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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Note to Philadelphia: Dickensians are Coming -- Hide the Statue

So, West Philadelphia's beautiful, urban Clark Park is home to the world's only full-size statue of Charles Dickens. Why is the there only one such statue in this great big world of ours and why is it in Clark Park? Follow the link for a good, concise answer to that question. Perhaps this letter, part of the Rosenbach's sizable collection of Dickens holdings, can help elucidate the matter:

Charles Dickens (1812-1870). Charles Dickens, ALs: to William Hepworth Dixon
London: May 8, 1861. EL3 .D548 MS3 (#9)

Dickens writes, "I have no faith in statues and no desire to help towards the remembrance of any man in that manner." So he's not into statues. Ah, but he continues with this money quote: "The existing abominations in that wise fill my soul with grief and despair." The man clearly had some strong feelings about statuary. But then it almost sounds like he's ready to join some kind of anti-statuary Monkey Wrench Gang: "I will be one of any committee to take any public statue down, but cannot be a committee-man to set one up."

The Rosenbach has another set of letters between Dickens and Dixon regarding a statue of Shakespeare. "I dread the vision of a statue... shiver and tremble at the thought of another graven image in some public place," he writes. He felt Shakespeare's best monument was his work and that the money would be better used to finance scholarships. Nonetheless, he did put up £10 for the project. I wonder if his willingness, albeit reluctant, to memorialize Shakespeare in this wise indicated anything about his feelings toward the Bard...

I dunno about you, but reading these letters, I think that maybe Dickens had a phobia of statutes. Maybe he feared them the same way Billy Bob Thornton fears silverware or Benjamin Disraeli's hair: a deep, instinctual, mortal terror. Maybe Dickens would be terrified to set foot in Clark Park today. That's too bad. It's so pleasant. And where else are you gonna go sledding in University City on a snow day? We just want to praise Dickens, not traumatize him.

Behold! The coiffure that strikes a devastating fear into the heart of one of our nation's greatest talents.Aside: am I reading Martha Rosso's article correctly -- it's basically illegal to erect statues of Dickens in England? Because he said so in his will? So you can effectively outlaw things through your will? Anyone who can elucidate this question for me will be heartily thanked in this space. Because I'd like to know how to outlaw the sauteing of mushrooms just because the smell makes me so sick. I may have to continue dealing with that foul aroma, but if I can prevent anyone else from having to do so after I'm gone, I'll have left a legacy I can be proud of. Then again, maybe I should focus on something that truly does does fill my soul with grief and despair.

Moving on, the Rosenbach has a copy of the last photograph ever taken of Dickens. This one also claims to have Dickens's last known signature on the reverse, supposedly written just hours before his death on June 9, 1870. So maybe we can leave off with that image as a more fitting, or perhaps less frightening, tribute to the great writer.

Above images: Mason and Co.: Photographic portrait of Charles Dickens.
London:1870. EL3 f.D548 MS4 [#15]

Two last notes: if you're a Dickens fan, the 101st International Conference of the Dickens Fellowship will be hosted by the Philadelphia Chapter this year. Book dealer Charles Sessler founded the Philadelphia chapter in 1907. Even though Philip Rosenbach considered Sessler a mortal enemy for some unknown reason, we've buried the hatchet and are happy to invite any and all of Sessler's fellow Dickens enthusiasts to pay us a visit to see our Dickens material first hand. As long as you're nice to the Clark Park statue.

Secondly, this post, or at least any meritorious components thereof, are affectionately dedicated to Mr. Mel Lovett. Mel is a beloved Rosenbach docent, now in his twentieth year of dedicated service to the museum. He recently explained in our Docent Newsletter that he'd choose Dickens as his ultimate dinner guest: "[Dickens] has seen so much of life, the good and the bad. He has compassion for his characters, who find life so unforgiving at times. He shows us how nearsighted people can be. He teaches us to look outside ourselves for inspiration." Mel also volunteers his time at St. Christopher's Hospital, the Moore School, and the Pennsylvania Economy League. He is a kind, decent, gracious, and generous man. We're lucky to have him here leading tours every Thursday, always giving our visitors their money's worth.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

While researching A.S.W. Rosenbach's Hebrew language studies (see below), I really hoped to find some manuscript evidence of his Hebrew class work. I didn't have any luck then, but thanks to the the highly proficient PACSCL information professionals presently on our premises, just such evidence has surfaced. The above is a page of notes Abie put together and tucked into one of his notebooks. It looks like a Hebrew vocabulary and verb conjugation study sheet. It turned up as we went through the uncataloged Rosenbach Family material this week. Here's the reverse:

It's an interesting list of words and phrases. I wonder what lesson or text he was working on which involved the phrases (assuming I make out his handwriting correctly) "ye have drawn near," "we have concealed," "she is old," and "thou wert small."

Perhaps more interesting than this page is the scrap of notes on Hebrew pronunciation Abie's sister Rebecca kept in a prayer book. I'm not sure of the extent to which women studied Hebrew in her lifetime (1866-1926). Would her studies have been common then? Would she have studied openly? It might be that Rebecca's notes are not at all unusual, but it's at least nice to see something of hers to get a better picture of her life. You'll have to stop by the Library to see her notes in our current exhibit installed there.

And thanks, PACSCL, for helping us uncover Abie's notes.

A.S.W Rosenbach (1876-1952). AMs: [Hebrew language study notes.]
Philadelphia: 1894?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Battledore and Shuttlecock, Bull-dogs and Motoring

Friends, the above is the greatest list of personal interests, ever constructed. Bar none. It comes from the Who Was Who 1916-1928 listing for English journalist and dramatist George Sims (1847-1922). (The Who Was Who list is actually entitled "recreations," which may help explain why I find it so charming.) Tucked away on the Rosenbach's shelves is a small collection of Sims's papers. This week our friends from the PACSCL Consortial Survey Initiative are on site helping us get a sense of what's in our un- and under-cataloged manuscript collections. Their services are invaluable. I hope they won't be offended by my saying that if nothing else comes out of this project, just finding George Sims's list of personal interests has made the whole thing worthwhile for me, personally. Sure, some you might be interested in the letter Sims wrote about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's interest in the occult, but how important is that, really? Battledore and shuttlecock, bull-dogs and motoring, I say!

A few of the other collections they've been looking at include:

  • Katherine Minehart Lewis Carroll Collection
  • John Thurloe Papers (Thurloe was Oliver Cromwell's Secretary of State.)
  • William, Earl Nelson Papers (Older brother to Horatio, the hero of Trafalgar)
  • Phil Phillips Papers (Archaeologist, accomplished amateur Joycean)
  • Rufus King Papers (Signer of the U.S. Constitution, advisor to Alexander Hamilton)
plus some additional uncataloged Rosenbach Company/Rosenbachiana and Marianne Moore material.

We'll let you know if anything exciting turns up.

Monday, April 16, 2007

"...that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."

John Wanamaker. Photo from Wikipedia.
I find it touching that a wealthy and powerful business-magnate like Philadelphian John Wanamaker (1838-1922) would go to the trouble to print this little volume of important American historical documents for distribution to the general public:
Ro3 887souv and that the general public would take them home and sign Wanamaker's pledge to "carefully read" the whole thing:
Ro3 887souv
Isabella Rosenbach (1830-1906) and John Wanamaker deserve a salute as true American patriots. With more citizens like them, Lincoln's words may hold true for yet another four score and seven years.

* * * * *

Wanamaker, by the way, also gave us the department store, the price tag, the department store elevator, the white sale, and is responsible for giving this little musical instrument a permanent home

The Wanamaker Organ at the 1904 World's Fair.  Photo from Wikipedia.

here: The Grand Court at Macy's (formerly Wanamaker's), Center City Philadelphia.  Photo from Friends of the Wanamaker Organ.

Isabella Rosenbach was a leader of Philadelphia's Hebrew Sunday School Society and gave us Philip H. and A.S.W., founders of the Rosenbach Museum & Library. She was their mother.
2006.1732. Isabella Rosenbach, July 23, 1888, a few months after she signed the above book.

Images, from top:
1. Unknown photographer. Portrait of John Wanamaker.
2. Ro3 887souv. Front cover. Souvenir of the Constitution Centennial... Philadelphia: John Wanamaker, 1887.

3. Ro3 887souv. Back cover. Souvenir of the Constitution Centennial... Philadelphia: John Wanamaker, 1887.
4. The Los Angeles Art Organ Company. "Electrolian..." St. Louis, Missouri, 1904.
5. Raymond Binswanger. [The Grand Court, Macy's, Philadelphia, Pa.] Philadelphia: ND.
6. 2006.1732. Horning. Portrait of Isabella H.P. Rosenbach. Philadelphia: 1888.