Friday, March 30, 2012

Strange Bedfellows

If politics makes strange bedfellows, it gets really weird when you add poetry. There is a file in our collection of Robert Frost's correspondence labeled "Pound, Ezra," that contains a record of an astounding literary relationship. It starts with a 1913 letter from Ezra Pound letting Frost know that he has just completed a flattering review of Robert Frost's first book, A Boy's Will, for Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. The subsequent letters show a disintegrating relationship as the two prickly poets go their separate ways, philosophically, stylistically, and politically.

This typo-filled letter from around 1936 appears to be the end of the relationship. Writing from Italy, Pound accuses Frost of "filling up the young on misinformation to relieve your inferiority complex" which puts him "in the swine class." Pound then "candidly" says he "had hitherto considered you a man, not a shit."
But the relationship did not end there. When Pound was being held in St. Elizabeth's Hospital avoiding prosecution for treason after making pro-fascist radio broadcasts from Italy, Frost teamed up with Archibald MacLeish to persuade the Attorney General to release Pound. The "Pound" file contains a letter from Ernest Hemingway to Frost on Pound, and another from T.S. Eliot.  Strange Bedfellows...

We are just about to complete a major reprocessing of our Frost manuscripts that will result in a much more accessible collection. If you want to see the Pound file, ask for MS 1178, Box 15, folder 29.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dartmouth Traditions: Math Burial

In the 1800s students were required to study math for the first two years of their college career. According to Leon Burr Richardson’s History of Dartmouth College, beginning sometime in the 1830s the sophomores would celebrate the end of their math studies by burying their textbooks in a pseudo funeral on the Green. In 1874 the College forbade the burial of books. According to The Dartmouth,  students took this new rule literally and began practicing cremation instead.

It seems likely that the anti-burial rule was put in place to discourage the continuation of the practice, which appears to have been linked with some amount of drunkenness and rowdy behavior. The funeral was often conducted at night and William S. G. How (non-graduate from the class of 1856) noted in his journal that in 1852 the funeral took place at around 3 AM.

Dartmouth Aegis, 1884
The rites were quite elaborate. In 1884 the ceremony included a costume parade with students dressed as priests as well as robed and masked men holding a bier full of textbooks. Following the parade, a funeral service was enacted, complete with oratory and singing. The oratory and singing was followed by cremation of the bier full of books in a bonfire. It is not clear when the math funeral came to an end, but it appears to have continued into the 1880s.

A mock eulogy from 1852 is available as well as additional materials in the vertical file "Mathematics, burial of."