Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Corrected Proofs for “The American Scholar”

On 26 January 1838, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his journal: “Today I send the Oration to press again.” The oration that Emerson refers to was the published text of a speech that he had given at Harvard. On 31 August 1837, Emerson gave one of the most important public talks in the history of American letters. His Phi Beta Kappa Oration, now more commonly referred to as “The American Scholar,” was called by his friend and contemporary, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., as “our intellectual declaration of independence,” and the essay is now commonly assigned in courses on American literature, history, and civic culture.

The oration proved both provocative and popular, and a draft of the speech was quickly sent to press. On 23 September 1838, Emerson’s publisher, James Munroe and Company, wrote to inform him that 500 copies had been published, and on 24 October 1837, Emerson commented in his journal that the edition had sold out within a month. The prospect of having a popular and profitable pamphlet was probably encouragement enough to make plans for a second edition; however, there is compelling evidence that Emerson was displeased with the first printed edition of the speech and used the second edition as an opportunity to make subtle changes and correct errors.

The Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections is home to the page proofs of the second edition, which Emerson marked up for correction and are the only known extant proof sheets of a work by him. Emerson was displeased with the first edition of the oration printed by Munroe, in part because the 1837 edition shows evidence that his work was edited by a type compositor. He was also dissatisfied with the layout and general appearance of the text and submitted a marked-up copy to a different printer, Folsom, Wells, and Thurston of Cambridge, Massachusetts. 515 copies of the second edition were printed and published on 23 February 1838 and announced in the Boston Evening Mercantile Journal, 24 February 1838. They were priced at 20¢ per copy, with a 5¢ publisher’s commission, and 190 copies were still in stock on 17 January 1844, signalling a slowdown of sales after the initial fervor.

The manuscript annotations of the proofs contain over one hundred changes and corrections detailing spacing errors, misaligned text, and the restoration of dropped punctuation and words among other issues. A collation of the proofs against both the 1837 and 1838 editions of the oration reveal over two hundred differences in punctuation and fifteen differences in wording, much of which is evident in the surviving proofs. As a result, we can see that the 1838 text restored Emerson’s preferred rhetorical, grammatical, and orthographic style and is the more authoritative of the two editions; however, in compiling the Collected Works for Harvard University Press, the modern editors rejected most of Emerson’s changes and remained predominantly faithful to the earlier edition. It is only recently, with the publication of Ralph Waldo Emerson: The Major Prose, edited by Joel Myerson, that the public has access to Emerson’s preferred version of “The American Scholar.” Now, scholars and students can work with and learn from the material itself.  

The corrected page proofs are the gift of Dr. Joel Myerson, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English Language and Literature at the University of South Carolina, and supplement a previous gift of Emerson related manuscripts that Dr. Myerson gave to the University. Many of these manuscripts have been digitized by the University Libraries’ Digital Collections and can be found at: http://library.sc.edu/digital/collections/Myerson.html 

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

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In Preparation for Burns’ Day

The Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections is home to the greatest Scottish literature collection outside of Great Britain, and much of this material centers around the Scottish national bard, Robert Burns. Most well-known for works such as “To a Mouse,” “Highland Mary,” “Comin’ thro’ the Rye,” Tan O’Shanter,” and “Auld Lang Syne,” Burns is famous for publishing poetry in Scottish dialect and for compiling and anthologizing Scottish folk tunes. This Thursday is Burns Day, a celebration of the Scottish poet, who was born on 25 January 1759. Originally held as a memoriam, the first supper was held by Burns’ friends on 21 July 1801, the fifth anniversary of his death. That same year, the first still extant Burns Club was founded in Greenock by Ayrshire merchants, and in the following year they changed the day of their observance to Burns’ birthday. Since then, Burns suppers have been held on January 25th and have spread across the globe.


Traditional Burns suppers typically include haggis, Scotch whisky, and the recitations of Burns’ poetry. Formal dinners are generally hosted by Burns Clubs or St. Andrews Societies and follow a standard order. Guests are first piped in by a bagpiper, and the host will give a welcoming speech then lead the recitation of the “Selkirk Grace,” a prayer of thanks attributed to Burns.

“Selkirk Grace”
Some hae meat an canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.

The supper begins with a traditional soup, such as Scotch broth, cullen skink, or cock-a-leekie. After the soup course, everyone stands as the haggis is piped into the hall, generally to the tune of “A Man’s a Man for a’ That,” and lead to the host’s table. The host then recites the Burns’ poem, “Address to a Haggis.”




















The recitation is often dramatized by a ritualistic carving of the haggis. At the beginning of the third stanza, which reads “His knife see Rustic-Labour dight,” the speaker draws and sharpens a knife, then at the line “An’ cut you up wi’ ready slight,” he plunges the knife into the haggis and cuts it open from end to end.

After the meal, a guest gives a speech in honor and memory of Burns. Then a man will give a “toast to the lassies.” Historically, this toast was intended to thank the women who cooked the meal, but has since evolved to a humorous commentary on women in the group and in life in general, and if the toaster can manage to quote from Burns’ poems then all the more bragging right for him. However, whatever brave soul chooses to toast the lassies must speak with care, for he is then followed by a reply from the women. The call and response nature of the two toasts are meant to be lighthearted jests that establish a repartee.

Max Beerbohm, “Robert Burns, having set his hand to the plough, looks back at Highland Mary” (1907).

The rest of the evening is filled with general conversation, guests reciting other poems by Burns, and a vote of thanks. The evening is then closed with the entire group joining in the singing of “Auld Lang Syne.”

“Auld Lang Syne” (Boston: Bradlee, 1834).

So, if you’re in the mood for some good cheer this Thursday, invite some friends, raise a glass, and sing a toast to Robert Burns. 

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

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Hidden Wonders: a Selection of Fore-Edge Paintings from the Irvin Department Stacks

The term fore-edge painting refers to an image painted or drawn on the leaves of a book. While covering the page edges of a book in gold or silver leaf was and remains a popular decorative choice, sometimes artists painted whole scenes and landscapes on them. Early fore-edge paintings are visible along the closed fore-edge of the book and do not require any manipulation of the text-block in order to be seen. Later, more ambitious, “disappearing” fore-edge paintings were painted on the inside edges of the pages, so that the hidden scenes can only be seen when the text-block is fanned in a certain direction. When the book is simply closed, the page edges look normal and unadorned or merely gilded.  These later “disappearing” fore-edge paintings only reveal the image when the pages are slanted or shifted in a particular way. Fore-edge paintings are often done in watercolors and where traditionally associated with high-end bookbinding firms. While one does not see them very often these days, fore-edge paintings were once some of the loveliest book illustrations and constituted the pinnacle of the book as a work of art.

The Irvin Department’s oldest fore-edge painting. The Holy Bible (London: Iohn Field, 1655).

Fore-edge paintings date back to the 11th century and many early examples are decorated with heraldry and other allegorical and symbolic imagery. Disappearing fore-edge paintings began to appear around the 17th century. The Irvin Department’s earliest fore-edge painting is of flowers and an inscribed heart on a Bible from 1655.

Title page, The Holy Bible London: Iohn Field, 1655).

Fore-edge paintings steadily gained in popularity, and the paintings began to become more elaborate, consisting of detailed landscapes, classical and pastoral scenes, and portraits of authors. Another Bible in the collection has a fore-edge painting of Whitehall as viewed from Richmond House, London.

The Holy Bible Oxford: Printed at the Clarendon Press, by Dawson, Benseley, and Cooke, 1800).

Fore-edge paintings may or may not correspond to the subject of the book, and many typical scenes include picturesque views of Oxford and Cambridge, the Thames River, Westminster Abbey, the English village and countryside, the author or poet of a given work, ships and seascapes, and classical figures.

Reliques of Robert Burns (Philadelphia: Bradford and Inskeep, 1809).

Examples of fore-edge paintings that correspond to a book’s content are an 1809 copy of the Reliques of Robert Burns, which has a painting of Burns’ cottage, and an 1864 copy of The Ballads and Songs of Robert Burns that depicts Friars Carse, the home of Robert Riddle from Grose’s Antiquities of Scotland.

The Ballads and Songs of Robert Burns (London: Charles Griffin, 1864).

A twentieth century example is found in a volume of The Poetical Works of John Keats (Oxford UP, 1939), which has a fore- edge painting by Sue Buckingham Moulton depicting Keats and his house at Highgate.

The Poetical Works of John Keats (London: Oxford University Press, 1939).

Examples of paintings that are less clearly related to the text’s subject matter are a copy of James Thomson’s The Seasons and the Castle of Indolence, which has a painting of a duck hunt, and Walter Scott’s Marmion, which depicts the resort town of Bournemouth.

The Seasons and the Castle of Indolence, by James Thomson (London: William Pickering, 1830).

Marmion: a Tale of Flodden Field, by Sir Walter Scott (Edinburgh: R. Cadell, 1838).

The two volume Memoirs of Count Grammont each have elaborate landscapes painted along their fore-edge.

Memoirs of Count Grammont, by Anthony Hamilton (London: W. Miller and J. Carpenter, 1811).

Memoirs of Count Grammont, by Anthony Hamilton (London: W. Miller and J. Carpenter, 1811).

Sir Thomas Browne’s Religio Medici pictures Oxford, Browne’s alma mater, and Henry Morely’s The King and the Commons depicts the Houses of Parliament with “Big Ben” to the right.  

Thomas Browne, Religio Medici (London: Sampson Low, Son, and Marston, 1869).

Henry Morley, The King and the Commons (London: Sampson Low, Son, and Marston, 1869).

Often, fore-edge paintings are found in books that have fine bindings, and many of the high-end binding houses in England commissioned fore-edge paintings during the style’s peak. While many of our fore-edge paintings are on books that have fine bindings, two important fore-edge paintings in the Irvin Department’s collections are bound in a superlative style. A 1796 copy of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress has a painting of Felong House, Norfolk, and is bound in Panelled calf, by Edwards of Halifax. Additionally, a 1784 copy of The Letters of the Right Honourable Lady Mary Wortley Montagu has a fore-edge painting of Burghley House, Northamptonshire, and is bound in full vellum, with a gilt and painted spine, emblematic tooling, gilt and painted borders, with illustrations after James Edwards, depicting the Three Graces on the upper cover and Orpheus charming the animals on the lower.

Pilgrim’s Progress (London: Published by T. Heptinstall, Fleet Street, May 1st, 1796).









Letters of the Right Honourable Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (London: Printed for T. Cadell, 1784).

Artists would sometimes paint two illustrations to a fore-edge, known as a “two-way double,” with an illustration on either side of the pages that reveal themselves depending on the slant of the text-block. The Irvin Department has a two volume set of Tennyson’s Poems, from 1843, that are adorned in such a fashion. Volume one has the city of Lincoln on one edge and Dover on the reverse edge, while volume two has Trinity College Cambridge and a view of Westminster from the Thames.

Tennyson’s Poems, in Two Volumes (London: Edward Moxon, Dover Street, 1843).

Tennyson’s Poems, in Two Volumes (London: Edward Moxon, Dover Street, 1843).

Tennyson’s Poems, in Two Volumes (London: Edward Moxon, Dover Street, 1843).

Tennyson’s Poems, in Two Volumes (London: Edward Moxon, Dover Street, 1843).

Some fore-edges are painted in what is called a “split double,” so that if the book is laid open in the center, naturally splaying the pages to either side, two different illustrations could be seen on either side. The Irvin Department has a 1910 copy of George Herbert’s Poems that has a portrait of Herbert on the right and a portrait of Nicholas Ferrar on the left, and was painted in 2008 by Martin Frost, one of the few living artists who works on fore-edges.

The Irvin Department has recently acquired an extensive collection of volumes by the poet George Herbert, and several of them, including the “split double” above, contain fore-edge paintings with portraits of Herbert and other scenes.

While varying in quality and not always directly relevant to a book’s subject matter, fore-edge paintings are beautiful reminders that books are also works of art that appeal to all of our senses and engage our aesthetic and affective as well as our rational and analytical faculties of mind.

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

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Marvel Science Stories

The Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections has recently acquired a run of Marvel Science Stories, a serialized science fiction pulp magazine and precursor to the more well known Marvel Comics. 

Marvel Science Stories, 1.1 (August 1938), cover.

Marvel Science Stories, 1.1 (August 1938), p. 65











First released in August 1938 by Abraham and Martin Goodman, who would found Marvel Comics the following year, Marvel Science Stories was a science fiction pulp magazine that published 15 issues over two different runs between 1938-1941 and 1950-1952. The first run consisted of 9 issues with prolific science fiction author and Lovecraft Circle member Henry Kuttner taking the cover. Kuttner would publish numerous times in the magazine under his own name and several pseudonyms. During its first run the magazine would feature a number of other notable authors like prolific pulp author Arthur J. Burks and the so called “Dean of Science Fiction” Jack Williamson. The magazine would also draw some of Marvel Comics founding talent. The November 1940 issue would feature illustrations done by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby whose newest creation, Captain America, would premier in Marvel Comics in December.

Marvel Science Stories, 2.2 (November 1940), cover.

Marvel Science Stories, 2.2 (November 1940), p.56.











Although the initial run of the magazine would end in 1941, the Goodmans revived the magazine in 1950 with significant improvements in quality. Robert O. Erisman had been the magazine’s editor for its first run, and remained the lead editor in the second run with Daniel Keyes, author of Flowers for Algernon, as editorial assistant. They featured lesser works by Arthur C. Clark, Isaac Asimov, Jack Vance, and Lester del Ray as by this time most of these authors were selling their best work to larger magazines. Marvel Science Stories would ultimately publish their last issue in May of 1952. 

Marvel Science Fiction, 3.5 (November 1951), cover.

Marvel Science Stories, 3.3 (May 1951), cover.










David Shay
Irvin Department of Rare Books & Special Collections

Posted in American literature, Comics, Pulp Magazines, Science Fiction, Uncategorized | 1 Comment