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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Poe's Poems

This fall the Rosen-blog will be featuring a series of posts by Edward G. Pettit, who is leading our Poe Reading Group. We hope you enjoy his musings.
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Watercolor of Edgar Allan Poe, by John A. McDougall
Poe as he looked while living in Philadelphia.
Miniature by John A. McDougall. Ca. 1846. Huntington Library
 







“In a dream I once had, I saw a vessel on the sea, at midnight, in a storm. . . now flying uncontroll‘d with torn sails and broken spars through the wild sleet and winds and waves of the night. On the deck was a slender, slight, beautiful figure, a dim man, apparently enjoying all the terror, the murk, and the dislocation of which he was the centre and the victim. That figure of my lurid dream might stand for Edgar Poe, his spirit, his fortunes, and his poems — themselves all lurid dreams.” — (Walt Whitman, The Washington Star, November 16, 1875.)

I sat down last night to read some of Edgar Allan Poe's poems and wound up reading through his entire corpus.  For such an important American poet, Poe left us with a remarkably small number of poems: less than a hundred.  Perhaps that's also why original editions of his works sell for such great sums of money.  Poe's first published book of verse, Tamerlane and other Poems, sets the record for a work of American Literature every time a copy is sold.

Front wrapper of Tamerlane
The Free Library's copy of Poe's first book of verse, Tamerlane.  We'll be seeing the original edition of this at our first meeting

Still, less than a hundred poems is not too difficult to read in one sitting, but it is a dizzying experience and, for me, Whitman's romantic description of Poe sailing the stormy seas, perfectly captures the experience. 

Poe's verse is both captivating and disconcerting.  He once defined poetry as "the rhythmical creation of beauty" and it is easy to point out the verses which gleam with the beauty he sought to evoke.  However, the rhythmical pyrotechnics of his rhyme and meter also serve to batter the shutters of our contemporary minds.  Reading Poe is like a storm raging and I want to both take shelter and revel in the rain and lightning. 

As expected, in Poe's poems there are beautiful young women languishing to death.  There are haunted mansions brooding over landscapes.  There are ominous birds of yore.  But there are also magical dreamscapes and ethereal angels charging the air with dazzling light.  Poe's verse is accessible, sometimes macabrely inviting, and also abstractedly unworldly.  A fitting experience to an author whose reputation is one of genius in a storm. 

I'll be posting here throughout the next few months about Poe's works and our impressions as we read them.  It's not too late to join us and register for the reading group, which you can do here. I have no doubt our reading journey will be a thrilling experience.  

Edward G Pettit
The Philly Poe Guy

Friday, September 25, 2015

Getting the Rabbit Hole Ready

It's been a busy week here at the Rosenbach, prepping for the exhibitions that will make up "Down the Rabbit Hole: Celebrating 150 Years of Alice in Wonderland." The exhibits won't open until October 14, but here are a few behind-the-scenes shots of the installation process and your favorite Rosenbach staff, hard at work.

Ever the mathematician, Lewis Carroll invented and published rules for a variation of billiards to be played on a circular table. It's not clear if he ever had a full size version of the table built, but as part of "Why is a Raven Like a Writing Desk: Lewis Carroll's Puzzles and Games," we figured we'd go ahead and create a playable version.  In this photo, Christina Doe, our fabulous facilities manager, is trying to make a level playing surface while the table is perched on our decidedly un-level floor.


Here Christina and our registrar, Jobi Zink, are testing out the table with a sample game.



Here's another shot of part of the puzzles and games gallery. We're making progress, but there's still much work to be done.


We've also starting work on the gallery that will house "Wonderland Rules: Alice at 150." We've patched and painted (hence the protective wrapping on the fireplace, chandelier and sconces) and gotten most of the cases into the room. Now we're ready to start transforming a bare room into an awesome exhibit.

We have a wide variety of exhibit cases at the Rosenbach, but the glass one present their own special challenges in moving. Here Patrick Rodgers and Christina show their skills.


So that's some of what we've been up to here at the Rosenbach. Just a reminder that we will be CLOSED this weekend because of the papal events, but we will reopen as usual on Tuesday.




Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach  and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog


Friday, September 18, 2015

Grant the Obscure(d)

This week's item is one that has always puzzled me a bit. On one of our letters between Ulysses S. Grant and his father Jesse, a good chunk of the first page has been scribbled over with a series of ink loops, making it very difficult to read. It is the only example from our Grant letters where this occurs.

AMs 357-10 p1 U.S. Grant to Jesse Root Grant
Ulysses S. Grant, autograph letter signed to Jesse Root Grant.La Grange, Tenn., 23 November 186[2]
Rosenbach AMs 357/10.
Why was this done? The obscured text reads:

I  am only sorry your letter, and all that comes from you speaks so condescendingly of every thing Julia [Grant's wife] says, writes, or thinks. You without probably being aware of it are so prejudiced against her that she could not please you. This is not pleasing to me.

Your letter speaks of Fred.s [Grant's son] illness. Fred is a big stout looking boy but he is not healthy. The difference that has always been made between him and the other children has had a very bad influence on him. He is sensitive and notices these things. I hope no distinction will be made and he in time will recover from his diffidence caused by being scolded so much.

Below the inked over section, the bottom two lines are crossed out in pencil:

I wish you would have a bottle of cod liver oil bought and Fred....

Our best guess is that the scribbling was done to prevent casual perusal of these personal matters which were sensitive to the people involved and in which Grant was critical of his father. (Of course now the texts have been published for all to read in Grant's papers and on the internet).

The eyes of military censors were not the problem, since Civil War censorship did not involve officer’s communications, so perhaps it was to prevent Frederick and Julia themselves from reading the letter if it were left around. Or just general concern about any people who might encounter Jesse's stash of letters.  Only the first page is obscured, which is the side with most of the family matters  (although the discussion of Frederick's cod liver oil continues on the second page), and it would have been the only side visible when the letter was folded and filed. You can see the unmarked second page below.

AMs 357-10 p2 U.S. Grant to Jesse Root Grant
Ulysses S. Grant, autograph letter signed to Jesse Root Grant.La Grange, Tenn., 23 November 186[2]
Rosenbach AMs 357/10.
This all makes sense, but I do still have some questions. Was the scribbling done by Ulysses Grant before sending (the text has not been inked out so heavily as to obliterate it, so maybe he had confidence that his father would still be able to make it out) or by Jesse Grant after reading it?  Why are the last two lines crossed out in pencil? Was that done at a separate time? 'Tis a puzzlement and any thoughts from Grant sleuths would be most welcome.




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

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Royal Record

Earlier this week Queen Elizabeth II became the longest-reigning British monarch, surpassing the 63 years and 216 day record of Queen Victoria. The Rosenbach brothers were alive during the reigns of both monarchs, although Dr. R died only five months after Elizabeth came to the throne and Philip died the following year. So as we wish the current queen good health and long life, this week's post recalls her long-lived great-great-grandmother.

Richard James Lane, portrait of Queen Victoria. 1837. 1954.0058  The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia. 
Richard James Lane produced this pencil and chalk drawing of the young Queen Victoria in the year of her accession (1837). Lane was a printmaker who did his first portrait of Victoria in 1829 and in 1837 he was made lithographer to the queen. He sold the copyright for this image to F.G. Moon, who published a stipple-engraved version by the engraver James Thompson in 1838.


Every time I see this book's mis-titled case on the shelf it throws me, because the contents are not Francis Hodgson Burnett's Little Princess, but Eliza Slater's Little Princes (only one "s" on Princes).

Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

Mrs. John (Eliza) Slater, Little princes: Anecdotes of illustrious children of all ages and countries. London: Joseph Cundall, 1845. EL3 .S631l. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

The book is dedicated to Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), who was born in 1841, and offers “to bring before his infant mind the example of illustrious children of all ages and countries.” The volume’s moral lessons on patriotism, courage, filial love, princely bearing, religion, etc. are drawn from the childhoods of notables ranging from Alexander the Great to Kang Hi to Napoleon. The volume must have found favor with the royals for whom it was ostensibly intended, since this copy is inscribed by Queen Victoria to her cousin, the Comte de Paris.

Mrs. John (Eliza) Slater, Little princes: Anecdotes of illustrious children of all ages and countries. London: Joseph Cundall, 1845. EL3 .S631l. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia


Jumping from the beginning to the end of Victoria's reign, our last item is this commemorative teacup from Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897. This item actually comes from the Marianne Moore collection, although I don't know how or when she acquired it.

Commemorative Diamond Jubilee teacup. Earthenware. England, 1897.2006.4337.002. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia   

The teacup lauds Victoria as "Empress of India" and "Queen of an empire upon which the sun never sets." Queen Elizabeth may not be Empress of India (her mother was the last to hold that title) but as the popular website XKCD: What If points out, it is still true that the sun never sets on British territory, since the tiny Pitcairn Islands remain in daylight between midnight GMT, when the sun sets in the Cayman islands and 1 AM GMT when it rises over British Indian Ocean Territory.
 



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

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Catholic Anagrams

As a nod to the Pope-adelphia trend now sweeping the city and to the wonderful Sacred Stories exhibit put up by our colleagues in the Free Library's Rare Books Department, this week we opened our new exhibition Catholics in the New World. Among the dozen items in the show are some of the earliest books printed in the Americas as well as religious texts in a panoply of Native American languages, but I think one of the most unusual books is a small Mexican book from 1731: Anagrammas en aplauso, y gloria de la concepcion purissima de Maria.

As the title suggests, this book is a book of anagrams in honor of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. More specifically, it contains over 2500 anagrams of the angel's greeting to Mary from Luke 1:28:"Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum" (Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee." 



Juan Antonio de Mora, Anagrammas en aplauso, y gloria de la concepcion purissima de Maria señora nuestra...Mexico, en la Imprenta real del superior govierno, de los herederos de la vuida de Miguel de Rivera, 1731
A 731a. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
When Elizabeth Fuller, our librarian, first mentioned this book to me, I was very intrigued--it seemed like such a fascinating, and somewhat strange, idea. As I started to do some research, I discovered that the concept was by no means unique. In fact, the author, Juan Antonio de Mora, only composed about a third of the anagrams in his book; he copied the others from earlier sources.

It seems like the interest in Marian anagrams starts in the mid-17th century with Joannes-Baptista Agnensis (to give the Latin form of his name). Walter Begley's Biblia Anagramatica explains,"This blind dependent of Cardinal Julius Rospigliosus may justly be termed the Father of Biblical Anagrams, for it was his printed broadsheet of a hundred anagrams on the angelic salutation that first brought them into fashion." This first printed broadsheet appeared in 1661. Subsequent works by Agnensis brought his anagram total to 1115.

Later authors such Ambrosius Niesporkowitz and Lucas De Vries take the cake for the sheer number of anagrams they produced: Niesporkowitz's 1701 Fragmenta contains 3000 metrical anagrams and De Vries's Metamorphosis Angelica from 1711 contains 3100 prose examples. However, what the Mexican book has that the others do not, is that Juan Antonio de Mora also composed over 500 eight-line Spanish poems to expand on the anagrams.
Juan Antonio de Mora, Anagrammas en aplauso, y gloria de la concepcion purissima de Maria señora nuestra...Mexico, en la Imprenta real del superior govierno, de los herederos de la vuida de Miguel de Rivera, 1731
A 731a. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
So what's the deal with the anagrams?  All of these anagrams of the Angelic Salutation were intended to promote the doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception (which would finally become official Catholic dogma in 1854).  The anagrams functioned in several ways. At the most basic level, the text of the anagrams themselves promoted the doctrine. 

But there was also a deeper way in which the anagrams were seen as supporting the doctrine: the very fact that the angel's message could be rearranged so prolifically into so many texts praising the Virgin was seen as proof of their truth. Of course, with a text of this length mathematical probability alone would suggest that there would be numerous anagrams, but the authors of these books were more religiously than statistically minded and the existence of such anagrams was seen as a profound matter.


So come by the Rosenbach to see Anagrammas en aplauso in person, Did I mention that it is free to come in and see Catholics in the New World (you still have to pay to see our other exhibitions or to tour the house). I also encourage you to play around with making your own anagrams; if you're lazy, there are even online sites that will do them for you (the one I linked to even does Latin, so you can try to replicate de Mora's work).

This is A Shaky Hat (aka Kathy Haas) signing off.




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