Snapshot 1822 – Before the last Mohican tugged at our heartstrings…

August 4, 2022 by · Leave a Comment 

When one thinks of James Fenimore Cooper they no doubt think of his classic novel, “The Last of the Mohicans” – an extraordinarily compelling account (albeit fictional) of the attack on Fort William Henry during the French and Indian War. However, somewhat lost over time is his highly respected work from 5 years prior which brought him national attention and respect as an American novelist: “The Spy” (another work of historical fiction but set during the American Revolution). While still early in his career, the Feb. 2, 1922 Columbian Centinel had a nice report announcing its release and included a mention of “coming attractions”. It also made reference to his deceased father, a former New York State Judge and Senator. Although not mentioned in the article, the reading of it inspired me to do a little digging at which point I discovered his boyhood home was in the village of Cooperstown, New York, which had been named after his family.

The more things change… Vaccinations and the immoral influences on children…

February 15, 2022 by · Leave a Comment 

Currently, the whole world over is speaking of virus and antibodies, of carriers and immunization. Outbreaks are mapped in news blurbs, along with identified hot spots and constant status reports on flattening the curve.  Comparisons are made to the “Spanish Flu”, but an article in a September, 1808 issue of The Gentleman’s Magazine led me to comparisons with smallpox instead.  More specifically, they led me to the smallpox outbreak that eventually brought Edward Jenner into focus — he of the cowpox vaccination fame (or, infamy, as critics would have it).

The mannerly Gentleman’s employs an ambitious article heading as it delves into the fray: “Practice of Vaccination Dispassionately Discussed.”  As the Reverend Cotton Mather discovered in 1721, there is much passion involved in the subject.  He, who pleaded for the adoption of the African method of inoculation to save the afflicted residents of Boston, was the object of threats and the target of a bombing.  The periodical contributor, pen named “Cosmopolitan,” attempts a scholarly address of the merits just twelve years after Edward Jenner formalized the medical application of a controlled injection of the cowpox virus in order to immunize a human body against smallpox, which was disfiguring and killing people by the thousands.

After Mr. Cosmopolitan completes his summary of the beneficial relationship between the vaccine and the decreased virus contraction rate, he promises the editor, Mr. Urban, that as the science may not be completely convincing to all, he is prepared to offer testimonials in the next issue.

I was able to locate the fulfillment of that pledge in the October issue.

The facts which were there mentioned, must of themselves be nearly sufficient to convince an unprejudiced observer of the efficacy of the Vaccine preservative.  It now remains to take an impartial review of the remaining part of the evidence on this interesting topick, which may be gathered from the experience of eminent individuals and from the avowed opinion of public bodies.

These are the same methods employed today about the still-controversial procedure of immunization — presentation of scientific data, followed by explanation of that data from medical professionals, and the promotion or recommendation of the practice by public officials.  For the Coronavirus of today, the vaccine has not even been developed, and the debate is already heated.

PS This issue also has an article regarding juveniles obtaining access to “age-inappropriate literature” through libraries. Two current topics which reach back to the early 1800’s: “The more things change…”.

Nostalgia inspired by a Great Storyteller…

December 6, 2021 by · Leave a Comment 

The other day I read a quote by someone who asked, “Is it wrong to be nostalgic for a time before you were born?” I may have actually whispered “Hmmm” to myself as I pondered the question. The truth is, when you are surrounded daily by newspapers which tell of events from years long before you were born, one finds oneself bouncing back and forth between a sense of nostalgia and relief – pining after a day when life was a bit slower and less complicated, and moments later being thankful for not having lived through some of the greatest horrors humanity has endured.

Today the scale tipped to nostalgia as I was scanning an issue of The Christian Science Monitor for March 29, 1909 and came across an article featuring an author who’s children’s stories brought me as much delight as a child as they did children of his day. Joel Chandler Harris had the gift of story telling and teaching important lessons to his readers of all ages. Sometimes a sense of nostalgia can reach back decades or even centuries.

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

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