Friday, August 22, 2014

A Comic Tour of Japan

Legend has it that Japanese author Jippensha Ikku (1765-1831) spent so much money drinking that he could not afford to furnish his home. Instead, he simply hung pictures of furniture he would have bought. One New Year's, when he found himself without proper holiday attire, he offered a visitor a bath and took off with the man's nice clothes to pay some visits of his own. And on his deathbed, he had firecrackers secretly stowed in his funeral pyre, to go out with a bang, if you will.

Sadly, these tales are probably untrue, a result of Jippensha being conflated with his clownish characters. Yaji and Kita, the traveling duo in his novel Footing It along the Tōkaidō Road, are always trying to trick their way into free meals and free rides, and into the beds of attractive young witches. Usually their schemes backfire. For instance, in a meta-referential moment, Yaji boasts to a local that he is in fact the famous writer Jippensha Ikku, researching for an upcoming book called (you guessed it) Footing It along the Tōkaidō Road. The local is impressed and treats Yaji at his home, but when a letter arrives from the real Jippensha, Yaji is forced admit his deception and flee.

At the time, the book functioned both as an entertaining story and as an informational travelogue, sketching out the varying customs and scenery along the eastern coast. Rauner's edition features 60 full-page illustrations by print maker Tamenobu Fujikawa. The landscapes, which often dwarf the characters, provide moments of pause to accompany the fast-paced narrative. The prints' detailed use of patterns is impressive, especially considering that each color had to be carved from a separate block of wood and perfectly aligned. Such work was done not by the artist alone but by a team who specialized in each stage of the printmaking process. As the book goes on, you can see the level of detail on the faces change, reflecting differing interpretations of the artist’s original drafts.

If you can’t read Japanese, you're not alone. Illiterate Japanese in the nineteenth century would commonly buy books just for the printed illustrations, too. But unlike them, you can view this one online from our Digital Library Program, or ask for Rare Book PL797 D62 1800z.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Head Full of Steam

If you've ever traveled across the Connecticut River between Orford, New Hampshire, and Fairlee, Vermont, then you did so on the Morey Memorial Bridge. The steel span, finished in 1938 and now listed in the National Register of Historic Places, was named for Samuel Morey, a resident of both Orford and Fairlee who was instrumental in the construction of the river locks between Connecticut's Windsor Locks and Olcott Falls in New Hampshire (now the site of the Wilder Dam).

However, Samuel Morey is perhaps better known today, at least around these parts, as the man who should rightfully be called the inventor of the steamboat as we now know it. Although Robert Fulton is generally regarded as the proper holder of that title, he instead should be credited with making the steamboat a commercially viable concept. Morey had built and successfully operated a steam-powered paddleboat in the early 1790s, more than a decade before Fulton's Clermont sailed up and down the Hudson between Albany and New York City in 1807. In fact, some historians speculate that if Morey had been a better businessman, his name would be synonymous with the steamboat, and not Fulton's. The financier for Fulton's "invention," Chancellor Robert Livingston, had originally approached Morey with an offer of $7,000 to use his invention. When Morey refused, Livingston turned to Fulton instead, and the rest is history.

The Samuel Morey papers at Dartmouth bear testimony to Morey's early inventive endeavors. They contain numerous United States patents for various inventions related to the use of wind and steam power and provide a veritable who's who of Founding Father signatures, from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson all the way up to Andrew Jackson. One of Morey's first patents, filed in 1793, involves a wind-powered cooking spit. One of his last is concerned with an improvement of the "decomposing and recomposing of water in combustion with spirits of Turpentine," filed in 1833.

To see Morey's patents and other papers, ask for Rauner MS-150.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Dartmouth and the Canal

The Panama Canal was officially opened 100 years ago on August 15, 1914, ten years after the United States assumed control of the project. Construction had been started by France in 1881 but ultimately faltered due to cost overruns and the high mortality rate experienced by the construction workers. Once the United States took over there was a need for highly skilled engineers. Several alumni from Dartmouth's Thayer School of Engineering were involved in the project.

Robert Fletcher went to visit the canal in May 1913, during the latter part of construction. While there he saw a number of Dartmouth and Thayer alumni. Among them was Herbert Hinman (Dartmouth 1907, Thayer n1908) - in charge of the Balboa terminal work and earlier superintendent of work on the Pedro Miquel locks. Fletcher also mentions Otis Hovey (Dartmouth 1885) who designed and constructed the canal's emergency dams, and Fred Stanton (Dartmouth 1902, Thayer 1903).

Pictured here are several lithographs from Joseph Pennell's Pictures of the Panama Canal (Philadelphia, London: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1912) that depict places mentioned in Fletcher's diary or in letters from alums to Fletcher.

Culebra Cut
The Culebra Cut is mentioned in a letter from Stanton to Fletcher from July 25, 1913. "It was a great pleasure to have you here when the Canal work was in its most interesting stage. The Culebra Cut will be flooded about October tenth, so you weren't here any too soon."

The Gatun locks appear in one of Fletcher's diary entries. "Langley met me and went over the Gatun Locks end to end and into some operating chambers in the middle wall. In the lower approach excavation 42 ft. below sea level." A postcard in Clarence Langley's (Dartmouth 1907, Thayer n1908) alumni file bears the inscription: "At Fort Lorenzo. Occupation - Transitman I.C.C. Address - Gatun, C.Z. Dear Prof. F. I answered your letter promptly...I do not intend to return to Hanover this Sept." I.C.C. stands for Isthmian Canal Commission, C.Z. for Canal Zone, and Prof. F. is Robert Fletcher.

Gatun Locks
More letters indicate the scope of the project and the cost. Fred Stanton wrote to Fletcher on September 10, 1907: "The work which I will be engaged in consists of removing some eight millions cubic yards of rock and about five millions of sand. I expect to find the work very interesting and instructive…." Another alum, Clarence Pearson (Dartmouth 1907, Thayer 1908), worked at the Gatun Locks and left the Canal Zone in 1910 due to poor health. He died in 1911 and is mentioned by Hinman in a letter to Fletcher, ca. 1911: " We are still fighting it out on the same old lines down here but we lost poor Pearson. I think his death was a direct result from this work."

Ask for Robert Fletcher's diary from 1913 (DA-4, Box 2234, folder 2) and the alumni files for the Thayer School (DA-4, filed by class year). The Pennell illustrations can be seen by asking for Illus P382pe.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Where Tigers Roar in Silence

“Where tigers roar in silence
where moose and monkeys hide,
a cage as light as cardboard
holds elephants inside.
And grizzly bears are gentle
where lions are so sweet,
you never need to worry about
whom they’d like to eat.“

Can you solve this riddle? (If you're stumped, the answer is at the very end of this post!)

Where Tigers Roar in Silence is a lovely miniature book by Lynn Hess. From jump ropes to bubble gum, the answers to the 15 riddles in this tiny book are inspired by the “everyday world of the elementary school age child.” After trying to solve the riddle, there’s nothing more satisfying than checking your answer by opening the double-folded pages to reveal the illustration concealed inside. But make sure not to peek before guessing!

Here's another riddle:
"I have a yellow body
and a beak.
I can make notes,
but I will never sing.
Sometimes I scratch,
although I have no claws.
Born full grown,
I'm smaller everyday.
A superhero -
I too wipe out wrong.
But I need you
to be my helping hand."

Come to Rauner and ask for Presses L565he to see the answer!
Answer to the first riddle

Friday, August 8, 2014

After the Fact

Hindsight is always 20/20 and that applies to prophecy as well. It's funny how a prophecy "never accurately printed before" 1685 manages to capture the the entirety of an event that happened in 1530. So it is with the complete story of Cardinal Wolsey and his ill-fated and never completed trip to York which appears in our copy of Mother Shipton's Prophesie: with Three and XX more, all most Terrible and Wonderful, Predicting strange Alterations to befall this Climate of England (London: printed for W. Thackeray, at the sign of the Angel in Duck-Lane, neer West-smithfield, [1685]). The title page depicts the event, with Mother Shipton, in all of her ugliness, featured prominently in the center.

The editor or, more likely, author of our copy has helpfully provided historical notes and explanations of many of Mother Shipton's utterances, including anecdotes relating to King James, an anonymous Lord Mayor, and battles between Scotland and England. We're also provided potential confirmation of another prophecy with the note that "There is a Child not many years since born at Pomfret, with three thumbs."

In addition to Mother Shipton's words of warning, the book also includes an additional twenty-three foreshadowings of the past and future. We are treated to "A Prediction of Richard the Third" as well as several entries that could be read as lightly veiled political opinions on the succession of James II after the death of Charles II in 1685.

Ask for Rare Book BF 1777 .M66 1685 to read the "prophesies" yourself.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Item as deScribed: Medieval and Modern Illuminations

A new exhibit that showcases selections from Rauner's medieval manuscripts collection is available for viewing at Rauner Special Collections Library from August 5th through August 31st. “Item as deScribed” is an artistic exploration of medieval illuminations by Ben Patrick, chair of the Visual and Performing Arts programs at Vermont Commons School in South Burlington, Vermont. Ben graduated from Saint Michael's College in 1998 with a BA in Fine Arts and from Pratt Institute in 2004 with an MS in Art Education of Art and Design. He has been the Artist in Residence at Vermont Commons School since 2004, where he designed the Visual Arts Program, which unites media, concept, and studio application.

The inspiration for this exhibition originated from a field trip to Rauner Special Collection Library with a group of seventeen VCS art students. The concept for the exhibition involves language, media, and iconography, as well as the parallels and differences involving medieval and contemporary lexicons. In the process of examining these relationships, Ben has experimented with a wide range of materials: calfskin vellum in multiple ink jet printers and heat presses; lapis lazuli in petroleum distillates; and 24k gold (carefully painted on the halo of the Virgin Mary). Ultimately, these investigations seek to demonstrate that our illuminated text and icons, and our need to communicate with them, have not altered significantly over the last thousand years.

The exhibition is divided into three parts, each juxtaposing old and new media (and materials). It is the artist’s hope that this exhibit will shed light upon the timeless currency of ‘language’ in all of its processes, materials and meanings. Like the students and artists at Vermont Commons School, to whom this exhibition is dedicated, Ben also hopes that this current show will “inspire in others the restless, curious, always questioning tides of the creative process.” We hope that you'll have an opportunity to come by and examine Ben's inspiring artwork alongside equally enthralling illuminations from our medieval manuscripts some time this month. Once the exhibit comes down, the manuscripts can be requested at Rauner using the following call numbers: Codex 002253; MS 002088; MS 002254; Codex 001965; Codex 001598; and Codex 001918.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Surrealists Inspired by Lautréamont

Isidore-Lucien Ducasse (1846-1870) was a Uruguayan-born French poet who, under the pseudonym Comte de Lautréamont, published Les Chants de Maldoror in 1869. Although he died as a relatively unknown writer, his works resurfaced and became a crucial inspiration for the burgeoning surrealist movement in the early twentieth century. It was while reading Les Chants de Maldoror that French surrealist André Breton discovered the singular phrase that became foundational to the surrealist doctrine of objective chance: "as beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table."

This metaphor captures one of the most important principles of surrealist aesthetic: the enforced juxtaposition of two completely alien realities that challenges an observer's preconditioned perception of reality. German surrealist Max Ernst would also refer to Lautréamont's sewing machine and umbrella to define the structure of the surrealist painting as "a linking of two realities that by all appearances have nothing to link them, in a setting that by all appearances does not fit them."

Lautréamont’s prose poem is comprised of six cantos that recount the epic of the anti-hero Maldoror who seeks to combat the forces of God and humanity. The work is full of sadistic, cynical passages that work in conjunction with ironic references to classical authors such as Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare. Surrealists identified themselves with Lautréamont’s use of black humor and celebrated the ways in which he defied convention, ridiculed values and standards, and challenged the construct of absolute reason.

Belgian surrealist René Magritte drew a series of full-page illustrations and vignettes in a caricatural style for a 1948 edition of Les Chants de Maldoror that can be found here at Rauner. To read the famous passage from Les chants de Maldoror that inspired André Breton to represent surrealism as “the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table,” ask for Ilus M276d and turn to page 166.