Lifetime(s) of work

One hears of a “labor of love” and a “lifetime of work” pretty frequently, but one truly sees its meaning in the Gordon A. Wilson notes and papers relating to the works of William Romaine Newbold.  It all starts with Aristotle!  William Romaine Newbold was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who lectured on philosophy and worked extensively translating Aristotle’s Metaphysics. According to the long history of the translations, before his death in 1926, Newbold handed over his work to one of his students Hartley Burr Alexander. Alexander proceeded to work on the manuscript with one of his students, Gordon A. Wilson, until his death in 1939. And then, Wilson worked with the manuscripts until his death in 1974. In case you are worried, I don’t think it was the manuscript that finished off any of the scholars mentioned above.

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The Many Battles of Little Sparta

It seems a fair rule: artists should never respond to criticism of their work. But few artists are able to resist the temptation, and the outsized role that critics play in an artist’s success, especially in more rarified fields, makes it almost inevitable that the result will be rancorous. The critic has the privilege of print and access to a large readership. How can the artist hope to respond to opinions with which they disagree, especially when these opinions seem to present an existential threat to their reputation and livelihood?

In the case of Ian Hamilton Finlay, famous concrete poet and landscape architect—whose work I had the pleasure of archiving recently, through a collection sold by Graeme Moore, a landscape artist and Finlay’s longtime associate—the answer was a form of ideological warfare. In 1986, two architecture critics, Gwyn Headley and Wim Muelenkamp, under the auspices of the UK’s National Trust, published Follies, a guide to what they saw as eccentric buildings and gardens throughout the United Kingdom. The authors included Finlay’s Little Sparta, a garden full of sculpture and concrete poetry, in this volume. Perhaps they meant this as a harmless designation, or even a way to drum up interest in what they saw as an unfairly neglected site.

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Service and Suspicion in the Clement and Sophie Winston Papers

[Written by Rive Cadwallader. This was the last collection she processed before graduating from the University of Pennsylvania.  Congratulations, Rive!]

Clement and Sophie Winston were, in their own estimation, “not politically active individuals”. Both were engaged in service to their country -Clement as an economic analyst at the Bureau of the Budget and Sophie as a volunteer arts instructor with the American Red Cross- yet they “never joined any groups pushing particular causes.” The couple took road trips, wrote poetry, and sent handmade birthday cards to their friends. However, their respectable vocations, political neutrality, and typical middle-class lifestyle were not sufficient to protect the Winstons from suspicion under what Clement described as the “present condition of hysteria” that pervaded the United States during the Cold War. Clement’s position at the Bureau of the Budget subjected him to scrutiny under the Executive Order 9835, signed by President Truman in 1947, which required ‘loyalty checks’ for all federal employees to ensure “maximum protection… against infiltration of disloyal persons.” The Loyalty Board initially determined that Clement held “associations with particular individuals” whose political affiliations were in question, but by December 1952, it ultimately resolved that there was “no reasonable doubt” as to Clement’s “loyalty to the government of the United States.” Clement’s correspondence from this period reveals that the process of this investigation and hearing was intensely stressful and unsettling for him. He wrote to a friend, after his hearing,

“My emotions are terribly disturbed. It seems as if I have suffered a great, great loss. It seems as if someone near and dear to me, someone who was a part of me, were forever and irretrievably lost. I feel so broken and so ashamed.”

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“Heavenly Monsters”: Horace Howard Furness, William Shak(e)spe(a)re, and the Furness Libraries

Horace Howard Furness and his grandson, Wirt L. Thompson (from the Furness Theatrical Image Collections)

“You could not believe that he was true. He was as a picture, or as a character of imagination.” When author John Jay Chapman first met famous Shakespeare scholar Horace Howard Furness, he could hardly contain his astonishment. Claustrophobically surrounded by the books and Shakespeariana of his study in rural Wallingford, Pennsylvania, Furness appeared to Chapman as “the most picturesque old gentleman I have ever known.” His grey eyes, “large head,” “short and stout” figure, his “wonderful neatness and trimness… as if his clothes were made of bronze,” and above all his ear-trumpet – “more like… the ornament of a fairy king or goblin herald than a necessary instrument,” as Chapman saw it – made Furness nothing short of a “heavenly monster of picturesque bonhomie” in the eyes of his visitor.

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CAJS Rar Ms 481: A Kabbalistic and Polemical Manuscript Fragment from 1605 Egypt, with Provenance

CAJS Rar Ms 481, Ḳunṭres Imre emet with Ṿikuaḥ ‘al ha-R.M. di Lonzano, was recently acquired at auction, thanks to the support of the Elis and Ruth Douer Endowed Fund for Judaica Collections.

I cataloged a manuscript fragment (or, what originally appeared to be a fragment) of a polemical nature, dated to the first decade in the 17th century in Egypt. The manuscript contains writing from possibly a number of hands, and may have even been partially a letter written by a scribe or transcribed by a scribe for a response, as is the nature of polemics.

David Roberts (1796-1824), The Gate of Metwaley, (Cairo). Wikimedia Commons. For illustrative purposes.

The manuscript is 7 folios, unbound but sewn into a gathering. There are two (at least) scribal hands, already identified by Mosheh Hillel in “Ginze nistarot,” in Meḳabtsi’el vol. 38 (Ṭevet 5772), 55-88. Hillel also transcribes the manuscript.

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Santa … a powerful parental tool for more than 100 years!

I recently completed working on the Harold Dies papers and they are almost entirely related to Theodore Dreiser’s literary estate and the Dreiser Trust.  However, as is the case with many archival collections, I found a few unexpected treasures buried inside envelopes and tucked into folders.  The Dreiser and Dies family trees rival the Biddles when it comes to complexity.  Lots of cousins, lots of siblings, lots of complications.  But this little story below has to do with Theodore Dreiser’s brother Paul Dresser, his sister Emma, and Emma’s two children, George and Gertrude.

Paul Dresser was a singer, songwriter, and actor, in addition to a well-intentioned uncle. It appears that his nephew, George, was a bit on the naughty side … there are several letters written in which Uncle Paul instructs George on good behavior, which includes going to church (EVERY Sunday) and not giving his parents trouble.  It appears that George didn’t listen to Uncle Paul, so, as December rolled around, Uncle Paul did what so many adults faced with naughty kids do: he threatened him with … SANTA CLAUS. Who knew that was a thing as far back as 1903?

Uncle Paul wrote a few delightful letters to his sister Emma and her children, George and Gertrude who in 1903 would have been about 11 and 9 respectively.  In this letter, dated December 5, Paul writes to Gertrude in response to a letter in which she appears to have tattled on George.  He writes,  “I am really surprised at George.  I thought he was a pretty good boy–but from what you say it seems he is not. Well, all I can say is that Santa Claus called on me last night and wanted to know all about you and George.”

The letter ends with a note: “Tell Geo. to behave or Santa will make trouble.  I love this … usually Santa punishes passive aggressively by not bringing gifts, but here … he is going to make trouble!  There is no evidence as to whether Uncle Paul’s threats worked and George decided to be good until December 25.  Sadly for George and Gertrude (and his sister, Emma, to whom he wrote a number of encouraging as well as instructive letters about the children’s behavior), Paul died only three years later and was not around to keep all of them on their toes.

Despite the humor of the contents of these letters, it is easy to see the family’s dynamics, even in just a few pencil-scrawled words.  Paul was Emma’s older brother by six years and his protectiveness of her is evident in every single letter … the message to her kids is that they should always treat her well and make life as easy as possible for her.  His message to his sister is that she should make the kids treat her well and do their part to make her life easier.  The letters are lovely reminders of how family members look out for each other … and how they use any tools at hand to promote their cause.

 

A Scrapbook, Two Families, Two Murdered Presidents, and Other Animals: A Riddle From the Charlotte Cushman Club Records

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.

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The first page of the copy of Henry William Dulcken’s Animal Life All the World Over held by the Kislak Center for Special Collections. A dry flower, probably included in the volume by its previous owners, can be seen on the left.

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.

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A page from the scrapbook. What appears to be an autograph by Edwin Forrest can be seen in the bottom part of the page.

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.

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The scrapbook as it appears today

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.

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“A bouquet of game” included in the scrapbook

 

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.

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Obituary for “great grandma Drew” Aurilla B. Drew, 1886

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.

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Postcard with a picture of Laura Keene’s blood-stained dress

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.

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A caption handwritten in the back pastedown of the scrapbook

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.

 

 

Far from home … and mail at the pace of a snail

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).

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“In Labor I Find Peace”: The Works and Notes of a Mysterious Italian-American Composer Find A New Home at Penn

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.

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A review of a concert featuring music by Antonio Di Cecco, Philadelphia Inquirer, October 15, 1924

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.

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Mary Di Cecco DiFilippo (Antonio Di Cecco’s sister) and her son Eugenio DiFilippo jr. photographed in their general store in Toughkenamon, PA. From Keith Craig, New Garden Township (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2010).

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.

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“Lavorando trovo pace” (“In labor I find peace”), the motto that Di Cecco

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.

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Antonio Di Cecco’s notes on music instrumentation, from one of his notebook

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.

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A passage of the full score of Di Cecco’s opera “Caino”, act I

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.

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A textbook once belonged to Di Cecco, probably from his years at the Accademia Filarmonica in Bologna, Italy

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.

Zen and the Art of Translating Poetry: Stephen Berg and Ikkyu, the world’s most lascivious monk

 

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?

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