Breaking Barriers: The Medical Texts of Nicholas Culpeper

Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654)

Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) made use of relaxed copyright enforcement and medical regulation during the English Civil War to popularize medical knowledge and facilitate better healthcare for the poor.

Nicholas Culpeper’s Anatomy of the Body of Man, published in 1653, not only contributed to a great leap forward in medical knowledge but was also positioned at the nexus of religious, political, and scientific upheaval in England. Both Culpeper and his publisher Peter Cole were political and religious activists who were influenced by their radical beliefs to create medical texts in the vernacular. They opposed institutions that restricted access to affordable healthcare by closing the gap between highly- and inadequately-trained surgeons, physicians, and apothecaries. Thus Culpeper’s Anatomy of the Body of Man was revolutionary and innovative for its sociopolitical goals and intended audience more so than its actual content.

Born in 1616 to an established family of gentry, Nicholas Culpeper parted from his father and grandfather’s footsteps when he turned to studying astrology and astrological medicine. Both Culpeper’s father and grandfather had been men of the cloth—a minister and a Puritan rector, respectively. Accordingly, Culpeper was educated in the classics and attended Cambridge University to prepare for a career as a clergyman in the Church of England. Before completing his studies, however, he dropped out and began training as an apothecary.

Title page to Nicholas Culpeper's translation of  Johann Vesling’s Anatomy of the Body of Man.

Title page to Nicholas Culpeper’s translation of Johann Vesling’s Anatomy of the Body of Man, QM21 .V4713 1653 General Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College. At the top of the page, a previous owner inscribed “James Woods owns me.”

Culpeper was apprenticed three separate times, but failed to complete each apprenticeship, perhaps because he was stigmatized by his Puritan affiliations. Nevertheless, he entered the employment of Samuel Ledbetter, with whom he had formerly been apprenticed, and then he began publishing the texts that made him infamous. Beginning in 1649, Culpeper began compiling his own astrological and medical works, as well as translating Latin texts to English, such as The Anatomy of the Body of Man published by Johann Vesling in Latin in 1641.

When Culpeper began practicing with Ledbetter, medical publishing was controlled by two groups: the College of Physicians, which had authority over the practice of medicine, and the Stationers’ Company, which controlled the copy and printing rights of texts. However, when increasing tension between the king and parliament festered into Civil War in 1642, every apothecary, army surgeon, and amateur physician needed to have access to basic medical and pharmaceutical knowledge, and there was a breakdown in both hierarchies. The Stationer’s Company lost their ability to enforce copyrights, and the new government opposed the rigid control of the College. Publisher Peter Cole took advantage of this opportunity to collaborate with Culpeper, a like-minded Independent and a Puritan with similar political and religious aims.

Diagram accompanying the first chapter of Culpeper's text.

Diagram showing “the Effigies of a living Man” and “the common coverings of the Body of Man,” accompanying the first chapter of Culpeper’s text. The heavy wear on the diagram inserts suggests that these figures were referenced more often than the text..

Culpeper’s Anatomy of the Body of Man is a twenty-chapter text, printed in folio, detailing the components of the human body, complete with labeled diagrams. The chapters are organized according to a combination of system-based physiology and the physical locations of organs. Each chapter describes the workings of its given topic and is followed by a “Table,” or a copper-plate diagram of that system or organ. The inclusion of twenty-four separate diagram inserts and the fact that the book was printed in folio rather than the cheaper quarto size confirms that this book was not made for the poorest to buy but rather as a reference work for an established, if not necessarily elite, medical practice.

Although Culpeper presented himself as a man of the people, he did not intend for the masses to treat themselves. Instead, he aimed to improve their access to quality healthcare. He believed that his texts would help inadequately trained army surgeons, rural physicians, and apothecaries better treat underserved populations. Other texts provided household cures for home treatment, but Culpeper’s works—including The Anatomy of the Body of Man—were meant to break the elite monopoly on quality healthcare and enable physicians and surgeons of more modest means with the knowledge necessary to serve the masses.

Diagram of the Brain and Skull, from Nicholas Culpeper's translation of Johann Vesling’s Anatomy of the Body of Man.

“This Table shews, the Brain laid bare from the Skull, with the Dura and Pia Mater ; also its Cavities and Processes.” Culpeper was dedicated to making advanced medical knowledge available to surgeons, physicians, and apothecaries of even modest means.

The Burns Library copy of The Anatomy of the Body of Man contains handwritten notes dating from its early use. One, on the final endleaf of the book, reads: “For the Rumaticks, Take Essence of Sasprila, 1 ounce and half Iodine of Potash, one Dram and 8 ounce of water. 2 table spoonefull to be taken 3 times a day.” This note suggests that the book belonged to an apothecary or physician who did not know but needed to remember this general prescription for rheumatic fever, supporting the idea that Culpeper’s intended audience included lesser-trained healthcare providers.

Endleaf to Johann Vesling's Anatomy of the Body of Man, bearing the inscription “For the Rumaticks, Take Essence of Sasprila, 1 ounce and half Iodine of Potash, one Dram and 8 ounce of water. 2 table spoonefull to be taken 3 times a day.”

Endleaf to the Burns Library copy of The Anatomy of the Body of Man. The inscription—a treatment for rheumatic fever—suggests that this copy did belong to a practicing physician, albeit one who had trouble recalling prescriptions for common ailments.

Ultimately, Culpeper’s legacy was not the science he printed in his works, but his synthesis of the social, political and religious movements that framed his publishing career. As the English Civil War disrupted the authority of royally sponsored institutions like the College of Physicians and the Stationers’ Company, religious and political radicals such as Peter Cole and Nicholas Culpeper took advantage of weakened restrictions to publish popular and controversial works for the benefit of the people. To the detriment of elite physicians and apothecaries, Culpeper published vernacular and accessible medical and herbal works that allowed poorer, less-educated medical professionals to provide the masses with accurate and affordable treatments. Thus works such as The Anatomy of the Body of Man broadened basic medical knowledge and revolutionized the practice of western medicine.

If you would like to peruse this volume, visit the John J. Burns Library Reading Room. For more information, contact the Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.

  • Aashana Dhruva, BC ’15 & Student in Professor Virginia Reinburg’s Fall 2014 Early Printed Books: History and Craft.

This blog post comes from the Early Printed Books: History and Craft class, which was taught by BC History Professor Virginia Reinburg in Fall 2014.

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Robert Morris: A Man of “Energy and Iron Will”

Robert Morris (1823 – 1882) was one of the first African-American attorneys in the United States. The Burns Library owns books from his personal library.

Robert Morris (1823 – 1882) was one of the first African-American attorneys in the United States. The Burns Library owns books from his personal library.

The John J. Burns Library holds books from the personal library of the eminent nineteenth century Boston lawyer, Robert Morris (1823-1882). The majority of the Morris Library has been housed in the Bostonia Collection, a group of  materials aimed at preserving Boston and Massachusetts history.  I was recently charged with isolating the Morris books from the larger collection in order to survey their physical condition.

Admittedly, before I started pulling the books I did not know who Robert Morris was. I gradually began to piece together an idea of the man based on the books I pulled from the shelves. He was a man obviously interested in justice, social and legal. This was made evident by the anti-slavery works that pervade the collection. The library holds the works of well-known abolitionists like Harriet Beecher Stowe and William Lloyd Garrison. Names like Emerson, Coleridge, and Martineau also accent the collection.

Morris evidently had an interest in 18th century political history too. His copy of Statesmen Who Flourished in the Time of George III by Henry Brougham, shows the wear of repeated handling. The same can be said for an 1845 edition of The Federalist, authored by founding fathers Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. Beyond topics of national importance, Robert Morris was interested in local history too, as evidenced by several books on Boston and Essex County history.

Cover of <a href="http://bc-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo_library/libweb/action/dlSearch.do?institution=BCL&amp;vid=bclib&amp;onCampus=true&amp;group=GUEST&amp;loc=local,scope:(BCL)&amp;query=any,contains,hathitrustMIU01-008637964"><i>Memoir of Nathaniel Bowditch</i></a> by Henry I. Bowditch, QB 36 .B7 B5 1841 Boston Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Cover of Memoir of Nathaniel Bowditch by Henry I. Bowditch, QB 36 .B7 B5 1841 Boston Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Robert Morris was born in Salem, Massachusetts to Yorkshire Morris, a waiter for wealthy clientele, and his wife, Mercy Thomas. Accompanying his father to work, Robert was introduced to many of Boston’s well-known lawyers and politicians. One such lawyer, Ellis Gray Loring, a founding member of the New England Anti-Slavery Society, offered to assist Morris in his education. After cultivating an interest in law, Morris became the first African-American man admitted to the Massachusetts Bar, and only the second black lawyer in the United States. Foremost, Morris pledged himself to defending the African-American community. In 1850, Morris teamed with orator and statesman, Charles Sumner, in the case of Roberts v. City of Boston. In the case, Morris represented five year old Sarah Roberts, whose father had been denied the right to enroll her in an all-white school in Boston. Roberts had received her education from a poorly funded, exclusively African-American school distant from where she lived in the City. Morris argued the psychological impacts of attending an underfunded school, as well as the larger societal implications of segregating black and white students. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found in favor of the defendants, the City of Boston, affirming the principle of “separate but equal,” which was later cited in the 1896 United States Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson. The case galvanized Morris’ position as a defender of black rights within Boston.

The year 1850 also saw the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, which Morris strongly and vocally opposed. The federal law permitted agents to seize escaped slaves that were living in “free states” and return them to their owners. The Act presumed the cooperation of state law enforcement.  In 1851, as an escaped slave named Shadrach Minkins faced a court-ordered return to Virginia, Morris helped organize a diversion at the court house, allowing Shadrach to escape, eventually settling in Canada. Morris was subsequently arrested for his involvement in the plan, but was later acquitted of the charges due to a dearth of evidence.

In addition to his eventful career as a Boston lawyer, Morris was also appointed a magistrate in the Essex County, Massachusetts court system, and led an unsuccessful campaign to become mayor of the City of Chelsea, Massachusetts in the 1860s.

Robert Morris died on December 12, 1882 of complications from heart disease. He was 59 years old. On December 17, the Boston Globe printed a memorial from the Suffolk Bar Association, of which Morris had been a member. In addition to detailing his many judicial and legal successes, the group eulogized “the loss of a man of character, integrity, and reliability, an upright and conscientious lawyer, faithful in the discharge of his duty to his clients and in his bearing mindful of his obligation to the court and his fellow members of the bar.” He was a lawyer, but also a civil rights activist, “a man who always had the interests of his race at heart.”

Despite their varying condition, subject matter, and authorship, the books had one thing in common: the signature of their former owner, neatly inscribed on the back of the front cover, usually with the year of purchase or gift.

Despite their varying condition, subject matter, and authorship, the books had one thing in common: the signature of their former owner, neatly inscribed on the back of the front cover, usually with the year of purchase or gift.

In total, I pulled 75 of Morris’ books from the stacks in Burns Library. Despite their varying condition, subject matter, and authorship, the books had one thing in common: the signature of their former owner, neatly inscribed on the back of the front cover, usually with the year of purchase or gift. Gathered together again, it is possible to see how the library expanded from the 1850s to the 1870s. I can only surmise that many of the books in the collection provided sources of legal expertise, statecraft, or maybe just restful escape to their owner, who possessed the “energy and Iron Will to stem the current of popular prejudice.”

If you’d like to view all the catalog records for the Robert Morris books, then use the online library catalog to do a Holmes Advanced Search for local collection name “Morris.”  If you have further questions, please contact the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.

James Heffernan author shotJames Heffernan, Burns Library Conservation Assistant & BC ’15

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T. S. Eliot’s Ariel Poems

Front covers of the first series of Ariel Poems by T. S. Eliot, with illustrations by E. McKnight Kauffer and Gertrude Hermes.

Front covers of the first series of Ariel Poems by T. S. Eliot, with illustrations by E. McKnight Kauffer and Gertrude Hermes.

Another blog post from a couple of weeks ago gave you an overview of the Ariel Poems, a series of pamphlets published by Faber & Gwyer (now Faber & Faber) in the 1920s and 30s.  A second series was also published in 1954. The pamphlets are printed on brightly colored paper covers with a black and white illustration and a single folded sheet of paper inside containing a colored illustration and a poem. The Burns Library is lucky enough to own a complete set of these beautiful pamphlets.  Publisher Faber & Faber describes the series as having “inventively paired an unpublished poem by a leading writer of the day with new artwork from an eminent artist” (Faber & Faber). The poets range from Thomas Hardy to Hilaire Belloc and the artists include Eric Gill and Albert Rutherston.

Journey of the Magi colophon

Colophon for T.S. Eliot’s Journey of the Magi, PR 1225 .A7 no. 8 Ariel, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The collection is intriguing for many reasons—the combination of poets and artists, the modern artwork, the pamphlets’ original purpose as both poems and potentially Christmas cards—including its many ties to other collections in the Burns Library: eight of the twenty-one poets are represented in the various archival collections at the Burns Library, as well as a few of the artists. But before any of these considerations is the title of the series itself, a title later adopted and used by T.S. Eliot for the five poems that he wrote for the series.  Eliot wrote of the series, “ ‘Nobody else seemed to want the title afterward, so I kept it for myself’” (Faber & Faber).

The presence of this smaller subset of poems bearing the same title provides a good starting place from which to examine the series. Eliot’s poems are representative of the original purpose of the pamphlets, which was to appeal to the Christmas market with seasonal poems that could also be used as greeting cards. His ‘Ariel Poems’ are comprised of Journey of the Magi, A Song for Simeon, Animula, Marina, Triumphal Marchand The Cultivation of Christmas Trees.

Illustration for T. S. Eliot's poem <a href="http://bc-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo_library/libweb/action/dlSearch.do?institution=BCL&vid=bclib&onCampus=true&group=GUEST&loc=local,scope:(BCL)&query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21345800900001021"><i>Marina</i> </a>by E. McKnight Kauffer, PR 1225 .A7 no. 29, Ariel, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Illustration for T. S. Eliot’s poem Marina by E. McKnight Kauffer, PR 1225 .A7 no. 29, Ariel, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Journey of the Magi, A Song for Simeon, Marina, and Triumphal March are illustrated by E. McKnight KaufferAnimula is illustrated by Gertrude Hermes, and The Cultivation of Christmas Trees has illustrations by David Jones.  E. McKnight Kauffer was an American designer and painter who designed advertising posters for a variety of companies in England and America. He also worked as a designer for the Nonesuch and Cresset Presses, two presses that are represented in various collections at the Burns Library. The images Kauffer created for Eliot’s poems are blocky, geometrically oriented prints that present complicated figures that are not immediately representational. Gertrude Hermes was an English sculptor and wood engraver who, like Kauffer, worked for the Cresset Press as well as the Gregynog Press and the Golden Cockerel Press. She also designed parts of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon and taught wood engraving at the Central School from 1948-1963. Her illustrations for T. S. Eliot’s Animula are full of detail, delicate lines, crosshatching, and light.

Illustration by David Jones for <a href = "http://bc-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo_library/libweb/action/dlSearch.do?institution=BCL&vid=bclib&onCampus=true&group=GUEST&loc=local,scope:(BCL)&query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21345827940001021"><i>The Cultivation of Christmas Trees</i></a> by T. S. Eliot, PR 6007.A95 C5 1954 General Folders, John J. Burns Library. Boston College.

Illustration by David Jones for The Cultivation of Christmas Trees by T. S. Eliot, PR 6007.A95 C5 1954 General Folders, John J. Burns Library. Boston College.

David Jones was an English painter, draughtsman, print-maker, illustrator, and poet. He was part of Eric Gill’s community in the 1920s and his work was shaped by war, grace, myth, and epic. His illustration for The Cultivation of Christmas Trees is both mystical and medieval, reminiscent of the Unicorn Tapestries while utilizing images from the poem.

The poems range from the overtly Biblical subjects of Journey of the Magi and A Song for Simeon to the more abstract subjects of the later poems. Faber & Faber describe the poems thus “all meditate on spiritual growth and anticipate the dialogue of self and soul achieved in…Ash-Wednesday” (Bush). What the Ariel pamphlets do well is to allow the reader to focus on the individual poem. With their easily handled small format and simple construction, these pamphlets privilege each individual text. If you would like to read T. S. Eliot’s Ariel Poems in their original format, visit the Burns Library Reading Room.  To learn more about T.S. Eliot’s connection to Boston College, visit https://flic.kr/p/bqk4QY.  If you have further questions, contact the Reading Room at (617)-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.

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

Works Consulted

Bush, Ronald. “Eliot, Thomas Stearns.” In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. http://www.oxford.dnb.com/view/article/32993.

“Gertrude Hermes.” Tate. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/gertrude-hermes-1277.

“The Ariel Poems.” Faber & Faber. http://www.faber.co.uk/9780571316434-the-ariel-poems.html

Wilson, Andrew. “David Jones.” Tate. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/david-jones-1370

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The Fairy Sisters Ephemera

Fred A. Pickering business card, 1872-1873, Box 1, Folder 4, Greater Boston Area Materials, MS.2013.020, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Fred A. Pickering business card, 1872-1873, Box 1, Folder 4, Greater Boston Area Materials, MS.2013.020, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, Americans of all ages flocked to exhibits of people with physical abnormalities, more commonly called “freak shows.”  P.T. Barnum, of Barnum and Bailey Circus fame, played a major role in popularizing freak shows, touring nationally and internationally with performers such as General Tom Thumb and the giant woman Anna Swan. These kinds of human curiosity exhibits proved to be very profitable, and it was a path pursued both by “agents” and parents of children with physical anomalies.

Fred A. Pickering was one such businessman who realized the lucrative nature of human exhibits. Pickering ran his agency out of Boston’s Old State House in the 1870s, organizing shows of musical performers and human curiosities. Because of the seedy reputations of some freak shows, Pickering made a concerted effort to prove his shows and exhibits were professional and dignified. He asserted that the audiences of his shows were composed of only the most refined and distinguished people of Boston, and he managed his agency as a legitimate business.

Fairy Sisters poster, American Antiquarian Society.

Fairy Sisters poster, American Antiquarian Society.

In the 1870s, one of Pickering’s most famous acts was the “Fairy Sisters.” The Fairy Sisters were two young girls named Cassie and Victoria Foster, who were advertised as the “smallest persons in the world.” Born in Nova Scotia, Cassie and Victoria toured New England as performers from 1872-1873. In an 1873 issue of the New England Medical Gazette, it was reported, “their ages are six and three; their weight twelve and six pounds…They are well-formed and perfect in every respect, and have always enjoyed good health.” The Fairy Sisters exhibit, usually accompanied by a musical performance, showed off their diminutive stature, special clothing, and tiny furniture. Unfortunately, the two sisters both passed away at a very young age, only touring for about two years.

After the death of the Fairy Sisters, their younger brother Dudley Foster was also exhibited because of his dwarfism. Known professionally as “Hop-O’-My-Thumb,” Dudley Foster saw some success as an entertainer, even being presented to Queen Victoria.

Fairy Sisters promotional ephemera, 1872-1873, Box 1, Folder 4, Greater Boston Area Materials, MS.2013.020, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Fairy Sisters promotional ephemera, 1872-1873, Box 1, Folder 4, Greater Boston Area Materials, MS.2013.020, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The John J. Burns library holds a small amount of promotional material relating to Fred A. Pickering and the Fairy Sisters in the Greater Boston Area Collection. The collection includes Pickering’s business card, a promotional advertisement of the Fairy Sisters exhibit, a poem about the sisters published in the Portland Star, and a management contract for the exhibit. For more information, please see the finding aid, or contact the Burns Library at 617-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.

  • Sarah Nitenson, Burns Library Archives Student Assistant & BC ’15

Works Consulted

Annapolis Heritage Society. “The Foster Midgets.” Accessed February 26, 2015, http://www.annapolisheritagesociety.com/collections-artifacts-from.html.

Collins and Chambers collection. Finding aid at William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan. Accessed February 26, 2015, http://quod.lib.umich.edu/c/clementsmss/umich-wcl-M-4400.12col?view=text.

Fairy Sisters promotional ephemera, 1872-1873, Box 1, Folder 4, Greater Boston Area Materials, MS.2013.020, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Sweet, Matthew. Inventing the Victorians: What We Think We Know About Them and Why We’re Wrong. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2014.

Talbot, I.T., ed. The New England Medical Gazette, vol. VIII. Boston: Otis Clapp and Son, 1873, p. 289.

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Ariel Poems

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ariel_wolfe_troy_inside-cover

Illustration for the poem Troy by artist Charles S. Ricketts, poem by Humbert Wolfe, PR 1225 .A7 no. 12 ARIEL, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

In 1927, publishing house Faber & Gwyer (later Faber & Faber) published a series titled The Ariel Poems—a run of small, illustrated pamphlets that combined a poem with an artist’s illustrations. T. S. Eliot, one of the contributing poets, borrowed the title for the five poems that he wrote for the series, and those have become perhaps the most easily recognizable poems of that name. But twenty other poets and nineteen artists contributed to the series as well, creating thirty-eight beautiful pamphlets featuring the work of writers and artists such as Edith Sitwell, G. K. Chesterton, W. B. Yeats, Stephen Tennant, Albert Rutherston, and Blair Hughes-Stanton. The illustrations range from wood engravings, to drawings, to colored illustrations inside the front covers of the pamphlets. The poets’ work, newly written for the series, include overtly Christmas poems (the original focus of the pamphlet collection) but also encompass subjects including hope, life and death, nature, and the life of the soul. Several of the poets featured in the pamphlets also appear in the Burns Library’s manuscript collections: Edith Sitwell, G. K. Chesterton, W. B. Yeats, Hilaire Belloc, D. H. Lawrence, James Stephens, and AE (George William Russell). These pamphlets are an excellent starting point to access these intriguing twentieth-century poets.

<a href="http://bc-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/primo_library/libweb/action/dlSearch.do?institution=BCL&amp;vid=bclib&amp;onCampus=true&amp;group=GUEST&amp;loc=local,scope:(BCL)&amp;query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21345828030001021"><i>Nativity</i></a> by Roy Campbell, illustrated by James Sellars, PR 9369.3 .C35 N38 1954 General Folders, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Nativity by Roy Campbell, illustrated by James Sellars, PR 9369.3 .C35 N38 1954 General Folders, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

In 1954, Faber & Faber published a second series of Ariel poems. This second series was shorter than the first but the concept remained the same. The 1954 pamphlets are larger–almost twice the size of the first run–but follow the same format of a brightly colored paper cover, and a single sheet of folded paper inside with two illustrations and the poem. The 1954 Ariel poems are written by W. H. Auden, Roy Campbell, Walter De La Mare, T. S. Eliot, C. Day Lewis, Louis MacNeice, Edwin Muir, and Stephen Spender. The artists include David Jones, James Sellars, and Lynton Lamb. Each poem is housed in its original envelope. The envelopes are pastel colored and titled “An Ariel Poem” followed by the pertinent information for each pamphlet.

If you would like to look at the Ariel poems in person, visit the Burns Library Reading Room. For more information, contact the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.

  • Rachel A. Ernst, Burns Library Reading Room Student Assistant & PhD student in the English Department

Works Consulted

“The Ariel Poems.” Faber & Faber. http://www.faber.co.uk/9780571316434-the-ariel-poems.html

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Johnson’s Quest to Define a Language

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) single-handedly undertook the herculean task of assembling the first comprehensive dictionary of the English language.

Dictionaries can tell a lot about the history of English and its usage, especially the first truly comprehensive English dictionary, A Dictionary of the English Language, by Samuel Johnson. First published in 1755, Johnson’s dictionary was the foremost English dictionary until the publication of the Oxford English Dictionary over one hundred years later and was – as one reviewer called it – “a perpetual Monument of Fame to the Author, an Honour to his own Country in particular, and a general Benefit to the Republic of Letters throughout all Europe.”

Well before Johnson began his work, there had been calls for a large-scale, comprehensive English dictionary from such literary elites as John Dryden, Daniel Defoe, Alexander Pope, and Jonathan Swift. These men were calling for the creation of an academy to create a dictionary, like those that produced the comprehensive French and Italian dictionaries of the day, but Johnson determined to take on this colossal endeavor all on his own.

Johnson was uniquely well-suited for the herculean task of assembling a comprehensive dictionary. When he began the project, he was a well-respected, but still largely unknown, writer in London. He needed a large-scale project to provide a steady income and to earn him a wider reputation, and a dictionary seemed the perfect choice. At the same time, Johnson possessed the skills and temperament necessary for the undertaking and had an influential connection in the bookselling trade through his friend Robert Dodsley. It was through this combination of financial need, ability, and connections that Johnson came to answer the call for a comprehensive English dictionary.

Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language and the Oxford English Dictionary.

Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language, PE 1620 .J6 1755 Oversize, John J. Burns Library, Boston College. Johnson’s dictionary was a monumental undertaking that still seems substantial next to the 1970 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. Unfortunately, the large size of this first edition discouraged the sales that Johnson had hoped would provide him with financial security and establish his reputation.

Johnson commenced with the help of a handful of assistants by compiling quotations to serve as authoritative examples of word usage. In finding quotes, he relied on books in his personal library, pulling from poetry, prose, theology, philosophy, history, politics, philology, art history, and technical works. In 1754, he traveled to Oxford to conduct research for the dictionary’s front matter: the preface, a history of the English language, and a short grammar. He sent sections to his printer, William Strahan, as they were finished, so the dictionary was not printed sequentially. Once Johnson had produced most of his copy, the printing process was quick and efficient—printers set type while he read proofs.

Johnson's definition of Dull

Johnson left a few hidden Easter eggs for careful readers. Here, he illustrates one definition of dull: “Not exhilaterating; not delightful; as, to make dictionaries is dull work.”

When the dictionary was published in April 15, 1755, it consisted of two folio volumes which were bound in paste boards. Wealthy purchasers would then have the book bound in a custom ordered or “bespoke” binding. The new dictionary met with positive reviews and was soon reprinted in a second edition that was sold in installments. Nonetheless, neither of these editions sold particularly well because they were too expensive for many readers, and many found them too cumbersome. In January 1756, the publisher released a two volume octavo abridgement that was cheaper and smaller, which in turn enjoyed healthier sales.

Johnson’s dictionary remained the preeminent English dictionary until the publication of the Oxford English Dictionary. Every lexicographer who followed Johnson had to confront the authority of his dictionary, with some embracing it while others, including Noah Webster, deliberately tried to undermine it. But the impact of Johnson’s dictionary was not just limited to Britain or the world of lexicography. The Founding Fathers of the United States referred to Johnson’s dictionary when writing the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers, and Supreme Court decisions still cite Johnson’s dictionary to determine the original meanings of the Founding Fathers’ words.

The inside covers of this 1755 first edition of Johnson's dictionary have a unique history of their own. These pastedowns were recycled from lists naming lieutenants promoted in the British Navy in 1803-1804. This copy later entered the libraries of the famous Astor family and bears the bookplate of Arthur Astor Carey (1857–1923).

The inside covers of this 1755 first edition of Johnson’s dictionary have a unique history of their own. These pastedowns were recycled from lists naming lieutenants promoted in the British Navy in 1803-1804. This copy later entered the libraries of the famous Astor family and bears the bookplate of Arthur Astor Carey (1857–1923).

The Burns Library at Boston College owns several copies of Johnson’s dictionary, including a first edition from 1755. Published by William Strahan in London, the two-volume folio edition is almost 16 inches long. The books have bespoke leather bindings over the publisher’s boards, although the leather is now flaking off, especially around the edges. Adding to the rich look of these books, the volumes feature designs printed in the front and back covers and marbled endpapers. Each volume contains an old owner’s bookplate bearing the name of one former owner: Arthur A. Carey, who was a descendent of the famous German American businessman John Jacob Astor.

Though Johnson’s dictionary was well-received and eventually popular, he did not enjoy many fruits of his labor. He was arrested for debt less than a year after the release of the first edition. Nonetheless, the physical presence of the book remains a reminder of the monumental accomplishment of this dictionary. The size of the volumes, the length and the number of entries included, and the extensive use of illustrative quotations all illuminate the extraordinary task Johnson undertook. And the Burns Library copy, with its decorated leather binding and marbled endpapers, underscores the importance this title held in the collections of its original owners.

If you would like to peruse this volume, visit the John J. Burns Library Reading Room. To learn more about other dictionaries at the Burns Library, read these posts on Jesuit dictionaries. For more information, contact the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.

  • Kelli Farrington, Graduate Student in Professor Virginia Reinburg’s Fall 2014 Early Printed Books: History and Craft.

This blog post comes from the Early Printed Books: History and Craft class, which was taught by BC History Professor Virginia Reinburg in Fall 2014.

Posted in Featured Collections & Books, Rare books, Student Posts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

20th Century Propaganda from the Woodruff Collection

Front covers of various pamphlets from the Woodruff Collection, see more images at <a href="https://flic.kr/s/aHsk5WAqy6">https://flic.kr/s/aHsk5WAqy6</a>.

Front covers of various pamphlets from the Woodruff Collection, see more images at https://flic.kr/s/aHsk5WAqy6.

Collections tell stories about their former owners. (John) Douglas Woodruff’s personal collection, acquired from his estate many years ago, uncovers his interest in communist and fascist era propaganda.

Born in 1897, Woodruff was known for his erudition and wit. After his education in modern history at Oxford, Woodruff entered the world of journalism. He held posts with British publications such as The Times and a Catholic weekly, The Tablet. Over the course of thirty years as editor of the latter, Woodruff’s close affiliation with the Catholic Church and his Conservative leanings were documented in his witty prose.

hitlerwantstheworldPerhaps the journalist had a preoccupation with fact vs. fiction. These pamphlets, a tiny slice of the collection, certainly offer a glimpse at the whirlwind of texts explaining what people should and should not believe.  Hitler Wants the World! is the first collection of Dr. Herman Rauschning’s writings on Hitler. Rauschning is “the man who knows Hitler’s mind” as his 1938 book “Germany’s Revolution of Destruction” supposedly foretold Hitler’s plan. Including essays with titles such as “Nazis’ Plan to Set the World in Flames” and “Russia is Hitler’s Plum” this pamphlet holds Dr. Rausching’s attempts to expose what he saw as the horrors of Nazism and the attempts of Hitler’s regime to maintain a “new social order” (42).

 

truthaboutcommunistsAmter, charter member of the Communist party, published the 1930 pamphlet The Truth about the Communists to answer the question, “Who are the 55,000 Communists?” in the United States. The pamphlet outlines a Communist’s take on issues such as unemployment and civil rights, and devotes a section to Amter’s assertion that “Communists are Builders” (14). The back cover even addresses the problem of hearsay in an attempt to sell the Daily and Sunday Worker: “Has it ever occurred to you that Communism is one of the most talked about subjects of the day? Wherever you turn the word is on someone’s lips…Yet what do you honestly know about Communism? If you are the sort of person that isn’t satisfied with hearsay and opinion, you will find the Daily and Sunday Worker a stimulating newspaper…”

hitlersbritishdupesThough it will fit in the palm of your hand, the War Facts Press would surely suggest that Hitler’s British Dupes: Fifty Facts is chock full of information. The tiny pamphlet aims to counter propaganda spread by “Hitler’s dupes” in England. The pamphlet is part of a series published to provide “in handy form,” nonetheless, an “antidote to this poisonous propaganda.”

communist_infiltrationWith piles of pamphlets intended to sway the beliefs of citizens, in 1946 the Chamber of Commerce released Communist Infiltration in the United States: Its Nature and How to Combat It. This “how-to” guide provides insight into “Why People Become Communists,” but offers a “Counterattack” to the intrusion. The first step, according to this pamphlet, is to present true facts about Communism to the American public and calls for American organizations against the rise of Communism to band together in defense.

While cataloguing the Woodruff collection, I was surprised to discover the Catholic journalist’s penchant for propaganda. Yet, this was a style of text from his time. Though these pamphlets reflect a turbulent social and political atmosphere, I can’t help but wonder if Woodruff, known for his wit and humor, gathered these pamphlets to look back on with a slight grin, delighted by the power of words to educate and persuade.

If you’d like to browse photos of additional Woodruff Collection highlights, follow this link to the  head of the Burns Library Flickr page: https://flic.kr/s/aHsk5WAqy6.  To view catalog records for Woodruff’s books, go to the Holmes advanced search screen (http://bclib.bc.edu/advancedsearch) and search for “Woodruff” as a Local Collection name. If you have further questions, please contact the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.

  • Mollie Kervick, Burns Library Student Cataloger & MA Student in English and Irish Literature and Culture
Posted in Cataloger's Corner, Featured Collections & Books, Staff Posts, Student Posts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment