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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

President's Day Post

Happy belated President's Day! Today, February 22, marks Washington's actual birthday so I thought we'd celebrate with a peek at Washington's earliest surviving letter.(If you want to get precise, when he was born Washington would have thought of his birthday as February 11, since England and her colonies still used the Julian calendar, but it works out to February 22 in the Gregorian calendar, to which Britain switched in 1752).

In any event, this earliest surviving letter was written when George was only 17. It is written to his older half-brother Lawrence. In the first sentence George makes mention of Lawrence's cough; Lawrence would die of tuberculosis in 1752 at the age of 34.

George Washington, autograph letter signed to Lawrence Washington. Ferry Farm, Va., 5 May 1749. AMs 1058/23

May 5th, 1749
Dear Brother,

I hope your Cough is much mended since I saw you last, if so likewise hope you have given over the thoughts of leaving Virginia.

As there is not an absolute occasion of my coming down, hope you'll get the Deeds acknowledged without Me; my Horse is in very poor order to undertake such a journey, and is in no likelihood of mending for want of Corn sufficient to support him; tho' if there be any certainty in the Assembly's not rising untill the latter end of may, will if I can be down by that; As my Mothers term of Years is out at that Place at Bridge Creek, she designs to Settle a Quarter on that Peice at Deep Run, but seems backward of doing it, untill the right is made good, for fear of accidents.

It's Reported here that Mr. Spotswood intends to put down the Ferry that is kept at the Wharf where he now Lives, and that Major Frans: Taliaferro intends to petition the assembly for an act to have it kept from his House over against my Mothers Quarter, and right through the very Heart and best of the Land; whereas he can have no other view it but for the Conveniency of a small Mill he has on the Water side, that will not Grind above three Months in twelve, and the great Inconveniency and prejudice it will be to us, hope it will not be granted; besides, I do not see where he can Possibly have a Landing Place on his side that will ever be sufficient for a Lawful Landing (by reason of the steepness of the Banks;) I think we suffer enough with the Free Ferry, without without being troubled with such an unjust and iniquitous Petition as that, but hope as its only a flying report he will consider better of it and drop his pretentions. I should be glad (if its not too much trouble) to hear from you in the meanwhile remain with my Love to my Sister Dear sir
Your affectionate Brother
George Washington

For more Washington documents, as well as materials by the other Presidents' Day president, check out the Rosenbach's Manuscripts Online site, which features high resolution, searchable documents for your presidential perusal pleasure.

Kathy Haas is the Assistant Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Titanic Out Takes

The collections department has been busy this week with our new exhibit, Titanic: The Rise of Rosenbach, which opened yesterday. One of the challenges in any exhibition is that there are all sorts of fascinating tidbits that just don't fit into the story arc and therefore have to (sadly) get left off of the labels. Here are some of my favorite bits from the cutting room floor.

Titanic/Lusitania: Undoubtedly the two most famous ship sinkings of the 20th century were the Titanic, which struck an iceberg in 1912, and the Lusitania, which was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1915. Strangely enough, as we looked through the Rosenbach material related to the Titanic disaster, we kept finding references to the Lusitania. Philip Rosenbach traveled to England on the Lusitania, London book dealer Bernard Quaritch sent Harry Widener's posthumous purchases home to America on the Lusitania, fine press publisher Elbert Hubbard wrote a book about the Titanic and then himself went down with the Lusitania when it sank (this did make it into a label). Of course in 1912 there was nothing wrong with the Lusitania and there were only so many ships plying the Atlantic crossing, but we couldn't help noticing the odd coincidence.

Elbert Hubbard, The Titanic. East Aurora, N. Y.: The Roycroft Shops, 1923. FP.R889 923

St Paul's: The exhibition focuses on Harry Widener's book collecting and his mother's attempt to honor him with a memorial library at Harvard. However, the library wasn't the only memorial Mrs. Widener created for her family. When I was just beginning the research for this exhibit I met a woman who was a parishioner at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Elkins Park. She told me about how Mrs. Widener renovated the church in honor of her husband George and her son, Harry, including donating Tiffany memorial windows. According to Leslie Morris's article, "Harry Elkins Widener and A.S.W. Rosenbach: Of Books and Friendship," Dr. Rosenbach, who was quite close with Mrs. Widener in the period after the tragedy, also served as a sounding board for this project, even advising on the selection of altar cloths.

Widener legends: That Harry Widener willed his books to Harvard and that his mother donated a $2 million building to go with them are facts. It is also a fact that his mother stipulated that there could be no significant alterations to the exterior of the building, which has caused Harvard to get creative about expansion and renovations, including in one case running a connecting corridor between Widener and Houghton Libraries through a window. However interesting these facts are, campus legends abound about other supposed Widener rules. Supposedly Harvard instituted mandatory swim tests at the stipulation of Mrs. Widener, who felt that swimming could have saved her son. This is complete nonsense; I have no idea if Harry could swim or not, but it would have been irrelevant to his death, since there was nowhere to swim to. In fact, Harvard's swim test did not come into force until the 1920s. Another story claims that ice cream is always available in the dining halls because of a Widener requirement. I have no idea how that one got started, but there's no truth there either. A Snopes article on Widener urban legends points out that similar legends exist at other colleges and that this type of legend is used to explain all kinds of collegiate quirks that have no obvious explanation.

That's it for this round of the outtake reel. Apropos of last week's post, I would like to note that I have found several on-line Dickens name generators, including The Dickens Character Generator and the Fictional Character Name Generator. Explore at your own risk.

Kathy Haas is the Assistant Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

"I Am Born"--200 Years Ago

The birthdays are coming fast and furious. Last week it was James Joyce; this week we celebrate the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens, who was born February 7, 1812. While many find Joyce daunting, almost everyone has read some Dickens--even if it was just A Tale of Two Cities in high school English class. What is your favorite Dickens tale?

You can find out about Dickens birthday events around the world at the Dickens 200 Website; the Dickens Fellowship and the Dickensblog are also doing a good job linking out to events, press coverage, and other interesting material. Here at the Rosenbach we are celebrating with a new Dickens Hands-on Tour. You can check it out tomorrow, February 8, at 3 PM to get your hands on Dickens's earliest surviving literary manuscript, signed copies of his books, a broadside for one of his amateur theatricals, as well as letters and other neat stuff. We'll be repeating the tour on Friday the 24th, in case you can't make it over tomorrow.

Dickens will also feature in this year's Romance at the Rosenbach tour; among the items we're putting out for that tour is the perennial favorite, a lock of Dickens's hair. This was saved by his sister-in-law Georgina Hogarth. For the full story of Dickens, his wife, his actress, and his sister-in-law you'll have to come on the tour.

Charles Dickens, hair. Probably June 1870. Rosenbach Museum & Library. 2005.0004

Personally, one of my favorite parts of Dickens's writing is the characters. In a Daily Mirror poll, Ebenezer Scrooge won top honors as "the most popular Dickens character", but I'm a big fan of the characters with amusing names. Here are some of my favorites: Mr. Wopsle, Luke Honeythunder, Sophia Wackles, Dick Swiveller, Alfred Jingle, Wackford Squeers, Inspector Bucket, Mr. Sloppy, and Caddy Jellyby.

Give yourself a pat on the back for any of these you recognized, and an extra pat if you know which book s/he came from. I think there could be a great market in a Dickensian name-creation app.

So happy birthday Mr Dickens and may we all keep the day well!

Kathy Haas is the Assistant Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Happy Birthday to James Joyce and Ulysses

About a month ago I posted about James Joyce's death date (Jan. 13, 1941) and its effect on copyright. Today we can celebrate his birth date: February 2, 1882. I think he's doing quite well for a man of 130! At his birth, Joyce's name was famously misrecorded as James Augusta Joyce, rather than James Augustine Joyce, an amusing slip that he incorporated into Ulysses, which makes mention of "the birth certificate of Leopold Paula Bloom." Tom Stoppard also took advantage of the naming goof in his play Travesties, in which the Joyce character parallels Aunt Augusta from Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. (Quick note to local Stoppard and/or Joyce fans-- Plays and Players will be producing Travesties in June)

Joyce's birthday is, not coincidentally, also a significant day for two of his best known works. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man began to be serialized in The Egoist on February 2, 1914, and Ulysses was first published in its entirety on Joyce's 40th birthday, which also had the advantage of being a catchy date: 2-2-22. For more about Joyce's feelings about his name and his birthday (and about an awesome cake which his daughter-in-law got for him) check out this page from the James Joyce Centre.

In honor of Joyce's and Ulysses's birthdays, I thought I'd highlight a new acquisition, which relates to our right to enjoy that book here in the United States. Last year we acquired a signed copy of the Woolsey decision in the 1933 case, United States vs. One Book Called Ulysses, which which overturned the 1921 obscenity ban on publishing or importing Ulysses.

John Woolsey. United States of America. Libellant v One Book Called "Ulysses" Random House Inc, Claimant. 1933

Here are the first and last pages, which conclude with Judge Woolsey's famous statement that "[W]hilst in many places the effect of 'Ulysses' on the reader undoubtedly is somewhat emetic, nowhere does it tend to be an aphrodisiac" and his decision "'Ulysses' may, therefore, be admitted into the United States."

Kathy Haas is the Assistant Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog