Anatomy of an Epitaph: A letter by the journalist Philip Stong on meeting Sacco and Vanzetti

By Katherine Reed, PhD candidate, University of Manchester

August 23, 2017 is the 90th anniversary of the executions of the anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.  Accused of a crime they probably did not commit, in the midst of the Red Scare, their case became a liberal cause célèbre in the 1920s.  Having Dorothy Parker, John Dos Passos, H.G. Wells and Albert Einstein on their side turned out not to be enough to save them from the electric chair.  However, the fact remains that they inspired remarkable support.  It helped their cause that Vanzetti was a charismatic wordsmith.  Perfecting his English in prison, he wrote hundreds of letters and impressed visitors with his eloquence.  His most famous statement, made in 1927, ended: “Our words – our lives – our pains – nothing!  The taking of our lives – lives of a good shoemaker and a poor fish peddler – all!  That last moment belongs to us – that agony is our triumph!”

The quotation in the Sacco-Vanzetti Defence Committee bulletin.
The quotation in the Sacco-Vanzetti Defence Committee bulletin.

At first, the words were erroneously and emotively attributed to a speech Vanzetti had made in court.  Publicity materials produced by the Sacco-Vanzetti Defence Committee, and the first edition of the prison letters, claimed he had said it to the Judge on the day the death sentence was pronounced.  Its origins were in fact in an interview by the reporter Philip Stong who met with Sacco and Vanzetti at Dedham Jail in the spring of 1927.   At the time, Stong claimed he had added nothing except exclamation marks.   Despite this, scholars have taken the famous spiel with a pinch of salt (Russell, 1962: 388).  Although Vanzetti was indubitably eloquent, there has been a general inkling that the statement must have been polished up for print.  Tucked away in the Lilly Library archive is a fascinating letter by Philip Stong which breaks down, sentence by sentence, which words came verbatim from Vanzetti (or at least, were scribbled down fairly accurately in a hotel room later) and which had benefitted from journalistic fairy dust.   Perhaps predictably, the most famous phrase of all – “a good shoemaker and a poor fishpeddler” – was a fiction.  The letter, dated July 16, 1928, was written to the author Upton Sinclair who was researching a novel about the case.

Having achieved fame with the muck-raking The Jungle back in 1906, Upton Sinclair had won good reviews for Oil! in 1927 and intended to cement his literary reputation with an ambitious “contemporary historical novel” about Sacco and Vanzetti (Sinclair, 1929: 5).   Sinclair pestered everyone involved in the case for facts and insights.  Phil Stong was responding to such a plea.  It is notable that when younger writers wrote to Sinclair they often tried to impress him with their prose.  Their missives, strewn throughout the Lilly Library’s Upton Sinclair collection, are littered with gaudy sentences, flattery and the swagger of swear words.  Phil Stong’s letter, although in the same genre (he praises Sinclair as “a fine artist”), transcends this.  As a writer, he clearly had talent to burn.  It is hard to dislike someone who describes themselves thus: “I was 28 at the time, blondish but not blonde, German face, rather horsey but well-fed, six feet and a trifle plus, 194 pounds, well-groomed that day owing to being on an expense account.”  Sinclair nabbed whole sentences from the letter for use in his novel, including the jokes.

Phil Stong had visited Sacco and Vanzetti during a strange Indian summer of their imprisonment.  Having been, after years of appeals, finally sentenced to death, they were allowed such luxuries as an hour a day playing bocce in the yard.   During most of their imprisonment, the men had been in separate jails.  For these few months, they were together in Dedham, a gaol made to sound rather picturesque by visiting writers.   John Dos Passos described it as “airy, full of sunlight…a preposterous complicated canary cage” (Dos Passos, 1927: 69).  Stong later reminisced that, “It is odd to speak of a prison as pleasant, but this one was” (Leighton, 1949: 185).   During the interview, both the reporter and the two men were far too polite to mention the electric chair.  The thought was ever-present nonetheless.   Stong said that Vanzetti’s famous statement, or a version of it, was intended to comfort him.

Philip Stong’s doodle of the jail floor plan during his meeting with Sacco and Vanzetti. Philip Stong to Upton Sinclair, letter dated July 16, 1928.
Philip Stong’s doodle of the jail floor plan during his meeting with Sacco and Vanzetti. Philip Stong to Upton Sinclair, letter dated July 16, 1928.

In shaping the words for a newspaper audience, Stong admits that he might have “got that last bit a little more oratorical than Bart made it” but the gist was the same.   A few liberties were necessary to “inject that humility and simplicity that was in his presence into my story.”  He wrote to Sinclair, “I will confess to you, what you will not let anyone else learn, that Bart said it, somehow more simply, more powerfully and touchingly.”  Here is the annotated version of Vanzetti’s statement, which Phil Stong gave Sinclair, based on his notes from the day:

“If it had not been for these thing,” says Vanzetti, “I might have live out my life, talking at street corners to scorning men.  I might have died, unmarked, unknown, a failure.”  (Note how he recalls himself from his personal determination and includes Sacco, now.  I remember this distinctly.)  “Now we are not a failure.  This is our career and our triomph.  Never in our full life can we hope to do such work for tolerance, for joostice, for man’s onderstanding of man, as we do by an accident.
(This is approximate and you may take liberties with it.) “Our words – our lives – our pain – nothing!  The taking of our lives – lives of a good shoemaker and a poor fishpeddler – all!”

(This is exact): “The moment you think of belong to us – that agony is our triomph.”

Then they shook hands and went back to their cells.

One of the red arm bands worn by mourners at Sacco and Vanzetti’s funeral
One of the red arm bands worn by mourners at Sacco and Vanzetti’s funeral.

Katherine Reed is a History PhD student from the University of Manchester who took part in the John Rylands Research Institute/Lilly Library Doctoral Research and Training Program in 2017.  Read more about the program here.  

References

Avrich, Paul.  Sacco and Vanzetti: The Anarchist Background.  Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991.

Dos Passos, John.  Facing the Chair.  Boston: Sacco-Vanzetti Defence Committee, 1927.

Leighton, Isabel, ed.  The Aspirin Age 1919-1941.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 1949.

Russell, Francis.  Tragedy in Dedham.  London: Longmans, 1962.

Sacco, Nicola and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.  The Letters of Sacco & Vanzetti.  London: Penguin Books, 1997.

Sinclair, Upton.  Boston.  London: T. Werner Laurie Ltd., 1929.

Tejada, Susan.  In Search of Sacco and Vanzetti.  Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2012.

 

Vonnegut Freaks: The Fan Mail of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

By Isabel Planton, Public Services Librarian

What would you say if you had the chance to write to Kurt Vonnegut? The Vonnegut Manuscript Collection at the Lilly Library includes many letters from fans who took the leap and reached out to Vonnegut during his lifetime. The collection contains four boxes of general correspondence (Boxes 1-3 and 26, described in the Finding Aid) with the bulk of the fan letters spanning from 1970s until the time of Kurt Vonnegut’s death in 2007. Interspersed among routine business and publication agreements are hundreds of fan letters. Many come from Vonnegut readers who surprised themselves with an almost overwhelming impulse to write to the author. Many of these fans admit that they never thought they would write a fan letter.

A fan from Virginia wrote on September 30, 1976, “In my copy of Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons (Opinions) I found a letter from you. It looked very much like a personal letter, not because it was written to me alone; but because you shared personal facts and viewpoints with your readers. I usually like to answer my personal letters and so felt inclined to answer the one from you.”

On September 13, 1977, a fan in Ohio wrote, “I realize this is a very candid letter and from a total stranger, and such things can be embarrassing, but I wanted to write anyway.”

A reader from California wrote on March 28, 1981, “This is a fan letter. I am forty-six years old and this is the first fan letter I have ever written, so I might not be very good at it. Please bear with me.”

In the eyes of his fans, Kurt Vonnegut was a friend, a confidant, someone to ask for writing advice, someone to pitch ideas to, an insider in a club of like-minded individuals, a lifesaver, and a light in dark times. Fans often quoted Vonnegut’s own phrases back to him as though they were inside jokes between friends. They also opened up to him about personal matters such as near-death experiences, illness, loneliness, and writer’s block. It is clear that fans felt an intimate connection with Kurt Vonnegut through his novels and other writings.

On December 3, 1975, one fan wrote, “I find myself addicted to your writing; I find your stuff written just for me. How is it, then, that we could be on such intimate terms – you know the stuff I’ve hidden away between my ears and you write for that audience exclusively […]?”

Some children and teenagers also wrote to Vonnegut in an attempt to solicit help with English class assignments. In one particularly amusing example, on September 22, 1975 an enterprising student wrote, “I respectfully request an utterly profound statement in any one of your many areas of erudition, which will be both personally enlightening and also satisfy a requirement for my English class.”

People from diverse backgrounds wrote to Kurt Vonnegut. Fans include atheists and believers, teachers, students, people in the military, aspiring novelists and playwrights, and avid readers from outside the United States. The largest proportion of fan letters come from the 1970s, when Vonnegut’s popularity seems to have peaked. While we do not get to see photographs of most of the fans, one undated letter (almost certainly from the late 1970s or early 1980s) came with a photo of a high school book group who called themselves “Vonnegut Freaks.”

 

The collection does not include many examples of letters from Vonnegut back to his fans until the later years of his life, but some of these later letters demonstrate an engaging correspondence between Vonnegut and his fans. There are some touching moments. For example, Vonnegut’s own handwritten note in the upper margin of a letter dated June 10, 1997 indicates that he received this letter back from an ailing teacher to whom he had written a note of encouragement. In another example, we see evidence that Vonnegut corresponded with a prisoner at a correctional facility in Michigan. Kurt Vonnegut’s kindness to his fans is palpable in letters such as these.

 

An Unusual Use for a Scorpion: Folk Medicine in the Dorson Collection

By Katherine Reed, PhD candidate, University of Manchester

The Lilly library has a wonderful collection of folklore field notes taken by Richard Dorson (the “father of folklore” who was a professor at IU from 1957 to 1981), his students and colleagues.  They range from ghost stories and drinking songs to wince-inducing jokes based on long-gone stereotypes.

Angelina Flaccadori
Angelina Flaccadori O’Berti outside her home in New Swanzey in 1946 . Dorson mss. Box 56, f. 17.

Delving into the collection as part of my PhD research on immigration history, I came across an intriguing list of folk remedies recounted by a first-generation Italian immigrant named Angelina Flaccadori O’Berti.  Born in Bergamo, in Northern Italy, Mrs. O’Berti came to the United States at age 27 in around 1908.  Although not trained in medicine, she was “an indispensable friend to everyone in the neighborhood” because of her skills in midwifery and practical nursing.   Moreover, the field notes, taken by researcher Aili Johnson, comment that Mrs. O’Berti was “a gifted teller of tales.”   During the interview, Mrs. O’Berti went into her garden and collected some of the herbs needed for the cures – malva, bitter grass and tansy – which 70 years later are still taped to the page.

Here are some of Mrs. O’Berti’s suggested remedies (these are not endorsed by the Lilly Library!):

Field notes about Mrs. O'Berti's folk remedies.
Field notes about Mrs O’Berti’s folk remedies by researcher Aili Johnson . Dorson mss. Box 56, f. 17.
  • Removing warts requires patience. First, rub with salted pork.  Second, tie a string around the wart.  Third, bury the string.  Once the string has rotted, the wart will go.
  • Painful boils should be smeared with honey.
  • Her teacher, back in the 1890s, used to trap scorpions he saw in the classroom (“very carefully with the coal tongs lest he get bitten”) and soak them in a jar of olive oil. After several years, the oil would thicken.  This was used as a lotion for cuts.
  • Laundry soap rubbed on a sty “brings it to a head.”
  • Mrs O’Berti had a robust faith in garlic (“even the smell of garlic will kill pinworms”), while watered-down linseed could be used for both stomach complaints and hair setting lotion.

Katherine Reed is a History PhD student from the University of Manchester taking part in the John Rylands Research Institute/Lilly Library Doctoral Research and Training Programme. Read more about the exchange program here.

Newly Digitized: French Literature Manuscript Collection

Letter from Victor Hugo, May 22, 1867.
Letter from Victor Hugo, May 22, 1867.

The Lilly Library’s French Literature Manuscript Collection is now entirely digitized and available to view online. You can search the collection and download images from our finding aid.

Unlike most of our manuscript collections, the material in this collection does not derive from a single collector but has been gathered over many years from many different sources. Digitized items in the collection range from ca. 1750 to 1977 and include over 1000 images from letters, drafts, and other literary material. A number of famous French authors are represented, including Charles Baudelaire, Jean Cocteau, Alexandre Dumas, Gustave Flaubert, Victor Hugo, Marcel Proust, George Sand, Jules Verne, Volaire, and many others.

Handwritten title page for "Omelettes ou l'origine des Nouvelles Amazones."
Handwritten title page for “Omelettes ou l’origine des Nouvelles Amazones,” 1773.

Some of the most exciting items in the collection, however, are those which are not famous and which are rich with research potential. For example, an 18th-century unpublished feminist manuscript titled “Omelettes ou l’origine des Nouvelles Amazones” [Omelettes or the Origin of the New Amazons] recounts the tragic decline of amorous arts being foiled by the Goddess Discord by means of a treacherous omelette (served, as seen in the accompanying illustration, to some hapless men by a society of New Amazons).

You can explore these digitized materials online or contact us at liblilly@indiana.edu to make an appointment to view the material in person.

Ten Things You Never Knew About the Lilly Library

The Lilly Library, 1960.

Everyone knows that the Lilly Library is home to countless wonders. From Shakespeare to Spider Man, our wide-ranging collections bring together materials from around the world and throughout the history of the written and printed word. Perhaps you’ve stopped by to see one of our exhibitions: medieval manuscripts, puzzles, vegetarianism, and books printed in India are just a few of the topics we’ve covered recently. Perhaps you’ve done research in the Reading Room for a class or a personal project. Maybe you’ve stopped in for a Friday tour or been to a class session or one of our special First Thursday presentations. Maybe you couldn’t resist asking us if you could take a selfie with our Academy Awards.

We love all of our guests, from the casual visitor to our superfans. To celebrate IU Day, we put together some facts about the Lilly Library that may surprise you. There are no greater fans of the Lilly than the librarians who work here, and we enjoyed digging through our own archives to come up with these treats. If you have memories of the Lilly Library that you would like to share, please post them on our Facebook page, tweet us, or comment on Instagram: @IULillyLibrary.

  1. The exterior of the Lilly Library was once covered with ivy.
The Lilly Library, covered in ivy.
The Lilly Library, covered in ivy.

If you’ve been on campus for a few decades, you probably remember that the Lilly Library was once a bit more “Ivy League” than it is now. Although our collections still rival the Ivies, our building has been pruned. We’re not sure when the ivy was finally nixed, but we suspect the potential damage to the building played a role in giving the Lilly its current look, focusing on the beautiful Indiana limestone.

  1. One of the library’s vaults was once a bomb shelter.

The vault on the first floor was once a designated Civil Defense shelter, in the event of an air raid. It’s certainly a frightening thought, but we can think of worse places to be trapped than among some of the most beautiful and interesting books ever printed. Tinned beans would taste great eaten over the Gutenberg Bible.

  1. There is a set of doors in the Main Gallery that don’t go anywhere.
The mysterious doors to nowhere…

If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably been in our Main Gallery at some point. Did you ever notice the mysterious set of doors with darkened windows? Did you ever wonder where they lead? As much as we would like to say they lead to a magical and hidden room, they lead… nowhere at all. The doors were added to the gallery to provide symmetry and balance to the room.

 

 

 

  1. The Lilly Library has three working fireplaces.
The Lilly Library Ellison Room.
The Lilly Library Ellison Room.

The Lilly Library’s Ellison Room, Ball Room, and Lilly Room all contain a fireplace. Many visitors have commented upon them, but few realize that these fireplaces do work. Although no current staff members have seen them blazing, there is photographic evidence that they have been used. It may seem odd to have fire so prominently featured in what is essentially a House of Paper, but the library’s designers were creating rooms which were splendid enough to house the collections they contained. In more recent years, the chimneys have been blocked to prevent the campus’s flying squirrels from finding their way into the building. Who knew that squirrels were such fans of great literature?

  1. Smoking was once permitted in the library’s Lounge.
The Lounge (now the Slocum Puzzle Room). Note the ash trays!

As with the fireplaces, it is difficult to believe that cigarette smoke would be allowed anywhere near rare books and manuscripts. Smoking has always been prohibited in most of the library, but the Lounge (now the Slocum Room) was an exception; staff could smoke during breaks.

 

 

 

  1. There have been some famous visitors to the Lilly Library.

The Lilly Library has been host to several dignitaries, celebrities, and other notable visitors. One of the most interesting visits was from three of the original “Munchkins” from the 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz. Clarence Swensen, Myrna Swensen, and Donna Steward-Hardway (the youngest Munchkin to appear in the film) visited in conjunction with the library’s 2000 exhibition of our Oz-related collections. Although the exhibition opening event, which drew over 500 guests, was certainly memorable, we have been unable to locate any photographs of the Munchkins’ visit!

4. J.K. Lilly, Jr. only visited the Lilly Library twice.

Herman B Wells and J.K. Lilly at the groundbreaking of the Lilly Library
Herman B Wells and J.K. Lilly at the groundbreaking of the Lilly Library, March 7, 1958. We still have the shovel held by Mr. Lilly in our collections!

Of course the Lilly Library would not be possible without the generous donation of over 20,000 books and 18,000 manuscripts by J.K. Lilly, Jr. Mr. Lilly’s generosity was combined with the vision of Indiana University President Herman B Wells, who realized the need for a building to preserve the collection and make it available to students, faculty, and the community. Mr. Lilly later believed that the gift of the books was “the most satisfactory thing he ever did.” However, he only visited the site of the library twice, once upon the groundbreaking and once for the dedication. In many ways, this was Mr. Lilly’s final gift: he trusted the recipients of his marvelous collection to care for it and to nurture it into something much bigger. From 20,000 books and 18,000 manuscripts, we have grown to over 450,000 books and over 8.5 million pieces of manuscripts. And we hope that we have made Mr. Lilly proud.

3. A Lilly Library book was once exhibited in the Tower of London.

Lilly Librarian David Randall brings Sir Walter Raleigh’s History of the World to London to go on exhibit in the Tower.

In 1971, a book from the Lilly Library made the long journey to the Tower of London’s Raleigh Room. The book, Sir Walter Raleigh’s History of the World (1614), was written while Raleigh was a prisoner in the Tower. The loan came about as the result of Lilly Librarian David Randall’s visit to the Tower. He noted that the furnishings were authentic, save for the thirteenth edition of World History on display, published more than fifty years after Raleigh’s death. A special case with a plaque identifying the book’s provenance was added to the room, and the book stayed in the Tower for several years. After its trip around the world, it is back in our collections and can be requested to view in our Reading Room: https://iucat.iu.edu/catalog/10097537

 

  1. There was once a car on exhibit inside the Lilly Library.
This is the only photographic evidence we have of the car parked inside the Lilly Library in 1978!

There are many strange objects in the library’s collections; we have Edgar Allen Poe’s hair, Tennyson’s pipes, and a life mask of Abraham Lincoln. But one thing we don’t have in our collection is an automobile. There was, however, a car exhibited inside the Lilly Library’s Lincoln Room in 1978. The car, a 1930 Austin Bantam, was loaned by Bloomington resident Norman Deckard for an exhibition titled “From the Donkey to the Jet: Man’s Experience with Travel from the Fifth Century B.C. to the Present.” A ramp was placed over the steps so that the car could be driven in through the front door.

  1. The Lilly Library has always been open to everyone.
A recent class session at the Lilly Library.
A recent class session at the Lilly Library. We have over 300 class sessions per year for undergraduates, graduate students, K-12, and community groups.

With so many curious and fascinating items in our collections, there is no one person who has seen everything that we have. Visitors and researchers, as well as our own librarians, make exciting discoveries in our collections every week. The library is an organic, living entity combined from the collecting passions of the past and the forward-thinking caretakers, donors, and university administrators of the present. Visitors often ask us to reveal the “secrets” of the library, hoping perhaps for some dusty tome that has remained hidden from view. We have tried to reveal some lesser-known facts about the library in this blog post, but our greatest secret… is that we have no secrets! Our collections are available for anyone to research and enjoy. Stop by and see our exhibitions or contact us at liblilly@indiana.edu to make an appointment to use our Reading Room.

If you enjoyed learning a bit more about the Lilly Library, make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @IULillyLibrary. We’ll be posting #VintageLilly photos all day to celebrate IU Day and the Lilly Library!

Thank you to all Lilly staff members who helped with our IU Day “Vintage Lilly” Project: Joel Silver, Erika Dowell, Jim Canary, Isabel Planton, Maureen Maryanski, Sarah Mitchell, and Seth James. Special thanks to Zach Downey and Jody Mitchell for photography and digital editing. Thank you to Kristin Leaman and Julia Kilgore of IU Archives for making a valiant research effort to find better photographic evidence of the car. If any of our readers have photographs of Lilly history they would like to share, please contact us at liblilly@indiana.edu

–Rebecca Baumann, Lilly Library Head of Public Services

Newly Digitized: The Autobiography of Daniel Isgrig

We’re happy to announce that the Lilly Library’s Isgrig Manuscript Collection is now fully digitized and can be accessed online through the collection’s finding aid.

Daniel Isgrig was born in Baltimore County, Maryland in 1775, the son of Michael and Barbary (Lohr) Isgrig. In 1782 his father moved his family up in the Allegheny Mountains in Maryland. They then emigrated to Kentucky, eight miles above Fort Cumberland, in 1789. At the age of eight, Daniel had only about six months of formal schooling. On July 22, 1795, he married Mrs. Rachel (Barnes) Langley, a widow with a four-year-old son, Abraham, and a two-year-old daughter, Margaret. In 1806, he moved to Hamilton County, Ohio, near Cincinnati. He was drafted in the War of 1812 for a term of six months military service against Upper Canada, but being lame, his son, Daniel, not yet eighteen, served for his father. In 1817 he sold the land near Cincinnati, Ohio, purchased land in Ripley County, Indiana, and moved his family to that county. Daniel Isgrig wrote three books: Hieroglyphic (1834) The Hoosier (1836), and Biography (1838). He died in 1854, and is buried in Shockley Cemetery.

We invite researchers to explore this fascinating slice of Midwestern history!

 

The Tragic Musical Memento of the Duchess de Berry

By Lindsay Weaver, Intern, Lilly Library Technical Services

The Lilly Library is currently cataloging an exciting collection of music once owned by Marie-Caroline de Bourbon-Sicile, Duchesse de Berry (1798-1870), an important political figure in France during the nineteenth-century as well as a generous patroness of the arts.

One of the most intriguing items in the collection so far is a slim funereal volume bound in black morocco with silver fleur-de-lys stamped on the spine. If the Duchesse were a heroine in a novel, this item more than anything else would represent the tragic climax of her origin story. Inside are twenty-five pieces of printed music pertaining to the murder of her beloved husband, which occurred 197 years ago this week on 14 February 1820.

Marie-Caroline married Charles-Ferdinand d’Artois, Duc de Berry, at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on in June of1816. Despite their arranged engagement, a genuinely affectionate romance blossomed. Said to be inseparable, they strolled arm-in-arm in the public gardens of the Tuileries and scandalized the royal family by addressing one another in the familiar “tu” rather than the formal “vous.”

This, unfortunately, was not to last. On the evening of 13 February 1820, the Duc and Duchesse de Berry arrived fashionably late to the Opéra. Though an avid theater-goer, Marie-Caroline was exhausted and wanted to leave early. Unknown to Paris at large, she was three months pregnant. Charles-Ferdinand, ever the dutiful husband, escorted her to their carriage but wished to see the remainder of the performance. His decision to stay turned the evening from a diary footnote to history book fodder. As the Duc turned away from the carriage, an anti-monarchist called Louvel plunged a knife into his back and ran. The wounded prince was carried into an administrative office in the opera house where he died in the early hours of the morning with Marie-Caroline weeping at his side, covered in his blood. For over a month after the assassination, she sequestered herself in an apartment draped in black cloth.

A widow at twenty-two, they had been married less than four years.

Collections of music such as this one are fascinating pieces of history and offer rich insight into those who created them. Of the twenty-five songs contained in this volume, all but five are settings of a text entitled “Stanzas on the Death of His Royal Highness, Monseigneur Duc de Berry” by Marc-Antoine Désaugiers, then the director of the Théâtre du Vaudeville. The poem, which solemnly enumerates the Duc’s good qualities, ends on a hopeful note by declaring Marie-Caroline’s unborn child the future relief of France’s mourning. The words may have brought her comfort.

The contents also suggest something about her social circle during this time. Composers of personal importance are represented more than once: there are two works by her harp instructor, François Joseph Naderman, as well as two by Ferdinando Paër, her singing teacher. (And while this volume is not an exhaustive collection of all settings of Désaugier’s “Stances,” notably missing is a popular one by Paër’s rival, Gaspare Spontini.) Paër also appears as the musical intermediary between other composers and the Duchesse—three songs are marked as having been “offered to M. Paër by the music’s author.” Other pieces bear faint creases, clearly having been folded into quarters prior to binding, as though offered in passing to the Duchesse who tucked it away.

Lastly, multiple pages bear annotations, suggesting this was not passive, dutiful acquisition. There are penned annotations marking articulation or supplying missing accidentals, suggesting the Duchesse had engaged with this music. Given much of it is for soprano voice with piano or harp accompaniment, this seems likely: the Duchesse was reportedly a talented musician, especially on the harp.

This is only one of many interesting items at the Lilly Library relating to the musical life of the Duchesse de Berry and should prove an interesting collection to anyone interested in the music-making of women during the Bourbon Restoration.

References:

Margadant, Jo Burr. “The Duchesse de Berry and Royalist Political Culture in Postrevolutionary France.” History Workshop Journal 43 (Spring 1997): 23-52.

Reiset, Vicomte de. Marie-Caroline, Duchesse de Berry: 1816-1830. Paris: Goupil & Cie, 1906.

Skuy, David. Assassination, Politics, and Miracles: France and the Royalist Reaction of 1820.

Lindsay Weaver is a master’s student in library science with a specialization in Music Librarianship. Her research interests revolve around the the opera world in Paris during the nineteenth century. Currently an intern with the Lilly Library Technical Services Department, she hopes to work in a special collections library one day.

Walter Mason Camp Papers Digitized

camp_04We are excited to announce the full digitization of the Lilly Library’s collection of the papers of Walter Mason Camp. Camp (1867–1925) was an American author, editor, and researcher best known for interviewing hundreds of both Native American and white participants in the American Indian Wars of the second half of the 19th century. The collection consists largely of Camp’s penciled notes, mostly on small scraps of paper. Field notes include information on the Bozeman expedition of 1874, the Battle of Little Big Horn (1876), the Yellowstone Campaign of 1873, and many other topics related to Native American history and conflicts in the American West. Also digitized as part of the collection are photographs, maps, and the transcriptions of the field notes done by Professor Kenneth Hammer for his book Custer in 76.

You can view and download all digitized items in this collection by visiting Archives Online.

We would like to thank our Digitization Manager Zach Downey for leading this project. We would also like to thank our Public Services Assistant Jody Mitchell and student assistant Lilly Poor for their dedicated work in realizing this goal.

PEN Center USA Translation Award to Stephen Kessler

Photograph of Cernuda on cover of book
Forbidden Pleasures: New Selected Poems by Luis Cernuda. Translated by Stephen Kessler. (Black Widow Press, April 2015)

Tonight the PEN Center USA celebrates its 26th Annual Literary Awards in Beverly Hills, California. Congratulations to poet and translator Stephen Kessler, winner of the 2016 PEN Literary Award for Translation for the work, Forbidden Pleasures: New Selected Poems by Luis Cernuda. (Black Widow Press, April 2015.) The book is the most complete collection of the poetry of Spanish poet Luis Cernuda to appear in English. Kessler previously translated Cernuda’s prose poems, Written in Water (City Lights Books, 2004), and won the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets for his translation of Cernuda’s later poems, Desolation of the Chimera (White Pine Press, 2009).

Luis Cernuda was a member of the Generation of 1927, a group of Spanish poets influenced by modernist movements such as Surrealism and Futurism. Leaving Spain after the fall of the Spanish republic, he taught for several years at Mount Holyoke College and then settled in Mexico in 1952.

Stephen Kessler’s papers are part of the holdings of the Lilly Library. His collection is one of a growing number of collections documenting contemporary literary translation.

PEN Center USA is a branch of PEN International, the world’s leading international literary and human rights organization.

“Wipe Thy Self”: A Page from the Audubon Ledger at the Lilly Library

“Wipe Thy Self”: A Page from the Audubon Ledger at the Lilly Library

Christoph Irmscher, Provost Professor of English and Director of the Wells Scholars Program

In spring 2016, the Lilly Library acquired a handsome ledger bound in sturdy marble-covered boards. Dubbed the “Audubon Ledger” by bookseller Donald Heald, volume had been in the possession of Audubon’s great-granddaughter, Margaret Audubon McCormick until it was sold at Sotheby’s on January 26, 1983.  The earliest entry in the book dates from December 10, 1842; the latest was made on February 14, 1844.

The Audubon Ledger is a treasure trove for the scholar:  it is chock-full with lists documenting Audubon’s income and expenditures as he was finishing work on the Royal Octavo edition of Birds of America (1840-1844) and beginning to launch his new venture, The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America.  Eight pages of draft letters, all in the handwriting of Audubon’s son Victor Gifford, add to the documentary value of the collection. But the Ledger has something else to offer too, something more unexpected.   Among the 70-plus pages of lists we find an example of a different kind of bookkeeping, a mysterious page-long aside, in Audubon’s own handwriting, consisting of nothing but a stream of words, slathered on the page in no apparent order and, it seems, with near-complete disregard to meaning.  Complete sentences are the exception rather than the rule.

audubon-ledger_00001

 

 

Transcription

  1. 219:

Second Course

Acquisition and use of Words in little sentences

Wipe Pocket  to wash

Fish, Wipe, Table, deceits  Smoke Pad  Bush–

Tables, Indian Ink  Pocket  Ashes  Ashes

Towels  to wipe, to wash, to catch to pilfer dainties

to extinguish, to listen, to smoke   to draw with water color

to wipe wiped mixed washed pilfered  between

already beautiful, Shine  shrine  rail sight

The table is high, The pocket is wide,  Pilfer

not that is not nice   Wipe thy self.

Bath Thread Needle

Wheel Bath Oath  envy harm song

 

Songs box, calf, (maggot, mite) fashion tired

waste booth both Silk (Willow pasture) boundary

Box boxes thread hurt to separate to avoid

(Willows to pasture) neither again Songs leather feather

(cart load, a tan [?])  mould vein quarrel noble

herd, poodle, nudel, needles, skull, there,

there that the to the the thine one no mine his

(clear pure)  Wine by shine flax stone.

The wheel is on the wagon  The mite

is in the cheese   The Willow is a tree.

Roof week to travel (to range to string)

Book Brook Roof partition   ah I me self

thee (yet, however)  (still, yet) high hole leek

Stomach breath smoke, rich soft proud cloth

Book beech (search to sack)  (matter thing affair)

revenge (guard watch) week cook kitchen oak

corpse (pool laughter)  to laugh—to make to pilfer

throat to rake to reach rays to cook cake

The book is new   The brook is deep  The beech is a

tree   The smoke comes out of the chimney.

The page that precedes this strange jumble of words (p. 214) is as ordinary as they come:  a list of monies the Audubons had collected in New York City on July 14, 1844, from subscribers to the Royal Octavo edition.  It is, as is most everything else in the volume, in Victor Gifford Audubon’s handwriting. Subsequent pages seem to have been cut out, and the number at the top of our strange meditation has been corrected to read “219.”

It’s difficult at first to discern some kind of principle behind this profusion of words.  Some come from the same semantic field (“wipe,” “wash,” “bath” “clear,” “pure”), some are repeated a number of times (“wipe” occurs, in somewhat different form six times; “pilfer” and “smoke” three times; “wash” twice).  Sometimes Audubon’s words acquire an incantatory quality and sound displaces meaning: “to rake to reach rays to cook cake.” Other passages—especially the few fully formed sentences—are almost embarrassingly simple, as if they had been lifted from a children’s picture book: “The wheel is on the wagon   The mite is in the cheese   The Willow is a tree.”  “The smoke comes out of the chimney.”  As we read on, elements of a landscape begin to emerge—willows, beech trees, a brook, a pasture, a house with a roof and a kitchen, smoke coming from the chimney. (I am immediately reminded of the “inscrutable house” in Elizabeth Bishop’s wonderful poem “Sestina.”) Then there is the feel of things, the soft, rich cloth of a dress (made of silk?) worn, perhaps, by a mother. “Pilfer not,” she might have said to her child, “that is not nice.”  And: “Wipe thyself.” We have, indeed, entered a child’s world, as the novelist Katherine Govier pointed out to me when I showed her a copy of that page.  But Audubon was a child not in England or America, where mothers or maids would have said such things.  He grew up in Napoleon’s blood-drenched France, raised by his stepmother.  The sounds made in this text—“Wheel Bath Oath,” “waste booth both,” “nudel, needles, skull,” “book Brook Roof””—are entirely English, as is the landscape it evokes, however confusedly.  Sing willow, willow, willow.

This page, then, evokes a childhood Audubon never really had, at least not in that form, a childhood he therefore couldn’t have outgrown. Hence, too, the sense of loss that pervades this page, a loss of purity and perhaps of life—the mite in the cheese, the maggot, the ashes, the skull, the corpse.   Pilfer not, the mother once said, and yet Audubon did, his entire adult life, when he entered into, and took away, the lives of birds.  And the need to “wipe thyself” would have been immediately clear to someone who spent his days wading through dirt and blood.  Birds weren’t “nice” in their habits, Audubon once said (in his essay about the Shoveler Duck; Ornithological Biography 241).  But neither was he.  “To draw with watercolor,” Audubon writes, close to the beginning of our page:  an apparent reference to the work he did.  And he goes on to define what he did: “to wipe wiped mixed washed pilfered  between already beautiful.”  All watercolors on the world could not wash out the damn’d spots each killing of a bird—of a living thing that was “already beautiful,” something that didn’t need the artist to make it so—left in him.

Of course, you might say, this is all speculation, a fantasy.  The title of the page (“Second Course”) and dry-and-dust subtitle (“Acquisition and use….”) might just mean that Audubon was reading a grammar textbook at the time and taking notes.  But for whom? Or had the insecurities he had felt as a non-native speaker finally caught up with him? In a journal he kept in England in 1826, he referred to himself as a man who “never Lookd into an English grammar” (Writings 186). But by the mid-1840s, he was widely respected as writer, even by other writers:  Longfellow, for example, based his Evangeline partly on the descriptions of Louisiana he had found in Audubon’s essays.  But maybe he was collecting words because he was getting ready to teach his grandchildren about homonyms and synonyms and the like?  Thomas Brewer, who visited Audubon on July 4, 1846, did attest to Audubon’s fondness for the “rising generation” (Herrick 2: 288).

However, the sheer difficulty of the fragment casts doubt on these more pedestrian readings.  What good are notes that make no sense?  And speaking of non-sense, perhaps this text is a clinical document more than anything else.  Audubon’s dementia became an established fact in May 1848, when his friend John Bachman visited him on his estate and found the naturalist’s “noble mind all in ruins” (Herrick 2: 289). But this change had not happened overnight—as early as July 1847, Spencer Fullerton Baird found his former mentor “much changed” (Herrick 2:288).  Did the first signs of his illness announce themselves even earlier?  We now know for sure what Alzheimer patients have perhaps always known intuitively, namely that language dysfunction is one of the first indications of the disease.  And we also know, and some of us have probably experienced it when taking are of a family member, that dementia patients still retain a measure of control over “a lexical phonological system that is used to repeat both known and novel words and that processes linguistic information independent of its meaning” (Glosser et al.).  But what if the last part of that statement—that there is no meaning in these repetitions—isn’t true after all?  What if all we needed to do is listen?  What if meaning—if of a different, more fantastical, speculative kind—still resides somewhere even in the lexicon of the troubled mind, waiting for the right person to unlock it?  “The brook is deep.”  John James continues to baffle us.

 

References

Audubon, John James. Ornithological Biography, or An Account of the Habits of theBbirds of the United States of America: Accompanied by Descriptions of the Objects Represented in the Work entitled The Birds of America, and Interspersed with Delineations of American Scenery and Manners.  Vol. 4. Edinburgh: Judah Dobson, 1839.

—.  Writings and Drawings.  Ed. Christoph Irmscher.  New York:  Library of America, 1999.

Glosser, Guila and Susan E. Kohn, Rhonda B. Friedman, Laura Sands, Patrick Grugan, “Repetition of Single Words and Nonwords in Alzheimer’s Disease,” Cortex, 33. 4 (1997): 653-666.

Herrick, Francis Hobart.  Audubon the Naturalist:  A History of His Life and Time.  2 vols.  New York:  Appleton, 1917.