Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Today in History: The First Day of Fall

Post by Jayne Ptolemy, Manuscripts Division Curatorial Assistant

In Ann Arbor, the weather has started to have a chilly bite, and at the Clements Library we look to our collections to help celebrate the first day of fall.

From our Schoff Civil War collection, we hear from Henry H. Seys, a Civil War surgeon and medical inspector, who wrote to his wife Harriet in late October 1862 about the spectacular autumn facing Union troops at Camp Elkwater in West Virginia.
"[O]n the whole thus far it's very bearable during these superb fall months—which seem like a dream of beauty—All day long I have feasted on the romance of our possition [sic]—The cloudless dome of blue—the hills gathered closely around us—Clothed in their 'Sere & yellow leaf' the dark sombre green of hemlock & fir, in splendid contrast, with the russet & gold, crimson yellow & green—the white tents—the me[a]dows still green despite the frost—the clear, cold, water rippling in music by hurrying on to the 'Ohio,' the solemn stillness only broken by bugle calls—the notes of the drum—and now & then the sharp report of a musket, all combined form a picture full to the very fullness itself of poetry."
[Henry H.] Seys ALS to [Harriet Seys], 1862 October 27, Henry H. Seys papers, Schoff Civil War collection, William L. Clements Library.

While Henry Seys wrote about the poetic experience of the changing seasons, our Book Division holds examples of published poetry about autumn. For instance, we have a number of later editions of John Thomson's (1700-1748) collected nature poetry published as The Seasons. We hear of nature's colorful, if also mournful, beauty, when he writes:
"But see the fading many colour'd Woods,
Shade deepening over Shade, the Country round
Imbrown; a crouded Umbrage, dusk, and dun,
Of every Hue, from wan declining Green
To sooty Dark. These now the lonesome Muse,
 Low whispering, lead into their leaf-strown Walks,
And give the Season in its latest View." 
To help us visualize the turn to fall, we look to our Graphics Division and its T.C. Moore Sketchbook.

Showing the leaves' first surge of golden color, Moore's sketchbook reminds us of the quiet beauty of the early days of autumn. While summer always passes too quickly, the rich collections at the William L. Clements Library help illustrate why cooler weather is welcome, too.