Saturday, December 29, 2012

Today in History: Constitution Victorious Again

Post by Brian Dunnigan, Associate Director and Curator of Maps

For many years now, two oil paintings have looked down on the supervisor’s desk in the Clements Library reading room.  They depict two phases of a battle at sea between a pair of warships, one British the other American.  In one scene the fully functioning American vessel pounds the partially dismasted Britisher.  In the second, the US ship sails away while her defeated adversary slips beneath the waves as her magazine violently explodes.  They are a reminder that the Clements has always been strong in visual and documentary material relating to maritime and naval affairs prior to 1900.

Oil painting of the Constitution and Java, by Nicholas Pocock

The two paintings depict the victory of the US Frigate Constitution over the Royal Navy’s Java on December 29, 1812, two hundred years ago this month.  Only four months earlier Constitution had defeated HMS Guerriere in  the North Atlantic.  The action of December 29 was fought in milder waters off the coast of Brazil.  The American frigate had refitted following her August battle and, under a new commanding officer, William Bainbridge (1774-1833), went to cruise the South Atlantic.  On December 29 the much larger and more heavily armed Constitution encountered HMS Java.

Portrait of Captain William Bainbridge

Although Java was much less powerful than the American ship, British Captain Henry Lambert (d. 1813) gamely confronted  his adversary  and fought for two and one-half hours before the dismasted and crippled Java was forced to surrender.  Constitution continued to be a lucky ship, suffering only 34 casualties to Java’s 124.  Captain Lambert was among the wounded, and Java was so badly damaged that she had to be scuttled,

British artist Nicholas Pocock (1740-1821) depicted the action in four oil paintings, each showing a different stage of the battle.  His paintings were engraved and produced as a set of four prints.  The Clements holds two of the oils and a complete set of the prints.  Interestingly, the engraver seems to have made Java smaller in the prints than in the paintings, perhaps in an effort to minimize the British defeat.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Today in History: A Christmas Carol

Guest post by Sarah Fitzgerald, Book Division volunteer

Many of our Christmas traditions come from the Victorian Era, including the decoration of Christmas trees and Charles Dickens' story, A Christmas Carol. The Clements has several versions of A Christmas Carol, including an original 1843 printing illustrated by John Leech. John Leech's colored etchings are very expressive.


In the illustration of Mr. Fezziwig's ball, which serves as the frontispiece, Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig look well fed and good natured and the rest of the guests seem to be enjoying themselves heartily, particularly the couple kissing under a handful of mistletoe.The illustration of the ball makes a sharp contrast against the illustration showing the bleakness of Scrooge's parlor, with it's single candle struggling to dispel the gloom, where Jacob Marley's ghost has come to warn Scrooge to change his miserly ways. Scrooge looks almost as ghostly as his dead partner, as he tries to distance himself from the eerie, transparent sight of Marley in his chains forged from cash-boxes and keys with his head bandaged to keep his jaw on. The picture is done in color, which draws attention to how very little color or gaiety Scrooge has in his home. The same room is transformed into a bower of warmth and bounty when the giant Ghost of Christmas present arrives with climbing plants and rich foods, dressed in a fur trimmed robe, bare-chested and barefooted with a wreath for a crown, a bit like a mixture of Jesus and Santa Claus.




Leech also created black and white woodcuts such as Scrooge trying to snuff out the radiant light of the child-sized first spirit with its own hat.


In 1844 A Christmas Carol came to America, in the form of a paper pamphlet. It was priced at 6 cents.


In 1899 an edition illustrated in watercolor by George T. Tobin was published. Tobin illustrated Dickens' personification of the December London fog as "The Genius of the Weather" as a corporeal old man hunched against the cold. His version of Marley's staring face on Scrooge's doorknocker is painted in angular relief, as if lit by hellfire and the hair and the background also rise into the shape of flames.

Although many of Tobin's watercolors are spooky, Tiny Tim and Bob Crachit make a tender sight, with Tim perched on his father's shoulder, holding his crutch in hand with help from Bob and each of them is turning his head to look fondly at the other.


A version with illustrations by the notable illustrator, Arthur Rackham was published in 1915. In this version of A Christmas Carol, Stave 1 closes with a sketch of Scrooge's old, bony hands clutching at coins, but Stave 2 opens with the hopeful woodblock image of a sprig of holly, a symbol of Christ and Christmas.



Rackham's illustrated books were popular as Christmas gifts in the early 20th century. This book contains three color images, including Bob Crachit enjoying an icy slide on his way home from a difficult Christmas Eve at work.   

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

From the Stacks: "Britain to America" Satiric Puzzle

A rebus is a puzzle in which pictures are used to represent words or parts of words, sometimes used as a form of political satire. One such example from the Book Division of the Clements Library is Britain to America, published by Matthew Darly in 1778. It is a mock letter written from a mother to her daughter, in which Britain asks America to put aside her recent French alliance: "So be a good girl, discharge your soldiers and ships of war and do not rebel against your mother. Rely upon me and do not consort to what that French rascal shall tell you." Darly also published a reply, America to Her Mistaken Mother (London, 1778).
Britain to America (London, 1778). [Click image to enlarge]
The book Rebellion and Reconciliation: Satirical Prints on the Revolution at Williamsburg provides a transcription of the symbols (read "toe" as "to" and "eye" as "i"):
"(Britannia) (toe) Amer(eye)ca.
My (deer) Daughter (eye) (can)(knot) (bee)hold w(eye)thout (grate) pa(eye)n (ewer) (head)strong (back)-(ward)ness (toe) ret(urn) (toe) (ewer) Duty in (knot) op(posy)ing (awl) the good (eye) long (eye)ntended for (ewer) (sole) Hap(pie)ness & (bee)ing told t(hat) (eye) have g(eye)v'n (ewer) (hand) (toe) a (base) & (double-faced) (Frenchman) (Eye) have sent (yew) 5 over/wise (men) the (grate)est of (awl) my (child)ren (toe) put (yew) (toe) r(eye)ghts & (hope) (yew) w(eye)[ll] l(eye)s(ten) (toe) them & m(eye)nd w(hat) they say (toe) (yew) they have (eye)nstr(yew)et(eye)ons [instructions] (toe) g(eye)ve (yew) t(hose) th(eye)ngs (yew) (form)erly required. so (bee a good (girl) d(eye)scharge (ewer) (soldiers) & (ships) of war & (doe) (knot) re(bell) aga(eye)nst (ewer) (moth)er rely upon me & (doe)(knot) (console)t [consort] to w(hat) t(hat) french R(ass)c(awl) sh(awl) tell (yew) IC he w(ants) (toe) b(ring) on an enm(eye)ty (toe) (awl) (union) (bee)tween (yew) & (eye) (but) l(eye)s(ten) (knot) (toe) h(eye)m (awl) the (world) takes (knot)(eye)ce [notice) of h(eye)[s] (doubleface). I'll send h(eye)m such MessaGG [messages] from my (grate) (gun)s as s[h](awl) make h(eye)s (heart) repent & know t(hat) (one) good or (eye)ll t(urn) mer(eye)ts a (knot)her. NB let (knot) (eighty) [hate] take (two) much hold of (ewer) (heart).
(Eye) am (ewer) fr(eye)end & (moth)er."
Approximate translation in plain text:
"Britannia to America:
My dear daughter, I cannot behold without great pain your headstrong backwardness to return to your duty in not opposing all the good I long intended for your sole happiness. And being told that I have given your hand to a base and double-faced Frenchman, I have sent you five over-wise men, the greatest of all my children, to put you to rights and hope you will listen to them and mind what they say to you. They have instructions to give you those things you formerly required. So be a good girl, discharge your soldiers and ships of war and do not rebel against your mother. Rely upon me and do not consort to what that French rascal shall tell you. I see he wants to bring on an enmity to all union between you and I but listen not to him. All the world takes notice of his double-face. I'll send him such messages from my great guns as shall make his heart repent and know that one good or ill turn merits another.
N.B. Let not hate take too much hold of your heart.
I am your friend and mother." 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Recent Acquisition: Rare Detroit Plan of 1836-37

The Clements Library has just acquired a very rare and possibly unique plan of Detroit from the last years of the Michigan Territory.  All that is known about Part of the City of Detroit, Michigan is that it was lithographed and published in New York at 22 Nassau Street by George Endicott (1802-48).  Endicott is known to have had a shop at that address in 1837 and perhaps a few years before.  Details in the plan suggest that it was likely produced ca. 1836-37.


The Endicott plan shows newly platted and numbered lots in the northern part of the city from the state capitol and Grand River Street to St. Joseph Street ten blocks above.  The city was platted only as far north as Columbia and Montcalm streets in John Farmer’s 1835 plan of the city.  Nathaniel Currier’s plan of Detroit of May 1837 shows additional blocks north of St. Joseph Street, though no lots had been laid out or numbered in that area.  Endicott’s plan appears to date between Farmer’s and Currier’s.

Endicott’s plan illustrates the contrast between the famous Woodward plan of 1806, seen from the Grand Circus south, and the grid plan of the city adopted after 1816, when the Woodward plan was effectively abandoned.  Woodward’s design would be preserved only between Grand Circus and the river.

No other copies of Endicott’s plan have so far been located, and it was not recorded in Brian Dunnigan’s Frontier Metropolis (2001).