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.