Special Collections & Archives Blog

Author Archive

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.

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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]

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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]

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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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diderot_o

. . . 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.

Clotelle, by William Wells Brown (1867)

Monday, August 26, 2013 2:59 pm

clotell illus2

Illustration from William Wells Brown’s Clotelle; or, The Colored Heroine

When William Wells Brown’s Clotel; or, The President’s Daughter appeared in London in 1853, it was the first novel ever published by an African-American author. Brown’s novel was reissued four times over the next fifteen years, and with each edition the author made changes to the characters and the narrative. ZSR Special Collections recently purchased a copy of the 1867 edition, titled Clotelle; or, The Colored Heroine. This is the fourth and last version published and the only one in which the Civil War and its immediate aftermath are addressed.

clotelle tp1

William Wells Brown (1814-1884) was born in Kentucky to an enslaved woman named Elizabeth. His father was a white relative of his mother’s owner, Dr. John Young. The household soon relocated to St. Louis, and young William was put to work at various tasks. As was common practice, he was also rented out as temporary help to others, including a slave trader who regularly transported slaves down the Mississippi from St. Louis to New Orleans. It was from one of these voyages that William managed to escape in 1834. As he later recounted in his 1847 memoir Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave, he made his way through Ohio and finally to freedom in Canada. William took his surnames from an Ohio Quaker man who assisted his escape.

clotelle chapter6

From Clotelle; or, The Colored Heroine

By the 1840s Brown was living in New York and was active in the American abolitionist movement. He became a popular lecturer at anti-slavery meetings and in 1849 undertook a lecture tour of England. Reluctant to return home after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, Brown remained in England for several years. He had already published works of nonfiction, but the tremendous success of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (serialized in 1851 and published as a novel in 1852) inspired him to try his hand at fiction. The result was Clotel; or, The President’s Daughter: A Narrative of Slave Life in the United States.

This original version, intended for an English audience, had as its starting point the persistent rumors that Thomas Jefferson had fathered the children of an enslaved Virginia woman. In this first Clotel Brown gives Jefferson two fictional daughters, both of whom are sold at the auction block. One of them is the Clotel of the title, who suffers various trials and eventually escapes her captors. But when Clotel returns to Virginia to rescue her still-enslaved daughter, she is set upon by slave-hunters. To avoid inevitable capture, she throws herself to her death in the Potomac River—just a few miles from where her indifferent father is absorbed in power and politics. As the book ends, however, Clotel’s daughter Mary manages to escape to freedom in France.

Brown’s narrative was not published in the U.S. until 1860, when it was serialized in the Anglo-African Magazine under the title Miralda; or, The Beautiful Quadroon. In 1864 a third edition titled Clotelle: A Tale of the Southern States appeared as part of abolitionist James Redpath’s Books for the Camp Fires series intended for Union soldiers. And finally in 1867 the last version, Clotelle; or, The Colored Heroine, was published as a novel by the mainstream Boston publishers Lee and Shepard.

redpath title1

Title page from James Redpath’s biography of John Brown, held by ZSR Special Collections. As the anonymous readers’ annotations suggest, Brown remained a controversial figure for many years after the Civil War.

The original Thomas Jefferson storyline is absent in all of the American editions. In the 1867 narrative, the title character Clotelle corresponds to the daughter Mary of the original novel. Clotelle is here the granddaughter of an enslaved woman who claimed that her father was an unnamed “American Senator.” Brown never made explicit the reason for this alteration in plot, but it is possible that he did not want the Jefferson controversy to overshadow his larger message, which was that slavery existed in large part because those men with the most power, influence, and moral credibility in U.S. society had refused to condemn it. As Brown states in his Preface to the first edition of Clotel,

 Were it not for persons in high places owning slaves, and thereby giving the system a reputation, and especially professed Christians, Slavery would long since have been abolished. The influence of the great “honours the corruption, and chastisement doth therefore hide his head.” The great aim of the true friends of the slave should be to lay bare the institution, so that the gaze of the world may be upon it, and cause the wise, the prudent, and the pious to withdraw their support from it, and leave it to its own fate. It does the cause of emancipation but little good to cry out in tones of execration against the traders, the kidnappers, the hireling overseers, and brutal drivers, so long as nothing is said to fasten the guilt on those who move in a higher circle.

The 1867 Clotelle is in effect the first Civil War novel by an African American, as Brown added four short chapters at the end which detail his characters’ experiences during and immediately after the war. When war breaks out in 1861, Clotelle and her husband Jerome, also a fugitive slave, are living happily in Europe. They return to the U.S. to assist in the war effort, and Jerome is almost immediately killed in battle (in a fictionalized version of the Louisiana Native Guards at Port Hudson). Grief-stricken Clotelle becomes a volunteer nurse for the Union prisoners at Andersonville and aids in the escape of 96 men. She is imprisoned as a Union sympathizer but escapes with the help of her captors’ slaves, and she flees to New Orleans to wait out the end of the war. The novel closes after the war with Clotelle returning to Mississippi and purchasing the plantation on which she was once a slave in order to open a school for freedmen.

clotelle chapter36

From Clotelle; or, The Colored Heroine (1867)

The 1867 Clotelle, like the previous versions, stuck closely to the standard formula for a 19th century sentimental novel. The plot is full of melodrama and highly improbable coincidences, and the female characters are all virtuous, beautiful, and very light-skinned (the term quadroon referred to a person with one black and three white grandparents). Later critics accused Brown of promoting stereotypes and currying favor with his white readers by making his heroines nearly white and conventionally beautiful. But the mixed racial heritage of Brown’s female characters also serves to highlight the hypocrisy of 19th century racial distinctions. The opening paragraph of Clotelle satirizes the sentimental depictions of mixed-race women:

For many years the South has been noted for its beautiful Quadroon women. Bottles of ink, and reams of paper, have been used to portray the “finely-cut and well-moulded features,” the “silken curls,” the “dark and brilliant eyes,” the “splendid forms,” the “fascinating smiles,” and “accomplished manners” of these impassioned and voluptuous daughters of the two races, — the unlawful product of the crime of human bondage.

Notwithstanding the fact that Brown himself is often guilty of such breathless descriptions, he nevertheless reminds his readers that these visions of loveliness are the product of a corrupt society that condones adultery and the sexual exploitation of enslaved women.

clotelle chapter1

Opening chapter of Clotelle; or, The Colored Heroine (1867)

Many of the incidents in Clotelle are based on Brown’s own experience of slavery. And, as with many abolitionist writers of the time, one of his main goals is to debunk the notion that chattel slavery could ever be a benign institution. When Clotelle tries to convince her white, slave-owning father to free his slaves, he argues that

I have always treated my slaves well… and my neighbors, too, are generally good men; for slavery in Virginia is not like slavery in the other States.

But Clotelle’s husband Jerome counters that

Their right to be free…is taken from them, and they have no security for their comfort, but the humanity and generosity of men, who have been trained to regard them not as brethren, but as mere property. Humanity and generosity are, at best, but poor guaranties for the protection of those who cannot assert their rights, and over whom the law throws no protection. [103]

All of Brown’s heroines are at some point under the protection of one kindly white man or another. But this protected position is never secure. When the women’s masters or lovers die, or leave, or suffer financial setbacks, the women and their children can suffer a slave’s worst fate. The sudden reversals of fortune common in sentimental novels here serve to illustrate Brown’s point.

clotelle front2

The frontispiece illustration from Clotelle; or, The Colored Heroine depicts a white slave owner offering a young boy as payment for his gambling debts

The first three versions of Clotelle were abolitionist novels, written to win readers over to the anti-slavery cause. So why did Brown and his publishers feel the need to issue yet another edition in 1867, after the war had been won?

The last Clotelle hints at some of the issues that Brown knew would face African-Americans after the war. He recognized the urgent need for education of newly-freed slaves, and the continuing hostility of many white Americans toward them. And as a historian, Brown also understood the vital importance of telling the stories of African-Americans before, during, and after the war. The added chapters of the 1867 Clotelle also touch on the role of women in post-war society. Although Brown’s Clotelle is in many respects a typical heroine of the 19th century domestic novel, the last version of his book denies her the traditional happy ending of marriage and family. Instead she is forced to rely on her own resources to create a life of useful service for herself.

clotelle dedication

Dedication page for Clotelle; or, The Colored Heroine

Many other authors would go on to describe the African-American Civil War experience in works of fiction. But as the first of its kind, Brown’s novel in all its versions offers a fascinating glimpse into both the literary conventions and the political controversies of this pivotal era in American history.

____________________________

Selected Resources

Brown, William Wells and Robert S. Levine. Clotel; or, The President’s Daughter: A Narrative of Slave Life in the United States. Bedford Cultural Edition. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000.

Ann duCille.  “Where in the World Is William Wells Brown? Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, and the DNA of African-American Literary History.” American Literary History, Vol. 12, No. 3, (Autumn, 2000), pp. 443-462. http://www.jstor.org/stable/490213

Jennifer James “ ‘Civil’ War Wounds: William Wells Brown, Violence, and the Domestic Narrative.” African American Review , Vol. 39, No. 1/2 (Spring – Summer, 2005), pp. 39-54. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40033635

Author Appearances in Special Collections

Tuesday, July 23, 2013 12:32 pm

During the first week of September, Special Collections will host appearances by two authors who have featured rare books, manuscripts, and libraries in their bestselling works of fiction. Book signings will follow each talk.  Both events are free and open to the public, and both will take place in the Special Collections and Archives Reading Room on the 6th floor of the Z. Smith Reynolds Library.

On Wednesday, September 4 at 3:30 p.m., Charlie Lovett will talk about his new novel, The Bookman’s Tale. In this story of bookish intrigue, the young Peter Byerly, becomes fascinated by the rare books world while working as a student assistant in the special collections department at his North Carolina college. Peter later becomes a rare-books dealer and comes upon a mysterious publication that may put to rest the Shakespeare authorship controversy once and for all.

Charlie is the son of Wake Forest Professor Emeritus Robert Lovett, and the Z. Smith Reynolds Library rare books collection and special collections reading room were an inspiration for his novel.

On Friday, September 6 at 3:00 p.m. we will host Deborah Harkness, author of the hugely popular All Souls trilogy.  Deborah is a featured author at the 9th annual Bookmarks Festival of Books, a free event happening in downtown Winston-Salem on Saturday, September 7. Her Wake Forest appearance is co-sponsored by Bookmarks and ZSR Library as part of the Bookmarks Authors in Schools program.

Deborah’s novels combine literature and history with a supernatural world of witches, vampires, and daemons who coexist warily with humans and with each other. A Discovery of Witches, the first book in the trilogy, introduced Diana Bishop, a history professor and reluctant witch, who discovers a mysterious alchemical manuscript while doing research in Oxford’s Bodleian Library. In Shadow of Night, Diana and her vampire cohort Matthew time-travel to Elizabethan England in an attempt to track down the origin and meaning of the manuscript.

A new exhibit will also be on view in the Special Collections Reading Room. Entitled Books in Fiction, it showcases some of the authors and books featured in Charlie Lovett and Deborah Harkness’s novels.

For more information, contact Megan Mulder at 336-758-5091 or mulder@wfu.edu.

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.


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