Friday, April 27, 2012

Fielding on the Poor

Henry Fielding is best known for his picaresque novels Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones, but he also dabbled in the social issues his day. The title of this recently acquired treatise by Fielding, A Proposal for Making an Effectual Provision for the Poor, for Amending Their Morals, and for Rendering them Useful Members of Society (London: A. Millar, 1753), expresses his view of the poor fairly succinctly. They were morally lacking and not fit members of society. His proposal was little more than a debtor's prison that could accommodate 5,000 paupers and 600 petty criminals. There were cells and a whipping post as well as a chapel.

The proposed structure was never built, but served as a model for the rebuilding of Newgate Prison.  Ironically, our copy has been sumptuously rebound by Riviere and Son complete with gilt edges.

Ask for Rare HV61.F53 1753.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Phishing for Poets

Robert Frost received a lot of mail in his lifetime – we have more than 18 linear feet of it at Rauner – from his family, his friends, and often from complete strangers. One of the oddest letters in our Frost collection falls into this last category.

A man who signs his name "J." writes: "I am in jail sentenced for fraudulent bankruptcy, and I beg you to inform me, if you are willing to help me save the amount of $185,000.00 dls. in bank notes that I possess within a trunk in a Custom House in the United States."

If the letter is starting to sound fishy, that’s because it is. The writer goes on to request (in broken English, of course) that Frost reply to a third party in Mexico City, who will forward him details of how to obtain the “velice that contains a secret hiding” from customs and will ensure that he receives “as a compensation… one third of the said amount.”

Frost appears not to have taken the bait – we don’t have any record of a response to "J." Ask for MS-1178, Box 6, Folder 15 to see the letter for yourself.