Through Being Cool: Arthur Hobson Quinn and the Modernists

Now that the worth of literary Modernism has become a commonplace within academic circles, one can forget how hostile most American academics were to experimental work in the first part of the 20th century. How delightful, then, to stumble, in his papers, across a handwritten note by Arthur Hobson Quinn, longtime professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, assessing the early work of T.S. Eliot:

“He can work phrases that are bitter and at times clever, and he has become very superior to all forms of life; he does not hesitate however to speak of his aunt as living in a fashionable neighborhood, and he betrays other signs of arrested development, such as a belief that being up at dawn is an achievement.”

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No contemporary academic would dare treat an iconic Modernist with such flippancy! But even by 1950, when this note was written, the place for the movement within the academy was by no means clear, despite Eliot’s preeminent position of influence; traditional scholars like Quinn were still openly hostile to what others saw as innovations. That academics like Quinn ended up the losers in the debate only makes their reactions fascinating, fruitful, and often quite funny; the way he treats contemporary writers who exhibit Modernist (or even moderately experimental ) tendencies represents just how wide the chasm really was, even twenty years after the movement’s height.

In Quinn’s lecture notes, one can see this hostility expressed over and over again, especially in his assessment of contemporary poetry. For example, his dismissal of Marianne Moore’s 1944 collection Nevertheless as “only 7 poems on Elephants, etc – not important,” and his inclusion of her in a folder called “Contemporary Poets, B Grade.”

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What, exactly, did Quinn present in opposition to such experiments? His aesthetic perspective is laid out well in a lecture entitled “Eliot and Others,” the notes for which are contained in this archive. “The best definition of poetry is that it is rhythmical language containing the elements of truth and beauty,” Quinn writes. “Contemporary American poetry has given up all three of these qualities to a marked extent.” Perhaps fittingly for a scholar of American theatre, Quinn sees the only hope for contemporary American poetry in musical theater, where “there are verses often of an unusual quality.”

Clearly, Quinn felt that contemporary American poetry was taking a turn for the worse—or, perhaps more importantly, a turn away from his own comprehension. In reading Quinn’s notes, one can sense a frustration with his inability to penetrate verse which seemed to him purposefully obscure, and his hostility to “difficulty” as an aesthetic project. In his assessment of Wallace Stevens, for example, he writes: “In his verse ‘Man Carrying Thing’ [Stevens] says, ‘the poem must resist the intelligence / almost successfully,’ which explains why he is not a poet.” The definition of who is (and, more importantly, who is not) a poet is one of Quinn’s rhetorical commonplaces. In order to reject the Modernist project, it was necessary to exclude them from the poetic canon entirely.

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But what did it mean to be a poet? To Quinn, poetry was meant to be expressive, clear, and above all populist, even nationalist. In his lecture “The Magnificent Phrase,” he claims that the easy transmission of a phrase—its memorable nature, its accessibility—is what allows for poetry’s greatness, and its greatness is linked to a project of national identity. It’s telling that the contemporary poet Quinn references in this lecture, Edwin Arlington Robinson, is featured for his stanzas on Lincoln: “The face we see was never young / nor could it ever have been old.”  Clearly poetry is particularly successful when wedded to an iconic representation of political power.

Considering this positivist, patriotic conception of poetry, it’s no wonder that the particular combination of pessimism and ambiguity that unified disparate strands of Modernism would be so difficult for Quinn and other traditional academics to accept. It was more than simply an aesthetic challenge; it was an assault on an entire worldview. (At the same time that he was writing these notes on contemporary poetry, Quinn was overseeing the creation of a massive textbook of American Literature entitled The Literature of the American People, and had already undertaken a vast socio-historical investigation of national identity entitled The Soul of America.)  In the wake of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War, academics like Quinn, invested in the idea of American Literature as a viable, coherent academic discipline, would find little common cause with the late Modernists, for whom fragmentation and ambiguity were the rule. Consider Quinn’s judgment of the work of William Carlos Williams: “no poetry=no unity or coherence.”

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But even this seemingly ironclad judgment on Williams contains a kernel of self-doubt: “the Wanderer is a narrator—seems to be symbolic but I can’t tell about what.” This inability to comprehend, to make sense of the fractured nature of late Modernism, represented a threat to Quinn’s position as an authority. To add insult to injury, Quinn’s eyesight was fading, which made repetitious reading literally painful.  Several times in his notes, Quinn reminds himself to ask his wife, Helen, to read the poems and see if she can make anything of them; whether this is a reference to physical or metaphorical legibility is impossible to say.

This brings us back to Quinn’s attacks on Eliot.  As a poet/critic who managed to move from the vanguard of Modernist experimentation to a more comfortable position as one of the main critical influences of New Criticism, Eliot represented a much greater threat than Moore or Stevens or Williams. It was easy enough for Quinn to repudiate the work of individual Modernist poets, and exile them to the land of “not-poetry,” but Eliot seized the power of definition for himself. His work represented a reorientation of poetics towards a kind of academic Classicism, the antithesis of the broadly populist and even nationalist vision which Quinn championed. “It is an example of the semi-profound type of criticism,” Quinn writes. “very positive in statements, at times discriminating, but constantly shedding implications of profound depths of knowledge on Eliot’s part, especially of Foreign Literature and criticism, usually of books which the general reader would certainly not know, and which impress him or not, just as he is impressionable or not by that ex cathedra criticism.” For Quinn, interested in a common cultural legacy for the U.S. reader, prizing clarity and transmissibility above all things, Eliot’s insistence on difficulty and on European cultural tradition seemed an elitist boondoggle.

In hindsight, one can see in Quinn’s reaction to Eliot certain commonalities with the very poets he maligned. In his blanket hostility to Modernist experimentation, Quinn failed to realize that there were many practitioners who disliked Eliot’s academic orientation just as much as he did. Of his first reading of “The Waste Land,” William Carlos Williams wrote: “I felt at once that it had set me back twenty years, and I’m sure it did. Critically Eliot returned us to the classroom just at the moment when I felt we were on the point of an escape to matters much closer to the essence of a new art form itself—rooted in the locality which would give it fruit.” Indeed, with a work like Paterson, Williams’ practice of historical quotation as method of establishing an American “voice” hewed more closely to Quinn’s conception of clarity and accessibility than he might have realized, albeit in a fragmented, anguished form.  But Quinn’s anti-experimental perspective couldn’t allow for such nuances. He seemed to feel that the very idea of experimentation was a fad: an aberration in the development of cultural understanding. “Perhaps he wants simply to be fashionable,” he writes of Eliot, in the last in a series of notes in response to “Four Quartets.”

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In response to this dangerous fad, Quinn—ever the scholar of drama—turned away from written poetry and towards the Broadway stage, where he could still find the sort of direct, plainspoken lyricism that he felt epitomized the “spirit of America”: most notably, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma. In this, he prefigured some of the interest Postmodernist critics would have in popular culture as a whole—though not in the manner Quinn would have liked. The sort of unified nationalist cultural project he trumpeted was soon lost forever, a casualty of the 60’s, and the ironic gaze of Postmodernism, which turned the tools of the Modernists onto the very pillars of American popular culture that Quinn championed.

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All this makes Quinn’s notes seem like something of a last stand. When looking over the production of his favorite poets from the early 20th century, his notes bemoan that so many of them simply stopped producing work as the century moved on. Seeing examples of the work he champions, one can easily see why. The strict meter, clear rhymes, and somewhat simplistic images contained in “Lilacs of the City,” by Brian Hooker, one of the librettists who Quinn claimed “surpasses anything I have seen by contemporary poets,” are so out of step with what has happened to poetry in the second half of the 20th century that we can see, in hindsight, that Quinn was right to make the terms of the argument “poetry v. non-poetry.” The whole nature of the form was being redefined before his eyes, and Quinn was on the losing end.

Cover art from the Kathryn Hansen collection of Nautanki chapbooks

Working on this collection was an absolute delight, peppered with bits of personal frustration – why, oh why, had I neglected to learn Hindi and Urdu? The Kathryn Hansen collection of Nauṭankī chapbooks is incredibly visually appealing; I enjoyed looking through the different cover designs as I processed the collection, and yet I couldn’t read any of them! Still, I was able to pick up on some interesting patterns just from the information that Kathryn Hansen provided when she donated this fantastic collection to the Kislak Center.

The chapbooks in this collection are Indian folk tales and plays. They include Ālhās (oral epics); Gīt and Bhajan (songs); Nāṭak (theatrical plays); Qissās (tales); and Sāngīts (printed Nauṭankī play scripts). Some re-tell local legends and folk tales, while others tell popular romances or new stories in poetic language.

While they do not have any internal illustrations, many of the chapbooks in this collection have intricate and colorful cover art. Certain publishers seem to be more likely to have included vibrant cover illustrations. Some of my favorites come from Agraval Book Depot and N. S. Sharma Gaur Book Depot. Though it’s difficult to say without being able to read them, some of the cover illustrations appear to relate to the story being told in the chapbook, while other covers are more decorative.

Other publishers seem to have taken a single cover design and applied it across the board. Dehati Pustak Bhander used a somewhat intricate design featuring four swans on a colored background, with detailed line work. The design stayed the same, but the background color changed with each chapbook. Other publishers like Shyam Press or Shrikrishna Pustakalay/Shrikrishna Khatri used a photograph and border design on every cover. All of these reused designs were likely both cost-effective and good branding. Dehati Pustak Bhandar’s swans, Shyam Press’s portrait of a man in a turban, and Shrikrishna Pustakalay/Khatri’s photo of a standing man all appear repeatedly throughout the collection.

It was really interesting to see the variety of cover art and decoration on these chapbooks. Since I couldn’t read any of them, the cover art was my only point of reference for what one might find within. Considering the use of publisher cover images, as well as what I know about modern day cover art, I don’t know how much the illustrations can really tell me about the contents, but it is still fun to speculate, and it was an enjoyable collection to work on.

The Kathryn Hansen collection of Nautanki chapbooks is now open for researchers.

“Napoleon Bonaparte, Martyr of St. Helena,” an Ode to the French Hero

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In 1840, during the peak of the ennuie of the bourgeois society of King Louis-Philippe, the body of the French hero Napoleon Bonaparte was returned to France, reigniting the fire and patriotism of his many admirers. This effect took hold in French supporters of Napoleon all over the world and, more specifically, this moment resonated deeply with Joseph Martin du Colombier, as evidenced by his writing of the play Napoleon Bonaparte, Martyr of St. Helena.

Joseph Martin du Colombier was the son of Martin du Colombier, a native of Lille, France who emigrated to San Domingo under patronage of the French government in 1737. du Colombier was his youngest son, born in 1760. He was educated in Paris until his father’s death, at which time he was sent by his mother to a seminary to become a priest. He quickly left and returned to run his father’s plantation in San Domingo. During the American Revolutionary War, du Colombier served as a surgeon in the French army who offered his services to the Americans fighting against the British. He was a captive on the British prison ship Jersey, a ship known for certain death for its prisoners. However, du Colombier was saved from that fate by his musical abilities, playing guitar and singing for the British officers on deck. This ability allowed him enough fresh air and food to survive. After a career in the French military, he amassed a fortune by trading with San Domingo from his new home in America. He also became a trained physician and devoted himself to taking care of victims of Yellow Fever and offered free medical attention to anyone in need. As for his death, The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (Vol. V No. 2, 1881. 122-125) describes it as such, “Driving out with his daughter on the 16th of November 1846, as they returned in the evening and were beholding the glory of the stars, gently bowing his head on her arm, the aged man said, ‘How beautiful is Venus!’ and in the same instant found peace in death.”

Napoleon 1Napoleon 2In this ode to Napoleon, it seems to me that du Colombier revered Napoleon as the more epic version of himself – adventurer, homme militaire, prisoner of the British, and a displaced Frenchman. Much like Napoleon, his heroics were the product of being perfectly situated in the moment and eloquently recounting his own story. This is a man who, like many, idolized Napoleon, and looked to him as inspiration for a full and exciting life.  In the manuscripts, he declared that heroes and villains are brought to justice on the stage, and in this play, du Colombier wishes to properly honor Napoleon while simultaneously condemning the actions of the British. His reverence for Napoleon seeps into every line of this play, most clearly in the epilogue where du Colombier addresses Napoleon as if he were one of the soldiers fighting under him, “Farewell, great chieftain; thy immortal name – stands you unrivaled on the rolls of fame – lorn is the rock and boundless is the wave – yet glory’s sunbeams rest upon thy grave.”

If nothing else, this play highlights the stereotypical hatred of the French for the British throughout history. Du Colombier repeatedly noted the cruel actions of the British, their lack of eloquence, and above all else, their pettiness. For example, one instance appears in a scene on page 4 where the British soldiers recount their time in America saying, “Wherever we went we laid our hands on the Yankee stocks, their valuables – their women – and after having gorged ourselves with their best, for our diversion we burnt their cities, their monuments, their libraries.” This disdain for the British by du Colombier further evolves in the relationship between Governor Hudson Lowe and Napoleon. Lowe is characterized as a petty power hungry man who is obsessed with his authority and dominance over Napoleon. Throughout the play, he is nothing less than wholly consumed by Napoleon’s comical lack of respect for him.

The play as a whole offers an engaging, though entirely biased, historical fiction of the last phase of the French hero’s life. Further, it is documentation of the feelings that many French people harbored towards Napoleon during and just after his life. He was the hero of the French, the exciting whirlwind character that sprung out of the little island of Corsica when the French most needed him. It is a very different perspective of Napoleon that most American (and most certainly British) students are presented in schools. Far from the pompous short man, the unwilling creator of the Napoleon complex, this Napoleon is larger than life and the figure the French craved in the boring post-revolutionary period.

“Getting Fat and Lazy” in World War I France

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Stationed overseas in small towns surrounding Dijon, France, David Rosenblum was far from the front line during World War I. Rosenblum described his time in the United States military from 1918 to 1919 as being “just like a vacation and a little hard work.” In his letters home, he talks about girls and ‘grub,’ about missing home, his odd jobs, and stories of his military experience.

The David Rosenblum World War I letters offer an alternative perspective of overseas service during WWI, far from the frequently recounted horrors of the front line. Rosenblum was stationed outside of Dijon, France which was inland of the southernmost portion of the front line between France and the German Reich by 1918, when he began his service. Working for the Mobile Ordnance Repair Shop around 200 kilometers behind enemy lines, Rosenblum assembled Fords and lead pipes.

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He went on to work as a stenographer, joking, “Our hero, undaunted braves the storm and fights on for liberty. Yes, verily he fights on pounding this cute little typewriter…It seemeth strange that the government can’t find more use for our hero other than the delicate task of typing.” Rosenblum frequently poked fun at his role in the war, with a full understanding that his conditions were quite pleasant (and un-heroic) compared to his fellow soldiers fighting on the front lines. Finally, in these letters, he discusses his time as an official military entertainer, playing piano for soldiers, nurses, and officers in various Red Cross locations in France, and of course, “getting fat and lazy.”

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Rosenblum’s humor is evident throughout the letters. He takes every opportunity to gently poke fun at the French and their pace of life. On October 11, 1918, he informed his family of the attitudes towards the French among the soldiers, “Oh: yes, we call the French frogs and France is called Frog country and the boys are not one bit keen about the frogs. Golly, but they are slow. How they ever stopped Germany is a mystery. We do more in a minute than the frogs in a month…they are slow and way behind the times; the engines and railroads and conveniences are medieval.” He continues the use of the term frog until his departure from France. Despite his joking, Rosenblum had clear affinity for certain aspects of French culture. He frequently notes the charm of the towns and expresses a liking for the children who were enamored with the American soldiers.

r1But, above all else, in his letters Rosenblum expresses a love for the ‘grub’ and girls of France. Of the 26 letters in this collection, every single one mentions food. Be it the underwhelming food of the station, or his wonderful culinary experiences in town, Rosenblum was focused on the grub. He frequently talked about the bread, cheese, wine and jam that he would purchase or be gifted in the towns, and about the restaurants he would visit with his military buddies. He also mentions the French women several times, most fondly, the one who made him an omelet and the several that offered him bread, cheese, wine, jam and sweets. He also recounts the French love of American cigarettes, and how this love helped him initiate conversation with French women, “I saw a beautiful looking young lady looking out the window. She smiled friendly, everyone does – perhaps it’s the U.S. uniform or the thought of a cigarette – I guess the latter.”

Rosenblum’s experience was far from the heroic and glorified stories of boys being sent overseas and returning as weathered men. Rosenblum retains a sense of innocence. During the war, he is well fed, works in a protected and comfortable environment, and has plenty of opportunity for enjoyment. That being said, this collection offers vibrant description of small-town France and its people in the early 20th century, first-hand reports of the morale of soldiers at the end of World War I, and a look into the charming and humorous attitude of a young man, like many others, who was thrust into a less-frequently recounted military experience.

“I felt more than a little used” – Don Stacy’s Correspondence with Vilém Flusser, 1973-1976

Donald L. Stacy (1925-2008), known primarily as Don Stacy, was an artist and art teacher born in New Jersey, who lived and worked for most of his life in New York City. Vilém Flusser (1920-1991), pictured below– a Czech-born philosopher who lived for a long period in Sao Paulo, and later in France– wrote on media and technology, and on communication and artistic production, among other concepts. Flusser’s writings are extremely influential and are still being enthusiastically taken up today.

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The correspondence between Don Stacy and Vilém Flusser in this collection takes place primarily between 1973 and 1976 (Don Stacy correspondence with Vilém Flusser, Ms. Coll. 1261).


Though Stacy and Flusser discuss many fascinating concepts surrounding philosophy, art, and creativity, I found myself most compelled by an exchange early on in their correspondence in 1974. Stacy wrote to Flusser to express his displeasure at their first in-person encounter; Flusser had asked Stacy to set up contacts for him in New York City so that he could give lectures, and Stacy revealed in his letter dated May 1, 1974, that he felt used by Flusser as a result of Flusser’s time in New York City.

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Ms. Coll. 1261, Box 1, Folder 2

The two men work through this disagreement, with Stacy appealing to Flusser on an emotional level and Flusser maintaining an intellectual stance—one wonders if their different approaches are as a result of their respective cultures—and go on to share further ideas regarding art and philosophy and develop their friendship over the years to come.

Another aspect of the collection that struck me was the self-conscious nature of the correspondence, in that the two men were clearly aware that their letters would be collected one day. The letters from Stacy in this collection are unsent draft copies and, in his last letter to Flusser (dated March 7, 1983), Stacy notes “You could publish a book – letter to an unknown artist!” (For additional resources relating to the correspondence between Don Stacy and Vilém Flusser, please see the Berlin Flusser Archives and the Brazil Flusser Archives.)

Though Stacy avoided the spotlight and expressed to Flusser his disdain at networking, it’s a shame that he’s not more well-known today. It’s telling of his good nature, for instance, that Stacy never corrected Flusser, who persisted on calling him “Dan” instead of “Don” throughout their correspondence. The dynamic, playful, and curious mind of this “unknown artist” lives on in these letters.

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Woodcut by Don Stacy, printed in Main Currents in Modern Thought, 1966 (Box 1, Folder 7)

This collection is now open to researchers.

 

The Archaeological Expeditions of Elizabeth T. Miller

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This tourist map is included in one of the photo albums of the Miller papers.

“Central & Middle America are quite a way from S. Africa, but with Europe and most of the world in such a state of devastation & turmoil from the war, I can think of no place more desirable to visit at the present time.”

Thus wrote Elizabeth Turner Miller about her 1940 travels to Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. Despite Miller’s acknowledgement of massive geopolitical upheaval, the documentation of her voyage is almost completely devoid of other references to politics or current events. Instead Miller seems to have embraced the literal and metaphorical distance her journey afforded her from the rest of the world. Travelling through dense jungles for weeks at a time with very limited external communication, Miller immersed herself in the natural beauty and ancient history of the Yucatan.

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Miller on horseback, in front of a Mayan stele.

Miller was twenty-nine years old, living in Baltimore, and working as a commercial artist when she was presented with what she described as “the rare privilege of going on a semi-archaeological expedition.” Her cousin, sculptor and archaeologist Benjamin Turner Kurtz, was making a tour of Mayan ruins in Guatemala and Honduras, and asked Miller to come along. In January of 1940, Miller set out for Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, and from there travelled to Quirigua and Copan, where she and Kurtz photographed ancient stelae. Miller relished the three weeks she spent abroad, and leapt at the chance to return to Central America on a similar expedition, this time to Mexico in the summer of 1940.

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Miller, and a few of her friends. Afraid of poisonous snakes, the group rarely removed their tall boots.

The Elizabeth T. Miller papers (Ms. coll. 1265), part of the Caroline F. Schimmel Collection of Women in the American Wilderness, document this trip through written accounts and hundreds of photographs later arranged into albums. Miller travelled through Mexico with Kurtz, the photographer John Henry Coon, and the acclaimed operatic singer Carolyn Long. The group visited many of the major Mayan sites in the area, including Labna, Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Kabah, Sayil and Monte Alban.

Transportation through the tropical forests of the Yucatan was often laborious. Miller wrote that on some roads, the travellers’ Ford Model T (apparently the only vehicle suited to the terrain) ran with “one wheel over the precipice.” Regarding driving in the lowlands, Miller explained that “bracing ourselves to keep from falling out was a full time occupation except when we were busy removing strange specimens of bugs from our persons, which showered upon us every time a car brushed against the limb of a tree.” Still, not all of Miller and her companions’ interactions with nature involved “strange specimens of bugs” or the aggressive feral bulls that made their homes in the cool shade of ruined temples. It was with “amazement and delight” that one day, while driving through the forest, she and her friends realized the “patches of color in the road ahead of us about a foot square and chartreuse in hue” were actually masses of “tiny, yellow-green and white butterflies,” so plentiful when they took flight that “without exaggeration there were times when we could not see where we were going.”

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Miller, her three travelling companions, a mechanic, two guides and a translator fit all of their camping and photographic equipment into two cars.

After several weeks in the Yucatan, Miller returned to Baltimore, where she would spend the rest of her life (after marrying Svend Peuleche around 1949, she changed her name to Elizabeth M. Peuleche). It is not entirely evident why Miller chose to spend 1940 travelling through Central America. As an artist, she deeply admired the exquisite Mayan sculpture and architecture of the region, which may have served as inspiration for some of her own work. Additionally, she maintained an interest in archaeology and was well informed about local investigations. It seems most likely to me, however, that Miller undertook this voyage for its own sake, to learn about and appreciate the beauty of unfamiliar surroundings in the true spirit of exploration.

Shall We Help to Crush Tyranny? The Frederick P. Lee Collection of World War I Ephemera

The Frederick P. Lee collection of World War I ephemera includes a number of eye-catching materials in a variety of formats that depict Britain’s role in WWI. Processing the collection, I was immediately struck by these World War I recruiting posters. The first one, “We will uphold the priceless gem of liberty … shall we help to crush tyranny?” shows a soldier standing at attention, framed by two Union Jacks, and was printed in Montreal by Gazette Printing Co., Limited, sometime between 1914 and 1918, according to the Library of Congress record.

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Print Coll. 33, Drawer 55, Folder 9

The second poster, “Heroes of St. Julien and Festubert … shall we follow their example?,” shows a soldier in profile against a Union Jack and refers to the 1915 battles of St. Julien (part of the Second Battle of Ypres during which chlorine gas was used on the Allies) and Festubert (part of the Second Battle of Artois). This poster was also printed in Montreal by Gazette Printing Co., Limited, likely in 1916, according to the Library of Congress record.

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Print Coll. 33, Drawer 55, Folder 9

What do we know about Frederick P. Lee? Well, he was an insurance agent, according to census records, and was born in 1880, in England. He immigrated to the United States in 1912 and lived in Santa Monica, California, with his wife, Olive, and son, Denis. A number of materials in this collection, including pamphlets and magazines, are stamped with the phrase, “With Compliments of Frederick P. Lee, Fellow of Royal Colonial Institute.” The collection includes serials and newspapers, such as Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, pamphlets reporting on the British war effort, and postcards depicting admirals of the British navy—see the portraits below by Francis Dodd (Print Coll. 33, Box 1, Folder 5).

The admiral on the bottom right looks familiar … Michael Fassbender, is that you?!

Another fascinating item included in the collection is an issue of The Wiper’s Times, a trench newspaper published by British soldiers fighting in the Ypres Salient during World War I. The soldiers used a salvaged printing press to print the newspaper, which featured a lot of humor and wordplay. It’s a fascinating story—there was a BBC series about it if you’re interested in learning more! The Penn Libraries has a complete collection of The Wiper’s Times which can be found here.

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Print Coll. 33, Box 1, Folder 6

As most of the items in this collection were printed in England and concern England’s role in the war, one can surmise that Frederick P. Lee– while he was too old to have fought in the war, unless he volunteered– was interested in following his motherland’s work from abroad and encouraging US entry into the war. This collection is now open to researchers.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

We frequently find delightful items in our collections, and sometimes they are incredibly timely!  Elsa stopped by with these four images from the magazine Christopher Street. You’ll find these specific images in Vol. 2, No. 8 from February 1978, on the cover and pages 33, 36 and 37.

Liz found, in a copy of Cuckoo of the log raft by Bessie Marchant (London: George Newnes, [not before 1931]) (Schimmel Fiction 3036), that the former owner, Anne M. Noble, kindly added a “Boys I love” note!  We are particularly delighted that the “boy in grey” is included. My college crush was “the boy in the basement” so I totally get it!

 

Revelations of Character in the Kanji Dwarkadas Papers

Although Kanji Dwarkadas, an Indian writer, social reformer and politician is not especially well known today, his papers (Ms. Coll. 1239) offer a fascinating insight into the personal lives of some of the most important public figures in India’s twentieth century history. Dwarkadas was born in Mumbai (then Bombay) in 1892 and became involved in local and national politics by his early twenties. As a member of the Indian Home Rule movement and as general secretary of the 1918 Indian National Congress, Dwarkadas was closely acquainted with Annie Besant, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Jawaharlal Nehru and other important politicians and activists of his time. The Dwarkadas papers reveal nuances of character in these individuals through ample correspondence, notes, transcribed conversations or interviews, and diary entries, which Dwarkadas referred to as his “personal observations.”

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This publication was released by the New York branch of the India Home Rule League. From: https://india.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/14/american-roots-of-the-indian-independence-movement/?_r=0

The material in this collection that relates to public figures owes some of its insightfulness to the fact that Dwarkadas maintained close friendships with many of his peers in politics. This was certainly true of his relationship with writer and activist Annie Besant. The two seem to have been in agreement over nearly all matters of politics, and both shared (mostly in private correspondence) frustration over the actions of Mahatma Gandhi. In a letter dated February 5, 1922, Besant complained that “Gandhi always flinches at the critical moment. His bold words are mere bluff.” In an undated letter, she claimed “things are very bad here, thanks to Gandhi, who spreads disregard of law, and causes much trouble.” This somewhat unpopular opinion was one voiced by Dwarkadas as well: a brief biography of him written around 1960 notes that his “critical book” published on Gandhi was “the only one of its kind.” Indeed, Dwarkadas’ political identity and involvement seems to have been so integrated with Besant’s that after her death in 1933 he retired from politics and focused his energies on social activism and labor reform.

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This 1921 poster advertises a meeting of Gandhi’s Noncooperation movement, which both Besant and Dwarkadas disapproved of. From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Noncooperation_khilafat1921.gif

Besant and Dwarkadas’ relationship, however, extended considerably beyond matters of politics. Dwarkadas considered Besant his adoptive mother, and she in turn treated him and his brother, Jamnadas, as sons. In her letters to Kanji, Besant addresses him as “my dear son” and usually signs off, “with love, Mother.” Though they contain a good deal of business information, Besant’s letters to Dwarkadas are supportive and thoughtful. So much so, perhaps, that in a letter to Kanji and Jamnadas written in 1919, Besant exclaimed, “I fear that I pour out on you all a great deal too much affection!”

This photograph of Annie Besant was taken in 1922, at which time she was working with Kanji Dwarkadas.

This photograph of Annie Besant was taken in 1922, at which time she was working with Kanji Dwarkadas. From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annie_Besant#/media/File:Annie_Besant.001.jpg

It may have simply been Besant’s nature to take on a somewhat maternal role towards her younger friends and acquaintances. Around 1910, Besant, a devout theosophist, adopted Jiddu Krishnamurti, a teenager whom she and others believed to be the new World Teacher of the religion (Krishnamurti renounced this role two decades later). Besant’s impulse to care for others, even near strangers, is illustrated in a letter she sent to Dwarkadas in 1929. In this note, she asks Dwarkadas to secure a ticket on a steamer from Bombay to Trieste “for a young Hungarian who has been wandering about India.” She explains that she would do so herself, but for the fact that “he is a fruitarian and only seems to eat cocoanuts, almonds and bananas” and she would be unable to “supply him with fruit enough for such a journey” from her current location in Chennai.

This kind and generous quality of Besant’s is interesting in its own right, but especially so in light of events earlier in her life. Married to Frank Besant in 1867 when she was twenty years old, Annie had two children, but was unhappy in her marriage and legally separated from her husband in 1873. She was able to maintain custody over her daughter for some time, but had to give up the right to see her children after she was prosecuted in 1877 for publishing a book on birth control. One may wonder, then, if Besant’s motherly attitude towards Dwarkadas and others was influenced by her separation from her biological children decades prior.

A confluence of factors makes the Dwarkadas papers particularly revealing of the personalities of the individuals mentioned therein. On the one hand, Dwarkadas was amicable with most of his colleagues in the government, and very close with a handful; his letters strike a tone of friendship more than professional collaboration. In addition, the very nature of the types of materials present –private correspondence, journal entries, confidential reports- is more intimate than, for example, a newspaper profile. As a result, these documents provide a perspective on some Indian political figures of the last century, which is different from that found in their published works or public speeches.

Text Me Back! The Cunnington and Lee Family Papers

Have you ever texted someone and then waited … waited … waited for a response? Navigating relationships in the age of texting can cause a lot of uncertainty, impatience, and disappointment. How dare your romantic interest like that photo on Instagram or comment on that Facebook post without having responded to that meme you just sent?! I was reminded that the frustration of communication between romantic partners is not new when I recently processed the Cunnington and Lee family papers, 1813-1866.

William P. Cunnington (1804-1871) led the orchestra at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia and traveled with orchestras in Baltimore and New York. While on an extended business trip to Baltimore, he wrote to his wife, Jane Cook Cunnington (1808-1872), and very freely described his displeasure at the infrequency of her letters (and of the topics on which she wrote).

cunnington-letter

Ms. Coll. 1258, Box 1, Folder 3

Baltimore
Nov 25, 1846

My dear Jane—

I scarcely know whether to feel more distressed or incensed at your conduct. I have been here nearly two weeks & not one word from you. I wrote to you last Friday night & sent the letter by Rink on Saturday morning. I wrote as much as it was possible for me to do situated as I was. I begged of you to sit down on Sunday & write to me & I felt as certain of having a letter on Monday as I did of seeing the daylight. I counted the hours for the office to open but I only experienced the bitter disappointment. I have been to the office every day…. I could scarcely believe my own senses when told again this morning & again this afternoon that there was no letter.

Wow—tell us how you really feel, Willy! William and Jane did have three children—William H., Oldine, and Francis—so it’s possible that Jane’s infrequent missives were a result of taking care of the children and not because she was trying to “distress” or “incense” her rather impatient husband.

Another highlight of this collection is an example of a crossed letter. A crossed, or cross-hatched, letter contains two sets of writing on top of each other at right angles. This practice was done in the nineteenth century to save paper, as well as postal charges. (Even after paper became more readily available, some people practiced crossed writing as a show of thrift.) As you can see from the example, it’s a challenge to read such crossed letters!

cunnington-crosshatch

Ms. Coll. 1258, Drawer 55

The Cunnington and Lee family papers also contain the papers of antiquarian William H. Cunnington (1754-1810) of Heytesbury, Wiltshire, England. In addition to the family letters—which are concerned with issues such issues of daily life as health, the settling of estates, and travel—the collection contains poems written by, and apparently copied by, the families. The poems are primarily concerned with love and death (is there anything else?).

This collection is now open for researchers. After perusing the collection, perhaps you will be moved to show more patience toward your paramours than William showed poor Jane.