Tuesday, June 23, 2015

New Online Exhibit: 1759: Britain's Year of Victories


Curated by Brian Leigh Dunnigan

The Clements Library is pleased to share a new online exhibit, 1759: Britain's Year of Victories, based on an exhibit that was on display in the Avenir Great Room of the William L. Clements Library from June 8 to October 9, 2009.

Benjamin West’s iconic history painting, “The Death of General Wolfe,” has looked down on the Avenir Foundation Room of the Clements Library since it was acquired by William L. Clements in the late 1920s. It is surely the best-known image of the Seven Years’ War (or the French and Indian War as the American part of that global conflict is called in the United States). The painting commemorates the defeat of a French army at Québec on September 13, 1759, and apotheosizes the victorious British commander, Major General James Wolfe, who died on the field of battle. Idealized in almost every respect, West’s composition was intended to represent the triumph of British arms and the acquisition of a much-expanded empire rather than to realistically depict the event itself. A British officer, approaching from the left with a captured white regimental color, heralds the decline of French fortunes that, with the signing of a treaty of peace in 1763, would cost France most of her American empire.

Québec was only one of a series of British victories in 1759—the annus mirabilis—that would decisively shift the momentum of the war against the French and in Britain’s favor. A celebratory medal struck that year recognized victories and victors in seven major engagements fought in America, in Europe, and on the high seas. An inverted fleur-de-lis symbolized the reversal of French ambitions and the prowess of the forces directed by Prime Minister William Pitt under the auspices of King George II, whose profile graces the obverse of the medal.

In 2009 the Clements Library marked the 250th anniversary of the British victories of 1759 by presenting a few of the treasures from its collections that illustrate the events and participants in that momentous year. This online version has been enhanced by the addition of a number of items that could not be displayed in 2009 due to the limited space available in the exhibit cases.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Today in History: Father's Day

Post by Jayne Ptolemy, Manuscripts Curatorial Assistant

In 1880 William Brunton, a Unitarian minister from Boston, began composing a special diary that recorded the everyday activities of his young son, Herbert, whom he affectionately called Bertie. "It is a work of pure love," the enamored father wrote, explaining that he was "not going to make anything very elaborate or literary—it is simply for your own use and amusement—Some of the fairy flowers that grew in your childhood's garden." William wrote of Bertie's moods and interests, the sweet and funny things he said, the toys he played with, the pictures he drew, and, through it all, we see William's deep and abiding paternal affection.
One of Bertie's drawings from 1881, from the William Brunton Journal, Duane Norman Diedrich Collection. His father had noted elsewhere, "You begin to take a fancy for drawing & you have drawn with chalk everywhere, & you have filled paper after paper with your pictures. You like steam engines especially but attempt almost everything."

William Brunton wrote about the tender moments between father and child. "I used to lift you to the window to see the stars. You liked to see them very much," he remembered. "One day you wanted me to get you the crescent moon out of the sky." Reading this diary, you get the impression that if he could have found a way, William would have done just that for his son.

Like any father, however, William also experienced some of the frustrations that accompany parenthood. In late May, 1880, he wrote, "Last night a pretty little event happened. It was a fine moonlight night & you were sleeping in your cradle. When you woke up about two oclock and lay awake some time & Mamma of course urged you to go to sleep again. You tried & failed-- & then in a pretty soft voice you said—Please Mamma may I lie a little on the edge of your bed? And Mamma took you in & let you be in the middle which drove me out as you kick so." Bumped out of his own bed by his young toddler, William took it all in stride and remained "perfectly devoted" to Herbert, even writing him a poem, "Our Bertie's King of the Household."

In a remarkably similar vein, John J. Hagan wrote a song dedicated to his infant son, "Monarch of All He Surveys."
John H. Hagan, "Monarch of All He Surveys." (Philadelphia: Bazaar of the Muses, ca. 1898).
The chorus speaks to the power children can yield over their parents. "Monarch of all he surveys, His subjects laud paeans of praise, Our hearts, his domain and there he will reign Forever and grace of three days; With his voice the welkin will ring, His mandate will bring anything, No potentiate, however great, Can rule with our Household King."

The Clements's Graphics Division holds further evidence of fathers' love. The tenderness and joy in these cabinet cards from the David V. Tinder Collection require no explanation.

David V. Tinder Cabinet Card Collection, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan. The majority portion donated by David B. Walters in honor of Harold L. Walters, UM class of 1947 and Marilyn S. Walters, UM class of 1950.

"I cannot tell you how much I love you & think of you as I leave you behind me," William Brunton wrote to his son. "You are rooted pretty deep in my heart." Each father's love for his child is unique, but as the collections at the William L. Clements Library show, it is also tied to a long tradition of warmth, care, and dedication that spans the years.