“Can we explain the appearance of life upon this planet in terms of science, or only, as in the past, in terms of theology?”

A John Burroughs Manuscript

Burroughs late in life, looking very Whitman-like.

John Burroughs (1837-1921), the naturalist, environmental writer, and first biographer of Walt Whitman, continues to play an important role in American writing on nature. Over the course of his long life, he wrote intimately and expansively about the natural world, publishing in numerous American periodicals and collecting his essays into several volumes, gaining him a wide readership. He knew and traveled with Teddy Roosevelt, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and John Muir, among others, in the early 20th century.

This newly-acquired manuscript essay of Burroughs’s, “The New Materialism,” is signed and dated by him on October 1913. The essay is in pencil and 18 pages long, and has been bound up as a pamphlet with a fairly-early 20th century  typed transcription of the text interleaved inside.

Burroughs, his companion Clara Barrus, and John Muir (bringing up the rear) in the Grand Canyon, ca. 1909.

As the above quote of the essay’s first sentence attests, this essay is a meditation on the boundaries and limits of theology and natural history, or science. One may have suspected it to have come from his 1915 collection of science and nature essays The Breath of Life, but the text does not match, so perhaps this is an essay from the same time period that was not included in the collection. To date, we have not found a printed source where it appeared.

Burroughs at Muir Glacier, Alaska

This manuscript was purchased from the Irvin endowment, which supports our Darwin and Darwiniana collections, and fits nicely into both the Irvin collection and as a bridge to our 19th century American literature collections, which are especially strong in Whitman and Emerson’s works, and very good in Thoreau and other examples of 19th century American writing on the natural world.

The Ormiston Roy Papers, which are currently being processed, also contain some John Burroughs materials, including letters and manuscripts, and from which these photos of Burroughs are taken. In the future, we will mount a larger John Burroughs exhibition to share his life and works with a larger audience.


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A New Exhibition, with Audio

We’ve just installed “Beyond Domesticity: U.S. Women Writers, 1770-1915,” our first major show in our new gallery. It was curated by Katherine Adams and Cynthia Davis, two English department faculty members, and is a broad – and deep – survey of American womens’ lives and writings during the “long” nineteenth century.

And, there is an audio guide. You can download 5 mp3 files and take the tour anytime our library is open (M-F, 8:30-5:00), or sign out a pre-loaded iPod at our registration desk and take the tour, which is narrated by Professors Adams and Davis.

For more information, and to download, go here and here. Or, scan this QR code into your phone and follow the links to download. Enjoy!


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A New Acquisition: William Blake’s Illustrations to Robert Blair’s The Grave

William Blake, 1757-1827. William Blake’s Watercolour Inventions in Illustration of The Grave by Robert Blair. Edited with Essays and Commentary by Martin Butlin and an Essay on the Poem by Morton D. Paley. Lavenham, Suffolk: The William Blake Trust, 2009. Copy 32 of 186.

The William Blake Trust has been publishing facsimile editions of Blake’s books and illustrations, often in conjunction with the Trianon Press, for over 4 decades. We own most of these limited editions (e.g. Blake’s Book of Job, Book of Los, Jerusalem, his illustrations of Milton, Thomas Gray, and Laocoön, and more) which were either purchased at publication or were acquired as part of other collections like the Wickenheiser Milton collection.

We also own a first edition of The Grave (1743), shown here, and about a dozen eighteenth century editions of the work, along with many later impressions.

The history of Blake’s watercolor illustrations, or “inventions,” is a fascinating one. Blake was paid for 20 illustrations by Robert Cromek, the publisher who was bringing out, in 1808, the first illustrated edition of Blair’s religious poem. They had an understanding that he would also engrave the plates for an additional fee. After completing the watercolors, Blake’s first engraving was rejected, and Cromek brought in the more fashionable engraver Louis Schiavonetti to make the engravings from Blake’s watercolor “inventions.”

Blake's illustrated title page

"Death's Door" in watercolor

Blake's rejected engraving of "Death's Door," reproduced from one of the few surviving copies in a private collection

Schiavonetti's engraving based on Blake's watercolor

The original watercolors were then lost for almost 200 years. They were purchased in a Glasgow bookshop in 2001, and after much legal wrangling, and the failure of their owners to find an institutional purchaser for the group, they were broken up and sold individually at Sotheby’s in 2006. Fortunately, the Blake Trust was able to make high-resolution digital images of them before the sale. Now that the watercolors are dispersed in the market, this edition has now become the authoritative collection and reference to them.

Our copy of Cromek’s 1808 edition is shown below.


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A Collection of E.D.E.N. Southworth

We’ve recently acquired a collection of the works of American author E.D.E.N. Southworth (1819-1899). Active in the latter half of the nineteenth century, “Mrs. Southworth” was the author of some 60 popular novels that were as widely read as the works of Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, or Susan Warner in their time.

Her works were often first serialized, primarily in the New York Ledger, but also in The National Era (the same paper that first serialized Uncle Tom’s Cabin). This group of over 40 novels, some of them first editions, covers the scope of her writing career from the 1850s through some early 20th century reprints. A few are in their original pictorial dust jackets from the ‘teens, which adds to their interest. Recently, there is increased scholarly interest in Southworth’s works, and some of her novels such as Ishmael and The Hidden Hand are still taught in colleges and universities.

Here are some good examples of early 20th century book covers and an early jacket.


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Some New & Notable Bookplates

There are numerous examples of interesting (and historically notable) bookplates attached to books in our collection. Examples include books with bookplates from the libraries of Carlyle, Shane Leslie, John Evelyn, Graham Pollard, John Sparrow, Edmund Gosse, David Garrick, Richard Congreve, and Leonard Baskin. We do not have a loose collection of bookplates per se.

This group came in, again, as part of the Mitchell and Morley Kennerley collection. And while they were the property of the latter, most were likely kept and saved by Mitchell Kennerley, who as an auctioneer, sold collections to – and belongings of – many of the great book collectors of the early 20th century. The gilt-stamped cloth bookplates of collectors Cortlandt Bishop (complete with mitre) and Jerome Kern (yes, that Jerome Kern) are represented, along with the bookplate of John Quinn by Jack Butler Yeats.

And finally, this bookplate, Morley Kennerley’s, was designed by Eric Gill:


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Hello, World!

Welcome to the Rare Books and Special Collections blog. We’ve chosen the title Curiositas, which can translate as (at least according to the Oxford Latin Dictionary) “excessive eagerness for knowledge, inquisitiveness, curiosity.”

The main purpose of this blog is to inform our friends, followers, and the casual reader of newly-acquired items and “rediscoveries”: those things we come across, in the course of our work with our collections, that are simply too interesting or wonderful not to share with a larger audience.

It’s late 2010, and though we’re just now moving into the blogging universe, please indulge us, and allow us to start off with something good, let’s say a bang, rather than a whimper…i.e.,

Some unpublished photos of T.S. Eliot.

T. S. Eliot with Jean Kennerley picnicing on the road to Marrakech, 1960. Photo by Valerie Eliot.

We have a collection of manuscript material by and about the publisher and book auction house owner Mitchell Kennerley (1878-1950) that are just being processed. Included in this collection are correspondence of Kennerley’s younger son, Morley Kennerley, who was a Director of Faber and Faber, the British publishers, for many years, and of his wife, Jean Baikie Kennerley. In that group are these 3 snapshots, two of them from a holiday to Morocco with the Eliots in 1960.

Eliot and Jean Kennerley picnicing, near Fedala (now Mohammedia), Morocco, 1960. Photo by Valerie Eliot or Morley Kennerley.

It’s hard to tell from these photos whether Old Tom is having a fine time or grimly lamenting his fate. According to his biographer Peter Ackroyd, the Eliots’ trip to Morocco early in 1960 was taken because of a need to escape damp, rainy England and provide relief from his emphysema. The trip was by all accounts a failure because the Moroccan weather was either too dry, too dusty, or both, and Eliot took some months to recover from this “recovery trip.” Ackroyd does not mention Morley and Jean Kennerley as the Eliots’ travel companions. Indeed, this particular relationship, with a fellow longstanding Faber & Faber Director like Kennerley, is not remarked upon in most of the scholarship on Eliot.

Lyndall Gordon, in her biography of Eliot, mentions the Kennerleys only once. In itemizing Tom’s many phobias, in this case of having to converse with a woman, Gordon states he was once horrified to have sat through a solo dinner with Jean Kennerley during the war. (See p. 494 of T.S. Eliot: An Imperfect Life, W.W. Norton, 1999). Be that as it may, by all accounts Jean Kennerley was a charming, intelligent woman with a wide social circle and wide-ranging interests, including her taking the occasional holiday with the Eliots, so one does wonder exactly how terrified he remained afterward in the face of such a not-terribly-intimidating presence….

Jean Kennerley with a handful of Pekinese puppies, 1975.

We’ll have a few more things Kennerley-related to share before too long, but these photos were a most pleasant discovery.


Posted in Archival collections, Jean Kennerley, Mitchell Kennerley, Photos, T. S. Eliot | Comments Off on Hello, World!