John LaFarge, S.J. and The Unity of the Human Race

To complement the opening of the new exhibit at Boston College’s McMullen Museum of Art on the American painter, muralist, and stained-glass designer John La Farge, we present a rare and remarkable document in our Burns Library collections authored by the artist’s Jesuit son and namesake—the draft of a papal encyclical denouncing racism during the Nazi era that was never promulgated and remained hidden for decades.

John LaFarge, SJ (1880-1963) was the youngest of eight children born to his better remembered father. Following his graduation from Harvard in 1901, LaFarge studied theology in Austria, where he  was ordained a priest and entered the Society of Jesus four years later. Following his return to the United States and the completion of his education and vocational formation, he embarked upon pastoral work, spending fifteen years (1911-26) ministering to African American and immigrant communities in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, along the Chesapeake Bay. The experience deeply shaped his attitude to race relations and to racism, which he considered a sin. In 1926 he founded an industrial school in southern Maryland for African American boys, the Cardinal Gibbons Institute.


John LaFarge in Innsbruk, circa 1901

That same year, LaFarge became the assistant editor of America, a leading Jesuit weekly. He wrote for the magazine for the next 37 years and helped to establish the progressive tone that it has largely retained. By comparison to his locally focused pastoral work in rural Maryland, America gave LaFarge a platform from which to preach the gospel of interracial justice to national audiences. In addition to his editorials and the organization of  Catholic interracial councils in New York and other cities around the country, he wrote several influential books on the topic, beginning with Interracial Justice in 1937.

According to Boston College professor of history James O’Toole, who has contributed an essay to the McMullen Museum exhibition catalogue, the publication of Interracial Justice “presented LaFarge with an unusual opportunity,” as he explains in the following excerpt:

Traveling in Europe in the spring and summer of 1938, in part so he could report first-hand for America on deteriorating conditions in Germany and Italy, he received an unexpected summons to a meeting with the pope, Pius XI. … [Pius] had become increasingly troubled by the overt anti-Semitism of the regime, and he determined next to issue an extended public denunciation. Because LaFarge had a reputation for opposition to any form of “racialism,” the American seemed the right person to draft a formal encyclical letter, one of the most forceful statements a pope could make on any subject. In June, the two met privately at the papal retreat outside Rome – Hitler came to visit Mussolini that summer, and Pius left for his vacation early, saying that the Roman air had suddenly gone bad – and, conversing in French, the pope asked the Jesuit to draft the document for him. LaFarge was flattered that the pope had apparently read Interracial Justice carefully, but at first he demurred. The pope insisted, telling him to say in the encyclical “just what you would say if you yourself were pope.”

For the next several months, LaFarge worked on the document, retreating for this purpose to the more agreeable climate, both meteorologically and politically, of Paris. If anyone back in America wondered why he was not returning home, he wrote a friend, “you can say I am working on a possible second edition of my book … This is generally true,” he concluded slyly….

Typescript draft of Humani generis unitas from the Edward Stanton Papers in Burns Library

Typescript draft of Humani generis unitas, Box 4, Folder 8, Edward Stanton Papers, BC.2002.071 John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

By the end of the summer, the draft was complete. Like all such encyclicals, it would be known by its Latin opening words: humani generis unitas – “the unity of the human race.” That unity stood, in LaFarge’s vision, as a refutation of all efforts to set one group of people against another. Any theory “which makes a distinction between higher and lower races,” he wrote, was  particularly odious, since it “ignores the bond of unity” that was the common heritage of humanity. When directed particularly against Jews, the “flagrant denial of human rights” could only be condemned. “One naturally wonders,” he went on, if the “advocates of so-called racial purity” – any reader of the document would know exactly who was meant here – were in reality merely advancing “a clever slogan to move the masses” for other purposes, such as conquest and war. In Germany, Jews were wrongly “denied legal protection against violence and robbery, exposed to every form of insult and public degradation,” and this meant that they were “treated as criminals, though they have scrupulously obeyed the law of their native land.” Even those who had fought and died for their country in the First World War were now considered “traitors and branded as outlaws by the very fact of their parentage.” If issued, the encyclical would stand as an unequivocal denunciation of Hitler and his plans for the Holocaust.

Sadly, LaFarge’s bold document was never published. Finally returning to New York in early October, he had submitted the draft encyclical through the regular Vatican channels. There, it stalled: Pius would not see it until the end of the following January. By then, events were spinning out of control. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had met with Hitler outside Munich and agreed to let the dictator seize part of Czechoslovakia in exchange for “peace in our time”; general war was less than a year away. Meanwhile, the health of the pope, age eighty-one, began a precipitous decline. He struggled visibly through public appearances, though some of these seemed part of a general plan related to the projected encyclical. He addressed the Pontifical Academy of Sciences just before Christmas, for example, having inducted as members several Jewish scientists who had recently been fired from Italian universities by Mussolini. But in early February 1939 he died, and the idea of a resounding papal denunciation of racism and anti-Semitism died with him.

His successor, Pope Pius XII, withheld the draft, only borrowing a few phrases for his own encyclicals. Until the 1990s, when the work of Georges Passelecq and Bernard Suchecky revealed the story, the complete text remained unknown outside the Vatican and a few of LaFarge’s closest associates. The Burns Library possesses one of the few surviving draft copies of the encyclical among the papers of Edward S. Stanton, a former professor at Boston College who wrote his doctoral dissertation and a number of articles on LaFarge.

LaFarge in later life

John LaFarge in later life

Upon his return to the United States during the Second World War, LaFarge once again threw himself into reforming American attitudes toward racial justice. In 1943, he organized an interfaith rally before the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. Exactly twenty years later, at the age of 83, LaFarge joined the March on Washington organized by Martin Luther King, Jr.. As O’Toole points out, although LaFarge was not among the speakers that day, “the many Catholic priests, sisters, and lay people who were part of the throng in August 1963 would probably never have been there without his lifetime of work.”

LaFarge died that November, two days after Kennedy’s assassination. Boston’s Cardinal Richard Cushing, having presided at the president’s funeral, flew to New York to offer a eulogy at a memorial service for LaFarge, calling him a pioneer in the field of interracial justice.

If you would like to examine the draft encyclical or other items in the papers of Edward S. Stanton, we welcome you to visit Burns Library Reading Room. For more information, please call 617-552-4861 or write to

The exhibition, “John LaFarge and the Recovery of the Sacred,” opens at the McMullen Museum of Art on September 1 and runs through December 13, 2015. Curated by Boston College professor of art history Jeffrey Howe, it is complemented by a catalogue that includes James O’Toole’s complete essay on John LaFarge, SJ excerpted above. In addition, the Boston College University Libraries have assisted Howe with mounting a digital guide titled  “John La Farge Stained Glass in New England.”

  • Christian Dupont, Burns Librarian & Associate University Librarian for Special Collections

Further Reading:

Passelecq, Georges, and Bernard Suchecky. The Hidden Encyclical of Pius XI. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1997.

Southern, David. John LaFarge and the Limits of Catholic Interracialism, 1911-1963. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996.

Stanton, Edward. “John LaFarge,” in Saints Are Now: Eight Portraits of Modern Sanctity, edited by John Delaney. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1981.

Stanton, Edward. “John LaFarge’s Understanding of the Unifying Mission of the Church, Especially in the Area of Race Relations.” PhD dissertation, St. Paul University, Ottawa, 1972.

Posted in Archives & Manuscripts, Exhibits & Events, Staff Posts, University Archives | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Rev. James H. Murphy, C.M., Burns Visiting Scholar For Fall Semester 2015

James Murphy, Professor of DePaul University's College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences is pictured in a studio portrait Monday, Feb. 9, 2015. (DePaul University/Jeff Carrion)

James Murphy, Professor of DePaul University’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences is pictured in a studio portrait Monday, Feb. 9, 2015. (DePaul University/Jeff Carrion)

The John J. Burns Library welcomes Rev. James H. Murphy, C.M., Professor of English at DePaul University, Chicago, as the Burns Visiting Scholar in Irish Studies for the fall 2015 semester. A graduate of the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, he has also earned degrees from Heythrop College of the University of London, Trinity College Dublin, and the National University of Ireland. Since 2009 he has been a fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

Professor Murphy’s impressive list of publications includes: Catholic Fiction and Social Reality in Ireland, 1873-1922, (Greenwood, Westport, CT, 1972), Abject Loyalty: Nationalism and Monarchy in Ireland During the Reign of Queen Victoria (Cork: Cork University Press, 2001), Ireland: A Social, Cultural and Literary History, 1791-1891 (Dublin: Four Courts, 2003), Irish Novelists and the Victorian Age (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). Murphy has also edited or co-edited an additional eight books. A book in progress is tentatively entitled Ireland’s Czar: Gladstonian Government and the Lord Lieutenancies of the Red Earl Spencer, 1868-1886.

Irish Novelists and the Victorian Age by James H. Murphy, PR8801 .M87 2011, O'Neill Library, Boston College

Irish Novelists and the Victorian Age by James H. Murphy, PR8801 .M87 2011, O’Neill Library, Boston College

Reflecting his interest and expertise in both Irish literature and history, Murphy has contributed to several dozen professional journals and books. As a multidisciplinary scholar, he has published widely on issues of gender and sexuality. His primary focus, however, is the political, social, and cultural history of the so-called “long century” (1791-1922).

This semester, Professor Murphy will teach the advanced topic seminar: “Irish Victorian Fiction.”

On Wednesday, November 18, at 4:30 p.m. in the Thompson Room of Burns Library, Professor Murphy will deliver a public lecture titled “Novelists and Politicians in Nineteenth-Century Ireland.” It will be immediately followed by a reception in the Burns Library Irish Room. All are welcome to attend. For further information, please contact Maureen McVeigh at or call (617) 552-3282.

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From the Dubliners Bookshelf

Stories from Dubliners mapped to where they took place in Dublin.

Stories from Joyce’s Dubliners mapped to their locations in Dublin.

The current James Joyce exhibit, now on display through October 8th at the Burns Library, focuses on Joyce’s Dubliners and the books referenced in Dubliners.  Dubliners is a collection of fifteen short stories about the inhabitants and environment of Dublin at the turn of the twentieth century–a seemingly innocuous proposal, but one that caused no end of frustration for Joyce in seeing it through to print.  Digital versions of the books referenced in Dubliners, along with a digitized Dubliners, form the basis of the recently launched Dubliners Bookshelf website.

Joyce struggled with the noted London-based publisher Grant Richards for almost a decade to publish <a href = ",scope:(BCL)&query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21385130840001021"><em>Dubliners</em></a>.

Joyce struggled with the noted London-based publisher Grant Richards for almost a decade to publish Dubliners.

 When Joyce was trying to publish Dubliners, British law stated that a printer was just as guilty of any charges of obscenity as the writer of a book. After Joyce’s prospective publisher, Grant Richards, sent the Dubliners proofs to the printer, the printer informed Richards that the stories contained “obscenities.” In the story “Grace,” for instance, the printer objected to Joyce’s use of the word “bloody,” as in: “Then he has a bloody big bowl of cabbage before him on the table and a bloody big spoon like a shovel.” Richards and Joyce were unable to agree on revisions and so publication of Dubliners was at a standstill. Joyce sought out several other publishers, including George Roberts of Maunsel & Co. in Dublin. Yet all efforts failed.  In the meantime, Joyce befriended another expatriate, Ezra Pound, who was associated with The Egoist, a London literary magazine. Pound arranged for some of Joyce’s work to appear in the journal, which impressed Grant Richards, who in turn wrote to Joyce in 1913 offering to reconsider the publication of Dubliners.  It took another year, and several editorial concessions by Joyce, but after nearly nine long years of agonizing abeyance, Richards delivered Dubliners to the public on June 15, 1914. Embedded in Joyce’s Dubliners are many references to the books that his characters owned and read, some of these books are featured in the exhibit.  This post highlights a selection of these books.  For a complete list of these books and to view these books online, visit the Dubliners Bookshelf website.

Frontispiece from Arthur Machen's <a href = ",scope:(BCL)&query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21449054960001021"><em>House of Souls</em></a>, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Frontispiece from Arthur Machen’s House of Souls, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Two books by Welsh author Arthur Machen are advertised in Dubliners.  Grant Richards published Arthur Machen’s short story collection The House of Souls some eight years before Dubliners. Machen’s stories were steeped in the supernatural, reflecting Machen’s interest in occult literature and his experience working as a bibliographer and translator for an antiquarian bookseller who specialized in mysticism. Like Machen and other writers of the time, Joyce demonstrated interest in the occult as a young man and collected books on mysticism, spirituality, and hermeticism.  Grant Richards also solicited Arthur Machen’s The Hill of Dreams (originally titled The Garden of Avallaunius). Machen’s new novel departed significantly from his earlier writing, however, and Richards refused to publish the manuscript. Machen attempted to find another publisher over the next ten years, until Richards finally decided to issue it in 1907. The loosely autobiographical novel was advertised in the first edition of Joyce’s Dubliners along with The House of Souls.

Front cover of <a href=";vid=bclib&amp;onCampus=true&amp;group=GUEST&amp;loc=local,scope:(BCL)&amp;query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21369925720001021">The Short Catechism</a>, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Front cover of The Short Catechism, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

References to the Catholic Catechism appear throughout Dubliners, reflecting its importance in Irish Catholic educational models. Catholic publishing rose to prominence in the late nineteenth century, with the publishing houses of M.H. Gill & Son, Browne and Nolan, and James Duffy producing large numbers of religious texts, including condensed versions of the official catechism, like this one, used for preparing first communicants. In “A Painful Case,” Joyce gives the name James Duffy to his central character: a socially isolated, probably homosexual, bank cashier who rebuffs a relationship with a married woman, Mrs. Sinico, whom he later reads has been killed by a train, leading him to reflect on his utter loneliness.

Title page from <a href =,scope:(BCL)&query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21449534510001021"><em>Thus Spake Zarathustra</em></a> by Friedrich Nietzsche, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Title page from Thus Spake Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

After Duffy ends his visits with Mrs. Sinico in “A Painful Case,” she sends him a parcel with the books and music he had lent her, and Joyce notes that on the bookshelf in Duffy’s bedroom appeared two volumes by Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra and The Joyful Wisdom. Joyce himself began to take an interest in Nietzsche around 1903, just before John Eglinton’s essay in the literary magazine Dana made Nietzsche an increasingly fashionable author among the Dublin intelligentsia. Joyce parodies Nietzsche’s notion of the Űbermensch in Stephen Hero and later works.

Title page from <a href = ",scope:(BCL)&query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21448933290001021"><em>The Last Days of Pompeii</em></a> by Edward Bulwer Lytton, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Title page from The Last Days of Pompeii by Edward Bulwer Lytton, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The queer old man whom the boys met in “The Encounter” prodded them by asking whether they “had read the poetry of Thomas Moore or the works of Sir Walter Scott and Lord Lytton.” Lord Lytton was a popular nineteenth-century writer, and Joyce had a copy of the Tauchnitz edition of his Last Days of Pompeii in his Trieste library. Tauchnitz was one of the primary publishers of Anglophone literature on the European Continent who provided reliable editions of British and American literature for travelers and self-imposed exiles like Joyce. In the library he kept at Trieste, Joyce collected 46 Tauchnitz titles by authors such as Joseph Conrad, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, and George Moore. In May 1930, one of Joyce’s own works, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was published in the Tauchnitz series. Despite the lack of copyright agreements between Germany and Britain in the nineteenth century, Tauchnitz offered royalties to its writers in order to ensure accurate texts.

Enjoy learning more about Dubliners by visiting Unhemmed As It Is Uneven:  Joyce’s Odyssey in Print at the Burns Library through September 12th or by perusing the Dubliners Bookshelf website.  If you have further questions, please contact the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4851 or

  • Andrew A. Kuhn, Doctoral Candidate in the Boston College English Department
  • Christian Dupont, Burns Librarian &                                                                            Associate University Librarian for Special Collections
Posted in Digital Projects, Exhibits & Events, Featured Collections & Books, Irish Studies, Rare books, Staff Posts, Student Posts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jerome Van Crowninshield Smith

Portrait of Dr. Smith from <a href = ",scope:(BCL)&query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21316999360001021"><i>Mayors of Boston</i></a>, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Portrait of Dr. Smith from Mayors of Boston, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

INFORMATION WANTED 9 February 1856  OF PHILIP SHANAHAN, who left the parish of Inley, co Limerick, Aug 25th, ’51, and when last heard from was in Rappahannock co, Va. His sister Mary, at Rainsford Island, wishes to know of his whereabouts. Direct to A G Goodwin, 59 Long Wharf Boston. (Harris 1993, 437)

The 19th century brought waves of Irish immigrants to the United States.  In the process families and friends, such as the brother and sister pair seen above in an information wanted ad from the Boston Pilot newspaper, were often separated.  Though limited information can be found on Phillip and Mary Shanahan, their story, similar to many others, enlightens us on patterns of Irish immigration and in turn the history of our own country.  Rainsford Island, located in Boston Harbor, is the location given as Mary Shanahan’s home. Rainsford Island played a major role in Boston history as an early quarantine station and hospital for passengers of ships arriving in the harbor. While researching Rainsford Island, Doctor James Van Crowninshield Smith’s name made regular appearances, and holds significant interest to us here at the Burns Library.

Dr. Jerome Van Crowninshield Smith (1800-1879), over the course of his life was incredibly active; he was a professor, editor, author, health officer, and mayor of Boston during his lengthy professional career (New York Times 1879).  Smith was born in Conway, N.H., July 20, 1800, and graduated from Brown University in 1818 (New York Times 1879). Dr. J. V. C. Smith received his M.D. from Williams College, and studied surgery under Dr. William Ingalls, an eminent surgeon of Boston (Rainville 1914).  In 1825 while in Boston, the center of medical science in New England, he became the editor of the Medical Intelligencer, a post which he held with distinction for more than 20 years (New York Times 1879).  In 1826 he was made Health Officer of the port of Boston, a position he served on Rainsford Island until 1849. When he retired from active duty, he spent several years traveling the Middle East. On his return, in 1854, he was elected Mayor of Boston and served until 1855. He finally retired in 1870 and moved to New York City with his wife to be near his son also a medical practitioner (New York Times 1879).

In the midst of his professional career, Dr. Smith also found time to write prolifically on a diverse number of topics.  Some of his medical texts include a text-book of anatomy, a book on women’s health, and a book on the anatomy and physiology of the eye.  Some of his non-medical texts include a Natural history of fish found in Massachusetts, a book on gold and silver, and an essay on the practicability of cultivating the honey bee.   He also wrote three books of travel, one on Palestine, another on Egypt, and a third on Turkey and the Turks (New York Times 1879).

The Burns Library is home to several of Dr. Smith’s literary works and orations during, and prior to, his time serving as mayor for the city of Boston.  One of the orations found in the Burns Library was given to the city of Boston on July 4th while he was serving as Health Officer of the port of Boston.  An Oration, Delivered before the Inhabitants of South Boston on Saturday, July 4, 1835, the Fifty-ninth Anniversary of the American Independence begins with the reminder that those in attendance are gathered to celebrate the “Birth-Day of Political Freedom—the hollowed Festival of Patriots” (Smith 1835, 3).  Dr. Smith describes the historic events that lead up to the formation of Boston with the incorporation of Dorchester (Smith 1835, 16-20) and also memorializes the events which occurred in Boston during the American Revolution (Smith 1835, 20-41). The oration concludes by warning the citizens that they must not become complacent and the exhortation to keep alive and acknowledge the principles of liberty and equality, to teach the youth, so all that was gained by the patriots of Boston during the revolutionary war was not for naught (Smith 1835, 44).

Woodcut print of a tattooed girl from <a href = ",scope:(BCL)&query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21349781930001021".<i>Pilgrimage to Egypt</i></a> by J.V.C. Smith, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Woodcut print of a tattooed girl from Pilgrimage to Egypt by J.V.C. Smith, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

After retiring from his position at Rainsford Island Dr. Smith traveled to the Middle East; during these tours he kept detailed diaries.  Upon returning back to the states he compiled these diaries into books.  A Pilgrimage to Egypt, published in 1852, is here at the Burns Library.  In A Pilgrimage to Egypt, Dr. Smith covers a diverse number of topics ranging from architecture, to antiques for sale, to ethnographic accounts of the locals.  One particularly interesting account of the locals that is accompanied by a wood cut print, describes the physical appearance of a woman from a bazaar along the lower Nile who was covered by tattoos (Smith 1852, 51-52).  Dr. Smith describes the town as being made out of mud brick, the bazaar a short dirty street covered by old mats and brush to keep it shaded from the sunlight. Sellers sat cross-legged by their goods smoking while awaiting customers. The women of the town were either carrying jugs of water or lounging by their round huts. They wore a single loose fitting robe of blue and their faces, arms, hands, and feet were covered in tattoos (Smith 1852, 52).

Although we may never know the outcome of Mary Shanahan and her search for her brother Philip, this ad and others like it still provide important information on our nation’s past. On a closer look their motives for immigration and arrival locations are connected to people and places that can be found in a paper trail here at the Burns Library.  In reading Dr. Smith’s July 4th oration, one is struck by the pride in which he holds America as the land of freedom and equality, and the great importance of keeping America this way.  As the Health Officer of Boston’s port, Dr. Smith would have closely interacted with the waves of immigrants coming to America, all seeking the same freedom and equality which he cherished dearly.

If you would like to explore other volumes by Dr. Smith in the Burns Library’s Boston Collection, then please email or call the Burns Library at or (617)-552-4861.

  • Rachel Brody, Student Assistant to Kathleen Williams, Irish Studies Librarian & MA Student in the Department of History

Works Consulted

Anonymous. “OTHER DEATHS.” New York Times (1857-1922), Aug 22, 1879.

Harris, Ruth-Ann M., and O’Keeffe B. Erner, eds. The Search for Missing Friends: Irish Immigrant Advertisements Placed in the Boston Pilot. Vol. III. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1993.

Rainville, Susan, Rainville, Leo, Donor, State Street Trust Company, and Walton Advertising Printing Company. Mayors of Boston: An Illustrated Epitome of Who the Mayors Have Been and What They Have Done. State Street Trust Company (Boston, Mass.) (Series); No. 8. Boston: Printed for the State Street Trust, 1914.

Smith, Jerome Van Crowninshield. An Oration, Delivered before the Inhabitants of South Boston, on Saturday, July 4, 1835, the Fifty-ninth Anniversary of American Independence. Boston: Russell, Diorne and, 1835.

A Pilgrimage to Egypt. Boston: Gould and Lincoln, 1852.

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The Dolmen Press

Slipcase for <a href=";vid=bclib&amp;onCampus=true&amp;group=GUEST&amp;loc=local,scope:(BCL)&amp;query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21325086200001021"><i>Travelling Tinkers</i></a> by Sigerson Clifford, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Slipcase for Travelling Tinkers by Sigerson Clifford, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word dolmen as “The French name, used by some English authors, for a cromlech, a prehistoric structure, consisting of a large flattish stone supported upon two or more smaller upright stones.” This traditional grouping appears in various forms throughout the works published by the Dolmen Press, usually as an image on the colophon at the end of each volume. Founded in 1951 by Liam Miller, the Dolmen Press was an Irish fine print press that ran from 1951-1987. Liam Miller was trained as an architect; he also designed sets for the Abbey Theatre and founded the Lantern Theatre. In 1951, with his wife Josephine, he opened the Dolmen Press in response to the need he saw for Irish poets to have a place to publish their work in Ireland. Though the press later expanded to include prose as well as a developing a printing branch, some of its best known work is of Irish poetry.

Cover of <a href = ",scope:(BCL)&query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21325086200001021"><i>Travelling Tinkers</i></a> by Sigerson Clifford, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Cover of Travelling Tinkers by Sigerson Clifford, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The first book printed by the Dolmen Press was a collection of ballads limited titled Travelling Tinkers by Sigerson Clifford. The Burns Library  holds a copy of almost every title printed by the Dolmen Press in its Dolmen Press Collection and this particular copy of Travelling Tinkers is one of 100 copies from the initial run signed by both Clifford and Miller. Miller described his approach to printing and design in an interview with Kevin Casey in 1976:

My interest in typography was not really an interest in typography, I think it was an interest in order. My architectural training—how to sharpen a pencil and that kind of thing—had given me some sort of design discipline, and my approach to printing a book was to do something simple and honest and four-square and straight which our first book, may I say, wasn’t at all. (25)

Title page signed by Sigerson Clifford from <a href=",scope:(BCL)&query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21325086200001021"><i>Travelling Tinkers</i></a> by Sigerson Clifford, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Title page signed by Sigerson Clifford from Travelling Tinkers by Sigerson Clifford, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Indeed, the title of Travelling Tinkers is off-centered (it lists to the left) and the type varies in how heavily it has been inked, but for all its imperfections the hand-sewn book sold out in a few weeks. Miller claimed that, “Had we not succeeded with our first book, my wife and I would have perhaps given up and gone into something else at that time” (Casey 24). Thankfully for Irish literature and the Dolmen Press, the book sold well and Dolmen was able to continue publishing.

The Press was unique in that Miller “believed in the idea of sustained, mutually satisfying relationship between the writer and the publisher…Many who published a book with Dolmen had the rare experience of collaborating with a skilled and imaginative craftsman seeking to match design, materials, and literary content” (Harmon 11). Louis le Brocquy, who illustrated Thomas Kinsella’s translation of the Irish epic The Tain, one of the Dolmen Press’s most well-known works, claimed that “Liam Miller belonged to that small band of wholly disinterested enthusiasts who enrich our lives. He was an artist enraptured by a vision of perfection for its own sake, by an overriding concern for the thing itself “ (20-21).   Rory Brennan, in his essay “Dolmen: Bound and Unbound” echoes this idea of the thing itself, when he said, upon picking up a collection of Padraic Colum’s work Ten Poems, “The book was the thing; the way it handled, the way the page sat open, the pattern of the print, all seemed to enhance the memories it contained” (88).

<a href = ",scope:(BCL)&query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21355914240001021"><i>A Gaelic Alphabet</i></a> by Michael Biggs, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

A Gaelic Alphabet by Michael Biggs, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The books pictured here are all from the first ten years of the Press’s history. They include slim volumes of poetry and one of typography—a Gaelic alphabet that Miller felt very strongly about maintaining in the face of the Romanization of Gaelic type. The paper is thick and heavy with uneven edges (in the early days of the Press the Millers—and often the author whose work they were publishing—would cut pages with a kitchen knife) and the books are hand sewn into various types of covers. Poems, Thomas Kinsella’s first collection of poetry is one of fifty copies signed by the poet, bound in “quarter buckram with marbled boards” (Dolmen XXV 26) and features a lovely wood engraving by Elizabeth Rivers on the title page. A Gaelic Alphabet is an alphabet cut and designed by Michael Bigg, accompanied by a note on Irish lettering by Liam Miller. These volumes barely scratch the surface of the beautiful and important work for Irish literature, authors, publication, and printing that the Dolmen Press accomplished during its thirty-six year history.  Hopefully, these selections give a sense of the care and effort that went into each volume. If you would like to explore other volumes in the Dolmen Press Collection, please email or call the Burns Library at or (617)-552-4861.

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

Works Consulted

Brennan, Rory. “Dolmen: Bound and Unbound.” The Dolmen Press: A Celebration. Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 2001.

le Brocquy, Louis. “The Thing Itself.” The Dolmen Press: A Celebration. Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 2001.

Casey, Kevin. “Two Interviews with Liam Miller.” The Dolmen Press: A Celebration. Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 2001.

Harmon, Maurice. “Introduction.” The Dolmen Press: A Celebration. Dublin: The Lilliput Press,2001.

Miller, Liam. Dolmen XXV: An Illustrated Bibliography of the Dolmen Press 1951-1967 Compiled by Liam Miller. Ireland: The Dolmen Press Ltd., 1976.

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Christmas Holidays at Chestnut Hill: A Collection of Stories

“Story Telling at Chestnut Hill.” Frontispiece to Christmas Holidays at Chestnut Hill by Cousin Mary, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Christmas Holidays at Chestnut Hill is a collection of stories published in 1853 by an author who gives her name informally as Cousin Mary. The familiarity of the name this author chose gives a prelude to the warmth and familiarity that comes within the text. The author dedicated the book to her sister Caroline, who wrote the introduction to the collected stories.

In the introduction, Caroline tells of one particular year’s Christmas festivities when her large extended family traveled to Chestnut Hill from as far away as New York and Calcutta. As she recalls, most of the family’s leisure time was spent listening to the stories her Grandpa told, an activity that seems to have been the backbone of their holiday tradition: “There was never a merrier Christmas-party than that … last year, at Chestnut Hill.”

What follows this nostalgic introduction is a collection of ten stories, retold as accurately as Mary’s memory could muster, of those that she and her Grandpapa had told to entertain their family. Several provide a religious moral: their plots center on characters engaging in acts of charity despite their own poverty. Eventually, the lives of these characters become intertwined, and the tales culminate when their protagonists realize that charity produces happiness.

Cover and binding of  <a href = ",scope:(BCL)&query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21314401210001021"><i>Christmas Holidays at Chestnut Hill</i></a> by Cousin Mary, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Cover and binding of Christmas Holidays at Chestnut Hill by Cousin Mary, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

These types of moralizing Christian tales are typical of 19th-century literature, and the book’s original patrons may have deemed them appropriate for family gatherings with small children. Not only are they instructive, but the stories also allude to Christmas celebrations with children. The final text is a poem entitled “Who was Santa-Claus?” and describes children pondering this question. The original purpose of the book may therefore have been to impart lessons unto youth about how to live Christian lives, as well as to keep these young children entertained.

In accord with the bookbinding style of the mid-19th century, the binding of Christmas Holidays was made to impress possible buyers as art to be admired. Though worn in many areas, the cover’s ornateness indicates the economic status of its publishers and initial owners. Most cover impressions were blind-stamped, but the center of this volume boasts a crest embossed with real gold. The book’s royal blue cloth binding, intricate designs, and gold embossing suggest that it was made both by and for wealthy Bostonians. This was a luxury item beyond the reach of the average book buyer in the 1880s. Christmas Holidays more likely served as a personal gift rather than as a book to be handled by many children as at a school.

Wearing occurred most frequently in places where a reader’s hands wrap around the cover. This is telling of the book’s usage primarily for reading rather than for decoration on a shelf. The book has no handwritten markings or signatures to further gauge its usage or readers’ enjoyment thereof. It presents very limited clues as to how it was perceived by its readers besides, perhaps, the worn cover, which indicates a well-read and oft-used book.

Opening pages to "The Lost Fourpence," the first story in <a href=";vid=bclib&amp;onCampus=true&amp;group=GUEST&amp;loc=local,scope:(BCL)&amp;query=any,contains,ALMA-BC21314401210001021"><i>Christmas Holidays at Chestnut Hill</i></a> by Cousin Mary, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Opening pages to “The Lost Fourpence,” the first story in Christmas Holidays at Chestnut Hill by Cousin Mary, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Though no information is preserved regarding how Boston College acquired this volume, the proximity of the contemporary Boston College campus to the book’s setting in Chestnut Hill leads to several conjectures. It is a regional relic, often alluding to areas in the near vicinity of Boston College. Not only does Chestnut Hill appear in the title, but a character named Tom O’Connor is also said to be “living with a farmer in Brookline.” Several other characters have Irish names as well, such as Mary O’Conner and Patrick Mahoney, suggesting that Christmas Holidays had Irish-Catholic authorship, or, at least, Irish-Catholic sympathy.

Christmas Holidays at Chestnut Hill encompasses a variety of aspects that could appeal to the educators of a Catholic college. These aspects include the didactic lessons geared towards youth, communal sharing of that imparted knowledge, and a basis of Christian messages. Boston College was founded with Irish Catholic backing, making it a viable repository for such Irish Catholic relics. The history of this Christmas volume reveals that much can be learned about an old book’s history, and the expansive collections of the Boston College Libraries suggest there are many more such stories to be told.

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

  • Emma Dwyer, BC ’16 & 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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American Civil War Histories

Description of the Battle of Fort Sumter from <a href=

In today’s culture we may be far more preoccupied with Marvel’s Civil War than with our own history. It is easy to forget how relatively recently our country underwent the traumatic internal strife which set brother against brother in a conflict which would have lasting consequences to this day. In the interest of decoding the event and it’s more immediate consequences, the Burns Library holds several historical texts dated to the last days and early aftermath of the American Civil War. These texts not only provide a fascinating and detailed exploration of the events, but also prove interesting to those interested in the cultural history of reactions to the Civil War. Through them, one gains a fertile starting point for a study of changing views of the war over time.

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Of particular interest is Benson J. Lossing’s Pictorial History of the Civil War in the United States of America, published in 1866. In it, the author compiles elaborate historical reports of the events of the war, taken from interviews with individuals at the forefront of said events. He juxtaposes these descriptions with illustrated sketches of his subjects and maps taken from magazines such as Harper’s Weekly, whose reporters accompanied the military on the front lines. Part of a three volume set, a physical copy of the first volume can be found at Burns, while the other two volumes exist in digitized format in our online collection. This first volume details events from 1860 to the Battle of Bull’s Run.

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Another intriguing volume is Life and Death in Rebel Prisons by Robert H. Kellogg. Published in 1865, Kellogg relates his personal experiences being held as a captive in a southern prison camp, as well as tales collected from other camp survivors.  The unique subject matter of the text provides a fascinating area of study. The book, at the time of its publication, saw relatively small circulation, being sold by traveling agents of the publisher, L. Stebbins, exclusively. This is a shame, as perhaps a wider initial circulation may have produced more public interest in this oft overlooked aspect of the war.

Books like these shed some light on the American Civil War and the public reaction to its ending. In addition, the Burns Library owns the letters of Michael H. Leary, an Irish American from Boston, Massachusetts and soldier in Union Army during the Civil War. The Leary Letters have been digitized and are available at

If you have further questions or would like to look at these books, then please contact the John J. Burns Library at (617)-552-4861 or

  • Zach Weinsteiger, Burns Library Reading Room Assistant & M.A. Student in the English Department
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