Friday, December 2, 2022

Predicting the Plague (and curing it!)

Diagram of solar eclipse with a biblical quotation Daniel 2:21-22
In 1652, one of London's most successful and esteemed physicians turned his attentions to the heavens to ponder the total eclipse of the sun that occurred on March 29. Nicholas Culpeper was one of those "gentlemen scientists" of the day. He dabbled in everything, because in his worldview, everything was connected and part of God's plan. So the blocking out of the sun, even though he could offer a clear scientific explanation, was still cause for concern--especially in London in the mid 1600s.

Just three years earlier, Charles the I was executed. Everything was turned on its head, and something big was afoot. Culpeper deduced that the eclipse heralded the second coming, so he wrote a pamphlet explaining the eclipse and issuing his dire warnings. Among his many predictions were a great plague and a fire. He got that right, but he was a little quick on the trigger. In 1665 London was hit by the Black Plague, and the following year, ravaged by the Great Fire.

As a physician, Culpeper was ready to help. He died in 1654, but he left behind a truly bizarre cure for the plague that you can read about here.

To read about the eclipse and its threats, ask for Nicholas Culpeper's Catastrophe magnatum: or, The Fall of the Monarchie. A Caveat to Magistrates, Deduced from the Eclipse of the Sunne, March 29 1652 (London: T. Vere and Nathe, 1652).

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Thankful, But Not Sentimental

Photograph of CampenOf all of the many amazing collections that we are fortunate to have here in Special Collections, I think that my favorite is the treasure trove of numerous student letters written to home from Dartmouth. Today, while hunting about for a Thanksgiving-related item to blog about, I found a charming little collection of letters written by Richard "Dick" Campen, member of the class of 1934. Campen was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, and so going home for Thanksgiving every year wasn't really an option.

Luckily, Campen had an Aunt Lil and Uncle Abe who lived in Hartford, Connecticut, and so one year he went down to stay with them for the holiday. In a letter written to his parents November 27, 1930, Campen says that he had piled into a Chrysler sedan with "six other fellows going to New York." On the drive down, the students passed numerous other cars "packed to the rumble seat" with Dartmouth students also headed home for Thanksgiving.

Campen's description of his time at his relatives' home is charming, and he clearly valued many of the same sorts of creature comforts that students today celebrate upon returning to their families for a break from school. He raves about the food, whether a "tasty plate" of lamb chops, a glass of "precious" orange juice, or "scarce" boiled eggs. In particular, Thanksgiving dinner was delicious: turkey, cranberries, and "all the rest." Over dinner, he chatted with a guest who was a student at Williams College about the similarities and differences at their respective educational institutions. Ultimately, he decided that the Williams student was a "nice fellow."

In closing, Campen says, "I'm very thankful for everything, but I don't want to bore you with a lot of sentiment." Like him, we're thankful for so many things about Dartmouth, mostly the students, faculty, and staff who all strive to make it an even better place in the future while not getting overly sentimental about its past.

To read Campen's letters, come to Special Collections and ask to see MS-685.

Friday, November 18, 2022

The (Rail)road to Hell

Taketa's single-page letter to Fanny BartlettSometimes the road to Hell isn't paved with good intentions but propaganda and deceit. In 1937, Fanny Bartlett of Norwich, Vermont, wrote a sympathetic letter to Taneo Taketa, the manager of the South Manchuria Railway Company's New York branch. Fanny was the wife of Samuel Concord Bartlett, Jr., salutatorian of Dartmouth's class of 1887 and son of Dartmouth's eighth President. Before the Bartletts had retired to Norwich the previous year, they had been missionaries in Japan for a total of thirty-two years. Bartlett Jr. had been a lecturer and chaplain at Doshisha University in Kyoto, and had been awarded emeritus status by the university upon his retirement. During his chaplaincy, Fanny had served as the dean of women for Doshisha's associated women's school. Sadly, not soon after their return to Vermont, Bartlett died in February of 1937.

Eight months or so later, Fanny penned her letter to Taketa. At that particular moment, the Japanese Empire was in the midst of the Battle of Shanghai, which lasted from August 13 until November 26 and was one of the bloodiest battles of the entire Second Sino-Japanese War. Unfortunately, we don't have a copy of Fanny's letter, but we do have Taketa's response. He says that he is "deeply moved" by Bartlett's "very kind letter" and praises her "understanding and faith in Japan." He stresses that "not a single Japanese has wished to kill a Chinese, nor break up the Chinese Government" but that Japan was compelled to take action because of implied Chinese aggression.

The fact that Taketa worked for the South Manchuria Railway Company, or Mantetsu, is a very important detail. Mantetsu was the backbone of Japan's extractive colonialist agenda in China during this period. Its freight fees provided 25% of Japan's tax revenues in the 1920s alone. A supposed attempt to detonate Mantetsu railway tracks in 1932 was actually a false flag event initiated by Japan that provided the pretext for their immediate invasion of northeastern China. The rail company then served as Japan's unofficial governing body within the puppet state of Manchuria.

It is difficult, therefore, to believe Taketa's protestations of Japan's desire for peace and goodwill with China. He ends his letter to Mrs. Bartlett by urging her to tell all her friends about the "real spirit of Japan" and says that he has added her to the South Manchurian Railway Company's mailing list so that the literature he sends her might help her to convince her friends of Japan's "true intentions." Less than two months later, the Japanese army would begin a six-week massacre of the Chinese inhabitants of Nanjing, estimated to have resulted in approximately 200,000 civilian murders and 20,000 instances of rape, as well as widespread arson and looting.

To read this letter, and to look through other correspondence that Fanny Bartlett received, come to Special Collections and ask to see Box 8 of the Fanny and Samuel C. Bartlett, Jr., Papers (ML-75).

Friday, November 11, 2022

An Unsuccessful Rescue Mission

A sketch of a ship's crow's nest with an ice-filled ocean beyond it.In July of 1879, the USS Jeannette left San Francisco and headed for the Bering Strait, intent on reaching the North Pole. The expedition was betting on the proposition that the warm water currents off the coast of Japan would carry them north through the strait and into an Open Polar Sea (a soon-to-be debunked theory of ice-free waters surrounding the Pole). This ambitious trip was rather disastrous, as the Jeannette became stuck in pack ice in September and drifted on until it was finally crushed by the pressure of the ice in June of 1881. The crew then took to sledges and whaleboats, attempting to travel through the ice to the Siberian coast. Of the 33 men taking part in the expedition, only 13 survived to return to the U.S.

This is not the story of how the Jeannette survivors were rescued. Instead, it is the story of an expedition that didn't even come close to rescuing them. By 1881, there was worry enough regarding the Jeannette's disappearance that two Navy ships were dispatched to search for the crew. The USS Rodgers was sent on the same path the Jeannette took: through the Bering Strait. In a supremely unlucky turn of events, the ship was destroyed by a fire and the rescue crew themselves had to be saved.

Meanwhile, the USS Alliance was sent to look on the other side of the North American continent between Iceland, Norway, and Svalbard. Although that was over 4,000 miles from where the Jeannette actually ended up, there was arguably a chance that the ship had made it over the top of the continent and come out on the other side. Whether or not this was ever a real possibility, the newspaperman James Gordon Bennett Jr., who had funded the Jeannette expedition, pushed hard for the secondary search to be made. He also took steps to ensure he'd get the scoop on any resulting news. He placed a reporter on board the Alliance and requested photographs from the trip. A camera could not be acquired in time for the ship's departure and so one of the crew members made a series of sketches instead.   

And this is what brings us to today's piece of the collections, if you'll forgive the long prologue. Jefferson Brown, an assistant engineer on the Alliance, made a series of about thirty (surviving) sketches along the way, documenting icy landscapes, shipwrecks, polar bears, and more. Some were reproduced in print later when Brown had his own account of the trip published, but others appear to exist only within this disbound sketchbook carried all around the Northernmost waters of the Atlantic Ocean in 1881. The Alliance wouldn't find any trace of the doomed Jeannette expedition, but its crew would see a part of the world that the United States had shown little interest in up to that point. They collected data on water currents and temperatures, specimens of regional flora and fauna, and observations on phenomena ranging from the movement of pack ice to the Northern Lights. It wasn't much of a rescue mission, but if Brown's work is anything to go by, it must have been quite the trip.

A sketch of the Aurora Borealis.

To see Brown's sketches and read his account of the Alliance's journey, ask for Stefansson Mss-184.

Friday, November 4, 2022

What in the Blazes?

First page of the statutes of the Society of Self-WatchersIn my work I often come across curious or odd organizations. They are usually created by men who are trying to exclude and/or control other members of society. The one I came across today, however, was created so that its members could police their own behavior. Let’s hear it for the "Society of Self-Watchers". What are they watching themselves for, you may ask? Profane swearing, which is defined as "swearing that constitutes sin and shows a lack of respect for all things held sacred".

There is actually a long history in the West of legalistic attempts to protect society from blasphemous utterings. Laws were put in place beginning with the Profane Swearing Act in England in 1694, and followed by the Profane Oath Act in 1745, which was not repealed until 1967. The United States had similar laws that fined people for profane swearing in public. The state of Virginia, for example, did not repeal its profanity law of 1792 until 2020.

The Society of Self-Watchers was founded in Hanover, New Hampshire on February 16, 1856. The group created a preamble and resolutions that declared that "the sin of profane swearing is a vice so mean and so low that every person of sense and character will detest and despise it".

In addition, they resolved to:
...acknowledge the higher authority of him who has commanded “Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy god in vain for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that take his name in vain.”and feeling the need of every possible restrained and protection against and unmanly and sinful habit so sadly formed, we do together agree to form ourselves into an Association of principle and practice opposed to the sin of profane swearing and do take for our watchword and motto, the precept of Christ our Savior, “Swear not at all”.

Ten specific resolutions follow this preamble that advise the members to be vigilant of their own behavior, including:

Resolved, that should we ever hear of one of our company using deliberately or hastily a profane word we will kindly remind him of our agreement by repeating to him our watchword "Swear not at all".

Resolved, that we will receive kindly any similar report from our companions or from any other persons if we ourselves in any matter violate the principles we hear profess.

The members of the Society of Self-Watchers vowed to hold steady in their conviction with God’s help even when ridiculed. The agreement was signed by forty-six Hanover men.

Signatures of the members of the Society

To read their resolutions, come to Special Collections and ask for MSS 856166.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Dracula at 125

Image from Gorey's illustrated edition of Dracula
This year marks the 125th anniversary of the publication of Bram Stoker's Dracula. First released into the world in 1897, Dracula is a gothic horror novel that solidified the concept of the vampire in English literature, building on the 19th century's previous forays such as John Polidori's The Vampyre (1819), James Malcolm Rymer's penny dreadful Varney the Vampyre (1845-1847) and Sheridan Le Fanu's novella Carmilla (1871-1872). The story, told in epistolary format, begins with a young English solicitor named Jonathan Harker traveling to the Carpathian Mountains to assist the mysterious and aristocratic Count Dracula in purchasing a new home near London. It's not long before Jonathan comes to realize that he is trapped in the Count's castle, and that his host may not be human... 

The novel is remarkable for its conflicted and complex depictions of gender and sexuality, played out in the characterization of both the monster and the heroes. Its not-so-complex depiction of race and foreign peoples marks it as a piece of invasion literature, where a colonizing population faces the anxiety that they will in turn be colonized. Count Dracula makes his way from Eastern Europe to London and begins to exert his influence over its more vulnerable inhabitants, spreading like a disease and reflecting Victorian fears about blood "purity." These themes feed into Dracula's status as one of the most influential horror stories of all time, and its impact on the genre continues to be relevant today.

Stoker himself had a lifelong love of the theater and spent nearly thirty years working for the English stage actor Henry Irving. With that in mind, today we're highlighting a book of plans replicating the Broadway version of Dracula designed by the master of the humorously macabre, Edward Gorey. The plans are intended to be cut out and assembled into a toy theater, though we've declined to take that step.

Come ask for Illus G675dra and take a look yourself. Happy Halloween...

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Days of Caring

Jens Larson, Architect, sketch of Dick's House
We have all been through a lot and the campus community is shaken. This Friday, October 21st, has been designated a Day of Caring. Classes are canceled, the Library is operating on skeletal staffing, and many campus services are curtailed to give everyone an opportunity to step back and take care of themselves.

"Squeeze It" Poster commorating John Kemeny's actions after Kent State

Dartmouth has seen tough times before. To mark the day, two students, Sabrina Eager '23, and Kira Parrish-Penny '24, looked back through the archives to find other instances where the Dartmouth community came together after a tragedy with a compassionate response that made the campus a better place: the establishment of Dick's House in 1927; the response to the shootings at Kent State in 1970; and the memorial tributes to Karen Wetterhahn after her death in 1997. Sabrina and Kira have put together a pop-up exhibit that we will have out on Friday the 21st from 10:00-3:00 in our reading room. Please stop by.

Lab book from one of Karen Wetterhahn's students