Closing Out the Cruelest Month

I don’t know about all of you, especially if you’re reading this in Australia, but I’m pretty darn excited that it’s finally spring.

The flowering trees here in Providence are really doing their thing.

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Illustration from Les roses: peintes par P.J. Redoute, decrites et classees selon leur ordre naturel par C.A. Thory (Paris, 1835). Yes, I know that a rose is not technically a flowering tree.

People are throwing open their windows and doors, and flooding out onto the sidewalks.

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Frontispiece from James Thomson’s The seasons: containing, spring. summer. fall. winter (Philadelphia, 1795).

Baby animals are being small and hilarious.

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Nothing to do with Special Collections, everything to do with ducklings in ramekins, via GIPHY.

People are sweeping off their driveways, painting their fences, and pressing seeds into the ground. Here’s a 100% accurate description of me in my garden, courtesy of Henry Ward Beecher’s 1857 Plain and pleasant talk about fruits, flowers, and farming:

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When the winter lets us out, and we are exhilarated with fresh air, singing birds, bland weather, and newly-spring vegetation, our ambition is to lay out too much work. We began with an acre, in garden… By reference to a Garden Journal (every man should keep one), we find that we planted in 1840, sixteen kinds of peas; seventeen kinds of beans; seven kinds of corn; six kinds of squash; eight kinds of cabbage; seven kinds of lettuce; eight sorts of cucumber, and seven of turnips… Although we worked faithfully, early and late, through the whole season, the weeds beat us fairly.

You shall not discourage me, Henry Ward Beecher! I’m planting fifteen more kinds of peas as soon as I get home from work today.

Enjoy the warm(er) weather, dear readers, stop by Special Collections to look at historical field guides to flowers and sea shells, and stay tuned for a blog post on the most questionably-themed historical children’s book we’ve seen to date.

A Creative Fellow

If you regularly check the library’s facebook page or other social media, you may already know about Special Collections’ 2016 Creative Fellow, the inimitable Walker Mettling. Walker is working with our collections for the duration of Portals, and is using his fellowship as an opportunity to create new illustrated work related to the exhibition’s theme. Stay tuned for details on where and when you can see some of his fantastical creations!

In the meantime, here are photos of Walker reading a comics newspaper that he printed on a risograph, inspired by the large-scale format of 1860s issues of the Providence Journal that he read in PPL’s Special Collections.

 

A Christmas Present from Japan

This is a long overdue post about a terrific gift we received in early January.Japanese specimens

Big thanks to Akira Yoshino and Taro Yumiba (and others) who sent in a cache of great 20th-century Japanese type specimen books and ephemera. If you’re interested in taking a look, stop in during our open hours, or set up an appointment to visit.

 

Art//Archives Open Hours: Today and Tomorrow

Just a reminder: Special Collections has open hours every Tuesday from 10:00 – 1:00, and every Wednesday from 3:00 – 7:00. You can stop by to browse a selection of items set up in the Reading Room, or you can request items related to a topic of interest. (Have you been wanting to look at children’s books illustrated with woodcuts, or diagrams of early 20th century plumbing systems? This is a great opportunity!)

Images above, clockwise from upper left: “Sheet metal shoe for advertising” from Metal Worker, Plumber, and Steam Fitter (October 22, 1915); Kutroff, Pickhardt, and Co. advertisement with fabric samples from Textile Colorist (47.561, September 1925); “United States Weather Bureau” from Peerless Paris and Its Marvelous Universal Exhibition (Philadelphia: Universal Expo Publishing Company, 1900); “Sea Urchins and Starfish” from Research Design in Nature (Chicago: John Gilbert Wilkins, 1931).

We’re located on the 3rd floor of the Providence Public Library, at the top of the marble staircase. We’re also open by appointment; just give us a call or send us an email!

Bad Children of History #24: Ransacked by Rufus

Readers will be unsurprised to learn that a fine source of historical bad children is the 1864 book Frank and Rufus; or, Obedience and Disobedience. (I was hoping for an old-fashioned version of Goofus and Gallant, but alas, it’s not really like that at all.) Its author, Catharine M. Trowbridge, also wrote the 1867 book Charles Norwood; or, Erring and Repenting, which sounds to me like Frank and Rufus was so good that she wrote the same thing again, but with a different main character.

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Anyway, one of the stars of this book is the young Rufus Dean. He’s a sweet boy with lots of friends, although his impish constitution sometimes leads him down misguided paths.

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Here’s Rufus slyly pocketing a dime and a half-dime that his mother left on the windowsill. Why would such a sweet boy do such a thing, taking what Trowbridge calls “a very formidable step in the downward path”? The author explains that “he had repeatedly yielded, when tempted, to disobedience and deceit; and in this way, had greatly weakened his moral power to resist temptation.”

What happens to a boy with weakened moral power? I didn’t  read all 280 pages to find the details, but I can tell you that Rufus becomes a drunk and disgraces his family name, and that his sister, when grown, even refuses to name her first-born son after him, as the name Rufus is “tarnished”. Frank, on the other hand, having learned obedience, becomes someone whose “fellow citizens honored and trusted him” and whose “faithful and judicious mother found in him the support and joy of her old age.”

Take note, dear readers: don’t steal 15 cents, or the situation may snowball until your mother looks wan, your sister hates you, and you’re forced to seek “relief in the stimulus of the wine-cup”.

 

RI Photographs, hot off the digital press!

Thanks to our Digital Projects Manager and some very speedy scanning technicians, we’ve uploaded our first big batch of Rhode Island photographs to the Providence Public Library’s digital library!

These photos, from our Rhode Island Photograph Collection, show places from Glocester to Newport (with plenty of Providence); there are Vanderbilts and tradesmen, Ida Lewis and her dog, and people testing out early airplanes.

The images can be browsed, or can be searched by creator, subject, keyword, or date. Stay tuned for many more images of Rhode Island’s past as we continue with our digitization process!

Impeccable Science: Flannel Frippery and Blasting the Blooming Complexion

Today’s impeccable science is drawn from the 1851 Buchan’s Domestic Medicine: or The Family Physician, a book that is a fantastic mix of sound advice, terrifying recommendations, gruesome descriptions of 19th century afflictions, and fanciful language.

The book’s segment on sleep and clothing appears near the beginning of the book, as proper attention to both (alongside aliment, air, and exercise) is a crucial element of good health. Buchan begins by counseling readers that “too little sleep weakens the nerves, exhausts the spirits, and occasions diseases; and too much renders the mind dull, the body gross, and disposes it to apoplexies, lethargies, and such like.”

Who wants weak nerves and a gross body? Not me! Probably not you! Thus, take note: “For adults six or seven hours is certainly sufficient,” counsels Buchan, “and no one ought to exceed eight.” And if one does sleep more than eight hours? “The indolent custom of lolling abed for nine or ten hours not only makes the sleep less refreshing, but relaxes the nerves, and greatly weakens the constitution.”

Ok, so less sleep is better, as long as it’s not too little sleep. But when should we sleep?

Nature points out night as the proper season for sleep. Nothing more certainly destroys the constitution than night-watching. It is great pity that a practice so destructive to health should be so much in fashion. How quickly the want of rest in due season will blast the most blooming complexion, or ruin the best constitution, is evident from the ghastly countenances of those who, as the phrase is, turn day into night, and night into day.

Oof, who wants a ghastly countenance? Definitely not me! I should sleep at night! And I should arise early in the morning, at least according to Buchan, for “surely the fore-part of the day is fitter both for business and amusement. I hardly ever knew an early riser who did not enjoy a good state of health.”

These recommendations, mind you, sound solid to me, so I’m inclined to heed Buchan’s following suggestions on clothing. He derides the corset, disparages the too-tight shoe, and scorns young men who wear flannel.

Flannel indeed is now worn by almost every young fellow. This custom is extremely preposterous. It not only makes them weak and effeminate, but renders flannel less useful at a time of life when it becomes more necessary. No young person ought to wear flannel, unless… some… disease renders it necessary.

Well! Avoid flannel! And while you’re at it, remember these wise words: “Finery is only the affectation of dress, and very often covers a great deal of dirt.”