This extremely Gothic bookplate appears on the front pastedown of Armine von Tempski’s 1929 novel Fire in the Caroline F. Schimmel Collection of Women in the American Wilderness. It was designed in 1933 by the American medical illustrator, Atlantean scholar, and First Fandom member Henry M. Eichner (1909-1971), whose career is as fascinating as his ex-libris. Continue reading
After the Comstock Act (named after famed anti-obscenity crusader Anthony Comstock) was passed in 1873, it became illegal to send any material deemed “obscene” through the U.S. Postal Service. Comstock, from his position as a special agent for the U.S.P.S., became a one-man arbiter of whether a given piece of material was or was not appropriate for transportation through the mails. Comstock was a conservative New England fundamentalist who saw evidence of sin in almost everything, from the obvious (contraception) to the less obvious (dime store novels for teenagers). He also censored any material which dealt explicitly with sex education.
From the Act’s inception, reformers petitioned for its removal. They attacked the Act on several fronts. Why was the opinion of one man (Comstock) sufficient to decide whether something was or was not “obscene?” Why should the private decisions of married people to purchase contraception be subject to invasive action by the government? And why should educational material concerning human sexuality be deemed obscene, if its intent wasn’t prurient, but instructional?
The question of intent makes this last question particularly complicated. This month, as I processed the Jay A. Gertzman research collection on censorship, a research collection focused on the prosecution of “obscene” literature, these complications came into stark relief. Because we live in a time in which censorship laws are significantly more relaxed than they were in the beginning of the 20th century—and because the Comstock Laws were also used for more sweeping repressive measures, like restricting the sale of contraception—it can tempting to view the battle over obscenity as a battle between virtuous free-speech advocates and fear-mongers. In such a narrative, Comstock’s obsession with prurience silenced many decades’ worth of common-sense sex education.
In 1870, children’s writer and translator Henry William Dulcken – best known in England for his translations of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories – published in London and New York an educational book titled Animal Life all the World Over: With Remarks On the Trees and Plants of Various Regions. As the title suggests, the book describes the aspect and life of the fauna from the four corners of the earth, with the help of a gallery of splendid hand-colored illustrations depicting animals, plants, and the landscape in which they live.
All this, of course, was done from the perspective of a man writing from the metropole of the most powerful colonial empire of the time, just a few years after Charles Darwin had presented his evolutionary theory to the world with his On the Origins of the Species. One, then, should not be surprised to find references to the glorious Kings and Queens of Western Europe, and to read at the same time hopeful passages about the “happy time when… among the benighted people” of Central Africa “the knowledge of the [Christian] truth shall have penetrated.” We can tell many things about the founding values of a society from the way its youth are educated, and in this sense, Dulcken’s book is a valuable witness of the Victorian past.
Almost a century and a half later, the book is not so easy to find of the shelves of American and European libraries. But the only copy of it held by the University of Pennsylvania, now part of the Charlotte Cushman Club records, is truly unique, because it tells us as much about its owner (or its owners) as it does about its content.
Sometime at the end of the nineteenth century (we don’t know precisely when), somebody (we don’t know exactly who) turned her/his copy of Dulcken’s book into a scrapbook. The gatherings that formed the original book, all of which are still present, were separated, reshuffled, and then rebound in a new volume also including a few photographs, and several clippings of disparate subjects, but especially of theater reviews, poems, proverbs, jokes, and obituaries.
These added pages include oddities and precious souvenirs, such as an engraving depicting Chicago after the great fire of 1871, a seemingly original autograph by legendary actor Edwin Forrest, and a macabre “bouquet of game” with dead birds of any kind. Two presidents, Abraham Lincoln and James Garfield – both assassinated – are remembered by poems written in their honor at the time of their death.
Identifying the author and the owners of the scrapbook is a challenging endeavor. A possible hint comes from an obituary pasted in the first pages of the volume, next to a group of poems in honor of President Garfield. The person being mourned is Aurilla B. Drew, born in 1800 in Providence, Rhode Island, and died in Philadelphia at the age of 87. Over the clipping, an unknown hand specifies that Aurilla was “great grandma Drew.” Did the book belong to a descendant of Aurilla? It is hard to say, although the last name Drew constantly recurs in the scrapbook, mostly in connection with a certain I. N. (or J. N.) Drew, an actor member of the successful Richmond and Von Boyle Comedy Company. He could have been Isaac Newton Drew, one of the eleven children of Aurilla Drew (whose maiden name was Aurilla Virginia Bartlett) who died while traveling to Washington, D. C. in 1899, as also reported by a clipping found at the end of the scrapbook. It is certain that did not belong to another Drew family also mentioned in the scrapbook, that of John Drew (1827-1862), an actor from Ireland and father-in-law of Maurice Barrymore, himself an actor and patriarch of a famous acting family.
One of the youngest members of the Barrymore family, actress Drew Barrymore, carries in her first and last name the weight of 150 years of American theater.
And what about the obsession with murdered presidents? Theater has a lot to do with at least one of them, Abraham Lincoln, who was famously – and very theatrically – killed by actor John Wilkes Booth while he was attending a play at Ford’s Theatre, in Washington D. C. History has it that after Booth fatally shot Lincoln and fled the theater, actress Laura Keene, who was on stage, reached the presidential box and cradled Lincoln’s head on her lap. The blood of the dying president stained the dress of the actress, making it a relic to be exposed in museums – it is currently on display at the National Museum of American History – or to be photographed and reproduced in the form of postcards and other printed mementos. One such postcard, printed in Springfield, Illinois, was placed between the pages of the scrapbook along with some unrelated clippings, and what seems to have been a red rose.
In hindsight, this memorabilia (and, all in all, the scrapbook itself) seem to have to do with a certain idea of theater as a dignified, “high” art, one that clearly began to emerge in the second half of the nineteenth century – and of which the Charlotte Cushman Club, the institution that donated the scrapbook to the Kislak Center, was direct expression until a few decades ago. Perhaps Dulcken’s volume, after having served its function as a children’s book, was deemed not too important by its owner, and was subsequently used as a mere support to document with an almost religious zeal not only the career of many women and men of theater (Isaac Newton Drew and John Wilkes Booth, but also Edwin Forrest, Charlotte Cushman, and Laura Keene), but maybe also the genealogy of a whole family.
And yet, a caption penciled on the back pastedown of the book reveals that the scrapbook – animals, dead presidents, blood, and all – may have, after all, been used (assembled? inherited?) by a young reader: “my name is Molly, herein 12 years old. February 24th, 1920.” The circle is closed: a children’s book transformed into adult matter returns to childhood again.
In November of 1897, Lieutenant Sidney Veale Byland shipped out from London to India where he spent the last year of his short life. Without telephone service, emails, text messages, etc., he communicated with his father, a physician in England, by frequently writing letters which included extremely candid descriptions of the world around him and which grew increasingly cranky, as time went on. The letters are quite fun to read today–but I wonder what it must have been like for his father to read while living some 4,000 miles away, knowing that his son was struggling and that he was essentially unreachable.
At the beginning of his time away, Byland’s unique style is evident: he describes an acquaintance as “puffed with pride being the son of his father and the most standoffish haw haw of a little owl that I have ever had the misfortune to meet,” (February 2, 1898). He describes his work and the difficulties of working with accounts that have been mismanaged, but for the most part, he is good humored, even while acknowledging that his work is “hopeless,” (April 30, 1898). In one of his letters, he mentions to his father that “as you know, I have always been of a slap-dash, happy-go-luck disposition” (December 12, 1898).
If you are a music historian and have never heard of F. Antonio Di Cecco (1888-1954), don’t worry: neither had the author of this post until a few months ago. After all, why should you know him? Contemporary newspapers reveal very little about his work as a composer and conductor, and when journalists did write something about his music, their opinions were not too flattering.
A concert featuring Di Cecco’s ballet ”Primavera Italica (“Italian Spring”) and a few others of his works was organized in Philadelphia in October 1924 by a committee of Italians living in the city. “Mr. Di Cecco has real musical feeling,” wrote a reporter of the Philadelphia Inquirer, “but it seemed at times as if he were groping after expression rather than finding it…he is not a born melodist; his themes lack spontaneity.” Overall, the journalist concluded, “it must be said that the composer’s bent seems to be elegiac,’ at times “rather monotonously so.”
Yet, despite his apparently unimpressive record, there are very good reasons to believe that Di Cecco’s works, now part of the F. Antonio Di Cecco collection of manuscripts scores and notebooks, may be of great historical value today. Apart from a few notable exceptions – for example, Gian Carlo Menotti, along with the younger John Corigliano and David Del Tredici – the life and music of Italian-American composers remains today largely unstudied. This is especially true for the crucial period around the turn of the 19thcentury, when millions of impoverished Italians came to the United States to look for better job opportunities. Between the 1880s and the early 1920s, Italians were often viewed with suspicion by both Americans and members of other ethnic communities. These were the years in which the stereotype of the loud, uncultured, ever-gesticulating, mafia-affiliated Italian was born—a stereotype that finds more than an echo in many entertainment products, from Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather to the unlikely mobsters of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
To help each other in a foreign-speaking, hostile land, Italians began to form ethnic businesses, associations, and institutions, including hospitals and schools. Di Cecco’s concert of October 1924, for example, was organized by a special committee named after the composer — the “Di Cecco Music Committee” – to raise funds in support of an Italian hospital in South Philadelphia.
Di Cecco was a child of the great migration wave of the late 19thcentury. His parents, Vincenzo Di Cecco and Giacinta Tavani, moved to the U.S. from the little village of Fara S. Antonio, in Northern Abruzzo, in 1896, and relocated in the Philadelphia area with their sons Antonio (then barely 8 years old), Raffaele, and Nicola. Two daughters, Mary and Susie, were born in the U.S. The family was probably of humble origins, but over the years managed to consolidate their position. In 1921, Mary Di Cecco and her husband Eugene DiFilippo bought a store in Toughkenamon, in the Western suburbs of Philadelphia, and lived there until the end of their lives.
As for Antonio, his life seems to have been more eventful. He served in the Italian military during World War I, and remained in his native country until 1923. He appears to have studied composition at the Accademia Filarmonica of Bologna—a fact that his compatriots from overseas did not fail to remark on in their enthusiastic reviews of everything meant to symbolize Italian creative genius in the eyes of Americans.
In those years, Antonio lived in between two worlds. He was in Philadelphia from 1923 to 1924, and then back in Italy until 1930. For a historian, it is tempting to reflect onto Antonio’s works the years of hardship of his own diasporic existence as well as the reality of a whole community living away from its country of origin. For example, ”Primavera Italica” is opened by a “chorus of the exiled,” whose Italian text (to be sung “nostalgically”) laments the pain of being separated from the beloved motherland: “I long for the land of the Sun/ My heart is broken in pain.” The libretto of the ballet is inspired by the struggles that ancient Italians suffered during the early Roman Republic, when they had to resist repeated invasions of the peninsula by foreign people. Yet, it took all that suffering to make Rome thrive and triumph.
The myth of imperial Rome, along with assertions from the libretto such as “Italian people do not give up: they fight back and suffer,” eerily resounds with the political rhetoric of the Fascist regime, which came into power only one year after the libretto was completed. It is easy to see, however, how this imagery also resounded with the feelings and hopes of many among those who left Italy to find new home in the United States. Di Cecco’s motto “In labor I find peace,” written in Italian or Latin on the front of many of his scores, suggests that even his own work as a composer could be seen as a way to heal from homesickness.
After having completed his three-act opera “Caino” (“Cain”) at the end of the 1920s, Antonio’s work was influenced by the political climate of the New Deal. Mostly tonal and traditional in style, Di Cecco’s music perfectly fit the ideal of artistic accessibility of the time, but his hymn “Lead Us On, Oh President” (1934), including a direct mention in the lyrics of President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself, probably showed more patriotic zeal than it should have had. For another composition, the orchestral “Philarmonia Ouverture” (1939), Di Cecco had a professional copyist prepare duplicates of separate instrumental parts, probably in view of a public performance of this work—no traces of which, however, could be found in the contemporary press.
After that, silence. No more music is available for the last decades of Di Cecco’s life. Perhaps the end of the Federal Music Project in 1939, and the decline of other programs connected with the Work Progress Administration, led Antonio to gradually abandon composition? And after all, to what extent had Antonio’s music been successful up to then? Was he able to earn a living from music, or was music just something he cultivated along with other professional activities? Nothing certain is known about any of this.
Since Antonio’s death in 1954, it seems that he had been completely forgotten as a musician, until his descendants, Mary Di Cecco’s children Aida DiFilippo Stainback and Ralph Leonard DiFilippo, donated his scores to Penn in March 2018. Among these manuscripts are six orchestral works, two marches, four vocal and choral works, two piano works, one opera, and a ballet, for a total of 16 complete compositions. Music is elusive, and these works, like any other music ever composed in history, say probably much more about their creator than we will ever be able to grasp (or, perhaps, we will grasp much more than the artist originally intended to say). Both as music and as material objects, however, these scores open the door to multiple research alleys: from the history of emotions, to (Italian) immigration, to New Deal art, and to national and diasporic identity. Jut as Di Cecco struggled to find a home during all his life, the scores themselves needed to find a new home to allow, for others, new intellectual adventures.
On the weekend of August 11-12, 1945, mere days after the nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the United States released the first thousand copies of A General Account of the Development of Methods of Using Atomic Energy for Military Purposes.* Written by Princeton University physicist and Manhattan Project contributor Henry DeWolf Smyth, it had been commissioned in the spring of 1944 by General Leslie R. Groves, head of the Project, and its purpose was twofold: first, to inform “men of science in this country” about nuclear military technology in order that they might “help their fellow citizens in reaching wise decisions” in the future (Smyth, Atomic Energy 226); second, “to say as much as possible [about the Manhattan Project] in an official statement carefully prepared and reviewed and then to instruct people on the project to say nothing more even after they had left the project” (Smyth, “Smyth Report” 180-181).
On September 15, a small but canny group of booksellers began offering for sale the Princeton University Press edition of the report, now titled Atomic Energy for Military Purposes: The Official Report on the Development of the Atomic Bomb Under the Auspices of the United States Government, 1940-1945. The book became an unlikely bestseller: according to Princeton University Press director Datus P. Smith, from 1945 to 1973 the Smyth report (as it came to be known) sold over 125,000 copies domestically, and though “neither Harry Smyth nor the Press had any systematic way of keeping track of translated editions … we had some kind of evidence of translations into about 40 languages” (Smith 199).
Literary translation is an art, not a science; the act of bringing a story or poem into another language is a creative act, first and foremost, and can’t be fully systematized. And yet there are rules (or, better yet, standard operating procedures) for how one produces a translation that is faithful to the original while standing as an independent work of art. The most traditional of these procedures, developed systematically by Russian and French theorists in the 1950’s, concerns equivalence: that is, the translator’s choice of the best word or phrase in the new language to correspond with each original word or phrase. (One might imagine the best version of a machine translation: Google Translate as omniscient being.)
Other theoretical frameworks are less prescriptive on the sentence level; Skopos theory, for example, stresses that the goal of translation is the transmission of the purpose of the original work—to entertain, to inform, to warn—as opposed to its line-by-line linguistic form. This concept can feel nebulous; how is a translator to define the true purpose of a poem? And yet it does seem to reflect why a reader turns to language in the first place: to learn, to gain wisdom. If a translator achieves grammatical fidelity but fails to transmit the underlying purpose of the work, are they truly successful? What if they produce the linguistically equivalent version of a joke, but the reader doesn’t laugh?
Yet another side-product of the Gotham Book Mart gift, the Gotham Book Mart collection of Edward Gorey material documents the later (and posthumous) career of the celebrated author, artist, and illustrator. These papers actually contain very little written by Edward Gorey himself, but I think the collection is more interesting because of this.
In the late 1970s, Gorey, already nationally established and renowned, formed a company, Doomed Enterprises, to handle the distribution of his work and the licensing and merchandising of his art. In 1982, Gorey effectively retired to Yarmouthport, Massachusetts, where he was able to live the quiet and secluded life of the artist. Meanwhile, back in New York, a team of agents and lawyers, which included Gotham Book Mart owner Andreas Brown as vice-president of Doomed Enterprises, promoted Gorey’s legacy, worked out licensing and reproduction deals, and policed the unauthorized use of copyrighted materials. After Gorey’s death in 2000, Brown continued this work as executor of Edward Gorey’s estate. It is this business side of Gorey’s life and work – the economics and legal complications of licensing and producing cat dolls or desk calendars, the assiduous cultivation of Gorey’s public image as much more than a quirky illustrator of children’s books – that is represented in this collection.
A common theme I’ve discovered in these Gotham-related collections has been how broadly applicable these materials can be to scholars of authorship and reading in the 20th century (a community that I myself have had some involvement in). The Gorey collection is no exception. The fact that Gorey himself is largely absent from this collection of correspondence, legal agreements, and business transactions says something about the nature of authorship in the 20th century, both as Gorey envisioned it and as it was actually practiced. Like the Padraic and Mary Colum papers (see also the blog post on the Colum papers), the Gorey collection also reflects the tension between art and commercialism in this era of American history.
But above all, the Gorey collection is simply fun. In addition to letters and invoices and contracts, we have several boxes of merchandise, including dolls, rubber stamps, mugs, and t-shirts, all bearing Gorey’s designs and images.
“Ocean—strip of water in groove 2; strip of shore, groove 4; wreck, groove 1, right of stage; raft, groove 3, right; Crusoe A, groove 5, left. [Curtain rises]”. When it is performed on a toy theater, the reconstruction of Robinson Crusoe’s shipwreck requires a certain number of technical details. A good staging is about the right choice of sceneries, flats, and figures: Forest or ocean? Little boat or big sinking ship? And which Crusoe figure should we pick – hunting Crusoe? Crusoe in shirt sleeves? Perhaps sitting Crusoe, speaking with his parrot? Granted, numbers and letters help with the assembly, but what would happen if we left our imagination run loose, and create our own deviations from the original story?
Toy theaters are miniature theaters used in intimate, private spaces for the performance of special adaptations of plays, novels, and historical events, often published in special booklets called “juvenile dramas.” Since the beginning of the nineteenth century, toy theater was a popular form of entertainment in the United Kingdom and in Europe, and at the end of that century it became widespread in the United States as well. To those interested in the history of this special middle-class pastime for the youth (and their complicit parents), the toy theaters, scene sets, and dramas included in the Charlotte Cushman Club records offer a great starting point.
An unusual scrapbook arrived recently at the Special Collections Processing Center. The volume was created in Italy during the 19th century. Unlike personal scrapbooks there are no cards, mementos, newspaper clippings, or photographs. Instead, inside the scrapbook are pages decorated with ornamental devices cut out of printed books. These printed books, written in Italian and Latin, were published from 1569 to 1790 chiefly in Italy and France. There are over 350 woodcuts and engravings of decorative printers’ marks including borders, head-pieces, tail-pieces, initials, vignettes, and portions of title pages. The volume has a decorative label on the cover: Album de stampine antiche (Ms. Codex 1859).
The creator of the scrapbook is unknown, but may have been a member of the Peruzzi family of Italy as several of the items are inscribed “Caroli Peruzzi” (as seen on the portion of a title page below left). Other title pages pasted in the volume have former owner’s signatures or stamps. Who took a pair scissors to the books in the family library and excised these decorative printed items? Was the creator a descendant of Caroli Peruzzi?
Curiously, the items in the volume are pasted on top of an instructional and informational manual for practical mathematics regarding business transactions with merchants. The original handwritten manuscript has no discernible author. An example of a partial page from the manual is above right.
Many questions are presented through this scrapbook: Who wrote the original instructional manual?, Who created the scrapbook?, Where was and who owned the original library for the books? …