Bad Children of History #19: Troublesome Tom

The protagonist of today’s featured book was practically made to be a bad child of history. Yes, I’m talking about Troublesome Tom, the resident scamp in The Mischievous Boy; a Tale of Tricks and Troubles (New Haven: S. Babcock, 1844).

The book opens with a fantastic letter to the reader from author Thomas Teller (a pseudonym for George Tuttle), who wrote an entire series of “amusing instructive and entertaining tales” called Teller’s Tales:

My dear little friends: This tale of a “Mischievous Boy” was written to show you the trouble which you may occasion yourselves and friends by indulging in acts of disobedience and mischief. You all know that what is often called FUN, sometimes turns out to be a bad scrape; perhaps some of you have learned this by experience. Now, whenever any of you are tempted to seek amusement in any thing which you are not sure is wholly innocent, turn from it at once, however great the temptation may be, and my word for it, you will enjoy more real pleasure than if you suffer yourselves to be enticed into any wrong doing.

The book then proceeds to relate a very, very extensive series of “bad scrapes” on the part of Troublesome Tom, including but not limited to: busting into a neighbor’s garden and accidentally letting in a sow and piglets who trample the flowers, bringing the genteel Miss Betsy near a beehive and then shaking the hive and running away, giving bad directions to a woman driving a cow, throwing a “large wooden peg” at a barking dog, and fishing in a forbidden location “nearby a resort for a gang of smugglers”.

Below is an engraving showing Tom with the rogue swine, right before he starts hitting them with a stick in an attempt to drive them out of the neighbor’s garden:


Here’s a truly classic bad-kid move (and one that I vividly remember my older neighbors pulling on me many decades ago):


Tom determined to have what he called a little fun, by putting the boy in the saddle, and then rocking the horse furiously, while he laughed at the fears of poor John, and cried out, “whoop! whoop! gallop! gallop! gee! whoa!” The little boy in vain cried, “Oh stop! Oh stop! pray stop!”– but Tom did not choose to hear him, nor to stop his fun; he kept on rocking still more furiously, and the wooden horse was at length thrown forward with such violence, that  little John pitched over its head, and striking his face upon the hard ground, was most cruelly bruised.

You may wonder why Tom himself is nowhere to be seen in the above engraving– it’s because he proceeds to pull the most classic bad kid move, by running away from the scene of the crime, only to return at dinner time to report that “he had left the hall just before John had fallen”.


So far these escapades have been highly entertaining, but not entirely instructive. Is Tom going to learn his lesson? (Hint: of course!)

Yes, Tom is, in quick succession, scolded by Short Sam’s father, chased by a pack of boys whose sport he had spoiled, and whisked downstream on a stolen escape boat that quickly approaches the sea. After a daring landing on a far-away river bank, Tom attempts to walk home through the rapidly darkening forest, where he has his bad child moment of reckoning.

“Weeping piteously”, he hears a rumbling and rustling sound that he fears is a bear. He runs about madly, slipping on loose stones, “stumbling over sand-heaps”, and losing the trail entirely. Caught in a terrible storm as midnight approaches,

then came the wish that he was a better boy, that God would give him a new heart, and make him his own child; and the poor boy wept and sobbed bitterly, for he was now fully conscious of what a bad boy he had been… he knelt down on the wet ground and prayed for safety and relief.

His prayers answered in due time, Tom falls asleep on a pile of hay in a tool shed, where he is discovered by his fretful father the next morning. Relieved, Tom’s father carries the reformed scamp home to his family’s loving embrace.

Acting Black: Exhibition, Opening, and Press

Our newest exhibition, “Acting Black: Black Performing Arts in RI since the 1700s”, guest curated by Robb Dimmick, explores the roles played by Black musicians, actors and actresses, models, writers, storytellers, poets, and dancers.

This past weekend the Providence Journal published an article about the exhibit, including a series of beautiful photos.

An opening reception will be held at the library tonight, October 19th, 2015, from 5 – 6:30 p.m. Please join us if you are in the area!

Magician of the Week #38: T. Nelson Downs, the Mystic Wonder

This week’s star magician is T. Nelson Downs, who was both a Mystic Wonder and a Celebrated Prestidigitateur.


The image above is an advertisement from the back pages of Will Goldston’s Secrets of Magic (London: A. W. Gamage, 1903).

Downs was a highly successful self-taught magician, performing in well-known venues across the United States and Europe and prestidigitating (is that a verb?) for royalty. Because of his many well-known and elaborate coin tricks–illustrated by the spooky disembodied hands above–he was known as “The King of Koins”, an epithet that is engraved on his tombstone.

Also, and this seems too good to be true: T. Nelson Downs had two wives over the course of his 71 years, one named Nellie Stone and one named Harriett Rocky.

The internet archive has a digitized version of Downs’s The Art of Magicand Brown University’s Library houses the T. Nelson Downs Collection, which includes correspondence, documentation of tricks, photos, programs, and advertisements.

Valerie Lester discusses Giambattista Bodoni: His Life and His World

Remember this guy?:


It’s been a year and a half since we celebrated Giambattista Bodoni and the 200th anniversary of his death. In all those years, no one has written a full-length English biography of the great printer and type designer – until now.

Join us at 6:00pm on Wednesday, October 7th for a lecture by Valerie Lester, whose biography of Bodoni is being published this month. Copies of the book will be available for purchase, and refreshments will be served. We’ll also have a selection of items from our collections of Bodoniana on display.

Bad Children of History #18: Jack Hall, Masked Bandit

Today’s brief update highlights wayward youth from Robert Grant’s 1888 book Jack Hall, or the School Days of an American Boy.

The book’s illustrator, F. G. Attwood, created the below likeness of some school boys, including the eponymous Jack Hall, who are obviously, blatantly up to no good:


Cigarettes! A variety of casual yet dashing hats! Big mugs! Knives stuck in the table!

These masked marauders are members of “Big Four”, a secret society of fourth-class boys who expressed their “vitality” through hijinks such as “the pilfering of neighborhood hen-roosts, the sealing up of the lock of the schoolroom door, [and] the firing of a tar-barrel in front of the Doctor’s very window”. A later illustration also shows them executing a daring, late-night escape involving a basket and a rope. Dreadful!

Bad Children of History #17: The Web of Lies

Today’s Bad Child of History gets himself into a fine mess due to a nest of blackbird chicks. His name is Henry, and he hails from a tiny 1812 volume published in Philadelphia.

(That second photo isn’t blurry; the printing is slightly off and the text itself is fuzzy.)

As for Henry’s troubles: he and his closest friend, George, discover a nest of blackbirds, which they check on frequently. One day, overcome by a sudden terrible urge, Henry picks up the nest for himself and carries it out of the woods, a move which elicits a dire warning from the author:

Evil thoughts insinuate themselves so easily into the hearts of men, that they have need to be always on their guard against their approaches. Children, especially, should be watchful of the first impulse to do wrong, as from their weakness they are prone to error. This attention to themselves is an easy task, because they have their parents, or teachers, at hand, to assist them with their advice. Neither are they sufficiently aware, that a small fault in the beginning, may increase to an odious vice, which will corrupt their hearts, and debase their characters as long as they live.

I’m not certain that Henry’s theft increased to an odious vice, but it did escalate into a fine mess.

Uncertain what to do with the nest, and afraid that his friend George will find out that he took it for himself, Henry hastily trades the nest for a bag of marbles carried by a passing boy. Phew! He meets up with George and tells him that he found the bag of marbles.

While they’re playing marbles, another passing boy says, “Hey, you found my lost marbles!” Henry insists that he bought them. Whoops! As the author warns, “however cautious you may be, you will betray yourselves, for you will not be able to invent so many falsehoods as will be requisite to hide your dissimulation from your companions.

In an effort to defend his dissimulation, Henry refuses to turn over the marbles, resulting in a melee between some Bad Children of History and an unfortunate bloodied nose:


The following twists and turns are too complex to relate here, but the book ends with Henry burning up with fever, sobbing on his knees and begging for forgiveness from George and from his father, the latter of whom is now in possession of the nest of birds. How dramatic!

In a slight deviation from most moral tales, Henry doesn’t die of fever; instead, his big-hearted companions forgive him, and he learns an important lesson about telling the truth. He also grows into a man of “noble and generous sentiments”, which is really the best future scenario we could ask for.

Art//Archives Sneak Peek: Clever Canines

Did you know that September is National Guide Dog Month? Neither did we!

In honor of guide dogs across this fine land, we’ll be featuring historical canines during tomorrow’s September 1st Art//Archives open hours.

Stop by Special Collections between 10:30 and 1:00 for a look at these sweet pooches.