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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Norfolk Turkey Coach

George Cruikshank, "The Norfolk Turkey Coach." from Peter Parley's Tales About Christmas, 1838. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia. 1954.1880.3189.

This Cruikshank illustration comes from an 1838 book of Christmas stories, but tale's description of the bustle and burden of holiday travel (and, of course, the centrality of turkeys to holiday feasting) could equally apply to a modern Thanksgiving.

In trudging a few miles along the turnpike road with Mr. Charlton, I could not but observe the bustle that prevailed. Every traveller had a holiday appearance ; there were an unusual number of caravans, wagons, and vehicles of all kinds, the coaches were unmercifully loaded, and the coachmen had an  air of more than common importance. One stage coach could hardly get up a chalky hill that it had to ascend, though six horses were attached to it, so heavy was the pile of hampers, baskets, packages, and parcels piled on the roof. 

Mr. Charlton said that it reminded him of once seeing the Norfolk  coach, so loaded with turkeys, that it ought to have been called the turkey stage. There was scarcely any thing to be seen but turkeys, so piled was the outside of the coach, and so crammed the inside, that they wanted nothing in the world but a turkey for a coachman, and another for a guard to render the thing quite complete. " I should hardly have been surprised," added he, "to see a turkey or two running after the coach, labelled round the neck "for Leadenhall Market," and screaming out that their places had been booked three days before."

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at the Rosenbach!

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

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Rosenbach Murder Mystery

Dr. Rosenbach's book-dealing prowess not only earned him an extensive clientele, an amazing personal collection, and the chance to publish about his exploits, but his widespread fame also gave him a star turn as the victim in a 1930 murder mystery. The Yorkshire Moorland Mystery (a.k.a The Yorkshire Moorland Murder)  by J.S. Fletcher revolves around the death of an American book dealer, Charles Essenheim, whose body is found in a crevice on the Yorkshire moor. 

You can buy a facsimile of the book's dustjacket at
It is clear that foul play was involved--the dealer died from two blows to the head. As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that Dr. Essenheim was murdered shortly after having purchased a first edition of Pilgrim's Progress and a medieval book of hours, both of which were missing when the body was found. But if you want to find out what happens next, you'll have to read the book.

In one of his Saturday Evening Post articles, Dr. Rosenbach claimed that Essenheim was based on him, an homage which the mystery-loving Dr. R enjoyed. A quick read through the book leaves little doubt that the character was inspired by Dr. Rosenbach's image as the man who bought the best books at the highest prices. Here are some of the descriptions of the American book dealer Essenheim

One of the most famous book-collectors and authority on books living...Comes [to the U.K.] regularly and buys up all the rare stuff he can lay hands on---spends piles of money.

His knowledge of what I will call the old book world seemed to me to be nothing less than uncanny; second, that he was the quickest hand at a bargain that I had ever known; and third, that he appeared to be in command of an inexhaustible purse.

In addition to using him as the model for the murder victim, Fletcher also refers to Rosenbach by name late in the book, when one of the American characters refers to "our own great authority, Dr. Rosenbach."

The story gets good reviews on Amazon

J. S. Fletcher, the author of The Yorkshire Moorland Mystery, was an extremely prolific Yorkshire author who published 237 books on a variety of topics; including 120 detective stories. Woodrow Wilson apparently read and enjoyed his earlier novel The Middle Temple Murder:
Publisher's Weekly. November 22, 1919. p1271
Fletcher claimed that his interest in crime fiction was inspired by :

the fact that a famous case of fraud was heard at the Quarter Sessions at a town where I was at school – its circumstances were unusual and mysterious and the truth hard to get at..."Then, when I left school, I meant to be a barrister and I read criminal law and attended a great many queer trials for some time. But turning to journalism instead, I knew of a great many queer cases on famous murder trials. Also, I learnt a good deal about criminology in conversations with the late HB Irving, the famous actor, who was an expert.

For those of you who were wondering, H.B. Irving was the son of famous actor Sir Henry Irving, whose theatre company Bram Stoker managed. (He also looks a lot like his dad) H.B. trained as a lawyer, but then went into theater before eventually returning to the law and publishing A Book of Remarkable Criminals.

Given his prodigious output, Fletcher is often criticized for having produced rather formulaic and repetitive work. Nonetheless, if you are interested in a light read and in finding out who killed Dr. R (I mean Dr. Essenheim) you should check out The Yorkshire Moorland Mystery.

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

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Death by Comet, Fueling the Sun, and Other Comet Tales

This week brought news of the first successful landing on a comet when the Philae probe landed on comet 67p, 310 million miles from earth. The comet even sings! The probe's bad landing means that we may not get as much data as we'd hoped, but it's still a pretty cool achievement. In honor of the occasion, I've pulled a few choice comet items from our collection.

An astronomical catechism for the instruction and entertainment of young gentlemen and ladies. London: T. Wilkins, 1792. EL2 .A1a. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

An Astronomical Catechism for the Instruction and Entertainment of Young gentlemen and Ladies was published in  1792 and features an entire section on comets. It discusses the number of comets (21 known at that time), their orbits, their composition, and the extreme temperature variations which they undergo. Faced with the existence of extreme swings of light and temperature, the catechism leaves open the question of whether comets might be inhabited:

Of what Texture must the Inhabitants be, suppose there be any it?

 No Mortal can solve your Query, but although Creatures of our Texture are not calculated to exist in such Worlds, God has appropriated us and our World the one for the other; and he also can form Creatures proper for those other World which he has created.

The catechism also attempts to answer "What is the Use of Comets." Drawing from Newton, the catechism claims that comets provide "Fuel for the Sun" when they fall in and otherwise "the Sun  would be in Danger of wasting from the continual emission of light." The author also presents Newton's theory that comets provide an ongoing supply of moisture for the earth, which would otherwise dry out from evaporation and from the decay of vegetation into "dry earth".

An astronomical catechism for the instruction and entertainment of young gentlemen and ladies. London: T. Wilkins, 1792. EL2 .A1a. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Since ancient times comets have often been seen as harbingers of disaster and the catechism hedges its bets when answering the question "Have Comets any Effect upon the Earth?" The author admits:

The Astronomers of the present Age think not. Until this Century it was always believed that Almighty ... made use of them as second Causes to effect great and terrible Events, but our enlightened and improving Age both in Science and Religion have quite exploded that Sentiment.

However he then goes on to say:

I have minutely examined the above number of Comets 418. by all the Authors who lived in their respective Times, that I have read, and find them all attended with affecting Events, and 28 of  them with most dreadful Draughts even to Famines." 

He further claims that God caused Noah's flood via comet and that the end of the world (which God promised would be through fire, not water) might be caused through a comet colliding with earth.

A half century later, Edgar Allen Poe played both upon comets' traditional association with disaster and on the scientific opinion that they were not actually dangerous. First published in a magazine in 1839 and in Poe's collected Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque in 1840, "The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion" is a tale of apocalypse by comet.

Edgar Allen Poe, Tales of the grotesque and arabesque. Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1840. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

In the story, a new comet is discovered and it is headed for the earth. However, learned men dismiss the idea of any danger:

That material injury to our globe or to its inhabitants would result from the apprehended contact, was an opinion which hourly lost ground among the wise...It was demonstrated, that the density of the comet’s nucleus was far less than that of our rarest gas; and the harmless passage of a similar visitor among the satellites of Jupiter was a point strongly insisted upon, and which served greatly to allay terror. ... That the final destruction of the earth must be brought about by the agency of fire, was urged with a spirit that enforced every where conviction; and that the comets were of no fiery nature (as all men now knew) was a truth which relieved all, in a great measure, from the apprehension of the great calamity foretold. It is noticeable that the popular prejudices and vulgar errors in regard to pestilences and wars — errors which were wont to prevail upon every appearance of a comet — were now altogether unknown. As if by some sudden convulsive exertion, reason had at once hurled superstition from her throne. 

In the end God and the comet have the last laugh. As it nears earth the comet somehow attracts all nitrogen to itself, leaving only oxygen in the earth's atmosphere. This initially makes people feel physically rejuvenated, but soon pain arrives "in a rigorous constriction of the breast and lungs, and an insufferable dryness of the skin...We gasped in the rapid modification of the air. The red blood bounded tumultuously through its strict channels. A furious delirium possessed all men; and, with arms rigidly outstretched towards the threatening heavens, they trembled and shrieked aloud."

 Then the comet destroys the oxygen-laden world in a huge fiery conflagration.

There came a shouting and pervading sound, as if from the mouth itself of HIM; while the whole incumbent mass of ether in which we existed, burst at once into a species of intense flame, for whose surpassing brilliancy and all-fervid heat even the angels in the high Heaven of pure knowledge have no name. Thus ended all.

Poe's story was influenced by a both a popular interest in the end times and an interest in comets. Predictions of the end of the world were current at the time; in the early 1830s William Miller began to prophesy that the second coming of Christ and the end of the world were nigh, eventually settling on 1843 as the probable date. Comets were also very much in the news; Halley's comet was visible in 1835 and Encke's comet passed by in 1835 and 37.

I will close with George Cruikshank's amusing picture of a man riding a comet, intended as an illustration for The Beauties of Washington Irving, in which Irving notes the way comets are used to explain all kinds of phenomena:

 I cannot help noticing the kindness of providence in creating comets for the great relief of bewildered philosophers. By their assistance more sudden evolutions and transitions are effected in the system of nature than are wrought in a pantomimic exhibition by the wonder working sword of harlequin. Should one of our modern sages in his theoretical flights among the stars ever find himself lost in the clouds and in danger of tumbling into the abyss of nonsense and absurdity he has but to seize a comet by the beard mount astride of its tail and away he gallops in triumph like an enchanter on his hippogriff or a Connecticut witch on her broomstick to sweep the cobwebs out of the sky.

George Cruikshank, Illustration for The beauties of Washingotn Irving.  1820, 1954.1880.3152  The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia      

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

Friday, November 07, 2014

The Strange and Unaccountable Life of Daniel Dancer, Esquire, Who Died in a Sack, Though Worth Upward of £3000 a Year

One of the things I love about working at the Rosenbach is that I'm always discovering new and fascinating things in the collection. I was flipping through the card catalog,  in search of a completely different book, when I saw a card for an item with the wonderful title, The Strange and Unaccountable Life of Daniel Dancer, Esquire, Who Died in a Sack, Though Worth Upward of £3000 a Year.

The Strange and Unaccountable Life of Daniel Dancer, Esquire. London: Orlando Hodgson, EL3 .A2p The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

With a title like that I couldn't resist; I had to know more. (I guess this kind of chance encounter is one of the side benefits of still having a card catalog.) The tale turns out to be about a wretched miser, who lives with his equally miserly sister. Here are a few choice excerpts, describing their penny-pinching lifestyle:

[T]hey, for a series of years, lived as sumptuously as three pounds of sticking of beef, and fourteen hard dumplings, would allow for the short space of seven days; and this supply, for years, served them week after week ; and though, during hot weather in summer, the meat might urge greater expedition, and fresher supplies, yet they never were observed to relinquish their daily portion, with one cold dumpling and a draught of water. Half a bullock's head, with occasionally a few stale trotters, made broth for weeks; and this was sometimes rendered more savoury by the addition of a few picked bones which he took up in his walks, and of which he daily deprived the dogs.

- - - - - - - -

It was during the last illness, which terminated his sister's life, that he was importuned to afford her some medical assistance ; to which he shrewdly replied, it would cost him money ; and, besides, continued he, "Why should I waste my money in wickedly and wantonly trying to oppose the will of God ! If the girl is come to her latter end, nothing can save her; and all I may do, will only tend to make me lose my money; and she may as well die now as at any other time."

- - - - - - - - 

For many years it was his opinion, that every man ought to be his own cobbler; and for this employ he had a lucky genius, which he indulged so far as to keep by him the most necessary tools for mending shoes; but these, it must be impartially observed, cost him nothing; for he had borrowed one at a time from different persons until he had possessed himself of a complete set of them, and with these he mended his own shoes so admirably, that what he wore, by the frequent jobs and coverings they had received from his thrifty hands, had become so ponderous, that running a race in them would have been impracticable; and, besides, their dimensions were so much enlarged, that they resembled hog-troughs more than shoes. To keep these on his feet, he took several yards of cords, which he twisted round his ankles in the manner the ancient Romans wore their sandals.

- - - - - - - -

Though Mr. Dancer never indulged himself in the extravagant luxury of snuff-taking, yet he was always careful to solicit a pinch or two from those who did; but it was not to gratify his own nose — no such thing! it was to lay it by in a box, which he carried about him for that purpose ; and when full,he would barter its contents at a neighbouring chandler's-shop for farthing candles, which he made to last him till he had replenished his box again. Mr. Dancer never suffered any light in his house, except what issued from the glimmer of the fire, unless while he was going to bed.

True to the title, the text does describe how he "died in in a sack":

During the illness which terminated this miserable man's mispent life ... Lady Tempest accidentally called on him, and found him laying in an old sack, which came up to his chin, and his head wrapped in pieces of the same materials as big as a bee-hive. On her remonstrating against the impropriety of such a situation, he observed, that being a very poor man, he could not afford better; and having come into the world without a  shirt, he was determined to go out in the same manner. As he brought nothing with him, he did not think he had any right to carry any thing away ; and the less he made use of he thought was the more acceptable to God: so that in his last moments, he made his saving notions square with his most serious thoughts.

After his death, the Lady Tempest and her husband (Dancer's heirs) found untold riches hidden inside dung heaps in the cow barn, nailed inside the manger, and stuffed inside the furniture.

The moral of this story is hardly subtle, but the author lays it out even more clearly:

Mr. Dancer was the most perfect picture of human penury that perhaps ever existed, and the most singular character that ever lived; his habits were those of an hermit; and his extreme avarice rendered him as abstemious as any ascetic of the desert in this manner lived, and in this situation died, Daniel Dancer, Esquire, a monumental proof to the world, that the advantages of fortune, unless properly directed, will not make their possessor happy.

It turns out that Dancer was a real historical figure, who was born in 1716 and died in 1794 (as the pamphlet claims).  His renown was such that chapbooks began to be published about him three years after his death and the story remained popular through the 19th century. If he sounds rather Scrooge-like, there may be a reason--some say that Dancer was an inspiration for Dickens's Ebenezer Scrooge. Dickens was certainly familiar with Dancer's story; in Our Mutual Friend, the character of Nicodemus Boffin (who is pretending to be a miser) refers to the story several times and has it read aloud.

Last year the Headstone Manor Museum collaborated on an exhibition entitled Daniel Dancer: Harrow's Miser Next Door . You can also find records of a court case involving Daniel Dancer in the online records of the Old Bailey. In 1788 he accused a John Dancer (a relative?) of having stolen cash, a silver tankard, and some small items from him. John Dancer was found guilty and sentenced to death.

See where a random catalog card can lead you! That's why I love the Rosenbach.

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