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170 posts categorized "USA"

12 May 2015

The Many Uses of Whiskey: a Bryant Lecture roundup

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Whiskey and Wather (LC23c5 57)Above: a poetic tribute to Captain John Palliser, who explored the (admittedly, Canadian) Rockies. The spelling of water suggests it was for reciting in a Lancashire dialect [BL: LC.23.c.5(57)]

The utility of whiskey is impressive, it can function as an enjoyable beverage, social facilitator, medicinal syrup and, as of last night, an impressive metaphor about the evolving significance of Magna Carta. Monday saw this year's Douglas W. Bryant Lecture celebrated at the Library, the 20th in all, and we were fortunate to be host the US Ambassador to the Court of St. James's, Matthew Barzun, for the evening.

Womens War on Whiskey (cover 8435b55)  Womens War on Whisky (internal 8435b55)
Above: one of the few American tracts on whiskey turns out to be a temperance tract [BL: 8435.b.55]

The Ambassador's talk, titled, 'Magna Carta, 1776 and All That', hinged on the metaphorical relationship between whiskey and the Magna Carta - more on which in a moment. On the way home a thought occurred to me, 'what do we have in the collection regarding whiskey and the Americas?' Turns out the answer is, 'not a great deal that's interesting' (meaning rare and insightful historic publications) but, spread across the Library's manuscripts, newspapers, microfilms and printed books there is a smattering of items.

BarzunspeechAbove: Ambassador Barzun giving his lecture (image copyright Ander McIntyre)

Admittedly, a lot of it is temperance material but, as the wonderful poem in the first image shows, there are also items defending the drink's virtues. For Ambassador Barzun, the link between the Magna Carta and whiskey is based on the method by which the drink is made. A complex process, with deceptively simple ingredients, whiskey takes time to mature and produces strikingly different results depending upon the raw materials used and the geography within which it is produced. The Ambassador argued that Magna Carta and its legacy, in the rule of law and political freedom, can be viewed the same way; just look at how it has influenced the UK and the US. If this piques your interest, the lecture has been posted online by the US Embassy and can be read in full here.

AudienceAbove: audience questions for Ambassador Barzun (image copyright Ander McIntyre)

While the Library may not be the best place to find unique resources pertaining to whiskey in the Americas we are well placed to facilitate research and interest in the Magna Carta. Our exhibition runs until September, we have a whole series of events coming up (including another on Magna Carta in America) and there's a good deal of material in the collections too.

[PJH]

07 May 2015

Inventing The Great Gatsby

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Careless People (cover)

Above: The cover for Careless People, by Prof. Sarah Churchwell (2013).

[As a prelude to an upcoming Eccles Centre event, Prof. Sarah Churchwell writes for us on 'The Great Gatsby'. You can hear more at her talk, 'Inventing the Great Gatsby: 1922 - 1925' on May 18th]

The Great Gatsby has made countless readers feel as if the Jazz Age were a party to which they have not been invited. Like the party-goers at Gatsby’s revels, the reader of Gatsby is drawn there by word of mouth, looking for glamour and personality, in search of celebrated and interesting people. We want to know F. Scott Fitzgerald, whom we have met through his books: we want to meet his wife, and know whether she was really mad, or destroyed him, or whether he destroyed her. We want to know how much she made herself up, or he made her up, or we've made them both up. Although many literary critics still insist that this impulse is unworthy, a deplorable preference for gossip over art, it is also true that our social personality is a creation of the minds of others, as Proust observed. Scott Fitzgerald understood that better than most, and it is one of the themes of The Great Gatsby. 

Many people respond by throwing their own Gatsby-themed parties, a response with which I sympathize. But because I am an academic (i.e., a professional geek), my idea of throwing a Gatsby party is not to mix a few tasty cocktails and suggest that people put on a pretty dress that approximates one that might have been worn in the 1920s. No, my response is to spend years and years intensively researching what life would have been like in 1922, what Scott Fitzgerald could have known when he was sat down to write the novel, what he guessed—and what he had no way of knowing.

In April 1925, when Gatsby was published, it was a contemporary novel. It had been written in 1924 and set in 1922: so it would work in exact parallel if we imagine a novel published this year, that was written in 2014, and set in 2012. It would be a contemporary novel: we would understand all of its references, without need of translation, explanation, or glossary. The Great Gatsby was certainly a “modern” novel—so modern that its first readers could not see any meanings beyond the ones that were entirely manifest in 1925. Most of these meanings are entirely lost upon us now—but it turns out that they are not entirely lost to us. They are there, waiting to be found, if we’re patient, or dogged, or both. And it is those meanings—the meanings that would have been available to Fitzgerald, and his readers, in 1925—that I set out to recover in researching my book about Gatsby, if I could. The analogy, to my mind, is like trying to do an historically sympathetic renovation of a beautiful old art deco house. Of course you can cover it over with all kinds of layers from other eras, and there are arguments to be made in favor of updating (just as few of us would want to actually live with an historically authentic bathroom from 1925, so few of us would want to return to an historically authentic 1925 attitude toward, for example, anti-Semitism). But there are also arguments to be made in favor of creating something historically sympathetic, and aesthetically consonant, and that’s what I tried to do in the book I eventually wrote, called Careless People.

Gatsby 1925 (CUP406I13)

Above: first pages of the 1925 New York edition of The Great Gatsby [BL:Cup.406.I.13]

One of the unexpected results of this research project was that I came to see much more clearly than I’d ever predicted why The Great Gatsby was not a great critical or commercial success when it was published in 1925; it didn’t flop, but its sales were sluggish, its reviews largely uncomprehending. Along the way I learned a great deal about what New Yorkers in 1922, when Gatsby is set, actually wore (skirts were much longer than we think), what they drank (bathtub gin and bootleg gin are not the same thing), what they danced (not the Charleston), what they listened to, what they ate, even what perfumes were available. (The great French house of Caron produced both Narcisse Blanc and Nuit de Noël in 1922, for example; both are still available for any historical die-hards who do not have to survive on an academic salary.)

Such a critical, and I hope creative, endeavor necessarily raises a series of question about what it might mean to try to recover the past. And as fate would have it, this is the great question asked by the great Gatsby, and by The Great Gatsby. “You can't repeat the past,” Nick Carraway warns Jay Gatsby. “Can't repeat the past?” Gatsby responds, incredulously. “Why of course you can!” And then Fitzgerald adds, with one of the hundreds of touches of mordant humor that pepper the novel, that Gatsby “looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand.”

Is the past just out of reach of our hand? For Nick, as for Fitzgerald, this is a facetious remark—and yet the idea that it might be is just the response that the novel has inspired in thousands of readers since Fitzgerald’s death in 1940. But in 1925, as I’ve said, Gatsby was a purely contemporary novel: its ideas about the past were negligible, and its vision of the future was indiscernible, undetectable to jazz-age eyes, as blind as the eyes of Dr. TJ Eckleburg, pointlessly lording it over the ashes of history.

What past we have is an invention. There was a past, and we certainly did not invent it, although other people did; but that past has made its exit and it will not return. Our myths, our legends, our false memories and mistaken historical assumptions, our anachronisms, our egotistical projections of our own values—these are the invented past.

What I discovered is that the hectic absurdity of the past takes us by surprise; we are accustomed to invent only that past that seems useful to us, by and large: rare is the effort to accommodate the present to the past, rather than the other way around. We may not believe that we can repeat the past, but we do tend to believe that we can recover it, although God knows what havoc we would wreak if we found ourselves accidentally grasping it.

Gatsby 1925 cover (CUP406I13)

Above: cover and modern preservation box for the 1925 edition of The Great Gatsby [BL: Cup.406.I.13]

I think most of us expect history to display a certain dignity, as befits its age; but what I learned is that the past is not a venerable old man, an eminence grise: it is an unabashed adolescent, with no understanding or fear of the consequences of its own idiotic behavior. Its carelessness proves, in the end, rather winning, but we should not mistake a survivor’s instinct for sanity.

The history of 1922 reads not like history, but like a rather madcap novel—and that novel is by Scott Fitzgerald, because it was his novel that taught us how to read this story. The sources turn out to have a tremendous story to tell themselves: but we would not know what it was about if Fitzgerald had not told us how to read it in the first place.

Memory is an imaginative reconstruction of the facts. So is history. So is The Great Gatsby. They are not the same things, of course, memory, history, fiction. But they have more in common than we like to think. They’re all a story about the art of exhilaration, about a glittering, gin-drenched, time-drenched world, whether we are dealing with fiction or with history. In either case the theme is the peril and brevity of such vision—that is the theme of Gatsby, and it is the starting point for any serious conversation about it.

[SC]

[Prof. Sarah Churchwell will be speaking about 'The Great Gatsby' at the British Library on May 18th, you can find more information here]

30 April 2015

From the Collections: US Historical Newspapers

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Americansml      Federalsml      Vermontsml
Above: three of the Library's early American papers, as noted on our resource page.

This third and final blog about American newspapers will focus on the Library’s holdings of historical titles – both digital and microfilm.   

DIGITAL RESOURCES:

The Library currently subscribes to a couple of fantastic databases (listed below) which offer access to hundreds of newspaper titles from the late seventeenth to the twentieth century. Also listed is a Library of Congress resource for newspapers published between 1836 and 1922, and one that focuses upon coverage of the performing arts in the colonies:

African American Newspapers, 1827-1998

This database provides fully searchable facsimiles of approximately 270 historically significant African American newspapers from more than 35 states. It offers a unique record of life in the Antebellum South, the growth of the Black church, the Jim Crow Era, the Great Migration to northern cities, the Harlem Renaissance, the civil rights movement, political and economic empowerment and more. Remote access is available for registered Reader Pass holders.

Early American Newspapers, Series I, 1690-1876

Offering more than 350,000 fully searchable facsimile issues of more 700 newspaper titles published in 23 states and Washington DC, this database provides an unparalleled record of daily life in hundreds of diverse American communities. Searches automatically extend to African American Newspapers, 1827-1998 and Caribbean Newspapers, Series I, 1718-1876. Remote access is available for registered Reader Pass holders.

Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers

This Library of Congress resource is freely available on the Internet and offers millions of digitized newspaper pages for the period 1836–1922. Also available on this site is the U.S. Newspaper Directory, 1690–present which enables users to identify both which titles exits for a specific time and place and the libraries (in the United States) that hold them. 

The Performing Arts in Colonial American Newspapers, 1690-1783

Available both on CD-ROM in the Newsroom and on the Internet.

Microfiche

Above: non-digital resources [photo by PJH]

MICROFILM RESOURCES: GENERAL

The Library’s microfilm holdings of early American newspapers are extensive and can be found via our main catalogue, Explore. They include eighteenth and nineteenth century regional papers, such as The Boston Gazette (1719-1798), The New York Mercury (1752-1783); ethnic newspapers, including The Jewish Messenger (1857-1902) and The Irish World (1870-1950); political papers, such as Socialist Call (1935-1962); and special interest papers, such as the US Armed Forces’ Stars and Stripes (1942-1945). Please note that most of these titles can be found in the Early American Newspapers database listed above.

MICROFILM RESOURCES: THE TUSKEGEE INSTITUTE NEWS CLIPPINGS FILE

This microfilm set (shelf-mark: M.A.410) consists of 252 reels of press cuttings and other materials relating to people of colour in the United States, Africa and elsewhere which were collected by the Tuskegee Institute between 1899 and 1966. The clippings were compiled from more than 300 major American national dailies, African-American newspapers, magazines, religious and social publications and non-US newspapers. All items are listed in The Tuskegee Institute News Clippings File: Reel Notes, a hard-copy volume shelved in the Newsroom.

INDEXES

The New York Times Index, 1863-1905, is included in the database 19th Century Masterfile and a printed version of the index from 1851 is available in the Newsroom. The New York Daily Tribune Index, 1875-1906, is also included in 19th Century Masterfile and a printed version of the subject index, 1875-1881, is available in the Newsroom. 

See our other blog posts on historical newspapers:

1. Americas News Dailies and Weeklies

2. Slavery in America: newspapers and travellers' reports

[JP]

28 April 2015

Lincoln's Funeral Cortege

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Add.MS.41528.f.159_2[SVC2]

150 years ago, the body President Lincoln was on its journey from Washington D.C. to Springfield, Illinois, carried by train in a special funeral cortege.

Of all the Library’s Civil War related items, this object is one of the most rare and interesting. These two silk cords, or ‘silver lace’ as the accompanying descriptive note states, were part of the material that draped on President Lincoln’s funeral cortege.

According to the note that is held alongside the cords, they had been presented ‘by a gentleman who was an important member of the committee of arrangements for the reception of President Lincoln’s body’ when it reached Indianapolis, Indiana on 30 April 1865. The cortege was placed in the Indiana State House where it lay in state overnight before continuing on its journey.

Lincoln’s funeral procession from the capital to his home city of Springfield took place between 21 April and 3 May 1865. The coffin passed through Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, lying in state in major cities such as Philadelphia, New York City and Chicago along the way.

The President was finally laid to rest at Oak Ridge Cemetery where an enormous tomb was complete in 1874 to house his coffin. Lincoln’s funeral train was accompanied by members of his family, Cabinet, federal and state politicians, and seen by hundreds of thousands of mourners along the route. Countless images and details of the procession were recorded, making President Lincoln’s funeral one of the largest in American history.

Read more about this item on our Civil War feature.

[HT to @catbateson]

20 March 2015

Symposium: Alaska, the Arctic and the US Imagination

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Above: illustration from 'Alaska, its history and resources...' [BL: 10460.dd.17].

On Monday the Library hosted scholars from the US, Canada and Europe for a day-long discussion on the significance of Alaska and the Arctic to the United States. As you'll see from the programme (at the bottom of this post), the day covered a lot of ground, with discussion ranging from Alaska in film, to the artwork of William Bradford, the USS Nautilus and much more in-between.

The diversity of the day was drawn together by our keynote speaker, Dr. Michael Robinson, who provided a fascinating overview of American interest in the Arctic, charting its growth through the Alaska purchase, the press mania of the search for Franklin and the Cold War geopolitics of the DEW Line. The talk also intersected with some of the Library's wider work, most notably our Digital Curators' innovative research in the digital humanities. Dr. Robinson charted the rising use of the term 'Arctic' in nineteenth century publications, with early results showing how events, such as the search for Franklin, caused imaginative interest (in the form of writing and publishing) in the area to spike.

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Above: illustration from 'Alaska, its history and resources'. Courtesy of the BL Flickr pool.

The day was inspired by the change of Chair for the Arctic Council, coming later this year, as Canada hands over to the United States. Lines in the Ice has been lucky in the amount of relevant events that have fallen around its time in the Entrance Hall Gallery, what with HMS Erebus being found in the summer of 2014, and we were keen to draw connections to this event in Arctic politics too. As a result, we wound up the day with a public panel called, 'The Future of the Arctic', which hosted representatives from the Canadian High Commission, the Lords Select Committee for the Arctic, the US Embassy and the scientist Dr. Gabrielle Walker in conversation with the public, all chaired by Professor Klaus Dodds.

Excellent audience questions and thoughtful answers from the panel made this an engaging and insightful event. It also drew together the strands of the day. Mention of the Canadian High Arctic Research Station tied in with a paper by Team Americas' own Rosanna White while discussions about the agency of Arctic indigenous peoples in global politics connected to an earlier paper on the Harriman Expedition by Jen Smith

Overall the day articulated a core point similar to that of Lines in the Ice, that our contemporary interest in and experience of the Arctic does not exist in isolation of the area's history. At a time when the challenges facing the area are immense we must not be bound to this history but learn from it to create a viable future for all of those who live in Alaska and the wider Arctic regions.

Thanks to all our participants who took the time and effort to be part of this discussion, Team Americas hopes to keep in touch with you in the future.

[PJH]

Symposium programme:  

ALASKA, THE ARCTIC AND THE US IMAGINATION
Monday 16 March 2015
The British Library Conference Centre

Session 1: Emerging research on the Polar Regions

  • Claire Warrior (Cambridge and National Maritime Museum), ‘Museums, families and the continued creation of Arctic histories in Britain’
  • Michaela Pokorná (University of Tromsø - The Arctic University of Norway), ‘The Old Frontier in a New Garment: The Last American Frontier in Charles Brower’s Fifty Years Below Zero (1942)’
  • Rosanna White (Royal Holloway, University of London/Eccles Centre), ‘Ceremonies of Possession: Performing sovereignty in the Canadian Arctic’
  • Johanna Feier (TU Dortmund University, Germany), ‘North to a Greener Future: The Filmic Construction of Alaska’s Far North’
  • Kim Salmons (St Mary’s University, Twickenham), ‘The Greely Arctic Expedition: A New Source for Joseph Conrad’s short story “Falk”’


Keynote:

  • Michael Robinson (Hillyer College, University of Hartford), ‘American Visions of the Arctic, 1815-2015’

Session 2: Bringing the Arctic home

  • Judith Ann Schiff (Chief Research Archivist, Yale University Library), ‘Yale’s Arctic Archives’
  • George Philip LeBourdais (Stanford University), ‘An Aesthetics of Ice: William Bradford’s Arctic Regions and America’s New Ecology’
  • Susan Eberhard (University of California, Berkeley), ‘Panther Adrift: Loss, Commemoration and William Bradford’s Arctic Landscapes’
  • Jen Smith (University of California, Berkeley), ‘(Re)imagining Race, Nature, and the Colonial Frontier in Northern Spaces through the Harriman Alaska Expedition Archive, and the Harriman Retraced of 2001’


Session 3: The Arctic and US politics

  • Matthew Kahn (Northwestern University), ‘The North Hope: Energy Development, Environmental Protection, and Competing Visions for Alaska’s North Slope’
  • Charlotte Hille (University of Amsterdam) and Ruud Janssens (University of Amsterdam), ‘National Security and Polar Profits: United States government perceptions of the Arctic from USS Nautilus to NSPD 66’
  • Dawn Alexandrea Berry (Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Hickam Air Force Base, Honolulu, HI), ‘Greenlandic Resources and the Future of American Security Policies in the Arctic’
  • Klaus Dodds (Royal Holloway, University of London), ‘Re-imagining Alaska: Building scientific bridges with Beringia (c.1967-2014)’

05 December 2014

American news dailies and weeklies: current acquisitions

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Inspired by the recent opening of the Library’s Newsroom, we thought we’d write a few blogs about the American newspaper holdings, both historic and contemporary. First up, a guide to the dailies and weeklies we currently subscribe to. On microfilm these titles may only be read in the Newsroom and there is usually a three month time-lag in availability; any relevant indexes are held in the Newsroom on open access. In the Reading Rooms, access to the online version of both the dailies and weeklies is variable, so please check the listing below.

DAILIES

Chicago Tribune, 1849 –  : The microfilm shelf-mark for the Chicago Tribune is MFM.MA207, although our holdings are imperfect for the first decade or so; its Index (1972 – ) is on open access in the Newsroom at shelf-mark NRR071.94. Online access to the Tribune’s business-focused articles is provided via two databases: Gale Cengage Business & Industry (1987 – 2002), which is available in all Reading Rooms, and Factiva (from 2003) which is available in the Business & IP Centre, the Social Sciences Reading Room and two PCs in the Newsroom.

International New York Times, 2013 –  : This paper was first published as The New York Herald (European edition) on 4 October 1887. Since then it has had numerous titles, including the International Herald Tribune (1966 – 2013). In all its incarnations it has microfilm shelf-mark MFM.MA1*. Full-text access to the International Herald Tribune (1994 – 98) is available on CD-ROM in the Humanities 2 Reading Room; this may be extended to other Reading Rooms soon.

Los Angeles Times, 1881 –  : The microfilm shelf-mark is MFM.MA46 and the Index (1972 – ) has Newsroom shelf-mark NRR071.94.  Full-text online access to the LA Times (from 1985) is available in all Reading Rooms via Newsbank/Access World News; my next blog will focus on this extraordinary database.

 The New York Times, 1851 –  : The microfilm version has shelf-mark MFM.MA3 and the Index (1851 – present ) has Newsroom shelf-mark NRR071.47. The New York Times, 1851 – 2010, is available as part of the ProQuest Historical Newspapers database: this provides full facsimile page and article images and can be accessed in every Reading Room. Beyond 2010, access to business-focused news is offered via Factiva (from 1980), which can be accessed in the Business & IP Centre, the Social Sciences Reading Room and two PCs in the Newsroom, and Gale Cengage Business & Industry (from 1994), which is accessible in every Reading Room.

The Wall Street Journal, 1889 –  : The microfilm shelf-mark for the American edition is MFM.MA78 and its Index (1967 – ) has Newsroom shelf-mark NNR071.47. Online access (1990 – today’s edition) is available via Factiva in the Business & IP Centre, the Social Sciences Reading Room and on two PCs in the Newsroom.

The Washington Post, 1877 –  : The microfilm shelf-mark is MFM.MA370. Full-text online access to the Post’s business articles (from 2007) is available via Factiva in the Business & IP Centre, the Social Sciences Reading Room and two PCs in the Newsroom.

 WEEKLIES

The New Republic, 1914 –  : Now published twice a month, for most of its life The New Republic was published weekly, hence our decision to list it here; it has microfilm shelf-mark MFM.MA57. Online access (from 1993) is available in every Reading Room via Newsbank/Access World News: once in this database, click on ‘America’s News Magazines’ which is listed in ‘Shortcuts’.

Newsweek, 1933 –  : The American edition  (1933 – 1998) has microfilm shelf-mark MFM.MA390 and the hard-copy Overseas edition (1948 – 2009) has shelf-mark LOU.A391. Full text online access to Newsweek (from 1991) is available in every Reading Room via Newsbank/Access World News: as above, once in this database, click on ‘America’s News Magazines’ which is listed in ‘Shortcuts’.

Time, 1923 –  : The microfilm shelf-mark is MFM.MA397. Online access to Time’s business articles is available in every Reading Room via ESBSCOhost Business Source Complete (from 1990) and ProQuest ABI/Inform (from 2000, excluding the last three months).

The Village Voice (New York), 1955 –  : The microfilm shelf-mark is MFM.MA481.

- Plus, see our guide to US historical newspapers 

[J.P.]

 

 

13 November 2014

Mark Twain and the SS Batavia

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HolbrookMudHouse

Last week, taking some time away from the redbrick and slate beehive that is the British Library, I headed to the Jeffersonian columns and crinkle crankle walls of Charlottesville, VA. Taken from the third best coffee shop in town, this cameraphone photograph shows – if you look hard enough – one of America’s best-loved actors, Hal Holbrook, in town for a performance of Mark Twain Tonight! at the Virginia Film Festival. Holbrook has been performing his one-man Twain play for over sixty years (and filmed in 1967). A documentary, Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey, which explores his iconic portrait of the writer, was also screened during the festival.

Sadly, I didn’t catch any of it (although I did manage to do some work in the coffee shop). But there is never an excuse to miss a dose of Twain, thanks to The Mark Twain Papers & Project (MTP) at The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. For the second of a possible series of posts on Atlantic crossings (see the first, Taking the Train to America), we can join Samuel Clemens on board the Cunard Steamer SS Batavia in November 1872. Twain had been touring Britain but was returning to his wife and surviving child. He had planned on publishing a book about his tour, and was looking forward to satirizing English ‘institutions and customs’, the MTP editors suggest, taking this quotation from an interview in the Chicago Evening Post in December 1871 as a harbinger of the tone he would take (on the Prince of Wale’s recovery from typhoid – see the medical bulletins and other materials in the Lowe-Elkington papers at Add MSS 78749, ff. 91-115; 78751 A & 78752 A).

I’m glad the boy’s going to get well; I’m glad, and not ashamed to own it. For he will probably make the worst King Great Britain has ever had. And that’s what the people need, exactly. They need a bad King. He’ll be a blessing in disguise. He’ll tax ’em, and disgrace ’em, and oppress ’em, and trouble ’em in a thousand ways, and they’ll go into training for resistance. The best King they can have is a bad King. He’ll cultivate their self-respect and self-reliance, and their muscle, and they’ll finally kick him out of office and set up for themselves. (“Brevities,” 21 Dec 71, 4)

But once in England, the writer instead ‘found himself reluctant to mock cherished beliefs or traditions for fear of offending his new English friends’, the editors note. As Twain put it, it did not want to cause a 'a violation of the courteous hospitality'.

During his stay, Twain travelled, met Henry Morton Stanley, inspected the London Zoological Gardens and the Brighton Aquarium, was startled by a cat in Westminster Abbey, made a meal of a Dover sole (or 'soul') and visited the Albert Memorial – on which a ‘group [of statuary] represents America—an Indian woman seated upon a buffalo which is careering through the long prairie grass; & about her are half a dozen figures representing the United States, Canada, South America &c…. One cannot convey, with words, the majesty of these stony creatures—the ease, the dignity, the grace, that sit upon them so royally.’ And, of course, he visited the British Museum:

I am wonderfully thankful for the British Museum. Nobody comes bothering around me—nobody elbows me—all the room & all the light I want under this huge dome—no disturbing noises—& people standing ready to bring me a copy of pretty much any book that ever was printed under the sun—& if I choose to go wandering about the great long corridors & galleries of the great building, the secrets of all the Earth & all the ages are laid open to me. I am not capable of expressing my gratitude for the British Museum—it seems as if I do not know any but little words & weak ones.

This all achieved, he sailed back to the States from Liverpool on the SS Batavia after concluding ‘I do like these English people—they are perfectly splendid—& so says every American who has staid here any length of time.’

En route, some 1,500 miles from land, the SS Batavia caught sight of a foundering barque, the Charles Ward, after a night of howling gale. The barque had lost its sail and was in a pitiful state; the survivors were close to losing their minds. Twain watched on as the captain of the Batavia and her crew staged a daring rescue of nine souls, while offering as much assistance as he could (despite his lack of umbrella).

Twain may not have been a great deal on use on board deck, but he then did what he knew best, and took up his pen, writing to the newspapers from the ship, requesting recognition for the captain and crew by the Royal Humane Society:

If I have been of any service toward rescuing these nine ship-wrecked human beings by standing around the deck in a furious storm, without any umbrella, keeping an eye on things & seeing that they were done right, & yelling whenever a cheer seemed to be the important thing, I am glad, & I am satisfied. I ask no reward. I would do it again under the same circumstances. But what I do plead for, & earnestly & sincerely, is that the Royal Humane Society will remember our captain & our life-boat crew; &, in so remembering them, increase the high honor & esteem in which the society is held all over the civilized world.

The editors suggest that the letter to the Royal Humane Society is now lost, but you can read his account, and a good deal more besides, on the MTP site, as well as in several newspapers, for example, the Somerset Herald (Pennsylvania) (.pdf on the Library of Congress's site].

Twain was clearly quite struck by the event, and followed up on it, and enquired avidly about the medal and monies the men should have received (see his letter to the captain of the Batavia, 22 Jan 1873). He was also impressed by the work of the Royal Human Society, which he noted had no American equivalent, and aimed to donate the income from a lecture to them.

The SS Batavia continued to plough the seas, and some thirty years later set a record for the number of passengers to arrive in New York City – 2,584 (8 June 1903).  And, closer to home, albeit slightly further north than in Twain's day, people still stand ready to bring you pretty much any book that ever was printed under the sun – and more besides.

[Matthew Shaw]

14 October 2014

Baseball in the Library

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As mentioned in the Babe Ruth blog back in July, the Library was recently pleased to acquire the extensive baseball collection of Mike Ross.  

Of its 300+ items, about two thirds were published in the 1980s and 90s – with the rest dating between the late 1940s and 2000s. In subject matter they span the panoply of baseball publishing. There are biographies and autobiographies of players such as Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson and Sandy Koufax, to name but a few; team histories include the Red Sox, the Phillies, the Dodgers and the Yankees; there are books about the Minor Leagues, the Negro League, the American League, the 1919 World Series, the dead ball era and baseball during World War II; and there are works by those associated with the game as managers, owners, umpires, scouts, sports writers and broadcasters. 

Not surprisingly, given its vital role in summarizing performance and evaluating players, numerous works incorporate or are devoted to statistical analysis. In addition to annual editions of the American League Red Book, the National League Green Book and team media and information guides, there are also numerous works by Bill James whose innovative statistical approach – ‘sabermetrics’ – earned him a place on Time’s 2006 guide to the 100 most influential people in the world. 

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Finally, the collection includes literary works that take baseball as their theme, runs of  baseball journals including National Pastime and The Baseball Research Journal and – in addition to numerous works highlighting best player, moment, decade or season – there are a few that take a slightly more circumspect approach to the national game. 

Baseball (2)

The collection is now on its way to Boston Spa where it will be catalogued by our colleagues – we will keep you posted on its progress!

[J.P.]