Ben Jonson’s Readers

Detail of the title page of The Works of Benjamin Jonson, 1616, showing the inscription of Sir Henry Cary. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Detail of the title page of The Works of Benjamin Jonson, 1616, showing the inscription of Sir Henry Cary. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The poet and playwright Ben Jonson (1572–1637) was exceptionally concerned with literary posterity. His most ambitious publication was the folio collection of his Works that appeared 400 years ago this year. Through this monumental book, Jonson attempted to ensure that future generations would read and appreciate his plays, poems, and other writings.

How successful was that attempt? How did readers regard the book in the years after it appeared? What do their responses tell us about why Jonson was more celebrated than Shakespeare in the century or so after his death, only to be gradually eclipsed by his great rival? These are among the questions that I was able to explore through The Huntington’s outstanding Jonson holdings—which include more than 30 of Jonson’s 1616 Works, each one unique.

Fortunately for us, the early moderns were not afraid to write in their books. Many of The Huntington’s copies of Jonson’s Works carry in their pages the names of their owners. Sir Henry Cary (1575–1633), for example, inscribed his name right in the middle of the title page (see above), making it clear that the book no longer belonged to its author but to him.

Cary was 1st Viscount Falkland and Lord Deputy of Ireland. His primary interest in the volume may have been the poem of praise to him that begins: “That neither fame nor love might wanting be / To greatness, Cary, I sing that and thee . . .”

The Works of Benjamin Jonson, 1616, page 840, with note reading “Mary [Jones] Hodge trew hyme Exclently pend by Mr Ben Johnson.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Works of Benjamin Jonson, 1616, page 840, with note reading “Mary [Jones] Hodge trew hyme Exclently pend by Mr Ben Johnson.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Other notable owners of Jonson’s Works in The Huntington’s collection include the essayist and poet Joseph Addison (1672–1719) and the great Victorian poet Robert Browning (1818–89). Most of the copies show evidence of having had multiple owners and readers. Some copies even record such circulation: one, for example, bears the inscription “S. Ruthin my Book Left me by a freind.” There are early female owners and readers, too, some of whom were not afraid to express their opinions. One Mary Jones Hodge, for example, singled out the poem “To Heaven” for praise as a “trew hyme” (see above).

Another reader, Abiel Borfet (1632/3–1710), wrote detailed comments on almost every page of his copy—and this in a book spanning more than 1,000 pages. He adds information, clarifies meanings, and records his responses. At one point, he identifies deeply with a speech about friendship and testifies to this moment of reading by adding his name and the date (see below).

Some of these early readers engage with Jonson’s writings by identifying his sources. Jonson’s writings are steeped in his knowledge of Horace, Ovid, Martial, Juvenal, Seneca, and other great writers of antiquity. Some of his early readers shared some of that knowledge and took it upon themselves to write quotations and references in the margins.

The Works of Benjamin Jonson, 1616, detail of page 142, with note reading “True! True to this day, May 18. 1696. Witness my hand, A. Borfet.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Works of Benjamin Jonson, 1616, detail of page 142, with note reading “True! True to this day, May 18. 1696. Witness my hand, A. Borfet.” The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

One copy of Jonson’s Works contains nearly 250 of these source identifications, an impressive total which may include the contributions of more than one reader. The process of identifying Jonson’s sources was not straightforward. In one instance, you can see that a reader has underlined three lines and written a reference to the poet Juvenal. Then someone—either the same reader at a later time or a second reader—has added the relevant quotation and crossed out some of the underlining (see below). Are we witnessing one reader having second thoughts or two readers disagreeing about which lines exactly constitute the allusion?

Such close engagement requires from the reader what Borfet at one point refers to as “patience.” Borfet and other early readers recognize that a full appreciation of Jonson’s mastery comes from going beyond the immediate enjoyment of his art to having meaningful encounters with the classical texts that he reworks. Growing impatience among later readers may have been one factor in Jonson’s decline in popularity.

Exploring The Huntington’s copies of Jonson’s Works also invites us to reflect upon the nature of books. For early readers, a book such as this was a valuable and durable item. These readers knew that they were the custodians rather than truly the owners of their books, which would in time be sold, given away, exchanged, or bequeathed.

Seeing these copies brings home that a book is not just a vehicle for conveying a text. It is a significant artifact in itself that accretes new meanings as it moves through time and can give intimate insights into the thoughts of generations of readers. That is what sets the printed book apart from Kindles and other modern devices and makes it still so vital.

The Works of Benjamin Jonson, 1616, detail of page 353, with a marginal note giving a reference to Juvenal’s Satire 7 and a quotation from that poem: “qui facis in parva sublimia carmina [cella,] / Ut dignus venias hederis et imagine macra,” which may be translated as “you that are inditing lofty strains in a tiny garret, that you may come forth worthy of a scraggy bust wreathed with ivy.” The corresponding lines in Jonson’s text, which rework Juvenal’s words to suggest how hard Jonson himself has labored in order to be worthy of literary recognition, have been underlined. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Works of Benjamin Jonson, 1616, detail of page 353, with a marginal note giving a reference to Juvenal’s Satire 7 and a quotation from that poem: “qui facis in parva sublimia carmina [cella,] / Ut dignus venias hederis et imagine macra,” which may be translated as “you that are inditing lofty strains in a tiny garret, that you may come forth worthy of a scraggy bust wreathed with ivy.” The corresponding lines in Jonson’s text, which rework Juvenal’s words to suggest how hard Jonson himself has labored in order to be worthy of literary recognition, have been underlined. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Related content on Verso:
Ben Jonson’s Works at 400 (Sept. 12, 2016)

Jane Rickard is associate professor of 17th-century English Literature at the University of Leeds. She is the author of Writing the Monarch in Jacobean England: Jonson, Donne, Shakespeare and the Works of King James and Authorship and Authority: The Writings of James VI and I.

Viewing Sam Francis in Another Light

Sam Francis’s Free Floating Clouds, 1980, acrylic on canvas. Gift of the Sam Francis Foundation. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

Sam Francis’s Free Floating Clouds, 1980, acrylic on canvas. Gift of the Sam Francis Foundation. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

I grew up in Southern California and have loved The Huntington since I first visited it on a high school field trip. Being an intern this past summer in the American art department was a dream come true. One of the first works that struck me on an early visit was Free Floating Clouds, a painting by Sam Francis (1923–1994), located in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art.

You don’t have to be an art history buff to be intrigued by this postwar piece. Its size alone demands attention. It’s the largest painting in the American collection, taking up an entire wall, and measures 125 by 254 inches—or roughly 10 by 21 feet. Its contrast of mainly dark blue splatters against a white background forms a loose grid-like pattern. The abstract nature of the work doesn’t offer me any obvious clues to its meaning or make a connection to the title.

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

Like me, Francis was a California native: he was born in San Mateo and received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UC Berkeley. When he was 21 and a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps, he suffered a spinal injury, followed by spinal tuberculosis. During his hospitalization, he began to paint to distract himself from his illness. He had been studying medicine but eventually gave that up to pursue a career in art.

During the 1950s, Francis began making the fluid and dripping shapes that would appear in his later works and throughout his career, notably in Free Floating Clouds, completed in 1980.

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

By then, Francis’s painting had become more structured. He adopted a grid or matrix pattern that gave his work an underlying composition—a technique many of his contemporaries were also using. Photographs and films of the artist at work reveal that he would lay the canvas flat on the floor of his studio and prime the surface with white gesso. He would then sketch his composition onto the canvas with a sponge, brush, or paint roller, applying a thin wash of color that would organize the canvas into vertical and horizontal axes. These washes are still visible on the outer edges of the painted areas. Then he would build on the composition, using successive layers of color.

When I first looked at Free Floating Clouds in high school, it seemed like random drips and splatters that anyone could have painted—a common critique of abstract art. As I read more about Francis and spent time looking at the painting, I realized that the underlying grid provides a sense of structure, producing a balanced and harmonious feeling. By using the grid as the anchor of the painting, the artist could explore color and action on his own terms. As the artist and art collector Nicholas Wilder explained, Francis could “marry many different colors with different qualities . . . and make it appear that it happened spontaneously, all at one moment . . . the results are not fortunate accidents, but carefully conceived compositions.”

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

Similarly, at first glance, the artist seems to have layered just blue paint on a white background. But closer inspection reveals a rainbow of colors—reds, purples, greens, and pinks among the blues—in different thicknesses and washes. Francis used all acrylic emulsion paints on Free Floating Clouds; as in most of his works, he often used unmixed pigments directly from the tube to create intense, undiluted colors.

One of his more unusual techniques was using Photo-Flo, a wetting agent for developing film, which gives the surface a watercolor-like quality. Applying Photo-Flo caused the colors to run together and merge in varying ways, producing unexpected shapes and designs from a seemingly random technique. With Photo-Flo and other means, Francis varied the surface texture and the degree to which it reflects light. Some areas are glossy, others matte; some smooth, others richly textured.

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

I didn’t know any of these technical details when I first saw Free Floating Clouds, but I responded immediately to its dark, intense colors and Rorschach-like blots. Learning that Sam Francis was a pilot helped me read the title into the painting, imagining how the artist’s early experiences above the clouds may have informed his perspective.

Technical details can help us appreciate abstract works of art, enabling us to understand how and why a piece was created and what it is supposed to mean, if anything at all.

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

Detail of Free Floating Clouds. Photo by Kate Lain.

Related content on Verso:
A Pure Act of Painting (Aug. 10, 2016)

Nicole Block is part of an ongoing undergraduate internship program that places art history majors from UC Irvine in the American art department of The Huntington’s Art Collections division. Her thesis project will be on Sam Francis.

The Beard Makes the Man

John Deare (British, 1759–1798), Album leaf: Bust of Septimius Severus, Roman Emperor, ca. 1788, pen and black ink and wash on paper, rendered here in black and white. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

John Deare (British, 1759–1798), Album leaf: Bust of Septimius Severus, Roman Emperor, ca. 1788, pen and black ink and wash on paper, rendered here in black and white. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Is identity mutable? Can you alter who you are? Whether or not real transformation is achievable, it is possible to change how others view you. A new exhibition in the Huntington Art Gallery examines an age-old tool used in the effort to influence perception: facial hair. “A History of Whiskers: Facial Hair and Identity in European and American Art, 1750–1920” includes prints, drawings, and photographs of some impressive and bizarre styles that pushed the limits of follicular fashion.

Nowhere is image more important than in the realm of politics, and this is as true today as it was in antiquity. Beards were part of the political costume of ancient Rome. A drawing by British sculptor John Deare shows Emperor Septimius Severus (A.D. 145–211) with long facial locks—a style known as the “philosopher’s beard” because of the many great thinkers in ancient Greece and Rome who sported it. Portraiture was a vital component of a ruler’s public relations campaign, and the philospher’s beard connoted wisdom. The emperor’s likeness—facial hair and all—appeared on coins, equestrian monuments, and portrait busts, like the one recorded by Deare. Septimius Severus took power at a time of great instability, so it was especially important that he present himself as a thoughtful, level-headed leader. The branding seemed to have worked. He went on to reign for nearly twenty years.

Ehrgott, Forbriger, & Co. (American, 1856–74), A.E. Burnside, Maj. Genl. U.S.A., ca. 1862–69, lithograph. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Ehrgott, Forbriger, & Co. (American, 1856–74), A.E. Burnside, Maj. Genl. U.S.A., ca. 1862–69, lithograph. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Grooming manuals of the late 19th and early 20th centuries advised against thin or patchy facial hair, which could make a man appear weak, or so the manuals warned. Ambrose Burnside (1824–1881), Union Army general in the U.S. Civil War, never suffered from scant growth. He cultivated a bold, personal style that earned him a place in the history of facial hair. He is the namesake of sideburns, but Burnside sported more than his eponymous whiskers. The general grew a mustache that extended across his face, covered his cheeks, and connected to his hairline at the ears. This style had already gone out of fashion, however, by the time of Mrs. Humphry’s Etiquette for Every Day, published in 1909. She urged moderation in facial hair, warning that too large a mustache imparts “a belligerent, aggressive air.” Burnside’s style may have been appropriate for leading troops but evidently was ill-suited to civilian life.

Not all of the images in the exhibition portray historical figures. Take, for example, the image of Caliban by British figure painter John Hamilton Mortimer (1740–1779). Caliban is a beastly character from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and he is made even more gruesome by means of facial hair. There is no standard way to depict Caliban. His mother is a witch, and Prospero, the play’s protagonist, describes him as a “poisonous slave, got by the devil himself.”

After John Hamilton Mortimer (British, 1740–1779), Caliban, undated, pen and black ink on paper mounted on board, rendered here in black and white. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

After John Hamilton Mortimer (British, 1740–1779), Caliban, undated, pen and black ink on paper mounted on board, rendered here in black and white. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Some artists imagined him as a deformed man or a creature with a mix of human and fish traits. Mortimer emphasized Caliban’s devilish nature by including a modification of the goatee commonly found in images of Satan, making the beard specifically suited to this hybrid character. Caliban is nefarious, simple-minded, and subhuman. His sagging mustache and pastiche of chin growth are ungroomed and otherworldly, perfectly capturing the character traits of the feral, demonic creature.

One need only look at the preponderance of facial hair on major league baseball players today to realize that beards and mustaches have experienced yet another resurgence. “A History of Whiskers” offers a valuable opportunity to take a look back and observe how men have styled themselves throughout the ages. Fashions have changed, but the desire of individuals to transform how others view them is timeless.

James Fishburne is guest curator of “A History of Whiskers: Facial Hair and Identity in European and American Art, 1750–1920.” He received his Ph.D. in art history from UCLA and is currently a research associate at the Getty Research Institute.

The Brave New (and Old) World of Data

Edison photographer Doug White’s overhead shot of three computer key punch operators creating data entry cards, undated. Southern California Edison Archive. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Edison photographer Doug White’s overhead shot of three computer key punch operators creating data entry cards, undated. Southern California Edison Archive. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Data, made up of units so uniform as to be, almost by necessity, boring, unite to form collectives of information in a data-driven world that is recognized now as exciting, sexy, and consummately modern. And not for the first time, we must add. At least since the rise of print culture, the thrill of data has been linked to brave new technologies.

An international group of historians will consider the promises, fears, practices, and technologies for recording and transmitting data from the 18th century to the present—as well as their implications for the lives of citizens and subjects—during the “Histories of Data and the Database” conference on Nov. 18 and 19 in Rothenberg Hall.

We will follow the history of data from the indexing systems and encyclopedias in early modern Europe, to the printed forms and filing schemes of the late 19th century, to the advent of electronic computers in the last years of the second millennium, which have managed such increasingly large amounts of data that their output must now be stored in an even newer technology—the Cloud.

Slide filing cabinet, biomedical laboratory, 2016. Photo by Soraya de Chadarevian.

Slide filing cabinet, biomedical laboratory, 2016. Photo by Soraya de Chadarevian.

Behind all the data, in one form or another, are people. Indeed, well into the 20th century, humans performed data analysis (and, often enough, they still do). Data analysis became a specialty, and even an occupational category—the so-called “computer.” Up until about 1860, this was usually a man, and thereafter was more likely a woman. Astronomers, archeologists, and medical officers depended on such calculators, as did business firms and government offices. Human heredity, one of the more illustrious objects of data manipulation in the genomic era, was already a data science in 1850.

Until 1860, most censuses relied on large sheets of paper carried from door to door by officials who filled out a single line for each household. Many other enterprises, such as observatories, hospitals, government offices, and merchant vessels kept records in bound books. Sometimes their data were simply entombed there, but some of these records were routinely consulted or even combined with financial statements or maps to summarize or reveal patterns.

By 1900, those managing the Prussian census were sending out crates of large cards to Berlin homeworkers to sort cards manually. Using movements like those of a dealer in a casino to sort cards, these workers helped officials create tables of data that combined up to six different variables. After completing the first round, the census officials often sent the cards out again to be sorted in a different way to display the relations among a different set of variables. From their inception, filing systems with index cards brought unprecedented suppleness to data work.

Hollerith punched card, 1895. Library of Congress.

Hollerith punched card, 1895. Library of Congress.

In our digital era, data appears to be immaterial, floating somewhere, or even nowhere. In truth, our modern data deluge depends on great banks of computers and consumes vast quantities of energy. Such data does not melt away, at least not so long as the air conditioning continues to function.

The incomparable increase of data in our own age also includes more waste than ever. The Big Data Hall of Fame for the early 21st century will be filled with heroes who worked out algorithms for processing data from social media to manage advertisements in such a way that seven in a thousand recipients will click the desired link, rather than a mere four or five.

One of the tasks of history is to identify the sources of what enthusiasts proclaim to be utterly new and revolutionary. Yet history is about change and novelty rather than stasis. The wonderful world of data combines the ethereal and the mundane, material things and lofty theories, breakthroughs and bureaucracy. Data seems to beg to be made routine, yet it regularly undermines known rules and conventions. And while seemingly impersonal, it has, in fact, a very human history.

You can read more about the conference program and registration on The Huntington’s website.

Theodore Porter is Distinguished Professor of History and Peter Reill Chair in European History at UCLA.

Soraya de Chadarevian is professor of history with a joint appointment in the UCLA Department of History and the UCLA Center for Society and Genetics.

Hearing NASA’s Earth-Science Satellites

As visual strategists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Dan Goods and David Delgado use art and design to explain science. Their newest project is the Orbit Pavilion sound experience, which recently opened at The Huntington. The large silver structure sits on the Celebration Lawn by the terrace of the 1919 café. Inside, visitors can hear sounds representing the movement of the International Space Station and 19 Earth satellites. We asked Goods and Delgado about the thinking behind the project.

Dan Goods (left) and David Delgado test the iPad where visitors can determine which satellite is passing above their heads. Sounds from 28 speakers help visitors “hear” the satellites. Photo by Kate Lain.

Dan Goods (left) and David Delgado test the iPad where visitors can determine which satellite is passing above their heads. Sounds from 28 speakers help visitors “hear” the satellites. Photo by Kate Lain.

Q: Why earth-science satellites?

Goods: Most people know JPL from the Mars missions. But about a third of what we do is related to earth science. These satellites are constantly circling the globe, relaying information about land, atmosphere, and oceans. That data helps us understand things like earthquakes, the presence of hurricanes, the melting of glaciers.

Q: What was the genesis of this project?

Delgado: We were in the Mojave Desert touring Goldstone, one of three communications complexes NASA uses to track and guide missions in deep space. Here was this huge antenna doing this crucial work of relaying information to and from spacecraft and yet everything was silent. That got us thinking about ways to represent things that can’t be seen or heard.

The cuts in the panels represent the orbits of satellites, which circle the globe approximately every 90 minutes. Photo by Kate Lain.

The cuts in the panels represent the orbits of satellites, which circle the globe approximately every 90 minutes. Photo by Kate Lain.

Q: What exactly are we hearing in the pavilion?

Delgado: We worked with Oakland-based sound artist Shane Myrbeck to give each of the 19 satellites its own “voice.” There are two phases to the sound experience. One phase allows us to hear the satellites passing overhead in real-time—essentially the satellites saying hello to us in their own unique way. Depending on how many satellites are in orbit above you, you will sometimes hear more sounds than at other times. Then, in the second phase, Myrbeck created a one-minute composition representing the orbits of these satellites over 24 hours. The sounds are inspired by aspects of Earth’s ecology being studied in three categories: land, atmosphere, and ocean. For instance, the sound of the satellite Cloudsat, which tracks weather clouds, is represented by desert wind. Then there are sounds related to land and water. The only human voices are of a choir, representing the International Space Station.

Goods: An iPad tells you which phase you’re in, and if the sound is related to real-time data, the iPad’s screen will tell you which satellite you’re “hearing.”

JPL’s visual strategists contend that The Huntington is a “dream spot” to install the Orbit Pavilion. They love the natural setting and the presence of botanical collections from around the world. Photo by Kate Lain.

JPL’s visual strategists contend that The Huntington is a “dream spot” to install the Orbit Pavilion. They love the natural setting and the presence of botanical collections from around the world. Photo by Kate Lain.

Q: The pavilion is a 30-foot wide structure made from bands of aluminum attached to a tubular frame. Why the seashell shape?

Delgado: We worked with designers Jason Klimoski and Lesley Chang of the New York design firm StudioKCA to come up with the nautilus shape. If you’ve ever held a seashell up to your ear, then you may remember listening to the “sounds of the ocean.” In this case, you’re listening to the sounds of satellites. It is visually striking and elevates the experience as a whole.

Q: What makes The Huntington a good setting for the Orbit Pavilion?

Goods: Part of Orbit’s message is ecology. We love the fact that Orbit is in a natural setting at The Huntington, surrounded by botanical collections from around the world. Then there’s the connection to the library collection. It’s amazing to think that rare books by early astronomers Galileo Galilei and Johannes Kepler are so close by.

The 72 panels of water-jet cut aluminum are bolted to the frame to create a double-curved shell. Photo by Dan Goods.

The 72 panels of water-jet cut aluminum are bolted to the frame to create a double-curved shell. Photo by Dan Goods.

Orbit Pavilion is on view on the Celebration Lawn (across from the Celebration Garden) through Feb. 27, 2017. The Orbit Pavilion kicks off /five, a contemporary arts initiative focused on collaboration between The Huntington and five organizations over a period of five years. The aim is to engage with the Huntington’s library, art, and botanical collections in new and thought-provoking ways. The /five initiative is made possible by a generous gift from The Cheng Family Foundation. Additional funding for Orbit Pavilion was provided by Kim and Ginger Caldwell and the Bry and Judi Danner President’s Discretionary Fund.

For more information on NASA’s earth-science satellites, visit the Mapel Orientation Gallery. You’ll find “Eyes on the Earth,” an interactive program on a large touchscreen, where you can learn more about what the satellites are tracking—such as sea level height or global temperature.

Diana W. Thompson is senior writer for the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.

Recent Lectures: Oct. 24–Nov. 9, 2016

recent-lectures

Home to gorgeous gardens, spectacular art, and stunning rare books and manuscripts, The Huntington also offers an impressive slate of lectures and conferences on topics and themes related to its collections. Below are audio recordings of five recent lectures.

Mapping the English Village (Nov. 9, 2016)
How did surveyors and cartographers track social and economic relations in early modern England? Steve Hindle, W. M. Keck Foundation Director of Research at The Huntington, explains how one particular map might be used to reconstruct who did what for a living, and who lived next door to whom, in 17th-century rural society.

 

Radical Reproduction (Nov. 3, 2016)
Futuristic notions of family and reproduction in the work of science fiction author Octavia Butler are explored in this discussion with Amy Kind, professor of philosophy at Claremont McKenna College, and Shelley Streeby, professor of ethnic studies and literature at the University of California, San Diego. Butler’s short story “Bloodchild” is a special focus of the discussion. This event is part of “Radio Imagination,” a series of programs and artist commissions exploring Butler’s legacy, organized by the arts group Clockshop.

 

The Cutter Incident (Nov. 1, 2016)
In 1955, the first year of widespread polio vaccination, Cutter Laboratories of Berkeley, Calif., inadvertently released batches of vaccine that contained the live virus. Neal Nathanson, M.D., who headed the unit of the Epidemic Intelligence Service that investigated cases of polio resulting from the Cutter vaccine, discusses the incident and provide an update on efforts toward global eradication of poliomyelitis. This program is presented by the George Dock Society for the History of Medicine and is part of the History of Science Lecture Series.

 

Painters, Carvers, and Style in Chinese Woodblock Printed Images (Oct. 25, 2016)
Suzanne Wright, associate professor of art history at the University of Tennessee, discusses the partnerships between Chinese painters and woodblock carvers who worked together to produce prints of exquisite beauty in the Ming and Qing dynasties. This talk is part of the East Asian Garden Lecture Series.

 

The New Battlefield History of the American Revolution (Oct. 24, 2016)
Woody Holton, professor of American history at the University of South Carolina and the Los Angeles Times Distinguished Fellow at The Huntington, offers a preview of research from his forthcoming book. During the last half-century, as social historians revolutionized the study of nearly every facet of America’s founding era, they left one topic—the battlefield—to traditional historians. Until now. This talk is part of the Distinguished Fellow Lecture Series.

Find more audio recordings of Huntington lectures and conferences on SoundCloud and iTunes U.

The Huntington’s Arcadia

An illustration from landscape architect Lewis Kennedy’s prospectus album, with an overlay showing before and after views. Notitiae of the alterations proposed at Trebartha Hall the seat of F. Hearle Rodd Esqre., Cornwall, Jan. 2, 1815. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

An illustration from landscape architect Lewis Kennedy’s prospectus album, with an overlay showing before and after views. Notitiae of the alterations proposed at Trebartha Hall the seat of F. Hearle Rodd Esqre., Cornwall, Jan. 2, 1815. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

Recently, the director and some of the cast from a current production of Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia stopped by The Huntington to view several of the real-world objects portrayed in the performance by A Noise Within Theatre Company. Stoppard set his play in Derbyshire, with the plot jumping back and forth between the present day and early 19th-century England—a period well represented in The Huntington’s library collections.

The play takes place in Sidley Park, a fictional estate belonging to the Coverly family, and, as its title suggests, reflects on an idealized life in the countryside. The story includes modern-day scholars researching the estate and their musings about the previous residents. A key object in the plot is a prop made to look like a landscape designer’s prospectus album, showing watercolor renderings of the estate’s grounds with overlays to provide before and after views.

Vanessa Wilkie, William A. Moffett Curator of British Historical Manuscripts, shows visitors from A Noise Within Theatre Company selections from The Huntington’s collections relating to the production of Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia. Left to right: Vanessa Wilkie, Susan Angelo, Geoff Elliott, Eric Curtis Johnson, Alicia Green, and Stephen Weingartner. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

Vanessa Wilkie, William A. Moffett Curator of British Historical Manuscripts, shows visitors from A Noise Within Theatre Company selections from The Huntington’s collections relating to the production of Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia. Left to right: Vanessa Wilkie, Susan Angelo, Geoff Elliott, Eric Curtis Johnson, Alicia Green, and Stephen Weingartner. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

When several Huntington curators and other staff members saw the play, they noticed the prop and remembered a similar object in the collections. That led to a search for the real example of such an album, along with other items from the period. As the group of objects grew, curators decided it was time to share their bounty with the theater troupe.

The Huntington’s curator of British historical manuscripts, Vanessa Wilkie, showed the actors and director what she called “the ultimate pitch,” a silk-lined landscape designer’s album portraying the grounds of Trebartha Hall, a grand manor house in the Cornwall countryside. The album, by English landscape architect Lewis Kennedy (1789–1877), proposed a redesign of the gardens illustrated by eight large watercolor views, one with an overlay, and five pen-and-wash vignettes. It is similar to the more famous “Red Books” of Humphry Repton, the 18th-century designer to the rich and famous.

Lord Byron’s handwriting in a copy of the seventh edition of his narrative poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimmage, 1814. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

Lord Byron’s handwriting in a copy of the seventh edition of his narrative poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimmage, 1814. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

The actors and director also examined a seventh edition of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimmage (1812), a narrative poem by Romantic poet and celebrity Lord Byron (1788–1824). Byron is a principal character in the play’s progression, although he doesn’t actually appear. Byron’s poem was wildly popular in its day, cementing Byron’s poetic reputation. Stephen Tabor, curator of early printed books, explained that The Huntington’s copy, published in 1814, bears corrections in Byron’s own hand and is a must-see for scholars editing his works.

A third object relates to the character of Thomasina, the teenage Coverly daughter, who is quite precocious and shows signs of being a mathematical genius. Curators brought out a 19th-century geometry and trigonometry volume containing a beautiful hand-colored map. It was just the type of work Thomasina might have studied under the guidance of her tutor, Septimus Hodge.

Mathematics manuscript (1820–1832) by Daniel Hallett, in which geometry and trigonometry are used to calculate and solve problems related to sailing directions. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

Mathematics manuscript (1820–1832) by Daniel Hallett, in which geometry and trigonometry are used to calculate and solve problems related to sailing directions. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

Literary manuscripts curator Sara S. “Sue” Hodson produced the greatest stir among the thespians when she displayed an early typed draft of the play Arcadia itself. Stoppard had given the manuscript to The Huntington soon after Hodson visited him in London in the early 1990s.

“Stoppard was writing Arcadia at the time. There he was, chain-smoking like mad, with a huge drafting board, like an artist would have, in front of a big bay window overlooking the city,” Hodson told her enthralled listeners. “I had brought some books on The Huntington with me, and we really bonded. One thing that struck him was the fact that I was living in Arcadia, California, at the time!”

Sara S. “Sue” Hodson, curator of literary manuscripts, shows off an early typed draft of Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia. Left to right: Sara S. “Sue” Hodson, Geoff Elliott, Mitchell Edmonds, and Susan Angelo. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

Sara S. “Sue” Hodson, curator of literary manuscripts, shows off an early typed draft of Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia. Left to right: Sara S. “Sue” Hodson, Geoff Elliott, Mitchell Edmonds, and Susan Angelo. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Photo by Kate Lain.

The margins of the draft are filled with Stoppard’s notes, and some pages reveal crossed-out text that never made it into the stage directions. Electrified by the thought that they could uncover unknown clues into the characters they played, the actors called out their scenes to Hodson, who turned the pages to see what the typescript revealed. Actor Susan Angelo, who plays Hannah Jarvis—a famous author researching the hermit who lived on the Sidley Park grounds in the 19th century—discovered that her character was originally written as a divorcée. She had always assumed that Hannah had never been married. She left wondering how this tidbit of insight might inform her next performance.

Arcadia continues at A Noise Within Theatre Company through November 20 (click here for tickets). You can read A Noise Within’s account of their visit to The Huntington on their blog.

Linda Chiavaroli is a volunteer in the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.

Susan B. Anthony and the Price of Suffrage

Two pages from Susan B. Anthony account book, April 17, 1858–July 27, 1860. In the spring of 1859, Anthony was engaged in preparation for the 9th Woman’s Rights Convention in New York City. The convention opened on May 12, 1859, at the Mozart Hall. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Two pages from Susan B. Anthony account book, April 17, 1858–July 27, 1860. In the spring of 1859, Anthony was engaged in preparation for the 9th Woman’s Rights Convention in New York City. The convention opened on May 12, 1859, at the Mozart Hall. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The sight of an old account ledger doesn’t generally excite many people—aside from historians and forensic accountants. But a ledger that once belonged to the famous American feminist and social reformer Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906) has wider appeal because its entries reveal priceless information about efforts to secure women’s voting rights.

The Huntington acquired such a ledger this year from the Art Directors Guild in Studio City. The cover of the small, tattered, and simple manuscript reads: “S.B. Anthony Rochester N.Y. 1859.”

Anthony, who started out as a schoolteacher, is best remembered for her advocacy of women’s suffrage, which became enshrined as the law of the land when the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1920. Popularly known as the “Susan B. Anthony Amendment,” it proclaimed: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

Portrait of Susan B. Anthony, 1895, Taber Photographic Co. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Portrait of Susan B. Anthony, 1895, Taber Photographic Co. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

First introduced in 1878, the Anthony Amendment would require 42 years of campaigning in order to garner the constitutionally mandated two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress. Sadly, it passed 14 years after Anthony’s death. It would take another 44 years to get a woman to appear on the presidential ballot of a major political party—that occurred in 1964 with Maine Republican Margaret Chase Smith. (And it would take 52 more years for Hillary Clinton to become, in 2016, the first woman to be nominated for president.)

The Huntington’s Anthony ledger documents the financial realities of prolonged social welfare campaigning. There were venues to be rented, newspaper advertisements to be placed; books and pamphlets to be printed; speakers to be paid; and stenographers, ticket takers, and “police door tenders” to be hired. The latter were important: the proceedings at women’s rights meetings in the mid-19th century were frequently and violently disrupted. As one New York newspaper put it, “women have no rights in public to which men are bound,” and so paying for protection was a must.

Anthony also recorded entries for hotel bills, railroad and riverboat tickets, carriage fares, and even the price of “this book and pencil”—the ledger itself and the implement she used to record each credit and debit. Reading the entries, you can follow Anthony and her traveling companions, Antoinette Brown Blackwell and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, as they journeyed to New York City to preside over national conventions, gave public lectures in various New York towns, and spoke at the annual teachers’ meetings in Poughkeepsie and Syracuse.

“Ye May Session of Ye Woman’s Rights Convention—Ye Orator of Ye Day Denouncing Ye Lords of Creation,” Harper’s Weekly, June 11, 1859. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

“Ye May Session of Ye Woman’s Rights Convention—Ye Orator of Ye Day Denouncing Ye Lords of Creation,” Harper’s Weekly, June 11, 1859. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Fundraising became particularly challenging in the wake of the 1857 Panic. In 1858, Francis Jackson made a gift of $5,000 (the equivalent of roughly $135,000 in today’s money) to the cause, and a year later, Charles F. Hovey, a wealthy Boston merchant, donated 10 times as much. The main sources of revenue, however, were the funds raised from public events, subscriptions, and much smaller donations—$20 from Francis Jackson, $25 from Geritt Smith, $3 from Lucretia Mott. In December 1859, Anthony recorded a $1 cash donation received at a meeting commemorating John Brown, the abolitionist who had been executed on charges of treason, murder, and insurrection two weeks earlier.

There are also meticulous records of the proceeds from the admission to meetings and sales of lecture tickets and suffragist and abolitionist literature. All in all, Anthony ran a remarkably efficient campaign that paid for itself, with significant sums carried over.

We delight in criticizing the power of money in American politics today. It is instructive that, as Anthony’s little ledger shows, a successful civil rights movement requires not only heroism and sacrifice, but also the less glamorous and pedestrian labor of accounting.

Related content on Verso:
“I have been & gone & done it!!” (Nov. 5, 2013)

Olga Tsapina is the Norris Foundation Curator of American Historical Manuscripts at The Huntington.

A Raven Named Sir Nevermore?

Embossed, color lithographed inner lid label of a cigar box, no date, from the Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Embossed, color lithographed inner lid label of a cigar box, no date, from the Jay T. Last Collection of Graphic Arts and Social History. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

I remember the moment when I fell in love with the Huntington Library. I was researching 19th-century agriculture and, in particular, the use of guano—the droppings of cormorants, boobies, and pelicans on the Chincha Islands off the coast of Peru.

Hard as it is to believe now, this was the hot commodity in the 19th century. Renowned for its fertilizing powers, it was called “white gold.” The United States nearly got into a war with Peru over it, and the “guano question” was discussed in three annual messages by U.S. presidents. I wondered what The Huntington had on the stuff.

Quite a lot, as it turned out. There were agricultural treatises, manuals, advertisements, and sheet music related to guano. And then there was an intriguing catalog entry for the papers of a certain “Sir Manson Nevermore, RPA, 1848–2005.” I clicked the link.

I should say now that, in my career, I’ve seen a lot of catalog entries. But I’d never seen an entry like this.

The entry for Sir Nevermore in the Library’s online catalog.

The entry for Sir Nevermore in the Library’s online catalog.

Sir Manson, I learned, was “a venerable, although somewhat deranged and unkempt raven that was irritating the hell out of the Manuscripts Department of the Huntington Library in 2003 and 2004.” His papers, continues the catalog entry, were “an unwelcome gift” of Sir Manson himself and are “restricted to readers willing to climb up on the roof.” They contain, besides two pounds of bird droppings, “field notes compiled by Nevermore in the process of his activities, including treatises on window pecking, wing flailing, yodeling, pooping, and general avian vandalism.” Subject headings include “Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery – Fauna,” “Guano – Production and direction – California, Southern,” and “Human beings – Infuriation of, Avian.”

“The Huntington,” I thought. “This is my kind of place.”

I ordered the Nevermore papers in the Ahmanson Reading Room. I got some nervous giggles, but no archival boxes filled with bird droppings. So where did this entry come from? I showed it to Anne Blecksmith, the head of Reader Services. She was puzzled. “How did this get here?”

Anne poked around. The record had been edited 23 times, far more than the usual entry. But it was over 10 years old. Would I be able to find out who wrote it? “Maybe the curators know something,” Anne advised. “Birds are always banging the windows of their offices. In fact, I think Melissa Lo sent around a picture of one.”

The game was afoot. I knocked on Melissa’s door—she’s the Dibner Assistant Curator of Science and Technology. She welcomed me into her office, and I saw a high window over her desk. “Melissa,” I said, pointing to it, “Tell me about the birds.” “You mean Manson?” she asked. I don’t think real detective work actually ever goes this smoothly.

Title page of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, published by E.P. Dutton and Co., no date. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Title page of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, published by E.P. Dutton and Co., no date. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

“The person you want to talk to is Olga Tsapina,” said Melissa. Olga is the Norris Foundation Curator of American Historical Manuscripts and, I am now convinced, the hidden genius behind the whole thing.

I found her at her desk. “How do you know about Manson?” she asked. I explained my guano research. “Ah,” she said, and sat back in her chair. She knew this day would come.

The story tumbled out. It was 2004. The library was adopting a new interface and the curators wanted to create a catalog entry to test the system. But the curators were, by that point, under siege from a months-long raven onslaught. There was one “deranged raven,” Olga explained, who had been attacking their windows twice daily. At 9 a.m., “he would start prancing around the ledge,” cooing and gazing at his own reflection in the ultraviolet shielding on the windows. Then, his narcissism turning to rage, he would “fling himself at the windowpane” and furiously try to tear down the UV shielding. The whole show repeated at 4 p.m.

I looked at the windows. Large strips of the UV shielding were missing.

Countermeasures, Olga explained, were taken. The late Bill Frank—curator of Hispanic, cartographic, and western American manuscripts—got up on the roof, flapping his hands to try to scare Sir Manson off. Dan Lewis, Dibner Senior Curator of the History of Science and Technology and a noted expert on the history of ornithology, tried making hawk sounds. A Nerf ball was deployed, though with little result.

A.C. Smith’s portrait of Edgar Allan Poe, 1843 or 1844, watercolor on paper. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

A.C. Smith’s portrait of Edgar Allan Poe, 1843 or 1844, watercolor on paper. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Confronted with a similarly insistent raven, Edgar Allan Poe had turned to poetry. The curatorial staff, instead, expressed its soul in the distinctive idiom of archivists: the card catalog entry.

The Sir Manson Nevermore entry, it should be said, is a model of the form, like a perfectly executed sonnet. Because the record was designed to test the system, it has values for all fields. Thus, our raven has a name (“Manson,” after the serial killer to whom the raven is said to bear a physical resemblance; “Nevermore” as a nod to Poe), a title (Sir), and even a post-nominal title (RPA: Royal Pain in the Ass).

The staff composed the entry, Olga at the keyboard, as a joke—“a collective effort born of cooperation and amidst multiple bouts of undignified giggling.” But Richard Jackson, supervising librarian, insisted that it remain. Jackson teaches cataloging, and he uses the entry in his classes. Budding archivists, in other words, cut their teeth on the Sir Manson record.

It has traveled further than that. Because The Huntington’s system connects to larger databases, Sir Manson Nevermore has been absorbed into the great global bibliographic network. He’s in WorldCat; he’s in ArchiveGrid. Researchers anywhere on the planet working on guano—my specialty—might stumble across the record. So might those working on “skylights and windowsills” or on “scratches and beak marks.”

And they have. I found Manson. So did the staff at the Library of Congress. Search the great libraries of the world for those holding “excrement samples,” and there you’ll find Sir Manson, tapping, tapping at the windowpane.

A bird that appears to fit Sir Nevermore’s description flails its wings against a Library window in 2015. Photo by Melissa Lo.

A bird that appears to fit Sir Nevermore’s description flails its wings against a Library window in 2015. Photo by Melissa Lo.

“Manson is one of my proudest achievements,” Olga beamed.

The catalog lists Sir Manson’s date of death as 2005. “The Manuscripts Department has refused to comment on Sir Manson’s sudden disappearance,” it says. But is Sir Manson dead?

Olga herself is uncharacteristically vague on the question. Sir Manson’s daily visitations ended in 2005. In that year, researchers found dead birds in 52 out of California’s 58 counties that tested positive for West Nile virus. So, that’s the official story.

Still, ravens can live for decades, and there have been some suspicious sightings. “He comes back every once a while,” Olga intimated in a conspiratorial tone. Indeed, Melissa’s photograph shows, if not Sir Manson, then certainly a bird who fits the description. “Deranged”? Check. “Unkempt”? Check. Flailing his wings while yodeling and pooping? Hard to tell from the photograph, but I couldn’t rule it out.

Olga floated another theory. The last time the curatorial staff definitively laid eyes on Sir Manson, there was another raven with him. Sir Manson did his usual demented hell-sprite routine while the other raven watched, looking vaguely horrified. The staff decided that Raven #2 was Sir Manson’s therapist.

Maybe he didn’t die, Olga suggested. “Maybe he got help.”

Daniel Immerwahr is assistant professor of history at Northwestern University and was a 2015–16 National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Huntington. He is the author of Thinking Small: The United States and the Lure of Community Development. You can watch his lecture “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Guano But Were Afraid to Ask” on YouTube.

Breathing New Life into Trees

Growth had slowed on this coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) near the Boone Gallery. Photo by Kate Lain.

Growth had slowed on this coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) near the Boone Gallery. Photo by Kate Lain.

Huntington arborist Daniel Goyette first investigated the two-story-high coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) near the Boone Gallery to address concerns that its growth had slowed. Soil was built up around one side of it, and it appeared to be listing. On closer inspection, the tree doctor determined that the tree was slowly suffocating and required a root collar excavation. Say what?

Over time, soil, leaf litter, and other natural materials can accumulate around the base of a tree—literally cutting off the tree’s ability to breathe. In this case, the problem was exacerbated by gopher activity, which had created a mound of soil on one side. The additional soil also gave the impression that the tree was leaning.

Over time, soil accumulates around a tree’s trunk, cutting off the air supply. Help is on the way, in the form of an air spade attached to an air compressor, seen here in the background. Photo by Kate Lain.

Over time, soil accumulates around a tree’s trunk, cutting off the air supply. Help is on the way, in the form of an air spade attached to an air compressor, seen here in the background. Photo by Kate Lain.

“For a tree to breathe, it needs to have its root collar unencumbered and exposed,” says Goyette. “Especially with native oaks, you don’t want to put soil or mulch up against them.”

In a healthy, mature tree, large buttress roots rise partway out of the ground, creating root flare—where the root meets the ground and flares out. Goyette couldn’t even see the buttress roots. So he brought out one of his favorite tree-care tools: the air spade.

Attached to a compressor, the spade shoots 110 pounds per square inch of air through a metal tube and nozzle. The blast of air is just powerful enough to dislodge soil without damaging delicate roots.

Huntington arborist Daniel Goyette uses an air spade to dislodge excess soil and expose the tree’s buttress roots. Photo by Kate Lain.

Huntington arborist Daniel Goyette uses an air spade to dislodge excess soil and expose the tree’s buttress roots. Photo by Kate Lain.

Before using the air spade, Goyette takes a few precautions. He turns a soaker hose on overnight so that the soil around the root flare won’t create a dust storm during excavation. Then he dons ear plugs and protective glasses. A loud whirring noise fills the air as Goyette points the nozzle at the tree’s base. He angles the nozzle to nudge loose the soil around small feeder roots, and then he works his way around the tree.

Several hours of excavation were enough to finally reveal the start of the buttress roots. They’ve been completely covered with soil, subjecting the tree to ongoing stress. Uncovering them may require removing about a foot or more of soil from the tree’s trunk, says Goyette. Once he uncovers the roots, he can make sure nothing else is negatively impacting the tree. “I’m hoping that, by next spring, we’ll see a whole new flush of growth,” he says.

A compressor supplies a powerful jet of air to the nozzle. Photo by Kate Lain.

A compressor supplies a powerful jet of air to the nozzle. Photo by Kate Lain.

Wind and the raking of leaves off nearby paths eventually causes soil build-up around trees. “We’re fortunate to be a botanical garden that’s close to 100 years old,” says Goyette. “But we need to keep up with this sort of maintenance.”

Considering that The Huntington possesses roughly 10,000 trees, many of which date to its founding, Goyette clearly has his work cut out for him. But when you stand under the dense canopy of the oak, its shade cutting the temperature by 10 or more degrees, you’re grateful that he’s on the job.

Another coast live oak requires treatment. The base of a tree trunk should flare. When it looks like a straight telephone pole, there’s generally a problem. (Homeowners sometimes create a similar issue by planting a tree too deep.) Photo by Kate Lain.

Another coast live oak requires treatment. The base of a tree trunk should flare. When it looks like a straight telephone pole, there’s generally a problem. (Homeowners sometimes create a similar issue by planting a tree too deep.) Photo by Kate Lain.

Diana W. Thompson is senior writer for the office of communications and marketing at The Huntington.