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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Turkey Tips

If you have questions about how best to prepare your turkey, don't call the Butterball hotline, consult the Modern Family Cook Book. No, not the TV show tie-in, but the 1829 Philadelphia cookbook.

The Modern Family Cook Book. Philadelphia, 1829. A 892m. Collection of the Rosenbach.
The Modern Family Cook Book work has very clear instructions on how to cook your turkey; it will be done in only 75 minutes and should have a nice most breast, owing to the paper tied over the breast.

The Modern Family Cook Book. Philadelphia, 1829. A 892m. Collection of the Rosenbach.
Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at the Rosenbach!

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

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Sad Tale of the Whaleship Essex

Today marks the 195th anniversary of the sinking of the whaleship Essex, which was famously "stove by a whale" on November 20, 1820. I'm a bit of a maritime history junkie, so I've made reference to the story before, but with a major movie about the wreck opening in December, it seemed that it could merit a post of its own.

The basic story of the Essex (which has been recounted in Nathaniel Philbrick's excellent In the Heart of the Sea, as well as many, many, other worthy books and articles) is as follows. The whaleship Essex, sailing under first-time captain George Pollard, left Nantucket on August 12, 1819.  It had a mixed crew of Nantucketers and mainlanders and included a number of African-American sailors (Philbrick's book delves deeply into the dynamics of this mix). After getting knocked down in a storm only two days out, they proceeded around Cape Horn to the west coast of South America and then to the offshore whaling grounds, far from the coast, which had just been discovered in 1818.

On November 20, 1820, the ship was at 0° 40' south latitude, 119° 0' west longitude.  Whales were sighted and most of the crew took to the ship's three whaleboats in pursuit. One of the small boats was damaged by a whale that it had harpooned (a common occurrence) and so it returned to the Essex for repairs. As the first mate, Owen Chase, hammered canvas onto the damaged boat, a very large sperm whale was spotted near the ship. Here's how Chase described what happened next:

... he came down upon us with full speed, and struck the ship with his head, just forward of the fore-chains; he gave us such an appalling and tremendous jar, as nearly threw us all on our faces. The ship brought up as suddenly and violently as if she had struck a rock, and trembled for a few seconds like a leaf. We looked at each other with perfect amazement, deprived almost of the power of speech... 

 I perceived the head of the ship to be gradually settling down in the water; I then ordered the signal to be set for the other boats, which, scarcely had I despatched, before I again discovered the whale, apparently in convulsions, on the top of the water, about one hundred rods to leeward. He was enveloped in the foam of the sea, that his continual and violent thrashing about in the water had created around him, and I could distinctly see him smite his jaws together, as if distracted with rage and fury. He remained a short time in this situation, and then started off with great velocity, across the bows of the ship, to windward. By this time the ship had settled down a considerable distance in the water, and I gave her up for lost. ...

I was aroused with the cry of a man at the hatch-way, "here he is – he is making for us again." I turned around, and saw him about one hundred rods directly ahead of us, coming down apparently with twice his ordinary speed, and to me at that moment, it appeared with tenfold fury and vengeance in his aspect. The surf flew in all directions about him, and his course towards us was marked by a white foam of a rod in width, which he made with the continual violent thrashing of his tail; his head was about half out of water, and in that way he came upon, and again struck the ship...He struck her to windward, directly under the cathead, and completely stove in her bows. He passed under the ship again, went off to leeward, and we saw no more of him. 

The twenty men of the Essex had some time to gather supplies from the doomed ship into the three whaleboats, but they soon had to face the fact that they were stranded in small boats in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean. The closest inhabited lands were the Marquesas and Society Islands, about 1500 miles to the west, but rumors of cannibalism there led them to steer for South America, which was about 2000 miles away against the prevailing winds and currents.

After a month at sea, the boats landed on deserted Henderson Island. Three men chose to stay there; the remaining seventeen pressed on. The boats eventually got separated; one was lost but the other two were rescued after 90 and 95 days at sea. The five survivors in those boats had been forced to rely on cannibalism, in one case actually drawing lots and killing a man for food. The three men on Henderson were also alive, barely, when a rescue party manged to reach them, bringing the total number of survivors to eight.

Herman Melville, Moby Dick, or, The whale  New York: Harper & Brothers, 1851
AL1 .M531mo 851b. Collection of the Rosenbach.

If the idea of a ship being sunk by a whale sounds familiar, that is not coincidental. The story of the Essex was quite famous in the 19th century and Herman Melville knew it well. In 1821, Owen Chase, the Essex's first mate, published a Narrative of the most extraordinary and distressing shipwreck of the whale-ship Essex (it was probably ghost-written based on his account of events)Harvard's Houghton Library preserves (and has digitized!!) Melville's own copy of the Narrative. This copy was a gift from his father-in-law in 1851, but on the blank pages in the front Melville explains that had read the Narrative long before:

When I was on board the ship Acushnet of Fairhaven, on the passage to the Pacific cruising grounds, among other matters of forecastle conversation at times was the story of the Essex. It was then that I first became acquainted with her history and her truly astounding fate...

We spoke another Nantucket ship and gammed with her. In the forecastle I made the acquaintance of a fine lad of sixteen or thereabouts, a son of Owen Chase. I questioned him concerning his father's adventure; and when I left his ship to return again the next morning (for the two vessels were to sail in company for a few days) he went to his chest and handed me a complete copy (same edition as this one) of the Narrative. This was the first printed account of it I had ever seen & the only copy of Chace's narrative (regular & authentic) except the present one. The reading of this wondrous story upon the landless sea, & close to the very latitude of the very latitude of the shipwreck had a surprising effect upon me.

Melville also mentions having read an extract from an account purportedly written by Captain Pollard, but he had "not seen the work itself." In 1852 he would actually meet Pollard on Nantucket, and added a note about that in green pencil.  (The cabin boy Thomas Nickerson also wrote an account,which remained lost and unpublished until the 1980s.) Some of the Essex connections Meville describes on the pages of his Narrative seem a bit confused (he claims to have seen Owen Chase on a whaling ship, which was impossible as Chase was retired by then, and he remembers that an Acushnet officer had served under Chase, but seems to have have mixed up which officer), but it is clear that the story of the Essex made a deep impression on him during his time at sea.

In Chapter 45 of Moby Dick, Melville specifically describes the story of the Essex (and his meeting with Chase's son) and quotes from Chase's Narrative as proof that "The Sperm Whale is in some cases sufficiently powerful, knowing, and judiciously malicious, as with direct aforethought to stave in, utterly destroy, and sink a large ship; and what is more, the Sperm Whale has done it."

Then of course there is the sinking of the Pequod itself in Chapter 135:

From the ship's bows, nearly all the seamen now hung inactive; hammers, bits of plank, lances, and harpoons, mechanically retained in their hands, just as they had darted from their various employments; all their enchanted eyes intent upon the whale, which from side to side strangely vibrating his predestinating head, sent a broad band of overspreading semicircular foam before him as he rushed. Retribution, swift vengeance, eternal malice were in his whole aspect, and spite of all that mortal man could do, the solid white buttress of his forehead smote the ship's starboard bow, till men and timbers reeled. Some fell flat upon their faces. Like dislodged trucks, the heads of the harpooneers aloft shook on their bull-like necks. Through the breach, they heard the waters pour, as mountain torrents down a flume.
The disbelieving response of the men in the Pequod's whaleboat ""The ship? Great God, where is the ship?" echoes Chase's Narrative, in which a boat-steerer cries out aghast "O, my God, where is the ship!"

So with this very short recap of the Essex and Moby Dick you are all set to check out the movie version of In The Heart of the Sea, directed by Ron Howard, which comes out on December 11. It's only rated PG-13,  so I imagine that there has to be a lot that happens off camera. I guess we'll see.

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


Friday, November 13, 2015

"I am so thankful to be here & do my little part in this horrible war."

This week marked the second Veteran's Day/ Remembrance Day within the observance of the First World War centennial. The Rosenbach doesn't have an extensive collection of World War I materials, but one interesting cache of documents comes from Christine Biddle and arrived at the Rosenbach as part of the larger Rush-Williams-Biddle papers in 1976.

Philadelphian Christine Biddle (b. 1882) was the great-great-granddaughter of founding father Benjamin Rush and the granddaughter of Alexander Biddle, whose Civil War letters are shared on our Civil War site. In 1917, Christine went to France to volunteer for the Red Cross. She initially served as a secretary in their Paris office.

During her time away, Biddle wrote frequently to her mother; this letter from December 17, 1917 is the first from France in our collection.

Christine A. Biddle, autograph letter signed to Anne McKennan Biddle. 17 December 1917. Rush IV:33:08. Rosenbach.

After filling in her mother on her lodgings, she assured her that "I adore my work. I went all over the American Ambulance Hospital yesterday at Neuilly. I took an American soldier out to have his lungs examined as he'd been at the front & had a frightful cough which he'd had for two months. I do more work on the side & really accomplish quite a lot. I certainly am glad  I came over for I think I'm doing some good."

Biddle found life in Paris thrilling and even described the air raids as exciting. In her first type-written letter (shown below) she explained, "We had another air raid scare last night the guns were all firing and you never saw such excitement. All the people flew to the cellar but I would not go as I said I would prefer to be killed in my room than have the hotel fall in on me, any way I like to go out in the streets and watch the excitement. It is the most thrilling thing you can imagine. The french aviators have been so wonderful, they have stopped the Bosh coming three times lately. I don't understand if the French can do it why can't the english?"
Christine A. Biddle, typed letter signed to Anne McKennan Biddle. 18 February 1918. Rush IV:33:10. Rosenbach.
Biddle's concerns about being buried under a building were not altogether misplaced. Less than a month later she described the aftermath of another air raid: "I went down to the place where the worst bomb fell, an incendiary bomb. The building was nine stories high, with a deep cave, that people in that neighborhood took to when the air rade [sic] signal was given. There was absolutely nothing left & all the people crushed in the cave....I went with this man who has clearance of the ambulances so I went right through the ropes up to the mass of ruins & saw everything. A shocking sight! You have no idea in America how horrible the Boche really are. A more barbaric cruel race is not conceivable. Their cruelty is beyond belief & you have to be on this side of the water to fully realize it."

As the months passed she got used to life in a city at war, writing in June that "we had a customary air raid last night, but I'm getting used to them now & they don't bother you." But there were some things that were harder to get used to. She described seeing "a wonderful parade, 3000 American troops & lots of French" but "when the regiment passed, I cried. I couldn't help it seeing the empty files. This was the regiment that had fought at Chateau Thierry & we had so many wounded and killed, just seeing that & [illeg.] they are over here, does something to you, you never can get over.. What a privilege to be able to see all I am seeing & I have only begun to see what I will have to go through before this horrible massacre is ended, but every day I live I am so thankful to be here &  do my little part in this horrible war."

Christine A. Biddle, autograph letter signed to Anne McKennan Biddle. 3 August 1918. Rush IV:33:16. Rosenbach.

In July, 1918 she was moved to a high-ranking position at the front. As she told her mother in the letter above, posted from "somewhere in France," "I go all over the country & have been working with  the aviation & balloon service." She described the work as "fascinating," although in another letter she added, "I do quite a lot of canteen work on the side for if you aren't busy every minute you go nearly mad." In mid-August she wrote, "No one at home can realize what this war is. We are not human beings any more, men are living worse than the animals. Such braveness & such courage it makes one feel as if you could stand any discomforts."

Christine Biddle soon returned to Paris and eventually returned home after more than a year in France. Her letters preserve a fascinating first-hand glimpse into a war that most American civilians only read about from afar.

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

Friday, November 06, 2015

Mysterious Poe

This week's post is  from our series on Poe by Edward G. Pettit, who is leading our Poe Reading Group. He adapted the post from a piece he wrote for the Las Vegas Weekly in 2009
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"Edgar Allan Poe, who, in his carelessly prodigal fashion, threw out the seeds from which so many of our present forms of literature have sprung, was the father of the detective tale, and covered its limits so completely that I fail to see how his followers can find any fresh ground which they can confidently call their own ... On this narrow path the writer must walk, and he sees the footmarks of Poe always in front of him.” – Arthur Conan Doyle

In 1841, Poe became literary editor for Graham’s Magazine in Philadelphia and in the first issue published his own short story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” In a later letter, Poe called this tale something “in a new key.” It featured an extraordinarily intelligent “detective” (although not referred to as such in the story), C. Auguste Dupin, who, with his faithful but obtuse friend, solves a seemingly insoluble crime. Two women have been brutally murdered, one stuffed up a chimney and one nearly beheaded, then thrown from a window. The door and windows of the murder room were locked from the inside. Dupin carefully combs the crime scene and, using a faculty Poe terms “ratiocination,” discovers how the murders were committed and whodunnit.

Poe's own manuscript for "Murders in the Rue Morgue" from the Colonel Richard A. Gimbel collection of Edgar Allan Poe materials, Free Library of Philadelphia, Rare Book Department.

With this one tale, Poe invented the most popular modern genre of literature: the mystery detective story. Poe would write two more Dupin tales, "The Mystery of Marie Roget" and "The Purloined Letter."  All mysteries since have followed the formula Poe set forth in his Dupin tales: a baffling crime; a detective who uses deductive reasoning to read clues and discover a solution; an observant but less astute companion who, as narrator, also stands in for the reader; an inept police force. However the most important element of Poe’s tales of ratiocination is the way they focus not on the crime or the solution, but on the very steps the detective takes to unravel the tangled skein. The reader is engaged not by the crime, but by the detailed description of the puzzle as it is put together.

Doyle admittedly borrowed Poe’s formula wholesale when he created Sherlock Holmes. You can find many instances in the Holmes tales that echo Dupin, but Doyle goes one step further and even has the great sleuth of Baker Street ironically criticize his forbearer: 

"Sherlock rose and lit his pipe. 'No doubt you think you are complimenting me in comparing me to Dupin, he observed 'Now in my opinion, Dupin was a very inferior fellow.  That trick of his of breaking in on his friends' thoughts with an apropos remark after a quarter of an hour's silence is really very showy and superficial.  He had some analytical genius, no doubt; but he was by no means such a phenomenon as Poe appeared to imagine.'" ("A Study in Scarlet")

Sherlock Holmes by Sidney Paget, The Strand Magazine 1891

Unlike the jealous Holmes, Doyle would later claim, "“If every man who receives a cheque for a story which owes its springs to Poe were to pay a tithe to a monument for the master, he would have a pyramid as big as that of Cheops.” Although many mystery writers trace their direct influence back to Doyle’s Holmes, who is by far the most recognized fictional detective ever created, it is Poe’s Dupin who engendered Sherlock. Doyle may have written the words to his tales, but the ink he used was pure Poe.