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Friday, March 27, 2015

Thomas Tyrwhitt, Oscar Wilde, Mr. W.H., and James Joyce

Today marks the 285th birthday of Thomas Tyrwhitt. Who is Thomas Tyrwhitt, you ask? Tyrwitt was an 18th-century scholar (born March 27, 1730) who, among many much more important contributions to the study of classical and English literature, came up with the theory that  Shakespeare's sonnets were dedicated to a man named W. Hughes. This theory would later be expanded and played with in Oscar Wilde's short story "the Portrait of Mr. W.H.," the manuscript of which lives here at the Rosenbach.
 
To go back to the beginning, the first edition of Shakespeare's sonnets was published in 1609 by Thomas Thorpe. The dedication page (which has Thorpe's initials at the bottom) reads:
To the onlie begetter of
These insuing sonnets
Mr. W.H. all happinesse
And that eternitie
Promised
by
Our ever-living poet
Wisheth
The well-wishing
Adventurer in
Setting
Forth
The first question is, whether this dedication comes from  Shakespeare or Thorpe. The second is the identity of Mr. W.H.. There is also a third question, which is whether Mr. W.H. can be identified with the "fair youth" to whom many of the sonnets are addressed.

Going back to our birthday boy, in looking at Sonnet 20, Tyrwhitt noted that the word "Hewes" was capitalized and italicized in the line "A man in hew, all Hews in his controlling." In other sonnets the word "Will" is capitalized and italicized as a clear play on the name, so Tyrwitt conjectured that the same was true of Hewes and that the enigmatic dedicatee was W. Hughes.

Tyrwitt shared his thoughts with fellow scholar Edmond Malone (the same man who exposed William Henry Ireland's Shakespearean forgery) and in a 1780 book Malone concurred that "Mr. Tyrwitt has pointed out to me a line...which inclines me to think that the initials W.H. stand for W. Hughes." In 1944, the sonnet scholar H.E. Rollins claimed that with this endorsement Malone “created a spook harder to drive away than the ghost of Hamlet's father.” Malone also clearly endorsed the idea that Mr. W.H. was the youth of the sonnets, writing that "To this person, whoever he was, one hundred and twenty of the following poems are addressed." 

Tyrwitt and Malone were not alone in speculating on Mr. W.H. and many other candidates have been advanced over the years. Oscar Wilde picked up on the debate and made it the central theme of his short Story "The Portrait of Mr. W.H."  which was published in Blackwood's Magazine in 1889 and subsequently expanded. In the story, a man named Cyril Graham tries to convince his friend Erskine that  Mr. W.H. as "Willie Hughes," a boy who played the female roles in Shakespeare's plays. Graham goes so far as to fake a painting of Willie Hughes with the book. The narrator of the story also gets involved and is first convinced and then subsequently disillusioned of the theory.

Oscar Wilde, The portrait of Mr. W. H.: autograph manuscript. EL3 W672p 921. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

James Joyce picks up on these earlier literary strands in his all-encompassing Ulysses. The "Scylla and Charybdis" episode takes place in the National Library of Ireland and much of the episode revolves around Shakespeare as Stephen Dedalus lays out his theory that Shakespeare's work echoes his personal history. Eventually the Shakespeare discussion swings around to Wilde:

— The most brilliant of all is that story of Wilde's, Mr Best said, lifting his brilliant notebook. That Portrait of Mr W. H. where he proves that the sonnets were written by a Willie Hughes, a man all hues.
— For Willie Hughes, is it not? the quaker librarian asked.
Or Hughie Wills? Mr William Himself. W. H.: who am I?
— I mean, for Willie Hughes, Mr Best said, amending his gloss easily. Of course it's all paradox, don't you know, Hughes and hews and hues, the colour, but it's so typical the way he works it out. It's the very essence of Wilde, don't you know. The light touch.
His glance touched their faces lightly as he smiled, a blond ephebe. Tame essence of Wilde.
You're darned witty. Three drams of usquebaugh you drank with Dan Deasy's ducats.
How much did I spend? O, a few shillings.
For a plump of pressmen. Humour wet and dry.
Wit. You would give your five wits for youth's proud livery he pranks in. Lineaments of gratified desire.
There be many mo. Take her for me. In pairing time. Jove, a cool ruttime send them. Yea, turtledove her.
Eve. Naked wheatbellied sin. A snake coils her, fang in's kiss.
— Do you think it is only a paradox? the quaker librarian was asking. The mocker is never taken seriously when he is most serious.
They talked seriously of mocker's seriousness.

You can see the beginning of this exchange in this page from the manuscript--look for the reference to Mr. W. H. near the bottom
James Joyce. Ulysses: autograph manuscript. "Scylla and Charybdis episode." EL4. J89ul 922 MS.
The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
Interest in the identity of the mysterious Mr. W.H. is still with us. In February, the journal Notes and Queries published an article by Geoffrey Cavanaugh putting forth yet another candidate (a man connected with Thorpe rather than Shakespeare)  and hoping to lay the case to rest.  In a report in the Guardian, Professor Stanley Wells, "the leading British Shakespeare scholar," says that the new candidate is "better than any other suggestion so far. It’s very interesting." He also pointed out, "If it were agreed by scholars, this would be pretty momentous. People have spilled an enormous quantity of ink trying to identify this figure.” So, on his birthday, let's remember the ink spiller Thomas Tyrwhitt and his long-lasting effect on this fascinating debate.




Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Whitman Massacre


Hello! I’m Callan, the Rosenbach’s newest Collections intern. I’m currently on a semester away from Whitman College in Walla Walla, a small town in the southeast corner of Washington State. I was therefore excited to investigate the Rosenbach’s collection of documents related to the early settlement of the Oregon Country, especially those pertaining to Washington State history. It didn’t take long for me to come across a pair of familiar names: Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, who were in fact the namesakes of my very own Whitman College.

The Rosenbach has a large collection of correspondence from missionaries in the Oregon Country, including letters written by, to, or about the Whitmans. The Whitmans were Methodists who traveled West from New York around 1836 and established a mission at the Cayuse settlement of Waiilatpu, which is located just outside of modern-day Walla Walla. There, Narcissa established a school for Native American children while Marcus provided medical care; they also took in orphaned settlers’ children and provided aid and shelter to those traveling through on the Oregon Trail.         

However, the reason Marcus and Narcissa Whitman are famous names in Washington State history is due to their violent deaths in 1847—an event which is mentioned in several of the Rosenbach’s letters. An epidemic of measles struck the Waiilatpu area in the fall of that year, affecting both whites and Cayuse. Though Marcus attempted to treat all those who were ill, most whites survived while about half the Cayuse, including nearly all their children, died. In retribution, several Cayuse entered the mission on November 29, 1847 and killed fourteen whites, including Marcus, Narcissa, and several other male settlers and hired hands. The 50 or so remaining women and children were held as hostages for over a month until their release was negotiated.

The Whitman Massacre, as it is now known, sent shockwaves through the Oregon Country missionary community. Two letters in the Rosenbach’s collection refer to the event in the months after it occurred:

Henry A.G. Lee, autograph letter signed to Elkanah Walker and Cushing Eels. The Making of Oregon collection VI:138. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia
In this undated letter, Henry A.G. Lee (the Superintendent of Indian Affairs of Oregon) writes to missionaries Elkanah Walker and Cushing Eells to congratulate them on their behavior and safe evacuation in the aftermath of the massacre:  

After the shocking tragedy at Waiilatpu, the escape of the Rev. Mr. Spalding and others from Lapwai, the general commencement of hostilities between the Americans and Indians and the great excitement produced throughout the Missionary field, your safety became a subject of much anxiety, not only with myself and other officers of the Regiment, but with the citizens generally in the valley…That you made a virtue of necessity, and effected much good in restraining yourself and your people, and saving them from an alliance with the murderers, I have not a doubt. That you embraced the opportunity of making your escape and are now secure I am heartily glad.

The Walker and Eells families had been further north at the Tshimakain mission, in Spokane territory, at the time of the massacre. They were safely escorted to Oregon City by volunteer militia in June 1848, which Lee refers to in the above letter. 

William Craig, autograph letter signed to Elkanah Walker.10 April 1848 The Making of Oregon collection VI. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia
In this letter from April 10, 1848, William Craig (Indian Agent stationed at Lapwai, a mission in present-day Idaho) writes to Elkanah Walker about the relations with the Indian tribes in the Waiilatpu area:   

The letter of Eells came to hand yesterday stating that the feeling of your Indians which was very happy to hear that they was friendly disposed towards the whites. There is a few Cayuses pretends to be friends of the whites, some disputes the reality of their friendship. The Walla Walla chief also says he is friendly…The news came here on Saturday that the Palus and Spokan [Spokane] Indians had all joined the Murders [murderers] and would be there in a few days. We are expecting a reinforcement every day from the Dallas [Dalles].

This letter, written several months after the massacre, demonstrates that the missionaries in the Waiilatpu and surrounding areas seemed to be on improved terms with the local tribes. However, Craig warns Walker to be cautious, especially since some tribes sided with the Cayuse who perpetrated the massacre.  

The incident ultimately had a significant effect on relations between native tribes and white settlers in the area and eventually led to a war between the Cayuse and white militia. As for the Whitmans, their fellow missionary Cushing Eells (the recipient of the first letter) founded the Whitman Seminary, later to become Whitman College, in their memory in 1859. Though the Waiilatpu mission buildings are now long gone, the location is now a National Historic Site with a small museum just outside Walla Walla.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Did Napoleon Consult This Oracle?

Happy Friday the 13th. I've been hoping to write about The Oraculum or Futurity's Mirror, by which may be foretold many future events, and much evil avoided for a while and today seemed like a good day for fortune telling and the supernatural.

I ran across the few slips of paper that make up The Oraculum a few months ago, while looking for something else: the item consists of an envelope; a strip of paper with a series of rectangles on it, each containing stars; and a series of fortunes.

The Oraculum or Futurity's Mirror. London, ca 1825. EL3 .A1o. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

The Oraculum or Futurity's Mirror. London, ca 1825. EL3 .A1o. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

The back of the envelope explains that you should cut apart the sheet with stars, fold each piece of paper in half and place them in a bag. You draw a slip out of the bag and then match the stars to the list of fortunes. This all seems pretty straightforward, but what intrigued me was the claim on the envelope that the system was "copied from the original found among the private papers of the late Emperor Napoleon  and said to be consulted by him on all major occasions." Is this true? Did Napoleon really draw slips of paper out of a bag to make important decisions?

The Oraculum or Futurity's Mirror. London, ca 1825. EL3 .A1o. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

A brief search quickly indicated that versions of "Napoleon's Oraculum" (often titled the Book of Fate) were extremely popular throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.  All the versions I could find reference to were written in book form (not cards like ours) and offered much more complicated instructions for determining the star arrangement to be used. Rather than drawing a slip from a bag, the subject was supposed to make five rows of hash marks, containing 1-12 has marks in each row.  If a row contained an odd number of hash marks, that was represented by a single star, and an even number equaled a double star. This would create a pattern of five rows of stars (unlike the four rows our Oraculum uses).

H. Kirchenhoffer. The Oracle or Book of Fate: Formerly in the Possession of the Emperor Napoleon. London: printed for M Arnold, 1835. Digitized by Google.

In order to provide more fortunes, rather than the paltry 16 in our list, some books combined the star pattern with a set of zodiac signs or hieroglyphs, with a set of fortunes for each combination, while others combined stars with letters. Some books offered a pre-set list of questions one could ask, while others seem to suggest that you could pose any question to the Oraculum.

So back to the Napoleon question; is there any link?  Many versions of the Oraculum contain a preface (or excerpts from a preface) by an H. Kirchenhoffer dated 1822, in which he claims to have translated a manuscript  written in German that had been owned by Napoleon and lost by him in his retreat from the Battle of Leipzig. The German text was supposedly a translation of a papyrus scroll found in an Egyptian mummy's sarcophagus by one of Napoleon's experts, named Sonnini.

Here's the story:

M. Sonnini hastened to General Bonaparte, whose curiosity likewise being much excited by viewing this hieroglyphical treasure, sent for a learned Copt, who, after an attentive perusal, discovered a key whereby he was enabled · to decypher the characters. After great labour, he accomplished this task, and dictated its contents to Napoleon's secretary, who, in order to preserve the matter secret, translated and wrote them down in the German language. 

General Bonaparte, having consulted the German translation of the roll regarding some transactions in his own life, was amazed to find that the answers given, correspond strictly with what' had actually occurred. He accordingly secured the original and translated Manuscripts in his private cabinet, which ever after accompanied him, until the fatal day of Leipzic above mentioned. They were held by him as a sacred treasure, and are said to have been a stimulus to many of his grandest speculations, he being known to consult them on all occasions. Before each campaign, and on the eve of every battle or treaty; Napoleon consulted his favourite Oracle.  His grief for the loss of this companion of his private hours, was excessive ; and it is said that, at Leipzic, he even ran the risk of being taken, in his eagerness to preserve the cabinet, containing it, from destruction.

 In a list, drawn up in Napoleon's own hand-writing, on a blank leaf prefixed to the translated Manuscript, are to be seen the following Questions, as put to the Oracle, with their Answers as received by that illustrious man. They are here selected, from among many others on account of the very strong analogy, I might say identity, which exists between them and some of the most important actions of his life.

Question 15.-What is the aspect of the Seasons, and what Political Changes are likely to take place?.
 

Answer: ( Hieroglyphic of the Fishes.) "A conqueror, .of noble mind and mighty power, shall spring from low condition ; be will break the chains of the oppressed, and will give liberty to the nations."
 

Question 1 Will my Name be immortalized, and will posterity applaud it? .

Answer: (Hieroglyphic of the goat or Capricorn.) "Thy name will be handed down, with ·the memory o( thy deeds, to the most distant posterity."

Question. 8.-Shall I be eminent, and meet · with Preferment in my pursuits
 

Answer.-(Hieroglyphic of the goat or Capricorn.) "Thou shalt meet with many obstacles; but at length thou shah attain tho highest earthly power and honour."...

So is any of this true? It seems not. Aside from the melodramatic setting (the scroll at the mummy's breast, the convenient disappearance of the original papyrus in the fog of war) there's the practical problem that at the time of the Battle of Leipzig, no one could read hieroglyphics so even if a scroll had existed, Napoleon could not have had a translation. Champollion's breakthrough with the Rosetta Stone came in the early 1820s. In discussing this book, William Francis Ryan cites T.C. Skeats seminal work "An Early Mediaeval 'Book of Fate': The Sortes XII Patriarcharum with a Note on 'Books of Fate'," claiming that the Oraculum was only known in the English speaking world. The Penguin Guide to the Superstitions of Britain and Ireland notes the inconsistencies in the crazy story as well as the fact that no one has actually been able to identify Kirchenhoffer and concludes that "there is no reason to suggest that The Book of Fate is anything other than an early nineteenth-century fabrication."

Even if untrue, the combination of Egypt and Napoleon is a powerful sales pitch. I've already linked to some of the copies of the Oraculum that are floating around on the internet; here are some of ads I found for books containing it.

An October 1896 ad in The Illustrated  Home Guest:

Illustrated Home Guest, October 1896.
Advertisements in a 1900 dime novel (two of the Fortune Telling Books offer Napoleon's oracle):

Ching Foo, the Yellow Dwarf; or the Bradys and the Opium Smokers.27 Apr 1900. Stanford University.

Amazingly, the Oraculum is still with us-- for the modern user, you can consult the oracle online or download an app for iOS or one for Android. The poet  Yvette Christiansë  even muses on Kirchenhoffer in her poem "The Emperor Considers the Fate of his Book" in her 1999 book Castaway, calling him "a slime-bellied panhandler of puny proportion."



Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog.


Friday, March 06, 2015

Missouri Compromise

For the past five years we have been remembering the 100th anniversary of the Civil War (check out Today in The Civil War to enjoy our holdings), but today marks the 195th anniversary of an important milestone in the long-term lead up to the war: the Missouri Compromise. On March 6, 1820, James Monroe signed bills agreeing to Maine's admission to the Union as a free state and Missouri as a slave state and establishing 36' 30 as the demarcation line between free and slave areas in the Louisiana Territory.

The Missouri Compromise was a critical attempt to resolve questions about the expansion of slavery, the balance of power between free and slave states, and the ability of the federal government to make laws concerning slavery.  With such contentious issues on the table, many were not satisfied with the outcome. Thomas Jefferson, who held that slavery was a question best reserved to the states, famously wrote that:

[T]his momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. it is hushed indeed for the moment. but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. a geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once concieved and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.


Thomas Jefferson to John Holmes, April 22, 1820. Thomas Jefferson papers. Library of Congress.

If Jefferson represented a southern opinion, the Rosenbach has a document that speaks to northern concerns. Rufus King, who had been a member of the Constitutional Convention and was then a senator for New York, was a leader of northern anti-slavery opposition to the compromise. He believed that Congress could not only regulate slavery, but also that it should restrict it completely from the territories. The Rosenbach's collection includes a letter from the lawyer, diplomat, and Supreme Court reporter Henry Wheaton to his friend in New York politics, approving of King's efforts as the bills were debated.

Henry Wheaton to Gulian Verplanck. 16 February 1820.AMs  781/23. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
Mr. King made a noble speech in the Senate this morning upon the Missouri question.  The rudeness with which he his courageous avowal of the principle of the natural right of man to freedom was encountered in the Senate by those whose support of the diffusion of slavery, has gained friends to the cause of restriction.

Although many were dissatisfied, the Missouri Compromise, crafted by Henry Clay and enacted 195 years ago today, managed to hold the country together for thirty years. But, in the end, Jefferson's claim that it was only a reprieve proved true. The compromise fell apart in the tumultuous 1850s and opposition to its successor bill, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which provided for popular sovereignty, would be vehement and bloody and would provide a rallying cry for the new Republican party.



Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog.



Friday, February 27, 2015

Happy Year of the Sheep

In honor of the year of the sheep (a.k.a. the year of the goat), which began last week (February 19), we bring you G. Martin's Natural History Cards from the 1820s.

Natural History Cards. Beasts. London, G. Martin, [ca. 1825]. EL3 .A1n 825a. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
Natural History Cards. Beasts. London, G. Martin, [ca. 1825]. EL3 .A1n 825a. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
We have two different sets of the Martin cards: beasts and birds (of which we have two copies with slightly different envelopes). The images for both are copper-plate engravings, which as their envelope states, are "beautifully coloured."

Natural History Cards. Beasts. London, G. Martin, [ca. 1825]. EL3 .A1n 825a. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Natural History Cards. Birds. London, G. Martin, [ca. 1825]. EL3 .A1n 825b. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
One of the Martin sets explains that the cards are for the instruction and entertainment of youth. They are as much moral lesson as natural history; each card contains four lines describing the character and behavior of the animal, followed by an explicit two line moral. Such kinds of educational toys had come into fashion in the late 18th and early 19th century; these particular cards are the same as those marketed by W. Tringham as far back as 1780. By 1814, Sir Walter Scott complained in the first Waverly novel that:

[A]n age in which children are taught the driest doctrines by the insinuating method of instructive games, has little reason to dread the consequences of study being rendered too serious or severe. The history of England is now reduced to a game at cards, the problems of mathematics to puzzles and riddles, and the doctrines of arithmetic may, we are assured, be sufficiently acquired by spending a few hours a-week at a new and complicated edition of the Royal Game of the Goose. There wants but one step further, and the Creed and Ten Commandments may be taught in the same manner, without the necessity of the grave face, deliberate tone of recital, and devout attention hitherto exacted from the well-governed childhood of this realm. It may, in the mean time, be subject of serious consideration, whether those who are accustomed only to acquire instruction through the medium of amusement, may not be brought to reject that which approaches under the aspect of study; whether those who learn history by the cards, may not be led to prefer the means to the end; and whether, were we to teach religion in the way of sport, our pupils might not thereby be gradually induced to make sport of their religion.
 

Despite Scott's (and other's) concerns, instructional games in general and natural history cards in particular remained popular throughout the 19th century. An 1856 Sunday School Union publication advertised Natural History Cards "for infant-schools" at a price of 20 cents for eight cards, and in 1900 a newspaper from New Zealand advertised a set of "Holloway's Natural History cards" which both promoted Holloway's medicines and taught about birds and animals.

Youth's Penny Gazette. August 27, 1857. Google Books.


Tuapeka Times, 21 March 1900, Page 2. PapersPast

Going back to the Natural History Cards published by G. Martin, I will close with a few of my favorites from the birds and beasts sets:

Natural History Cards. Beasts. London, G. Martin, [ca. 1825]. EL3 .A1n 825a. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.


Natural History Cards. Birds. London, G. Martin, [ca. 1825]. EL3 .A1n 825b. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Natural History Cards. Beasts. London, G. Martin, [ca. 1825]. EL3 .A1n 825a. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Natural History Cards. Beasts. London, G. Martin, [ca. 1825]. EL3 .A1n 825a. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Natural History Cards. Birds. London, G. Martin, [ca. 1825]. EL3 .A1n 825b. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
Natural History Cards. Beasts. London, G. Martin, [ca. 1825]. EL3 .A1n 825a. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.


Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog.


Friday, February 20, 2015

Feels Like This Today

William Ward after James Ward. Winter. London, 1795. 2005.108. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

It's warmed up to a balmy 11 degrees here in Philadelphia, but 14 mph winds are giving us a wind chill of -4, so I can sympathize with the girl in this print. She definitely seems underdressed, even for a mild British winter--where are her gloves?

This print was engraved by William Ward after a painting by his younger brother, James Ward. It was published on February 15, 1795, when James was 25 years old. He had already been appointed engraver to the Prince of Wales (in 1794) but his career was just beginning. He would eventually become known for his pictures of animals; in 1811 his contemporaries considered him “the first of English animal painters now living.”

"Winter" is a mezzotint, a type of print that tries to replicate the tonal qualities of paintings through the use of  tiny dots. The dots are created by rocking a spiked tool called a "rocker" over the surface of the engraving plate. Mezzotints are about tone rather than line and have a soft, rich quality about them. This particular mezzotint is part of a set; it had a companion "Summer" image of a girl in a low-cut blouse holding a basket of flowers.

If the winter weather outside makes you want to stay inside, you can always curl up with a good book. The author of Wilde in America is coming to speak here on March 11, so if you haven't read that you might enjoy it. Or, of course, Oscar Wilde's own novel The Picture of Dorian Grey (then you can come see the original printing in our exhibition). Or, if you need a more physical challenge, check out this video from Seattle Public Library of the world record book domino chain (no we do not do this withe our rare books at the Rosenbach). Maybe you could do them one better.


Have fun and stay warm!



Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Eat Your Vitamins

The first Italian edition of Gerrit de Veer's diary of his arctic voyages (Tre Navigationi Fatte Dagli Olandesi e Zelandesi... Venice: Printed by Giovanni Battista Ciotti, 1599.  A 599t). 

 With a -2 degree windchill today seems like an appropriate day to consider a book about the arctic.  You may have heard of the Northwest Passage, the theoretical sea-route across arctic Canada and Alaska that many explorers sought over the centuries (and the remains of one of their ships has been in the news fairly recently).  Well, there's also a Northeast Passage across northern Siberia by which you could travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific, though it's not for the faint of heart.  The Dutch navigator Willem Barentsz attempted to find the passage on three voyages from 1594-7, and he died at sea during the last of these.  Fortunately, an officer on two of these expeditions, Gerrit de Veer, kept a journal (no doubt with frostbitten fingers), which was published upon his return to Amsterdam.  Ours is an Italian version from 1599 but an English edition was published in 1609. 

Barentsz's mission wasn't the first--and wouldn't be the last--arctic expedition to suffer major setbacks.  Sea ice was a constant threat, even in the summer, and polar bears could be dangerous.  De Veer chronicled several run-ins with the large predators, none of which ended well for the bears.  During the group's third voyage in 1597, their ship reached the large island of Novaya Zemlya ("Nova Zembla" as they called it) but became trapped by ice.  Using wood from the ship, the crew constructed a lodge and used it to survive on the frozen tundra for 10 months before finally being able to take to the sea again.  After using up whatever provisions were on board the ship they took to trapping arctic foxes for food.  At one point, having shot a polar bear with their muskets, they used its blubber to light their lamps, and at another point they ate a bear's liver.  Since the liver of arctic mammals is exceedingly high in vitamin A, and polar bears eat lots of seals, de Veer ended up recording the first written instance of hypervitaminosis A: he and his crew experienced headaches and nausea, bone pain, and eventually widespread peeling of their skin.  The symptoms didn't linger too long but were a complication the stranded and freezing Dutchmen could have done without.  


 

The dangers of ice, hypothermia, and bears aside, de Veer did record observations on some wondrous people and phenomena encountered in the arctic.  On Barentsz's second voyage they met groups of Nenets, one of the indigenous peoples of Northern Russia (called "Samiuti" here, derived from the now outdated term "Samoyeds"), with whom they had good relations.  De Veer described their reindeer fur clothing and weapons in detail and the Dutchmen shared some of their ship's biscuit with the Nenets chief. 


 De Veer also recorded an atmospheric phenomenon now known as the Novaya Zemlya effect, a kind of mirage in which a sun that is actually below the horizon and shouldn't be visible has its rays reflected like a mirror by a thermal inversion (warm air on top of cold air).  What de Veer observed was a weirdly distorted sun, flattened out like a pancake and repeated, which the engraver of the volume in our collection rendered in this fanciful image of a dual-sun with a suggestion of rays emanating from the sides.  How's that for finding a silver lining on a frigid day? 


Patrick Rodgers is a curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library.