Bad Children of History #13: All the World’s a Stage (for Badness)

With all the grumbling about “kids these days”, one has to wonder: are kids worse now? Was there a golden age when children were well-behaved and sweet? How long ago was that? Maybe 500 years? What were children like in the 16th century?

I know who can tell us: Shakespeare. Take a look at this monologue from As You Like It:


Old Will, describing the “seven ages” of man, begins with the infant, “mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms”, followed by “the whining school-boy, with his satchel, and shining morning face, creeping like snail unwillingly to school”. (If you keep reading, you can see that Shakespeare is a firm believer not just in bad children of history, but also in bad young men, hotheaded soldiers, annoying middle-aged guys, and helpless senior citizens.)

Shakespeare’s seven ages of man have inspired countless artworks, including a series of paintings by Robert Smirke, a totem-pole-like sculpture in London, a chaotic painting by William Mulready, and a woodcut by Rockwell Kent. They also inspired a series of colored lithographs by Henry Thomas Alken, printed in 1824 and released in book form.


The first print in Alken’s book is a beautiful representation of the innocence of early childhood:


Look at that smart little child methodically disassembling a doll! Look at the welcoming chaos of enriching reading material strewn about on the floor! Look at that energetic baby developing his motor skills, and that little boy getting his hair styled while his mother gives him some serious side-eye! Delightful, I tell you.

Alken shows an equally appealing scene of the next stage of childhood, when children begin to gain some independence and roam about the countryside unsupervised.


Here you can see a very young Uncle Sam carrying a sack and a chalkboard across a bridge. He’s maintained the inquisitive nature of early childhood, gazing thoughtfully at the water below him where a young scallywag and a shepherd without pants are rushing toward an unidentifiable swimming animal. (Is that a nutria? Is it about to get raked with some twigs? Why is the shepherd rushing from the river’s right bank while his pants are heaped on the opposite shore? What is that weird-looking tree to the left of the picture?)

I can’t actually confirm the badness of the children pictured above, aside from the fact that two of them are carrying big sticks and definitely don’t seem to be headed to school, “creeping like snail” or otherwise. But, hey, at least they’ve moved on from “mewling and puking”, am I right?


More History on the Internet

if there’s one thing more frustrating than interesting manuscripts hiding away with no way for researchers to find them, it’s when those manuscripts are also being stored in acidic folders and boxes, slowly self-destructing.

That was the case with the Arnold Autograph Collection until Stephanie Knott, a library student at the University of Rhode Island, arrived at the beginning of this semester and set to work on the collection. The Arnold Autograph Collection is a miscellaneous group of about 150 manuscript items (not to be confused with this nasty kind of autograph collection). They focus mostly on Rhode Island history, going back all the way to the 1600s and including items relating to the American Revolution, a bill of sale for a slave, and the deed to a pew.

In addition to moving items to new acid-free folders and boxes and creating an online collection guide, Stephanie has scanned the entire collection, and created an online exhibition focusing on a dozen items. The collection as a whole should be online in 2014.

Historic Book Person of the Week #22-262: Everybody Else

For over a year now, we’ve been offering a regular series of portraits of members of the book trade. Today’s post is a little different, because now we’re giving you access to hundreds of images of printers, booksellers, bookbinders, etc. through a new online resource: The Updike Collection Book Trade Portraits Database (beta).



This collection of over 500 portraits (of more than 250 members of the book trade) resides in four large binders in our Daniel Berkeley Updike Collection, and now it resides digitally online at . You can search and browse in a number of different ways, or just pick a random portrait and see who turns up. And you can get a printed broadside depicting some of the all-stars of the book world to hang on your wall if you so choose.

One important note: This is very much a work in progress, so there’s still a lot of proofreading and tweaking to do. Please send suggestions, or a note about the errors you’re inevitably going to come across to

Thanks to Rick Ring, Janaya Kizzie, Robin Camille Davis and Zachary Lewis, who began work on the project a long while back.

Historic Book Person of the Week #20: Abel Roper and Edward King

Roper and King

This is a very strange portrait. It depicts two individuals (off-center and not filling the frame): Abel Roper (who published a newspaper called the Post Boy starting in 1695) and his nephew and assistant Edward King. Roper’s publications tended to make people angry (apparently angry enough to pull off his wig and beat him).

The curious emblem at the bottom of the print depicts a pillory and what appears to be another form of punishment device (leave a note in the comments if you know its proper name) with pages nailed to the bars. And the motto (“Nec lex est justior ulla”) is an abbreviated and modified form of a passage by Ovid that translates as “There is no law more just than that the plotters of death should perish by their own designs.” Often connected in biblical commentaries with Haman’s execution on the gallows he had originally built for his enemies, the lines point to the irony of being destroyed by your own schemes. Used here, beneath the portrait of a man well-known for using print as a political weapon, is it an indication that this was a hostile depiction?


Karen Holland: “The Hero of the Siege of Londonderry, 1698?”

Join us this Thursday evening at PPL for a lecture by Karen Holland, a professor in the History Department at Providence College. Dr. Holland will be discussing her research using our Williams & Potter Collection on Irish Literature and Culture. In particular, she’s been researching the Siege of Derry in 1689 and the way participants (particularly George Walker) used their accounts of the events to burnish their own reputations.

Date: Thursday, February 21st
Time: 7:00-8:15 PM
Location: The newly-renovated Ship Room on Level 1 of the Library
Click for more information.

Here’s the title page of our copy of Walker’s account:

Account of the Siege of London-Derry


And a particularly grim passage listing the prices for various “food” items when the siege was at its height:

Prices for meat



The Updike Autograph Collection Is Now Open For Use

(The following post is contributed by Ramon Cartwright, a RISD graduate and one of our fantastic volunteers. Ramon recently finished processing a collection of over 800 important and wide-ranging manuscript items. Items from the collection have been mentioned on this blog before (here, here, here and here, for instance) but this is the first time the collection has been fully listed online. Upcoming posts will highlight other items from the collection and conservation efforts to preserve it.)

The processing of the Daniel Berkeley Updike Autograph Collection has been completed. Although there is evidence that the collection was initially comprised of New England names, the collection has now grown to reflect a more diverse grouping. A selection of the material, much of which had been culled from the correspondence and papers of Wilkins Updike, includes the names of men involved in politics. Eleven presidential signatures are included in the collection. Also included within the miscellany is a letter from Edgar Rice Burroughs, a poetic excerpt from Sarah Helen Whitman, and a series of fervid letters from a Union soldier to his parents.

During the processing of the Daniel Berkeley Updike Autograph Collection I encountered a 12 page manuscript by Agnes Repplier (1855-1950), titled “What Pessimism Is.” Repplier was a Philadelphia born essayist, biographer and occasional poet published regularly within the pages of The Atlantic Monthly. Her numerous essays were also published in Life, Harper’s, Monthly Magazine, The New Republic, McClure’s, and The Yale Review. “What Pessimism Is” expands upon and clarifies Repplier’s criticism of the poetry of Robert Browning. In an earlier analysis, also published in The Atlantic Monthly, Repplier had classified Browning’s poetry as “of the pessimistic order.” A controversy ensued. Browning enthusiasts found fault with the criticism and surmised that Repplier had failed to grasp Browning’s meaning. “What Pessimism Is,” offers her defense of the initial appraisal using examples of the poet’s works. The essay was published in The Atlantic Monthly Vol. LXII, 1888. Below the reader will find the first four pages of the manuscript. The pages illuminate the background to the article’s origin. Her wit and erudition, for which she had been known, are evinced in these first few pages.

Also included in the Updike Autograph Collection is a leaf from Henry David Thoreau’s essay “October, or Autumnal Tints.”  Originally published in the October 1862 Atlantic Monthly, the essay offers Thoreau’s extended meditation on the changing color of New England autumnal foliage. Among the tints that Thoreau focuses upon, the reader will find poetic descriptions of Sarsaparilla, Pokeweed, Red Maple, the Elm, Scarlet Oak, and more. The brief explication on each tint is presented in the order in which the brightest colors are displayed. The manuscript focuses on ripeness, as it is evinced in the brighter hue flowers assume prior to falling. The extract includes passages that were later revised prior to publication.  The leaf is float mounted on an 8 3/4 x 10 1/4 sheet of paper.

Irish Linen, Hemp and Rebellion

Another new acquisition post in place of the Wednesday portrait, this time highlighting two items recently purchased for our Williams & Potter Memorial Collection on Irish Culture.

First, the Precedents and Abstracts from the Journals of the Trustees of the Linen and Hempen Manufactures of Ireland…, published in Dublin in 1784.

It offers a view of the organization overseeing linen and hemp production in London from 1711 to 1783, as they grappled with issues like workhouse conditions.

Second, The Petition of Sir Philomy Oneale Knight, Generall of the Rebels in Ireland… (London: Printed by T.F. for John Thomas, [1642]).

Felim O’Neill helped lead one of the 17th-century Irish rebellions and was eventually captured by Cromwell’s forces and executed. An unsympathetic 19th-century historian related a story designed to show O’Neill’s pretensions in the worst light:

It was reported that … the English captured sir Phelim O’Neill’s private trunk, and that they found in it a crown with which the ambitious chieftain had already caused himself privately to be installed prince of Ulster.*

But Felim’s hopes for glory were crushed in large part by the arrival of another O’Neill, Owen, who was chosen leader of the northern armies in place of Felim.

One of the most notable and notorious aspects of Felim O’Neill’s role in the uprising was the level of brutality it entailed.. The “Petition” is a brief pamphlet intended to clear O’Neill’ and his army of charges–printed in “divers false Papers and Pamphlets” — that they were guilty of “dismembering, dis-joynting, ripping up Women with Child, and sleying of Infants….”

Small, cheap, poorly-printed pamphlets like this one (and the title page image above offers plenty of examples of sloppiness) flew back and forth during the 17th-century.This one appears not to have even been a legitimate statement from O’Neill, but rather “a hoax,” according to entry for O’Neill in the Dictionary of National Biography.

The only other copies in US libraries appear to be located at the Huntington Library and Yale’s Beinecke library. In addition to this account, the Williams & Potter Collection includes a number of other 17th-century pamphlets relating to issues in Ireland.

* Thomas Wright, The History of Ireland (London: Tallis, [c. 1854]), p. 708.

Historic Book Person of the Week #6: John Ogilby


John Ogilby: author, translator, publisher and, among other things, one time Master of the Revels in Ireland. According to the Dictionary of Booksellers and Printers, 1641-1667, “Ogilby spared no cost in the production of his books, which were printed by the best men, with the best type, and on the best paper procurable, with illustrations drawn and engraved by the first artists and engravers in the period… To facilitate the sale of his books Ogilby was allowed to establish a lottery in which all the prizes were his own works.”