Exhibitions Update: Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Worshipper of Light”

The general outlines of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s life are fairly well known—that living in Hampstead he attended Dr. Dyne’s Highgate School (becoming a Cholmeleian, named after Highgate’s first headmaster, Sir. Roger Cholmeley) where he won a scholarship to the prestigious Balliol College, came under the influence of a waning Tractarianism, and before graduating was received by Newman into the Catholic Church and decided to join the Jesuits; taught at Newman’s Birmingham Oratory, and then went on to Roehampton to teach rhetoric; studied theology at St. Beuno’s; went to London’s Farm Street Church to be curate under his mentor Peter Gallwey; returned to Oxford as curate at St. Aloysius’s, and from there to St. Joseph’s, Bedford Leigh, and then to St. Francis Xavier’s, Liverpool, all the while fully immersed in ministry to the poor and destitute. He then went on to Glasgow, returned to Roehampton for his tertianship, and spent the last five years of his short life teaching classics at Newman’s Royal University of Ireland, before succumbing to typhoid in 1889. A memorial to Hopkins stands at Glasnevin Cemetery, where his remains are interred; and a plaque in the poet’s corner at Westminster memorializes him with the words, “Immortal Diamond,” taken from his poem, “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection.”

Photographs of Gerard Manley Hopkins's parents - Manley Hopkins (left) and Katherine Hopkins (right), from the Hopkins Family Papers, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Photographs of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s parents – Manley Hopkins (left) and Katherine Hopkins (right), from the Hopkins Family Papers, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Hopkins’s poetry, bits of which were published in his lifetime, was gradually released by his friend and Poet Laureate, Robert Bridges, in 1918. But while the world knows and celebrates Hopkins the poet (his poetry reflecting the broad range of Victorian concerns, among them industrialism, nature and the environment, faith and doubt, the emerging science, the woman question), scholars and critics are only now beginning to appreciate an otherwise rich if still relatively unknown religious life. For years, Hopkins the priest had remained largely in relief.  The Burns Library exhibit The Jesuit Victorian Poet is on view in the Margaret E. Ford Memorial Tower from April 1, 2014 through September 30, 2014 during regular library hours. The Hopkins Family Papers are available for study in the Burns Library Reading Room.   Jude V  NixonDr. Jude V. Nixon, Professor of English and Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at Salem State University.     Dr. Nixon’s areas of research are Victorian literature and culture and Caribbean literature. Author of numerous publications, notably on Hopkins, Newman, Carlyle, and Dickens, Dr. Nixon is coeditor of the recent Science, Religion, and Natural Theology, volume 3 of the 8 volumes Victorian and Science and Literature (Pickering & Chatto, 2011), and co-editor of the forthcoming Sermons and Religious Writings, volume 5 of the 8 volumes The Collected Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins (Oxford University Press). Dr. Nixon is a member of the editorial boards of Victorian Poetry, The Hopkins Quarterly, the Dickens Studies Annual, and the Rome based journal, Aracne.  Dr. Nixon wrote the introductory statements for the Hopkins exhibition cases and the Selected Hopkins Bibliography included in the Hopkins exhibit checklist.

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Ukiyo-e: Japanese Woodblock Prints

As the Bookbuilders of Boston intern at the Burns Library for this year, I’ve been able to learn about the variety of collections housed within the library and spend some of my time focusing on the works that interest me most. This semester, I have primarily been studying the collection of Japanese woodblock prints, which includes over 150 individual images that were produced from the middle of the 18th century up until the middle of the 20th century. The majority of the prints in the collection can be categorized as “ukiyo-e,” which identifies them as a type of art produced in Japan during the Tokugawa era (1603-1868), when Japan was closed off from other countries.

“Under the Wave off Kanagawa” by an unknown artist after Hokusai, Japanese Prints Collection, MS.2013.043, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

“Under the Wave off Kanagawa” by an unknown artist, after Hokusai, Japanese Prints Collection, MS.2013.043, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The term ukiyo, formed of the characters “uki” (suffering) and “yo” (world), originated in Buddhist practices to refer to “the condition of impermanence created by daily life and its desires.” This concept urged people to concentrate on the ephemeral state of existence and not fixate on material possessions. At the start of the Tokugawa era in Japan the term began to shift in its meaning and use, with a different kanji, 浮 (also pronounced “uki”) replacing that of “suffering” to convey the idea of a “floating world.” This phrase was applied to the emerging culture of pleasure, parties, and a preoccupation with the present moment that had begun to develop in major cities such as Kyoto and Edo (now Tokyo). Throughout the Tokugawa era the term ukiyo became synonymous with the increasing obsession with fashion, kabuki theatre, and pleasure districts. Ukiyo-e (“pictures of the floating world”) rose to prominence in the 17th century as increases in agricultural production drove economic development, allowing urban life to expand and giving rise to a literate, wealthy merchant class interested in supporting art that represented their own lifestyles. Ukiyo-e included paintings, screens, and illustrated books, but the focus of the movement was on the creation of woodblock prints. Hosoban (“pillar”) sized ukiyo-e prints in particular became popular in 1718 and helped shift the conception of ukiyo-e from mass owned commodities to a legitimate art form. Popular ukiyo-e subjects were famous kabuki actors, courtesans, and sumo wrestlers. Other frequently used themes were famous teahouses, city quarters, historical heroes, ghosts, erotic scenes, and most aspects of ordinary life, with landscape prints beginning to appear in the 1830s.

“Part of the Byôdô-in Temple at Uji” by Hasui Kawase, Japanese Prints Collection, MS.2013.043, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

“Part of the Byôdô-in Temple at Uji” by Hasui Kawase, Japanese Prints Collection, MS.2013.043, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The ukiyo-e woodblock prints were traditionally created on cherry-wood blocks using a negative copy of an original sketch by an artist that was then carved out along the outlines. Prints were usually created in orders of 400 to cover initial expenses and then reprinted if the image proved successful. One ukiyo-e print could be re-created in three different editions depending on whether it was a first or second printing for buyers in Japan, or if the print was being remade with the intention of exporting it to foreign markets. A traditional ukiyo-e print would be the product of the work of four to five different people, with the artist having no hand in the physical production of the print. The design would be created by the artist with consultation from their publisher, which would then be given to skilled craftsmen who carved out the design and sent the woodblock to another group of specialized workers who would print the actual image. Popular sizes of ukiyo-e prints included the hashira-e (pillar print) which measured 70cm by 12cm, the chuban (medium) which measured 28 cm by 20 cm, and the hosoban (narrow) which measured 33 cm by 14.5 cm, in addition to other varying sizes. Ukiyo-e prints were initially created entirely in black ink, while hand-applied colors began to be used in 1688 with limited options of tan-e (“orange-red pigment pictures”) or beni-e (“rose colored pictures”) used until the development of full color woodblock printing in 1765.

“Nichiren Praying for Rain at Ryôzengasaki in Kamakura in 1271”by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Japanese Prints Collection, MS.2013.043, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

“Nichiren Praying for Rain at Ryôzengasaki in Kamakura in 1271”by Kuniyoshi Utagawa, Japanese Prints Collection, MS.2013.043, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The multi-stage process of creating an ukiyo-e print required a group of individualized craftsmen, which became a point of contention during the resurgence of ukiyo-e prints in the Meiji (1868 – 1912) and Taisho (1912 – 1926) eras. While the strong push for modernization during the Meiji period left the traditional practice of ukiyo-e in decline, woodblock prints continued to be produced with the traditional themes of kabuki actors and beautiful women, as well as images showing Western influences in Japan. Scenes featuring Western clothing and inventions, and battle scenes depicting the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars, became popular in the middle of the Meiji period. In the 1910s, a publisher named Watanabe Shozaburo sought to revitalize the traditional ukiyo-e focus on kabuki actors and native landscapes, forming the shin-hanga (“new print”) movement, which emphasized the original collaborative process of different craftsmen and artists creating each part of the print. This contrasted with the competing art movement of sosaku-hanga (“creative prints”) that emerged at a similar time and valued the creation of woodblock prints made entirely by one artist, for the sake of art. These competing movements contributed to the continued production of woodblock prints in Japan. Meanwhile, many Western artists had begun to take notice of ukiyo-e prints, beginning in the mid-19th century after Japan ended its period of seclusion. Artists such as Edgar Degas and Vincent van Gogh (an avid collector of ukiyo-e prints) were influenced by the bold use of color and absence of shadow characteristic of the ukiyo-e genre.   This collection will be open to researchers soon, and we hope you will visit us to study these beautiful prints. For more information on this collection and others, please contact the Burns Library at 617-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.

  • Erin Furlong, Bookbuilders of Boston Burns Library 2013-2014 Intern and A & S, Class of 2014
“Irrigation, As Seen in Sado” by Hasui Kawase, Japanese Prints Collection, MS.2013.043, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

“Irrigation, As Seen in Sado” by Hasui Kawase, Japanese Prints Collection, MS.2013.043, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

For more information about Japanese woodblock prints, check out:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Woodblock Prints in the Ukiyo-e Style

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: Japanese Woodblock Prints

The Art Institute of Chicago: East Meets West – Japonisme and Impressionism

Japanese Woodblock Print Search Database

 MIT Visualizing Cultures: Woodblock Prints of the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95)


Kobayashi, Tadashi. Ukiyo-e: An Introduction to Japanese Woodblock Prints. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1992.

Calza, Gian Carlo. Ukiyo-e. London: Phaidon, 2005. Berglund, Lars. “The Art of Ukiyo-e – A Short Historical Survey.” In Impressions: Japanese prints and paintings In the Utagawa tradition, edited by The Utagawa Society of Japan. Nagano: Soei Publishing, 1994.

Jenkins, Donald. “A Mirror on the Floating World.” In Designed for Pleasure: The World of Edo Japan in Prints and Paintings, 1680 – 1860, edited by Julia Meech and Jane Oliver, 15-32. Singapore: Asia Society and Japanese Art Society of America, in association with the University of Washington Press, 2008.

Smith, Lawrence. “Japanese Prints 1868-2008.” In Since Meiji: Perspectives on the Japanese Visual Arts, 1868 – 2000, edited by J. Thomas Rimer, 361-407. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2012.

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Evolution of an English Course: The Syllabus

Father Sweeney, Box 64, Folder 11, Francis W. Sweeney, SJ, Humanities Series Director's Records, MS.2002.037, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Father Sweeney, Box 64, Folder 11, Francis W. Sweeney, SJ, Humanities Series Director’s Records, MS.2002.037, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The Studies in Poetry class at Boston College has been in existence for at least four decades, but a similar course was also once offered at Boston College within the English department. The class was called Craft of Poetry when it was taught by English Professor Father Francis Sweeney.  Both Studies and Craft classes focus specifically on different types of poetry.  They also both involve rigorous study throughout the semester, giving students a broad, but detailed perspective on the genre.  Today, aspects of different Studies in Poetry classes share many parallels with The Craft of Poetry and the teaching methods employed by Father Sweeney about 20 years ago.  For example, the Fall 2013 syllabi of Boston College Professors Andrew Sofer, Dayton Haskin, and Marjorie Howes and the Fall 2000 syllabus of Dayton Haskin can be easily compared to Father Sweeney’s Fall 1995 syllabus for The Craft of Poetry. While times have changed, poetry in undergraduate education has not been entirely altered.

In his course, Father Sweeney required students to study a wide variety of traditional poems that were organized according to the type (i.e. ballads, sonnets, odes).  Out of current BC professors, the courses most similar to Father Sweeney’s are Dayton Haskin’s from 2000 and Marjorie Howes’ from 2013.  In 2000, Haskin primarily focused on traditional poets with the course studying Romeo and Juliet towards the end of the class.  In like manner, Sweeney’s class read Antigone and All My Sons as the semester drew to a close.  However, while Sweeney organized his syllabus by type of poetry, the poems that Haskin chose do not seem to have any clear arrangement.  In contrast, Professor Marjorie Howes included a variety of mainly traditional poems organized by the construction or type of poem.  Conversely, in 2013 Sofer and Haskin both chose to focus on fewer poets in greater depth over a period of several weeks.  Sweeney tended to bounce around, only studying one poet either for one class meeting or for a week.  However, upon closer analysis, Sofer divided the poets into specific sections, each of which was used to study a very particular type of poetry, e.g. modernized Greek myth.  This is exactly the same method used by Father Sweeney, except for the fact that fewer poets were studied.  All of the Studies in Poetry professors had a feature of one of their syllabi that was very similar Father Sweeney’s approach to teaching this course.

Father Sweeney with Boston College students, circa 1950's, Box 24, Folder 19, Francis W. Sweeney Papers, MS.2002.003, John J. Burns Library, Boston college.

Father Sweeney with Boston College students, circa 1950′s, Box 24, Folder 19, Francis W. Sweeney Papers, MS.2002.003, John J. Burns Library, Boston college.

The requirements for the Studies in Poetry courses also share some commonalities and distinctions from The Craft of Poetry.  For the latter,  according to a Fall 1995 syllabus, students in Father Sweeney’s class were required to memorize 6 or 8 poems, write 3 papers, and take 4 quizzes and a final exam.  Only Haskin required the memorization of poems.  However, all of the Studies in Poetry professors require writing papers although their number varies.  For example, Howes requires 4 papers, while Haskin in 2013 requires 5 smaller papers and 1 major paper.  Only Sofer has the same number of papers as Sweeney, but his only other major written assignments are a final exam and a paper revision.  As for quizzes and exams, only Haskin had a quiz (at midterm), and  both Haskin and Sofer had a final exam.  Sweeney had 4 quizzes and a final exam, which is more than any of the professors. In addition, Father Sweeney required attendance for quizzes and implies that participation is necessary but he never states this outright.  All of the more recent Studies in Poetry professors required participation. In many cases, these professors made it an actual percentage of the overall grade for the class.  This requires students to actively participate in class and show the teacher on a regular basis that they are completing the required reading.  Having said this, a rubric with the percentages of what each assignment was worth would have been useful in Sweeney’s syllabus as well as his stance regarding participation.  Overall, of the Studies in Poetry classes, the only professor that I could find fully comparable as to the number of written assignments was Haskin.  Comparing requirements is interesting to see what features of language various professors favor, what assignments they want students to complete and how pedagogy changes over the years.

No matter what level one is teaching, having a plan for the course of the semester or the year is critical.  Content and its evaluation differ from teacher to teacher, but they remain a critical component throughout all courses, including The Craft of Poetry and Studies in Poetry.  Each teacher taught the course as they saw fit but there were commonalities between all of them, such as the study of Shakespeare and Keats. Many of the aspects of The Craft of Poetry have continued to the present day. Although 17 years may have passed, the way in which poetry is read and analyzed remains the same.  In a world of technology, text messages, and acronyms, the written word is still valued as tool that helps students hone their critical thinking skills.

Page from a Spring 1994 "Craft of Poetry" syllabus, Box 17, Folder 12, Francis w. Sweeney Papers, MS.2002.003, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Page from a Spring 1994 “Craft of Poetry” syllabus, Box 17, Folder 12, Francis w. Sweeney Papers, MS.2002.003, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Throughout the process of researching Father Sweeney and the current courses in the English Department, it was interesting to see how each professor encountered the same genre with differently.  Time does not seem to be much of an indicator of what is covered in a course, but rather who is teaching it.  Nevertheless, The Craft of Poetry required students to read and to think no less critically and no less prolifically than its modern counterparts.  Father Sweeney was a dedicated teacher, who expected no more from his students than what he thought they could handle.  He clearly had a love of poetry and wanted to share what he knew with his students.  As Father Joseph Appleyard said, “[Sweeney] was a gifted poet, a biographer, essayist, and editor – a man of letters in the old sense – but I think he was proudest of the many students he influenced […] Some of them became well-known writers, but most simply had their lives enriched by the way he taught them to read poetry and to enjoy literature” (Sullivan).  Father Sweeney died on April 25, 2002, four years after he retired from teaching.

For more information about the Francis W. Sweeney Papers,  visit the Burns Library Reading Room or contact us at 617-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.  For information regarding University Archives, please visit the University Archives Research Guide.  Special thanks to Dr. Dayton Haskin, Dr. Andrew Sofer, and Dr. Marjorie Howes for allowing me access to their syllabi.  Lastly, a thank you must be given to Father Sweeney for preserving his letters, documents, photos, and memories and for leaving a great legacy at the university where he taught for 46 years.

  • Danica Ramsey-Brimberg, Burns Reading Room Assistant & Lynch Graduate School of Education, Class of 2014
Posted in Archives & Manuscripts, Archives Diary, B. C. History, Student Posts, University Archives | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Jesuit Ordeal III: Memories of Malagrida


The Inquisiton Tribunal” (detail) by Francisco Goya (1812-1819)

On September 21, 1761, the Italian Jesuit Gabriel Malagrida was led into the Rossio Square in downtown Lisbon, but Malagrida took little notice of the elegant plaza. The seventy-three year-old stepped out into the Rossio wearing the sanbenito, the smock and dunce cap that marked him as a convict of the Inquisition. Before a crowd of curious onlookers, his charges would soon be read and he would be led to the stake, where he would be strangled and his body burned. At the end of the day, Malagrida’s ashes would be swept up and dumped without ceremony into the Tagus River, perhaps thence to be washed into the sea.

The Portuguese Prime Minister, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, Marquis of Pombal may well have thought himself rid of the troublesome priest, a man who had used the pulpit to censure the state and criticize recovery efforts after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, and a man who had for too long held sway over the royal court. Pombal’s efforts to reduce Malagrida’s influence had been prodigious. He dedicated a full chapter of his memoires: “The Reasons for the Hatred of Carvalho [as Pombal called himself] against Malagrida.”


Mémoires de Sébastien-Joseph de Carvalho et Mélo, Comte d’Oeyras, Marquis de Pombal (1784)

Following an assassination attempt against King Joseph I in 1758, Pombal had implicated the family of Joseph’s mistress, the Marchioness Teresa Leonor Tavorá. He claimed that Malagrida, as the Tavorá family’s confessor, was necessarily a party to the family’s crimes. But three years of trials and mistrials had undermined the credibility of these charges. In the end, Pombal resorted to using his own brother to adjudicate the process and force a favorable verdict.

Pombal’s brother, Nuno Alvarès Pereira de Melo, presided over Malagrida’s execution on that fall day in 1761, and that night he hosted a celebratory banquet in a Dominican convent. But Malagrida’s trial was far from over. Pombal had used Malagrida’s purported involvement in the conspiracy to compel King Joseph to dissolve the Jesuit Order throughout Portuguese domains. Their expulsion removed a powerful political faction and enriched the royal treasury through the seizure of their properties. Long after Malagrida’s remains had been scattered into the Tagus, the defrocked and discredited priest continued to surface as a symbol for this first act of the Jesuit Suppression.

In Pombal’s memoires, published in 1784, he recalled the day of Malagrida’s execution as “one of the most celebrated days which our history has preserved for posterity.” On that day of execution, however, Malagrida stands strangely silent in Pombal’s account. Pombal recalled how he had turned the Rossio into an amphitheater ringed with soldiers, the nobility, ministers, the court, and a crowd of commoners. Malagrida took center stage, “the pallor of death already on his face.” But his charges read, he leaves no final words. It is the Benedictines who intervene and beg that Malagrida be given the mercy of death by garrote before being burned at the stake: “And so the career of Gabriel Malagrida, the Italian Jesuit, came to its miserable end.”


Geschichte der Jesuiten in Portugal, by Christoph Gottlieb von Murr (1787)

But Pombal’s account did not go uncontested. Even in the years of their suppression, many ex-Jesuits were connected to powerful families, others attained positions of influence through their own merits, and throughout Europe the suppressed Order attracted allies both inside and outside the Church for innumerable reasons. Among their supporters was a Protestant living in the Free Imperial City of Nuremburg: the scholar, historian, and magistrate Christoph Gottlieb von Murr.

In 1787, von Murr published his own account of Malagrida’s death, part of his revisionary History of the Jesuits in Portugal, under the Administration of the Marquis of Pombal. To help memorialize the recently deceased Pombal as a “despotic” and “cunning minister,” von Murr sought to resuscitate Malagrida’s memory. His trial, von Murr snipes, was only a “so-called auto-de-fè.” Pombal’s trumped-up charges were a “brash work of lies.” And although Pombal’s ploy succeeded, his bravado deceived no one. Pombal’s dogged pursuit of Malagrida belied the desperate struggle of a man “striken by his own conscience.”  In sum, von Murr reflects: “Pombal, along with his tribunal, abused the dove-like simplicity of that good old man, and at the same time cheated the hopes and desires of a sorrowful and compassionate crowd.”


Epitaph for Malagrida, in von Murr’s History of the Jesuits in Portugal (1787). The epitaph begins: “See what wicked things the enemy has done to the holy!” (Ps 73:3)

Certainly, von Murr’s grim account strikes a resoundingly different note from Pombal’s celebratory tenor. In perhaps the most telling difference, Malagrida finds speech in von Murr’s account: “O merciful God! stand by me in this hour, and have mercy upon my soul! Lord, into your hands I commend my spirit!” Pombal’s heretic and criminal has become von Murr’s blameless martyr.

These contrasting accounts reveal an ongoing concern with the Jesuit Order, even in the aftermath of Dominus ac Redemptor, the papal bull that officially dissolved the Society of Jesus in 1773. Pope Clement XIV justified this action with reference to the intrigues that focused upon the Jesuits ­– a deft move that succumbed to but did not vindicate their detractors’ charges – but the debates continued. These disputes kept the memory of the Jesuits alive and their proponents sharp, so that when an opportunity came for its revival in 1815, the Order was able to attract members both old and new, breathing life into the long-suffering Society.

2014 marks the 200th anniversary of the Jesuit Restoration. The Burns Library maintains an extensive collection of materials documenting this critical moment in history. This post continues a series of posts on the Jesuit Suppression: Bold Moves in Tumultuous Times and Satire and Suppression.

To learn more about the Jesuitica Collection at the Burns Library, browse the digitized book and manuscript holdings in the BC Libraries Digital Collections or read about exhibits on the Jesuitica Collection on the websites listed below. If you have further questions or would like to do research in this collection, please contact the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.

  • Matthew Delvaux, Burns Reading Room Assistant and Ph.D. Student in the Department of History.
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The Spirit of the Core at Work

"Church of the Immaculate Conception and Boston College,"  from <i>Boston Illustrated</i>, F 73.5 .S70, 1872, Boston Collection, John J. Burns Library.  This illustration shows the original buildings of Boston College, located in Boston's South End.

“Church of the Immaculate Conception and Boston College,” from Boston Illustrated, F 73.5 .S70, 1872, Boston Collection, John J. Burns Library. This illustration shows the original buildings of Boston College, located in Boston’s South End.

Boston College is a liberal arts university. Each undergraduate student is required to take classes in history, science, mathematics, foreign language, theology, social science, philosophy, English and cultural diversity, unless he or she was lucky enough to “AP out” with credits from those long-ago high school days. Though BC’s core has good intentions, students often see the core as something to “get through” and often connections between classes are severely lacking. I am not sure what connections you could make between Molecules and Cells and Europe and the Modern World I, other than perhaps the stretched connection that the people involved in history are, in fact, made up of cells. Personally, I’ve always admired the spirit of the core and what it aims to achieve. Yet I had never felt a total integration of disciplines until I carried a miniscule sample taken from a sacristy crucifix to a lab on the first floor of Higgins.   This crucifix, now held in the University Archives, is from the Immaculate Conception Church, the Jesuit church which was part of our original campus in Boston’s South End.

Broken crucifix from the Burns Library's Liturgy and Life Collection.

Broken crucifix from the Burns Library’s Liturgy and Life Collection.

As a conservation assistant at the Burns Library, I assist Barbara Adams Hebard with preservation of old books and other materials, including religious artifacts like this crucifix. She needed to re-attach Jesus’s leg, and I must say; the one-legged crucifix was quite a gruesome sight. Wanting her repair to stick—literally—she needed to know the exact composition of the piece in order to use the correct adhesive. She concluded that a structure from the 19th century would most likely consist of lime or gypsum. I received the honor of taking a small sample of Jesus’s leg (mere particles of dust) to Dr. McMahon, BC’s multi-beam SEM/FIB research specialist, to have it analyzed under the electron microscope in order to determine just which compound made up the crucifix. Ushered into a small room packed with machines, I was shown to a chair beside a monstrously humongous device and a monstrously old computer. I observed as Dr. McMahon placed a small particle of dust from Jesus’s leg on a platform, inserted it into the machine, and waited for the vacuum to accommodate. Then he moved the sample into the body of the machine. At first, he had to make quite a few adjustments on the machine, twirling knobs this way and that, but eventually a usable spectrum was obtained. It contained sulfur as well as carbon. McMahon decided to run a few more samples to clarify. The next one contained tons of carbon and no sulfur. I was beginning to grow confused. How would we know which adhesive to use when such a specific machine was giving conflicting results?

Spectrums from the electron microscope taken by Dr. McMahon reveal the chemical compositions of the sample taken from the crucifix.The spectrum on the left shows a significant peak from carbon (C), whereas the spectrum on the right reveals that only calcium (Ca), sulfur (S), and oxygen (O) are found in the sample.

Spectrums from the electron microscope taken by Dr. McMahon reveal the chemical compositions of the sample taken from the crucifix.The spectrum on the left shows a significant peak from carbon (C), whereas the spectrum on the right reveals that only calcium (Ca), sulfur (S), and oxygen (O) are found in the sample.

Mainly C would mean lime but any S would mean gypsum. Now, of course, a crucifix this old may well have been previously repaired, which could lead to contamination of the fixture. We concluded that the samples containing mostly carbon and calcium were pieces of the old lime glue used in previous repairs. The actual structure was made of sulfur, oxygen and calcium. Having two years of college chemistry under my belt, I looked at one of the clearest spectrums, and using the relative areas under each peak, figured out that the crucifix consisted of 1 S: 1 Ca: 4 O’s. I asked Dr. McMahon if the compound was CaSO4 which he confirmed, politely pretending to be impressed by my basic chemistry skills. Though Dr. McMahon could have easily done this spectroscopy in his sleep, I was extremely excited by what this scientific technology could do and how it integrated seamlessly into my work at the Burns’ conservation lab.

Repaired crucifix from the Burns Library's Liturgy and Life Collection.

Repaired crucifix from the Burns Library’s Liturgy and Life Collection.

Adams Hebard enlisted Michaela Neiro, Objects Conservator at Historic New England, with whom she had served as a Board Member of the New England Conservation Association, to advise her on the selection of an adhesive. Neiro recommended Acryloid B-72 (ethyl methacrylate copolymer) in acetone. Having taken organic chemistry, I even know what a copolymer is! While working as a book conservator at the Boston Athenaeum, Adams Hebard had taken a week-long workshop entitled “Chemistry for Conservators” at Johns Hopkins University, which was taught by British conservator David Dorning.  This workshop was designed to help conservators deal with challenges such as these. However, she probably never thought she’d collaborate with a scientist equipped with an electron microscope for her conservation work – just as Dr. McMahon probably never dreamed he’d analyze a piece of Jesus’s leg from a crucifix when he specialized in microscopy. This is a clear collision of disciplines, and one close to my heart, being a premedical student who works in a library conservation lab. Boston College’s core curriculum may need some reworking, but I have hope that this process can be successful. BC has resources available in virtually every discipline.  As students, all we need is to be alerted to these cross-disciplinary opportunities in order to take full advantage of them. Anna Whitham

Anna Whitham, Conservation Assistant, John J. Burns Library

Posted in Archives & Manuscripts, Archives Diary, Art at the Burns Library, B. C. History, Conservation, Exhibits & Events, Featured Collections & Books, Student Posts | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from the Burns Library

Seamus Heaney at home in Dublin, bh002368, MS.2001.039, <a href="http://www.bc.edu/sites/libraries/hanvey/index.html">Bobbie Hanvey Photographic Archives</a>, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Seamus Heaney at home in Dublin, bh002368, MS.2001.039, Bobbie Hanvey Photographic Archives, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, here’s a review of selected Burns Library exhibits, blog posts and Flickr sets that showcase materials from the Burns Library’s Irish Collection.  If you missed the post about the Burns Library’s Seamus Heaney exhibit while you were away on Spring Break, you can read it here.  Seeing Things and Celebrating Friendships in the Poetry of Seamus Heaney is one of four Irish arts exhibits drawn from Burns Library collections on display this month.  In addition, you can also view a video glimpse of the Heaney exhibit, set to a reading by English Associate Professor Joseph Nugent. Recently on the Burns blog, Burns student employee Eliscia Kinder wrote about Lady Gregory, and Irish Studies Librarian Kathleen Williams wrote posts about the books of Irish writer Padraic Colum in the Burns Library’s Irish Collection, John Boyle O’Reilly and Spring 2014 Visiting Irish Scholar, Professor Terence Brown.

Various editions of <i> Gulliver's Travels </i> from the Burns Library's Irish Collection.

Various editions of Gulliver’s Travels from the Burns Library’s Irish Collection.

The Burns Library’s Flickr site has some wonderful images of the Irish Collection – including a Walk through the Stacks, Building an Irish Domestic Library, along with images from the Loyal National Repeal Association of Ireland Collection, the Bobbie Hanvey Photographic Archives and photos of the many editions of Gullliver’s Travels available at the Burns Library.  If you have any questions or would like more information about the collections featured in this post, please contact the Burns Library at 617-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.


Posted in Archives & Manuscripts, Archives Diary, B. C. History, Blog in Review, Cataloger's Corner, Conservation, Digital Projects, Exhibits & Events, Irish Studies, Rare books, Staff Posts | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alice Meynell, Poet and Muse

Typescript of Alice Meynell's poem "The Poet to the Birds"

Typescript of Alice Meynell’s poem “The Poet to the Birds”, Box 1, Folder 12, MS.2006.029, Alice Meynell Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

In 1844, Charles Dickens was infatuated with a young concert pianist by the name of Christiana Weller. Meeting Christiana and dining with her family, Dickens brought along his friend and contemporary, Thomas James Thompson, who on October 21 1845, eventually married Christiana (Bodenheimer, p. 271). Thompson’s courtship and engagement did not run smoothly however, as he faced both parental disapproval as well as Dickens’s own thinly veiled attraction to the young woman. Despite this unusual start, Thompson and Weller were eventually married and Christiana gave birth to Alice Thompson in 1847. Under the banner of such an auspiciously literary start to her parents’ marriage, it is perhaps unsurprising that Alice would grow up to be an essential part of the Victorian world of letters through her poetry, editorial work, and literary reviews and criticism.

Alice Thompson and her husband, Wilfrid Meynell met in 1876. Meynell had read one of Alice’s sonnets in the Pall Mall Gazette and was eager to meet the poet, an introduction he accomplished by attending her mother’s “afternoon musical at-homes” (V. Meynell 5). The two were married on April 16, 1877 after brooking familial disapproval and financial troubles. The Meynell’s marriage was a happy one, with husband and wife working together on editorial projects, most notably the editing of the Weekly Register, a Catholic newspaper, and Merry England, a Catholic literary journal. The couple had eight children, seven of which survived infancy. Their daughter Viola Meynell went on to become a published author, while their son Francis Meynell founded the Nonesuch Press.

Letter from Wilfrid Meynell to Father Terence Connolly, July 17, 1931.

Letter from Wilfrid Meynell to Father Terence Connolly, July 17, 1931, Box 1, Folder 10, MS.2006.029, Wilfrid Meynell Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College. 

The John J. Burns Library houses the Alice Meynell Collection, a manuscript collection made up of correspondence, poem manuscripts, and other materials. It is accompanied by the Wilfrid Meynell Collection which is made up of correspondence, royalty notices, receipts, proofs of articles from Merry England, and photographs. Correspondence from the Meynells also appears in several collections of authors’ papers including Coventry Patmore and Hilaire Belloc. Socially and intellectually, Alice and Wilfrid Meynell were at the center of a social circle of major Catholic writers. Francis Thompson, the famous poet, was made a de facto member of the Meynell family; they took him in, encouraged his writing, and after his early death, Wilfrid Meynell handled the poet’s posthumous publications. The Burns Library is home to a large collection of Thompson’s papers including correspondence from both Alice and Wilfrid Meynell. Father Terence Connolly, the curator of the Thompson collection and former Boston College librarian, was instrumental in acquiring what is now the Francis Thompson Collection.  Father Connolly corresponded with Wilfrid Meynell, who helped in building the Thompson Collection.

By all accounts, Alice Meynell was an important friend and colleague in the social and literary circles in which she moved, prompting respect and even romantic attachment in the literary men who surrounded her. Sources vary as to the veracity of these claims, but it is certain that Coventry Patmore developed an attraction to Alice Meynell that led to social communication being severed between the two poets (they were both married at the time). Whatever her role as muse, it is certain that Alice Meynell was a respected writer, journalist, and critic. After raising her family and pursuing journalistic endeavors, she returned to poetry in 1895. From then until her death on November 27th, 1922, Alice Meynell experienced a period of intense creativity and poetic production. Several of her manuscripts are located in the Alice Meynell Collection at the Burns Library.

Manuscript of Alice Meynell's poem "Free Will"

Manuscript of Alice Meynell’s poem “Free Will”, Box 1, Folder 12, MS.2006.029, Alice Meynell Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College. 

Alice and Wilfrid Meynell formed the nucleus of a tightly-knit Catholic literary community in the 19th and 20th centuries. Their literary and social achievements are reflected in their ubiquitous presence in the Burns Library manuscript collection, from the collections which house their own manuscripts and letters to the correspondence of many of the major 19th and 20th century British authors, including Francis Thompson, Hilaire Belloc, and Graham Greene. If you are interested in Alice and Wilfrid Meynell, or would like to see the Alice and Wilfrid Meynell Collections, please contact the Burns Library Reading Room for more information at 617-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.

  • Rachel Ernst, Reading Room Student Assistant & Ph.d. Student in the Department of English

Works Consulted:

Bodenheimer, Rosemarie. “Dickens Fascinated.” Victorian Studies 48.2 (Winter) 2006 pp. 268 - 276.

Meynell, Viola. Alice Meynell: A Memoir. London: J. Cape, 1929. Print.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004-2013.

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