Bad Children of History #27: George Graceless

Oh hooray, it’s time for another installment of Bad Children of History! Today’s bad child is culled from a book with a true emotional rollercoaster of a title:

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Melancholy! Intrigue! Danger! A little white horse! This wee book is undated, but was probably printed around 1820.

As the saga unfolds, the reader is introduced to good children with names like Kitty Kindness, Billy Meanwell, Sammy Sober, Bobby Bright, and Tommy Telltruth. (King Pippin himself is actually Peter Pippin, the King of the Good Boys.) YAWN.

The tension builds as we meet a gaggle of ne’er-do-wells with equally alliterative and terrible names such as Harry Harmless, George Graceless, and Tom Tiger.

It’s clear that trouble is brewing when the bell rings to return to school, the Good Boys race to see who can get to the schoolhouse first, and the Wicked Boys stroll into the woods with the express purpose of destroying birds’ nests.

After tearing down innumerable nests, including that of a robin who was left “making such piteous moans, as would have melted a heart of stone”, George Graceless scales a “great high tree” to reach the nest of a turtle dove. What happens to a wicked boy who climbs a great high tree?

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You guessed it! He plunges head-first into a narrow but apparently very deep river while one friend reaches out a tentative finger and another takes a picture with his iPhone!

Oh save me, save me, I shall be drowned; oh, that I had attended to the good advice of Little King Pippin, cried he, and with these words, down he went to the bottom, and was never seen more; the rest of his companions began now to see the folly and wickedness of neglecting their books for idle mischief; and heartily repented that they had not staid at school instead of playing truant.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I heartily repent, I usually head back out of the woods, but this questionable quartet is filled with dread and decides to “stroll about” until it becomes “quite dark”. (Cue scary violin music!)

They fall asleep under some bushes, which seems like a good idea, until:

in less than an hour, they were awakened with such terrible howlings of wild beasts as was scarce ever heard, tigers, wolves, and lions, hunting for their prey, with eyes that glared like balls of fire, rushed by them every instant.

Amidst this impressive biodiversity, Harry Harmless falls to his knees to pray, whilst his companions, who have never even bothered to learn any prayers, are quickly devoured by two monstrous lions.

Not that the title gave it away or anything, but the next morning, a pretty little white horse awakes Harry Harmless with her neighs. He climbs into her mysteriously unpopulated saddle and is promptly delivered to his home.

Bad Children of History #26: Naughty Newsboys

Our latest bad children of history, from Ned Nevins, the News-boy; or, Street Life in Boston (1867), have instigated a snow ball riot, pelting unfortunate adults before the police arrive to calm the fray.

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The accompanying text is terrific:

Now some ladies and gentlemen pass the crowd to enter the building; when, plump, plump, plump, the snowballs strike against the door before them, and dash into their faces. “Oh dear! they are killing me; I am all covered with snow; open the door, let me in; I shall die!” cries one lady, leading half a dozen others, who are muttering the same complaint. “Oh the rascals! they ought to be hung,” cries another: “they have spoiled my new bonnet.” Still another, “Oh dear! the snow is running down my neck. Oh! my bosom is full of snow.”

Lest one fear that author Henry Morgan, P.M.P. (Poor Man’s Preacher) reserved all of his contempt for the haughty upper classes, he immediately begins a (fictional-version-of-him)self-congratulatory screed about the problems of immigrants.

Rev. R. C. Waterston rose to speak. He started night schools in Boston, thirty years ago. What a change in thirty years! Whole streets and neighborhoods have given way to the foreign population; ancient land-marks are fast disappearing; Puritanism is becoming a thing of the past. America’s destiny rests on the tide-wave of foreign immigration: the problem of her future is involved in these boys. Now is the time to solve the question,–shall they overwhelm us? or shall we Americanize them?

Most of them are Catholics, averse to free schools and American ideas. Puritan principles are an offence unto them: their watchword is, “Papacy and Democracy.”

How… complicated. Who was this poor man’s preacher with such a deep commitment to immigrants and such a strong disdain for Catholicism?

Henry Morgan, according to my research, was a well-known preacher and social reformer. After the Methodist Church repeatedly refused to approve him for ordination, he moved to Boston in 1859, where he created his own denomination and began preaching in the Boston Music Hall. Morgan was soon drawing crowds with his powerful and theatrical oration. By May of that year, he had founded the Boston Union Mission Society in the South End, offering night classes to newsboys who couldn’t attend school during the day.

Based on his experiences preaching to and teaching Boston’s working immigrants, Morgan wrote Ned Nevins, the News Boy: or, Street Life in Boston in 1867. The book was so popular that it went through four editions in the months after its first publication. (You can find a scathingly sarcastic review, including such gems as “There is no ignorance in Boston. Everybody knows something about everything, there are a good many who know everything about something, and a few of the very first chop who know everything about everything” in The Round Table no. 140 from September 28, 1867. It’s truly superb. “We are puzzled to conceive how one would go about flattering a Bostonian.”)

You can read more about Henry Morgan in Benjamin Hartley’s book Evangelicals at a Crossroads: Revivalism and Social Reform in Boston, 1860-1910.

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If you’re stumped for a topic for an academic paper, may I suggest a critical analysis of the post-snowball-riot chapter in this book entitled “Creatures in the Coal-Dump”? In this chapter, Ned goes coal-picking at the dump to repay the kindness of a woman who cared for him while he was sick. A rich woman’s African American “contraband cook”, seeking Ned, finds him here among “vagrants [who] are among the lowest classes of mamifferous species… the lowest, debased, most abject specimens of depraved humanity that ever swept on the tide-wave of foreign emigration.” (No, Henry Morgan, tell us what you really think!)

The cook, Dinah, complains that the trash-pickers are able-bodied and ought to find jobs, for slaves have enough self-respect not to do such degrading and dirty work.

“See that udder woman, scratchin’ and pawin’ in de dirt, just as if she lubbed it. Show me a slabe dat would do dat, heh? See dat great strong man, dat great lazy lubber! what he do here? Why ain’t he to work? He could earn a heap ob money. He be right in de prime ob life; an’ dar he be pickin’ leetle bits ob coal… if a nigger down Souf be idle an’ lazy like dese folks, massa sell him to de fust buyer.”

I couldn’t begin to untangle the complex logic, societal values, loaded attitudes, and Reconstruction-era politics that are at work in this mind-boggling chapter, but I do encourage readers to seek it out in its entirety on the Internet Archive or by visiting us in person.

 

 

Now on Exhibit: Portals art!

While the Portals exhibition (February – June 2016) showcased historical items describing imagined futures, local artists were hard at work researching in Special Collections and creating derivative art, both through programming at the library and in their own studios.

We’re lucky to have our exhibit cases jam-packed with selections of this Portals art, on view at the library now through August 15th!

Left to right: miniature dress and headdress created by teens in RISD CE fashion classes at the library; 18th century French funeral invitation from the Barrois Collection of Funeral Invitations, alongside a candle by Burke & Hare Co.; drafts, color separations, and layout notes from the Special Collections-themed issue of The Providence Sunday Wipeout.

The exhibit includes illustrations, song lyrics, candles, comics, letterpress prints, short stories, headdresses, and clothing designs by Rhode Island artists including Walker Mettling, Mickey Zacchilli, Brian Whitney, Dan Wood, Caitlin Cali, Guy-Maly Pierre, Dailen Williams, Jim Frain, Joe DeGeorge, Veronica Santos, Burke & Hare Co., Jeremy Ferris, Keegan Bonds-Harmon, and many teen fashion designers.

New creative works are displayed alongside the historical items that inspired them, including Maukisch’s Das Jagen, Fangen, Zähmen und Abrichten der Thiere (1837), The Necropolis of Ancón in Peru (circa 1880), design classic The Grammar of Ornament (1856), Academie Universelle des Jeux (1824) (from the Haynes Checkers Collection), Rational Recreations (1794), and other gems from the stacks.

Some of these artists’ original items are available for sale. (The library doesn’t receive any proceeds from these sales, but we are thrilled to support local businesses and Rhode Island artists!) You can purchase Burke & Hare Co’s Horace B. Knowles candle here, or their Repose en Paix candle here. To get a copy of the Special Collections-themed issue of The Providence Sunday Wipeout comics newspaper, visit Ada Books in Providence or contact Special Collections!

Bad Children(‘s Books) of History #25: Folly of the Beasts of the Earth

Special Collections has recently acquired an eye-popping addition to our Whaling Collection: Das Jagen, Fangen, Zähmen und Abrichten der Thiere, a 19th century German children’s  book about hunting animals. (The title translates as “The Hunting, Catching, Taming and Dressing of Animals”.)

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The book’s frontispiece shows a spectacular, full-color whale-hunting scene, complete with befuddled walrus, spectator seagulls, and a very morose whale with a baleen mustache.

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(Let’s pretend those dual arches are an exaggerated version of the southern right whale’s “characteristic double spout“, and/or that the sad whale is blocking our view of a smaller, simultaneously-spouting cetacean.)

This generally text-heavy book contains five plates, each of which bears nine tiny engravings. (I don’t recommend scrolling through the following section of engravings if you are 1) a small child, despite the fact that this is a children’s book, or 2) of a delicate constitution.)

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The engravings, as you’ve likely gathered from the above, exhibit all manner of grisly ways in which humans kill other animals (some of which I consider anthropologically suspect, but I’m not a hunting expert).

For instance, there’s the old “bear impaled on a spiky board” trick:

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There’s also the “scaring seals with weird faces over a grassy cliff onto curved spikes”  approach:

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And, lest we forget, the “whipping birds while mounted upon a galloping horse” technique:

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The digitized book can be viewed in its entirety online, either here or here. If you do look over the digital version (or come to Special Collections to view our copy in person), I challenge you to find the engraving of the sneaky person hunting reindeer while dressed in a reindeer suit. Really.

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”.

 

My Medicinal Valentine

In our great enthusiasm for all things Valentine’s Day, we’d like to offer you this sensible yet romantic 19th century medical meditation on the nature of love.

It’s drawn from an 1851 edition of Buchan’s Domestic Medicine: Or the Family Physician. (I’m pleased that this volume contains an entire section on “The Passions”.)

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Love is perhaps the strongest of all the passions: at least, when it becomes violent, it is less subject to the control either of the understanding or will than any of the rest. Fear, anger, and several other passions, are necessary for the preservation of the individual, but love is necessary for the continuation of the species itself. It was therefore proper that this passion should be deeply rooted in the human breast.

Though love be a strong passion, it is seldom so rapid in its progress as several of the others. Few persons fall desperately in love all at once. We would therefore advise every one, before he tampers with this passion, to consider well the probability of his being able to obtain the object of his love. When that is not likely, he should avoid every occasion of increasing it. He ought immediately to fly the company of the beloved object; to apply his mind attentively to business or study; to take every kind of amusement; and, above all, to endeavor, if possible, to find another object which may engage his affections, and which it may be in his power to obtain.

When love becomes a disease, it is not easily cured. Its consequences, in this case, are often so violent, that even the possession of the beloved object will not always remove them. It is therefore of the greatest importance early to guard against its influence; but when the passion has already taken too deep hold of the mind to admit of being eradicated, the beloved object ought if possible to be obtained; nor should this be deferred for every trifling cause. Those who have the disposal of young persons in marriage are too ready to trifle with the passion of love; such, for the most sordid considerations, frequently sacrifice the future health, peace or happiness of those committed to their care.

Art//Archives: An Avian Extravaganza

Today’s visual research open hours (Tuesdays, 10:00 – 1:00) offer you an avian extravaganza, an ornithological assemblage, a great number of illustrated birds!

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This lovely, bespectacled fellow hails from E. Donovan’s 1794 The Natural History of British Birds; Or, a Selection of the Most Rare, Beautiful, and Interesting Birds Which Inhabit This Country: The Descriptions from the Systema Naturae of Linnaeus; With General Observations, Either Original, or Collected From the Latest and Most Esteemed English Ornithologists; and Embellished with Figures, Drawn, Engraved, and Coloured from the Original Specimens. (Say that five times fast!)

Today’s visitors also can page through this book on “cage and chamber-birds”. It includes information on “their natural history, habits, food, diseases, management, and modes of capture”. (A researcher yesterday deemed this book “kind of awesome and kind of a bummer,” which I find to be entirely accurate.)

Studer’s Popular Ornithology, published in 1881, has beautiful, large-scale, color illustrations of birds, as well as a spectacular title page. (Does the “A” in the word “America” look vaguely masonic to anyone else?)

Stop by to spend some time with these books today, or contact us to make an appointment with these feathered friends.