Friday, June 9, 2023

Splintered Socialism

Most of us, when we think of William Morris (if we think of him at all), think of interior decorations associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 19th century. If we're more bibliophilic than most, we might even reflect fondly on Morris' founding of the Kelmscott Press and the printed wonders that issued forth from Hammersmith during the 1890s. In addition to his creative output, however, Morris was also a fervent activist on behalf of British socialism, a fledgling political movement that began in 1881 in England with only a hundred or so members. After a schism in the Socialist Democratic Foundation, the only socialist party at the time, Morris and over half of the executive council left to create their own organization in 1885 called the Socialist League.

One of their first acts as a splinter group was to spell out their beliefs. In "The Manifesto of the Socialist League", printed in 1885, William Morris and E. Belfort Bax laid out their political philosophy. Unlike their adversaries in the Socialist Democratic Foundation, the members of the Socialist League felt that all of the prevailing political systems of the age had been tried and found failures "in dealing with the real evils of life." Instead, the League sought complete revolutionary socialism, a rebuilding and redistribution of the means of production from the ground up.

In addition to Morris and Bax, the newly formed league boasted such luminary founding members as Eleanor Marx (daughter of that Karl Marx) and artist Walter Crane, whose artwork is featured on the cover of the group's manifesto. Perhaps somewhat predictably, the League's emphasis on the corrupt

nature of current government attracted a significant number of anarchists. It also, however, had become a haven for socialists who had been turned off by the extremist and nationalistic approach to politics espoused by the SDF, but who still envisioned the possibility of governmental reform. By 1889, the anarchist contingent had gained control of the League. Morris, Marx, and many others left the group, either to form another smaller socialist group or to return to the SDF.

Here in Special Collections, we have an uncut version of the 16-page manifesto, which occupies a single sheet of paper. Our favorite section is from the first note that follows the body of the text; Morris states that physicians should be counted among the working class. Despite their skilled training, they (like literary authors) belong to the "intellectual proletariat" and "have nothing to lose and everything to gain from a social revolution." To see our copy of the manifesto and reflect upon how some things have changed and some things may never change, come to Rauner and ask for Rare HX11 .S63 M26 1885.

Monday, June 5, 2023

An Almanac for America

Almanacs have been in existence since at least the second millennium BCE; their annual predictions of weather and other calendar-related natural phenomena were vital tools used by numerous professions, including farmers, sailors, and astronomers. When Europeans began to settle on the American continent in large numbers, the colonists needed almanacs that were aligned for to their particular area of the world.

The first American almanac for New England was printed in 1639 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was the second document printed in the English colonies in America. In the mid-1700s, an almanac published by Nathaniel Ames became the the most popular brand for nearly fifty years. A medical doctor by trade, Ames was known as a bit of a renaissance man as well as an eccentric. In 1725, when Ames was just seventeen, he published the first edition of his almanac; after his death in 1764, his son continued publishing the almanac for another ten years.

One of the utilitarian modifications that 18th-century colonists made to their almanacs was to interleave blank pages between the printed pages. On those sheets, they would record all sorts of information that was relevant not only to the weather but also to their immediate lived experience, including deaths, births, marriages, and other community occurrences. Here in Special Collections, we have a run of Ames almanacs from 1741 until 1762. Nearly every single printed page is interleaved with a previously blank one that now contains copious notes about the actual weather, deaths, births, and other goings-ons. We don't know who the original owner was, but he was clearly a resident of Portsmouth, NH: he mentions among other things the death of the minister of Portsmouth's South Church, Rev. William Shurtleff III, on May 9, 1747.

To journey back in time and space through the eyes of a colonial New Englander, come to Rauner and ask to see Rare AY53 .A8.