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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Robert Burns

This week's blog post is again courtesy of Emelye Keyser, the Rosenbach collections intern who wrote a previous post on Rudimentum Novitiorum. Given that Emelye came to the Rosenbach after graduating from the University of Edinburgh, we couldn't resist asking her to write a piece for tomorrow's Burns night.

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Robert Burns did for the Scottish language what Chaucer had done for English nearly four centuries before:  he proved it to be capable of sophisticated poetry and he put his country on the literary map.  He penned universal truths – ‘a man’s a man for a’ that’ and ‘the best-laid schemes of mice an’ men / Gang aft agley’ – using the hitherto little-acknowledged (or understood) vernacular, and compelled the English to sing in his language every New Year’s Eve with ‘Auld Lang Syne.’  The Rosenbach will be celebrating the 254th birthday of Scotland's Bard on Friday the 25th of January, and where better to raise a glass of Scotch to Rabbie than the resting place of one of the earliest Tam o’ Shanter manuscripts!

Robert Burns, "Tam O'Shanter": autograph manuscript. [1790]. EL2 .B967 MS3
“Tam O' Shanter” celebrates Scotland’s culture, folklore, and landscape.  Yet its themes are recognizable and appealing to all: the tribulations of returning home from drinking; the supernatural horrors of woodlands at night.  Set in the coastal town of Ayr, southwest of Glasgow, the poem recounts the adventures of Tam as he rides his faithful mare, Maggie, home from the pub late one stormy night.  Hearing a commotion coming from within Alloway Kirk, Tam approaches a window and watches as party of 'warlocks and witches' dance about the church.  He is spotted when he can't help applauding a particularly comely demon and is chased through the night by her, finally escaping when he crosses a stream – though poor Maggie makes less of a clean getaway than her master!
   
Burns allegedly wrote “Tam O’ Shanter” at the request of Francis Grose, who in 1790 was completing his Antiquaries of Scotland.  Burns met Grose and Adam Mansfeldt de Cardonnel-Lawson, both amateur antiquarians, at Friar Carse, the home of a mutual friend; the poet asked Grose to include Alloway Kirk in his book, and Grose in turn promised to do so if Burns would pen a story about the place.  The Rosenbach’s “Tam O’ Shanter” is the manuscript that Burns sent to Cardonnel-Lawson several days after they met.  Some time in the early nineteenth century Cardonnel-Lawson’s son had it bound with material that reflected the story of its conception: alongside “Tam” there is a picture and hand-written description of Friar Carse, a portrait of Burns, a pencil drawing of Burns’ birthplace, a drawing of Alloway Kirk, and a short essay on the kirk that borrows heavily from the published description in Antiquaries of Scotland.  The poem has since been cut from its binding, and in the pictures below it appears as loose-leaf.

Robert Burns, "Tam O'Shanter": autograph manuscript. [1790] EL2 .B967 MS3

Robert Burns, "Tam O'Shanter": autograph manuscript. [1790] EL2 .B967 MS3

"Tam O' Shanter” can be a challenging read, written as it is in 18th-century Scots. Several English translations exist, but the power of the language is compromised: best to read the poem in the original with the English alongside it.  Some tips from an American who lived in Edinburgh: “ken” is the Scottish word for “know” and is never conjugated; “unco” can mean “strangely,” “remarkably,” or “a lot”; and almost all other unfamiliar expressions stand for alcohol or those who enjoy it! 
   
The best way to enjoy “Tam” is not to read it, but to listen to it, either here or tomorrow evening at the Rosenbach’s celebration! 





Emelye Keyser is a graduate of the University of Edinburgh and is currently interning in the collections department of the Rosenbach Museum & Library.


Friday, January 18, 2013

The Many Lives of Goody Two Shoes



This past fall the Rosenbach was joined by a wonderful new class of docents. Their rigorous training included ten weeks of lectures and workshops as well as two written assignments on books and objects in the Rosenbach collections. Over the next few weeks we plan to share a selection of  their work; we hope you enjoy it. 

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Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach was a world-renowned bibliophile.  While I too have been a lifelong lover of books (at a much humbler level), I did not feel a personal connection to “Dr. R.” until I recently had the opportunity to touch, read, and resonate to his collection of “Goody Two-Shoes” books, centuries-old nursery tales, which were once part of his personal library and are now part of the Rosenbach Museum & Library holdings. 

The history of little Goody Two-Shoes. London : printed for T. Carnan and F. Newbery,  1772. Rosenbach Museum & Library.  EL2.A1 go 772

The moment the 240-year-old book emerged from its red slip-case, I was smitten: I loved its tiny size, its worn but still lovely Dutch paper covers, its humorously long title, its many charming, miniature wood-cut illustrations, and best of all, the story itself, as told in its 156 pages.

This particular book had been printed in London in 1772 by T. Carnan and F. Newbery, “successors to the late Mr. John Newbery,” the publisher of the original 1765 edition (not in the Rosenbach collection).  If we could time-travel, we should be able to pay a visit to Messrs. Carnan and Newbery, because on the second page they thoughtfully provided their exact location, “at the corner of St. Paul’s Church Yard and Ludgate-street,…No. 65, near the Bar …”  On the third page yet another variation of the title is provided as the heading to the first chapter.

 I have learned that the name “Goody Two-Shoes” has had many applications and connotations: it is the title (or the salient part thereof) of this centuries-old fable; it is one of the sobriquets of the protagonist of this story; and in more modern times, it has morphed into a term of belittlement.  In current English slang, a “goody two-shoes” is someone who is cloyingly pious and smugly self-righteous.  The term is not considered a compliment today.

The history of little Goody Two-Shoes. London : printed for T. Carnan and F. Newbery,  1772. Rosenbach Museum & Library.  EL2.A1 go 772

But once upon a time, Margery Meanwell, a.k.a. Two-Shoes, a.k.a. Little Goody Two-Shoes, a.k.a. Old Goody Two-Shoes, a.k.a Goody Two-Shoes, a.k.a. Mrs. Margery, and yes, eventually the Lady Jones, was a beloved heroine to generations of children, and probably even more so to their parents, who were earnestly endeavoring to instill in their offspring the tenets of Christian virtue, which can be boiled down to “Faith, Hope, and Charity,” plus a good measure of ye olde Protestant work ethic.
 
This heroine’s slew of names reflect her Cinderella saga, the allegorical tale of an orphaned child who is beset with many misfortunes, but continues to rise through life because of her unshakable piety, her industry and honesty, and  her unstinting kindness.  In the early chapters, her parents, the Meanwells, are driven from their farm by the cruel Sir Timothy Gripe and Farmer Graspall, leaving the family destitute.  The father soon succumbs to a fever, the mother dies of a broken heart, and little Margery and brother Tom are left alone in the world and impoverished, so poor that the little girl has only one shoe. The children are soon befriended by a clergyman and then his rich relative, the Gentleman, who sends Tom off to become a sailor and orders new “cloaths” for Margery, including a pair of shoes.  Her grief at the departure of her sibling is mollified by the arrival of her new shoes. She delightedly cries out "two shoes," which becomes the basis of her classic sobriquet.
 

The destitute orphan, through diligent study and hard work, becomes a self-sufficient schoolmistress.   She is not only a teacher of children, but also a savior of animals, who then magically assume human-like powers and become her faithful companions.  In the tradition of heroic sagas, Margery Meanwell, now Miss Goody Two-Shoes, must undergo many tribulations and tests of her faith, including being locked in a church thought by many to be haunted, the destruction of her schoolhouse, the on-going enmity of Sir Timothy Gripe, and more.  She is even tried as a witch (and of course acquitted).  Ultimately, our flawless paragon is rewarded for her virtue: she becomes the cherished wife of a rich nobleman, is reunited with her long-lost brother, and lives happily ever after, while continuing to bestow her charity upon all who need it.
 

To my adult surprise and delight, I discovered that what would seem to be an ingenuous allegorical tale is actually laced with sly irony.  For example, on the title page, we are directed to “See the Original Manuscript in the Vatican at Rome, and the Cuts by Michael Angelo; illustrated with the Comments of our great Modern Critics.” The wit of the anonymous author shines through the deliberate platitudes with which the story is laden.  To reinforce its moral weight, the narrative is salted with interstitial adages such the following: “A friend in your need is a friend indeed”; “Where pride goes, shame will soon follow”; “Honey catches more flies than vinegar.”  Ponderous pronouncements are offset by clever turns-of-phrase.
 

Some literary theorists, including Washington Irving, have attributed its authorship to Oliver Goldsmith; others have disputed this allegation and offered alternative and/or additional candidates, including John Newbery himself, as well as the names of two brothers, Giles and Griffith Jones.  As I perused the story in the Rosenbach reading room, it seemed to me that the writing reflects more than one voice, so I find plausible the opinion of some that the original work was a collaborative effort.  Indeed, I can imagine that collaboration taking place in a congenial London tavern!  However, despite more than two hundred years of speculation and debate, it seems unlikely that authorship will ever be definitively determined.



Kerry Bryan is a member of the Docent Training class 2012 and currently a docent apprentice. Her love of American History and Literature drew her to the Rosenbach’s collections.
 






Friday, January 11, 2013

Turning Point

Spending time in another century is one of the joys of  museum life. Over the last week I've been buried in Civil War manuscripts, to the point that when I walk down the street my brain reruns fragments of letters I've read or muses on the precise sequences of events in a particular day's battle. When I spend time with the Civil War, what comes out is reams of label text (in this case for the upcoming exhibit Voices of 1863). But when composer-in-residence Dave Burrell spends time with Civil War manuscripts, what comes out is fascinating and powerful music.

We've written about Burrell's previous projects on the blog (see here and here), but this week I was able to take a brief break from my own Civil War musings to hear a preview of his compositions for the Turning Point concerts to be held next week on Wednesday and Saturday.

Turning Point is the third of five years of Civil War-themed compositions and each year has had a very different organizing idea. The first program, Portraits of Civil War Heroes, took as its subject famous individuals such as John Brown and Robert E. Lee. Last year's Civilians in Wartime was organized around groups of people--spies, children, etc.. This year's concert is inspired by events--the Emancipation Proclamation, Gettysburg, Vicksburg. But in talking with Dave Burrell about his compositions, it is clear that he has strong mental and emotional impressions of the people experiencing the events: he envisions a congregation's jubilant but confused response to the Emancipation Proclamation or the tired and hungry Confederates besieged at Vicksburg. These images and emotions are not in the music in a strictly narrative way, but inform the compositions and give them great depth.

I am no music critic, so I don't want to say too much about the music itself, except to say that I think you'll like it. If you came to last year's performance you might be especially interested in One Nation, which opens the concert. This composition intertwines the themes of Yankee Doodle and Dixie; last year Burrell included an intentionally simple treatment of the piece, with the plan that it could grow and develop musically in subsequent years. Having heard this year's expansion, even without the trombone part, I have to say it's one of my favorite pieces in the program. My other personal favorite is Battle of Vicksburg which closes the program. To me, this piece somehow evokes both the rattle of the perpetual shelling and a beautiful sense of solemnity.

Again, my words can't do justice to Burrell's work, so if you want to hear this complex and wonderful music for yourself, please be sure to RSVP to reserve your tickets. In the past, these concerts have sold out. You can call (215)732-1600, ext. 123 or e-mail rsvp@rosenbach.org.





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



Friday, January 04, 2013

Belt Book

If you have a smartphone or PDA, where do you keep it for easy access to all your important information?  Maybe in your pocket (if it will fit), or in your purse (if you carry one), or maybe in a holster or  belt clip. Here's a close up of our librarian Elizabeth Fuller sporting her smartphone holster.

It turns out medieval folks also needed to have their information at their fingertips and sometimes they employed a very similar solution--the belt book.


Tabula festorum mobilium cum canone: manuscript.  
[York?] England, [between 1406 and 1424].  
Rosenbach Museum & Library. MS 1004/29
The Rosenbach's belt book is from England and dates from the first quarter of the 15th century. It was once carried by a physician on a cord attached to his girdle. The book's ten leaves contain calendar infomation, tables of solar and lunar eclipses, and medical charts, each folded to fit compactly between the long narrow covers.

 Here is one of the calendar pages, which clearly shows how the pages were folded and unfolded.

Tabula festorum mobilium cum canone: manuscript.  
[York?] England, [between 1406 and 1424].  
Rosenbach Museum & Library. MS 1004/29


 This image shows one of the pages of eclipses; the red is used to show the portion obscured in a solar eclipse and the blue for lunar eclipses.

Tabula festorum mobilium cum canone: manuscript.  
[York?] England, [between 1406 and 1424].  
Rosenbach Museum & Library. MS 1004/29
The two medical pages in the almanac are particularly interesting; they include an "ymago flebotomie," identifying the major veins and what ailments could be treated by bleeding them, and a urine wheel depicting 20 flasks of urine with accompanying descriptions of the colors of the urine and what they signify.

Tabula festorum mobilium cum canone: manuscript.  
[York?] England, [between 1406 and 1424].  
Rosenbach Museum & Library. MS 1004/29

Tabula festorum mobilium cum canone: manuscript.  
[York?] England, [between 1406 and 1424].  
Rosenbach Museum & Library. MS 1004/29
Bloodletting and urine testing were two common tools in medieval medicine; the urine flask (or jordan) was the visual symbol of a doctor, much like a stethoscope is today.  An illustration in the Ellesmere manuscript of the Canterbury Tales shows a physician holding his flask even while on horseback. You can find out more about medieval urine analysis in this wonderful article from the Canadian Medical Journal.

So the next time you reach for your smartphone and fumble to unlock the screen, remember our unknown medieval man unfolding and refolding his own handy device. 




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