Michael H. Leary Letters

Letter from Michael Leary to Nellie Desmond, Box 1, Folder 18, Michael H. Leary Letters, MS.1986.043, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Letter from Michael Leary to Nellie Desmond, Box 1, Folder 18, Michael H. Leary Letters, MS.1986.043, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Being called upon to help decipher bad handwriting is an occupational hazard for the staff of the Burns Library, home to hundreds of linear feet of correspondence written by thousands of individuals – political and religious leaders, literary figures, bank clerks, undertakers, criminals, saints, et al. – and used by researchers here at the Heights and around the world.

Sharing these unique resources with our researchers is done in a variety of ways. Some visit the Burns Library, working for days – or even weeks – in our Reading Room, studying material from our manuscript collections. We share items from our collections via digital copies, and both our Reference and Archives & Manuscripts staff regularly scan and email copies of portions of our collections to those who request them. We also refer researchers to a growing repository of already digitized material. A few examples of these are William Butler Yeats’s notebook containing the first draft of his play written in 1884, Love and Death; the abstract of the log book of a voyage of the Frigate United States (1842-1844); and a letter written to King John III of Portugal in 1552 by Saint Francis Xavier.

Letter from Michael Leary to Ellen (Nellie) Desmond, Box 1, Folder 10, Michael H. Leary Letters, MS.1986.043, John J. Burns Library.

Letter from Michael Leary to Ellen (Nellie) Desmond, Box 1, Folder 10, Michael H. Leary Letters, MS.1986.043, John J. Burns Library.

Primary source material like letters often illustrate events and relationships more profoundly than secondary sources can. Although many of the letters and other documents at the Burns Library are written by well-known people, some of the most compelling letters in our manuscript collections are those written by “ordinary” people, and some of the most interesting of those are written when such people find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. The Boston College University Libraries have digitized an entire collection of such documents:  The Michael H. Leary Letters (MS.1986.043). Michael H. Leary was an Irish-American from Boston, Massachusetts and soldier in Union Army during the Civil War. This collection is composed of correspondence from Leary to Ellen (Nellie) Desmond, mostly written from Virginia. The collection begins in 1861 while Leary was stationed in Washington D.C. and continues through 1863. The final letters Leary wrote from a hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The letters provide accounts of Leary’s life in the Ninth Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War as well as his desire to reunite with Nellie.

The best way to access a digitized collection (Leary Letters included) is to find it through Holmes. Links within a collection’s record will bring the researcher to its catalog record and finding aid. It is via the finding aid for a collection that you will find links to any digital objects which represent its content. A finding aid is a document that describes the materials in context and includes information about their provenance, a biographical or historical note about who created or collected the material, a description of the scope of the material (size, subjects, media), statements about organization and arrangement, and an inventory of the material itself. Finding aids are often linked to the listing in Holmes.  Although new ones are added frequently, some finding aids are available only in the Burns Library.  To request more information, call the Burns Library at 617-552-4861 or e-mail us at burnsref@bc.edu.

Envelope, Box 1, Folder 46, Michael H. Leary Letters, MS.1986.043, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Envelope, Box 1, Folder 46, Michael H. Leary Letters, MS.1986.043, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

One key advantage to studying a digital copy of a document is the way in which it allows the researcher to examine closely a physical object. There is often much to be gleaned from the appearance of a letter – the paper itself, the handwriting and spelling, and the way that a document has fared over time. Examining the address leaf or envelope can also add to one’s understanding of the contents of a letter. The Leary letters, for example, are written on Union Army stationery, which, although not unique, is interesting to see. In order to view an example, go to the online finding aid for the Leary Letters; click on the link next to the item you wish to view – in this case, folder 46. Once the page opens, click on the thumbnail of the envelope, then choose “item 17” to see one example of an envelope from the Leary Letters.

At the time the Leary Letters were digitized, only a few details were known about Michael Leary, most of which were gleaned from secondary sources on the subject of his military service. Prior to their digitization I had not taken the opportunity to study the collection, but I suspected that some research might answer several basic questions about Leary and Desmond, including the question of whether they were able to build a life together after the war. In an attempt to see what could be added to the biographical sketch in the collection’s finding aid, I utilized ancestry.com; americanancestors.org; the Historical Boston Globe database; city directories; and the Burns Library’s University Archives.

  • American Ancestors is the website of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Members have access to databases which include records of Massachusetts births, marriages, and deaths.
  • Nine Boston city directories can be accessed via Tufts University’s Digital Collections and Archives resource Boston Streets: Mapping Directory Data

The following resources are available through the Boston College University Libraries:

  • Ancestry.com is widely known as a resource for genealogy, but is also an invaluable tool to discover other information about United States citizens, including where they lived and with whom, employment and salary information, and additional detail about immigration and naturalization, military service, etc. Last fall, based on a faculty request, History Bibliographer Elliot Brandow announced that the Boston College University Libraries had acquired an institutional membership to Ancestry.com. When asked for feedback recently, Professor Jim O’Toole assured me that those working in BC’s History Department are enthusiastic (his word was “overjoyed”) users of this resource.
  • The Historical Boston Globe database is a good place to find obituaries (another excellent source of personal information). And, if the person whom you are researching ever made it into the news – for reasons good or ill – you may discover it there. For example, after learning the names of the Leary children, it came to light that two of their sons attended Boston College – thus possibly explaining how it is that Burns came to own the letters (a detail either unrecorded by early library staff, or lost to time).
  • The University Archives at the Burns Library provided more detail about the lives of the two Leary children who attended Boston College (although the sources I used from it are not yet digitized, they may be used by researchers at the Burns Library).

Letter from Michael Leary to Nellie Desmond, Box 1, Folder 16, Michael H. Leary Letters, MS.1986.043, John J. Burns Library.

Based upon research using the above resources, we now know that Michael H. Leary was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on February 7, 1837 to Dennis and Anne Leary. Ellen A. (Nellie) Desmond, was born in Ireland in 1840 to John and Ellen Desmond. After their courtship through the early 1860s, while Michael was serving with the Union Army, Michael and Nellie married and lived in Boston. They were the parents of six children, five of whom lived to adulthood: Annie G. (1865-1941); John H. (1866-1890); Mary Ellen (aka Mary G.) (1868-1960); Lucy (1869-?); James Francis (1871-1932); and Henry Aloysius (1875-1927). Michael’s occupation in various records is given as printer, laborer, and junk dealer. The family lived at a variety of addresses in Boston proper and South Boston. Nellie died in Boston of pneumonia at age 50 on December 30, 1890. James and Henry attended Boston College and both became Jesuit priests. Annie and Mary did not marry, and lived together in Watertown, Massachusetts. Their father lived with them there after their mother’s death. John, who also did not marry, died just a few months before his mother in Boston at age 24.

Knowing their names and dates is almost meaningless, though, compared to what you will learn about them and their world by reading their mail. And, don’t worry – Michael’s handwriting isn’t all that bad!

Burns staff members look forward to answering questions about our collections and how to access them. Information about the Archives and Manuscript collections at Burns can be found in the Archives & Manuscripts section of the Burns Library Research Guide.

Posted in Archives & Manuscripts, Archives Diary, Digital Projects, Exhibits & Events, Featured Collections & Books, Staff Posts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

History Students Create Maps Exhibit with Burns Library Books

Map of Boston College's Chestnut Hill Campus

Map of Boston College’s Chestnut Hill Campus

Maps are all around us. A map of campus orients the visitor to Boston College; an old map of Boston hangs in a gilt frame; and, increasingly, a map on a handheld device points to a coffee spot, a concert hall, or a way home. In their ubiquity, maps are paradoxically more limited. We are so used to seeing those aerial views of roads and highways that it begins to seem that this, and only this, is what maps are. They show traffic routes from above; they show how to get from one place to another.

Professor Sylvia Sellers-Garcia and her Spring 2014 “Making History Public” students pictured in front of the Burns Library’s Ford Tower.

Professor Sylvia Sellers-Garcia and her Spring 2014 “Making History Public” students pictured in front of the Burns Library’s Ford Tower.

The “Making History Public” class of Spring, 2014, set out to challenge this conception. Continuing the collaboration between the History Department and the Boston College Libraries, this course was the fourth of its kind. A course on early books began the program in 2012-2013; since then,  students have worked on the American history as seen through comics and the history of Boston Common. Our class, taught at the Burns Library as the others were, aimed to anchor a historical topic in the Burns collections and emerge with a substantive exhibit made up of high quality reproductions of Burns Library materials and student authored exhibit text about these particular materials.

From the start, our course attempted to broaden the conception of maps and mapping. The current notion of cartography is precisely that – current. It emerges from a set of historical circumstances. As such, it stands to reason that maps were not always conceived in the same way; people in other time periods and other cultures imagined the map differently. Our early readings stretched the idea of mapping by considering alternate conceptions, past and present. In pre-Columbian Meseoamerica, we learned, maps were less about navigation and more about narrative: they recounted history in pictorial form.

“An Hidrographical Draught of Mexico as it Lies in its Lakes” from v. 3 of <i>The General History of the Vast Continent and Islands of America</i> by Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas, translated by John Stevens, London, 1725, Williams Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College. This map is part of the Fall 2014 "Making History Public Exhibit“ in Stokes Hall 3S.

“An Hidrographical Draught of Mexico as it Lies in its Lakes” from v. 3 of The General History of the Vast Continent and Islands of America by Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas, translated by John Stevens, London, 1725, Williams Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College. This map is part of the Fall 2014 “Making History Public Exhibit“ in Stokes Hall 3S.

A present-day cartographer in North Carolina, we discovered, has mapped his neighborhood by where dogs bark, or where streetlights shine, or where jack-o-lanterns are placed. And maps of the early modern world, we realized, depicted places that seemed both familiar and distorted: familiar because they set the foundation for the maps we most use today, but also distorted in what they included and omitted, what they chose to emphasize, what assumptions informed the map in the first place. Maps, our class concluded, are always distortions to some degree. They cannot include everything and they always have a point of view.

Very quickly, the students in “Early Maps and Distant Places” realized that all of the maps we were considering at the Burns Library were made by Europeans. Why was this? Answering the question required exploring many difficult (and in some cases unanswerable) questions about empire, colonial history, and intellectual traditions. Sometimes the distortion is not even on the map, but it becomes visible considering maps as a collection. This is the case with the materials our class curated. We began with the notion of an exhibit demonstrating how maps from all different times and places make different kinds of arguments. Instead, we found an unexpected – and very instructive – constraint. All the maps we had on hand were in the European tradition, and they made very similar arguments. The resulting exhibit, Ordering the Unknown: The European Mapping Tradition from 1600 to 1860, considers how European cartographers of this era used maps to organize, classify, and lay claim to parts of the world imperfectly know to them. (Obviously these parts of the world were very well-known to others.) The argument these maps make, loosely summarized, is that the world can be ordered and made known. However dangerous, however strange, however distant, the intellectual tools made evident on the map, so goes the claim, are up to the challenge.

Detail of Dublin from <em>The Traveller's New Guide through Ireland</em>, Dublin, 1815, Irish Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.  This map is part of the Fall 2014 "Making History Public Exhibit“ in Stokes Hall 3S.

Detail of Dublin from The Traveller’s New Guide through Ireland, Dublin, 1815, Irish Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College. This map is part of the Fall 2014 “Making History Public Exhibit“ in Stokes Hall 3S.

Though the direction of the exhibit caught us by surprise, the unalloyed pleasure of poring over old maps did not. Our hours spent in the wonderful Burns Library Reading Room led us to uncover every manner of cartographic treasure. There were far too many to include in our exhibit! Thanks to the invaluable guidance of Burns Library Senior Reference Librarian/Bibliographer Justine Sundaram, we found fantastic maps of all kinds in the Burns Library’s Williams, Irish and General Collections. Thanks to the inexhaustible resources suggested by O’Neill Library Senior Reference Librarian/Bibliographer Elliot Brandow, we understood precisely where the maps came from. And thanks to the imaginative work of  MTS Photographer Chris Soldt  and Bapst Library Exhibits Specialist/Senior Library Assistant Kevin Tringale, the maps we found will be available for all to see. The exhibit curated by the students of “Early Maps and Distant Places”  is now on display in the History Department, Stokes Hall, floor 3, South. Please stop by to visit our exhibit and enjoy our cartographic findings!

To learn more about past exhibits curated by “Making History Public” students, view the BC Libraries exhibit listings.  For more in-depth information about these exhibits, read Professor Virginia Reinburg’s  article about the Books around the World: 1400-1800 and this article about Professor Heather Cox Richardson’s exhibit featuring the Kane Comic Collection.

For more information about the  Burns library, visit libguides.bc.edu/burns. You can also like the Burns Library on Facebook, follow the Burns Library on Twitter, view Burns Library Collections on Flickr, and subscribe to the Burns blog.

Professor Sylvia Sellers-GarciaSylvia Sellers-Garcia, Assistant Professor,                                Boston College History Department

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A Common Cause: David Goldstein and Martha Moore Avery

Over the summer, the archivists at the John J. Burns Library have been processing the papers of David Goldstein and Martha Moore Avery. Goldstein and Avery spent their lives as campaigners, even if what they campaigned for changed dramatically over the course of their lives. When they met in the 1890s at Boston meetings of the Socialist Labor Party, David Goldstein was a twenty-something Jewish Socialist and member of the Cigarmakers’ International Union, a recent transplant to Boston from his childhood home of New York; Martha Moore Avery was a forty-something widow with a Unitarian background, who had joined the SLP as a reaction against Nationalism. They were dedicated supporters of the socialist cause, with Avery making a living as a public speaker for the party, and both  holding “free-speech meetings” where the rights of the workers were made paramount.

Buttons, undated, David Goldstein and Martha Moore Avery Papers, MS.1986.167, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

But with the new century came new ideals: after the prominent socialist George Herron left his wife and family (for a younger woman) and cited socialism’s “free love” as justification, Goldstein and Avery began to push for more religious moral instruction in the Socialist Labor Party – despite stern refusals by the party’s leadership. By 1903, both had left the Party. Avery converted to Catholicism that year, with Goldstein following suit two years later in 1905. From that point on, their lives were dedicated to campaigning for a different cause. After working together to write Socialism: The Nation of Fatherless Children, they founded the Catholic Truth Guild (later Campaigners for Christ), and lectured on the virtues of marriage, family, and religion – and the perceived evils of women’s suffrage, divorce, and Communism. Avery would later go on to help found the Philomatheia Club at Boston College, a women’s auxiliary devoted to Catholic education, and Goldstein would tour the country lecturing until his audience dried up with the Great Depression.

David Goldstein lecturing from a Catholic Truth Guild automobile outside Mission Dolores in San Francisco, California, circa 1928-1929, David Goldstein and Martha Moore Avery Papers, MS.1986.167, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The David Goldstein and Martha Moore Avery Papers document more than half a century of the lives of these two campaigners, in writings, artifacts, scrapbooks, and photographs. Their letters chart the shift in the pair’s ideologies, from their Socialist Party days right through their Catholic campaigns. Goldstein’s letters and scrapbooks tell the story of his travels across America. Notes and programs from their lectures demonstrate a willingness – even an enthusiasm – to use controversies of the day to highlight the virtues of Catholic teachings. Meanwhile, photographs from Goldstein’s tours show off the custom-made lecture cars he drove from city to city, the tools of the trade of a master showman.

Telegram from “Josef Stalin,” 1952, David Goldstein and Martha Moore Avery Papers, MS.1986.167, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

While Goldstein’s focus in the later part of his life seems to display a singularly conservative zeal, occasional items also show Goldstein as a more complicated man. Even after his break with Socialism, he maintained his membership in the Cigarmakers’ International Union; indeed, despite his anti-Socialist stance he remained staunchly pro-union, trying to fight the growth of Marxism within the working class by substituting Catholic social teachings. And he was certainly not a man without a sense of humor: one item from his collection is an (almost certainly fake) telegram from Josef Stalin detailing how reading Das Capital gives him a headache(!). Overall this collection is a wonderful resource for the study of turn-of-the-century American Socialism, from two of its greatest proponents-turned-critics, as well as for the study of early nineteenth-century evangelical Catholicism and those who espoused it. This collection will be completely processed and available to researchers later this fall. Please contact the Burns Library for more information, either by phone at 617-552-4861 or by email at burnsref@bc.edu.

  • Richard Burley, Burns Library Archives Student Assistant.


Campbell, Debra. “A Catholic Salvation Army: David Goldstein, Pioneer Lay Evangelist.” Church History 52.3 (September 1983): 322-332.

Campbell, Debra. “Goldstein, David.” American National Biography Online (February 2000). Access Date: Thu Sep 04 2014. http://www.anb.org/articles/08/08-02189.html.

Goldstein, David. Autobiography of a Campaigner for Christ. Boston: Catholic Campaigners for Christ, 1936.

Phelps, Connie. “Avery, Martha Moore.” American National Biography Online (February 2000). Access Date: Thu Sep 04 2014. http://www.anb.org/articles/08/08-01771.html.

Posted in Archives & Manuscripts, Archives Diary, Student Posts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Circle in the Sun

Burns Library staff gathering for a photo on the front steps of our building.

Burns Library staff gathering for a photo on the front steps of our building.

To celebrate the first day of the fall semester and my first day as Burns Librarian, Burns Library staff members gathered last Tuesday for a group photo on the steps of the Ford Tower. It took us a moment to set up the shot and strike a pose in the bright and rather hot late summer sun, and the focus was still a little off, but pictured left to right, are: (front row) Christine McIntosh, Justine Sundaram, Amy Braitsch, Lydia Murdy, Elizabeth Sweeney, Kathleen Williams; (middle row) Xaviera Flores, Barbara Adams Hebard, Jack Kearney, Adrienne Pruitt, Shelley Barber; (back row) David Richtmyer, Michael Burns, David Horn, (yours truly) Christian Dupont, and Andrew Isidoro (not pictured Fr. Philip Kiley, SJ). If you’re curious to know who of us does what at the Burns, feel free to take a peek at our staff listing.

The Boston College Memorial Labyrinth, located on the Burns Library's lawn, is dedicated to the 22 Boston College alumni lost in the 9/11 tragedy. It is a copy of the 13th-century labyrinth laid in stone on the floor of the nave of Chartres Cathedral.

The Boston College Memorial Labyrinth, located on the Burns Library’s lawn, is dedicated to the 22 Boston College alumni lost in the 9/11 tragedy. It is a copy of the 13th-century labyrinth laid in stone on the floor of the nave of Chartres Cathedral.

After a couple of digital shutter clicks, we threaded our way through the Memorial Labyrinth on the lawn adjacent to our building. I have long loved labyrinths, and have walked through them in various churches and cities. I had even walked our labyrinth on previous visits to campus, but most often alone, rapt in private meditation. So it was an especially moving experience for me to join my new colleagues in tracing out the winding pathway, the chain of our footsteps doubling back as we passed by one another in sometimes hushed, sometimes laughing contra dance lines—our gyrations drawing us closer, then farther, then finally into the center where we stood for a moment and faced each other in a ring around our Boston College seal and motto, “Ever to Excel.” How happy and enriched I feel to share this bond with the BC community, and with what joy I look forward to serving students, faculty, visiting researchers, alumni, and the global public in my new role as Burns Librarian.

For more information about the Burns Library’s collections, services, and programs, please contact us by phone at 617-552-4861, via e-mail at burnsref@bc.edu, or visit our website at libguides.bc.edu/burns.

Photograph by Lee Pellegrini.

Photograph by Lee Pellegrini.

Christian Dupont                                                                                   Burns Librarian and                                                                   Associate University Librarian for Special Collections

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Where is Chestnut Hill, Anyway?

Present day Boston map showing wards and precincts, from the City of Boston website.

Present day Boston map showing wards and precincts, from the City of Boston website.

Boston, Brookline, Chestnut Hill, oh my! For those of you who just rolled your eyes at that exclamation, please feel free to stop reading here. For those out-of-towners who struggle with the ever-present debate of whether to have your family address your care packages to Newton or Chestnut Hill, this post is for you. As you walk up Beacon Street, you encounter a sign before Campion Hall declaring, “Now Entering Newton.” As a freshman, this confused me. As a sophomore, I realized that Boston had different municipalities or wards or something of that sort. As a junior, I knew that Brookline was different from Newton but I was still unsure as to which area(s) Chestnut Hill actually referred. As a conservation assistant at Burns Library, my confusions were finally cleared.

The conservation assistants at Burns Library are currently working on a project to house and preserve the pamphlets of the Bostonia collection.

This preservation enclosure was made by the author for a Bostonia Collection pamphlet.

The conservation assistants at the Burns Library are currently working on a project to house and preserve the pamphlets of the Bostonia collection. Just as the collection’s name indicates, these books and pamphlets all have to do with the greater metropolitan area of Boston, past and present. Recently, I came across pamphlets entitled The Opening Argument for the Town of Brookline and The Past, Present and Future of Boston. I’m not sure about you, but when I think of “past” Boston, I think of the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere, and maybe about the corrupt politicians and the mob. I had never really considered how the physical territory of the city came to be. These pamphlets alerted me to the fact that the annexation of territory and organization of the city’s land was yet another struggle that this great city has faced.

Map of Boston from the 30th edition of the <i>Rand McNally Boston Guide</i>, 08-000033866 Boston Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Map of Boston from the 30th edition of the Rand McNally Boston Guide, 08-000033866 Boston Collection.

In The Past, Present and Future of Boston (1873), Hon. J.S. Potter argues for immediate annexation of Boston’s surrounding areas, namely Winthrop, Revere, Chelsea, Malden, Everett, Somerville, Charlestown, West Roxbury, Brookline, Medford, Arlington, Belmont, Watertown, Brighton and Cambridge. He cites the “tendency of the people of all civilized nations to congregate in great cities” and that land needs to be acquired in preparation of this mass immigration (36). The territories existed separately “in a labyrinth of independent municipalities, all working at cross purposes, and each in its isolated character too small and weak to have any local or general celebrity… eclipsed under Boston’s shadow” (30). He argued that the prosperity of Boston would increase with more land and thus more manufacturing opportunities, and that more space would mean less densely-populated areas, meaning more parks to increase life and health and less crime (47, 72). The main argument against annexation is expressed by Alfred D. Chandler, Esq. in Opening Argument for the Town of Brookline (1880): Why rush annexation? In the late nineteenth century, he argued, Boston wasn’t thickly settled, and adding territory would cost more money to run the city government, a government he called “precarious” and whose corruption did not need to be extended (15). Brookline did not have access to the West to help the railroad expansion nor seacoast to expand Boston’s ports. Brookline’s debt alone should be a reason for Boston not to annex it, he claimed. In addition, he argued that the annexation would be detrimental to the town of Brookline: Brookline in particular had a good town government, and if it was to be incorporated in to Boston, it would sink “into a mere Ward and [lose] this character” (42). Indeed, Brookline is called “the richest town in the world, and also one of the most beautiful” and even in Rand McNally’s Boston Guide (1930) asserted that the town “prefers to retain a town form of government” (96). Proponents of annexation argued that the incorporation was “inevitable” and “cost of delay is enormous” (Potter 65). The argument for annexation was clearly a strong one, as many towns—West Roxbury, Brighton, and Charlestown of those mentioned above—were incorporated.

Photo and description of Boston College from the 30th edition of the Rand McNally Boston Guide, 08-000033866 Boston Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Photo of Boston College from the 30th edition of the Rand McNally Boston Guide, 08-000033866 Boston Collection.

“Looking down upon the present we find scattered over the territory described… Boston broken into municipal fragments,–and while there is but one common interest affecting all, independent governments are maintained in conflict with one another. Under such an incongruous system there can be no harmony or method, while both are essential to public prosperity” (Potter 81). Most of this nineteenth-century statement still rings true, over a century later. One thing is different, though: the independent governments are not in conflict. There is a harmony. In the bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon, this became transiently apparent: we are Boston Strong. Boston, Newton, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and maybe all of New England can identify with this spirit. Those for annexation wanted to promote Boston’s spirit and those against it the individual town spirit, but it is clear that these spirits are one in Boston Strong.

Brookline remains its own town.  Newton is to the west of Brighton and Brookline, known for the “beautiful rides from Lake Street… through winding way of Commonwealth Ave” (McNally 99). “Boston College (conducted by Jesuit Fathers) buildings overlook Chestnut Hill Reservoir. They are situated in Newton, just beyond the Boston line” (69). Oh, and for those of you who were wondering: Chestnut Hill actually encompasses three different municipalities; part of the town of Brookline, the city of Boston—Brighton and West Roxbury—, and the city of Newton. So, have those care packages sent where you want; all I can say is that I pity our poor mail carriers.  For more information about Boston history resources available at the Burns Library, please contact the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.

Anna Whitham

Anna Whitham, Conservation Assistant, John J. Burns Library

Works Consulted

Marchione, William P., Dr. “Annexation Spurned: Brookline’s Rejection of   Boston.” Brighton Allston Historical Society, 2001. Accessed July 16, 2014. http://www.bahistory.org/HistoryAnnexBrookline.html.

Posted in B. C. History, Conservation, Featured Collections & Books, Student Posts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Coventry Patmore Collection

Undated framed photograph of Coventry Patmore, Box 2, Folder 4, Coventry Patmore Papers, MS.2006.062, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Undated framed photograph of Coventry Patmore, Box 2, Folder 4, Coventry Patmore Papers, MS.2006.062, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The Burns Library owns a significant collection of Coventry Patmore Papers. Patmore (July 23, 1823 – November 26, 1896), a prominent literary figure, was for a short period one of the most widely read poets in England, though as the nineteenth century progressed his poetry was less and less appreciated. Raised in a literary home, his father a well-known man of letters, Patmore from early on was interested in art. His copy of one of Landseer’s pictures was awarded the silver palette of the Royal Society of Arts in 1838. He was only fourteen. He also developed a strong interest in science as a youth, his father even building him his own laboratory. Strongly influenced by Tennyson’s 1842 collected poems, Patmore in 1844 published his first book of poetry, Poems. Though well received by some, including Leigh Hunt, Robert Browning, and Bulwer Lytton, it was savagely reviewed by Blackwood’s Magazine: “This is the life into which the slime of the Keateses and Shelleys of former times has fecundated.” It is clear that Patmore himself later considered that these early poems were somewhat weak as he did not include any in his four volume collected poems published in 1879.

In 1846 Monckton Milnes helped Patmore secure a post as a supernumerary assistant in the Department of the Printed Books in the British Museum, a post he held until 1865. The Angel in the House was Patmore’s first major poetical work. This was composed of four volumes: The Betrothal (1854), The Espousals (1856), Faithful for Ever (1860), and The Victories of Love (1863). This poetry, a paean to his first wife Emily Augusta Andrews, had as its primary subject the pleasures of an ideal marriage. Though received very well by the Victorians as the ideal of married love-over a quarter million copies had been sold by Patmore’s death-it has been often criticized, for example by Virginia Woolf, as being sexist and contributing to the subordination of women. However, John Maynard observes that this subsequent vilification of Patmore is somewhat unfair, as his views were quite common in his day. Still, though Angel in the House has distinct poetic virtuosity, its frequent mawkishness renders its appeal to be limited for today’s readers.

Title page of a manuscript version of "The Unknown Eros", Box 2, Folder 4, Coventry Patmore Papers, MS.2006.062, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Title page of a manuscript version of “The Unknown Eros”, Box 2, Folder 4, Coventry Patmore Papers, MS.2006.062, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Soon after Emily died in 1862 leaving Patmore with six young children, he traveled to Rome where he converted to Catholicism. In 1864 he remarried. His new wife, Marianne Caroline Byles, another Catholic convert, brought financial security to Patmore that allowed him to retire from his British Museum position and devote the remainder of his life to literary pursuits. In 1877 Patmore published the elegiac The Unknown Eros, and Other Odes whose themes center on the nature of both human love and the higher love of God. In the same year he visited Lourdes and made a number of retreats. In 1878 he published another series of narrative love poems, Amelia, reputably his favorite set of poems. At about this time Patmore became deep friends with the poet Alice Meynell who was a fervent champion of his poetry. However, after Patmore began to wish that the friendship become more than platonic, Meynell withdrew. (Burns Library has an important collection of Meynell’s papers including a scrapbook of articles, reviews, and poems, poetry and prose manuscripts, and correspondence. Burns also has a selection of Derek Patmore’s papers which contain the very interesting hand-written account by Derek Patmore, Coventry’s great grandson, “Coventry Patmore’s Unhappy Love for Alice Meynell”). A year and a half after Marianne died in 1880 Patmore married his third wife Harriet Georgina Robson who bore him his seventh child. Patmore died on 26 November, 1896.

Title page of a manuscript version of "The Unknown Eros", Box 2, Folder 4, Coventry Patmore Papers, MS.2006.062, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Title page of a manuscript version of “The Unknown Eros”, Box 2, Folder 4, Coventry Patmore Papers, MS.2006.062, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Among the Patmore manuscripts in Burns is a beautiful, privately printed, green colored copy of Amelia that is inscribed to Edmund Gosse. Its multi-colored title page adorned with roses is particularly fine. There are signed manuscripts of “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Let Be,” and “Wind and Wave”, the third, fourth and ninth sections respectively of The Unknown Eros. There is also a signed manuscript of Patmore’s prose essay “Dieu et Ma Dame,” the last chapter of his Religio Poetae. In addition, the Burns material includes signed manuscripts of the essays “On Obscure Books” and “Peace in Life and Art.” The papers also include an unsigned manuscript of Patmore’s major poetical work The Unknown Eros. Patmore is, of course, best known today as a poet and man of letters. However, his interest in science was serious. Among the Burns material is a fascinating hand-written notebook detailing his scientific thoughts for the years 1839 to 1843. The first page heading reads: “Original Notes on Chemistry and General Science by C. K. D. Patmore”. Also among the papers is a very interesting undated hand-written “Notes of Conversation” which are Patmore’s own autobiographical notes. The opening sentence catches the eye: “Until I was about eleven years old, I was what is now called an “agnostic”, that is, I neither knew nor cared whether there was a God or no.”

Also among the Burns Patmore papers is a variorum edition in scrapbook form of Angel in the House collated with the manuscript by Shane Leslie. This includes several handwritten pages of commentary by Leslie. This is essentially an encomium of Patmore together with mordant criticism from some of Patmore’s contemporaries. Of Angel in the House, Leslie writes:

Of that marvelous Epic, the supreme matrimonial classic, the several delight of Emerson, Carlyle, Newman and Ruskin, little remains to be said. Tennyson solemnly declared that it was ‘an immortal poem’ adding to the world’s slight store of great poetry. It was a poem needing a lover’s as well as a husband’s appreciation. It was more than Ruskin’s ‘sweet analysis of quiet domestic feeling,’ for Ruskin was scarcely a lover or a husband. Still less Carlyle, who only found what was ‘quaintly comfortable’ therein. It needed a woman to see the passages were ‘so poignant that their pain and pleasure are more than the reader expects from poetry, more than many a reader expects from life.’ Yet no poet was more ridiculed among the Victorians.

Leslie goes on to lampoon Swinburne who was deeply critical of Angel in the House:

Swinburne, who hymned lascivious leanings and was incapable of love either sacred or profane, wrote a comic version of the Angel in the same taste that might produce a comic Prayer Book. The poet’s reply to parody was sublime. He wrote the Odes which defy parody. The Unknown Eros left Swinburne panting in his gilded brothel…

Undated framed photograph of Marianne Caroline Patmore, Box 4, Folder 12, Coventry Patmore Papers, MS.2006.062, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Undated framed photograph of Marianne Caroline Patmore, Box 4, Folder 12, Coventry Patmore Papers, MS.2006.062, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The numerous letters both to and from Coventry Patmore are among the most interesting items in the Burns papers. These include correspondence to Patmore from Robert Bridges, Aubrey Thomas De Vere, Alexander Kinglake, Henry Kingsley, John Henry Newman, Francis Turner Palgrave, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, James Spedding and correspondence from Patmore to William Allingham, Havelock Ellis, Edmund Gosse, Alice Meynell, John Ruskin, and Francis Thompson. The content of the letters is naturally very varied. Nathaniel Hawthorne thanks Patmore in 1858 for the gift of an edition of his poems. Ruskin writes saying how much he delights in one of Patmore’s poems. Tennyson, mentioning that he has a fowl and a bottle of sherry ready, asks Patmore to dine with him that evening. In September 1851 John Everett Millais who was painting a portrait of Patmore’s first wife Emily wrote to him:

I shall be in town the end of this week and will finish what is wanting to Mrs. Patmore’s portrait. I shall return again to this place, where we hope to entertain you some day in this coming month. You will I am sure be delighted with the house and country about it. If I should not happen to meet you, you shall have a clear written direction how to find us out. I have finished the background for Ophelia, and hope to commence another scene next week. I have been reading In Memoriam and it appears to me to be the most Godlike work since the Bible.

Rossetti in an undated letter to Patmore writes:

I have not been very well-at least, have been suffering continual pain from quite a week from neuralgia. I should before this have written to you and returned the proofs. I hope that I’m getting better now-though not quite yet…
I have still to thank you for all the pleasure the Espousals have given me. This volume I think has some decided advantages in form over the first, and there is more incident and variety of character. As poetry, the whole is simply admirable of its kind, and aught not to be talked of from the technical point of view, being too complete as art to need entering upon in that way.

On 6 February, 1875 Matthew Arnold wrote to Patmore about a mix-up regarding the latter’s address:

I got your note on my return home late last night. I should be very glad to see you again, and very glad to meet Mr Worsley, whom I missed, I am sorry to say, when he called upon me; and last night I fully intended to look in for an hour this evening, though not before nine o’clock, as I am engaged to dinner at 7. But now comes my difficulty: this morning your note can nowhere be found, and after a long search I am obliged to come to the conclusion that the housemaid has burnt it. I remember your street, and therefore I hope this will reach you, but I cannot remember your number, and your name is not in the new Court Guide. So, if this reaches you by 1 or 2 o’clock pray let me have one line to say to what number I am to come; if I do not hear from you, and do not arrive, you will know the reason. In that case give my very kind regards to Mr Worsley.

On 15 Oct, 1892 Patmore wrote to Edmund Gosse about consideration for the Poet Laureateship:

Letter from Coventry Patmore to Edmund Gosse, Box 2, Folder 40, Coventry Patmore Papers, MS.2006.020, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Letter from Coventry Patmore to Edmund Gosse, Box 2, Folder 40, Coventry Patmore Papers, MS.2006.020, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Thank you for your very friendly mention of me in your article on the Laureateship. I have always considered it to be so out of the question that it should be offered to me that I have never even considered what I should do if it were. I am glad that you advocate the claims of Austin Dobson. His appointment would satisfy every body. Certainly it would me.

I missed meeting you at Tennyson’s funeral by the accident of the invitation reaching me too late. I was staying in London, and the ticket was sent to Hastings and thence to Lymington, and thence to Town, where it found me just an hour too late.

The Burns Patmore Collection also contains numerous other letters neither to nor from Patmore. These include letters from Matthew Arnold, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Thomas DeQuincey, James Anthony Froude, James Leigh Hunt, William Savage Landor, Frederick Marryat, Walter Horatio Pater, Arthur Quiller-Couch, Alfred Tennyson, among many others.

Coventry Patmore is one of the least known Victorian poets and writers today. Some critics argue that this is unfair as his work, despite certain subject matter that was probably more congenial to earlier Victorian readers, deserves wider attention. It is also high time that a new biography be written of this complex literary figure. For anyone wishing to be become better acquainted with Patmore and his work, his papers in Burns Library are an excellent place to start.  To learn more, read the finding aid for the Coventry Patmore Collection or contact the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.

  • Brendan Rapple, Collection Development Librarian, O’Neill Library



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First Edition? The Complicated Bibliographic Record of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol

The cover of Dickens's <i> A Christmas Carol </i>.

The cover of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, PR4572. C68 1843 General

As a student assistant in the Burns Library Reading Room and a graduate student in the English department at Boston College, I occasionally have the privilege of combining my scholarly interest in Victorian literature with my practical responsibilities at the Burns Library. While deciding on a topic for this blog post, I searched the Burns library’s holdings of the works of Charles Dickens, an author who is a frequent subject of my research. One of the first items to come up in the catalog was a copy of Christmas Carol from 1843, the year Dickens’s first Christmas story was published. The catalog record in Holmes claims that this book is a first edition, but also directs patrons to another work, Charles Dickens in the Original Cloth: A Bibliographical Catalogue of His Writings in Book Form in England with Facsimiles of the Bindings and Title Pages by Walter E. Smith, stating that “various theories concerning states and issues of this, the first edition” exist. Intrigued by the idea of controversy over what I had always assumed was a simple matter of publication and chronology, I headed down the rabbit hole of bibliographical inquiry. Several books, articles, and bibliographers later, the small book sitting in a cradle in front of me had gained not only the still-disputed distinction of being a first edition, but had introduced me to the intricacies of bibliography and the detail attendant upon it.

The much disputed green endpapers; note how the color has worn off due to an ineffective hand-coloring method.

The much disputed green endpapers; note how the color has worn off due to an ineffective hand-coloring method.

Let’s begin with the book itself. This particular copy of A Christmas Carol does not give any clues as to its previous ownership: it is free of marks, labels, marginalia, stamps or any other identifiers that might provide a glimpse into its past homes and owners. The book, surprisingly for a nineteenth-century volume, is still cased in the original vertically-ribbed brown publisher’s cloth. Bindings from the nineteenth century are notoriously fragile as increased mechanization and cheap materials such as fabric and paper began replacing more expensive bindings such as leather. Readers often had their books rebound, especially those that were purchased with the publisher’s cloth bindings which tended to crumble with frequent use and, at least in Dickens’s case, were fairly plain. This book’s cover is blind-stamped with a border of holly and ivy and both the spine and the front cover bear the title and author’s name in gold, surrounded by gold wreaths of holly. The title page is printed in red and blue with a branch of holly and a decorative frame with the date (1843) in Roman numerals at the very bottom of the page. The page edges are gilded and the volume contains eight illustrations: four hand-colored steel engravings and four black and white woodcuts. The colored illustrations were a first (and a last) for Dickens, who wanted A Christmas Carol to be visually appealing; the colored plates, however, were expensive and production costs severely ate into his profits. The book shows some signs of shelf wear and chipping along the spine, but overall the Burns copy of A Christmas Carol is in good condition: the pages are clean and unmarked, the binding is tight, and the colored plates are not foxed or discolored. The endpapers of the book are light green, and very chalky—a large portion of the color has been rubbed off over the years. And it is with these green endpapers that much of the controversy over editions begins. Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in about a month and a half, from mid-October, 1843 to the end of November, 1843 (Calhoun 276-277). The Christmas story was undertaken while Martin Chuzzlewit was still being written in monthly numbers and failing to bring in the audiences Dickens and his publishers, Chapman and Hall, had hoped for. A Christmas Carol was partially a commercial venture as Dickens hoped it bring would bring in larger profits, relieving some of the pressure of his financial and literary obligations, but it was also a social venture as the story explored not only Scrooge’s redemptive journey,  but the lives of the poor surrounding him. In order to get the story published, Dickens agreed to an unprecedented publishing arrangement: he would assume all of the costs of the publication but in doing so, would also gain all of the profits. Though A Christmas Carol was incredibly popular it was not incredibly profitable; in the year after it was published Dickens only made £726, well below his hoped-for profit of £1000 (Calhoun 278).

Title page of the first edition of <i>A Christmas Carol. </i>

Title page of the first edition of A Christmas Carol.

The publication history of A Christmas Carol is complicated and varied. The facts about the book seem to stand thus: the initial plan for the book was to have a green and red title page with green endpapers. The colors for the initial title page, however, did not appeal to Dickens and he changed the title page to red and blue. The first choice for endpapers was green (which are seen in the Burns’ copy of the book) but the green dye that was used on the paper turned chalky and tended to brush off (Smith 21-22). A Christmas Carol was released for the public on December 19th, right at the height of the Christmas season, but Dickens was given and distributed presentation copies on December 17th. The known presentation copies all contain a red and blue title page with yellow endpapers. These changes in publication form are not only limited to endpapers and title pages, however. Each chapter in the text is called “Stave I,” “Stave II”, and so on. In the table of contents the Staves are numbered with Roman numerals; in the original, uncorrected text, Stave I is written with a roman numeral, while Staves II-V have their numbers written out. This inconsistency was rectified in later editions, but the presence of a chapter headed Stave I rather than Stave One provides a point, or “any peculiarity on a book whose presence in or absence from a particular copy serves to distinguish it from other copies not so marked” (Carter 170), by which a first edition can be identified. Dickens also requested that the date of the book—originally 1844—be changed to reflect the Christmas it was written for, being 1843. Thus, copies exist with various combinations of title pages, endpapers, Stave I/Stave

The first page of the text with the uncorrected "Stave  I" chapter heading.

The first page of the text with the uncorrected “Stave I” chapter heading.

One, and publication dates. Bibliographers have long argued how these differences or variants fit into the publication history of A Christmas Carol and how a first edition can be identified. While bibliographers have been cataloging Dickens’s work since his death, I researched the twentieth century bibliographers most often mentioned in connection with this controversy and their various theories regarding the first edition of A Christmas Carol. Following in the footsteps of W. E. Smith, here is a brief synopsis of the various arguments pertaining to the first edition of A Christmas Carol. John C. Eckel, in his 1913 bibliography, The First Editions of the Writings of Charles Dickens, Their Points and Values: A Bibliography claims that copies of A Christmas Carol with a blue and red title page, dated 1843, with green endpapers, bearing the chapter heading Stave I not Stave One are a genuine first edition, first issue text. In 1945 Philo Calhoun published a paper, co-authored with Howell J. Heaney, in The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America entitled “Dickens’ Christmas Carol After a Hundred Years: A Study in Bibliographical Evidence.” This paper effectively argues that the first edition of the book has several issues, states, and variants. On page 299, they explain the presence of the green endpapers in the following manner:

Probably in the middle of binding, as demand grew faster than the current end-paper stock, it was hurriedly decided to use up the green paper, and thereafter it was used indiscriminately with yellow, but discarded again when the initial supply of green became exhausted. 

This explanation is practical, but does not appear to be based on overt evidence beyond the knowledge that green endpapers had been prepared. According to Calhoun and Heaney the Burns copy of A Christmas Carol is a first edition, first issue, second state based on the uncorrected text, the presence of the Stave I chapter heading, and the combination of the red and blue title page and green endpapers. In 1961, William B. Todd threw out all of the numbering systems that Eckel, Calhoun, and Heaney had constructed and turned the reader’s attention not to the color of the endpapers or the text itself, but to the cover of the book. Todd claims that the wreath of holly and the author’s name provide compelling points by which to identify each edition. Using the distance between the edge of the blind-stamped border and the holly wreath and the fact that the ‘D’ in ‘Dickens’ is perfect, Todd claims that all first editions will have the same distance (14-15mm) between border and wreath, and an unblemished author’s name (the ‘D’ shifted over time eventually resulting in a broken seraph on the top of the letter) (Gimbel 26). W. E. Smith emphasizes “the rarity of Dickens in original cloth” and carefully catalogs the various theories of bibliographers providing curious readers with a concise, if still inconclusive, catalog of arguments.

A hand-colored engraving from <i>A Christmas Carol</i> entitled "Mr. Fezziwig's Ball."

A hand-colored engraving from A Christmas Carol entitled “Mr. Fezziwig’s Ball.”

While all five bibliographers offer differ interpretations of the various forms in which A Christmas Carol exists, it certainly appears from their research that the Burns Library’s copy of Dickens’s famous Christmas story is indeed a first edition though which particular issue, state, or variant depends on a particular bibliographical lens. Rather than adding yet another theory to the already large body of bibliography, I prefer to focus on the object itself and how a slim, fabric-covered, 166 page volume can not only reveal the potential vagaries of printers, or the material role Dickens played in the publication of this particular text down to the color of the endpapers, but the attachment of scholars not only to the story but to the object itself, creating a life for the book beyond the text as a created object, a physical, tangible materiality that was handled by printers, hand-colored by artists, and hopefully read by some previous owner. This creation of a life for an object through bibliographic scholarship may not be possible for books without the tangled web of title pages and chapter headings, but for this particular book, with its familiar story, bibliography is able to defamiliarize the book and reveal its complicated publishing history. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is available for use at the Burns Library Reading Room.  If you have further questions, please contact the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.

  • Rachel Ernst, Burns Library Reading Room Student Assistant & Ph.D. student in the Department of English


Calhoun, Philo, and Howell J. Heaney. “Dickens’ Christmas Carol After a Hundred Years: A         Study in Bibliographical Evidence.” The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of                  America. 39.4 (1945): 271-317.

Carter, John, and Nicolas Barker. ABC for Book Collectors. 8th ed. New Castle: Oak Knoll            Press, 2004.

Dane, Joseph A. What is a Book? The Study of the Early Printed Book. Notre Dame:                   University of Notre Dame Press, 2012.

Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas. London: Chapman &                Hall,1843.

Smith, W. E. Charles Dickens in the Original Cloth; A Bibliographical Catalogue of the                 First Appearance of His Writings in Book Form in England. Los Angeles: Heritage               BookShop, 1982.

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