Subscribe to the Rosenblog!

Friday, August 29, 2014

200 Years Ago: Washington in Flames

Last weekend marked the 200th anniversary of the burning of Washington during the War of 1812. British troops entered Washington in the afternoon of August 24, 1814 and set fire to the government buildings, including the White House and the Capitol building. The goal in sacking the city was symbolic rather than strategic; as Robert Ross, the British general in charge wrote, “They feel strongly the disgrace of having had their capital taken by a handful of men and blame very generally a government which went to war without the means or abilities to carry it on." The following day brought more havoc as violent storms wracked the city, further damaging the public buildings as well as many private ones. The British occupation lasted only twenty six hours and and President Madison returned on August 27.

In addition to the serious commemorations, this past week has seen some humorous takes on the events, including the British embassy's (in)famous sparkler cake and a great "breaking news" segment from NPR, live from 1814.

Here is British satirist George Cruikshank's take from 1814, entitled "John Bull making a capital bonfire& Mr. Madison running away by the light of it."

George Cruikshank, John Bull making a capital bonfire& Mr. Madison running away by the light of it. 1954.0546. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

The print depicts Madison (in black) worrying "Oh dear, Oh dear..what the devil shall I say to the people" as he flees the city along with a Quaker (in brown)  and several others. Napoleon looks on from Elba, commenting "Its no use contending with John Bull, see what he has brought me to." The exile of Napoleon in April 1814 had freed up the British to focus more attention on the American conflict and Cruikshank clearly envisions an equally satisfactory conclusion here.  As it turned out, the successful defense of Baltimore three weeks after the Washington attack changed the momentum and restored American pride (and gave us our national anthem). Ultimately the War of 1812 ended up as a draw.

If you're looking to get in on the 1812 action, it's not too late. There's going to be a huge party in Baltimore in September to celebrate, so mark your calendar. I also recommend the 1812 episode of the BBC program In Our Time as a quick and painless way to bone up on the war.

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

Friday, August 22, 2014

Beach Reads

As the summer draws to a close, it's time for one last trip to the beach. From the decreased traffic on my morning train ride I can tell that lots of folks are enjoying a well-deserved vacation this month.

One of the great pleasures of a beach vacation is a chance to laze in the sun with a book. The term"beach read" is generally applied to fluffy, plot-driven works like chick lit, murder mysteries, and thrillers. But Jack Murnighan, the author of Beowulf on the Beach, argues for the joys of classic literature as beach reading and in this USA Today interview from 2009 he makes a few suggestions of texts that we have kicking around here at the Rosenbach:

The Story of Beowulf. Kelmscott Press, 1895. FP K895b
 He nominates Beowulf as best beach read, claiming, "If you're a guy, read Beowulf... It's really short. It's only 70 pages and has a ton of action. So in some ways, it's a perfect beach read."

Herman Melville , Moby Dick, or, The whale  New York: Harper & Brothers, 1851

AL1 .M531mo 851b
When asked about the funniest beach read, Murnighan voted for Moby Dick, which is not only a sea-faring tale, but in his words, "one of the funniest books of all time...  Ishmael, the narrator, is just a complete cut-up having a great time, and you'll have a blast reading it."

Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales. England, 15th century. MS 1084/1
He also suggests The Canterbury Tales as a great book to just dip into, since "you can read a couple of them or you can read the sexiest, playful, funny ones."

 Picking up on the theme of classics as beach reading, I thought I'd toss out a few more Rosen-books, all of which features beaches.

James Joyce (1882-1941), Ulysses. Paris: Shakespeare & Company, 1922. EL4 J89U1 922a
Ulysses: Okay, not the simplest (or lightest) book to take to the beach, but what better place to let Joyce's prose wash over you. Plus, some of the most memorable scenes take place on the beach, from Stephen Dedalus's musings in Proteus, to Leopold Bloom's encounter with Gerty MacDowell.

Bram Stoker. Dracula. London: Archibald Constable and Company, 1897. EL3 .S874d 897

Dracula: Much of this novel takes place in the sea-side town of Whitby, where Stoker himself vacationed. The book is a real page-turner and you don't have to take my word for it. When The Bookman reviewed it in 1897 it concluded that "though here and there in the course of the tale we hurried over some things with repulsion, we read nearly the whole with rapt attention...Keep "Dracula" out of the way of nervous children, certainly, but a grown reader...will both shudder and enjoy... "

Daniel Defoe, The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. 1719. Holford

Robinson Crusoe: Before Lost, before Survivor, before Hatchet or Lord of the Flies or The Swiss Family Robinson, was this 1719 classic, generally bandied about as one of the contenders for the honor of being first English novel. And there's plenty of beach on this deserted island.

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de La Mancha. Madrid: por Juan de la Cuesta, 1605. C2 .C419d 605
Don Quixote: A favorite of Dr. Rosenbach's and a contender for the title of "first novel," it features a jousting match between Don Quixote and the Knight of the White Moon on a Barcelona beach. Samuel Johnson paid tribute to the book, claiming ,"Was there ever yet any thing written by mere man that was wished longer by its readers, excepting Don Quixote, Robinson Crusoe, and the Pilgrim's Progress?"

No, you can't take the Rosenbach copies to the beach--sand and sun aren't good for rare books. But aside from their literary merits, another benefit of classic books as beach reads is that cheap used copies are easy to come by and the texts can generally can be found for free as e-books. So classic literature is good for your brain and your wallet.  

What are your suggestions for beach reading?

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

Thursday, August 14, 2014

What's the Worst Thing You Have Done to a Book?

We asked this question of the visitors in Bescribbled, Nibbled, and Dog-Eared: Early American Children's Books and we got quite a lot of answers!

Visitors confess to having dropped books in the bathtub (I've done that), painted them, written in crayon, and having failed to read them (yup, done that one too).
Readers have hidden books from their children and nestled them next to rotting bananas.

Dr. Rosenbach might have applauded the book-preserving move of keeping books away from children--he noted that kids' destructive tendencies led to the scarcity of historic children's books, since "a young child’s attitude toward a book is not unlike that of a cannibal toward a missionary." Bananas, however, are another matter. Here's what happens when you combine a rotting banana, a book, and a backpack.

"Banana Book." Image by Enokson. Flickr.
One visitor reported having created fake author inscriptions as a sorority prank.

Some have even gotten violent with their books, ripping out pages in anger or using them as target practice for throwing stars.

This visitor isn't alone in using books as targets--The Forgotten Bookmarks blog has a great post of a 1928 biography of Herbert Hoover with embedded BBs.

As for me, I remember borrowing Tomi Ungerer's The Three Robbers from the library when I was very young (pre-school). Something about the book terrified me and I kept insisting that we had to throw it in the garbage. My mother said we couldn't, since it was a library book and I think she eventually had to take it away and hide it so I wouldn't destroy it before we could return it.

So what's the worst thing you have done to a book?

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

Friday, August 08, 2014

Artistic Travelers

This week's post comes from our collections intern, Jordan Rothschild.
 - - - - 
As the summer is here and it is time for travel I would like to share a few works related to travel from our collections. They come from two artists—one, a Renaissance Italian who spent time in Italy’s greatest cities and the other an Enlightenment-era Frenchman who sought to illustrate customs of the rural Russian people. These works on paper are depictions of life and art in two areas: one, the well visited eternal city of Rome, and the other the less visited but no less fascinating region of Siberia, Russia.

Jean-Baptiste Le Prince was born in Metz, France in 1734. The son of a sculptor, Le Prince entered the Paris art studio of Francois Boucher in 1750. It is here he developed his richly textured style after the master Boucher.  After a brief and unsuccessful marriage Le Prince set off to Russia in 1758 to join other flourishing French artists. Le Prince entered a Russia that was soon to be ruled over by Catherine the Great. Russia had been undergoing immense military and cultural change—Russia was emerging as a world power.  It was here in the 1760s that Le Prince met another Frenchman—the astronomer Jean Chappe d’Auteroche. Chappe traveled to remote Siberia in an effort to collect observations of the path of the planet Venus across the earth’s orbital plane. More than this, Chappe sought to explore the character of the Russian people. Based on his observations of the Russian people Chappe authored Voyage en Siberie  published in 1768. This four volume work, illustrated in part by Le Prince, is one of the most beautiful and informative travel accounts of the 18th century.

All Le Prince drawings in the Rosenbach collection are highly finished in pen and ink with grey wash. They were purchased by A.S.W. Rosenbach in 1922 as part of the Roederer Collection—a world renowned collection of 18th century French drawings, prints, and illustrated books assembled by Louis Roederer (d. 1880).

Jean Baptiste-Le Prince, Iourte ou Habitation Souterraine des Kamtchadals Pendant L'Hiver. 1766. 1954.397. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia. 

Jean Baptiste-Le Prince, Kamtchadal dans son Habit D'Hiver. 1766. 1954.400. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
Girolamo Da Carpi is mentioned in Vasari’s Lives of the Artists as being the son of a house-painter destined for greater artistic achievement.  He was born in Ferrara in 1501 and as a youth traveled to Bologna to find independence as an artist. Thus began a career of a well traveled and busy artist. He spent time in major Renaissance cities at work on a variety of commissions.

He spent the years 1549 to 1553 in Rome where many of his sketches were created. Da Carpi drew many sketches after ancient and contemporary works in the eternal city. The sketches are not only beautiful drawings, but preservations of the antique heritage of Rome in the Renaissance period. They are a testament to how two brilliant artistic ages existed side by side. 

Girolomo da Carpi, Victory. 1954.0807.063. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

The column of Trajan was completed in 113 A.D. It stands at 140 feet and is adorned with relief sculpture. In particular Da Carpi was interested in the victory reliefs. These commemorate Trajan’s campaign against the Dacians.

Girolomo da Carpi, Jacob's struggle with the angel.1954.0807.063. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

The Vatican loggias remain closed to visitors to this day. They were the work of Raphael, completed in 1519. This is a drawing of one of the now-lost 13 scenes of the monochrome frescoes in the socle zone of the loggias. This particular scene of Jacob wrestling with an angel comes from the socle of the sixth arcade. It is a religious scene with great power and a remarkable piece of documentary evidence of the how the loggias looked not many years after their completion.
The sketches of Da Carpi were purchased by A.S.W. Rosenbach in 1930 from the daughter and grandson of the great English collector Sir Thomas Phillips (d. 1872).

Friday, August 01, 2014

All Quiet on the Western Front

A month ago the Rosenblog marked the centennial of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914. This week marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of  World War I itself: on July 28th Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia and by August 4 Russia, Germany, and Britain had all entered the fray. Last week's post on Marianne Moore's camera had a WWI angle, as it was a type of camera popular with soldiers; for this week I turn to our copy of the most famous novel about the war: All Quiet on the Western Front.

Erich Marie Remarque wrote All Quiet on the Western Front in six weeks in 1928. The novel was published in serial form in Germany from November through December of that year and then in book form in January 1929.  It was an immediate sensation: 200,000 copies were sold within three weeks, 640,000 copies within three months. An English edition came out in March 1929 and an American edition in May. (See Modris Eksteins, All Quiet on the Western Front and the Fate of a War  for more on the writing/publication). Within a year there were translations into twenty languages and the sales reached into the millions.  An epic Hollywood movie adaptation came out in 1930 and Slate's Vault blog recently showcased a fascinating 1930 Chinese comic book version that was based on the film adaptation.

Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1939. Acosta Collection. Rosenbach Museum & Library.

Our copy of All Quiet  is a 1939 American printing that belonged the playwright, author, and socialite Mercedes de Acosta. In 1939 she and Remarque moved in the same circles and the book is signed and inscribed to her.  You can see his full signature at the left; the inscription on the right is signed with his nickname, "Boni."

Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1939. Acosta Collection. Rosenbach Museum & Library.
Remarque had left Germany for Switzerland when the Nazis came to power (All Quiet would be burned by the Nazis for denigrating the German army) and he moved to California in 1939. Remarque and Acosta shared a similar taste in women: he carried on an affair with Marlene Dietrich from 1937 to 1940 and had a briefer romance with Greta Garbo in 1940. He would later marry another Hollywood star, Paulette Goddard.

Today All Quiet on the Western Front is a staple of high school English classes, which is where I first encountered it. As with many books that I first read as a student, it is well worth re-visiting as an adult. What are your memories of this classic text?

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

Friday, July 25, 2014

Vest Pocket Pictures

The rise of the cellphone means that most of us now carry a camera in our pocket just about everywhere we go.  Marianne Moore also had a pocket camera: a Vest Pocket Kodak, measuring 4 ¾” x 2 ½” by 1", which is about the size of a modern smartphone, although a bit thicker.

Kodak Vest Pocket Autographic Camera. 1915. 2006.4133.2. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

The small camera expanded a bit when actually used for picture taking; this image is of a similar camera in its open state.
Vest Pocket  Autographic Kodak Camera. Photo by Steve Harwood. Creative Commons

CC-BY-NC 2.0

The camera offered several aperture settings, which could be selected via the slider at the bottom:  8 (equivalent to f-stop 11) for “Average View / Portrait”; 16 (f-stop 16) for “Distant View” and 32 (f-stop 22) for "Marine View/Clouds.” The camera is an autographic model, which means that a small door on the back of the camera can be opened to allow the user to write titles on the borders between the film negatives.

Vest pocket Kodaks were made between 1912 and 1926, with the autographic version being introduced in 1915. They proved especially popular with soldiers in the First World War. Kodak even marketed them to soldiers, claiming that it would help soldiers stay close to their families and going on to note that “Tens of thousands of brave lads in the camps and trenches of France are keeping their own Kodak story of the war—a story that will always be intense to them because it is history from their viewpoint.”  This British snapshot was probably taken with a vest pocket Kodak.

The Royal Photographic Society Collection © National Media Museum, Bradford / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Vest pocket Kodaks not only went to war, but they also went to Everest. In 1924 British climber George Mallory and his companion Andrew Irvine died on Everest.  It has never been proven if they actually reached the summit, but Irvine was apparently carrying a vest pocket camera. Although Mallory’s body was found in 1999, Irvine’s body and his camera are still missing. If found, the camera could settle the question of whether the pair managed to summit.

Marianne Moore’s camera never went to war or to Everest, but it did go on vacation. The camera was a present from Moore’s friends Bryher and H.D. in 1921 and many of Moore’s snapshots now in our collection owe their existence to this pint size camera.

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

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Happy Birthday Isaac Watts

What do Joy to the World, How Doth the Little Busy Bee, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, and I Sing the Mighty Power of God have in common? They were all written (the texts at least) by Isaac Watts, who was born on July 17, 1674, and so would turn 340 today (if you don't worry about calendar changes). Despite coming from a Non-Conformist background, a tradition which promoted metrical psalm-singing and discouraged hymns, Watts became the "Father of English Hymnody" and many of his songs are still in use today. He wrote many hymn books, and his children's book Divine songs, in easy language, for the use of children is included in our current exhibition Bescribbled, Nibbled, and Dog-eared: Early American Children's Books.

Isaac Watts (1674-1748), Divine songs, in easy language, for the use of children
New-London [Conn.]: Printed and sold ..., by James Springer, 1796
Rare Book Department, Free Library of Philadelphia

Divine Songs, which includes both the Busy Bee (actually titled "Against Idleness and Mischief") and I Sing the Mighty Power (actually titled "Praise for Creation and Providence"), was incredibly popular. It was first published in England in 1715 and scores of American editions followed (Dr. Rosenbach's collection included ten).  Not only was it printed as a stand-alone piece, but as Dr. R. pointed out in his catalog:

No opportunity was ever lost for forcing these poems on the attention of the children, and selections from them were almost invariably used by printers to fill up the blank pages of any nursery book on no matter what subject.
The ubiquity of Watts's poems is highlighted by Lewis Carroll's choice to parody them in Alice in Wonderland, which was published exactly 150 years after Divine Songs first appeared. At one point Alice tries to recite How Doth the Little Busy Bee, a verse that would have been known to every school child, but instead end up with How Doth the Little Crocodile.


The copy of Divine Songs in Bescribbled dates from 1796 and bears the bold signature of its former owner, which appears to read Peleg Lewis.

Isaac Watts (1674-1748), Divine songs, in easy language, for the use of children
New-London [Conn.]: Printed and sold ..., by James Springer, 1796
Rare Book Department, Free Library of Philadelphia

 For more about Watts, check out, which has a biography, as well as a list of his hymns and their popularity, as measured in their occurrence in hymn books.You can also find an online version of an 1866 printing of Divine Songs at

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