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Friday, October 21, 2016

You’ve heard about group tours, now get ready for: troupe tours!

The Rosenbach collection has numerous connections with the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, Ireland. Our library houses some manuscripts of poems by William Butler Yeats, who was a co-founder of the Abbey Theatre. Yeats became close to an Irish-American lawyer and arts patron, John Quinn, who was the defense lawyer in the obscenity trial over the publication of James Joyce's Ulysses in The Little Review. Speaking of obscenity, in 1928 the Abbey Theatre staged the first Irish production of Oscar Wilde's Salomé, which was at the time was banned from the London stage; our collection includes an autograph manuscript of this controversial play.

So of course when we heard that a touring troupe from the Abbey Theatre would be performing The Plough and the Stars here in Philadelphia, we invited them to visit our library and see some of the theatrical highlights and Irish literary treasures of our collection. 

The first thing the troupe noticed when we entered the library was the series of architectural models which rest on top of the bookshelves: they immediately recognized the Globe Theater in miniature, and were interested to learn that the rest of the models replicated other scenes from Shakespeare's life, such as the house where he was born. From there the tour naturally moved to exploring some of our Shakespeare editions. In the above photo, we are comparing two different versions of Macbeth: one third folio from 1664 and one Restoration-era revision which cleaned up quite a bit of the language. Our visitors were amused to see that the 1674 version included new songs ("As opposed to all the old songs?" one joked), and we were treated to a Scottish professional actor's reading of the Scottish play in both forms. 
You can see some of our Shakespeare editions and revisions on our Shaping Shakespeare Hands-On Tour; the next one takes place on November 6.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616), Macbeth: a tragedy: acted at the Dukes-Theatre. London: Printed for William Cademan, 1673. [EL1 .S527ma 673]
While on the subject of plays, we looked at the French manuscript of Salomé. It's hard to convey in photographs, but there is something incredible about seeing the handwriting of authors you love and admire; perhaps it's the rarity of seeing a unique, original document from a previous century, or perhaps the physical trace of pen or pencil makes us feel closer to the process of creation. In any case, our guests were very excited to see the manuscript, and pronounced Oscar Wilde's writing to be "a comely hand."

You may remember recognize Salomé from Everything is Going On Brilliantly, our Oscar Wilde exhibition of spring 2015. Kathy Haas, who was conducting the tour, pointed out that in this manuscript Salomé's infamous dance is only indicated by the stage direction elle danse, whereas in the typed manuscript owned by the Free Library's Rare Book Department, the direction indicates elle danse la danse des sept voiles. The difference between the two is like a physical trace of Wilde's invention of the seven veils, a vivid and enduring image which is not included in the biblical story of Herod.

Of course we visited a few pages of our Ulysses manuscript. Our Abbey Theatre guests reminded us that John Quinn not only defended Ulysses but also defended the Abbey Theatre from an obscenity charge in America, incurred while touring The Playboy of the Western World by John Millington Synge around 1911-1912. Quinn was successful in releasing them from the charge; more successful than he was in defending Ulysses, Kathy noted.

We only had an hour to show off some of our favorite pieces, but we had just enough time to visit the manuscript poems by Yeats, including "Never Give All the Heart." "Hold something back for dessert," one of the Theatre members joked in reference to the title, but as he read the poem aloud for us it did seem like something important was saved for last.

"Never Give All the Heart" was written in 1904, a year of political tensions and literary interest. It is the year that the Abbey Theatre opened its doors to the public and staged its first production in Dublin. It is the year in which all of the action in James Joyce's Ulysses takes place, and also the setting for a play called Dublin By Lamplight which will be performed by our friends Inis Nua Theater Company this fall. 1904 was a year of conflict and restlessness that presaged the eventual Easter Rebellion, which is the topic of the play our Abbey Theater visitors were in Philadelphia to perform. Although they concern the politics of a century ago, these works still captivate us today. 

We truly enjoyed sharing our collection with the Abbey Theatre, who shared so much of their own knowledge and insight in return. But we'll be opening up conversations about Irish literature, history, and culture in several events this fall. If you'd like to see some of the pictured manuscripts for yourself, join us on November 18 for a Hands-On Tour featuring Irish authors. If you'd like to hear present-day Irish poets recite their award-winning poetry, join us for In Conversation with the Rosenbach on November 17. And if the political plays performed by the Abbey Theater and Inis Nua Theater Company caught your attention, catch up with 21st-century Irish politics with political scientist Brendan O'Leary on December 8.

Friday, October 14, 2016

What would you include on a 2016 Freedom Train?

The Freedom Train 1947-1949 exhibition at the Rosenbach is arranged to encourage visitors to walk a narrow path bordered by panels set in a zig-zag pattern, mimicking the original Freedom Train experience of traveling through train cars mounted with diagonal displays. Our "train" conducts visitors through the triumphs and challenges of the original exhibit, and when visitors reach the final station of the exhibition, they face a sign that asks "What would you include on a 2016 Freedom Train?"

After a season of political events and historic speeches, our visitors had many ideas to tack onto our bulletin board.

Credit: Ryan Brandenberg Photography.

The 1947 Freedom Train celebrated some milestones in citizens' rights such as the 19th Amendment, and the American Heritage Foundation provided materials for cities to create inclusive events in honor of religious organizations, labor unions, veterans, and so forth. But the fact remains that many American citizens felt left out of the vision of democracy; namely, critics such as celebrated poet Langston Hughes and the NAACP president Walter White expressed concerns about an exhibition celebrating freedom in an era that still practiced restrictive Jim Crow laws.

In 2016, many visitors left sticky notes that expressed a desire to see even more inclusivity in a future Freedom Train. Some of these notes suggested a need for greater representation of certain groups while others referenced slogans or recent political movements that may be documented in future histories of our era.
  • Equal Pay for Equal Work!
  • Hands up Don’t shoot
  • Black Lives Matter
  • Black Trans Lives Matter
  • Trans medical coverage and workplace rights
  • Recent legislations granting civil rights
  • Freedom not to stand for national anthem
  • Freedom for women to wear what they want
  • Freedom for women to have control over their bodies
  • Perspectives of people whose voices are marginalized—women, communities of color, the LGBTQ community, working class folks—their voices matter.
Credit: Ryan Brandenberg Photography.

Other sticky notes listed more general concepts and slogans, which may be suggestions for a future Freedom Train's mission or simply ideas about what is needed in a narrative of democracy.
  • Jobs with good wages and benefits
  • I would want people to feel happy
  • Jesus Christ is where freedom lies
  • We all eventually learn to be tolerant
  • What society do we live in, where the people who are sworn to protect us, drive us to fear for our own lives
  • Something to promote less divisiveness over civil rights. We need UNITY.

Credit: Ryan Brandenberg Photography.
 A few visitors took the concept of re-launching a traveling exhibition very seriously, and offered some material suggestions for a future Freedom Train:
  • Food café car
  • I would love to do a new Freedom Train in 2016 but it could be online so more people could access it.
Freedom Train 1947-1949 is open through November 1. Be sure to catch the exhibition before it leaves this station!

Friday, October 07, 2016

When Willie Wet the Bed

Unless you come from the Midwest or from Amherst, Massachusetts., the name Eugene Field may not instantly ring a bell. However, you probably know some of the works of this poet and newspaper columnist best remembered for his sentimental pieces for children and about childhood (although he also translated Horace and wrote an erotic story that was the most seized work by Anthony Comstock).  Among many other works, he penned "Wynken, Blynken and Nod," which was made into a short by Walt Disney, a song by Carly Simon, and is still reprinted in storybooks and anthologies for children, 

While shelf reading in the fine press collection I came across another, less famous, work by Field, entitled "Little Willie." The humorous poem is in the voice of a grandfather looking back on when his son was small. This is a common literary theme, but in this case he is specifically recalling how the son would wet the bed.

Eugene Field. Little Willie. San Francisco: John Henry Nash, 1921. Collection of the Rosenbach.

When Willie was a little boy,
  No more than five or six,
Right constantly he did annoy
  His mother with his tricks.
Yet not a picayune cared I
  For what he did or said,
Unless, as happened frequently,
  The rascal wet the bed.

Closely he cuddled up to me,
  And put his hands in mine,
Till all at once I seemed to be
  Afloat in seas of brine.
Sabean odors clogged the air,
  And filled my soul with dread,
Yet I could only grin and bear
  When Willie wet the bed.

‘Tis many times that rascal has
  Soaked all the bedclothes through,
Whereat I’d feebly light the gas
  And wonder what to do.
Yet there he lay, so peaceful like;
  God bless his curly head,
I quite forgave the little tyke
  For wetting of the bed.

Ah me, those happy days have flown.
  My boy’s a father, too,
And little Willies of his own
  Do what he used to do.
And I! Ah, all that’s left for me
  Is dreams of pleasure fled!
Our boys ain’t what they used to be
  When Willie wet the bed.

Had I my choice, no shapely dame
  Should share my couch with me,
No amorous jade of tarnished fame,
  Nor wench of high degree;
But I would choose and choose again
  The little curly head,
Who cuddled close beside me when
  He used to wet the bed.
Eugene Field died suddenly in 1895 at the age of 45, shortly after writing this poem. His New York Times obituary claimed he had become "as familiarly known as any writer of verse in this country." "Little Willie" was not published in his lifetime, but there were a number of private printings, beginning as early as 1896. Our copy dates from 1921 and was printed by John Henry Nash of San Francisco.

Eugene Field. Little Willie. San Francisco: John Henry Nash, 1921. Collection of the Rosenbach.

Interestingly, the poem also seems to have circulated in a  number of medical journals from the 1890s through the 1910s; perhaps they were seen as appropriate places for a poem about urination. A quick Google Books search suggests that it appeared in the Western Medical Journal, Atlantic Medical Weekly, the Carolina Medical Journal, the Medical Standard, the Denver Journal of Homeopathy, the Iowa Medical Journal,  the Medical Times, the Cincinnati Lancet-Clinic, and even the American Dental Journal.  Three of these journals only printed the first four verses, leaving our the fifth stanza, which alludes to prostitution or dissipation. This verse is included in the Nash printing.

Eugene Field. Little Willie. San Francisco: John Henry Nash, 1921. Collection of the Rosenbach.

I'm not sure how many other odes to bed wetting have been penned over the years, but this one made me laugh and I'm glad to have run across it.

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach and the primary poster for the Rosen-blog

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Knight of the Folding-Stick

Here at the Rosenbach we celebrate all things bookish.  Our latest exhibition, The Art of Ownership: Bookplates and Book Collectors from 1480 to the Present, celebrates the many wonderful bookplates throughout our collections and uses them to delve into the biographies of book collectors/owners.  I happened to stumble upon another curiously self-referential book about books in our collection in recent days.  In fact it's bibliopegistical (relating to the art of binding books).  The volume is The Poetical Vagaries of a Knight of the Folding-Stick of Paste-Castle...Translated from the hieroglyphics of the Society by a Member of the Order of the Blue-String.  Printed by the author, presumably John Bradford, a New York binder who entered the book's copyright in "Gotham" in 1815.  The book itself is full of sprightly poems about books and bindings, like "This World's a Huge Bindery," and the frontispiece features an unusual "knight" made of bookbinder's materials.  Part of its body is made up of a saw and small hammer, one of its arms appears to be an awl for stitching, and the "plume" of its helmet is a paste brush.  
The Poetical Vagaries of a Knight of the Folding-Stick of Paste-Castle... Gotham, 1815.  Rosenbach A 815p. 
One of the poems is a curse upon all book-binders who seek to undermine each other's prices, and is worth quoting in part:

"May rats and mice devour your paste,
Your paper and your leather,
May your hand letters be defac'd,
Your types all mix'd together...

May your lying presses all get broke,
Your books be wrong colated,
And may you with foul charcoal smoke,
Be almost suffocated.

May your apprentices run away,
Your business be diminish'd,
And may booksellers never pay
You when your work is finish'd. 

God grant that you distress'd may be,
From Constable to beadles,
And live till you can't feel or see,
Your presspins from your needles.

Perhaps not surprisingly, contemporary binders have had a lot of fun creating playful modern bindings for this book, for which you can see two examples here and here

A History of the Garret, &c. &c., translated from the heiroglyphics of the Society by a member of the Order of the Blue-String.  Gotham: Printed by Order of the Society, In the Land of Musquetoes, Year of the Garret, Eleven Thousand Five Hundred.  Rosenbach A 815p. 
Even more curious, a second part of this book by the same author is a tongue-in-cheek history of The Garret, to which the Knight of the Folding-Stick's creator supposedly belongs.  This fictitious society's constitution was translated out of "heiroglyphics," which look like 19th-century QR codes.  Here are a couple of interest:

Patrick Rodgers is a curator at the Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Man Who Took the Freedom Train

I've written before about our current Freedom Train exhibition , but one element I ran across in my research and was unable to include in the exhibition was an episode of the popular Cavalcade of America radio show promoting the train. At a half-hour long, it was too long for exhibit audio, but I thought web visitors might have a bit more time for a listen to this fascinating period radio drama: you can listen through the audio player below, or you can download an MP3 from archive. org

The episode, starring Shirley Booth and Eddie Albert aired on April 12, 1948, when the train itself was in Wenatchee, Washington. In the show, a reluctant Freedom Train visitor falls into a daydream and visits dramatic moments in American history. A newspaper ad (quoted in Shirley Booth: A Biography and Career Record) gives this synopsis:
Eddie Bullock was afraid...afraid of visiting the Freedom train because it would take his lunch hour; afraid of his boss; afraid of going it business for himself. One day on the Freedom Train with his girl Marge, he suddenly realized what the world would be like if other men in other times had been afraid to push ahead, to work and strive and sacrifice

Cavalcade of America itself has an interesting history, one that echoes certain aspects of the Freedom Train. Calvalcade was an American history program sponsored by Dupont and had an extremely long run: 1935-1953 on the radio and 1952-57 on television. Dupont's aim in sponsoring the show was to overcome its bad publicity from WWI gunpowder profiteering (revealed in a 1935 report) and to associate itself with a positive view of American history that focused on "the rugged scene of American struggle"  and avoided discussion of war.  Like the Freedom Train, the show sidestepped matters of potential controversy, including race and labor. Frank Monaghan, who would later serve on the document advisory committee  and a writer for the Freedom Train, was a historical advisor for Cavalcade and although the show didn't get the ratings of some other dramas and comedy acts, it proved popular with educators.

If we've piqued your interest in the Freedom Train and its presentation of American history, be sure to stop by and see the exhibit before it closes on November 1. If you stop by this Saturday (9/24) we are having our annual open house; we will be free all day and in addition to the exhibits, you can enjoy self-guided walks through the period house. So come join us.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Cheers for Chairs II

Following up on last week's post on our cockfighting chair, I thought I'd highlight another interesting set of chairs in our collection in anticipation of  next Thursday's conversation on the history of the chair with Witold Rybczynski.

If you've been on a Rosenbach house tour, you've seen these English mahogany chairs around the dining room table.

Chippendale-style chair. English, 19th century. Collection of the Rosenbach. 1954.166.7
The chairs are in a mid-18th century rococo style, often called Chippendale after Thomas Chippendale's pattern book The Gentleman and Cabinet-maker's Director, which was first published in 1754. In fact, the design of the back of this chair is copied directly from plate XVI of Chippendale's Director (shown below--look at the chair on the left). However, although the chairs are designed from Chippendale's book, they are not 18th-century chairs, but 19th-century reproductions.

There are six of the chairs around the table, but the Rosenbach owns a total of eleven with the same back design. If you look closely you'll notice that these the eleven chairs are actually from two sets:  seven have paw feet and upward-pointing acanthus leaves on the "knee"  and four have ball-and-claw feet and downward-pointing acanthus with a punched background.

Philip Rosenbach bought these eleven chairs in 1926 as a suite from the estate of  William Hesketh Lever, the first Viscount Leverhulme. Lever was a soap manufacturing magnate who founded Lever Brothers (now part of Unilever)  in 1886 and turned it into a multinational powerhouse. He also served as a liberal M.P.. The mid-19th century Thornton Manor was his Cheshire home.
Image result for thornton manor
Photograph by John Robertson. 30 May 2005. Wikimedia.

Following the first Viscount's death, there were several auctions of sections of his collections from his many homes, including one of "Rare English Furniture and Works of Art Removed from Cheshire" on June 3-4, 1926.

Here is the Leverhulme sale description and pictures of the furniture suite, which also included a settee.

Philip bought the whole set and sold the settee  in 1930 to Mrs. Blakemore Wheeler of Louisville, Kentucky. In a letter to Mrs. Wheeler, Philip described his purchase  of the set (which he noted was "old but not a period piece," e.g. not from Chippendale's time) :

 [The set] did not reach the limit which was placed by the executors, as the dealers had gotten together and tried to make what they call a knock-out on the entire collection. I was in the room when it was put up for sale, and succeeded in purchasing the entire suite privately afterwards.

The chairs are in my own dining room and I would not have parted with the settee at any price but that I had no place for it in the house. You are thus getting the benefit of an extremely low price for it.

 So the next time you are in the dining room, be sure to take a look at the chairs!

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach and the primary poster for the Rosen-blog.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Cheers for Chairs

In two weeks, on September 22, our "In Conversation with the Rosenbach" series will feature a conversation on the history of the chair with architectural writer Witold Rybczynski, author of Now I Sit Me Down: From Klismos to Plastic Chair, A Natural History. There are more than 60 chairs in the Rosenbach's decorative arts collection, but probably the one that generates the most questions on tours is the "cockfighting chair" in the East Library.

Reading chair. 1750-1775. Collection of the Rosenbach. 1954.0312            
Reading chair. 1750-1775. Collection of the Rosenbach. 1954.0312   

The term "cockfighting chair" seems to be a modern collector's term; our chair is described this way on the Rosenbach Company's 1952  purchase invoice from Wood and Hogan. But when chairs like this were created in the 18th and 19th centuries they were described in terms of reading. Here's an 1810 image of "Library Reading Chairs" from the magazine Ackermann's Repository.

The Repository of arts, literature, commerce, manufactures, fashions and politics. London : Published by R. Ackermann ... Sherwood & Co. and Walker & Co. ... and Simpkin & Marshall ... September 1810.

The accompanying text describes the chair on the right as:
a more novel article, but equally convenient and pleasant [as the chair on the left]: gentlemen ... sit across, with the face towards the desk, contrived for reading, writing, &c. and which, by a rising rack, can be elevated at pleasure... As a proof of their real comfort and convenience, they are now in great sale at  the ware-rooms of the inventors, Messrs. Morgan and Saunders, Catherine-street, Strand.
Thomas Sheraton's furniture design book The Cabinet Directory, published in 1803,  also provides an image of this type of chair and a description of its use.

Thomas Sheraton, The Cabinet Directory Plate 5.. London: W. Smith, 1803.

These are intended to make the exercise easy and for the convenience of taking down a note or quotation from any subject. The reader places himself with his back to the front of the chair and rests his arms on the top yoke.

Unlike the examples in Ackermann's and Sheraton, ours has no convenient candle holders, but it does include drawers under the arms and seat, presumably to hold paper and writing implements for "taking down a note." Also in contrast to ours, both the Ackermann and Sheraton models have semi-circular arms with the reading surface mounted in a groove so it can be moved along the arms to many different positions. As Ackermann's explains, "when its occupier is tired of the first position, it is with the greatest ease turned round in a brass grove, to either one side or the other ; in which case, the gentleman sits sideways."

By the way, I'd like to note in passing that both Sheraton and Ackermann's describe the user of this furniture in male terms;  this would seem to be a very gendered form of furniture, since women's clothing would not have allowed the straddle position the chair was designed for, nor would it have been considered seemly, although maybe the sideways position described by Ackermann might have been acceptable.

Another drawing of a reading chair with arms more similar to ours turns up in the Winterthur library, which preserves drawings of furniture made ca. 1780-1810 by the Gillow Company.  This chair is described in the company's estimate book  (apparently in the Westminster archive) as "a  mahogany reading chair"

The Winterhur Library, Joseph downs Collection of Manuscripts and Ephemera,  Document 257.

In addition to these images, examples of reading chairs like ours survive in a number of collections. Here's a ca. 1750 example from the Met.
  Metropolitan Museum of Art 68.164. Gift of William C. Jackson, 1968

And here's a  1725-35 example from London's Victoria and Albert Museum.

Victoria and Albert Museum W.13:1, 2-1970

This ca. 1720 example, also from the V&A is thought to have belonged to John Gay, who wrote the Beggar's Opera.

Victoria and Albert Museum. W.47:1-1948
Preservation concerns keep me from trying out our cockfighting chair to personally assess its ergonomic and comfort qualities, but the form seems to have had a long run and is certainly an ingenious and fascinating  piece of furniture.

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach and the primary poster for the Rosen-blog.
She would also like to thank former collections intern Emily Pazar for her research on this chair, which informed this post.