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Charlotte’s Web, by E. B. White (1952)

Thursday, September 20, 2012 1:44 pm

E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, one of the most beloved children’s books of the 20th century, was first published 60 years ago this month.

Elwyn Brooks White (1899-1985) had a long career as a contributor and an editorial staff member at The New Yorker. He wrote poetry and novels for adults and was perhaps best known for his nonfiction essays. White had a lifelong affinity for animals and love of the natural world. He married New Yorker editor Katherine Angell in 1929 and soon after bought a farm in Maine. White’s keen observations on farm life in Charlotte’s Web and other writings were informed by his firsthand experience of life in the barnyard.

 

Title page from ZSR Library’s copy of the 1952 first edition of Charlotte’s Web

White wrote three children’s books: Stuart Little (1945), Charlotte’s Web (1952), and The Trumpet of the Swan (1970).

Ursula Nordstrom was chief editor of the children’s book division at Harper and Brothers when E.B. White submitted the manuscript for Stuart Little. White was already well known by then for his pieces in The New Yorker and other literary magazines, and Nordrstrom later recalled that

Only another children’s book editor can know the emotions one has on hearing that a famous writer of adult books is going to send a book for children to the house, for talent in the former does not always carry over to the latter. And so it was with a certain relief that I read the manuscript and found that I adored it.

Stuart Little was published in 1945 to widespread (if not universal) acclaim. Some years later White delivered another manuscript to Nordstrom:

One day in the early spring of 1952 I was sitting in my Harper office and the receptionist came in to tell me E. B. White was outside. I went out to the elevator and greeted him, and he said, “I’ve brought you a new manuscript.” I hadn’t known he was even close to finishing a second book and I was overwhelmed. Thinking immediately that it was already pretty late to get it illustrated and printed and bound in time for the fall list, I said, “Have you given me a carbon copy too, so I can rush it off to Garth [Williams]?”

“No,” he said, “this is the only copy; I didn’t make a carbon copy.” And he gave me the only copy in existence of “Charlotte’s Web,” got back on the elevator and left.

An editor seldom has the luxury of enough time in the office to read manuscripts, but I decided I would have to give myself just that luxury that afternoon. There were no Xerox machines in 1952, and I didn’t dare take a chance on losing the manuscript on the train home, or whatever. So I sat down and began to read.

By the time she finished reading, Nordstrom recalled, “I knew that this was one of the great ones.”

Dust jacket description from the first edition

Part of the enduring appeal of Charlotte’s Web is White’s loving but entirely unsentimental depiction of farm life. The idea for the book grew out of White’s experiences on his own farm, in particular his attempt to save a dying pig, which he wrote about in a 1948 essay. The talking animals in Charlotte’s Web are funny and charming, but they exist in a real world where children grow up, friends die, and animals (including humans) kill and eat other animals to survive.

White was fascinated by spiders and thoroughly researched the lives and habits of American arachnids while writing his book. At one point he brought an egg sac from the Maine farm back to the family’s Manhattan apartment. A few weeks later he was delighted to find hundreds of baby spiderlets swarming the top of his bedroom dresser. One suspects that the kindly Dr. Dorian is speaking for the author of Charlotte’s Web when he observes that

I don’t understand how a spider learned to spin a web in the first place. When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle.

Charlotte’s Web was a popular and critical success when it appeared in the fall of 1952. In a review in the New York Times (October 15, 1952) Eudora Welty praised White’s melding of the whimsical and the profound.

What the book is about is friendship on earth, affection and protection, adventure and miracle, life and death, trust and treachery, pleasure and pain, and the passing of time. As a piece of work it is just about perfect, and just about magical in the way it is done. What it all proves — in the words of the minister in the story which he hands down to his congregation after Charlotte writes ”Some Pig” in her web — is ”that human beings must always be on the watch for the coming of wonders.”

Interviewed by George Plimpton and Frank H. Crowther in the Paris Review (Fall 1969), White shared his thoughts on writing for children:

Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth. They accept, almost without question, anything you present them with, as long as it is presented honestly, fearlessly, and clearly. I handed them, against the advice of experts, a mouse-boy, and they accepted it without a quiver. In Charlottes Web, I gave them a literate spider, and they took that.

Some writers for children deliberately avoid using words they think a child doesn’t know. This emasculates the prose and, I suspect, bores the reader. Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words, and they backhand them over the net. They love words that give them a hard time, provided they are in a context that absorbs their attention. I’m lucky again: my own vocabulary is small, compared to most writers, and I tend to use the short words. So it’s no problem for me to write for children. We have a lot in common.

The first edition of Charlotte’s Web featured 46 illustrations by Garth Williams. Williams had also illustrated White’s first children’s book Stuart Little. An aspiring but unsuccessful New Yorker cartoonist at the time, Williams had been offered the Stuart Little assignment by Ursula Nordstrom after several other illustrators turned it down. But Williams’s precise line drawings proved a good match for E. B. White’s prose, and he was Nordstrom’s immediate choice for Charlotte’s Web. Williams went on to illustrate nearly 100 children’s books, including titles by Margaret Wise Brown, Charlotte Zolotow, George Selden, and the 1960s reissue of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s complete Little House series.

Williams is said to have used his oldest daughter, Fiona, as the model for Fern Arable.

ZSR Library’s first edition of Charlotte’s Web is one of many E. B. White titles from the Lynwood Giacomini collection of 20th century American literature. The Giacomini collection was purchased by the library in 1976.

Fall 2012 Exhibit: Faithfully English’d: Classical Literature in Translation

Thursday, September 6, 2012 3:58 pm
Detail from the engraved title page of George Chapman’s The Whole Works of Homer (1616)

Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold…

John Keats, “On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer”

The book that inspired Keats’s famous sonnet, George Chapman’s The Whole Works of Homer,  is one of the volumes included in the Z. Smith Reynolds Library Special Collections fall 2012 exhibit.  On view August 2012 through February 2013, Faithfully English’d: Classical Literature in Translation features Greek and Latin classics in English translations from the 14th through 20th centuries. All of the books are from the ZSR Rare Books Collection.

The exhibit includes translations by Geoffrey Chaucer, George Sandys, John Dryden, Aphra Behn, Alexander Pope, Ezra Pound, Allen Mandelbaum, and many others.  The books themselves, published from the 16th through 20th centuries, are as varied as the texts they convey. From large, lavishly illustrated folios to cheaply bound schoolbooks, the different physical manifestations attest to the diverse readership of classical translations.

The five centuries’ worth of books on view are a testament to the enduring fascination that English-speaking authors and readers have for the literature of ancient Greece and Rome. But the texts also show how styles and theories of translation have changed over the centuries. George Chapman, a contemporary of Shakespeare, was the first author to attempt to render both the Iliad and Odyssey into English verse. Chapman’s extravagant Elizabethan style contrasts with the carefully crafted heroic couplets of Alexander Pope’s 1715 Iliad. William Morris’s Odyssey (1887), inspired by Anglo-Saxon poetry, proves interesting if not particularly readable. And annotated typescript draft pages of Allen Mandelbaum’s 1990 Odyssey show the painstaking process of translating Homer’s verse into modern English poetry.

Interest in Homer’s epics has scarcely flagged for the past 500 years, but some classical authors seem to resonate more strongly in certain periods. Aesop’s fables, for example, are now largely regarded as children’s fare. But in Roger L’Estrange’s 1692 translation they are the basis for pointed political satire. The Roman poet Ovid, widely read from medieval times through the 18th century, is the subject of many translations and adaptations, from Chaucer’s Legends of Good Women (on view here in a 1515 edition) to Mandelbaum’s 1993 translation of the Metamorphoses.

Throughout the past five centuries translations have provided access to classical texts for those who cannot read the original Greek and Latin. From the Renaissance through the 19th century, anyone who wanted to participate in the literary culture and intellectual discourse of England needed to be familiar with the classics. But fluency in Latin, and even more so in Greek, required an elite education difficult for anyone but the sons of wealthy families to attain. John Keats, the son of a London stable-master, experienced Homer through Chapman’s verses. William Shakespeare, whose merchant-class origins left him with “small Latin and less Greek,” used Thomas North’s 1579 translation of Plutarch’s Lives as the basis for Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus. And Aphra Behn , in a dedicatory verse for Thomas Creech’s translation of Lucretius (1638), praised the translator while lamenting the fact that women were denied a classical education:

The Godlike Virgil and Great Homer’s Muse
Like Divine Mysteries are conceal’d from us….
But… Thou by this Translation dost advance
Our Knowledge from the state of Ignorance;
And Equall’st Us to Man!

The best translations in every era combine thorough scholarship with literary sensibility and a profound appreciation of the original texts. Pope, Dryden, and others preface their works with discussions of how best to render Greek and Latin texts into English. Most counsel a middle ground between literal translation and loose paraphrase. Pope famously observes in his introduction to the Iliad that

It is the first grand duty of an interpreter to give his author entire and unmaimed; and for the rest, the diction and versification only are his proper province, since these must be his own, but the others he is to take as he finds them.

Other authors have adapted Greek and Latin texts to create entirely new works of literature. From Chaucer to James Joyce, whose Ulysses is on exhibit here, countless English authors have taken inspiration from the classics.

The ZSR Special Collections exhibit is one of several fall 2012 events celebrating classical translations and adaptations. Other events include the Reynolda House special exhibit Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey, a celebration of the life of Allen Mandelbaum, and an appearance by children’s author Rick Riordan.

Faithfully English’d: Classical Literature in Translation  is on exhibit in the Special Collections and Archives Reading Room on the 6th floor of the Reynolds Wing. For more information contact Megan Mulder at 758-5091.

Life in the West of Ireland, by Jack Butler Yeats (1912)

Friday, August 3, 2012 4:04 pm

Jack Butler Yeats (1871-1957) is considered by many to be the most important Irish artist of the 20th century. Like his brother, the poet William Butler Yeats , Jack Yeats was a key figure in the Celtic Revival movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Jack Yeats is best known for his long and prolific career in the visual arts, but he also wrote novels, essays, and plays.  A profound attachment to the land and people of Ireland is evident in all of his work.

1912 first edition of Life in the West of Ireland

Jack was the youngest child of Irish artist John Butler Yeats and his wife Susan Pollexfen. The Yeats family were Anglo-Irish Protestants from County Sligo, Ireland, but Jack Yeats was born in London, where his father had moved the family after giving up a law practice to pursue his artistic ambitions. John Yeats had some success as a portrait artist, but the family suffered chronic financial difficulties. When Jack was eight years old he was sent to live with his maternal grandparents in Sligo on the northwest coast of Ireland, where he remained for the next eleven years. When he returned to London in 1887, Jack entered art school and began his career as a professional artist and illustrator.

Frontispiece illustration for Life in the West of Ireland

Jack began his career as an illustrator and cartoonist for popular English magazines and newspapers. He also provided artwork for cards and publications of his sister Elizabeth Yeats’s Cuala Press. In 1910 Jack and his wife moved back to Ireland and settled there permanently.

Jack Yeats once remarked to Thomas MacGreevy that “No one creates… the artist assembles memories.” Yeats’s memories of the Sligo of his childhood are the subject of Life in the West of Ireland, a volume of line drawings, watercolors, and reproductions of oil paintings  published in 1912.

Z. Smith Reynolds Library Special Collections holds two copies of the first edition of Life in the West of Ireland. One is a presentation copy from Jack Yeats to Augusta, Lady Gregory.

Inscription by Jack Yeats

Lady Gregory was a folklorist, playwright, and monumental figure in the Irish Literary Renaissance. She advised and encouraged many of the most important Irish writers and artists of the time, including both William and Jack Yeats.  Jack sent her a copy of Life in the West of Ireland in December 1912 as she was embarking on a tour of the United States.

Manuscript note from Jack Yeats laid into the ZSR copy of Life in the West of Ireland

Life in the West of Ireland is an affectionate but unsentimental portrait of a way of life that was disappearing in the early 20th century. Yeats’s illustrations document the everyday life of inhabitants of towns like Sligo.

From an early age Jack Yeats had an interest in theater and spectacle. Many of the illustrations in Life in the West of Ireland depict popular entertainments– circuses, fairs, and stage melodramas.

Later in his career Jack Yeats turned more to oil painting. Several of his paintings are reproduced as black and white plates in Life in the West of Ireland.

The first edition of Life in the West of Ireland included 150 copies of a special limited edition.

Limited edition (left) and regular first edition (right), both published by Maunsel & Co.

ZSR Special Collections holds copy 30 of the limited edition, with an original color sketch of a circus clown.

Sketch by Jack Yeats for the limited edition of Life in the West of Ireland

Wake Forest’s copies of the inscribed first edition and the limited edition were purchased by the library in 1972 and 1974 respectively. They are part of the extensive collection of Irish Literary Renaissance materials in ZSR Library’s Special Collections. This collection includes most of Jack Yeats’s published works, along with near-complete collections of the works of W.B. Yeats, Lady Gregory, and many other important Irish writers. ZSR Special Collections also holds the archives of Liam Miller and his Dolmen Press, which was the successor to the Cuala Press and publisher of many important works of Irish literature in the second half of the 20th century.

The American Star, 1817

Thursday, June 28, 2012 3:11 pm

Two hundred years ago this month, the War of 1812 began. This three-year conflict with Britain was, as one recent commentator observed, “the Jan Brady of American conflicts for good reason: not only was it book-ended by two vastly more significant wars, but its causes weren’t sexy, its conclusions were muddy, and its most famous battle took place after peace was declared.”

But one thing historians agree on is that the War of 1812 was instrumental in forging a national identity for the still-new United States. Public enthusiasm for the music and poetry of the war persisted long after ratification of the Treaty of Ghent ended the conflict in 1815. So when Richmond bookseller and publisher Peter Cottom brought out a second edition of his popular American Star songster in 1817, the small volume, subtitled A Choice Collection of the Most Approved Patriotic & Other Songs, contained a large number of songs celebrating American victories in the recent war.

The most famous of these is found on page 4

Francis Scott Key wrote the text of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in September 1814 while witnessing the British attack on Baltimore’s Fort McHenry. Shortly thereafter it was published as a broadside, set to the music of the popular tune “To Anacreon in Heaven“. The 1817 edition of The American Star is one of the earliest appearances of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in a collection of songs.

Many lesser-known songs from the War of 1812 are included in The American Star. Several of them, like the “Song” pictured above, are set to the same tune as Key’s lyrics.

Over half of the songs in the volume have nationalistic themes. Some celebrate specific battles or war heroes:

General William Hull is actually best known for his embarrassing surrender of Detroit to the British in August 1812.

The British navy’s unprovoked attack on the USS Chesapeake in 1807 was one of the events that led the U.S. to declare war.

The battle of Lake Erie, fought in September 1813, was one of the largest naval engagements of the war and an important victory for the U.S.

U.S. forces led by Andrew Jackson defended the newly acquired Louisiana territory from a British invasion in the battle of New Orleans, the last major battle of the war.

Other songs in the collection are more generally patriotic. This one, by poet Samuel Woodworth, celebrates the role of the printing press in a democratic society:

The rest of the songs are largely popular ballads of the time, many from the musical theater. The subtitle of one called “Nobody Coming to Marry Me” asserts that it was “sang [sic.] by Mrs. Poe, with unbounded applause, at the New-York Theatre.”

Mrs. Poe was the young actress Elizabeth Arnold Poe. Deserted by her husband, she attempted to support her three small children by a career onstage before her very early death. Her second son, Edgar, became one of the most important American authors of the 19th century.

ZSR Library’s copy of The American Star was donated to the Wake Forest College Library sometime in the 19th century. It remained in the circulating collection until 2011.  The book has been heavily used and inexpertly repaired, and it is missing its title page.

Even as a new book, the small volume would not have been visually impressive. The second edition of The American Star was printed on poor quality paper and cheaply bound, an inexpensive book intended for a wide audience. Its publisher, Peter Cottom, traded mostly in almanacs, practical handbooks, and a few legal documents (he is known to have supplied Thomas Jefferson with reading material). The American Star was popular entertainment for citizens of the still evolving United States. It may not be pretty, but it is a valuable artifact from the nation’s formative years.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle (1892)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012 2:52 pm

Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) was a man of many talents and many interests, but he is best known as the creator of the world’s most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes.

Conan Doyle published his first story in 1879, while he was a medical student at the University of Edinburgh. After completing his studies, Conan Doyle made repeated attempts to establish a medical practice. He was not a great success as a doctor, which had the benefit of giving him plenty of spare time to continue his writing career. By 1891 he had given up medicine entirely and was supporting his family (a wife and two small children) solely by his writing.

Detective fiction was a fairly new genre when Sherlock Holmes made his first appearance in “A Study in Scarlet,” published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual for 1887. A second Holmes story, “The Sign of the Four,” appeared in Lippincott’s Magazine in 1890. Both stories were also published as individual volumes.

But it was the July 1891 publication of “A Scandal in Bohemia” in The Strand magazine that made Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle household names.

The Strand, July 1891

The Strand, a new venture from publisher and entrepreneur George Newnes, was a popular magazine aimed at a middle-class family readership. Its issues included a variety of fiction and nonfiction pieces.

From the first issue of The Strand

Conan Doyle observed that the “disconnected stories” common in magazines of the time did not particularly inspire reader loyalty. But an ongoing serial story presented problems of its own: readers who missed one issue might lose the plot and become uninterested. Conan Doyle posited that

Clearly the ideal compromise was a character which carried through, and yet instalments [sic.] which were each complete in themselves, so that the purchaser was always sure that he could relish the whole contents of the magazine. I believe that I was the first to realize this, and “The Strand Magazine” the first to put it into practice. . . . Looking round for my central character I felt that Sherlock Holmes, whom I had already handled in two little books, would easily lend himself to a succession of short stories. [Memories and Adventures, 90]

Strand editor Greenhough Smith agreed, and he requested a series of six Sherlock Holmes stories. They were hugely popular and were a major factor in the new magazine’s becoming highly successful. The stories were published in The Strand between July 1891 and June 1892. Immediately thereafter they were reprinted as a separate volume entitled The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

The book was a large volume, bound in bright blue with prominent gold lettering and an illustration that was a facsimile of a Strand Magazine cover. It was clearly intended to catch the eye of a potential buyer scanning a bookseller’s stalls, and to reinforce the connection with the magazine.

First edition of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

The book version included the illustrations created by Sidney Paget for the magazine installments. Conan Doyle approved of the illustrations, although he initially thought that Paget had made Sherlock Holmes a bit too handsome. It was Paget who created the now-iconic image of Holmes in his long coat and deerstalker hat.

Illustration by Sidney Paget from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

The publication of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes established Conan Doyle as an author of note. In an interview in The Bookman (May 1892) he was asked “how on earth he had evolved, apparently out of his inner consciousness, such an extraordinary person as his detective Sherlock Holmes.” Conan Doyle replied that

[I]f you please, he is not evolved out of any one’s inner consciousness. Sherlock Holmes is the literary embodiment. . . of my memory of a professor of medicine at Edinburgh University [Dr. Joesph Bell], who would sit in the patients’ waiting-room. . . and diagnose the people as they came in, before they had even opened their mouths. He would tell them their symptoms, he would give them details of their lives, and he would hardly ever make a mistake. ["A Talk with Dr. Conan Doyle", 50]

Dedication page from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Dr. Bell himself, the model for Sherlock Holmes, reviewed The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes for The Bookman (December 1892). Bell praised Conan Doyle’s skill as an author and confirmed the link between the diagnostician and the detective:

The precise and intelligent recognition and appreciation of minor differences is the real essential factor in all successful medical diagnosis. Carried into ordinary life, granted the presence of an insatiable curiosity and fairly acute senses, you have Sherlock Holmes as he astonishes his somewhat dense friend Watson; carried out in a specialised training, you have Sherlock Holmes the skilled detective. [79]

Bell also noted that the stories had been collected in a “handsome volume,” but he observed that “Had the handsome volume been divided into two, it would not have been so heavy to hold.” [81]

Bell was not the only reviewer to remark on the physical appearance of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. A less sympathetic writer for the National Observer and British Review (29 October 1892) published an “interview” with Sherlock Holmes himself, in which the fictional detective is highly critical of his creator. Conan Doyle in this account is a money-grubbing hack, “a man of few scruples. . . striving, like all his class, to make ‘copy’ where he can.” And Holmes deduces this from looking at a copy of The Adventures:

You see this book is large and expensively brought out; moreover it is issued by a publisher who caters for the million. Hence it is clear that a very large sale is anticipated. Why? Because the book is supposed to contain a popular element, and that popular element is myself. Now, it follows that Dr. Doyle must have heard of me, through Watson or the police; that he saw I should suit his game (which was money); and having invented spurious stories about me that he hit upon a publisher similarly unscrupulous. [606-607]

The huge popularity of the Sherlock Holmes books provoked something of a backlash from critics like the one from the National Observer. The late 19th century saw a deluge of books and magazines like The Strand which were aimed at a middle and working-class readership who had more leisure time and disposable income than previous generations. The literary elite was alarmed by this incursion of commerce into the realm of art. And Arthur Conan Doyle himself was not immune to this view. Although he was entirely unapologetic about writing for a popular audience, he also had no illusions about the Sherlock Holmes stories being taken seriously as literature. Conan Doyle was far more invested in his works of historical fiction (and later nonfiction histories), telling his Bookman interviewer “That is the only work I really fancy.”

Two of Conan Doyle’s many works of historical fiction

After the great success of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle wrote a second series of Holmes stories for The Strand. Twelve stories appeared between December 1892 and December 1893. The were collected into a volume called The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, published in January 1894.

Conan Doyle intended this to be Sherlock Holmes’s last outing. In the last story, “The Final Problem,” Holmes and his arch-nemesis James Moriarty plunge to their apparent deaths over the Reichenbach Falls (Conan Doyle got the idea during a family holiday in the Alps).

Sherlock Holmes fans were outraged. “They say that a man is never properly appreciated until he is dead,” Conan Doyle later observed, “and the general protest against my summary execution of Holmes taught me how many and how numerous were his friends.” [Memories and Adventures, 94]

Conan Doyle eventually relented, publishing “The Hound of the Baskervilles” (which supposedly took place before Holmes’s death) in 1901, and finally bringing Holmes back to life (apparently he had faked his fatal plunge over the falls) in 1903. Conan Doyle published more than 30 additional Sherlock Holmes stories before his own death in 1930.

Over a century later, Sherlock Holmes is still the most famous detective in the world. The audience for the original stories and for new adaptations is as enthusiastic today as it was in the 19th century. It would appear that Sherlock Holmes really is immortal.

The Z. Smith Reynolds Library Special Collections copies of the first editions of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes are from the library of Charles Babcock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (1590), by Theodor deBry, Thomas Hariot, and John White

Monday, April 30, 2012 8:15 pm

Secotan priest

Secotan priest

In 1590 the Frankfurt printer and engraver Theodor deBry published a folio edition of Thomas Hariot’s Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia with engraved illustrations based on John White’s watercolor paintings. DeBry’s engravings were the first images of indigenous North Americans that most 16th century Europeans had ever seen.

debry8

Thomas Hariot, a scientist, and John White, an artist and cartographer, had journeyed to North America in 1585 as part of Sir Walter Raleigh’s attempt to found an English colony in the new world. Hariot and White were charged with providing an accurate description, in words and images, of the geography, native peoples, and natural resources of the new world.

Raleigh and his associates wanted to encourage settlement in the Virginia colony in order to stake an English claim to compete with the Spanish and French conquests of much of North and South America. Accordingly, Hariot’s account emphasizes the abundant resources and generally friendly Indians that he encountered in Virginia.

debry3

John White created the first accurate map of the Virginia coast.He also painted watercolor images of the Indians he encountered, documenting their clothing and tools, religious and social rituals, agricultural methods, buildings, ships, and weapons.

Village of Secotan

Village of Secotan

Hariot and White returned to England in 1586 and delivered their accounts to the colony’s backers. In 1587 another group of English colonists set out for Roanoke, with John White as appointed governor of the colony. Also in this group were White’s daughter Eleanor and her husband Ananias Dare, future parents of Virginia Dare. The settlement did not fare well: food supplies ran low, and White was sent back to England for provisions the next autumn. When he finally returned in 1590 the Roanoke settlement had been abandoned and the colonists had disappeared.

Meanwhile in England Thomas Hariot’s account of his experiences, titled A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, had been published as an individual quarto and as part of Richard Hakluyt’s extremely popular compendium of travel literature, Principall Navigations, Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation (1589). Hakluyt’s book contained no illustations, however, and in 1590 he contracted with Theodor deBry, a skilled engraver and printer, to publish a deluxe volume of Hariot’s work along with illustrations based on White’s paintings.

DeBry’s edition was the first volume in a series of travel narratives –Collectiones Peregrinationum in Indiam Orientalem et Indiam Occidentalem (1590-1634)– for which he became famous. Accounts of European exploration and conquest of the Americas, Africa, and Asia were hugely popular in the 16th and 17th centuries. And DeBry’s Briefe and True Report has many features typical of the genre. Although ZSR’s copy is in Latin, DeBry also published editions in Hariot’s original English as well as Dutch, German, and French. Latin was still the language of international scholarship in 16th century Europe– but travel accounts were written by soldiers and adventurers, not academics. At the beginning of the century, nearly all printed material was in Latin; by 1600 a shift was underway toward publishing in the vernacular languages.

Title page from the 1588 London quarto edition of Hariot's Briefe and True Report (openlibrary.org)

Title page from the 1588 London quarto edition of Hariot’s Briefe and True Report (openlibrary.org)

The 16th century also saw the beginnings of an empirical approach to science and history. Instead of relying on classical and church authority, naturalists and explorers recorded their first hand observations of the new lands and cultures they encountered. Thus the early modern travel narrative set itself in opposition to classical works of cosmography.

In many ways Thomas Hariot’s narrative and John White’s images typify this new approach. And deBry from his very title page makes it obvious that he is charting new territory. Instead of the classical figures who usually inhabited the ornate architecture on such pages, DeBry’s book features White’s Algonquian Indians. The new world literally replaces the old on the book’s first page.

debry1

Despite the flood of firsthand travel narratives, 16th century Europeans were still influenced by the ideas of classical authors. In particular, images based on Pliny the Elder’s descriptions of the monstrous races from lands beyond the known world held firm sway over the imaginations of many Europeans.

Monstrous inhabitants of lands beyond Christendom (from the ZSR copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle, 1498)

Monstrous inhabitants of lands beyond Christendom (from the ZSR copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle, 1498)

John White and Theodor deBry’s Indians– exotic but dignified and definitely human– provided one of the first correctives to these mythical images.

A chief woman of Pomeiooc and a young girl (Hariot identifies the girl's doll and rattle as gifts of the English)

A chief woman of Pomeiooc and a young girl (Hariot identifies the girl’s doll and rattle as gifts of the English)

DeBry’s engravings reproduce White’s paintings with reasonable accuracy. But a comparison of the paintings and engravings makes clear that deBry felt free to make some alterations. He added multiple perspectives to the depictions of several figures. He also filled in White’s spare backgrounds, and he altered the human figures, giving them more European facial features and the defined musculature typical of figural illustrations of the time.

John White’s original drawing “The Flyer” (from the British Museum)

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Theodor deBry’s version of “The Flyer”

DeBry also includes some additional images at the end of the volume–John White’s rather fanciful depiction of ancient Picts. For readers steeped in classical learning these images had obvious connotations: they were a reminder that for the Greek and Roman authors, the ancestors of deBry’s European readers were the barbarian races.

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A Pictish warrior. White’s original painting is even more striking, since the figure is covered in bright blue body paint.

The 1590 first edition of this volume is part of the ZSR Special Collections Americana collection. These materials were purchased between 1938 and 1943 with matching funds from the Wake Forest College Board of Trustees and the Tracy W. MacGregor fund.

A Curious Herbal, By Elizabeth Blackwell (1739)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012 3:37 pm

A genteel English woman of the 18th century had few resources to fall back on if her husband proved unable to support her financially. A girl’s education generally emphasized elegant accomplishments like drawing, music, and fine needlework, rather than practical skills. So when Elizabeth Blachrie Blackwell’s neer-do-well husband landed in a London debtor’s prison in 1736, leaving her with a baby to support, few would have blamed her if she had abandoned him and gone back to her parents in Aberdeen. But Blackwell was more resourceful than most.

Elizabeth Blackwell was skilled at drawing, and her husband Alexander, who had once worked as an unlicensed physician, was knowledgeable about the medicinal properties of herbs and plants. They came up with a plan to produce a new Herbal – a book with illustrations and descriptions of various plants.

Herbals had been important reference works since ancient times. They were widely circulated as manuscripts and, with the advent of printing, as books. Many herbals existed in England in the early 18th century, but Elizabeth Blackwell realized that there was a need for a new guide that included many species of plants discovered in the Americas.

 

In her entry for the “Coco-nut” (i.e. Cacao) tree, Blackwell observes that “The Kernels of the Nuts is what we make the Chocolate of, which is now so much used for Food; being accounted nourishing, restorative, fatning & provocative.”

In 1736 Blackwell took lodgings nearby the famous Chelsea Physic Garden. This botanical garden on the bank of the Thames was founded in 1673 as a nursery for medicinal plants and a training ground for botanists and apothecaries. The garden cultivated many species of plants imported from all over the world, including the Americas. Blackwell drew illustrations of the various plants cultivated there, then wrote descriptions of their attributes and medicinal properties in consultation with her husband and other experts and reference works. After receiving encouragement from Sir Hans Sloane and Dr. Richard Mead for some preliminary drawings, Blackwell undertook to create a comprehensive, illustrated guide to the plants in the garden.

Blackwell created the original drawings and watercolors, then engraved the illustrations on copper plates. An unusual feature of her herbal is that the entire pages are engraved- text as well as illustrations. Blackwell also hand-colored the plates for some copies of her publication.

A Curious Herbal was published first in parts. Between 1737 and 1739 Blackwell published four plates per week, for an eventual total of 500 engraved illustrations.

In 1739 publisher John Nourse printed two large folio volumes containing all 500 of Blackwell’s engravings. ZSR Library owns a copy of this first collected edition.

Alexander and Elizabeth Blackwell negotiated favorable terms with their publisher. And with the endorsement of many well-known physicians and scientists, the book sold well.

With profits from A Curious Herbal Elizabeth Blackwell was able to pay off her husband’s debts and free him from prison (Alexander did not reform his ways, however, and was executed in 1747 for his participation in a Swedish political conspiracy). Elizabeth died in 1758. But her book, the first English herbal by a woman, remained popular and was reprinted several times throughout the next two centuries.

 

 

Wake Forest Writers’ Archives on Exhibit

Thursday, March 22, 2012 10:43 am

In conjunction with the Words Awake celebration of Wake Forest writers, the spring exhibit in the Z. Smith Reynolds Library Special Collections and Archives features six Wake Forest authors whose papers reside in the archives and manuscripts collections.

Laurence Stallings, Harold Hayes, John Charles McNeill, W.J. Cash, and Gerald Johnson received their undergraduate degrees from Wake Forest. Maya Angelou was awarded an honorary doctorate and is a member of the WFU faculty. Each collection is a fascinating record of the author’s life and career.

A writer’s published works are the end products of a long process of thinking, researching, drafting, and editing. The material on view in Writers’ Lives illustrates this process. In one letter Harold Hayes tries to interest Gerald Johnson in writing an article for Esquire on the hypothetical result of the South winning the Civil War. In another Laurence Stallings describes the trials and tribulations of rehearsing a Broadway musical with his collaborator Oscar Hammerstein. W.J. Cash’s typewriter sits next to his annotated typescript of The Mind of the South. John Charles McNeill’s college notebook contains manuscript versions of poems published in Wake Forest’s Student magazine. An early draft of Maya Angelou’s screen adaptation of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is handwritten on notebook paper.

All of the archival materials in these collections were donated to ZSR Library by the authors themselves or by their family members and friends. The Special Collections and Archives department now makes them available to researchers all over the world.

The Writers’ Lives exhibit will be on view in the library’s Special Collections Reading Room (Reynolds Wing, 6th floor west) through June 2012. Special Collections is open Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information or to make an appointment to view the exhibit after hours, please contact Megan Mulder at 336-758-5091 or mulder@wfu.edu.

New class in Book History offered Fall 2012

Thursday, March 8, 2012 1:25 pm

In the fall of 2012 ZSR Library will offer a new class called History of the Book, 1500-2000 (LIB260). Taught by Special Collections Librarian Megan Mulder, the 1.5 credit class will introduce students to the exciting interdisciplinary field of Book History.

Book History (sometimes called History of Print Culture) combines history, literary studies, and bibliography. Its purpose, as set out by Robert Darnton in his seminal 1982 essay “What Is the History of Books?,” is “to understand how ideas were transmitted by print and how exposure to the printed word affected the thought and behavior of mankind during the last five hundred years.” While it is impossible to cover the whole scope of book history in one semester, this course will give students an introduction to the field and provide them with the theoretical and practical tools to pursue further study in the History of the Book and its many related disciplines.

The course will begin with the premise that we can approach printed texts as objects of study in three major ways: 1) as material objects with artifactual value, 2) as vehicles for text, and 3) as social constructs and agents of social change. Beginning with the first approach, students will learn to examine books as physical objects and to understand the processes by which they were created. In the process students will gain a basic vocabulary of descriptive bibliography, a necessary starting point for further study in the history of print culture. Our studies will also incorporate the other two approaches to the study of print culture, considering the role of books in the societies that produced them and the ways in which print conveys and shapes texts.

The class will meet in the ZSR Library Special Collections reading room. In each class meeting students will examine materials from the Rare Books Collection that illustrate concepts under discussion. They will learn how books were made during the hand-press period and will construct a small book of their own in the library’s Preservation Lab. As a final project each student will select one book from the Rare Books Collection and write its “biography”. This will provide practical experience with bibliographic description and with other techniques of book history research, including provenance research and reader analysis.

This class will meet weekly on Wednesdays 3:30 – 4:45 p.m. for the entire fall semester. It is open to anyone with an interest in books and their histories. For more information, contact Megan Mulder at mulder@wfu.edu or 758-5091.

The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, by Charles Dickens (1836-37)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012 4:26 pm

The author’s object in this work, was to place before the reader a constant succession of characters and incidents; to paint them in as vivid colours as he could command; and to render them, at the same time, life-like and amusing.

Charles Dickens

In February of 1836 the young publisher William Hall dropped in unannounced on Charles Dickens at his lodgings in Furnival’s Inn. The firm of Chapman and Hall wanted to hire the 24-year-old author to provide narrative for a new serial publication featuring illustrations by the popular caricaturist Robert Seymour.

Dickens had begun to make a name for himself as “Boz”, the author of satirical newspaper and magazine pieces. But for Chapman and Hall his narrative was of secondary importance to Seymour’s depictions of lower and middle-class Londoners engaged in sporting pastimes typically associated with the landed gentry. The young Dickens, however, had other ideas.

First part of The Pickwick Papers, April 1836

The serial was titled The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club and was “edited by Boz”. Chapman and Hall published it in monthly issues beginning in April 1836 with part 1 and ending in November 1837 with a double issue containing parts 19 and 20. The first booklet, cheaply bound in green printed paper wrappers, contained four illustrations and about 20 pages of narrative. The monthly parts were priced at an affordable 1 shilling each.

Dickens was not, as undergraduate legend has it, paid by the word, but rather by the issue. His starting salary at Chapman and Hall was about £14 per month.

The first part of The Pickwick Papers was not a commercial success. Dickens’s narrative was disjointed and hastily written, and his characters– Samuel Pickwick and his motley assortment of friends and followers– were not yet well developed. Dickens’s relationship with Seymour was strained and became more so when, at a meeting arranged by the publishers, he criticized the illustrations for the second part. The hypersensitive and mentally unstable Seymour committed suicide the next day.

Illustration by Robert Seymour

After the loss of their illustrator, Chapman, Hall, and Dickens reevaluated their plans for the publication. They decided to continue, but with Dickens’s narrative as the driving force, and with the number of illustrations in each issue reduced from four to two. R.W. Buss was hired to illustrate the third part, but he proved unsatisfactory. For the fourth part, young illustrator named Hablot Knight Browne was brought in. He soon adopted the pseudonym Phiz and embarked on a fruitful collaboration with Dickens.

Illustration by “Phiz”

The fourth part also introduced the character of Sam Weller, Pickwick’s comic manservant, who proved key to the development of Dickens’s story. The popularity of the serial took off, and by the end of the year the publishers had all they could do to keep up with demand for current and past issues of The Pickwick Papers. The relative cheapness of each issue meant that even working-class readers could afford to buy them.

Serial fiction was a new form of publication in the 1830s. Newspapers and magazines often featured installments of sensational stories, but novels were typically published as triple-deckers– three volumes published simultaneously– for the convenience of lending libraries. Pickwick was the first serially published work of fiction to gain widespread popularity, amongst a more socially and economically diverse group of readers than had ever been seen in Britain before.

ZSR Library’s 19 separately issued parts of The Pickwick Papers, from the Charles Babcock collection

Publication in parts did present certain challenges to the author, which Dickens described in the Preface to the first book edition of Pickwick.

The publication of the book in monthly numbers, containing only thirty-two pages in each, rendered it an object of paramount importance that, while the different incidences were linked together by a chain of interest strong enough to prevent their appearing unconnected or impossible, the general design should be so simple as to sustain no injury from this detached and desultory form of publication, extending over no fewer than twenty months. In short, it was necessary — or it appeared so to the author — that every number should be, to a certain extent, complete in itself, and yet that the whole twenty numbers, when collected, should form one tolerably harmonious whole, each leading to the other by a gentle and not unnatural progress of adventure.

The experience of a 21st century student who encounters Dickens in a thick volume (perhaps with scholarly footnotes) is vastly different from that of the Victorian reader eagerly awaiting the next monthly installment of an exciting story! Dickens published most of his later novels in installments, and it was in the writing of Pickwick that he learned and mastered the form.

By 1837 Dickens had become so famous that when he had to delay the May issue following the death of his sister-in-law, his readers became distraught. The author had to address their concerns in a note in the June issue.

The popularity of Pickwick opened up a new source of revenue for its publishers: advertising. The first few issues featured only Chapman and Hall book notices on the back cover. But later issues contained “Pickwick Advertisers”– thick pamphlets advertising all manner of goods and services.

As the serial publication neared completion, Chapman and Hall began to advertise their single-volume edition of Pickwick.

The “new work” advertised was Nicholas Nickleby, which Chapman and Hall would begin publishing in serial form the next spring.

First edition of Pickwick as a single volume, 1837

Pickwick proved as popular in book form as it had in parts. ZSR Library’s copy of the first edition has the signature of the English artist Thomas Leeson Rowbotham, who apparently opted for the half-morocco-with-marbled-edges option for the binding of his volume. It was donated to the Wake Forest College library early in the 20th century and has clearly seen some enthusiastic use.

February 7, 2012 marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’s birth. The author whose career was launched by The Pickwick Papers remains beloved by readers worldwide two centuries later.

 


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