Recently Adeane Bregman offered the Burns Library a number of 19th century titles that the Bapst Library was de-accessioning; I accepted a handful of them. Cataloging these today, I ran into a very interesting autograph that beautifully explicates how old books can lead to adventures in discovery.
The book in question was a small, octavo monograph by the noted Victorian art critic, social philosopher and philanthropist John Ruskin, entitled The Political Economy of Art, published in New York by Wiley in 1858. With the exception of the fact that Ruskin’s reputation has only grown since his death – a perusal of Quest reveals that we have over 100 books about him, much less by him – there appeared to be nothing spectacular about this book. But then I noticed, on the front flyleaf recto, a penciled autograph.
Looking up Mr. Thaxter I ran into a local character who sparked my interest, and I hope yours too. The following is gleaned from C.E. Banks’ The History of Martha’s Vineyard, Dukes County, Massachusetts, a 3-volume set published between 1911-1925 and reprinted in 1966:
Leavitt Thaxter was born on 3/13/1788 or 3/13/1789; prepared for Harvard but did not graduate; became a sailor and was imprisoned by the British in Calcutta during War of 1812; teacher who started academy at Edgartown in 1825; representative to Mass. General Court, 1830; state senator, 1836-47; governor’s council, 1839; first president of Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Association in 1858; d. 11/27/1863.
This Reed College site hosts a scanned portrait of Thaxter taken from vol. 2 of Banks’ book. You never know who you are going to run into when you work in a place like the Burns!
- David Richtmyer, Senior Cataloger, Burns Library