Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Day and we thought it would be pertinent to share some examples of the Library's African American and abolitionist authors...We found in our vault some WONDERFUL, early African American authors such as; Paul Laurence Dunbar(1872-1906) Mary Weston Fordham(1844–1905), W.E.B Du Bois(1868-1963), Booker T. Washington(1856-1915), Charles W. Chesnutt (1858-1932) and James Baldwin(1924-1987).

As for abolitionist writings, we found a copy of "The Freedmen's Book" by Lydia Maria Child(1802-1880) and an 1852 People's Illustrated Edition of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Mrs. Child was a well known author of journals, domestic guidebooks and fiction. She was also a friend, advisor and editor to African American author Harriet Jacobs(1813–1897) whose 1861 publication "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl" made her the first woman author of a slave narrative in the United States.
Our copy of Mrs. Stowe's book was purchased in 1890 by William Godber Hinson and is full of 50 illustrations and newspaper clippings, such as reviews and other articles relating to the book that Mr. Hinson saw relevant. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Revolutionary Road

We're only a week away from the greatest day of the year - Carolina Day! For those of you who aren't familiar with the holiday, Carolina Day is kind of like a Charleston Cinco de Mayo  - we remember how a small, half-prepared band of patriots repelled the larger force of a great European military.

One major difference: instead of tequila, we mostly celebrate with bourbon.

Before the bourbon (well, hopefully before - things start at 10:30 in the morning) there's the Carolina Day Parade. In the Parade, civic and social organizations of all kinds meet at Washington Park, line up in chronological order of founding, and proceed to White Point Gardens. As the oldest cultural organization in the South, the Library is right near the front. We invite all members and friends of the Library to join us in the parade, so we'll see you Friday morning under the big green and gold flag!

ALSO: a quick pop quiz for you: what was the largest battle during the American Revolution? Saratoga? Yorktown?

Nope - in terms of the number of combatants, the largest battle was the Great Siege of Gibraltar (begun 234 years ago today). No worries if the Siege of Gibraltar wasn't in your American History textbook back in middle school, for no American forces part of the fight. France and Spain figured Britain had enough on its hands in North America, and united to dislodge the British forces from Gibraltar. The siege lasted three years and seven months - the longest endured by Britain since the English Civil War.

Your loyal blogger mentions this historical highlight a)because it's the anniversary of the siege, and b)to keep the conversation focused on the Revolutionary War during the week of Carolina Day.  If you're looking for new topics for your Revolutionary War conversations, stop by the Main Reading Room of the Library to see our latest exhibit, "The American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence".

Things to leave out of your Revolutionary War discussion:
Assassin's Creed III

This engaging display will include a range of rarely seen items from the vaults. These include British pamphlets in support of the American cause; notable histories of the war from the 1780s to the 1850s; and excerpts from the Library's records that show the impact of the war on the operation of the Society.

Most importantly, our August 14, 1776 edition of the South Carolina and American General Gazette will be on display. This priceless treasure features the first printing of the Declaration of Independence in South Carolina. The exhibit is free and open to the public, so we expect to see you there!

Friday, April 19, 2013

No One Says "No" to Washington! Unless its Charles Cotesworth Pinckney...

In a series of four letters written between May, 1791 and July, 1796, President George Washington attempted to lure General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (who would later become the Library Society’s president) into national service. Pinckney was offered the positions of Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court, head of the Department of War, and Secretary of State, all of which Pinckney declined again and again. Undaunted, Washington persisted and was finally successful in 1796, when Pinckney accepted the post of Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to France.

President Washington’s confidence in General Pinckney as a diplomat was well founded. Pinckney distinguished himself by his poise in handling his rejection by the Directory and expulsion from France by French foreign minister Talleyrand in January, 1797. Although his attempt to negotiate with the French Republic for a second time as head of a three-man commission, including John Marshall and Elbridge Gerry in September, 1797, was futile, he represented the United States with cool reserve. During what became known as “The XYZ Affair,” French representatives demanded money from the U.S. in an attempt to gain support against Britain. General Pinckney was quoted as replying, “No, no, not a sixpence.”
General Pinckney and his fellow envoys were recalled to the United States in May, 1798, by President Adams, after strained negotiations with the French Republic came to an impasse. Although his tenure as Minister to France might appear unsuccessful, Pinckney’s strength in refusing to be manipulated by the French demonstrated his considerable talents as a diplomat. He returned to the United States a hero. His role as a much admired South Carolinian on the international stage is a fascinating subject for study. I encourage you to seek out books in our library for further reading on the subject.

General Pinckney was president of the Charleston Library Society from 1792-1796 and from 1798-1806. Since the Pinckney/Washington letters were originally conserved in the 1970s, conservation methods have changed. Many of the valuable letters were mounted on Japanese Paper for stabilization by use of some form of paste (sometimes called laminating). Methods today are far more conservative. Thanks to the Cornwell’s grant, the Washington letters were sent to conservators at Joel Oppenheimer, Inc., where they were chemically removed from the paper on which they were mounted, glue residue was removed, paper tears were repaired, and the papers were cleaned and de-acidified.

We owe our sincere thanks to the Pinckney family for their generous donations of Pinckney documents throughout the years. Additionally, we owe a great deal of thanks to Bernard and Judy Cornwell, beloved friends of the Library Society, who generously paid for “re-conservation” of many of the letters exchanged between General Pinckney and President Washington.

Debbie Fenn
Charleston Library Society

Friday, April 12, 2013

Found it in the Archives: War and Fairy Tales

The thought of compiling a book of fairy tales from the Allied powers in 1916 as a political statement may seem a bit strange to us in today's increasingly globalized world. However, in a thinly veiled piece of propaganda, English critic Edmond Gosse put together fairy tales from eleven different nations, all allies during World War I.  A limited print edition was bound in full royal blue morocco by J.W. Zaehnsdort and has beautiful gilt titles.  Inside, English illustrator Arthur Rackham provided 12 beautiful color plates.

Gosse introduces the collection of fairy tales by stating that “All we need say more is that it has amused us to bring together forgotten specimens of the folklore of the fighting friends of humanity.” Gosse’s introduction suggests that the book was put together in “amusement,” for "friends" and nothing more. In fact, he touted that the stories were gathered for “amusement,” and the collection was even on a suggested list of children's books for Christmas by librarian Ruth Abbott in 1919. Closer scrutiny reveals a collection that is deadly serious in its intent.  Both “Jack the Giant-Killer” and “The Last Adventure of Ulenspiegel” exemplify how an old fairy tale can subtly take on political significance during historical circumstances, in this case World War I.

The presentation of the stories is distinctively nationalistic, illustrating a pride in nation, a pride that has brought forth “forgotten specimens of folklore.” Dawn Heerspink, in her article, No Man’s Land”: Fairy Tales, Gender, Socialization, Satire, and Trauma During the First and Second World Wars, speaks to fairy tales' intriguing duality and how they were used during wartime for adult-produced propaganda aimed at both children AND adults. Gosse is conscientious of this, and by defining these stories as “forgotten,” his introduction implies that the collection is recovering a part of each nation’s historical tradition. Reminding readers of a forgotten past during a tumultuous present, Gosse also illustrates the coalition of Allied parties by binding up the collection of children's stories from different nations.  

The first tale, “Jack the Giant-Killer,” presents the familiar English story of Jack, a “right valiant Cornish man" and knightly protector who could save citizens from giants intent on devouring them. The tale is set during King Arthur's reign, when medieval crusaders fought against evil.  It does not seem to be a coincidence that England, a major ally during World War I, would be presented by Jack, a hero in war. 

The last story in the collection is a Belgian fairy tale of Ulenspiegel and his wife, Nele, opening with a line that describes them as “always young, strong, and beautiful, since love and the spirit of Flanders never grow old.”  From the very beginning, Ulenspiegel and his wife are positioned to be more than just characters: The reader is told the two are “waiting for the wind of liberty to rise, after so much cruel suffering, and blow upon the land of Belgium.” Although Spain is the story's aggressor, the line could equally apply to Germany in the wartime context of 1916.

Most fairy tales being with "once upon a time." However, they are not always temporally displaced from the present to the mythical past or to an imaginative time not governed by the laws of everyday life. Sometimes, as in the case of the Allied Fairy Book, they are very much about the present and have their own social, cultural, and historical importance. 

This beautiful and historically unique book is part of a series of books from our collection that is being conserved and repaired by the Director of our Book Bindery, Brien Beidler.

Jessica Short
Cataloging Librarian
Charleston Library Society

Monday, March 18, 2013

Women's History and Conservation: Harriot Horry Ravenel

Recently, the Library Society gained ownership of a Charles Van Dyke portrait of Harriott Horry (Rutledge) Ravenel that was previously housed at the Gibbes Museum.  Finished in 1912, this painting needs your help to be fully restored!

Harriott Horry Rutledge was a talented Charleston novelist, biographer, and historian. With a sterling pedigree, she was born in 1832 to Edward Cotesworth Rutledge (1798-1860) and Rebecca Motte Lowndes (1810-1893).  Perhaps even more renowned, her maternal great-great grandparents were Eliza Lucas Pinkney (1722-1793) and Charles Pinckney (ca.1699-1738).  In 1851, she married Dr. St. Julien Ravenel, a prominent Charleston physician. In addition to her busy life as a wife and mother, Mrs. Ravenel pursued her love of literature.  She wrote a biography about her great-great grandmother, Women of Colonial and Revolutionary Times: Eliza Pinkney in 1896, followed by a novelette focused on southern history and manners called “The Days That Are Not.”  She also wrote numerous memoirs, poetry, and essays, finishing her writing career with a final piece, Charleston: The Place and the People, six years before her death in 1912.

The proposed cost of conservation for the portrait has been estimated to be $7,000 and board member Susan Friberg has generously offered a challenge gift of $3,500 if it is matched by others who would like to see the first portrait of a prominent female figure in the literary arts adorn our walls.

Help ensure this historic figure is restored by taking part in the conservation challenge!

Jessica Short
Cataloging Librarian
Charleston Library Society

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Supreme Court Justice and The Fundamental Constitution of Carolina

John Locke's The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina was a document designed to provide a governing structure for the Carolina colonies written while he was Secretary to the Lords Proprietor of Carolina.  Although there are remnants of England's feudal structure represented in The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, his progressive ideals for government liberally gave men more rights (both civil and political) as well as more property than England had previously allowed. 

During a visit to Charleston several years ago, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor expressed a desire to have a reproduction to read.  Her interest motivated the Library Society to investigate creating a facsimile, to which she agreed to write a foreword.

The Library Society received its original copy in 1833 from Robert Gilmor, Jr., a prominent Baltimore banker, merchant, and investor who was also a leading collector of art, books, and autographs. Gilmor was a Harvard graduate who traveled to Charleston in the winter of 1807. He met and married Sarah Ladson, daughter of Major James Ladson of Charleston, in April of 1807. 

In 1833 when the Library Society established an historical committee with the mission "to collect documents which would illustrate the history either of South Carolina or the United States," Robert Gilmor gave his "precious autograph of the profound Locke," to that collection. Now, 342 years after its creation and thanks to Justice O'Connor, the Library Society  has a number of limited reproductions of Locke's remarkable document available for purchase for $35.00.

Be sure to request your copy before these limited editions are gone!

Monday, February 25, 2013

William Gilmore Simms and The Cosmopolitan

Considered by Edgar Allan Poe as "the best novelist which this country has, on the whole, produced," many people know of William Gilmore Simms primarily as a novelist, but did you know he also spent a large part of his career as an editor to newspapers and magazines? He also contributed to collaborative projects, sometimes under such anonymity that we are lucky to know his involvement.  One such project is The Cosmopolitan: An Occasional, which is housed by only three libraries in the entire United States, and the Charleston Library Society is one of them!

Published in May of 1833, just eight years after Simms made his editorial debut as part of the "Society of Young Gentlemen," The Cosmopolitan is a 2 volume publication that includes an introduction and four short stories in the first volume and a brief introduction and six short stories in the second volume.  It is believed that most of the short stories in the second volume are entirely by Simms. Diverging themselves from their gentlemanly obligations, the two volumes represent a small literary coterie participating in "the outpouring of a gentleman's leisure" with whimsical, thoughtful, and sometimes surreal story telling of everything from Revolutionary War tales to fairies.

Originally, the Cosmopolitan was published anonymously, by "Three Bachelors," and just who deserves credit for contributing has been a subject of some debate. According to John C. Guilds, Jr., Simms published the Cosmopolitan with the Carroll brothers from Charleston and it was the second time he had used this type of "club mechanism" , the first being eight years before when he was just coming into the publishing business.

The William Gilmore Simms Initiative based out of the University of South Carolina, is making massive headway into digitizing all things William Gilmore Simms, and making them accessible for researchers and educators. The Cosmopolitan has now made its way to this largest single author online archive and can be viewed here.

So if you feel inclined to escape the tediousness of the day and "assert the value and charms of the science and letters," then please browse through Simms and his fellows' "little melange."