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Friday, October 31, 2014

A Writer Walks Out of a Bar...Without His Manuscript

This week marked what would have been the 100th birthday of Welsh writer Dylan Thomas, who was born October 27, 1914. Thomas was a gifted writer, but not so good at remembering where he put things (a problem tied in with his famous love of drink). The Rosenbach owns the manuscript of Under Milk Wood, which Thomas quite literally lost in a pub.

Under Milk Wood was a radio play commissioned by the BBC in the mid 1940s, but it was not until October 15, 1953 that Thomas delivered the final manuscript to Douglas Cleverdon, who was in charge of the project. It was a combination of handwritten fair-copy pages and typescript pages with manuscript annotations and corrections. Thomas was leaving for the United States on October 19th and he wanted to take the manuscript with him for readings, so Cleverdon's secretary made a copy and returned the manuscript on October 17th. But then Thomas lost it.

Dylan Thomas, Under milk wood:manuscript. EL4 .T455u 954 MS. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of the Philadelphia.
It was not the first time that Thomas had lost Under Milk Wood.  On a trip to Cardiff in March 1953 Thomas had left it in his hotel, frantically writing a friend:

I left the briefcase somewhere. I think it must be in the Park Hotel. I’ve written to the manager but could you possibly, when and if passing by, drop in and see if it is there? It’s very urgent to me: the only copy in the world of that kind-of-a-play of mine, from which I read bits, is in that battered, strapless briefcase whose handle is tied together with string. If this thing isn't there, do you think you could find out where the hell I left it? (Collected Letters, p 878)

The manuscript was found and returned from Cardiff. In October, with the manuscript lost again  and Thomas slated to fly out,  Cleverdon had copies made and delivered them to Thomas at the airport. Thomas was very grateful. Here's how Cleverdon described what happened next:

The only words I can recall him actually saying were that I had saved his life. I said it seemed an awful pity that the original had been lost , and that it meant an awful lot to me. I had been working on it very closely over six or seven years, and it was the culmination of one of he most interesting this I had produced. He said if I could find it I could keep it. He told me the names of  half a dozen pubs, and said if he had not left it there he might have left it in a taxi. (Account of an action to recover the manuscript, 11)

Cleverdon looked for the manuscript and did in fact find it at the Helvetia or Old Swiss pub in Soho. He asked the barmaid and "she looked under the counter, said 'Here it is' and gave [him] the manuscript in its rather tattered folder."(Account of an action to recover the manuscript, 6)

But that's not the end of the saga. In 1961 Cleverdon sold the manuscript to the Times Book Company for £2000. Thomas's widow brought suit, claiming that the manuscript belonged to her since she had inherited all Thomas's physical possessions.

Judgment in an action by Mrs. Caitlin Thomas to recover from the Times Book Co. Ltd. the manuscript of Under Milk Wood. Toucan Press, 1967. EL4 .T455u Ephermera 2. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of the Philadelphia.
The legal question centered on whether Thomas had in fact made a gift of the manuscript to Cleverdon. Mrs. Thomas's lawyer claimed that it was improbable that Thomas would have given away the manuscript, since he was always short of cash and would have known the manuscript to have financial value. He also claimed that even if Thomas had intended to give the manuscript to Cleverdon,  "he did not succeed in giving effect to that intention because there was no delivery of the subject matter to it to Mr. Cleverdon by Dylan Thomas."

The judge (who had the wonderful name of Mr. Justice Plowman) ultimately ruled that a gift had in fact been made and that the Times Book Company was the rightful owner of the book. The judge pointed out that it was not improbable that Thomas would have given away the manuscript (especially noting that the manuscript was lost at the time and that the high value of the manuscript only came after Thomas's death) and that retrieving the manuscript from the pub where Thomas left it was sufficient to effect the gift.

So that is the tale of Dylan Thoma's Under Milk Wood. The Rosenbach purchased it from the Phoenix Book Shop in 1968 and it has not been lost since.

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

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Adventures of "The Adventure of the Empty House"

If you haven't been on our "Sleuths and Spies" hands-on-tour, you may not know that the Rosenbach owns Arthur Conan Doyle's manuscript for the 1903 Sherlock Holmes story, The Adventure of the Empty House.

Arthur Conan Doyle, The adventure of the empty house: autograph manuscript. 1903. EL4 .D754e 903. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

The Empty House is famous as the story that brought back Sherlock Homes from the dead. Six years after publishing his first Holmes tale, A Study in Scarlet, Doyle felt that Holmes was a distraction from other writing projects and so in 1893 he killed off the popular detective in a struggle at Reichenbach falls. The public was quite disappointed, but they would have to go for nearly a decade without Sherlock. In 1901, faced with financial encouragement from his publishers, Doyle began serializing The Hound of the Baskervilles, but this story was set prior to Holmes's death. It was The Adventure of the Empty House, published in 1903, that truly revived Holmes; it picks up 2 years after Holmes's supposed death and explains that he did not in fact die, but escaped and spent the interim time traveling.

Doyle was handsomely recompensed for resurrecting the detective. As The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle explains, for the thirteen stories (beginning with Empty House) that make up The Return of Sherlock Holmes, Doyle received £100 per thousand words from The Strand magazine for the British rights and the American magazine Collier's offered $45,000 for the American rights.

The manuscript for The Adventure of the Empty House is written in a series of composition books, which are bound together in a white vellum cover, signed by Doyle at the upper left.

Arthur Conan Doyle, The adventure of the empty house: autograph manuscript. 1903. EL4 .D754e 903. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

Given the story's significance in the "life" of Sherlock Holmes, The Museum of London asked to borrow the manuscript for their major exhibition Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die, which opened last Friday. Here's the super-cool logo for the show.

Three weeks ago I escorted the little book across the Atlantic  and supervised its installation in London. I was accompanied by Janine Pollock of the Free Library, who was couriering the manuscript of Edgar Allen Poe's Murders in the Rue Morgue from the FLP Rare Book Department. Our manuscript joins a number of other Doyle manuscripts in the exhibition, including notes for A Study in Scarlet in which the dynamic detecting duo are tentatively named J. Sherringford Holmes and Ormond Sacker.  The website has pictures of this and the other manuscripts in the exhibit and a handy page comparing the Study In Scarlet notes with the final version and with Rue Morgue.

When I was there in early October much of the exhibit was not yet installed, but what I could see looked great. I was interested to see that other Doyle manuscripts were bound in vellum covers like ours. The show includes much more than just manuscripts: it includes homage to film and television versions (including some Benedict Cumberbatch items) and a fantastic section showcasing artifacts of London of the period, drawn from the Museum of London's outstanding holdings. The exhibit has been getting great reviews from both the press and Holmes enthusiasts (I like the fact that both of these reviews mention or show our manuscript.) So if you're in London between now and April  12 you might want to stop by and check it out!

If you are in Philadelphia, you might want to check out our Sleuths and Spies tour. Even before the manuscript returns in April the tour is chock full of goodies from Poe to Dickens to Conrad--did you know that Dr. Rosenbach bought Doyle's crime library in 1930 and that we still have one of his books? Don't go to 221B Baker Street but 2008 Delancey Place!

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

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fiasco! Act III

Act III: All Apologies

Opera [Works] of Apuleius.  Rome: Petri de Maximo, 1469 (edition princeps).  The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia, Incun469a. 
Within this fiasco-themed mini-series we've so far looked at collections that hint at theatrical and political debacles. This final act concerns a legal fiasco, and this one goes back to the ancient world—Roman North Africa, precisely.  Not far from Tripoli a famous trial took place in the second century CE.  The plaintiff was one Aemilianus.  He was a member of a family that believed they had been aggrieved by a young man who had married Aemilianus’s sister-in-law, Pudentilla, then a widow.  The young man and the defendant in the suit was Apuleius of Madaurus, an educated Roman citizen, Platonic philosopher, and author of The Golden Ass, the only surviving ancient novel in Latin.  While the latter is Apuleius's best-known work and probably his most significant, his court defense--known as his Apologia--is an overlooked literary gem.  It was first printed in Rome in 1469, as you can see from this edition in our collection of incunabula.  The Apologia is a witty and spirited defense, which proved a disaster for Aemilianus and his co-plaintiffs.  The background of the case is exceedingly complicated, but it came down to who would inherit Pudentilla’s wealth: her sons (backed by their late father’s family, including Aemilianus, as well as their in-laws), or her new husband Apuleius?  To keep the wealth in the family they needed to undermine Apuleius, so Pudentilla’s sons and in-laws accused him of bewitching her with magic spells and potions.  They presented their first piece of evidence to an indignant populous in the forum, reading a fragment of a letter that Pudentilla had written mentioning that, “Apuleius is a magician.  He has bewitched me and I love him too much.”  Pudentilla's in-laws used this as the pretext to charge Apuleius with being a magician.  They promptly presented evidence that Apuleius had committed various sorceries against several different people. 
The beginning of the Apologia.  The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia, Incun 469a. 
Why does this ancient Roman courtroom defense qualify as a fiasco?  Because a key ingredient in any good fiasco is ridiculousness, and Apuleius found the proceedings against him to be utterly ludicrous, so he decided to fight fire with fire.  His defense is a bitingly sarcastic, disdainful, and hilarious dismantling of his opponent's charges word for word.  Nothing escaped Apuleius’s scorn, not even the brief remark in the opening arguments that he was a “handsome philosopher.”  Apuleius rebutted that he isn’t really that handsome: “This hair, which they, with falsehood so manifest, affirmed that I had allowed to grow to such a length, in order to add to the allurements of my beauty—you see how far it is from being handsome and neatly arranged—all clogged and matted together, like the rope of a twisted tow, shaggy and uneven… .  The charge, then, as to my hair, which they have made as it were a capital count in the indictment, has, I fancy, been sufficiently refuted." (I'm quoting from a 1878 English edition by an anonymous translator printed in London by George Bell & Sons).  

His opponents tried to use Apuleius's own poetry against him, pointing out verses that they felt had lascivious or shameful connotations.  They didn't pick particularly damning poems, however.  One of them had to do with dentifrices--tooth powder!  Apuleius seizes on this to deliver a mocking oration on oral hygiene, which reportedly sent the crowd of spectators into hysterics and which he ended with, "If, indeed, a person, like yourself Aemilianus, will hardly ever open his mouth except to utter calumnies and revilings, I am clearly of the opinion that he ought to bestow no attention whatever on his mouth, nor to clean his teeth with powders brought from abroad, when he might much more appropriately rub them with charcoal snatched from the funeral pile."  

Apuleius spun outrageous comedy out of the most absurd assumptions of his accusers, discoursing on such topics as mirrors, fish, napkins, and whatever other subjects he could use to insult his accusers and expose their ridiculous charges.  In this way, Apuleius's defense was his best offense, essentially prosecuting his accusers for slander, stupidity, illiteracy, and bad taste.  The crowd loved it and the Roman proconsul who acted as judge in the trial duly acquitted Apuleius of being a nefarious magician.  For Aemilianus and his scheming family, the trial was truly a fiasco; for us, it's some of the most entertaining courtroom drama you could ask for!  
Apuleius's closing argument: "To each of your innumerable charges I answer in a couple of words.  'You clean your teeth'--Pardon my cleanliness.  'You look in a mirror'--A philosopher ought. 'You compose verses'--Tis not unlawful to do so.  'You examine fishes'--Aristotle teaches me.  'You make Gods of wood'--Plato advises it. 'She is older than you'--No uncommon thing... "  From Incun 469a. 

Patrick Rodgers is Curator of the Maurice Sendak Collection at the Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Fiasco! Act II

Following on last week's post about fiascos from our collections, we now bring you act II:

Act II: Fire Ball
Charles VI of France in an engraving from a later book on French kings.  In The Rulers of France, MS f.233/22, The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

A document written by Charles VI during one of his more lucid periods.  In The Rulers of France, MS f.233/22, the Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
Charles VI of France was king during a pretty rough time, reigning from 1380-1422.  Europe was still recovering from the Black Death while France was in the midst of fighting the Hundred Year's War against the English and suppressing widespread civic unrest within the kingdom.  To top it off, Charles also suffered bouts of insanity and paranoia.  Still, his court tried to maintain appearances and to put up a brave front.  In 1393, one of Queen Isabeau's ladies-in-waiting was to be remarried, and an occasion that could have been an elegant celebration turned into a major fiasco, if not worse.  The problem had nothing to do with political intrigue or the King’s psychosis, although by this time Charles suffered longer spells of delirium and had been advised to leave the stressful matters of state to his councilors to pursue more leisurely activities.  And so the King and some of his close retainers decided to enliven the wedding by turning it into a masquerade and disguised themselves as “wild men,” semi-mythical forest-dwellers who figure in many medieval legends.  The idea was to make themselves look hairy, so they used a kind of wax or pitch to stick stringy, scraggly flax fibers all over their costumes.  Thus attired, they danced around wildly to the amusement of the guests and surely the embarrassment of the Queen and her ladies, encouraging the revelers to guess their identities.  Charles ordered the torchbearers to the far sides of the room just to make sure there were no incendiary accidents.  It might all have come off as an embarrassing wedding moment had not the King’s brother, the Duke of Orleans, arrived late to the party.  Since he had no idea who these hairy wild men were, he tried to get a look at their faces…using the torch he brought with him to see them better.  Before anyone could shout a word of warning, the forbidden torch was close enough to catch the flammable pitch and fibers on one of the wild men, and within seconds all five men, including the King were burning.   
The Bal des Ardents in Jean Froissart's Chronicle (vol. 4, part 2), c.1470-1472.  In the British Library, Harley 4380.
One of them succeeded in dousing himself (either with a tub of dishwater or—and many medieval chroniclers prefer to picture this—by jumping into a wine vat), while other courtiers were badly burned themselves trying to put out the other wild men.  Credit the Duchess of Berry with being smart enough to realize she could smother the flames with the train of her gown, which actually saved the King’s life.  The other three wild men died of their injuries.  The bal des ardents (“The Ball of the Burning Men”), as it is known, wasn’t just a tragedy for the court—it proved a fiasco for the French monarchy, eroding whatever trust remained in Charles VI’s judgment.  His relatives at court stripped him of most of his powers to govern.  The political fragmentation that followed weakened France to the point that civil war broke out between rival duchies and the English exploited the crisis to invade, crush the French at the Battle of Agincourt, and force a humiliating treaty.  

Stay tuned for next week's final fiasco!

Patrick Rodgers is Curator of the Maurice Sendak Collection at The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Fiasco! Act I

Kathy is away this week working on something Sherlockian (which I’m sure you’ll read about here soon).  In the meantime, this week’s blog post is motivated by perhaps the most notorious episode of NPR’s This American Life, which was the topic of lunchtime conversation recently at the Rosenbach.  The theme: fiascos.  If you want to hear about the worst production of Peter Pan ever staged or how a minor change in a local radio program turned into a state-wide cultural throwdown then give a listen to the episode.  If you want to know which fiascos are hidden behind the covers and enclosures of objects in this museum…well, that’s what I’m here for.  Consider me Mr. Fiasco.  I’ve got three stories of fiascos related to objects in our collection, which I’ll post separately to avoid any single post becoming an outrageously long…well, you know.  

Act I: A Solemn Mockery. 
Henry II, a "newly discovered" Shakespeare play forged by William Henry Ireland.  The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia, EL3 f.I65i MS4.
Shakespeare is always good fodder for a fiasco.  So many of his plays draw their life force from them—even plays he didn’t write!  That’s where William Henry Ireland comes in.  This late 18th-century law clerk’s specialty was forging documents supposedly in Shakespeare’s hand (no authentic hand-written documents by Shakespeare are believed to have survived apart from a few signatures, and forgers do abhor a literary vacuum).  He supplied the world with letters and declarations by Shakespeare, fragments of King Lear and Hamlet in manuscript, even a lock of Will's hair (so that’s where all the hair went!)—all supposedly discovered within a vast trunk of documents belonging to a friend, Mr. H., who wished to remain anonymous.  The thing about a fiasco is the snowball effect of rolling disaster that it creates, and around 1795 Ireland’s fiasco began to roll downhill.  Droves of people came to the Ireland family home to lovingly inspect the documents, many of them exhibiting an almost religious fanaticism.  Samuel Ireland, William Henry’s stern father and Shakespeare enthusiast, was so enraptured by his son’s discoveries that he couldn’t help himself—he had to know more about Mr. H.  So William Henry then had to impersonate Mr. H. in a lively correspondence that he kept with his father, all the while forging his magnum-opus, a lost tragedy called Vortigern and Rowena.  When news of that play’s “discovery” reached the ears of theater impresario Richard Sheridan he knew he had to put on the first “new” Shakespeare play in more than a century.  Meanwhile, the first voices of dissent made themselves heard. 
Transcription of Ireland's forged Vortigern.  The Rosenbach of the Free Library, EL3 f.I65i MS3.
Sheridan bought the rights to perform Vortigern at Drury Lane theater, with the famous J. P. Kemble in the starring role (despite the actor's skepticism of the play).  Just before the first performance of Vortigern on April 2, 1796, Shakespeare scholar Edmond Malone dropped the gauntlet, publishing a widely-read criticism of Ireland’s supposed Shakespeareana as a vile hoax. 
A hand-bill distributed during the performance refuting Malone's claims.  The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia, EL3 f.I65i MS3. 
The night of the performance Drury Lane was a powder keg.  Supporters of the Irelands and their discoveries, as well as doubters who agreed with Malone’s assessment packed the theater.  The audience gave the play a chance to prove itself, listening without much quarrel to the first few acts.  It was Kemble himself who gave vent to the simmering tensions of the dissenters in the crowd when he pronounced these lines—mockingly addressed to Death—towards the end of the play: "Thou clapp’st thy rattling fingers to thy sides; And when this solemn mockery is ended—"  
The "solemn mockerye" passage from William Henry Ireland's forged Votigern play.  The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia, EL3 f.I65i MS3. 

You had to be there: the way that Kemble spat the last line at the audience apparently left no question at which mockery he was addressing.  The crowd picked up on it and started jeering and whistling.  Kemble let this go on then fired his second torpedo, repeating the line with an equal measure of disdain for the same reaction.  When the play finally ended, it was announced that Vortigern would be shown again the following Monday, which was greeted with loud booing from the crowd.  Tempers were so high by then that a fight broke out in the pit between the booers and the play’s supporters.  Chaos ensued.  The sanctity of the Bard was at stake and the theater became the battleground for this holy war.  Kemble hastily took the stage to say, on second thought, they’ll do a different play on Monday.  
The fight eventually broke up and everybody went home, but the Vortigern fiasco continued in print.  Newspaper reviews and much word-of-mouth excoriated the production and largely blamed the pretentious Samuel Ireland for the forgeries.  Samuel refused to renounce them, and instead published a critique of Malone.  This put immense pressure on William Henry Ireland to confess and clear his father's name.  He eventually did, though his father never believed that his son had the talent or intelligence to play at being Shakespeare for as long as he had, and the critics assumed it was some sort of trick Samuel had forced his son into doing.  Not surprisingly, after his exposure William Henry's reputation was in the gutter.  But since he was known as a forger, why not make the most of it?  He began to copy his own forgeries and sell them as the original forgeries.  You can see them here, including his copy of Vortigern—is a forgery of a forgery a fiasco?  

Mr. Fiasco is Curator of the Maurice Sendak Collection at The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.