15 May 1855: Walt Whitman registers for copyright and American poetry is forever changed.

On 15 May 1855, Walter Whitman deposited Leaves of Grass for copyright in the Clerk’s office of the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York, and the volume was announced for sale by Fowler and Wells in the New-York Daily Tribune, on 6 July 1855. While it would take some time and not a little bit of controversy, these dates would eventually prove to be turning points in American literary history. The slim, oddly sized, self-published book would fundamentally change poetry in the English language and set the stage for later modernist, beat, and confessional poetry of the twentieth century. The Irvin Department is lucky to have not one, but two copies of Whitman’s seminal work. 

 

 

The first copy of the 1855 Leaves came to the University of South Carolina in 1971. It is an exceptional example of an association copy that belonged to Thomas Rome who, with his brother James, ran the Rome Printing Shop, which produced the volume. The Rome brothers were Scottish immigrants who mostly printed legal documents and texts, and whom Whitman had known since 1849. This copy remained in the possession of the Rome family until November 1970. It was donated to the University Libraries by Mr. & Mrs. James W. Haltiwanger, Jr. and Mr. & Mrs. Charles Haltiwanger in memory of James W. Haltiwanger, Sr., and it is the one millionth volume of the University Libraries.

The second copy is the recent gift of Joel Myerson, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English Language and Literature at the University of South Carolina. The volume has an ownership signature of “Walter Starbuck | 1867” on the recto of the front free endpaper and a later inscription, “Presented to Mrs. Francis B. Lancy by Mrs. J. M. Dart May 31st 1919,” on the second front endpaper verso. Dr. Myerson, who has written the definitive bibliographies of many major nineteenth century American authors, including Whitman, Dickenson, Emerson, and Fuller, acquired his 1855 copy of Leaves, along with a number of other editions of Whitman, from his dissertation director, Harrison Hayford. This collection formed the kernel of Myerson’s bibliographic research on Whitman.

Later in life, Whitman claimed that “800 copies were struck off on a hand press by Andrew Rome, in whose job office the work was all done – the author himself setting some of the type” (31 March 1885, Correspondence, VI, 30). Whitman’s statement is pretty nearly verified by a statement from the binder that shows 795 copies were bound. The volume has three binding variants of which the Rome / Haltiwanger copy is the first and the Myerson copy is the second, and some were bound in wrappers. These binding variants are evidence that, even with Whitman’s energetic self-promotion, the book sold slowly and copies were bound in batches over the course of several months. Moderate initial sales is further surmised by the fact that the volume originally sold for $2.00 cloth; 75¢ wrappers; however, as late as 14 June 1856 Fowler and Wells were selling copies in cloth for $1.25 and in wrappers for 75¢. A recent census of extant copies of the first edition reveals that nearly 200 copies survive today.

While today Whitman’s poetry is often considered one of the defining achievements of American literature, that sales were initially slow is not the surprising when one considers the type of poetry that most Americans were used to reading in the 1850s. The slim quarto volume, consisting of a preface and 12 untitled poems, bears little resemblance to any poetic output in antebellum American literature. Whitman’s break from traditional poetic rules of rhyme and meter, along with his fervent patriotism and near epic obsession with all aspects of American life, seemed strange and perverse to his first readers. The first edition is in many ways the best example of what Whitman was trying to accomplish with his flouting of the traditional rules of poetry. At 9 3/8” X 5 7/8”, the pages are unusually large for a book of poems and allow Whitman’s long, elliptical lines to seemingly go on and on. That Whitman assisted in the setting of type for the first edition makes his poems all the more fascinating and intimate and is evidence of his commitment to his personal aesthetic and vision.

While some of his contemporaries, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, greeted Leaves of Grass as the beginning of a great career, others, such as John Greenleaf Whittier, allegedly threw their copies into the fire out of disgust. From the very begining, there seems to have been little in the way of middle ground with Whitman — readers tend to be enraptured or confused by his work. Whichever side one may fall on this debate, Whitman’s force is undeniable, and our collections are all the more rich for preserving these volumes. 

Michael C. Weisenburg 
Reference & Instruction Librarian
Irvin Department of Rare Books & Special Collections

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In Memoriam: Robert B. Ariail, Collector & Stargazer

This past spring, the Carolina community lost a friend and advocate of the arts and sciences, Mr. Robert B. Ariail (7 December 1931 – 27 April 2018). In his memory, The Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections will briefly display highlights from the Robert B. Ariail Collection of Historical Astronomy in the  Brittain Gallery. Robert Ariail, a native of Sumter, SC and graduate of the University of South Carolina (Class of 1955), began practicing astronomy in his childhood. The first book on the subject the he acquired was William Tyler Olcott’s Field Book of the Skies, which he described as opening the “doors of visual astronomy for” him “as a youth in the 1940s.” With this book, Mr. Ariail “quickly learned the constellations along with many of the ‘sky-jewels’ they contained, i.e. star clusters, nebulae, double stars and much more.” Mr. Ariail regards Olcott as the “best guide for beginners that [he has] ever seen or used.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the past half-century, Mr. Ariail built a collection that includes more than 5,200 rare books, star atlases, scientific journals, rare offprints, and manuscripts now housed in the Irvin Department. The Robert B. Ariail Collection of Historical Astronomy compliments Mr. Ariail’s collection of historic telescopes and astronomical instruments, now at the State Museum. Both collections are exemplary in their comprehensiveness and we are grateful that Mr. Ariail chose to share his passion for astronomy with the general public in donating his collections to our institutions of learning.

Mr. Ariail once remarked, “Astronomy is a  science that makes you want to read more about it, and I guess I just couldn’t get enough.” Works on display include Johann Bayer’s Uranometria (1603), the first atlas to cover the entire celestial sphere, and John Bevis’ Atlas Celeste (1786), an emendation and expansion of Bayer’s work. Also on display are some of Mr. Ariail’s own astronomical observations of Halley’s Comet, Jupiter, and Mars, which serve as a testament to his passion and curiosity.  

Michael C. Weisenburg 
Reference & Instruction Librarian
Irvin Department of Rare Books & Special Collections

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The Marian Bruce Logan Collection of Civil Rights Activism

The Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections recently acquired a collection comprised of the personal papers and effects of civil rights activist and cabaret singer Marian Bruce Logan (1920-1993). Marian Bruce was a cabaret singer who performed in clubs in New York City, Paris, and London in the 1940s and 1950s. She later retired from the stage and married Dr. Arthur Logan, personal physician to Duke Ellington.

Marian Bruce, Halfway to Dawn, Riverside Records (1959).

            After retiring from singing, Marian Bruce Logan began working on several civil rights initiatives, including the Student Emergency Fund, which she founded with Jackie Robinson in early 1960. The Fund was set up to help African American college students who weren’t able to make their tuition payments. Logan and Robinson maintained the Fund through money solicited via personal letters and were able to help support students throughout the South. 

Cancelled Check, Student Emergency Fund, signed by Jackie Robinson and Marian Bruce Logan, July 10, 1961.

            While working with the Student Emergency Fund, Marian became aware of the Diner Sit-ins, wherein African American college students sat in segregated diners and refused to leave. Marian decided to raise funds to buy books, magazines, and other forms of entertainment for the students to enjoy as they occupied the diners. She asked friends and neighbors for $10 each. Word spread of her efforts and she raised over $1,000.

Letter from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Marian Bruce Logan, March 18, 1965.

            Her success in raising funds brought her to the attention of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He asked Marian to work raising funds to support the efforts of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to bring awareness to civil rights disparities through non-violent demonstrations and protests. She became a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference board, its first Northern board member. She and Arthur became close friends with Martin and his wife, Coretta.  King even baptized Marian and Arthur’s son and Marian later accompanied King to Oslo, Norway when he received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Photo of Marian Bruce Logan and Coretta Scott King.

            After the assassination of King in 1968, Marian continued to work with the Southern Christian Leadership board until April, 1969 when she exited the organization, feeling that the group was straying from King’s ideals.

Letter from Coretta Scott King to Marian Bruce Logan, June 5, 1968.

            In 1977, Marian was appointed New York City Human Rights Commissioner, a position she held for two years. While serving as Commissioner she became involved with the Black Americans in Support of Israel Committee (BASIC). BASIC was concerned with the treatment of the Black Hebrew Community in Israel. She took two trips to Israel, first in 1978 then again in 1981, to work to resolve the situation. The largest portion of the collection stems from her trips to Israel with BASIC, though the collection spans the duration of her life.

Letter, Marian Bruce Logan to Bayard Rustin, November 19, 1977.

            Other items in the collection include correspondence and other documents relating to the various civil rights organizations of which Logan was an active participant, documents relating to Logan’s personal life, including sheet music from her early career as a cabaret singer, and a collection of books signed by the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr., Jackie Robinson, and Sidney Poitier are also present in this archive. 

            Marian Bruce Logan lived an exceptional life that combined art and activism and was well loved and respected by some of the most prominent figures of the civil rights movement and the Marian Bruce Logan Collection of Civil Rights Activism serves as the recorded memory of her great legacy.

Jessica Crouch
Archivist
Irvin Department of Rare Books & Special Collections 

 

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The Last Carolina Parakeet

Incas, the last captive Carolina Parakeet, died at the Cincinnati Zoo 100 years ago today.  Only a few decades prior, the Carolina Parakeet had numbered in the millions, with a range from Florida to New England.  The parakeet was especially prevalent in the Carolinas. 

Though almost entirely wiped out by the mid-1800s, the Carolina Parakeet was only first scientifically described in English in 1731 in Mark Catesby’s two volume work Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands published in 1731 and 1743.

The Parrot of Carolina, Mark Catesby’s Natural History of Carolina Florida and the Bahama Islands, 1731 and 1743. This image is taken from the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections’ copy of Natural History of Carolina Florida and the Bahama Islands (1731 and 1743) which was donated by Susan Gibbes Robinson.

Catesby’s scientific description is below. (In his description, Catesby remarks that the Carolina Parakeet is toxic to cats but this is likely because the birds would eat the seeds of cockleburs, which are poisonous to cats.)

“This bird is of the bigness, or rather less than a Black-bird, weighing three ounces and an half; the fore part of the head orange colour; the hind part of the head and neck yellow.  All the rest of the Bird appears green; but, upon further scrutiny, the interior vanes of most of the wing feathers are dark brown: the upper parts of the exterior vanes of the larger wing or quill feathers are yellow, proceeding gradually deeper colour’d to the end, from yellow to green; and from green to blue: the edge of the shoulder of the wing, for about three inches down, is bright orange colour. The wings are very long, as is the tail; having the two middle feathers longer than the others by an inch and half, and end in a point; the rest are gradually shorter.  The legs and feet are white: the small feathers coving the thighs, are green, ending at the knees with a verge of orange colour. They feed on seeds and kernels of fruit; particularly those of Cypress and Apples.  The orchards in autumn are visited by numerous flights of them; where they make great destruction for their kernels only: for the same purpose they frequent Virginia; which is the furthest North I ever heard they have been seen.  Their guts are certain and speedy poison to Cats.  This is the only one of the Parrot kind in Carolina: some of them breed in the country; but most of them retire more South.” 

The Carolina Parakeet was already decreasing in number by the time John J. Audubon included it as the 26th plate in his double elephant folio printing of Birds of America, published between 1827-1838. 

Plate no. 26, The Carolina Parrot, John J. Audubon’s Birds of America, published between 1827-1838. This image is taken from the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections’ copy of John J. Audubon’s double elephant folio printing of Birds of America, published between 1827-1838.

Audubon’s representation of the parakeets shows them as they existed in nature, friendly birds that existed in large flocks.  These flocks could decimate a farmer’s field.  For this reason, the colorful and friendly bird with the farthest northern range of any known parrot was viewed as a nuisance and landowners would wipe out an entire flock in a single day.  Others were captured and kept as pets because of their friendly natures. More were killed for their colorful plumage, in demand for ladies’ hats. The last sighting of a Carolina Parakeet in the wild was in 1910 and with Incas death on February 21, 1918 the Carolina Parakeet was extinct.

Southern author Ron Rash, whose archive was acquired by the Irvin Department in 2017, often writes about species that, though once plentiful in the Carolinas, have become extinct due to man’s destruction.  He is particularly interested in the extinction of the Carolina Parakeet.  He often laments its decimation in his works. In his 2002 book of poetry, Raising the Dead, Rash summarizes his feelings of loss and well as the loss to us all in his poem:

Carolina Parakeet

Though once plentiful enough
to pulse an acre field, green
a blue sky, they were soon gone,
whole flocks slaughtered in a day,
though before forever lost
found last here, in these mountains
so sparsely settled a man
late as 1860 might
look up from new-broken land
and glimpse that bright vanishing.

Jessica Crouch
Archivist
Irvin Department of Rare Books & Special Collections 

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