Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Love Letters in the Samuel Latham Mitchill Papers

Samuel Latham Mitchill was a man of many interests. He held a medical degree from the University of Edinburgh, studied law, taught chemistry and botany at Columbia University, and served in both state and national legislatures. Even with so much on his mind, his wife, Catherine, was still never far from his thoughts.

The Clements Library's Samuel Latham Mitchill Papers include detailed letters he wrote to Catherine while he was serving in Congress. Discussions of politics and Washington society are tempered by expressions of marital love and affection. He opens his letters with sweet and varied salutations that warm the heart.  "My dear little Duck," "My Queen of Hearts," "My beloved wife," he writes, or, "My sweet love," "My pretty little Picture," "My dear friend and sweetheart," "My true Love."

On Valentine's Day, 1803, he wrote a long letter to Catherine. In what may be perceived as a bit of a romantic misstep, he spent some five pages writing about the holiday's ancient history, leading up to the American practice of sending valentines and the current belief that "Birds also choose their Mates" on Valentine's Day. In a last minute save, he closes the letter by proclaiming, "on this very fourteenth day of February in the year one thousand eight hundred and three, your absent Dove has re-elected you to be his Mate for the next twelvemonth."

Two days later he refers to a Valentine's Day poem he also sent Catherine, which one of his friends declared "enough to make you crazy with love." Sadly, the poem is lost to us. The passion and affection that inspired it, however, is documented throughout the collection well beyond Valentine's Day. Missing his wife in early December 1803, he sent her a letter despite having just written the day before. "I have little else to send her to day," he admits, "that a parcel of Kisses, well assorted, which I have imprinted with my lips on this Paper; Take them, my love, and make the most of them in behalf of the giver."

Samuel Latham Mitchill ALS to Catherine Mitchill, Washington, [D.C.], 1803 December 2. Samuel Latham Mitchill Papers, William L. Clements Library.

No matter how you spend this Valentine's Day, you can always find enough romance in the archives to make you swoon.

Jayne Ptolemy
Reading Room Supervisor and Manuscripts Curatorial Assistant

Monday, February 6, 2017

Digital Images from the Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York

The old halfway house at the junction of Broadway, 8th Ave. & 59th St.

"If any one among us may calculate surely on a sublunary immortality, Mr. VALENTINE is the man. He has linked his name indissolubly with one of the greatest cities in the world in a manner which time shall strengthen not efface."  These were the accolades heaped on David Thomas Valentine (1801-1869) by The New York Times in 1863. Valentine, who served as Deputy Clerk to the Common Council for 37 years (apparently without promotion) had access to the most ancient archives of New York City. He also had the inspiration to seek out the earliest charts, maps, views of the city and publish them in facsimile form from 1841 to 1866 in his Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York.

Murray Hill : the oldest house, foot of Murray Hill, cor. 3d Av. & 34th St.

If you are seeking visual evidence supporting the study of urban America or the transformation from the colonial to the industrial age, Valentine's Manual is for you. Valentine had an eye for what was historic even in the 19th century and recorded the rapidly vanishing colonial architecture and old neighborhoods of New York. Valentine's presentation of impoverished streets as picturesque is problematic today. However, the print of the ramshackle house on Peck Slip where he grew up testifies to his close familiarity with his subject.

Contemporary 19th century innovations and events also appear, like the Loew Bridge over Broadway, made necessary by the frequent pedestrian fatalities, and views of colorful parades of soldiers heading south during the Civil War.

The "Loew Bridge," Broadway & Fulton St.

The illustrations from Valentine's Manual have been known to historians for some time and they have been available in scanned book versions in HathiTrust, Google Book, and other digital repositories. However, the prints in these online versions are difficult to locate without tedious browsing.

The Clements holds two sets of Valentine's Manual, one in the Book Division, the other as dis-bound prints in the Graphics Division. This latter set has been catalogued individually by former Head of Reader Services Diana Sykes and scanned by Digital Projects Librarian and Curator of Books Emi Hastings. 240 of these scanned images have recently been added to our Clements digital image bank with corresponding subject terms and descriptions, making this the most easily accessible online version of the illustrations from the Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York. The remainder of the scanned images will be added shortly.

Click here to browse prints from the Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York in the Clements Library Image Bank.

Clayton Lewis
Curator of Graphic Materials

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Learning Through Maps

Americans in general—and younger people in particular—are often criticized for being woefully deficient in a geographical understanding of their country, continent, hemisphere, and world.  In many ways such criticism is justified, and the noticeable reduction in geography instruction in schools has done nothing to improve the situation.  This is unfortunate because regular use of maps can fill the gaps in understanding of the form of our world, and atlases, whether printed or digital, are also fine sources of such information.

Western Hemisphere / Elizabeth H. Conklin, June 8. 
Pen and ink student's hemisphere map. 
For the past few years the Clements Library has been actively collecting a most interesting type of manuscript map.  Often described by dealers and collectors as “schoolgirl” maps, these exercises in cartography demonstrate that training in geography was one element of a good nineteenth-century education.  This type of map is frequently encountered in dealers’ catalogs these days, so there has been a good selection of potential acquisitions.  We now hold fifteen examples dating from 1818 to 1884.  Our catalog entries describe them as “student” maps because the majority of our examples were drawn by young men.  They include a variety of subjects—the world, the Western Hemisphere, North and South America, the United States and its component states, as well as Biblical cartography.  There is even a map titled “The Ocean of Love.”  The students obviously worked using a printed map as the source.

Most of our student cartographers are identified, and sometimes the name of their school is known.  Hannah French, for example, studied at the New Hampton Female Seminary of New Hampton, New Hampshire, about 1820 when she drafted a map of her country.  Some of the student maps are associated with manuscript collections held by the Clements, such as Elizabeth H. Conklin’s interpretation of the Western Hemisphere from the Conklin Papers and that of North America found in the James Thomas Papers and probably drawn by one of his school-age sons.

Some of our student maps are surprisingly sophisticated.  Melvin Wright was at school in Londonderry, Vermont, in 1841 when he drafted a heavily colored map of his state and embellished it with six marginal drawings including a view of the capital, Montpelier.  H.L. Hobart demonstrated that he or she was a better cartographer than a speller on the circa 1853 “Map of Michigan & Wiscosin.”  And Albert King even ventured into the allegorical.  In addition to his maps of “Hindoostan” and the Middle East, he prepared the “Ocean of Love,” with its “Land of Matrimony,” “Quicksands of Inconstancy,” and “Dead Lake of Indifference.”

The Clements will continue to collect “student” maps, but we have already reached a critical mass, where the available materials can support research into nineteenth-century education.  Used with our school atlases, school textbooks, and manuscripts with education content, a researcher can discover much about teaching and learning in the 1800s.

Brian Dunnigan
Associate Director and Curator of Maps