Wednesday, November 22, 2017

For What We Are About to Receive

First page of the Oct. 29 letter by Sylvester to his sisters
The fall term is almost done, except for perhaps a few final projects, and we are looking forward to the holiday season that will begin on Thursday. To get us in a festive mood for Thanksgiving, we looked through our various collections of Dartmouth student letters that are in the archives to see if we could find something suitable for the occasion. As expected, the archives did not disappoint. Among the numerous letters written to and by students, we found a great little note from Charles B. Sylvester, class of 1905, to his sisters at the family home near Haverhill, Massachusetts, north of Boston near the New Hampshire state line.

Second page of the Oct. 29 letter by Sylvester to his sistersIn the letter, written on October 29th, 1901, during his first semester in Hanover, Sylvester is quick to encourage his sisters to send him "a box for Thanksgiving, as good a one as you can, and we will have a spread." Although he won't be able to be
home for the holiday, he reminds them that he'll see them again a few weeks after Thanksgiving is over. The letter continues by relating various stories of college life, among them stealing a number of apples from an apple orchard and the prospect of sharing a large box of fudge with a friend. He concludes by asking his family to send him photographs and any local news.

Sylvester went on to be a well-liked teacher of mathematics and Latin and then principal at various high schools in New England. In his later life, he experienced multiple hardships, including the contraction of a serious case of polio in 1916 that left
Third and final page of the Oct. 29 letter by Sylvester to his sisters
him partially crippled for the rest of his life. In 1933, his wife of only two years, Eleanor Stonestreet, died while giving birth to their daughter, Nancy, and Sylvester went on to raise her as a single parent while continuing his work. As is so often the case with stories of our alumni, learning about their lives and their experiences never fails to inculcate a sense of admiration for their perseverance and a feeling of gratitude, or thankfulness (if you will), for the many ways in which we have been blessed.

To read through Sylvester's letters from his freshman year through his junior year, come to Rauner and ask for the Charles B. Sylvester Student Letters (MS-853).

Friday, November 17, 2017

Seeing Saint Petersburg

Frontispiece for the Spectacles book, showing a large pair of eyeglasses within which various daily scenes are portrayed.
This week, we had a visit from a book group hosted by Norwich Public Library that was reading and discussing Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. We pulled out all the stops for them, including a number of atlases from the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries; an Everyman's Library copy of the novel that once belonged to the English poet Rupert Brooke; and several travel narratives about St. Petersburg in the 1860s.

One of these narratives in particular drew our interest: Spectacles for Young Eyes: St. Petersburg, by Sarah West Lander. The book describes the Russian city through the eyes of the Hamiltons, an American family whose father "has been sent as engineer to this strange country, where there were no railroads until recently, and the children came with him." The children promise to tell the reader all that they saw, if he or she will only listen. Alongside stories of brutal winters and frozen streets are a number of interesting images depicting daily Russian life in the beautiful port city.

A Russian village scene including a horse-drawn sleigh, a man drawing water from a well, and a group of men dressed warmly and gathered in a circle near several log houses.This volume is one of a series of juvenile travel books by Sarah West Lander that totaled eight volumes in all and were centered on important cities around the globe: Boston (which is where our book was printed), St. Petersburg, Pekin (sic), Moscow, Zurich, Berlin, Rome, and New York. Not much is known about Lander other than she was born in Salem, Massachusetts. The series was very popular at the time and saw publication by a number of successive companies.

If you're willing to brave the recently chilly days here in Hanover, come over to Rauner and read more about what life in a Russian city was like over a hundred and fifty years ago. Ask for 1926 Coll L35. We also have the Boston, Moscow, Zurich, and Peking volumes, if you'd like to settle down for a long spell in our reading room. Just ask for them at the desk.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017


Cover 1895 deluxe edition of TrilbyWhen George du Maurier's Trilby came out in 1895, it took England and the United States by storm. "Trilbymania" struck, and the sensational novel introduced the world to the bohemian lifestyle--illustrated by du Maurier's drawings.

Because the novel was first serialized, the publishers knew they had a hit on their hands. To cash in, they issued the regular trade edition plus an extra deluxe copy, numbered and signed by the author. We have copies of both, but our deluxe edition is even more special--it has a contemporary binding in sculpted leather by Cedric Chivers. The depiction of the character of Svengali as a spider descending on the unsuspecting Trilby is almost as creepy as the novel by du Maurier's daughter that would come out 43 years later.

Cover to 1895 Trilby
To take a look ask for Sine D87Tril.

Friday, November 10, 2017

East of the Sun and West of the Moon

East of the Sun, West of the Moon, Illustration "Tell me the way" Even though many people today see fairy tales as nursery stories, folklore has a surprising and somewhat uncanny way of proving itself relevant and pervasive in human society. The titular story of this collection, “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” is a Scandinavian fairy tale about a young girl who agrees to live in an enchanted castle with a talking white bear so that her poor family may become rich. Every night, a mysterious stranger comes and sleeps on the other side of the young woman’s bed, though she never sees who it is. Eventually, the young woman visits her family, and is persuaded to smuggle a candle back with her, so she can catch a glimpse of the person who shares her bed each night. When she does, she discovers that he is an incredibly handsome prince, but accidentally drips candle wax on him and wakes him. He laments that if she had held only out a year, he would have been free from the spell that trapped him as a white bear, but now he is instead doomed to be taken to live with his wicked stepmother, who is, incidentally, a troll. He can only tell the young woman that his troll stepmother is taking him to a place east of the sun, and west of the moon, before he and the enchanted castle are gone. Following this impossible clue, our young heroine undergoes a lengthy journey and multiple trials only to find him about to be married to the troll princess. Through some clever trickery, the young woman manages to meet alone with the prince, and together they devise some more clever trickery involving competitive laundry to free the prince from the trolls’ clutches, and allow him to marry our heroine. All the trolls are so angry that they explode, and everyone else lives happily ever after.

East of the Sun, West of the Moon, Illustration - riding the bear
But wait! This sounds oddly familiar…at first you were probably thinking “Beauty and the Beast.” Towards the end, though, you may have shifted more towards Greek mythology, and thought “Cupid and Psyche.” Indeed, “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” is remarkably like both stories, even though all three come from distinct cultures and periods of history. Finding common elements in fairy tales, or even almost identical fairy tales, in wildly distinct parts of the world is actually pretty common; some form of the story “Cinderella” has appeared in hundreds of variations around the world! Whether the universality of some of these stories hints at international trading of folklore and mythology, allowing these tales to travel globally as different societies intersect, or of some deeper insight these stories provide into the human experience that prompts them to arise out of cultures on different sides of the world, fairy tales seem to offer a depth of possibility worth exploring long after we leave the nursery.

East of the Sun, West of the Moon, Illustration - the north wind
Kay Nielsen’s stunningly illustrated East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Old Tales from the North, includes both this tale and other Scandinavian folk stories (many featuring trolls). Nielsen’s artwork lends an even more haunting feel to the fairy tales, evoking the stark yet unearthly beauty of the Scandinavian landscape. Whether these somewhat obscure northern stories resonate with the folklore you are familiar with or not, you may find something unexpectedly fun, fascinating, or profound within these pages. At the very least, you’ll be able to enjoy Nielsen’s striking illustrations! To see the book, come in and ask for Rauner Illus N554a.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Picturing David

manuscript illuminated page showing Kin David watching Bathsheba batheA powerful man, a king in this case, lustfully looks down on a woman in her bath--a woman whom he will sexually molest. A powerful man, again a king, handing a letter to a man who will not be complicit in his sin--a letter that instructs the man's commanding officer to abandon him in the heat of battle and guarantee his death. A powerful man, penitent for his sins, composing psalms in praise of the lord, passages that are among the most beautiful in the Bible. This is, of course, the story of David and Bathsheba. What is fascinating here is the three very different ways David and his victims are depicted in these three 15th-century Books of Hours. But what is so troubling is how utterly poignant and timely all three are.

Woodcut of King David handing a letter to UriahDavid was the hero of his nation and adored by his subjects. This is Michaelanglo's paragon of masculinity, larger than life, slayer of giants, father of Solomon, founder of the House of David and progenitor of Jesus. Yet, as so many have done through history, he took advantage of his power to abuse a woman, then killed a man to cover it up before being confronted by the prophet Nathan. He probably would have gotten away with it if that single courageous soul hadn't stood up to him.

manuscript illumination of King David kneeling in prayerThese images constitute a base for constructing a usable past. They give us the opportunity to look back and find moments that we can learn from and build upon for productive use today. If we can trace an historical narrative, we can help to justify and argue for the social changes we want to affect. We can use the past to create the future we desire. This is the active, forward thinking form of the dire warning, “whoever forgets the past is doomed to repeat it.” Instead, we argue that "whoever looks to the past can create the future he or she wants." In this case, don't be complicit, instead take action and change the culture.

To see it all for yourself, ask for  Codex MS 001598 (lustful David); Incunabula 154 (vengeful David); and Codex MS 003141 (penitent David).

Friday, November 3, 2017

"As Bad as Any in Spain"

an engraving of the Court of the Lions in the Alhambra in Granada.
In 1775, while the British colonists in America were in the midst of struggling to secure independence from Great Britain, English travel writer Henry Swinburne went on a Grand Tour of Spain with an English nobleman, Sir Thomas Gascoigne. Swinburne was from a Catholic family from Bristol and was very well connected on the Continent, to the extent that the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II stood as godfather for one of their ten children. Gascoigne was a Catholic, a calculating politician (so much so that he later renounced his religion in service of his political ambitions), and a strong supporter of the American Revolution. He was also the sponsor for the two men's trip through Spain, which Swinburne had intended from the beginning to turn into a travel book.

Swinburne's eventual publication, Travels Through Spain in the Years 1775 and 1776, proved extremely popular at home, doubtless owing in part to the numerous large and beautiful engravings of
The first page of Swinburne's itinerary that lists town, inn, and hours needed to reach each location.
Moorish and ancient architecture that are interspersed throughout the sizable volume. However, despite these stunning images of Spain, our favorite portion of the book occurs before the narrative of the men's adventures even gets started. Between the preface and the first chapter, Swinburne includes an itinerary of the entire journey, listing the name of the town where they stayed, the inn or hostel that they stayed at, and the number of hours it took to reach each destination. The listing of inns is particularly enjoyable to read, because Swinburne spares no feelings in his blunt assessment of the quality of each boarding location. In Venta del Platero, along the Catalonian coast south of Barcelona, Swinburne stays at an inn that he judges to be "as bad as any in Spain." Another inn, in Venta del Golpe, is rated as "wretched." Although he doesn't hold back in his negative ratings, Swinburne does also give positive assessments as well: he decides that the Aquila d'Oro in Carthagena is "excellent," and of the Cavallo Blanco in Cadiz, he only cryptically states that it is "Italian," leaving the reader to infer his intended meaning.

To explore Spain through the eyes of Henry Swinburne, come to Rauner and ask to see Rare DP34 .S8 1779.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Trick or Treat

Drawing of two people dragging a body from a grave in the dark of nightIt's no secret that medical schools in the nineteenth century often had to resort to grave robbing to supply their anatomy labs. Dartmouth was no different and the archives are filled with little tidbits of evidence as well as the occasional smoking gun like this letter from 1810. While it was generally hushed up and kept under covers, it was still fairly common knowledge among the students and even fodder for jokes. Case in point: this image from the 1884 Dartmouth yearbook section on the medical school.

Happy Halloween!