Friday, July 20, 2018

A Failure of Execution

Woodcut showing corpse draped over a table with half of its head removed to expose brainThis poor guy has had half of his head sliced off. It looks like an executioner swung about eight inches wide and missed the neck, but still did the crucial job. But, that is not what is going on here. This is an image from Charles Estienne's De dissectione partium corporis, an anatomy text from 1545 that was meant to rival Andreas Vesalius's famed De humani corporis fabrica of 1543. The image here shows the structure of the brain in rather dramatic fashion.

If you look a little closer, you'll notice an odd square around the top of the head. The effect is more pronounced in other illustrations in the book. You can really see it here:

Woodcut showing female anatomy with clear marking of inserted woodblock
It turns out that Estienne was dissatisfied with the woodblocks for the book, and had portions of them recut to emphasize crucial anatomical detail. The result is a woodcut inside of a woodcut. He clearly saw the original as a failure of execution--on the part of the woodcut artist.

We are lucky enough to have first editions of both of Estienne and Vesalius. To see them ask for Rare QM21.E82 and Rare QM25.V4.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Seeking Perfection from Dross

An alchemical drawing labeled Prima Figura
Well before J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone brought alchemy and Nicolas Flamel back into the public consciousness, this pseuod-scientific pursuit had already enjoyed a milennia-old tradition of serious study and experimentation. Alchemy was hardly a European endeavor, either; the Muslim world, India, and East Asia all have stories and individuals about alchemical discovery and exploration that reach back for thousands of years. Ultimately, in the West, alchemy as a viable science fell by the wayside in the late modern period, when the scientific method won out. Still, a distinction between alchemy and chemistry wasn't established in Europe until the early 1700s, and alchemy experienced a 19th-century rebirth as an occult science.

An alchemical drawing labeled Secunda FiguraHere in Special Collections, we have an interesting manuscript codex of various alchemical and astrological tracts that we believe dates from the 17th century. The volume of collected writings has a note in it stating that the book was removed from the Jesuit library at Naples at the confiscation of their property in 1767. Numerous influential authors related to alchemy or its vilification fill the pages of the book, including Ramón Llull, Thomas Aquinas, and Albertus Magnus. The book is mostly handwritten text but there are some beautiful hand-drawn diagrams and illustrations scattered throughout.

To come explore these mysterious markings and scrawled secrets from the dawn of science, come to Rauner and ask to see Codex 001937.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Early Sustainability

The Commons Complaint - title pageIn 1611, after spending four years traveling around England, Arthur Standish published The Commons Complaint in which he laid out two "special grievances." The first was the deforestation of England - "the generall destruction and waste of Woods in this Kingdome." The second complaint was the lack of food - "the extreme dearth of victuals."

Standish lays out the wood issue in pretty stark terms:
Little respect is taken but by your Majesty, for the posterity and prosperity of your Kingdom: to many destroyers, but few or none at al doth plant or preserve: by reason thereof there is no Timber left in this Kingdome at this instant onely to repaire the buildings thereof an other age, much lesse to build withall.
He concludes his opening statement with the ominous "no  wood no Kingdome."

His solution is surprisingly modern. He recommends that new trees be planted and cared for and harvested in a sustainable manner:
And that all such persons as have at this instant their grounds furnished with wood, in such sort as is required, might bee also enjoyned hereafter to plant and preserve so many trees and so much wood, as hereafter they shall fell or waste.
Standish then lists some objections to his proposal and his counterarguments and solutions to those objections. He then goes into detail about the food problem and proposes four common sense. remedies. He again makes it plain that sustainable solutions are much preferred over short term quick fixes.

Ask for Rare Book SD 601 .S82 C6 1611 to read the rest of Standish's solution to the wood problem and his proposals for dealing with the lack of food.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Prophetic Visions on the Fourth of July

Dartmouth Gazette article on 1800 July Fourth celebrations in HanoverIn 1800, Dartmouth students celebrated the Fourth of July in patriotic fashion. They formed a procession and marched to the President's house where they were joined by the officers of the College and members of the community. This group then paraded to the meeting house for the Reverend Professor Smith's "Address to the Throne of Grace." But then the real fireworks began when a member of the junior class rose to give his spirited oration. George Washington had died just six months earlier and, after mourning his loss, the orator expounded on the virtues of the new nation built on a strong foundation of liberty, reason and science, vowing that "Columbia stoops not to tyrants."

With all of the hyperbole of a small town newspaper, The Dartmouth Gazette reported on the day's speaker with glowing praise:
The Oration, although composed on very short notice, would have done honor to grey headed patriotism, and crowned with new laurels the most celebrated orator of our country.
Wow, a junior in college the most celebrated orator in the county? It turns out it was a prophetic moment for the Gazette: the orator was young Daniel Webster who would indeed become the most celebrated orator of his generation!

You can read his oration (you have to imagine his fiery delivery) by asking for DC Hist E286.H24. To see the newspaper account, ask for DC Hist LH1 .D3D255 Vol. 1.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Sorrows of Young Werther

Title page of Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther in German and printed in 1774This year marks the 200th anniversary of the first printing of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. We've blogged previously about our first illustrated edition of the novel, which is always available for perusal here in Special Collections. To celebrate the publication of this ground-breaking work, we soon will install an exhibit about Shelley's most famous title in the Class of 1965 Galleries. To whet your appetites, this post will focus on one of the works of literature that Frankenstein's monster found in the pockets of his creator's abandoned coat.

Along with Milton's Paradise Lost and Plutarch's Lives of Illustrious Greeks and Romans, the monster also finds a small epistolary novel titled The Sorrows of Young Werther.  This semi-autobiographical novel was written in 1774 by a young man named Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who would later go on to write Faust. The narrative follows the trials and tribulations of an emotional artist, Werther, who becomes trapped in a love triangle and eventually commits suicide to allow his love interest and her husband to live in peace. The novel elevated Goethe from obscurity to stardom overnight and was central to the Sturm und Drang literary movement in Germany that espoused a sort of proto-Romanticism.

The influence of Goethe and the Sturm und Drang movement clearly had an influence on the
First page of Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther, written in German and published in 1774.
Romanticists of the early 19th century. Shelley's inclusion of the text as a seminal influence on the education of her fictional monster draws a direct connection between the two groups of writers. Frankenstein's monster finds a kinship with the titular character of Goethe's protagonist; he is similarly rejected by the ones that he loves and is left alone to suffer. However, the monster pursues a different recourse than Werther, choosing to seek revenge for his rejection instead of self-destruction. Admittedly, the monster does end his own life amongst the frozen ice floes of the Arctic, but only after murdering all of the people that were loved by his creator.

We have a first edition in the original German of this lovely little book. To take a look, come into Rauner and ask to see Rare PT1973 .A2 1774.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Follies of the Lobster-Boy

Title page of Zechariah Mudge's book The Lobster-Boy
One of Rauner's most fascinating little collections is the the Class of 1926 memorial collection, which was established in 1960 by the Dartmouth Class of '26 to honor its deceased members. Currently totaling nearly three thousand volumes, the collection consists of examples of illustrated books published throughout the New England states during Dartmouth's first century, 1769-1869. The collection is filled with wonderful little pamphlets and books that run the gamut of topics, from biography to natural history to almanac. However, one of the most prolific genres in the collection is what can best be described as didactic children's literature. Numerous pamphlets, tracts, and little books attempted to convey moral tales that emphasized middle-class religious values to a young readership.

A hand-colored engraving of the Nolan's yacht on fire and a boy reacting to the scene from the door of a house.One of my personal favorites is a book by Zachariah A. Mudge (1813-1888), an American Methodist Episcopal clergyman who was also a prolific writer. Mudge wrote more than a dozen books on various subjects, secular and religious, in addition to being a pastor in Massachusetts and an editor of a religious periodical called The Guide to Holiness. Mudge seemed to have a particular passion for writing moral tales intended to instill respect, self-discipline, and moral duty in the hearts of young children. For example, some of Mudge's book titles include The Fisherman's Daughter, The Soldier's Son, The Boy in the City, and The Forest Boy. For some of his children's stories, he found a willing partner in the American Tract Society, which was (and still is) a conservative evangelical publishing organization. The ATS's Boston office published several of Mudge's texts for children, including The Fisherman's Daughter in 1865 and The Lobster-Boy.

An engraving of Frank Nolan leaning out of a small boat to steal lobsters from a lobster-trap in the bay along with a partner in crime.
Mudge's Lobster-Boy; or, The Son Who Was A Heaviness To His Mother, is perhaps my most entertaining discovery from the didactic children's literature genre, if only for the alternate title alone. Another reason I love our copy of the book is because it is dedicated on the flyleaf to a boy named Willie from his teacher, R. M. Gage, presumably with the hope that the young lad will heed the cautionary tale that lies within. The protagonist of the story is a young boy named Frank Gage whose drunken abusive father sends him out to harvest "a full dory of lobsters" or receive a beating upon his return home that night. Faced with a nearly impossible task, Frank soon falls in with the wrong crowd and begins to steal lobsters from other fishermen's lobster-pots. The story follows a predictable course, with Frank eventually confessing his multitude of sins and feeling better for having done so (and gaining the respect and affection of his family in the process). Along the way, his father commits to sobriety, the family loses its fishing boat (or 'yacht'), and they discover that their "peace in Christ is not dependent upon prosperity."

To flip through this fascinating window into conservative Christian thought during the 19th century, come to Rauner Special Collections Library and ask to see 1926 Collection M834L.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Webster Hall Thronged

Last lines of letter from Booker T. Washington showing signatureDoing some research for a reference question this week, we ran across a headline in The Dartmouth from April 1908 that caught our attention: "Webster Hall Thronged to Hear Booker T. Washington." Since we reside in the venerable old Webster Hall, it was inspirational to think of him addressing the student body here in the building that had just recently opened. It took a while to build Webster Hall because it was interrupted by the need to rebuild Dartmouth Hall after it burned. But, it was seven years earlier, at the laying of the cornerstone of Webster Hall, that Booker T. Washington was again on campus to receive an honorary doctorate. So, he was here, at least on this site, twice!

The signature above is from the thank you letter Washington sent to President Tucker after the honorary degree was conferred:
You cannot appreciate how very deeply I am moved by reason of the fact that Dartmouth College has seen its way clear to confer upon me the degree of Doctor of Laws.  I cannot in the slightest degree feel I am worthy of such a distinguished honor, but I wish to assure you and your trustees that that I am deeply grateful for this recognition and that I shall accept it and try to make my work in the future for the upbuilding of the race prove that no mistake has been made. I count it as an honor as well as a great privilege to be one of the alumni of one of the oldest, most conservative and useful institution of learning in our country.
To see the letter, ask for MS 901557.1.