The Recollections of Edward Hartwell Savage

This week’s blog post is guest written by one of our research fellows, Nicole Breault, who was able to travel to Burns Library and conduct research earlier this year as part of the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium

With the generous support of a New England Regional Fellowship, I spent two weeks at John J. Burns Library at Boston College working with the Ellerton J. Brehaut Collection of Edward Hartwell Savage Papers. My first encounter with Edward Hartwell Savage was while conducting preliminary research for my dissertation project, “The Night Watch of Boston: Law and Governance in Eighteenth-Century British America.” Searching for materials on nightly watches, I stumbled on a mid-nineteenth century work: A chronological history of the Boston watch and police, from 1631 to 1865; together with the Recollections of a Boston police office, or, Boston by daylight and gaslight, from the diary of an officer fifteen years in the service. The author, then Deputy Chief of Police, included vivid stories describing the locations of watch houses, dialogues between watchmen and residents, and revealed subtle details of the experience of serving in the watch. Literature on the practice of watch-keeping is quite scarce. While written in the tone and style of an antiquarian, Savage’s history of the Boston watch offered details not found elsewhere. In the hope of locating more materials, I went in search of Mr. Savage and his archive.


Page from Savage’s “Annals from Boston”, Box 7, Ellerton J. Brehaut collection of Edward Hartwell Savage papers (MS.2004.069)

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Florence Nightingale Bicentennial: Year of the Nurse and Midwife

Coinciding with the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, the World Health Assembly, the governing body of the World Health Organization (WHO), has designated 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife “to celebrate the work of nurses and midwives, highlight the challenging conditions they often face, and advocate for increased investments in the nursing and midwifery workforce.” While International Nurses Day commemorates Nightingale’s birthday yearly on May 12, programs and events throughout this bicentennial year aim to further champion the work of nurses and midwives.

Here at Burns Library, we wanted to take this opportunity to highlight our collections focused on nursing history, theory, and practice, as well as some of our materials on Florence Nightingale.

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John Louis Bonn, the Bard, and Boston College Theater in the 1940s

Five actors in costume, including King Lear, Cordelia, Regan, and Goneril, and the Fool

Boston College performers in the 1941 production of King Lear, Box 31, John Louis Bonn, SJ papers, BC.1986.014, John J. Burns Library, Boston College


"The Boston College Dramatic Society (1866-1941), December Sixth, Jordan Hall, 8:30 will present a benefit performance for its new workshop in Cardinal O'Connell Hall in memory of Mr. Joseph Willis with Paul Good in Mr. William Shakespeare's tragedy of King Lear. From the original text with a powerful cast including: Constantine Pappas, Edward Myers, Barrett Murphy, John McNaught, Robert Lacy and Richard Ward. Directed by John Louis Bonn with production supervised by Eliot Davey."

Playbill for the 1941 Boston College production of King Lear, Box 31, John Louis Bonn, SJ papers, BC.1986.014, John J. Burns Library, Boston College



John Louis Bonn, SJ, who taught theater at Boston College between 1930-1949 and directed the School of Dramatic Arts from 1937-1943, made a lasting impression on Boston College’s theater culture. Bonn directed many student plays and documented these performances in his scrapbooks, which we hold as part of the John Louis Bonn, SJ papers. They include photographs, playbills, and scripts complete with stage directions, edits, and additions.

Bonn directed the December 6, 1941 production of King Lear. He adapted Shakespeare’s play and selected the cast from members of the BC Dramatics Society. At the time, Boston College only admitted men and, in this play in which women play vital roles, the female roles were filled by male actors. (In other plays, women from neighboring colleges and dramatic societies sometimes appeared in the cast.)

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Process of a Poem: Seamus Heaney’s Funeral Rites

Image of Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney Portrait bh002411, Bobby Hanvey Photographic Archives, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

A poem greets its reader as a finished project. It resides there on the page, surrounded by blankness, with its line breaks and title. It is as if the poem walked out of the poet’s mind and onto the page in all its completed glory. A glance at the Seamus Heaney Collection in Burns Library shows that this is far from the truth. 

Seamus Heaney, born in County Derry, Ireland in 1939, was one of the most popular and prolific poets of his time. He published 12 individual volumes of poetry, several translations of ancient plays and epics, and a body of critical essays on the craft of poetry. Heaney’s knowledge of and attention to the craft of poetry is always one of the aspects of his mind that surprises me, and that conscientiousness comes across in the manuscript drafts of his poem “Funeral Rites,” which resides in Burns Library. 

Image of Funeral Rites manuscript

Poem, “Funeral Rites,” five manuscript and typescript drafts, Box 1, Folder 19, Seamus Heaney Collection, MS.1986.003, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

“Funeral Rites” belongs to his fourth collection, North, a book that many consider one of his best. North is, in part, Heaney’s direct response to The Troubles in Northern Ireland, and it has two sections. The first, which includes “Funeral Rites,” focuses on the Ancient North of Scandinavia and its Norse Gods, Vikings and bog bodies. Heaney’s art, with its palimpsest of myth and current events, suggests that these ancient struggles parallel those plaguing his own native land. The second section casts off this mythic attitude and stares directly at the situation as Heaney implicitly asks, “what is the role of a poet in a time of tribal violence?”

The first section of “Funeral Rites” presents a speaker, likely Heaney himself, participating in the funeral of a relative who died of natural causes. The second straddles the line between the immanent world and the world of myth, as the speaker hears news of neighbors murdered by other neighbors and wishes that the standard funeral ceremony would suffice. It does not, and a funeral procession for one of these unnatural deaths becomes a serpent snaking its way to megalithic tombs. Finally, the third section enters fully into the realm of myth as the speaker hopes that perhaps these men lay in their ancient tomb like the ancient hero Gunnar whose death went unavenged. The speaker hopes that if vengeance ceases, then the cycle of vendettas will end as it did with Gunnar.

It is a stunning poem that links the pain of the present with the pain of the past, and balances a clear-eyed look at the grief of the present with hope for the future. The poem’s structure of short, tight, enjambed—almost claustrophobic—quatrains resemble the world-serpent and the burial mounds that enter the poem midway through. However, the manuscripts housed here at the Burns show that the poem began its life as a different piece of work.

Image of Funeral Rites draft manuscript

Poem, “Funeral Rites,” five manuscript and typescript drafts, Box 1, Folder 19, Seamus Heaney Collection, MS.1986.003, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

There are five pages of early drafts to this poem. The first page uses the title of “The Funerals.” This title then becomes “Elegy,” and only in the last manuscript page does “Elegy” transform into “Funeral Rites.” Due to these quite linear changes in titles from page to page, I maintain that “The Funerals” is the earliest draft, and it is also the most unlike the final version. 

Perhaps the most striking difference from the working drafts to the completed work is the line length. In all of the manuscript drafts, the poem exists with long iambic lines. These lines then belong to long stanzas that can reach beyond eight lines. This distinction adds weight to Heaney’s choice to turn the poem into those short, snaking quatrains. Through the changes from draft to draft to completed piece, we see Heaney’s attempt to force the form to reflect and justify the content.

These manuscripts show Heaney’s mind work through decisions about what to leave and what to delete. In “The Funerals” manuscript, the first three quatrains are totally crossed out, and none of those lines reappear in the subsequent versions. Yet, there are ideas in those stricken lines that Heaney atavistically introduces into other parts of the poem that had yet to be written when he decided to cut the original lines. For instance, he cuts out a line that uses “shoulder” as a verb, another that mentions “some megalith,” and another which considers rosary beads wrapped around thumbs. All of these ideas make it in, not only to later drafts of the poem, but into the poem itself. Reading through the manuscripts that Burns Library houses, we have the privilege to go beyond a finished artistic product by glimpsing the process that created it.

“Funeral Rites” as it exists in the published world is a powerful poem. Its language is grounded and elegant. Its tone is balanced, and its shape is spartan. When one reads the poem, it is impossible to imagine it existing in any other form, with any different language.Yet it did at one point. These manuscript pages show art as a process, as a craft, as well as a talent. Heaney did not get the poem right on his first go-round, but through painstaking work and attention to detail, all of which can be seen in his edits in these pages, he created a mighty poem.

-Brian Loane, Reading Room Assistant, MA Candidate in the Department of English


  • Heaney, Seamus. North. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996.
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The Name of Patience

Patience is a “virtue name” like Grace or Hope, and celebrates the Puritan attribute of the acceptance of delay, trouble, or suffering through faith in God.

Know all men by these presents I, Thomas Burnam of Ipswich in the County of Essex and Province of Massachusetts Bay in New England, yeoman, for and in consideration of the sum of thirty two pounds lawful money to me in hand before the ensealing hereof well and truly paid by Robert Dodge of Ipswich aforesaid yeoman, the reciept whereof I do hearby acknowledge, and myself therewith full satisfied contented and paid, have bargained and sold and do by these presents bargain sell, sett over and confirm unto the said Robert Dodge his heirs executors administrators or assigns a negro girl known by the name of Patience —–
To have and to hold said negro girl Patience during her natural life unto the said Robert Dodge his heirs executors administrators or assigns —- And further I the said Thomas Burnam, for my self my heirs executors and administration, against the lawful claims or demands of any person or persons whatever, forever hereafter to warrant secure and defend — In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal, this thirteenth day of December Anno Domini, one thousand seven hundred and sixty nine.
Thomas [Burnam?] [seal]
Signed sealed and delivered in presence of
Samuel Patch
Lucy Whittreg

Image of receipt for the sale of Patience, 1769

Receipt for the Sale of Patience, 1769, box 13 folder 25, Ellerton J. Brehaut Boston history collection (MS.2008.016), John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

This document – a receipt of the sale of a woman only identified as Patience – provides a few important pieces of information, but also leaves us with a good deal of mystery. The buyer and seller are both identified by name, occupation, and town. The names of the witnesses can be read; they were probably both adults, and related in some way to the buyer or seller. Patience, though, has no surname, or specific occupation, and is called a “girl.” What was her age in 1769? Was she born in or near Ipswich?  How did her life change with this transaction? Did she eventually become free, and what were her circumstances then? Did she marry or have children? Was she a church member? Where are her remains buried? 

Resources for genealogical research in Massachusetts’ Colonial and Revolutionary eras are plentiful and might be used to identify Burnham, Dodge, Patch and Whittredge with certainty. Information about Patience could be found in many of the same resources, but with her surname unidentified and her age unrecorded, she is likely to be very challenging to find. Guides that offer strategies for locating African American records include those from American Ancestors, and FamilySearch.

When genealogical evidence is hard to find, it is important to look for clues about the known associates of an individual – their family and neighbors, or members of religious, fraternal or military groups and the like, to which they belonged. Since her records are elusive, what information can be gleaned about Patience and her circumstances from the others whose names are on the document? Continue reading

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A DIY Encyclopedia: G. William Patten’s iconography and symbolism notes

If you are on the hunt for a DIY encyclopedia, look no further than Glancy William Patten’s personal papers. G. William Patten, a local Boston artist, kept meticulous notes about symbolism and meaning ranging from animals to persons to flags of the world.

As discussed in more detail elsewhere on our blog, Patten, born in 1907, began drawing at a young age. Throughout his life, he had numerous jobs that revolved around design, illustration, and engineering, including monument designer, editor of American Art in Stone, and positions at architectural firms. During World War II, Patten even drew fighter plane designs for Vought aircraft company.


G. William Patten drawings of angels, Box 9, Folder 9, G. William Patten papers (MS2003-042), John J. Burns Library, Boston College

In his 30s, Patten began scrupulously recording a world of symbols. Patten’s collection, entitled, “Iconography and symbolism notes, circa 1940s-1980s”, meticulously documents meanings behind every-day objects, animals, and words. What is classified as notes is less marginal jottings than an intensely organized mini-encyclopedia of symbols and meanings. Some of the headings include: Animals A-Z, General A-Z, Groups and Organizations, Countries, Numbers, and Persons A-Z. Almost all categories contain hundreds of entries, many of which are illustrated

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Hearing the Past

The term “archives” may call up images of vellum pages covered with beautiful cursive (or indecipherable scribbles) but, as previous blog posts on material culture highlight– see What’s in a Game? Some Examples of Board Games at Burns Library and From Chasubles to Spider Puppets: The Lessons, Joys, and Challenges of Curating at Burns Library they are frequently so much more. Among the many formats in our collections, Burns Library holds a wealth of recordings within the Irish Music Archives, as well as recorded history within numerous literary and historical collections. 

Image of Audio recordings from the Howard Belding Gill papers

Audio recordings from the Howard Belding Gill papers, MS.1995.018, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

Frequently, as an archivist describing collections, I’ve been stumped by the black-box nature of audiovisual recordings. When a folder of papers has a terse or nonexistent title, I can look inside to find out more. To date this was untrue for cassettes and discs; nothing on the box meant no description, since listening to or viewing an item could potentially ruin it. The result was unhelpful and unsatisfying description: “untitled audio recording, undated.”  

A recent Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Recordings at Risk grant supported the digitization by an outside vendor of two collections of traditional Irish music from New York and Boston on audio reels, and propelled us to set up a dedicated laptop for researchers to access digitized audiovisual content in our reading room. Among other things, this new access model drove an initiative to make audiovisual contents more readily available by digitizing them at the same time that collections are being described. This effort is currently limited to formats that can be digitized in our digital lab, but that list already includes audio cassettes, phonograph discs, and video cassettes of multiple types (from tiny miniDV up to the nearly-ubiquitous home video format, VHS). The result is that I can now listen to a portion of the mystery cassette or disc via the access copy made by our Digital Archives Specialist Jack Kearney as often as I need without fear of consequences to the original item. Instead of transcribing the outside, “Mr. Gill, room 212, Bascon Hall”, I can reflect the content, “‘The Juvenile Panorama’ guest lecture”.


Digitization equipment from the lab

A sampling of what the Burns Library has already been able to describe and make available for research includes:

Very shortly two new collections that bridge poetry, music, and Irish culture will also have audiovisual components available. The papers of Washington, D. C.-area author and traditional Irish composer and performer Terrence Winch include recordings of poetry readings with fellow poets Michael Lally, Doug Lang, Ted Berrigan, Tim Dlugos, and Diane Ward, and concerts, often with Winch reading poetry and short stories as well as performing as part of his band Celtic Thunder. Another multi-faceted contemporary author, Irish poet and literary critic Gerald Dawe, has recordings that complement his writings. He was a frequent contributor to BBC Radio Ireland and RTE Radio broadcasts, and his papers include draft texts of his talks, poetry readings, and interviews, complemented by audio recordings of the broadcasts. 


Terence Winch’s band Celtic Thunder in 1978 as documented in a newspaper article, photograph, and concert recording, Terence Winch papers, MS.2017.005, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Why should you care about this small segment of the archival collections that was previously inaccessible? Because it’s a particularly vivid evocation of the past. Hearing a voice or seeing a figure in motion brings the past into the present in a way that text or artifacts alone cannot. 

-Lynn Moulton, Processing Archivist, John J. Burns Library

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