Louisa May Alcott – a sad, but poetic death…

November 22, 2021 by · Leave a Comment 

Today I found a gem as I was sorting through some volumes from the late 19th century.  While this one might not have broad appeal, it was the highlight of my archive adventures.  Within The Woman’s Journal dated March 10, 1888  is following editorial note by Lucy Stone:

To the editors of the WOMAN’s JOURNAL the death of Miss Alcott comes with a sense of personal bereavement.  From the beginning she was a steadfast friend of the suffrage cause.  She was always ready to serve it.  Her cordial endorsement of it in many letters sent to be read at suffrage conventions, her repeated reaffirmation of her increasing conviction of the need of woman suffrage has been again and again like a tower of strength, or like the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.  Millions of people on both sides of the ocean, whose lives her pen has enriched and made better, will hear with pain and sorrow of her untimely death.

From her home state newspaper, to which she was a regular subscriber, the details of her life and sudden departure from it are particularly poignant: “It is difficult, within the limits of an obituary notice, to do justice to a genius so rare and a character so lovely,”  writes one contributor.  However, the anecdotes and details that fill the paper  attempt to do just that as they chronicle her life, her career, and the many efforts to enrich the lives of those around her.  The author of Little Women, Little Men, Eight Cousins and so many other popular titles, became sick while visiting her father, Amos Bronson Alcott — the Transcendentalist teacher, writer, woman’s suffrage advocate and philosopher.  To him, while a mere breath removed from her last, Louisa wrote,  “Surely dear father some good angel or elf dropped a talisman in your cradle that gave you force to walk thro life in quiet sunshine while others groped in the dark…”.

Sadly, it was on the morning of his funeral that she passed away.  Following the obituary for her father, the three-column tribute to the beloved author begins with a statement that is heart wrenching in its simplicity.

“Louisa May Alcott is no more.”

Master Wordsmiths Often 1st Shared Their Treasures in Newspapers…

April 12, 2021 by · Leave a Comment 

What do Walt Whitman (poet extraordinaire) … Joel Chandler Harris (Uncle Remus fame) … Charles Dickens (needs no introduction) all have in common? Perhaps my title gave the answer away. These and many other authors often shared their literary master pieces in newspapers before they were printed in book form. Recently, as I was delving into some San Francisco Chronicles, I came upon another addition to this illustrious list. Warm welcomes to Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie, Lady Mallowan. On September 3, 1939, the San Francisco Chronicle, This Week Magazine section began a “thrilling series of short mystery stories” by Agatha Christie. This 1st story in the series “The Labours of Hercules” was titled “Invisible Enemy”. By putting such variety of writing into a public newspaper, the everyday person was often exposed to quality literature giving them the opportunity to increase their education in a casual way. Thanks to these master story tellers for sharing with all of us.

Snapshot 1966… Cancel culture, free speech, and a civil society…

November 9, 2020 by · Leave a Comment 

What to cancel vs. what to keep? Revisionism vs. an accurate accounting?

The practice of what we currently refer to as “Cancel Culture” is nothing new. Few details remain of China’s glorious early history due to the practice of each new dynasty expunging any evidence regarding the former so-as to elevate itself to the top of the historical record. Other religions and societies have done the same in order to eliminate the warts which are common to all. While some believe it is important to remember history, no matter how ugly, in the hope that future generations will learn from past mistakes, others are convinced the past is too painful, and must therefore be eradicated from wherever it might rear its ugly head.

Although statues, flags, and other symbols have been the most recent targets of this tension, the written word was the most common target of past generations, and was realized through both the banning and burning of books which were deemed too immoral, too painful, or too revealing of “whatever we currently don’t want to be known” to be read. Examples include Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1984, Animal Farm, Brave New World, and the feature of this post, To Kill A Mocking Bird. Published in 1966 to overwhelming critical approval, it wasn’t too long before it began to receive considerable resistance for a plethora of objections, and although included on many high school and junior high school reading lists, attempts to remove it from school libraries were quite common. The article below highlights one such a case, with the New York Times of January 16, 1966 printing Harper Lee’s own response to a local schoolboard near Richmond, Virginia.

The purpose of this post is not to resolve the issues created by both free speech and revisionism; rather, to merely ponder these issues in light of the past. My only editorial contribution is that I’m glad I can still look back at such accounts as printed in old newspapers and hopefully glean perspective on how and where I’d like to tread in the present.

Christmas-themed poems from 1850 – Food for thought…

December 24, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Earlier this year I came across a December 21, 1850 issue of Household Words – a publication “conducted” by Charles Dickens, which actually contained an original work by him titled “A CHRISTMAS TREE.” Although this was his publication, the majority of the contributions within were typically written by others. While perusing the issue I came across a set of Christmas-themed poems which stirred my heart. Hopefully you will also find them moving. Enjoy.

I’m New Here: Week Thirty-Three…

October 11, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

This week, while pulling issues that contain Emily Dickinson death notices, I read about the first public appearance of Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes and also the institution of the Income Tax.  As this was in 1886, I was surprised at the latter.  Actually, I was surprised to see so many famous names and events in just a ten day span within that May.  Oscar Wilde was hosting parties, Chicago was caught up in the Haymarket affair, and Coca-Cola was invented by a pharmacist.  The rabbit trail I chose to follow (after investigating this whole Federal Income Tax thing that has historically been attributed to Woodrow Wilson’s presidency almost thirty years later) began with the following words to the Editor of the New York Times:  “Mr. Putnam’s remarks on the impropriety of republishing [Washington] Irving’s works in their unrevised form, have but one fault; they are not strong enough.”

It is Autumn with a capital “A” in the northeast United States where, flanked by hilly vistas of multi-hued splendor, every street corner proclaims this the month of Hallowe’en.  Washington Irving, author of the famous ghost story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, could easily have been one of the serialized authors featured in the 1869 “Saturday Night” issues I have been pulling for a Philadelphia area collector.  And October is definitely the time of year in which strange, extraordinary and macabre stories would have provided thrilling weekend entertainment to a 19th century culture blessedly devoid of electronic clamor.

I didn’t know about Irving’s first published work, or the misinformation campaign to hype interest prior to the release of A History of New York.  I read about his “Knickerbocker” alter ego whose fictitious disappearance sparked a national following.  This moniker influenced sports teams, architectural structures, social groups, and even a toy company.  To this day, a resident of Manhattan is a Knickerbocker — nicknamed after a man who never was.

So, I am thankful for the censure that drew my attention away from the tax tables and the following words of “THE NEW INTERNAL REVENUE LAW. Topics of Interest to Everybody”:

Among these the Tax and Tariff laws are prominent, possessing an interest for every one, inasmuch as they most sensibly affect the cost of living, enhancing the prices of everything we eat, drink, or wear, adding to the value of articles of both necessity and luxury.  The Tax law especially appeals directly to our pockets; and we find that a share of our profits from manufacturing any article, as well as a proportion of the income which we annually receive, is due to the Government.

I would much rather consider impropriety of a literary kind.

 

 

Snapshot 1852… Uncle Tom’s Cabin…

July 29, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

The following snapshot comes from the National Intelligencer dated December 28, 1852. Most are aware of the impact Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin had on the fabric of The United States, but not everyone saw eye-to-eye.  The image below shows a blurb of a politically incorrect view from the northern region of the country.

 

I’m New Here: Week Seventeen…

June 7, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Despite the obvious gender bias inherent in the title, I like “The Gentleman’s Magazine“, as I suspect many non-gentlemen of the time did as well. This week I pulled an issue from April of 1775 – mainly because I enjoy the tone of superiority that saturates those months before what we now know of as the Revolutionary War (or whichever various title you prefer). “Colonial upstarts” were causing commotion and consternation to the rest of the world, but mainly to the ruling class in London. The heading of the very front page of the one perched on my desk amidst the new catalog excitement is entitled, “Continuation in the House of Lords on the Address to his Majesty respecting the Situation of Affairs in America”. What follows is a labyrinthine balance between appeasing the vanity of the monarch, and an attempt to elucidate the different aspects of potential vulnerability to defeat. In particular, the French and Spanish ships continuing to trade with the colonists brought great consternation. “Does the noble Earl pretend to interpret this explanation [England would be “…at liberty to seize any of their ships trading with American subjects”] generally, so as to authorize our taking their vessels at sea? If he does not, what can such a vague deluding promise avail? If he does, then I will venture to assure his Lordship, that he is miserably deceived; and that the first attempt to prevent French or Spanish ships from navigating the American seas will furnish them with an opportunity of asserting their maritime freedom, of making reprisals, and of justifying their conduct to the other great states of Europe, who are known to be long jealous of what they are pleased to call our despotic claim to the sovereignty of the ocean.”
When I read this, I start to understand a little bit this American spirit, this classification under which our country has been perceived by the world, from the very earliest days. This mindset changed the world. And that is an immense, and not embarrassing, thought.
But, lest you think the GM’s are all politics, I would like to recommend any meteorology enthusiasts plug in the data compiled monthly and displayed on the inside cover page. The average prices of corn, wheat, rye, barley, oats and beans are delineated by county. Genealogists will enjoy the Births, Marriages, and Deaths alongside the list of Promotions and Bankrupts. There are book reviews and parish reports and a comprehensive section entitled “Historical Chronicle“, which gives an overview of multiple aspects of the state of the world.
Anyway, to delve into these accounts of the earliest days of this country is to see the tenacity that fueled an eventual nation – and perhaps nurture an admiration for what was once made, an inspiration for all that could be made again.

You can read more about Gentleman’s Magazines via previous posts at: Gentleman’s Magazines

I’m New Here: Weeks Fourteen & Fifteen…

May 24, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Last week I didn’t post because I was involved in a local amateur production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.  Consequently, I returned to work with many dramatic musical numbers dictating the soundtrack of my mind.  Perhaps that influenced my interest in an assigned hunt for a title that reported on the death of the “Leather Man” in 1839.

I found it, and duly replied back to the collector.  But I also took a little bit of a break to search out the meager story of this individual who was a vagabond for 32 years of his life.  The inscription on his tombstone describes a man, “who regularly walked a 365-mile route through Westchester and Connecticut from the Connecticut River to the Hudson living in caves in the years 1858–1889.”  Like clockwork, apparently, he completed his circuit every year and was greeted and given hospitality by many along the way who would normally reject any other vagrant.  The internet provides an intriguing image of this leather patchworked fellow in his exile from the rhythms of normal life.

And, with the tortured song of the male lead sounding in my head, I wondered at the days preceding his arrival; what made him the man who came to be known this way?

Was he tormented and driven to trudge through the days, or was this a happy occupation for a human being – leaving behind the established cares of civilized life, content to cover so much ground in so many hours for the prescribed revolutions of the sun?  Either way, or something in-between, he made it to the second page of The New York Times.  For all the documentation housed here, how many millions of unread or even untold stories must there be?

Anyway, I am back at work, tracking down first, second and third day accounts of the original murder that inspired Capote’s “In Cold Blood”  and pulling the obituary for a man who had no known name or history of origin.  Next week I am determined to look at these territory papers that are so desirable, and maybe delve into the popular Gentleman’s Magazines with their coveted battle maps.

All of which remind me of one theory concerning the Leather Man: that he was an ex-French soldier.  Perhaps that’s true, and all the years of marching over fields and sleeping rough became a way of life he ultimately could not break.  Whatever compelled him, day after day, I’m fairly certain a tragic musical score is appropriate.

“Life’s Poetry”… Food for thought…

May 16, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

As I was searching through our inventory of mid-1850’s Correctors (Sag Harbor) for an historic ad for “Douglass & Van Scoy – PHOTOGRAPHS and DAGUERREOTYPES” – pioneer American photographers, I came across the poem shown below which caused me to pause and smell the roses. Enjoy.

I’m New Here: Week Eleven…

April 26, 2019 by · 4 Comments 

Now that I have been here for a couple of months, the fuzziness is clearing a little bit more.  Even better, to my way of thinking, is a growing familiarity with names and voices of some long-time collectors.  It’s a cheery thing to have someone greet you by name with an optimistic lilt to their new request.  At least, it is a very cheerful thing to me and I have a growing collection for whom I feel a certain ownership.  It helps the general air of camaraderie that I am getting it right at least as often as I get it wrong these days.

One of the customers I am silently referring to as “mine” has a list of dates and titles, and he doles them out to me at a rate of about three or four a week.  He fits that category the crew here refers to as “research request”, and I am always happy when he calls or emails.  Like some collectors, this gentleman is pursuing a theme, and his quests for pertinent people or events can span more than two hundred years.  There are sections of our archives that I now find quickly, and those titles are easily located and verified for desired content (by people much more proficient than I).  Occasionally, there is a request that leads me to a part of the archives I would swear was not there the last time I searched that quadrant.

This week an assignment took me up to the ninth row of aisle WC.  After pulling out the very bottom volume (these are anywhere from ten to fifteen pounds each, and stacked four or five high) I swooshed down to find a table upon which to search the pages for the relevant issue.  And that’s where I began to learn brand new things.  This volume, all wrapped and sealed as if ready for shipping, surely required a different process than I had used on previous queries.  But when asked, both of my sources responded with faint groans and some muttered utterances that still perplex me.  The upshot was that it is all the fault of some fellow who wanted to increase the profit margin on newspapers and led the industrial trend to switch from rag paper to newsprint made exclusively of wood pulp.  Consequently, a newspaper from 1600’s or 1700’s is able to be folded and rolled and thoroughly read — while a New York Times from June of 1900 can crumble just from attempting to lift a page.

A name was uttered — and I would repeat it if I knew I had the facts just right.  But I don’t even understand clearly what makes the paper so bad.  It has something to do with acidic materials used to create the wood pulp that damaged the integrity of the pages over a period of time…

It takes me back to Walt Whitman, with apologies for the repetition.  His chatty interview with Robert Ingersoll was published in the pulpish time of  The World (NY) dated October, 26, 1890. The content is rich with dialogue and illustrations, but there aren’t many copies that survived, due to their fragility.  Thankfully, the publishing houses learned from their mistakes and by the 1930’s changes were made.

Anyway, I am pleased to be making your acquaintance, and now know how to treat future pulpish requests, should they arrive.

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