, 1997.
Harman, Claire. Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2009.

Ethiopian Psalter, 18th or 19th Century

Thursday, December 13, 2012 2:10 pm

Illustration from an Ethiopian manuscript psalter, depicting King David with a harp

Ethiopia, the oldest independent nation in Africa, has a unique Christian tradition dating back to the 4th century. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church developed largely in isolation after the Islamic conquest of Egypt in the 640′s. But Christianity remained the official state religion for many centuries, and the Ethiopian imperial family claimed to be descended directly from the Biblical King Solomon.

The Ethiopian Bible is unique, containing several apocryphal books that are preserved nowhere else. The Ethiopian Church maintained a strong tradition of manuscript Bibles and other religious texts, and illuminated Bibles were very popular from at least the 12th century onward. The 15th century was a golden age of artistic achievement in Ethiopian illuminated Bibles, and many later manuscripts contain copies of illustrations from this period. Ethiopian iconography, although it shows some influence of European and especially Byzantine artistic traditions, is as distinctive as the religious tradition from which it stems.

The Ethiopian manuscript in ZSR’s Special Collections is a psalter (a collection of the Psalms of David from the Christian Old Testament) probably dating from the late 18th or early 19th century. The printing press was not widely used in most of Africa until the mid-19th century, so a strong manuscript tradition persisted much longer that it had in Europe. The psalter is written in Ge’ez, a syllabic script traditionally used for Ethiopian liturgical texts, in red and black ink on vellum pages. Some pages, like the one pictured above, have decorative headpieces.

The psalter also has five full-page illustrations with iconography very typical of Ethiopian religious texts. The colors are bright and saturated, and the figures are outlined in black and are depicted in full face with wide eyes (in the Ethiopian as in many other African artistic traditions, only enemies are depicted in profile).

In addition to King David pictured above, there is a crucifixion scene.

Mary’s halo and the tears on her face and St. John’s were added in pencil by a later owner of the book.

Illustrations of St. George slaying a dragon and of the Madonna and child are featured on facing pages:

Both the St. George legend and the cult of the Virgin Mary were extremely important in the Ethiopian religious tradition. Illustrations of St. George slaying the dragon to rescue a north African princess were common in Ethiopian Bibles. And since the saint was also supposed to be the protector and frequent companion of Mary, depictions of George were often juxtaposed with  illustrations of the Virgin and the infant Christ.

The final illustration is a figure of an aristocratic Ethiopian man in contemporary dress holding a small book.

This is almost certainly a depiction of the patron who commissioned the psalter. The volume in his hand looks very similar to the manuscript book in the ZSR collection.

The library’s manuscript psalter is also a small book bound in dark red leather over wooden boards.

The book also has a leather cover and carrying case. This type of case, called a mahedar, is very typical of Ethiopian Bibles from this time period.

Small books like this one were intended for personal use, in contrast to larger volumes for church or ceremonial uses. The portability and personalized iconography of this psalter suggest that it was an object of private devotion and study. There is also much evidence of use by a later owner in the book itself. There are pencil notes throughout the book and extensive notes and sketches on the endpapers. At least one of the book’s owners apparently had an artistic bent:

Ethiopian manuscript texts like this one are found in libraries and private collections throughout the world. Many were dispersed in 1868 after British troops defeated the Ethiopian Emperor Tewodros and looted the churches and monasteries of Maqdala. The exact origins of the ZSR manuscript psalter are unknown; it was acquired as a gift in the 1940′s as part of the personal collection of Oscar T. Smith.


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